4 years birding, 4 years of adventure. I have many memories among it, and travels to many places that I never know before, and every places gave me something special that most other places don’t have. However, there are several birdwatching place that more ‘special’ for me, the place that very ‘birdie’ so I almost considered it as a paradise in world. A place with many endemics, special and beautiful birds. The place where the birds are like ‘in everywhere’. The place that easy to reach and have a good facilities too. The place with memories. And yeah, the place where a birdwatcher will scream in cheers and satisfy, that they just passed the best moment of their birding life!
This is my story about the 5 birdiest places I have ever visited in my life. It’s all subjective and I’m sure that there are many more bird paradise in other side of the world that I haven’t visited yet. But so far, those place below are the most birdiest place I have ever visited in the last 4 years of my birding life. So, here’s the rank, enjoy!
5. Alas Tekek, Merapi National Park, Yogyakarta (Before 2010)
Alas Tekek is an open area on the southeastern slope of Mt. Merapi. This place was famous among birdwatcher in Yogyakarta as the nesting place of Javan Hawk Eagle. A group from Kutilang Indonesia Birdwatching Club found this nest in 2008 and realized that this is maybe the nest of the last Javan Hawk Eagle in Merapi National Park, and they did an organized survey to make sure the nest is save. However, the nestling was lost after hatched, probably being taken by the Long-tailed Macaques (I never like this monkey!).
That time, this place was easy to reach by motorcycle, with great scenery around. We need to walk about 2 kilometers to reach the observation area.. through a hard and steep track. The area itself consist by some homogenous forest of pine trees, bushes, open grazzy land and many dead trees from the latest eruption of Mt. Merapi. There were several special birds here beside the Eagle, including 2 other species of resident raptors, Sunda Minivet, Black-naped Oriole, huge flocks of Asian Glossy Starling, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, Red-breasted Parakeet, Orange-headed Thrush, Javan Whsilting Thrush, Rufous-tailed Fantail, Mountain Whiteye, and GreenJunglefowl.
The next year, me (in my earliest stage as a birdwatcher) and several other birdwatcher found that the pair was making a nest again. We then made a weekly survey to this place, and I almost always included in every week. There, I learned so many things about birdwatching from my seniors, and saw some great birds too. Especially for Javan Hawk Eagle that very easy, sometimes went very close to us, less than 5 meters!
Our greatest day here was in Indonesia’s independence day, August 17th 2009. We celebrated this day with observing the eagle nest from far like usual. It would be great if this Indonesian national bird hatched right at the country’s independence day, but it was not hatching yet. But we did a great birdwatcher with a big, really big and nosy flock of Asian Glossy Starling and Red-breasted Parakeet. Some Pink-headed Fruit Dove also presents, but simply flew away when they saw our present. There were also many Flame-fronted Barbet, Black-banded Barbet, Indian Black Eagle, Crested Sherpent Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Chesnut-backed Scimitar Babbler, Great Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Slender-billed Crow, Great-billed Crow, Black-naped Oriole etc. The Hawk Eagle flew very close to us, being mobbed by White-breasted Woodswallow and crows.
My last visit to this place was in February 2010, in the middle of rain and we didn’t find many birds. I didn’t know that it’s my last visit, until Merapi’s eruption in 2010 destroyed this memorable place entirely. I have many memories here, but then it disappears between ashes. Yep, best biridng place ever!
4. Tahura R. Soeryo, Batu, East Java
This huge forested area is hidden among other Java’s birding spot, and not many people know birding potency of this place. Well, not until FOBI biodiversity expedition at 2012 discover the unique richness of this big mountainous forest park. It’s the easiest place to find the charismatic Javan Hawk Eagle (sometimes so close even less than 5 meters!), with several other endemics including Chesnut-breasted Partridge, Flame-fronted Barbet, Sunda Bush Warbler, Javan Whistling Thrush, Javan Hanging Parrot, Javan Banded Pitta, Javan Barred Owlet and many more! And one more thing: after a full-day birding and feel so tired, you can refresh your body and mind at a good open hot spring here… with Scaly Thrush and Orange-breasted Trogon around the pool!
There are 2 main trails for birding, the first is a long asphalt road from that crossing the park. This provides some mountain-dwelling bird like Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Sunda Bush Warbler, Sunda Minivet, Blue Nuthatch, Javan Banded Pitta, Wreathed Hornbill etc. A bridge that crosses deep narrow valley at the middle of road is a good place for both White-crowned and Sunda Forktail, Snowy Browed Flycatcher and the Javan Hawk Eagle (usually perch on a tree on the road side, not too afraid of human!). The second trail is a steep, circling stair-path around a hill near the hot spring, ridiculously called “Jogging Track” (Who’s the crazy people that want to jog in this hell-like path???!!!). It’s tiring, but produces many birds including Checker-throated Woodpecker, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Pink-headed Fruit Dove, Scaly Thrush, Orange-breasted Trogon, Javan and Blue Whistling Thrush and many more!
I’ve only been here once at a birdrace event at the end of 2012. It’s not a long trip, I have only 1 full day and a couple hours for birding. However, this short trip almost fulfilled my expectation about this place as they said in FOBI expedition: easy birds, good facilities, and the hotspring. The only minus is I didn’t find the Trogon or the Imperial Pigeon.. but it’s just because I didn’t have any time to birds on the “Jogging Track”. But me and my teammate Khaleb Yordan did a very good birding and provided 2nd place for the race.. YO-HO!
We have a funny and ridiculous story here. At our first day, Khaleb got strong headache and barely can’t move from his sleeping bag. I was fine, very fine.. until I realized that I was sick too, by the 2nd worst disease ever for a fieldworker: Influenza (Diarrhea is the 1st). The night before the race, we lied inside our sleeping bag and didn’t move at all! We took some pills and hardly tried to sleep.. and we did it well. The next morning, we were fresh and almost ready for the birding!
We split the team: Khaleb to the “Jogging Track” while I took the truck to the end of asphalt road and swept it out. We thought that this was the best plan for the race, and it’s proved! Just a couple moment after I went off the truck, I found a big party of Flame-fronted Barbet, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot and Crescent-chested Babbler. I continued my way and got more birds, let’s say: Javan Banded Pitta, Sunda Minivet, Little Pied Flycatcher, Javan Spotted Owlet, Wreathed Hornbill, and Sunda Bush Warbler (the last three were lifers for me!).
I rejoined Khaleb just before the midday. He saw almost all that I saw, plus the Trogon, Checker-throated Woodpecker, and Pink-headed Fruit Dove. We also heard some people that saw a Javan Hawk Eagle perched on a nearby tree, but it flew away and didn’t come back whilst we were there.
We ended this amazing day with some crazy action in hot spring, in the middle of freezing night. Yeah, #YOLO!
3. Baluran National Park
This park is getting more popular for the last decade. Despite it didn’t have many endemics—much better at the western side like Cibodas and Carita—Baluran provides many stunning things that easier to find than anywhere else in the world! The National Park consists of many kind of ecosystem, from scrubs, evergreen forest, mangrove, savanna, and also rain forest. The rain forest is hard to accessed, being located in the Mt Baluran’s crater and you need a special permit to get there. But the main attraction is not there! It’s on the lowland part of the park—where you can find the awesome Green Peafowl (easier than elsewhere!), the endemic Green Junglefowl, sometimes Red Junglefowl, hornbills, raptors, malkohas, Javan Sparrow, Javan Kingfisher and many many more!
The reason why this park is so rich of bird species (many local birder considered it as bird paradise!) is because the unique ecosystem rich that to close each other—you can visited most of the habitat-type by walking for a half day, from evergreen to the savanna, from scrub to the shore. This provides a huge number of bird species in a one day, up to 100 species, something that hard to do in the other place in this island. That’s why I put it on the 3rd birdiest place I have ever visited.
So far, I’ve visited this national park 3 times, that’s mean once every year, all under the event of Baluran Birdrace. The birdrace itself considered as one of the biggest birdrace in this country, being participated by up to 300 birders from the whole nation. I didn’t remember which visit is the best, because every time I came, there were always something special!
The first I came here is at 2010, at the first annual Baluran Birdrace. I came here with my best friend and also my team, Bintang and Mas Jarot. We did a very good birdwatching with up to 85 species in one day, and give us the 2nd winner of the race. But it was not the special things—the special moment is my first time to see a wild male Green Peafowl, not too close but still beautiful to see! It was happen in our very first day, when we have a free 3 hour for track survey and preparation for tomorrow’s race.
We then walked towards Bama Beach when I saw a strange movement on the track far away: it was a male Green Junglefowl, another lifer for me! When I struggled to set up my binocular withour made any sudden movement, my friend took it down and pointed his finger to the nearest bush.
“You don’t need that, just see what’s under that bush!” he said.
“HOLY S**T!” I shouted. “GREEN JUNGLEFOWL!”
Yep, there were 5 Green Junglefowl, less then 5 meters from us, sat there in calm and din’t give any attention to our present. For them, we were just like we were nothing than a fool harmless monkey with binocular! It didn’t move or even show any stressed expression, it simply sat there, for the whole moment we surprised. And yeah, for the next kilometers, we saw this ground-dwelling bird/small-sized chicken crossing the street.. just like domestic chicken around my house!
The next day was even more surprising! It was late afternoon, when we just finished our morning birdwatching and decided to take a break at Bama Beach. So far, we got more than 70 species in less than 6 hour (never as good as this) and we decided to continue our party to the forest along the beach (there are a sign-board with “birdwaching trail” text on it—it’s kind of promising right?). So we took our first 10 meters there with several Ebony Langur (the east java’s race with several adult keep their ebony fur, which usually only occurs in infant), but still no birds around. The next 5 meters, we got our first bird: a stunning view of Crested Serpent Eagle. We walked again for 5 meters when we hear a loud “kakaka” voice of Oriental Pied Hornbill, and we found about 5 of it. The next 5 meters, another big bird coming: Lesser Adjutant, another lifer for me. Again, at the next 5 meters, we got a White-bellied Sea-eagle! So we only took 30 meters and we’ve got 5 stunning different big birds in less than 15 minutes!
I have more great experience here, but it’s impossible to write it all at once. Let’s say: Seeing a full-tailed breeding male Green Peafowl less than 1 meter from me (and both of us were freeze by surprise for a couple second!), watching more than 10 male Green Peafowl flushed from the thick bush with it’s stunning waving tail, spending a night with a group of wild water buffalo, watching a thousand butterflies fly at once, or my favourite one, watching some innocent peoples being robbed by the evil gank of Long-tailed Macaques at Bama beach!
Damn, I hate those macaques!
2. Carita, Banten
Many peoples know this place as a famoust tourism place for it’s beautiful beach, and the worse traffic jam. For birdwatchers, Carita is a paradise! The forest behind the beach is one of the last stronghold of Java’s lowland specialist, such as Javan Banded Pitta (the main star!), Grey-cheeked Tit-Babbler, Javan Frogmouth, Sunda Scops Owl, Javan Barred Owlet, and many more! The only bad thing about it maybe for the worse traffic jam in the weekend, as many people from Jakarta and surrounding cities come and it became crowded! Aah, did I mention those evil mosquito ganks over there?
My latest visit there was with my Danish friend, Jens, as a part of our long trip to some places of Java, including Carita, Yogyakarta and Cibodas. I put Carita to my 2nd birdiest place I’ve ever visited, not just because it contains most Java’s lowland specialist, but also for the beautiful scenery, easy birds and easy track—this place would be perfect as long as you came at weekdays and brought your best mosquito lotion (better use local brand, Jens brought his super mosquito lotion from South America and it didn’t work!).
Before we visited this place, we discussed about our main target: Javan Banded Pitta. I haven’t seen Pitta that time, and Jens who had more experience told me that Pitta is “never easy”. He said that most Pitta are shy, they are goddamned bird who hide behind the bushes, leaving the poor birdwatcher with false expectation of their loud call but never show up. He even told me that sometimes, people should crawl on dirt and thorns or hopelessly wait for several hour only to see this bird—and often come back with nothing!
So there we were, preparing our physic and mental for the warzone tomorrow (We got here in the afternoon)–I even learned how to crawl efficiently. A flock of Short-tailed Glossy Starling relaxed our mind little bit at our first evening, but still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Pitta. At the morning, we set up our equipment as good as possible. We walked to the forest behind our hotel slowly, still thinking about this difficult bird. We might not see this bird anyway, or might be just a bad view of it when it kept hidden behind the thick bushes–we’ve prepared our mind for that case. And suddenly..
“Jens, something hops on the road!”
“Aaah yeah, it’s looked like a Thrush”
“Well yeah.. wait, it looks like..”
“Yeah it looks like…”
“OH MY GOD IT’S A JAVAN BANDED PITTA!”
“OH MY GOD IT’S A JAVAN BANDED PITTA!”
So we shouted, and then we shook each other hand and jump in cheers—it was too easy! The bird that we expected to be our most difficult target here just simply hipped on the road. We didn’t need to crawl under the bushes or wait hopelessly for several hour! And yes, for the next 3 days, we saw this bird again and again–they are really really really common here! I mean when someone said that this bird is easy, we didn’t expect that it will simply hipped on the road like this. Every turn we took, we simply met this bird again. Every bushes we passed, a Banded Pitta voice were heard like from everywhere!
A several minutes later, a huge white flash showed up—it’s a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle, perched just about 20 meters from us. We then found our other target: Grey-cheeked Tit Babbler, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Black-headed and Red-eyed Bulbul were simply hipped on the nearest branch, Black-capped Babblers was just like pitta–the only difference is they didn’t hop but simply walked like a quail on the track. Soon afterward, we met a fruit party with Black-naped Fruit Dove, Black-banded and Blue-eared Barbet—the later is the last barbet species in Java I haven’t seen before. At the river-side track, a beautiful Rufous-backed Kingfisher perched just about 3 meters from us, before being scared and flashed away by some dogs (that scared me too, I have an embarrasing caniphobia). We stop walking at the Waterfall and waited for Javan Scarlet Sunbird—someone reported this bird here sometimes before, but we didn’t find it.
For the next 2 day there were nothing special—because everything is special here! Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (not in a good view L), Scarlet Minivet, Grey-rumped Treeswift, White-bellied Sea-eagle (seen from our hotel’s room), Sunda Scops Owl (almost hit my head!) and many more! We still failed to find Javan Scarlet Sunbird, Javan Frogmouth (we always woke up late L), Banded Broadbill, Javan Barred Owlet, and the Colugo (Sunda Flying Lemur), but we did a very good birding anyway, with very easy bird and many uncommon species for me. And yes, we have many souvenirs on our skin from those goddamned mosquiotes!
1. Cibodas, West Java
Every birder who had visited Java should know this place. Yes, it’s Cibodas (including the botanical garden and Gunung Gede National Park), the birdiest place in Java! This place containts all the Java’s mountain endemic, from the tiny Pygmy Tit to the big Javan Hawk Eagle, from the common Crescent-chested Babbler to the ellusive Javan Cochoa, from the stunning Javan Kingfisher to the nocturnal Javan Scops Owl—they are all here! And yes, for the price of those species, stunning scenery, and loveable facilities, I consider this place as the best birdwatching place I’ve ever visited for the last 4 years!
As home for many mountain specialis, most foreign birdwatcher put this place on top of their list, and then found the things they missed in Halimun Salak before move to Carita and Muara Angke for the lowland birds. Yes, eventhough this place have all the mountain endemics, not all of them is common—some birds are more common in Halimun Salak, like White-bellied Fantail and Javan Trogon. But Halimun Salak is lack of facility and slightly harder to accessed. So before do something hardcore in Salak, why don’t we try the easier place here and if we found those all that we need, we don’t need to go too far, right?
Right! This is what my Danish friend, Jens Ole Byskov said when we visited this place a year ago. We did a good unguided birdwatching for several day (maybe 5 days, I don’t really remember) and find most of all that we need! We then moved to Yogyakarta to do several things, and then instead of visiting the hardcore forest of Halimun Salak, we came back to Cibodas with many good facility in Freddy’s (he surprised that we came back so soon) and do our best to find all that we missed our the first visit—and we did it, though we still missed some like Javan Cochoa (daaaamn!), Javan Scops Owl, Dusky Woodcock (ooh it’s nearly impossible, though) and White-bellied Fantail (I’ve got that one in in Merapi, but not Jens). Totally, we spent about 2 weeks here and found most of the bird we needed!
However I can’t lie that this place is the birdiest place i have ever visited for my 3 years birdwatching time. All that I can saw that time is lifer, endemic, lifer, endemic, lifer, lifer again-again and again! At the very first day I almost stepped on Pymy Wren Babbler (I was like “it’s a mouse!”, and Jens was like “it’s a frog!”, and then we shouted “IT’S A BIRD!!!!”), and then we saw party of many curious bird, they simply got closer instead of fly away! (and an Indigo Flycatcher almost perched on my head!). We got Sunda Blue Robin, a lots of Mugimaki Flycatcher, Javan Hawk Eagle (not as close as in Alas Tekek, but it’sa surprise for Jens to find it in the very first day), and many more!
At our 4rd day here, we were joined by a German birder, Matthias, and we did a crazy birding up to the Hot Spring. This is a track to the peak, which was closed that time but we still allowed to visiting the hot spring. The track is crazily steep and slippery with not many birds around, contrast with the first 3 km that headed to Cibereum waterfall. We were greeted by a Javan Tesia (much easier than the one we have in Merapi), and then.. Javan Trogon! A Javan Trogon displaying its stunning tail not so far from us!
“I should bring my camera!” said Matthias who left it at Freddy’s, thinking that he will not find any good birds at his first day.
Later we heard strange calling from the bushes: Two Chesnut-bellied Partridge were running in hurry! I really glad to see this bird, especially when I missed it 2 days before (Jens saw it when I was in toilet.. stupid intestine). Then, after a long steep track and no birds, we decided to move back and see what we can find below, which producted a pack of the endemic Grizzled Leaf Monkey. When we were on wood bridge above Gayonggong swamp, the rain was coming down and we thought that the crazy bird party is over—but no, it’s not over yet! A flock of Blue Nuthatch showed up on a small tree at the side of the bridge—small enough so we got eye-level view of it. When Matthias and Jens turned back and said “It’s just a common bird”, I saw those 3 long-tailed birds with yellowish belly alongside the nuthatch. I took my binocular in the middle of rain, and that’s it, another endemic, Spotted Crocias!
“You really-really should bring your camera Math”, said me.
“Oh yeaah.. shut up,” he replied.
My latest day there was also amazing—it’s like they want to give a great last impression to us. We found the elusive Sunda Thrush whislt searching for Javan Frogmotuh, the later was missed but at least we heard its voice. At the blue lake we saw a good sight of Brown-headed Barbet. We even made a call contact with Javan Cochoa! Too bad, my stupid cellphone battery went off in the very wrong time, I couldn’t answer its calling! We got our best sight of Pygmy Tit (I was thinking that they are slightly smaller than flowepecker, wich is proved wrong—they are not even bigger than a bumblebee!). At night, we got a free guided birdwatching from Indra Ferdinand to see Salvadory’s Nightjar, which proved his quality as a talented guide (so sad, he told us that he will stop guiding soon as he want to work at some cruising ship). We saw the nightjar, together with a pair Spotted Kestrel with their nest on a cliff and a good sight of Red Giant Flying Squirrel!
For the last word.. well, what can I say? It is an amazing place ever!
Special one: Gujarat, India
Cibodas was great, it’s number one in my list.. but I actually have another place that much much much birdier than it. It’s Gujarat, India. The reason why I don’t put this place into the number 1 is simple: First, because it isn’t fair to compare apple with melon. India is a great birding country with birdwatching culture live in it’s people far back when british colony was still here, and also for it’s culture about attitude to other creatures, both make the birds are relatively safe and tame and exactly incomparable with my bird-hunter country with its bird hunting, trapping and caging culture, where the birds are much rare, shy and hard to find. Second, you know the phrase “grass is always greener at our neighbor’s lawn”. Yes, this place looks far great than everything we have in Java, only in a few days visit.
I visited this place back in 2010 in 1st Global Birdwatcher Conference, together with my Indonesian friends: mas Iwan, Mbak Noni, Mas Imam, Mas Ady, Mas Dedy, Mas Iqbal and Boas. We have 3 visit to this place but I wasted 1 of it in a regretful sleep-over accident (what can I say? We have busy day and the hotel’s bed was so comfortable!). However I still got many number of birds, though not as much as other people because I didn’t bring my binocular (and I didn’t have it yet).
We got a very good impression about this place in our first day, or maybe in our first hour. After we got down from the airplane at Ahmedabad airport, we saw this very promising scenery: hundreds of Common Myna and House Crow, a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeet and many more birds. On our way from airport to our transfer hotel, we found more Common Myna and House Sparrow, a great number of Rosy Starling, Black Kite (it’s odd for us to see a resident raptor in the middle of city, and they have hundreds here!), River Tern, etc. More birds spotted at our trip from Ahmedabad to Jamnagar town: Indian Peafowl, Indian Roller, Painted Stork, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Red-wattled Lapwing, Cranes, Spoonbill, Asian Openbill. In front of our hotel, a flock of Green Bee-eater, Purple Sunbird, Greenish Warbler, Cranes, and Shikra. Fantastic!
But it’s all just the beginning. The best part of our trip there is at Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary, part of Marine National Park. I don’t know much about independent access to this place, since I visited it in an organized event so everything was easy. However, I think this place have a nice facility and good management too, and provides many both migratory and resident waders, and also with many good scenery too. It contains many type of habitat from shore, freshwater lake, grassy area, scrub, forest etc.
Our first visit was in afternoon, we departed from Jamnagar’s town hall by participant’s bus. As usual, I saw many birds around the street, from Painted Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Indian Peafowl, White-eared and Red-vented Bulbul, House Sparrow, Stilt, Lapwing and many more! We then entered a swamp-like place with fine asphalt road for bus between, and a big gate with “Welcome to Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary” text on it. Soon after we crossed the gate, the beautiful scenery appeared in front of us: a very large lake at our right side, and a promising mudflats and shore at our left side. The road divided those two zones perfectly, and the water kept separated to keep its salinity. Well that was promising, we could saw freshwater wader at the right side and when we turned our head, we found a whole-different saltwater birds!
We soon realized there was a bunch of bird around us: Common Porchard, Nothern Shoveler (my favorite duck with its strange bill!), Common Coots, Moorhens, Cormorants—oh God they are like in everywhere! My friend, Prof. Ornithology (I didn’t remember his true name :p) shouted to everyone in the bus to look at our right side: that’s when we saw a couple Great Crested Grebe in it’s full stunning breeding plumage less than 5 meters from us!
Our bus stopped at a place called Pelican Tower, though we still need to walk a couple hundred meters to the tower. Tharanga, my roommate from Sri Lanka shouted at me and pointed to a huge bulky bird: Dalmatian Pelican! We then walked to the tower with many Small Pranticoles just above our head, Palla’s Gull, Red Collared Dove, Baya Weaver, and a stunning gank-fight show between Watercock and Purple Gallinule (and the Gallinule is the winner, off course!). We climbed the tower where we found Western Reef Heron and Great White Pelican. When the sun started to set, we got back to our bus and saw a really great sunset with Great White Pelicans sillhoute in front of it. Damn, it’s a paradise.
My next visit at the next afternoon was great too. I saw almost all the birds I found yesterday, plus Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, White-tailed Lapwing, Little Grebe, Indian Shag, Collared Pranticole, Isabelline Wheatear, Godwits, Redshank, a single Bluebull/Nillgay acrossing the swamp and my main target: Flamingos! Both Great and Lesser Flamingos were there! However, Boas beaten me up with Chomb Duck, Black-necked Stork and Asian Paradise Flycatcher!
Well that was a great trip. I can’t say any other words.. this place is paradise!