30 Mar 2023

5 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 10 - The Best Of The Rest On The First Day On Wetar

In the previous Blog Post, I covered the Pigeons & Doves that we saw on the first morning on Wetar. This Blog Post will cover the remaining species seen during the morning.

Based upon the Clements taxonomy that my Birding database still follows, there were only six Ticks for me on Wetar. Wetar shared a lot of species with Timor & while there are a good selection of species on Wetar, this low number is indicative that I had seen a large number of those species when I visited Timor, Flores & Sumba, during the 3.5 months I spent in Indonesia back in 1991. However, there are a number of splits that have been recognised by IOC or proposed by the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago field guide that are likely to be split in the future.
Yellow-throated Golden Whistler: The Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago field guide suggests that there may be a case to split the Wetar subspecies of Yellow-throated Golden Whistler as Wetar Golden Whistler, on the basis of extremely divergent mtDNA, but similar appearance to other subspecies of Yellow-throated Golden Whistler. The field guide states further investigation is needed
Northern Fantail: According to Clements & IOC, this is the pallidiceps subspecies of Northern Fantail which occurs in the Indonesian Lesser Sundas & Moluccas islands, as well as, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago & Northern Australia. The Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago field guide have proposed to split the Indonesian subspecies as several new species, based upon pronounced vocal and plumage differences. This including Timor Fantail, which includes this subspecies, which occurs in Timor, Semau & Wetar Islands
Olive-brown Oriole: This is another of the Indonesian brown Orioles that is a mimic to the local Friarbird. It's another potential armchair Tick for me. Clements considers that the Wetar finschi subspecies & the nominate subspecies on Timor are the same species which they call Olive-brown Oriole. Whereas, IOC & the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago split them as Wetar Oriole & Timor Oriole, respectively
Birding Along The Road
Wetar Forests: One of the good things about Wetar, is the island's economy is significantly based upon mining. While the mine is clearly destroying part of the hills around the village where we landed, it does mean that currently the extensive forests aren't being commercially logged
There doesn't seem to be any disagreement on the taxonomy of the following species.
Black-necklaced Honeyeater: A Black-necklaced Honeyeater showing how it got its name
Black-necklaced Honeyeater: This is a Wetar endemic
Wetar Figbird: Male. This is another monotypic Wetar endemic
Timor Blue Flycatcher: Male. This is the kuehni subspecies which is endemic to Wetar. The other subspecies occurs on Timor, Semau & Rote
Timor Blue Flycatcher: Female. This is also known as Timor Warbling-flycatcher
Pied Bushchat: This is the pyrrhonotus subspecies which is found on Timor, Wetar, Kisar, Sawu, Semau & Rote. There are other subspecies that occur from the Caspian part of the Western Palearctic to Afghanistan, the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, the Philippines, Java, Bali & Wallacea in Indonesia, New Guinea & the Bismarck Archipelago
There was a good selection of Insects along the road.
Indonesian Butterfly sp.
Indonesian Butterfly sp.
Indonesian Yellow Butterfly sp.: I have seen similar looking Butterflies in the Southern Philippines & the Moluccas
Bee Nest: we decided to quickly move on when we saw this Bee nest, just in case the swarm decided to fly
Bee Nest: A close up from the last photo
Indonesian Dragonfly sp.: This is a gorgeous Dragonfly
Indonesian Dragonfly sp.
This is a superb looking Damselfly
It was time to head back to the Lady Denok for lunch. There was time for a roadside stop just outside of the village for a White-bellied Sea-eagle.
White-bellied Sea-eagle: This cracking Sea-eagle is found along the coasts & islands of Southern Asia to the Philippines, Indonesia & Australia
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Tony Palliser waiting for the boats
One of the local canoes
Getting into the boats wasn't always elegant
It was fair to say we were frustrated on the Lady Denok to hear the news that we were to be returning to Wetar soon after lunch. This wasn't to return immediately for Birding, but because we had to travel about 25 miles across the island to the town on the South coast which was the regional capital. Apparently, a new police chief had just arrived on the island & we had to take the passports & check in with him. It was an hour & a half journey on the back of the slow lorry with the knackered engine to get there, albeit about thirty minutes beyond where we stopped for Birding on the way back.

Once there, it was one of those pointless exercises where we all were ushered into the office to meet the police chief, some dreary talk about German football teams for ten minutes, before having to go out to the front steps for team photos with the police chief & his team. Basically, he just didn't seem to have a lot to do & it was the chance to have some photos taken with some of the few tourists who land on Wetar. Nobody asked to see the passports. All in all about an hour & a half wasted, when we could have been relaxing on the Lady Denok or spending more time Birding. Finally, we were told we could continue Birding for the rest of the three days on Wetar, but we would need a police escort.
Our Police Escort: A nice enough guy, who didn't stop us Birding. Every morning he rode his motorbike back along road on his motorbike to find us
After about a half hour of driving on the way back, we stopped at a flatter part of the road with more open area forest. The plan was to scan for Parrots, especially Olive-shouldered Parrot (also known as Jonquil Parrot), which we hadn't seen so far. This species also occurs on Timor & I had seen it on there in 1991. However, it is a different subspecies on Wetar & was a Tick for most of the group. We did see a distant Parrot perch up in the tree which some of the group thought was an Olive-shouldered Parrot, but not all of us were convinced & the views were inconclusive. A couple of Marigold Parakeets did put on a better show for us. The highlight for the site was our first Wetar Myzomela.
Wetar Myzomela: This is a Wetar endemic
Wetar Myzomela
Finally, it was time to move as we had another half hour drive to where we were going to look for the recently split Wetar Scops Owl, which previously had been considered a distinctive subspecies of Moluccan Scops Owl.
Wetar Scops Owl: This is a Wetar endemic
Wetar Scops Owl
Wetar Scops Owl
It had been a long, but successful first day on Wetar, apart from the pointless journey to see the police chief.

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.