25 Mar 2023

5 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 10 - A Plethora Of Pigeons On The First Day On Wetar

The crew had motored overnight so that we were off the island of Wetar: our base for the next three days. Wetar has a good selection of species that overlaps with the neighbouring & larger island of Timor, to its South. This includes the Indonesian West of the island and East Timor at the Eastern end.

We woke early for another well before dawn breakfast on the Lady Denok. One of the great things is the Lady Denok team were good at providing a substantial breakfast regardless of the start time. It helped given how early it was. After eating, we were quickly in the boats & heading to the shore. An open backed lorry arrived just after us in the village. We jumped in the back & were soon on our way up into the hills. It proved to be a slow journey as the lorry ended up going down into first gear on every hill: as the engine was knackered. It was the first of three slow drives across the island, as every lunchtime we returned back to the boat.

The first highlights were a couple of Timor Nightjars a few miles out of town on the road. One was giving its tok-tok-tok call, which didn't too dissimilar to what I remember of Large-tailed Nightjar. Perhaps it's call is more subtly distinctive as the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago field guide states that while it was previously considered as conspecific with Large-tailed Nightjar, it has been proposed as a new species with a range of Timor & Wetar based up its distinct vocalisations. Perhaps not suprising as Mees's Nightjar, which occurs on Flores, Alor, Pantar & Sumba, was split from Large-tailed Nightjar about a decade ago by Clements & IOC. I think this is a case of the paper being written to formally propose the reasons for Timor Nightjar to be split.
Birding From The Lorry: This shows the high hills on the island
Graham Tebb
Roadside Birding
After watching the Timor Nightjars on the road, we carried on slowly trundling up the hill. It quickly started to get lighter & the light was reasonable by the time we have reached our destination about halfway across the island. This was the first session of roadside Birding. Quite often roadside Birding isn't great as you end up having to keep moving to the edge of the road as traffic passes. But when that is only a couple of times an hour, it's wasn't that bad on this occasion. This morning was a good morning for seeing Pigeons & Doves.
Timor Zebra Dove: This is also known as Barred Dove
Little Cuckoo Dove: This is the orientalis subspecies which occurs on Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Sumba, Pantar, Timor & Wetar. This is the most South Eastern subspecies. Other subspecies occur in Burma, Thailand, Yunnan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Java & Bali
Dusky Cuckoo Dove: This is also known as Timor Cuckoo Dove, but I will stick with the name that was used in 1991. This is a monotypic species which occurs on Timor, Wetar Alor, Romang, Kisar, Leti, Moa & Sermata Islands
Black Cuckoo Dove: This species in restricted to Timor, Wetar & Rota. I was glad to see this species well, as my only sighting of this distinctive species back in 1991, was an individual that flew past us
Black-backed Fruit-dove: Another island & another subspecies. This is the nominate cinctus subspecies which occurs on Timor, Wetar & Romang Islands
Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon: This is a small island specialist which is found on islands in the Java Sea & Flores Sea, as well as, some of the smaller & larger islands in the Lesser Sundas
Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon
Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon
Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon
In one of the roadside stops, I picked up two distant Eagles that were over a couple of miles away flying over the distant cliffs. Fortunately, they took pity on our inabilities to identify them at that range & glided over towards the cliffs on our side of the valley. They didn't pass that close, but they were close enough to allow us to confirm they were Bonelli's Eagles.
Bonelli's Eagle: This is the renschi subspecies which is endemic to the Lesser Sundas. The other subspecies occurs from Southern Europe to India, Southern China & Indochina
I will cover the other species seen on Wetar on the first day in the next Blog Post.

18 Mar 2023

4 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 9 - Melon-headed Whales Between Leti & Wetar

The previous Blog Post covered the Birds seen on the crossing between Leti & Wetar on the Banda Sea Cruise. My avian highlight was a showy Bulwer's Petrel. But my highlight for the crossing was again taken by a pod of Cetaceans. About 15:15, we saw a distant pod of Cetaceans on the surface. I grabbed some distant photos and had a look at the zoomed up images.
Melon-headed Whale: They were distant small-looking Blackfish and I couldn't see any of the broad dorsal fins that the two Pilot Whale species show
They were clearly Blackfish. Blackfish is the name given for a group of largely black-coloured Dolphins comprising of: Orca (Killer Whale), Long-finned Pilot Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whale, False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale & Melon-headed Whale. Despite being called Whales, they are all part of the Dolphin family. Their small size and lack of any individuals with high dorsal fins ruled out Orca and I couldn't see any of the individuals showing very broad dorsal fins which males of the two Pilot Whale species show. This eliminated three of the Blackfish, but we would have to wait until they got closer, before we could identify them. I took lots of distant photos, but apart from the above photo, they have all been deleted, as the Blackfish stayed on the surface for closer photos. It's a good job we have moved on from the film cameras I started using many years ago.
Short-finned Pilot Whale: For comparison, these are some of the Short-finned Pilot Whales we saw on the crossing between Babar & Damar Islands. Note, the very broad dorsal fin of the male (2 Nov 22)
Separating False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale & Melon-headed Whale would need a bit more checking. Fortunately, they stayed on the surface and some of the fifty or so in the pod, passed very close to the Lady Denok. They were small Blackfish about the size of the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins & Pantropical Dolphins, and were a lot smaller than the Short-finned Pilot Whales, that we had seen on the crossing from Babar to Damar a couple of days earlier. This allowed us to eliminate False Killer Whales which can grow to a size of 5 - 6 metres: which are a similar size to the 5.5 to 7.2 metres of Short-finned Pilot Whales. In both cases, the males are the larger of the two sexes.
Melon-headed Whale
Separating Pygmy Killer Whale from Melon-headed Whale is trickier as both are about the same size: 2.6 metres for the former & 2.8 metres for the latter species. I've not seen Pygmy Killer Whale, so I have to rely on what I can learn from the excellent Marine Mammals of the World Ed 2 guide and photos online. Useful separation features include the head shape when it is seen from above and the flipper shape. Neither of these features can be seen in any of the photos.
Melon-headed Whale: A dorsal fin profile. The Marine Mammals of the World guide states that Pygmy Killer Whales have a dorsal fin that is tall, slightly falcated & rising at a relatively shallow angle from the back, whereas, Melon-headed Whales have a dorsal fin that is tall, slightly falcated and located near the middle of the back. Comparing photos online, this dorsal fin is fairly steep in angle & the dorsal fin shape suggests this a Melon-headed Whale
Melon-headed Whale: The Marine Mammals of the World guide states that Pygmy Killer Whales have a dark grey to black body with a fairly prominent narrow cape that dips only slightly below the dorsal fin. Whereas, Melon-headed Whales have a rounded cape that dips much lower below the dorsal fin: which would give them a more uniform colouration on the parts of the body I've managed to photograph. Both species have a paler grey broad pale stripe above the eye which extends from the lower body, however, this broad stripe can be difficult to see in either species, unless the lighting is favourable
Melon-headed Whale: Neither species have a beak except some young individuals
Melon-headed Whale
Melon-headed Whale: Looking at photos in the Marine Mammals of the World guide and online, Pygmy Killer Whales have a bulkier body & deeper head shape, compared to the more slender Melon-headed Whales. This photo clearly shows these are a slender more streamline Blackfish
Melon-headed Whale: A close up of the head from the last photo showing the head shape & white lips. Both species can show white lips, with photos and illustrations showing these can be much broader in height in Pygmy Killer Whales (especially older individuals) and narrow in Melon-headed Whales
Melon-headed Whale: Melon-headed Whales occur in all tropical & subtropical deep water oceans from 40 degrees North to 35 degrees South: in the Pacific this is roughly from Southern Japan to halfway down the Australian coast
Based on the photos, these are only my third pod of Melon-headed Whales. The other two pods were both seen between Ascension Island and Cape Verde on 24 Apr 18 while I was on the Atlantic Odyssey.

14 Mar 2023

4 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 9 - A Showy Bulwer's Petrel Between Leti & Wetar

After a successful landing on Leti, we were back on the Lady Denok by late morning. We spent the rest of the day seawatching as we travelled for Wetar Island. We saw a reasonable selection of Seabirds on the crossing including a few Wilson's Storm-petrels, some very distant Frigatebirds, a Red-tailed Tropicbird, some Brown & Red-footed Boobies, a few Common Noddies, two Bridled Terns and two White-winged Black Terns. Perhaps the surprise of the crossing was a party of seventeen Great Knot which bombed past us.
Great Knot: Not a great photo, but at least it enabled them to be identified (which we were struggling to do with the bins)
The two Bridled Terns were taking advantage of this floating branch
This White-winged Black Tern was happy on this floating rubbish
Another White-winged Black Tern taking advantage of more floating rubbish
We didn't see many boats once we were at sea & well away from the land. However, these two guys were a surprise to see in such a small boat, given they were many miles from the nearest island.
This didn't look to be a suitable boat to be many miles from land
This local boat looked more suited to being well offshore
Frustratingly, most of the true Seabirds were distant, so it was nice when we saw the only Bulwer's Petrel on the crossing & it turned out to be a showy individual. I do like the bizarre jizz of Bulwer's Petrels. Personally, I think Bulwer's Petrels are my favourite Western Palearctic breeding Seabird & I would love to see one from a boat in UK waters.
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer's Petrel
I will cover the highlight of the crossing in the next Blog Post.

8 Mar 2023

4 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 9 - More Leti Birding

We had had a successful start to the morning's Birding on Leti with good views of the endemic Kisar Friarbird, along with the local subspecies of Yellow-throated Golden Whistler & Southern Boobook. Plus, I had seen a bonus Red-backed Buttonquail. We still had more time birding the forest & field edges to the village where we had landed before dawn.
Black-backed Fruit-dove: This is the lettiensis subspecies which is restricted to Leti, Moa, Luang, Sermata and Teun Islands. There are four other subspecies of this Lesser Sundas endemic
Rose-crowned Fruit-dove: This is the roseipileum subspecies which is restricted to East Timor, Wetar, Romang, Kissar, Moa & Leti Islands. Like the xanthogaster subspecies that occurs on Babar, Damar & the Tanimbar Islands, it does not have the rose crown that the third Lesser Sundas subspecies and the two Australian subspecies have
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, as I generally get confused with the names for this group of similar-looking small Doves
Little Bronze-cuckoo: This is the rufomerus subspecies which we had previously seen on Damar Island. It also occurs on Romang, Kisar, Moa & Sermata Islands
Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher: This is the dammerianus subspecies which occurs on Moa, Leti, Babar & Damar Islands. Two other subspecies occur on other Lesser Sundas & Tanimbar Islands
White-shouldered Triller: This is a monotypic Wallacean endemic which occurs from East Java and Bali to Sulawesi subregion & the Lesser Sundas
Paddyfield Pipit: This is the medius subspecies of the Eastern Lesser Sundas. Another subspecies occurs in Bali, Sulawesi, Bali & the Western Lesser Sundas. Other subspecies occur in Borneo, the Philippines, South East Asia, Indochina, the Indian Subcontinent and St Just in Cornwall (albeit sadly this individual never made it onto the UK List)
Zebra Finch: Male on the left & female on the right. This is the guttata subspecies which occurs from Lombok to Sumba, Timor & some of the Banda Sea islands, which Clements lumps with the Zebra Finch found in Australia. IOC & the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago splits guttata as a monotypic species: so this will be another armchair Tick for me when I get the time to convert my birding database to follow IOC taxonomy
Zebra Finch: Female. That is an impressive bill
We returned to the village in late morning where we were met by the Lady Denok's boats. It had been another successful morning ashore.
Tree Sparrow: This is the malaccensis subspecies. We typically saw Tree Sparrows as we got back to the villages at the end of the Birding
Back in the village
Just in case, we weren't sure if this was a Christian village
On the beach waiting for the Lady Denok's boats
Looking back on the village