This is the 1st part of a 25 day stint in Indonesia which I carried out during the period from 15 Aug-8 Sep. The 1st leg, a week in West Java, was done in the company of Mike Catsis, who was doing a post-tour extension of sorts after concluding his Sulawesi & Halmahera tour with Rob Hutchinson. We spent a very fruitful week in West Java, personally notching up 38 ticks of which a good portion where Javanese Endemics. Our 7 day itinerary is as follows.
Maura Angke (1 morning)
Carita (1 afternoon & 1 morning)
Gunung Halimun (1 day and 1 morning)
Gunung Gede (3 full days and 1 morning)
Once again, special thanks must go to the "dynamic duo" of James Eaton and Rob Hutchinson who assisted us greatly in the planning and execution of the trip. As Andy Mears put it in his Sabah trip report, they went "above the call of duty" when it came to providing us with information and data and many of our best sightings can be linked in some way to their "gen". A huge debt of thanks also goes out to Poli from Indonesian Ecoventure, who handled the logistics of the trip superbly. Some of his traits included being on 24 hour stand-by of sorts to the point where we could call him whenever we faced any difficulties. Special thanks also goes out to him for helping us find a English-speaking driver named Boy who made all the logistics arrangements in the G.Halimun area for us straightforward and for actually having the guts to drive through the 20km of horrid road to the G.Halimun NP which would test the mettle of even a seasoned 4x4 driver. (Mind you we were in a MPV and not a proper 4x4). Site Highlights are as follows:
Our proverbial "Sh*thole" of the trip. The place looks more like a sewer than a mangrove sanctuary. It both looks and smells bad! The watchtower is in disrepair now and we didn't climb it. They however appear to have repaired the boardwalks although these didn't help much in our birding. Nevertheless, we still found what we needed from here in just 1 morning.
Sunda Coucal - The only reason why people still visit this area I reckon. Against all the odds we found 1 feeding in the open in the pond just after the entrance arch and 10m from the busy street. The bird was subsequently mobbed by prinias and disappeared. A truely bizzare encounter, seeing a endangered bird by the roadside! Incidentally also the 1 and only coucal we saw during our few hours there (Lesser was heard only).
Small Blue Kingfisher
Dipped: Black-winged Starling
Javan Plover: This doesn't really fit anywhere but we didn't find it at the very dry soccer field next to the marsh so on Poli's directions we made a detour to a expense of salt marsh near Pulau Dua. We got lost a few times but eventually found it and had good views of several here, including 1 sitting on the sand. We also saw what we believe to be a distant Ruff in this area.
This site echoes the pitiful state of Java's lowland forest. The "primary" forest is hardly primary as the single trail to the waterfall is invaded daily by axe-wielding firewood harvesters, banana farmers and of course bird trappers. True to form we did very poorly here, dipping both the Pitta & the Barbet (We would find the babbler on Halimun). In addition, only Mike had views of the Owlet in the evening, no thanks to the exceptionally powerful green laser pointers which I believe all owl's eyes are sensitive to. A wasted trip if not for some ticks in my personal opinion. The most frustrating thing about dipping the birds we dipped was we heard them regularly while walking the forests. We met the famous thai guide Uthai Treesucon here, finishing up his Java list after a long trip to Sulawesi and Halmahera as well!
Javan Owlet: Good on Mike! The only special bird on the whole trip that only 1 of us saw well. We met Uthai on the trail the 1st evening and he took us to the area where he had seen a pair of them at noon the same day. Upon playback, a single came in silently to tape, and after a merry dance landed in a obscure perch in mid-canopy. As luck would have it I was blocked by the massive trunk of 1 of the few remaining Dipterocarps and had to adjust. When Uthai tried to show me the perch from a new angle, the bird must have picked up his green pointer on the trunk because it flew off immediately even though the pointer was quite a distance from the bird proper, hence the BVD!
Grey-cheeked Tit-babbler (common)
Banded Pitta (fairly common by call)
Black-banded Barbet (a few heard higher up the inaccessible hill daily). Frustrating!
The most enjoyable birding we had in W.Java. It features fantastic, pristine forests that is absolutely filled with birds! Although it is a bit remote, being a 6 hour drive from Carita just to the HQ and another 2 hours to navigate the last 20km of rugged "Eaglenest" road to the village homestay, it is well worth the trip there. In the village on the other end of the mountain, with Boy's help we easily arranged Motorbike rides to and from the forest and 3 meals a day including early breakfast without much difficulties. The ride from the village of Citalahab to the forest proper is about 15min (2km distance) although if you want to stay right in the forest there is a Research Center with a guesthouse extension before the village. This was fully booked while we were there however.Birding here is done along the road or a well-marked loop trail that runs from the research center and exits at the back of the village. Birding is easy as most of the road is around 1200m so that is minimal climbing even on the trail. As a bonus,leeches seem absent and alot of difficult birds from Gede are found in good numbers here, with Crocias and Trogon in particular being locally common. Javan Hawk-eagle is also rather easy to see here as the rangers in the Research Center know the viewpoints where you can look out for them where the forest meets the tea plantations. We found that 1 day or so here made life in Gede very relaxed, as we only had to work on the high elevation specialities like Cochoa which are not found here. As a mark of its diversity, out of the 38 lifers I had for Java, at least half were from here, of which 90% were Javan Endemics and all were seen in just 1 day and a morning of birding. Fantastic!
Spotted Crocias: Beautiful "trash" is what we termed them here! In just 1 morning at least 6 different groups were heard and we taped a couple of these in for some nice if rather distant views high in the emergents by the road.In the afternoon they did 1 better and joined the massive mixed flocks along the trail and roadside in the evening where they silently came down to eye-level to feed on the low flowering and fruiting trees. Exceptional!
Javan Trogon: Uthai had to make 2 trips to Gede to see this bird, so imagine our surprise when it became the 3rd bird we saw of the day, a single perched above the road just a few bends before the Research Center, giving off that trade-mark insect like TRRRRRRRR! Call. Multiply that by at least 6 as we encountered them many more times, including several which appeared to closely associate with the big feeding flocks in the evening. We would also encounter individuals on the trail. Beautiful Bird!
White-bellied Fantail: A local special. Interestingly the only bird that really made us sweat as we only saw 1 after 20 solid hours in the field and just 2 hours before leaving the site proper. Mike had already reached the stage when he was lamenting the dip, thankfully it was not to be. A beautiful fantail which behaves more like a drongo, preferring to sally from mid-canopy but only infrequently fanning its tail.
Javan Hawk-eagle: An epic encounter and a perfect way to end the Halimun trip. It is an honor to encounter 1 of these beautiful and endangered raptors, but to see 3 is simply overwhelming. Following on some tips given by the rangers at the Research Center, having seen the fantail just minutes ago we decided to head to the 2nd shelter on the road from the Center back to the village. This shelter was bordering forests on both sides and overlooked a tea plantation. It was here that a family of eagles supposedly held territory. In just 5 minutes, we heard the cries of a hawk-eagle as it circled the valley. The view wasn't great as the Sun was in our eyes so we tracked it best we could until it finally perched on a bare tree bordering the slope. We scrambled down the tea plantation to find a immature calling repeatedly and flicking his crest to boot. Just then, as if by magic, just 10m above us and against a blue sky Mike spotted a adult soaring silently almost over our heads. A Divine Experience! After this magical encounter which lasted about 30mins or so, as we walked back we saw another bird soaring on another part of the valley low, this time calling back to the immature. What a way to end our stint here!
White-breasted (Fairly Common, joins mixed flocks),Crescent-chested & White-bibbed Babblers (The last 1 is a stunner, gives Flame-templed a run for its money. It seems to have blue orbital skin that is not reflected in MacKinnon's)
Brown-throated & Flame-fronted Barbets
Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon (Common by Call, had greats views of 2 birds in a fruiting fig just below the canopy along the trail. Another 6 flushed from the same tree)
Javan Grey-throated White-eye...the list goes on!
Not to mention the Leopard Crossing Sign along 1 section of road!
The must-visit site for Javanese birding. Even if you visit the bird-filled forest of Halimun, this forest is still a must for the higher elevation endemics. We planned the trip in such a way that we would be there during the week, and having arrived on a Sunday afternoon we understood why as a literal wave of cars and people came swarming down the road from Cibodas like an ant colony on the move. Unlike most birders, we chose to stay in Homestay 145, directly across and slightly up the road from Freddy's, as we were told it was more comfortable. Although we had no log book to refer, they still knew the birder's routine well, providing early breakfast, packed lunch and so on. The rooms were also relatively spacious and came with queen sized beds and attached bathrooms with hot water on request. The only grouse we had was that dinner, theorically the birder's most important meal of the day, was very simple with just a chicken drumstick and vegetables most of the time. Bad weather finally caught up with us here. It rained on 2 afternoons, with the last afternoon being a full thunderstorm which lasted well into the night and where we had to struggle down Gede in. Like everyone else, we dipped things here too.
Javan Cochoa: 1 of my main reasons for going to Java. After a marathon sprint up to the Hot Springs on our 1st morning. I was walking down slowly with Mike about 50m in front when a blue bird feeding at eye level relative to the slope caught my eye in a mixed flock. 10 seconds later a flustered Mike Catsis came scrambling up the slope and a equally startled Cochoa moved off. An anxious 5 minutes past as Mike played the recording while looking around. It pays off when the bird comes back, this time with supposedly his mate in tow, silently foraging in the trees above the trail. His mate opted to perch motionless for a long time on a branch against the cloudy sky. Euphoria! My 3rd Cochoa in 3 years!
Sunda Thrush: With Mike opting to try very successfully for nightbirds at 1st light we were well-placed on 2 mornings to try for this enigmatic and rare Zoothera. On the 2nd morning, all we had was a brief shadow landing on the trail. On our 3rd morning, we opted to patrol the stretch from HM3 to HM5 at 1st light and were rewarded when all of a sudden the bird hopped out just 2m in front of us and proceeded to feed on and around the trail for the next 20mins. As the light improved, so did the bird's beauty. Excellent views of a Javan Mega!
Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch: Another special we weren't expecting to see.Thanks to Mike's eyes 1 was seen flying across the trail and feeding in a banana tree at HM 10. Thanks Mike for the heads-up on this one!
Javan Tesia (common)
Rufous-tailed Fantail (completes the Javan Duo)
Pygmy Tit (Surprisingly tape-responsive in Botanic Gardens)
Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot (Nice perched views in flowering trees Botanic Gardens)
Javan Kingfisher (Early AM in Camp Ground Stakeout)
Javan Frogmouth & Sunda Scops-owl (both at HM2 1st light Great Views)
Sunda Blue Robin (Hot Springs Area)
Chestnut-bellied Partridge (Not Vocal nor Tape-responsive)
Pink-headed Fruit-dove (Several flushed and heard regularly.No nice views)
Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush (presumably under serious trapping pressure, only 1 group heard on 2nd afternoon and just when they seemed to be coming in the floodgate in the sky opened).