2008 SOUTH SUMATRA TOUR
I had played a tape recording of Schneider’s Pitta regularly for the better part of two days with no response except for a couple of calls from a distant bird, and we were nearing the end of the area where we could hope to see one. Finally, a pitta called from about 50 meters distance. I played the tape again and waited, and waited. Then it called again much closer. We stood silently and searched the forest floor for a long time, scanning the area the call appeared to emanate from. Finally Gillian Eller said, “I see the pitta.” She described the place and after an agonizingly long time, we all found it. There at only 12 meters, he just stood and watched us for 10 minutes, as we watched him. WOW! This is a difficult bird to see well and we were quite pleased. A few days later we briefly saw a Sumatran Pitta at only 3 meters followed a few hours later by a superb lengthy view of a second bird at 6 meters. A beautiful Banded Pitta rounded out our pitta list for the trip.
Other special sightings were: a fine White-winged Duck flying low overhead; two Red-billed Partridges perched in trees at 12 and 15 meters for lengthy scope views; a close pair of Salvadori’s Pheasants with four chicks; two groups of Crested Firebacks; a quick view of a Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant; brief looks at an Oriental Bay Owl; a close Barred Eagle-Owl; great views of Large and Short-tailed Frogmouths; a furtive Sumatran Babbler; nice closeup of a Marbled Wren-Babbler; a brief encounter with a Brown-streaked Flycatcher; and fine scope views of about 30 Pin-tailed Parrotfinches.
2006 SUMATRA TOUR
I had played a tape of the Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant numerous times this morning, as well as on the two previous days, with only very distant responses. Finally a call came from close by. I alerted the participants, played the tape again and waited. The pheasant responded again. The sequence was repeated several times, when I quietly indicated that everyone should stand very still, as the pheasant was approaching the trail. Someone whispered “He’s on the track.” The pheasant had appeared at a bend in the trail about 60 meters distant. We froze and trained our binoculars on him as the peacock-pheasant took a few cautious steps in our direction. Closer and closer he came as he slowly and diffidently walked toward us. As he approached, he turned several times, giving us fine profile views of his subtle brown coloration with the bronzy sheen on his tail. We held our breath as he finally got as close as 15 meters before walking off the path and disappearing into cover. Wow! We had a good two minutes of superb viewing of this shy forest denizen. Later on in the tour we got brief sightings of both Salvadori’s Pheasant and Crested Fireback, as well as an extended excellent close-up of Red-billed Partridge and brief views of Ferruginous and Crested Partridges--quite a good chicken showing!
Other more exciting sightings were: White-winged Duck; excellent views of Cinnamon-headed Pigeon; Green-spectacled Pigeon; Sunda Coucal; 7 owls (including Oriental Bay Owl, Reddish and Sunda Scops-Owls, Barred Eagle-Owl, and Buffy Fish-Owl); Large Frogmouth; super close-up of Short-tailed Frogmouth; Salvadori’s Nightjar; Waterfall Swift; Blue-tailed Trogon; Schneider’s and Sumatran Pittas; Sunda Cuckooshrike; Sunda Minivet; Cream-striped, Spot-necked, Orange-spotted and Sunda Bulbuls; Blue-masked Leafbird; Sunda Robin; Sunda Forktail; Sumatran Cochoa; Shining and Brown-winged Whistlingthrushes; Sumatran Babbler; 5 wren-babblers (including Long-billed, Rusty-breasted and Marbled); Sunda Laughingthrush, Bar-winged Prinia, Sunda Warbler; Indigo, Pale Blue and Malaysian Flycatchers; Buff-breasted Flowerpecker; Black-capped White-eye; Black-winged Starling; Sumatran Drongo; and Sumatran Treepie.
Some of the more widespread interesting species were: Lesser Adjutant, Lesser and Grey-headed Fish-Eagles, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Violet Cuckoo, Red-naped, Diard’s and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, 8 kingfishers (including Rufous-collared, Banded and Rufous-backed), Red-bearded Bee-eater, 6 hornbills (including Rhinoceros and Helmeted), 8 barbets (including Red-crowned), 11 woodpeckers, 5 broadbills, Hooded Pitta, Fiery Minivet, Scaly-breasted, Grey-bellied, and Puff-backed Bulbuls, Lesser and White-browed (likely split) Shortwings, Horsfield’s Babbler, Grey-headed and Spot-necked Babblers, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Black Laughingthrush, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Yellow-breasted Warbler, Grey-chested Flycatcher, 7 flowerpeckers, 9 sunbirds (including Purple-throated), 4 spiderhunters, Black-and-Crimson Oriole, and Black Magpie.
We saw a total of 278 species, with an additional 11 heard-only birds. Our mammal list included 6 monkeys (including great looks at Siamang), Barking Deer, Wild Boar, and Malaysian Giant Squirrel. An Asian Elephant was heard. It was an excellent trip, with fine company and great birds.
2004 SOUTH SUMATRA TOUR
31 July-22 August
In our quest to see a White-winged Duck, we walked through the first of three open marshy areas. Unfortunately there were no ducks present, so we moved through the forest to the second site. The second marshy clearing was larger, with a small river running along its edge. After checking out the clearing, we moved toward the river. Suddenly, the local ranger/guide spotted a White-winged Duck on the river. As we moved toward the guide, the duck noisily flew off low into the forest, giving us a very poor view. Oh, woe. Abruptly, the duck changed course and flew into the clearing at only about 60 meters distance, allowing us a superb flight view as he passed in front of us the length of the marsh. Tally ho! The White-winged Duck is a critically endangered species and one of the main highlights of a Sumatra Tour.
Earlier in the tour, we were walking along a forest trail when our local escort, Raja, who was walking last in line, pointed out a bird perched in the open less than 5 meters away. The bird, a small nightjar, was at eye level, fairly conspicuous and we had all passed it without noticing. Close inspection, from as little as 3 meters, showed it to be Salvadori's Nightjar, a little known and rarely seen mountain forest resident in the Greater Sunda Islands. It was marvelous to have an opportunity to view this fellow at length so close. Several of the tour members got good photos. Later on, we got nice closeups of its rare cousin, the Bonaparte's Nightjar, as well.
While the serious drought conditions during most of the tour reduced the effectiveness of tape playback and made the birding slower than usual, we managed quite a good list of species, including: Storm's Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Oriental Honey-Kite, Lesser and Grey-headed Fish-Eagles, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Changeable and Blyth's Hawk-Eagles, Black-thighed Falconet, Ferruginous Partridge, Crested Fireback, Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant, White-browed Crake, Island Collared Dove, Cinnamon-headed and Green-spectacled Pigeons, Pink-headed Fruit-Dove, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Violet Cuckoo, 5 malkohas, Sunda Coucal, Oriental Bay Owl, Large, Gould's and Short-tailed Frogmouths, Cave and Pale-rumped Swiftlets, Waterfall Swift, both treeswifts, 5 trogons (including Blue-tailed), 7 kingfishers (including Rufous-collared, Rufous-backed and Blue-eared), Red-bearded Bee-eater, 5 hornbills (including Wrinkled, Rhinoceros and Helmeted), 8 barbets (including Fire-tufted, Red-crowned and Yellow-crowned), 11 woodpeckers (including Rufous Piculet, White-bellied and Orange-backed), 4 broadbills, Schneider's, Banded and Hooded Pittas, Sunda and Lesser Cuckooshrikes, Sunda Minivet, 21 bulbuls (including Cream-striped, Spot-necked, Scaly-breasted, Grey-bellied, Orange-spotted, and Sunda), Blue-masked Leafbird, Lesser and White-browed Shortwings, Sunda Robin, Sunda Forktail, Shiny and Brown-winged Whistlingthrushes, Sumatran, White-chested and Horsfield's Babblers, 5 wren-babblers (including Long-billed, Rusty-breasted and Marbled), Rufous-fronted, Grey-headed, Spot-necked, and Chestnut-rumped Babblers, Long-tailed Sibia, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Bar-winged Prinia, Sunda Warbler, Rufous-chested, Indigo and Pale Blue Flycatchers, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, 6 flowerpeckers, 8 sunbirds (including Plain, Red-throated, Purple-naped, Purple-throated and Scarlet), 3 spiderhunters, 3 white-eyes, Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Sumatran Drongo, Crested Jay, Black Magpie, and Sumatran Treepie. Six species of primates, tapir, mouse deer, Binturong, a 3 meter crocodile and a Common Cobra rounded out our observations for a fine trip.
2000 SUMATRA TOUR
We missed seeing a White-winged Duck on the previous afternoon at Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra at an open marshy area where they are frequently seen. This morning we are walking slowly and as quietly as possible along a stream with some adjacent swampy areas in hopes of spotting this highly endangered duck at one of its last strongholds in Asia. We stop and search as each new bit of water becomes visible. Suddenly a pair explodes from the stream and flies off, obscured by intervening vegetation. A little while later another pair takes off, giving better glimpses to some of us through the tangled vegetation. A few minutes later we heard one ahead of us and crept forward as stealthily as possible. As we neared the duck, it took off quickly, giving those who had missed the first two sightings a brief but good look at the bird. Relieved, we retraced our steps a bit and sat down along the creek in hopes one might swim by. Not ten minutes later, one appeared up stream of us, drifting our way with the current. As soon as the duck saw us, he hauled out onto a mudflat and nervously watched us. After shuffling about in full view for 3 or 4 minutes, while affording us a superb study, he flew off leaving us a very pleased group indeed.
Earlier in the tour we were high on Mt. Kerinci's slopes when we heard a Sumatran Cochoa calling at perhaps 300 meters distance. We played a tape in hopes he would fly over to our side of the valley. In a few minutes, his voice came from a tree fully visible at only about 50 meters. However, it was densely leafed and we could not locate the bird. I played the tape again in hopes he might move a few feet and reveal his position. He sat tight and kept calling. Suddenly, a Blyth's Hawk-Eagle flew into a nearby tree. The cochoa stopped calling. The eagle stayed for what seemed an eternity (perhaps five minutes) before departing. I played the tape again in hope that the cochoa would call again. He called a few times and then flew over our heads on this dark foggy morning and disappeared, showing as only a suggestive silhouette. Despair set in, as I played the tape again. Finally he called again, not far away. We strained to see but couldn't. And as we were on a knife-edged ridge, we couldn't move about much, increasing the difficulty of spotting him. Then it started to rain lightly. Despair again set in. Fortunately he didn't stop calling but the rain continued and we were sure the bird would stop calling at any time. I played the tape again and the cochoa eventually flew short distances in several hops and gave us all brief views, allowing us to see that he was an immature male. Finally he flew to an exposed perch and called for several minutes, giving us extended views before he flew off. The Sumatran Cochoa is one of Sumatra's most sought after birds, rare and, until recently, seen by only a handful of birders.
Those were only two of the many highlights of our trip to this marvelous birding destination. Other highlights were: three Large Frogmouths huddled closely together at dusk on their daytime roost only 4 meters away; a great close study of Bonaparte's Nightjar; 8 kingfishers (including a frame-filling scope view of Rufous-collared Kingfisher); another Large Frogmouth perched on the same branch where I saw it 4 years ago; a beautiful Bay Owl, watched at length at only 9 meters, clinging to a vertical vine with one foot above the other in their usual fashion; good clasps of both Gould's and Short-tailed Frogmouths; excellent looks at a male Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant on the trail; brief but clear glimpses at a Schneider's Pitta; superb close-up views of Red-billed Partridge and good looks at Ferruginous and Crested Partridges; all 4 of the high mountain wren-babblers (Long-billed, Rusty-breasted, Eye-browed and Pygmy); and fine close studies of Sunda and Rufescent Scops-Owls.
Also seen were Lesser Adjutant, Lesser Fish-Eagle, Blyth's Hawk-Eagle, Oriental Hobby, Slaty-breasted Rail, Cinnamon-headed and Green-spectacled Pigeons, Blue-rumped Parrot, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Large and Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoos, Violet Cuckoo, all 6 malkohas, Collared Owlet, Brown Boobook, Brown Wood-Owl, 5 trogons (including Blue-tailed), several Red-bearded Bee-eaters, 5 hornbills (including Wrinkled and Helmeted), 7 barbets, 13 woodpeckers (including Olive-backed and Orange-backed), 4 broadbills, Banded and Hooded Pittas, all 4 minivets, 19 bulbuls (including Cream-striped, Spot-necked, Scaly-breasted and Grey-bellied), 4 leafbirds (including Blue-masked), Asian Fairy-bluebird, Lesser and White-browed Shortwings, Rufous-tailed Shama, Sunda Robin, Shiny and Brown-winged Whistlingthrushes, 28 babblers (including Horsfield's, Spot-necked and Fluffy-backed Tit-, and the Long-tailed Sibia), Sunda Warbler, 9 flycatchers (including Grey-chested and Pygmy-Blue), 8 flowerpeckers, 6 sunbirds, 4 spiderhunters, Black-capped White-eye, Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, Sumatran Drongo, Sumatran Treepie, Black and Green Magpies, and Crested Jay.
There were also some interesting mammals: 2 gibbons, 2 leaf-monkeys, Barking and Sambar Deer, Masked Palm-Civet, Giant Flying Squirrel (1.3 meters long), Malaysian Giant-Squirrel (1.3 meters long), Mouse Deer and Wild Boar. We found fresh tracks of Sumatran Rhino and Indian Elephant. It was a grand trip.