30 Jan 2023

31 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 5 - Bonus Birding On East Babar

Thanks to the midnight or so departure from the Tanimbar Islands on the previous night, we arrived off the coast of the Eastern end of Babar Island in time for some bonus late afternoon Birding. Had we left the Tanimbar Islands as originally planned, we would not have arrived till after dark. We were keen to get ashore for some land Birding. The Tanimbar Islands are not regularly visited by independent Birders visiting Indonesia. However, with an airport they have been visited by a few more adventurous independent Birders in recent years.

The same cannot be said about any of the other islands we were to visit on the Banda Sea Cruise. There are no airfields on any of these islands & the only way to visit them is by boat. It would be time-consuming to try arranging transport on the occasional ships that supply those islands. Chartering a local boat would be an expensive & difficult option for a group of independent Birders. Therefore, the Banda Sea Cruise stands out as a very unique way to access these rarely visited islands.

Bird Tour Asia have over a decade of experience of visiting these islands since their first Banda Sea Cruise in 2011. Any Birder tempted by a Banda Sea Cruise after reading this Blog should be looking to book with Bird Tour Asia: rather than with an alternative company that has managed to work out enough of where Bird Tour Asia visit to start running their own trip. Why travel with a more expensive newcomer, when you can go with the experts on these islands?
Getting the boats ready to take us ashore
There seemed to be a reasonable amount of forest on the island: The big church indicated this was another Christian island
Like most of our Banda Sea landings, it was a beach landing. The trick was to get to the front of the boat & either step off or jump off the boat on a dropping wave, to avoid wet feet. We had to be equally carefully to get the timing right when getting back into the boats at the end of the Birding, but I always managed to keep my feet dry. The one exception was late on in the trip, when we had a fifty metre wade ashore due to one very shallow bay. But we were aware of that & I had my flip-flops for the landing & carried the shoes for the land.

We were quickly ashore to find there was a drivable dirt track just behind the first line of trees. This would allow us to easily see the trees. Sadly, we also found one or two patches of trees that had been cleared to allow for Bananas to be planted in the future. We saw a good selection of Babar's birdlife that afternoon, albeit there wasn't a lot of opportunity to get photos. Some of the highlights included Pacific Emerald Dove, Timor Zebra Dove (AKA Barred Dove), Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, Little Bronze-cuckoo, Banda Honeyeater, White-shouldered Triller, Wallacean Whistler, Cinnamon-tailed Fantail, a potential future split from the Australian Arafura Fantail (which the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago call Supertramp Fantail), Island Monarch, the lovely Orange-banded Thrush & Red-chested Flowerpecker.
Timor Zebra Dove: This is more commonly known as Barred Dove. I've kept to the name I originally knew it as during my first visit to Indonesia
Little Bronze-cuckoo: This is what Little Bronze-cuckoos normally look like, which looks & sounds different to the distinctive Pied Bronze-cuckoo that we saw on the Tanimbar Islands
The Lady Denok
All too quickly the light started to go. We couldn't leave yet as we wanted to look for the local subspecies of Southern Boobook. Boobook Owls have long been a potential area for splits as studies look at their vocalisations and other differences. The Boobooks on Babar as currently considered to be the cinnamomina subspecies of Southern Boobook. Whether that will still be the case in another decade is something we will have to wait & see. Everybody was keen to look for one, just in case. One was heard calling as it got dark & Wilbur found a small forest track heading in for a couple of hundred metres. After a short wait, it responded to his recording & it was sitting above our heads.
Southern Boobook: This is the cinnamomina subspecies which is endemic to the Babar Islands. Other subspecies occur on Leti & surrounding islands, Sawu Island which lies between Sumba & Timor, the Kai Islands, Southern New Guinea and Australia. Like all my other Owl photos, this was photographed on a high ISO and using torchlight.
We had enjoyed some successful bonus Birding on Babar in the afternoon and evening. We had also avoided having to get up in the wee small hours of the following morning to look for Southern Boobook. Albeit, we still were up before dawn for breakfast prior to a dawn landing.

It was time to signal to the boats to return to the shore to collect us. Once we had eaten, the Lady Denok started sailing to our next destination at the Western end of Babar.

26 Jan 2023

31 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 5 - Flying Fish On The Crossing From The Tanimbar Islands To The Babar Islands

This is the fourth & final Blog Post detailing the Flying Fish we saw on the crossing from the Tanimbar Islands to Babar Island. The previous three Blog Posts covered the Seabirds, an Olive Ridley Turtle & Cetaceans that we saw.

Regular readers who read the Atlantic Odyssey Blog Posts will know that I also really enjoyed seeing & photographing the Flying Fish we saw in the warmer Atlantic waters. I was looking forward to the Banda Sea Cruise as I was expecting to see good numbers of Flying Fish at regular intervals: I was not disappointed. At this point, I have not been able to identify any of the Flying Fish that we saw, so I am using my own nicknames for the different species.

The commonest species of Flying Fish were these Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish. They were a gregarious small species of Flying Fish that clearly feed in large shoals as suddenly we could see a hundred or more erupt out of the water on either side of the boat. They were the smallest Flying Fish maybe about six inches long, with a plain clear wing with a white trailing edge and no small fins on the body close to the tail. All these features were very similar to the Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans) that we saw in the tropical Atlantic from the Atlantic Odyssey. I noted about twelve hundred on this first crossing.
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: These small Clearwing Flying Fish were sometimes encountered in large shoals. It was great to suddenly seen a hundred or so take to the air
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: Note the small size, clear wing with a white trailing edge and lack of small fins on the body close to the tail
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: Another individual demonstrating some of the nice reflections the flat calm seas provided
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: They launch themselves out of the water, glide for many twenty or thirty metres, then reach the water. Often the smaller Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish would re-enter the water, alternatively, they would kick again to travel a greater distance
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: This could produce some lovely images
Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish: Back into the air for another twenty metres, which would give them a good distance & probably safety from an underwater predator that could have spooked them
The second species of Flying Fish were these Indonesian Large Flying Fish. They would erupt out of the water on their own or in small groups involves only a few individuals. They were noticeably larger than the Indonesian Clearwing Flying Fish and closer to twelve six inches long, with a plain darker wing with a white trailing edge and small fins on the body close to the tail. All these features were very similar to one of the larger Flying Fish, Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis), that we saw in the tropical Atlantic from the Atlantic Odyssey. I photographed ten on this first crossing.
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Note, the plain darker wing with a white trailing edge, two tone body and small fins on the body close to the tail
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Another individual
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Another individual
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Another individual showing off the two tone body
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Just showing off for the photographer
Indonesian Large Flying Fish: Another individual showing off
As I was sorting the photos out, I realised I had photographed more than one large species of large Flying Fish. This is the second species that I saw. I didn't notice this species when we were on the Lady Denok so they must have been a similar size to the Indonesian Large Flying Fish. It's difficult to confirm how many we saw, but I photographed three individuals. They were superficially similar to the Indonesian Large Flying Fish, but they had dark wing tips & dark spots near the trailing edge of the wing. Like The Indonesian Large Flying Fish they had small fins on the body close to the tail. I've nicknamed them Indonesian Spot-winged Flying Fish.
Indonesian Spot-winged Flying Fish: Note, the dark wing tips & dark spots near the trailing edge of the wing
Indonesian Spot-winged Flying Fish: Note, the small fins on the body close to the tail
Indonesian Spot-winged Flying Fish: Another individual
I've saved the best looking of the Flying Fish, to the end. I've nicknamed this as Indonesian Yellow-winged Flying Fish for obvious reasons. The photos confirmed I saw at least five of these lovely large Flying Fish which an obvious broad yellow forewing and plain dark grey rear wing and small dark and pale-edged fins close to the tail.
Indonesian Yellow-winged Flying Fish: This is a lovely Flying Fish with this obvious broad yellow forewing and plain dark grey rear wing and small dark and pale-edged fins close to the tail
Indonesian Yellow-winged Flying Fish: Another individual
Indonesian Yellow-winged Flying Fish: Another individual showing off for the camera
Finally, we are approaching the Babar Islands group
It will be back to land birding in the next Blog Post as we spent the late afternoon with some bonus Birding on the Eastern end of Babar.

22 Jan 2023

31 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 5 - Cetaceans On The Crossing From The Tanimbar Islands To The Babar Islands

This is the third Blog Post detailing the Cetaceans we saw on the crossing from the Tanimbar Islands to Babar Island. The previous two Blog Posts covered the Seabirds & an Olive Ridley Turtle. A final Blog Post will cover the Flying Fish.

Regular readers of the Blog will know that I'm a big fan of Cetaceans and I was looking forward to the Banda Sea Cruise as I was expecting to see a variety of species at regular intervals: I was not disappointed.

I will start with Risso's Dolphins which are relatively easy to identify with their pale grey and generally scarred colouration and high, narrow and strongly falcated dorsal fin. They have a very wide range in all the oceans, except for the cold Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
Risso's Dolphin: The pale grey colouration & scarring on the body allow this Dolphin to be identified as a Risso's Dolphin. It was seen at 10:52 local time
Risso's Dolphin: Another photo of the previous individual showing the classic Risso's Dolphin's thin & high-curved dorsal fin
Risso's Dolphin: This is a different individual that we saw earlier in the morning at 09:46 local time. This was a Risso's Dolphin based upon the pale grey body & the scarring
I was pleased to see my first Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins since the ones I saw at Monkey Mia on the West coast of Australia back in Sep 1991. They proved to be the commonest Dolphin that I saw on the Banda Sea Cruise. They look superficially similar to the widespread Bottlenose Dolphins, that I'm used to seeing in UK & Europe waters. Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins have a relatively robust body, moderate length beak and a tall falcate dorsal fin. However, they are more slender than Bottlenose Dolphins with a longer & thinner beak and a taller, broader-based & less falcate dorsal fin. They can grow to 2.7 m in length. Bottlenose Dolphins are very variable in the different populations around the world from 1.9 m to 3.8 m in length: with the largest populations occurring around the Eastern US & the UK coasts. As a result, the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins always looked small too me, as I was mentally comparing them with the Bottlenose Dolphins that I regularly see around the UK coasts. They have a medium to dark grey cape on the upper body which extends along the length of the body, with a broad pale grey band below the cape & a paler belly (compared to a Bottlenose Dolphin) which has black spotting on it.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins are a coastal species which occur from Cape Town along the East African & Madagascan coasts, the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Vanuatu & New Caledonia.
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin: A close up showing the long slender beak, which would be longer on a Spinner Dolphin
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin: A close up showing the broad-based and only slightly falcated dorsal fin. All the other Dolphin species that are potentially in range have more falcated dorsal fins. This also shows the extent of the dark cape in front of the dorsal fin
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin: Four of a party of five Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins that we saw at 07:30 local time
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin: This shows the extent of the dark cape behind the dorsal fin
At 11:16 local time we encountered a logging Cetacean. I've a number of photos of it looking exactly the same as the second photo, followed by the last two photos where it turned before diving. I'm having trouble confirming the identification of this Cetacean, but the best fit is a Dwarf Sperm Whale. Any thoughts and reasons to support this identification or reasons why it is another Cetacean would be appreciated. Please leave a comment on the Blog with an email address so we can discuss it offline.
Probably Dwarf Sperm Whale: The initial view
Probably Dwarf Sperm Whale: To me this looks like the classic profile for a Dwarf Sperm Whale
Probably Dwarf Sperm Whale: Another photo of it logging
Probably Dwarf Sperm Whale: It came up for another view as we started to pass it
Probably Dwarf Sperm Whale: A final view of the dorsal fin & it was gone

18 Jan 2023

31 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 5 - Olive Ridley Turtle

One of my favourite wildlife groups are Sea Turtles. Seeing any Sea Turtle is special and my highlight of the crossing from the Tanimbar Islands to Babar Island was when I picked up a Sea Turtle drifting past on the surface & close to the starboard side. It was only my second Olive Ridley Turtle, after one I saw on the Atlantic Odyssey on the crossing between Ascension Island and the Cape Verde Islands, on 28 Apr 18.

Olive Ridley Turtles are relatively small rounded Sea Turtles which only grow to about eighty cm in length, compared to the slightly larger Hawksbill Turtles, Green and Loggerhead Turtles which grown to just over a metre and Leatherbacks than can grown to close to two metres. The best ways to identify Sea Turtles is often to photograph the top of the head and shell, as the head & shell segments are generally distinctive. Sadly, this wasn't possible in this case, but Olive Ridley Turtles have distinctive face markings and dull olive-green shells, which is how this Sea Turtle was identified.
Olive Ridley Turtle: This was my only photo showning the side of the face. Olive Ridley Turtles have a relatively plain side of the face, darker on the upper side and paler below and a dark eye patch, whereas most of the other Sea Turtles in range have brighter blotchy faces caused by each dark segment being edged by pale colouration. Leatherback Turtles have pale spots on a dark side to the face
Olive Ridley Turtle: Showing a flipper
Olive Ridley Turtle: This photo confirms the dull olive colouration of the body shell
Although it didn't dive as it passed us, it did keep its head underwater for most of the time we saw it. All to quickly we were passed it.

14 Jan 2023

31 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 5 - Seabirds On The Crossing From The Tanimbar Islands To The Babar Islands

In the previous Blog Post, I wrote about how we successfully saw a roosting Tanimbar Scrubfowl on Nustabun Island, a small island off the coast of the main island of Yamdena, after Wilbur & Raja returned to look for one after dusk. This had the big advantage that we could start sailing for Babar, our next island, sometime after midnight. This was a better option than getting up & landing on Nustabun Island at dawn for a second search.

It is a journey of around 110 miles and the Lady Denok was probably averaging nine mph (eight knots). The plan was that we would arrive early afternoon, which would give us a bonus opportunity to land on East Babar for a few hours of birding. Had we left the following morning, then we wouldn't have arrived at Babar until after dark, when there wouldn't have been any time for Birding.

One of the pleasures of travelling on the Lady Denok was we were sailing through very calm seas throughout the cruise.
The Lady Denok: Note the glass-like sea
The Lady Denok: Looking back from the bows. We either seawatching from the upper deck or when the sun was too strong, the covered deck below it
Local fishing boat: I was regularly surprised at seeing these small fishing boats many miles out to sea from the nearest islands
Another local fishing boat
The seas were never busy with Birds or Cetaceans, but several times an hour we would see one or more Seabirds and the occasional party of Cetaceans. The commonest Wildlife encounter were Flying Fish will over 1250 seen. Frustratingly, most of the Seabirds were sitting on the water or on floating objects & then tended to flush at a fair distance. The result was few Seabirds came close to allow decent photographs.
Tahiti Petrel: Tahiti Petrels were one of the commonest Seabirds we saw with at least twenty-five individuals seen during the day
Tahiti Petrel: there are two subspecies of Tahiti Petrel with the trouessarti subspecies breeding around New Caledonia & the nominate rostrata subspecies breeding on Fiji, American Samoa, the Society, Marquesas & Gambier Islands. It is not clear whether one or both subspecies occur in Indonesian waters and it is only in the last decade or two that their occurrence in Indonesian waters has been recognised, e.g. there is no mention of the species in the BOU Annotated Checklist to the Birds of Wallacea published in 1986
Tahiti Petrel
Tahiti Petrel: Another individual
Tahiti Petrel: A third individual
Bulwer's Petrel: The first of two Bulwer's Petrels we saw on this crossing. Bulwer's Petrels became a familiar sight on the crossings as we headed East
Bulwer's Petrel: Another photo of the first individual. Note, the long thin & angled wings
Bulwer's Petrel: The second of two Bulwer's Petrels we saw on this crossing
Bulwer's Petrel: Bulwer's Petrel have a wide breeding range from the Azores, Madeiran, Canary & Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic, to Round Island in the Indian Ocean and islands off South China, Bonin Island, Hawaiian Islands, Kiribati and the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific Ocean
Bulwer's Petrel: Outside of the breeding season, they wander widely in warmer waters of the Atlantic, Indian & Pacific Oceans
Bulwer's Petrel
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: I assumed this was another Bulwer's Petrel when I first saw this individual sitting on the water. But after it flew, some of the Australian based Birders called it as a Matsudaira's Storm-petrel. I carried on photographing it, hoping to be able to figure it out from the photos
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: It is clearly a very worn individual, but it's possible to see the remnants of the white primary covert bar which is a feature of Matsudaira's Storm-petrel & which helps to separate it from Bulwer's Petrel (which doesn't have a white primary covert bar)
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: The tail should be forked, but like the secondaries, it is very heavy moult
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: They breed on the Volcano Islands to the South of Bonin Island. Outside the breeding season, they disperse as to the Indian Ocean, Indonesia & as far South in the Pacific as New Guinea
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: Another photo showing the remnants of the white primary covert bar
Matsudaira's Storm-petrel: Note the very steep forehead which is far steeper than would be seen on a Bulwer's Petrel. Additionally, the wings are shorter & the primaries are broader than on a Bulwer's Petrel
Wilson's Storm-petrel: Wilson's Storm-petrels were another of the common Seabirds seen with at least eighteen seen on this crossing. Frustratingly, they would all fly up off the water at long range
Wilson's Storm-petrel: They are one of the commonest of all Seabirds with a wide breeding range across the Southern Oceans. The nominate oceanicus subspecies breeds on Crozet, Heard & Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean and Macquarie Island. The exasperatus subspecies breeds on the South Shetland, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, as well as, in Antarctica. Finally, the chilensis subspecies breeds in Southern Chilean fjords, Cape Horn and perhaps the Falkland Islands
Wilson's Storm-petrel
Great Frigatebird: Note, the lack of white axillaries which would be seen on a Lesser Frigatebird
Brown Booby: Adult
Brown Booby: Adult
Five Brown Boobies and a lone Red-footed Booby
Red-footed Boobies: Adults
Red-footed Booby: Immature
Bridled Tern: Note, the long thin while eyebrow & extensive black crown which is a key feature to separate a lone Bridled Tern from a Sooty Tern. Bridled Terns are also smaller, but size is difficult to judge on lone birds
Bridled Tern: Note, the extent of the white in the underwing on the primaries. Another key feature to separate a lone Bridled Tern from a Sooty Tern
Sooty Tern: A comparison photo showing the darker primaries on the underwing & the broader white eyebrow on a Sooty Tern. Ascension Island (23 Apr 18)
Crested Tern: This was the commonest Tern species that we saw on the Lady Denok during the cruise
Crested Tern: Crested Terns are a widespread species occurring along the coast from Namibia to the Red Sea, through the Indian Ocean to the Indian Subcontinent to South East Asia, China, Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia & islands in the Western Pacific
Little Tern: This is the sinensis subspecies which occurs from South East Russia to Japan, South East Asia, Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea
Little Tern
I will cover the Cetaceans and Flying Fish in the next Blog Post.