Ambon, Seram, Kei, Tanimbar and Buru
(20 July-19 August)

We were walking along a logging road on Yamdena Island in the Tanimbar Island group at about 0400 in the morning, stopping regularly to listen, spotlight the trees, and squeak in hopes of finding a Lesser Masked Owl. We had already been on the road for two hours, covering several kilometers. Then we heard it, a Barn Owl-like screech. I squeaked loudly in hopes the owl would fly in to investigate a potential easy meal. Something was soon seen flying overhead, but it disappeared. More squeaking. Phil Rostron spotted a likely object flying by and pointed out its direction. I turned the spotlight on and there it was: 80 meters distant about 10-12 meters up in a tree next to the road. I kept the light on the bird while everyone trained their binoculars and scopes on him. Fortunately, the owl remained for several minutes, allowing everyone an opportunity to view it through one of the three scopes. Wow! There have been only a couple of other sightings of this little-known bird in the last 80 years! Two mornings later along the same road, Ron Hoff spotted another Lesser Masked Owl atop a dead tree right next to the road as we drove by. We stopped immediately and got a better, albeit brief, look at about 12 meters. We voted the owl our bird of the trip.

Later in the tour, on a ferry trip between Ambon and Buru, Phil Rostron spotted a tern on the port side he thought might be Grey-backed, which soon flew behind the ship. I crossed to the starboard side to get a better look. I was unable to see the tern, but just astern and about 15 meters over the boat was a booby, which was mostly white underneath. I watched closely to see if it was a Masked or Red-footed. Then the bird banked, showing its entirely white upperbody contrasting with all black upperwings – Abbott’s Booby! We watched for several minutes as he slowly circled away from us in the wake of the ship. While there are a few recent records in these seas for this rare species, it was a great thrill to see it so far from its only known breeding site on Christmas Island south of Java. The boat trip also produced 2 Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels and several Bulwer’s Petrels. 

Our inaugural South Maluku Tour–the first birding tour ever to this area–was quite successful, giving us an excellent sampling of the endemics and other species of these remote islands. Some of the more interesting species were: Australian Pelican, Australian Ibis, Spotted Whistlingduck, Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy Goose, Pacific Baza, Sunda Goshawk, Gurney’s, Bonelli’s and Little Eagles, Oriental and Australian Hobbys, Orange-footed and Tanimbar Scrubfowl, Australian Pratincole, Bar-necked Cuckoo-Dove, Wallace’s, Superb, Rose-crowned, Claret-breasted and White-breasted Fruit-Doves, Moluccan, Spectacled, Blue-tailed, and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Blue-streaked, Red, and Blue-eared Lorys, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Salmon-crested and Tanimbar Cockatoos, Buru Racquet-tail, Great-billed Parrot, Moluccan King-Parrot, Pied Bronze-Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Moluccan Scops-Owl, Moluccan Boobook, Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Variable Kingfisher, Papuan Hornbill, Wallacean, Moluccan, Kai and Pale-grey Cuckooshrikes, White-browed and Varied Trillers, Slaty-backed Thrush, Tanimbar Bush-Warbler, Streak-breasted, Rufous-chested, and Cinnamon-chested Flycatchers, Rufous-sided Gerygone, Island, White-naped, Loetoe, Black-bibbed, and White-tailed Monarchs, Dark-grey, Broad-billed and Shining Flycatchers, Cinnamon-tailed, Streak-breasted, Rufous-rumped and Long-tailed Fantails, Golden-bellied Flyrobin, Island, Grey-headed, Wallacean, and Drab Whistlers, Ashy and Flame-breasted Flowerpeckers, Great Kai, Little Kai, Buru and Ambon White-eyes, Grey-hooded Ibon, Scaly-breasted and Seram Honeyeaters, Drab, Crimson, and Black-breasted Myzomelas, Seram Friarbird, Tricoloured Parrotfinch, Tanimbar Starling, Long-crested Myna, Grey-necked and Dark-eared Orioles, Green Figbird, and Seram and Tanimbar Crows. We saw a total of 182 species and heard an additional four.