Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Javan Banded Pitta
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon
This short report outlines a visit to Bali, April 2011. This was our first stint in Indonesia and, Bali, whilst maybe a somewhat unrealistically gentle and relatively well-organised introduction to this country, proved to be great place to start. Birding is easy and most of the key species, including a surprising number limited to Bali and Java, can be found in four or five busy days in just two key areas (Bali Barat National Park in the far north-west and the upland forests of the Bedagul area in the island centre); the rest of the time can be spent taking it easy and soaking up all the other attractions, of which there are rather a lot. For us, these included some beach time with world-class snorkelling, visiting serene and amazing temples (where you can also effortlessly look for a few great birds too) and a day or so in Ubud, the cultural capital of the island and surrounded by rice fields filled with munias, cisticolas and kingfishers.
We found Bali a really friendly, happy place that is easy to get around, has great food and loads of really nice places to stay at reasonable prices. It is far more organised, and totally lacks the density of population and consequent filth of, say, India. As well as birding, there are loads of other things to do and, as long as you stay away from the trashy tourists and vast and overblown Costa del Sol wannabe resorts that they frequent (not too difficult; most of these blight just a couple of concentrated areas), you feel that you have quite immersed yourself in the place. There are a few birding trip reports out there on Bali but the couple I found where rather light in specifics; this one aims to remedy that.
The rainy season in Bali is normally November to March. However not in 2011; in common with seemingly much of southern Asia and eastern Australia in late 2010 / early 2011, we had loads of rain. This occurred everywhere we visited on the island with, predictably, the upland areas of Bedagul and Munduk very wet: it was cloudy pretty much continually here and we had thick mist on several dates and up to several hours of rain during the middle of the day. Elsewhere, rain was more likely in severe but usually fairly short-lived bursts from late afternoon onwards or, several times, for a few hours in the morning. Thick cloud was blessing; when the sun did come out it quickly got pretty hot although conditions within the forests were significantly less severe.
First and foremost is Paul Jepson’s excellent Birding Indonesia (1997, Periplus Editions). I got this on loan from a friend; not sure if it is still in print but if so, it is certainly worth having. It is a great introduction to birding the whole of Indonesia and some of the specific gen was still, 14 years later, spot-on. For identification, I was stuck with MacKinnon and Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, and found it ok, at least on Bali where a lot of possibilities on the plates could be eliminated on range alone. However, I am not sure trying to sort out babblers or blue flycatchers on Sumatra or Borneo using this book would be a lot of fun. An up-to-date travel guide is also useful; we used Lonely Planet and found it pretty good.
Accommodation and getting around
Prior to arriving, we only booked our first two nights, starting in Sanur (less than 30 minutes from the international airport). After that, we just found rooms as we went along; being low season most places were pretty empty and there was plenty to choose from. The standard of accommodation was pretty good everywhere and ranged from $30 per night to $80 (generally between $40-50).
In Sanur we simply bought a ticket for a fast passenger boat for the Sanur-Nusa Lembongon-Gili Islands section; this leaves daily from Sanur and was totally flexible with regard to how long we could have on each island. We met our driver, Made Sukanta, through the hotel we stayed at in Sanur and he picked us up when we returned from the Gili Islands five days later. He was great company and became a good friend over the next 8 days as we covered the rest of Bali. We heartily recommend him. He has his own website (www.bagusholidays.com) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Employing a guide is only necessary to visit Bali Barat National Park. I found Hery’s details [email@example.com] in another trip report and booked him for two days. This gave us a full morning out at Bumbrum looking for Bali Starlings and lots of other top drawer birds, plus an afternoon and another full day in the forests and swamps on the mainland hunting for some of the specials there, most of which we found. You could see a lot in just one day, but two gave us time to have prolonged looks and try some photography as and when the chance presented itself. Hery is a great birder in general, a super chap to boot and knows Bali Barat (and the rest of Bali, and eastern Java) inside out. Even if you didn’t want to go to Bumbrum, where you must take a guide (maybe you had had a lobotomy, for example), it would still be worth using Hery’s expertise for the other sites in the national park; none of the places we visited would have been easy to find on your own and some of birds (for example Javan Barred Owlet) needed very specific local knowledge.
Places visited and birds found
Interesting bird species generally widespread and common throughout the island and so not mentioned specifically for sites below include: Javan Pond Heron, Edible-nest and White-bellied Swiftlets, Pacific Swallow, Pied Bushchat, Long-tailed Shrike, Bar-winged Prinia, Olive-backed Sunbird and Javan and Scaly-breasted Munias.
The key spot I found here was a small, smelly mangrove creek a little to the south of town. I reached it by following the concrete footpath along the beach southwards until the tourist development ended; there was then an open, scrubby area and finally a small river emptying into the sea via the aforementioned creek. This was the only place close to Sanur were the foreshore was suitable for waders; it was about 20 minute walk from the beach in front of the Bali Hyatt.
Species: Out of 8 species of wader, I managed 12 Javan and one Malaysian Plover; Small Blue Kingfishers were also easy. Other species included Pacific Reef Egret, Grey-tailed Tattler, Golden-bellied Gerygone and Olive-backed Tailorbird; I found White-headed Munia and White-breasted Woodswallows in gardens in Sanur itself.
Apparently the causeway out to Pulau Serangan, a little further south (6km from Sanur) accesses some good mudflats, with Great-billed Heron being a local speciality. I didn’t work that out until it was too late.
2. Nusa Lembongan and the Gili Islands (Lombok)
Neither of these islands, both fully covered in all the travel guides, and easily accessible by boat from Sanur, are essential birding spots. However, they are fine places to visit and chill out for a few days and have a lot of character with plenty of friendly, relaxed small hotels and restaurants. Both are famous for diving and surfing; we spent most of our time, when not lounging around, snorkelling and this was seriously good too. If the currents are right, Manta rays feed close inshore below the cliffs of Nusa Penida and boat trips from Nusa Lembongan get you right into position. Over 30 minutes of tracking these monsters from 3 feet through a face mask was actually the natural history highlight of the trip, at least until that Banded Pitta at Bali Barat hopped into view!
Species: On Nusa Lembongan: I reached 35 species in two days. Lush scrub and rank, scrawny forest covers much of the island with birds easiest to find at the north end. Notables included White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Barred Buttonquail, a few waders including Grey-tailed Tattlers and Pacific Golden Plover, Collared and Small Blue Kingfishers, Pink-necked Pigeon and lots of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. Smaller numbers of Barn Swallows and Pacific Swifts were migrating through and this was the only place I saw Javan Myna and Oriental Magpie-Robin, here of the attractive East Java and Bali race C. s. pluto. Small groups of white-eyes all fitted Lemon-bellied best; this species is noted as occurring on nearby Nusa Penida and so is presumably here too. If you know otherwise, let me know!
On Gili Trawangan: Here the score was 25 species in 2 days. Most numerous passerine, by some margin, was Indonesian Honeyeater (otherwise scarce on Bali, at least where I visited, save for around Bedagul). Other notable species included Peregrine, Malaysian Plover, a fantastic close-up view of Pink-necked Pigeon (in a garden on the main drag!), Sacred Kingfisher and White-shouldered Triller.
Treat any seabirds you find as a total bonus. Six hours in a boat, back and forth across the Wallace Line produced a few phalaropes, two Brown Boobies and the odd mouldy tern.
3. Pura Luhar Batukau Temple and Jatiluwih
We accessed this famous jungle temple, on the south slopes of Gunung Batukau from Bedagul (one hour drive, maximum). Our afternoon visit was a bit late but we had no difficulty finding the magnificent White-crowned Forktail, around the walled lake on the right. Also about were Grey-cheeked Bulbul and Crested Serpent-Eagle, with high needletails overhead.
Jatiluwih is a famously scenic area of terraced rice fields between Bedagul and Pura Luhar. Appropriately this yielded my first proper views of Javan Kingfisher (also at Lake Bratan, but hard to see well here. Ubud was an even better spot to find them.
4. Bedagul area
This is an essential stop for all the higher elevation forest birds. The village of Bedagul is within easy walking distance of several excellent birding spots and the whole area probably justifies two days. The best areas were:
A. Forest patch on the south side of the Lake, between the Ashram resort and Hotel Bedagul.
We stayed at Ashram which had beautiful lakeside gardens and grubby rooms, but who cares about those with Lesser Shortwings abundant in the adjacent forest? These need a tape so, get along to Xeno Canto. I also had Mountain Leaf-Warbler, Little Pied Flycatcher and all three upland species of white-eye here. Yellow Bittern was easy to see and the large lakeside temple a km or so to the north and both Javan Kingfisher and Striated Grassbird frequented the lakeside and tilled fields.
B. Bedagul Botanical Gardens
This is a beautiful location, full of birds and very peaceful. Species such as Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon and Short-tailed Starling are easy to see here; I also had Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot, lots of minivets, Fulvous-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher (beside the bottle brush trees near the gate) and Snowy-browed Flycatcher (pair, Fern Trail). A particularly good stretch is the tarred road to the left soon after entering at the main gate; this goes through some very nice forest and produced a roadside Sunda Whistling-Thrush and Crescent-chested Babbler (in the dump on left, opposite the first of two temple areas). Beyond the second temple the road flattens and crosses two small bridges about 100m apart; the forest edge here is supposed to the key site for Sunda Thrush. I failed with this one, but did have Green Junglefowl here.
C. Lakes Buyan and Tamblingan
These are accessible from trails on the south side of each lake; I think the trails meet but we walked in from either end as the path in the middle was impassable after so much rain. See Lonely Planet for a rough access map that is good enough to get you where you want to be. The crater slopes here are covered in superb elevated rainforest, a lot of which is in really good condition with massive trees and epiphytes everywhere. Birds were much harder to see here than at the Botanic Garden or by Ashram but this is the only place I saw Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Orange-fronted Barbet (latter abundant on voice everywhere, but a devil to see) and Lesser Cuckoo-shrike. Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons were abundant and I eventually connected with two Sunda Warblers, very much a super-Seicurcus (if such a term is not oxymoronic).
5. Bali Barat National Park
Devoted as I am to mossy cloud forest, as occurs around Bedagul, Bali Barat is far and away the best birding site on the island. Out of some 140 species on the trip, I saw over 80 in just over 2 ½ days here, 40 of which I saw nowhere else. There is a fantastic range of habitat, from mangrove covered islands and foreshores to monsoon forest, drier savannah and grassland, muddy rainforest in the valleys and higher up and even a large area of drying saltpans for waders. With the national park running uphill into cloud-draped peaks, and epic early-morning views across the straits to the volcanoes of eastern Java, the backdrop is as good as the birds. Teaming up with Hery (see Guides, above) makes life very easy indeed. The key sites visited and species seen were:
This is a 30 minute boat journey from the jetty at Labuhan Lalang. From hopping ashore to be greeted by Savannah Nightjars on the beach until leaving almost six hours later, the birding was first-rate throughout. Key species include the scarce and mobile Black-winged Starling, which we eventually saw very well indeed and, of course, Bali Starling. There are currently around 35 of these, the vast majority being birds released (or offspring of released birds) in the last couple of years. Another six individuals are due for release in June 2011.We spent a lot of time seeking out, and eventually seeing well, a shy pair feeding in a tall tree; pairs around the release cage were much more approachable.
En-route there were plenty of other good birds too, including Black-thighed Falconet, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Island Collared Dove, Dollarbird, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, and Small Minivet. However, all of these were eclipsed by the appearance of both a bonus Java Sparrow (now very rare across Bali – and apparently even harder in Java - and only regular at Bali Barat from June to autumn when the grasses are seeding) and no less than six Chinese Sparrowhawks, all migrating across the straits to Java. The latter can be numerous on arrival in October but are far less predictable on exit in spring. Almost as rare as the sparrow were three Beach Thick-knees on Menjangan Island; Hery has located about 30 of these monster semi-reptilians in Bali Barat, making here just about the best area in the world to find them (outside Australia at least). Lemon-bellied White-eye is the other speciality on this small island and impossible to miss.
B. Javan Banded Pitta
Despite, or, more likely because off, having had a most memorable encounter with the Peninsular form (species?) of Banded Pitta in southern Thailand, I was keen to see this, Bali’s only resident pitta. This species is rather (for a pitta) abundant and quite obvious (on call) in the roadside secondary forests near Labuhan Lalang. We had several pairs calling even in mid-afternoon and eventually, after a lot of trying, drew a male in for a close and prolonged look; the results are attached with this report. This was easily the bird of the trip, eclipsing both Bali Starling and those thick-knees. By some margin. Yeehaaa!
C. Saltpans between Labuhan Lalang and Pemuteran
After a day in the forest, coming here for a few hours at the end made for a relaxed and easy finish. This is an extensive area of muddy pools, saltpans and dividing bunds, behind the mangroves. Waders were present in low numbers throughout the area, comprising 11 species with Javan Plovers and another 2 Beach Thick-knees being of most interest. Other species of interest included Small Blue Kingfishers everywhere, Island Collared Dove displaying over the mangroves and, not least, the peculiarly shaped Sunda Teal. We had earlier waded through forest pools and mangrove mires for these to no avail; they were dead easy here.
D. Valley rainforest about 5 km west of Labuhan Lalang
We spent a long morning creeping round in the mud. Birding was slow, but eventually we had some major results. Rufous-backed Kingfisher is pretty common; we visited four or five territories but that is because, at least in the wet season, they are very tough to see, rarely perching in view or for long. In all we heard loads and glimpsed a few, saw two and eventually scoped one for a prolonged look. The other big score in here was Javan Barred Owlet; Hery knew of a territory and we eventually, after a lot of looking, got a very good look at one bird, before a squirrel led us to the second right overhead. Other species throughout the morning included Mangrove Whistler, Fulvous-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher, a fabulous look at Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and the pale-eyed form of Hair-crested Drongo. The open slopes above the valley are a great place to see Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot, and we also got Coppersmith Barbet, represented by the amazingly bloody-faced form M. h. rosea. That will be a split once some enterprising taxonomist trying to make a name for himself gets round to looking at a few specimens.
Nearby, Hery has a good site in the grounds of a plush resort for Green Junglefowl. We easily observed eight on the trails in mid-afternoon.
E. Bay and shoreline at Pemuteran
I checked this out on the last morning before we left for Ubud. Amongst a selection of common species, I had Plaintive Cuckoo singing and the splendid, Cock-of-the-Rock coloured Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker. Three Black-naped Terns flew through, a species absent from Menjangan Island when we looked (it breeds there).
This was our last destination in Bali; we spent two nights here before heading down to Ulu Watu and then the airport early on our last morning. Ubud is about a 3 ½ drive from Pemuteran, not including a few stops for temples and birds.
This was actually my least favourite place in Bali. Although only a small town, it sprawls and the roads, with lethal pavements and being choked in motorbikes, are not pleasant to walk along. A rather low personal threshold to an excess of pretentious art shops didn’t help either. To help me through an afternoon suffering the latter, I took a rather long trudge to get out to some decent rice paddies and countryside on a morning walk. I found the area south-west of the main village along the Penestanan path (just west of the river Sungai) quite good for an hour or two once I got there (see map in Lonely Planet). Key species included Javan Kingfisher (easy here), both species of cisticola offering good, comparative views, lots of munias including both Javan and a few White-headed and the only Streaked Weavers (several colonies) and Striated Swallows (collecting mud) of the trip. It is possible to hook up with some local bird enthusiasts and go for a guided walk as well; see www.balibirdwalks.com. I didn’t partake but these are supposed to be nice ways to see a bit of the local countryside without getting lost, muddy or deafened by traffic. I don’t know what they will say if you ask them to spare you the shops of carvings and lurid paintings…
7. Ulu Watu Temple, Bukit Peninsula
This site is merely 30 minutes from the airport and we finished up here on our last morning. Although not the nicest temple we visited and with quite a few dumb animals hanging around (i.e. tourists trying to provoke the local macaques into biting them), the cliffs are spectacular and the views westwards towards south-east Java stunning. Birds are not abundant but we did break our seabird-famine in some style with a soaring Lesser Frigatebird and then a White-tailed Tropicbird that spent 20 minutes circling offshore. The latter apparently nest here, or nearby but such activity was not obvious, at least in mid-April. We had cooked in the sun for almost 2 hours before we found one. The cliff-top scrub and trees around the car-park also produced Black Drongo, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker, all species I had only otherwise seen at Bali Barat.
If you require any further information on anything contained within this trip report, please do not hesitate to contact the author at the address provided above.