2007 SULAWESI/HALMAHERA TOUR
(20 August-13 September)
It was dawn as we neared the display area of the Wallace’s Standardwing on Halmahera, after a long walk in the dark. The Standardwings were already squawking loudly. As we settled down at the site, we could see the silhouettes of several of them bouncing around in the subcanopy only 15 meters away. Gradually as the light became stronger, we could see the “standards,” sticking straight up above their bodies, and then later, the brilliant emerald green breast shield extending out beyond the bird’s sides. Wow! We watched, fascinated, for over an hour as several males noisily strutted their stuff.
Earlier on the tour, in Sulawesi, we arrived at the Maleo site in late afternoon and set up our watch, hoping one would fly up into one of the trees surrounding the clearing to roost for the night. We waited and waited. One called from a distance, but did not approach. Finally sunset came and we gave up our quest for the evening. Early the next morning we arrived back at the site and waited awhile before setting out on a trail through the forest. One was calling near the track and I played a tape hoping he would approach. A movement was seen and soon everyone had good looks at a pair of these strange-looking birds. We were relieved as they are becoming much more difficult to see. Later we were allowed to release two 2-day-old chicks that had been hatched in the secure facility there. The chicks flew strongly away from our hands into the forest. Great fun! Maleo chicks are fully independent and can fly upon hatching. We had good success with the megapodes this trip, with good looks at all four possible species: Philippine, Dusky and Moluccan Scrubfowls and the Maleo.
2005 SULAWESI / HALMAHERA TOUR
(30 JULY-28 AUGUST)
We arrived at the Maleo nesting area in the late afternoon. The local researchers who had been monitoring the site hadn’t seen a Maleo for 4 days, so we climbed into the observation tower expecting a long and possibly fruitless wait. We were there only 10-15 minutes when Iwan, who has been studying the breeding of the Maleo, spotted one perched in a tree about 80 meters away. We got the bird in the scope and found that there was a pair. After excellent, extended scope views, we climbed down from the tower and set up the scope again and watched them until it became too dark for observation. We were very fortunate to have seen this unusual bird so easily and quickly as it is becoming increasingly more difficult because the habitat in the surrounding national park has been severely degraded.
We saw a stunning total of 8 owls: Sulawesi and Minahassa Owls, Sulawesi and Moluccan Scops-Owls, and Rufous (Ninox ios), Ochre-bellied, Moluccan and Speckled Boobooks. Excellent scope views of Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar, as well as Diabolical, Great Eared, Large-tailed and Savanna Nightjars rounded out our nocturnal bird coverage.
We arrived at the Wallace’s Standardwing lek at about 0700, a little later than we’d planned and the display was in full swing: about 10 males squawking loudly and periodically spreading their metallic green breast shields and their wings and “parachuting,” with the 6 or so “standards” fluttering above them as they floated down for a few feet. Only a couple of females were in attendance. The appearance of a juvenal Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk interrupted the display periodically as he dashed through the lek looking for a quick meal. The hour we spent at the display site was one of the highlights of the tour.
1997 HALMAHERA / SULAWESI TOUR
A small bird, about 30 ft. up in a tree overhanging the road, caught my attention. When I looked at it through my binoculars, it turned out to be a small flycatcher. Closer inspection with a spotting scope revealed that the bird had characteristics rather different from any known species. Everyone got good views of the bird with their binoculars, but not all were able to view it with the scope as it soon disappeared. A few days later, we found a pair of this mystery species and were able to get extended studies as well as a tape recording of some call notes. Subsequently we met another group of birders from Europe who had briefly seen a similar bird.
We were on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia and we apparently discovered an undescribed species, a bird new to science. It will take more field studies to sort out the bird's identity, but it was a most exciting first for a KingBird Tour.
Elsewhere on Sulawesi, we had fine views of the island's most bizarre endemic, the Maleo, as several of the species flew up to their night-time roost in late afternoon. For the first time, we saw all four of Sulawesi's endemic accipiters (Sulawesi Goshawk, Spot-tailed Goshawk, Small Sparrowhawk, and Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk), on one tour. Only the Vinous-breasted evaded superb scope looks. Diurnal raptors were well represented with Jerdon's Baza, Barred Honey-Kite, Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle, Spotted Harrier, Black Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle and Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle. A special treat was a lengthy scope view of a perched Sombre Pigeon only 80 feet away. Six different Purple-bearded Bee-eaters were particularly enjoyable.
On Halmahera, all enjoyed good looks at Wallace's Standardwing, but several extremely lucky folks were privileged to see this exotic species copulating at close range at eye level. Everybody got good looks at the Ivory-breasted Pitta, and the Paradise Crow performed well for us.
The trip produced 13 species of kingfishers (including Green-backed, Common Paradise, Black-billed, Blue-and-white, Sombre, Beach, Masked, Sulawesi and Variable), Gurney's Eagle, Philippine and Dusky Scrubfowl, Red-backed Buttonquail, excellent close scope views of White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, 5 Fruit-doves, 7 imperial pigeons, 14 parrots (including White Cockatoo, 2 racquet-tails and 3 hanging-parrots), Yellow-billed Malkoha, Goliath and Bay Coucals, 6 owls (including Sulawesi Owl and Speckled Boobook), Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar, 4 nightjars, 3 rollers, 3 hornbills, 8 cuckooshrikes, 3 trillers, Great Shortwing, great looks at Sulawesi and Rusty-backed Thrushes, 5 monarchs, 3 fantails, 5 whistlers, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, 8 starlings and mynas, Ivory-backed Woodswallow and much more.
It was a splendid trip with good company, great birds, fine hospitality and excellent food.