27 Oct 2022

27 Oct 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 1 - More Tanimibar Endemics

By early afternoon, we were back in the vehicles to head out for our first afternoon of Birding on Tanimbar. This was planned to continue into the early evening in search of Owls. It was still hot & very humid as we head out. It was probably about thirty degrees centigrade: a daytime temperature we were slowly to get more accustomed to, but one that was generally too hot for my liking, even after a few weeks into the trip. The reality it wasn't the temperature that made it hard, it was the very high humidity.

After a drive, we reach the start of the forest trail. This sounds like it was a nice place for Birding. The reality is it was fairly open for the first half mile along an ex-logging trail, before we entered small remnant of secondary & what was left of some nicer forest. The nicer forest patches were only a couple of hundred metres in length, before they degraded again. While there was no longer any commercial logging occurring on this trail, there were two or three motorbikes going along the trail to manually fell & cut up timber. Sadly, this patch of forest will only get worse in time. It's the ultimate irony of Birding in many forest areas abroad, outside of well-regulated reserves, that much of the Birding ends up occurring along logging or ex-logging trails where the forest is already degraded. While there looked to be better forest on island, the lack of roads to them, would make access to those areas difficult. Once roads are built, that's when the forests start becoming degraded as loggers or other people move in to cut areas with slash & burn farming.
Kevin & Lizzie as we reached the forest edge
The forest improved once we walked further along the track, albeit some of the original bigger & more valuable trees would already have logged
One of the benefits of these logged tracks is that seeing some of the Pigeons & Parrots can be easier especially in the forest edges. Some of the Pigeon and Doves species like to sit out in the open.
Tanimbar Cuckoo Dove: This lovely Cuckoo Dove is a Tanimbar endemic
Wallace's Fruit-dove: This is one of the most gorgeous of the Fruit-doves that we saw. It occurs on the Tanimbar, Kai & Aru Islands and some locations in West Papua
Rose-crowned Fruit-dove: The xanthogaster subspecies that occurs on the Tanimbar Islands, as well as, neighbouring Banda Sea islands, the Kai and Aru islands, doesn't have the rose crown of the nominate Australian and some other subspecies
Oriental Cuckoo: Identification of silent Cuckoos on wintering grounds is always a problem. However, there are no records to confirm that the very similar-looking Himalayan Cuckoo winters in Indonesian Wallacea, only the Greater Sundas (which includes Borneo), whereas Oriental Cuckoo winters throughout Indonesia & New Guinea
We ended up seeing the majority of the Tanimbar Ticks during the afternoon. However, it was all a bit rushed and while we saw the Birds, I didn't have the time to photograph many of the species. Fortunately, we had a further two full days & the final morning on the island.
Wallacean Whistler: This is the arctitorquis subspecies that is restricted to the Tanimbar Islands. Two other subspecies occur on a few other neighbouring Banda Sea islands
Ashy-bellied White-eye: This species occurs throughout the Lesser Sundas and the Banda Sea, with the exception of Flores & the islands East of there. This is the albiventris subspecies which occurs on the Tanimbar Islands, as well as, a few small islands off the Queensland coast
Slaty-backed Thrush: It was great to see this stunning Tanimbar endemic Thrush on the first afternoon
Birders used to Birding in South East Asian & Australia, but who haven't visited Wallacea before, would be surprised that there is a tricky identification problem of separating Orioles from Friarbirds. The former are generally bright yellow, green & black compact species, whereas, Friarbirds tend to be ungainly grey-brown species, with paler underparts. This simple summary breakdowns down in Wallacea, where there a number of islands that have an ungainly grey-brown Oriole that look very similar to the local Friarbird. Good views are often needed for a visiting Birder to figure out the two species. Nobody had any explanations why the Orioles have turned into Friarbird mimics, with the best suggestion being that as Friarbirds are very aggressive within their territories, then perhaps this allows the Orioles to not be bullied out of the same fruiting trees. I will come back to this subject in a future Blog Post.
Tanimbar Oriole: As the name suggests this is a Tanimbar endemic
Tanimbar Oriole
Kevin Stacey, Arthur Geilvoet (chimping), Tony Palliser and Richard Carden (left to right)
As the light started to go, we headed to the start of the forest and waited for it to get dark enough to look for Owls. Wilbur quickly managed to call in an endemic Tanimbar Boobook, which posed nicely for some photos. One of the benefits of switching to a Canon 7D Mark II is I can now use a much higher ISO setting that on my old 7D Mark I. Secondly, the image is a lot less grainy. It will be even better on the latest Canon cameras, but I can't afford to buy the latest camera body, every time Canon realises a new model. The result is this and all my other night-time Owl and Nightjar photos were taken hand-held with a high ISO and no flash, with just the light of a torch on the Owl or Nightjar.
Tanimbar Boobook
We had enjoyed a good day's Birding, especially as we didn't get into the field until late morning. It was time to return to the hotel for dinner & to catch up with some much needed sleep, before the pre-dawn alarm call.