Bukit Lawang, Gunung Leseur NP and Pamah Semelir, northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Published by David Milton (david.milton AT csiro.au)

Participants: David Milton, Sandra Harding, Ron Dowling


We made a short trip to northern Sumatra to visit a friend, Nasib Suhardi in Bukit Lawang and do some birding in the area. Nasib had started to set up a tourist camp at Batu Kapal on a tributary of the Sungei Bohorok about 5 km downstream of Bukit Lawang town. Nasib’s land is on the river bank opposie the Gunung Leseur NP and has a rock outcrop behind the accommodation that supports a Orangutan family. These primates could be seen daily feeding on fruiting trees about 100 m behind the camp. The rock outcrop also had both Mossy-nest and Black-nest Swiftlets nesting in the extensive caves and overhangs.

We focused our birding around Batu Kapal and across the river in the lower parts of Gunung Leseur NP (to about 800 m). We made two day trips away from Batu Kapal. One was about 70 km to Tangkanan to visit the Sumatran elephant rehabilitation centre and the second of about 100 km to the middle altitude dirt road from Pamah Semelir to Beristagi that cuts through a short section of the Gunung Leseur NP at about 1500 m. This road proved to be a good option for some of the higher altitude birds that were absent around Bukit Lawang. In all, we probably invested 6 days in birding and spent the remainder with Nasib and his family or doing tourist things around Bukit Lawang.

Birding highlights included getting great views of a White-fronted Scops Owl on its day roost on a rock ledge at the back of the rock outcrop on Nasib’s land and prolonged views of Finsch’s Bulbul and Rueck’s Flycatcher in the rubber plantation at the Batu Kapal campground. Birding in the NP was generally quiet along most of the trails. These were all quite steep as they followed ridges up into the park. We spent two full days birding inside the NP by following trails across the river from Batu Kapal. During one, we climbed up about 400 m to about 800 m to reach the top of the ridge. Great Argus were calling on both days in the park and we had a brief glimpse of one on an apparent display ground and found several moulted tail feathers.

Other birding trips around Batu Kapal included walking downstream and following a small tributary upstream for about 2 km up into the NP. This creek looked promising for forktails and Nasib’s son claimed to have seen one on this stream previously. However, although the habitat looked good, we saw very few birds during the entire walk. In all, we managed to see 109 species within the limited range of our travels. In order to increase the total substantially, additional days would need to be spent further inside the Gunung Leseaur NP and there are details available on the burung-nusantara website \\www.burung-nusantara.org


The international airport in northern Sumatra is outside Medan. It is serviced by multiple daily flights from Singapore. We flew Singapore Airlines from Brisbane and took the Silkair connections to Medan. Bukit Lawang is 90 km south of Medan and takes between 3 – 4 hrs by road depending on traffic. Nasib arranged a car for us (600,000 Rp) and this took the hassle out of the trip. We also hired cars for the days we went to Tankahan and Pamah Semelir. These cost the same price as the car is hired for the day in each case. At Batu Kapal, we stayed for free at Nasib’s campground and slept in tents we had brought from Australia for him. Transport to and from Batu Kapal is on the back of motorcycles and there are plenty of young guys who can take you out. We paid 50,000 Rp each way.

The campground at Batu Kapal is conveniently located at the edge of the river, with some refreshing waterholes to swim in nearby. There is good secondary scrub forest birding on site and the Gunung Leseur NP is directly across the river, with several different trails leading up the hillside within a km of the campground. Nasib also has access to open country birding west of the main town in rice paddies and fishponds, where we saw a range of waterbirds and birds of more open habitats. The best contacts if you are interested in visiting are shewton@hotmail.com for Nasib (as he lives in Australia) and Nasib's son Jaka in Bukit Lawang on +62 87891807587

Species Lists

Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
Great Argus Argusianus argus
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
Blyth's Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus alboniger
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Greater Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus
Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis
Red-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus javanicus
Black-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus diardi
Short-toed Coucal Centropus rectunguis
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Sunda Scops-Owl Otus lempiji
Great Eared-Nightjar Lyncornis macrotis
Silver-rumped Needletail Rhaphidura leucopygialis
Brown-backed Needletail Hirundapus giganteus
Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
Mossy-nest Swiftlet Aerodramus salangana
Black-nest Swiftlet Aerodramus maximus
Asian Palm-Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
Gray-rumped Treeswift Hemiprocne longipennis
Whiskered Treeswift Hemiprocne comata
Red-naped Trogon Harpactes kasumba
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphis chloris
Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis
Red-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis amictus
Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros
Wreathed Hornbill Aceros undulatus
Brown Barbet Calorhamphus fuliginosus
Red-throated Barbet Megalaima mystacophanos
Black-browed Barbet Megalaima oorti
Yellow-crowned Barbet Megalaima henricii
Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus
Buff-necked Woodpecker Meiglyptes tukki
Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea
White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Green Iora Aegithina viridissima
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
Sumatran Drongo Dicrurus sumatranus
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
Great Tit Parus major
Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea
Puff-backed Bulbul Pycnonotus eutilotus
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
Olive-winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus
Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus erythropthalmos
Hairy-backed Bulbul Tricholestes criniger
Finsch's Bulbul Alophoixus finschii
Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
Yellow-bellied Warbler Abroscopus superciliaris
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps
Bar-winged Prinia Prinia familiaris
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
Mountain White-eye Zosterops montanus
Brown Fulvetta Alcippe brunneicauda
Ferruginous Babbler Trichastoma bicolor
Horsfield's Babbler Malacocincla sepiaria
Sumatran Babbler Pellorneum buettikoferi
Black-capped Babbler Pellorneum capistratum
Golden Babbler Stachyridopsis chrysaea
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler Macronous gularis
Chestnut-rumped Babbler Stachyris maculata
Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Gray-headed Babbler Stachyris poliocephala
Possible Ruck's Blue-Flycatcher Cyornis ruckii (no photograph, needs confirmation) - immature male Blue-and-white Flycatcher is a possibility
Shiny Whistling-Thrush Myophonus melanurus
Blue Whistling-Thrush Myophonus caeruleus
Sunda Robin Cinclidium diana
Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus
Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis
Blue-masked Leafbird Chloropsis venusta
Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus percussus
Brown-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum everetti
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum
Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum minullum
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis
Plain Sunbird Anthreptes simplex
Plain-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
Van Hasselt's Sunbird Leptocoma brasiliana
Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra
Purple-naped Spiderhunter Arachnothera hypogrammicum
Streaky-breasted Spiderhunter Arachnothera affinis
Spectacled Spiderhunter Arachnothera flavigaster
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Nutmeg Mannikin Lonchura punctulata
White-headed Munia Lonchura maja