Sunday, March 26, 2017

Java in the Rainy Season

Three Days at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park

Java is one of those places I've been half meaning to visit for a while.  It's close to Singapore, where I often end up on business trips, has lots of endemic birds, and has good local guides.  Last year, my Singapore birding friend Lim Kim Chuah had mentioned that he had a birding guide friend in Jakarta and was kind enough to put me in touch with Khaleb Jordan.  Nine months later, when I knew exact dates for my Singapore trip, Khaleb planned an "airport-to-airport" long weekend of birding in Western Javan for me.  The highlight of the trip was three days at the famous Gunung Gede Volcano, a real hotspot for Javan endemic birds.

Thursday, March 16 

A 5am pick-up and the Airport in Jakarta and a long drive to the park.  Once we arrived at the park HQ, we met our local guide and a porter and set off up the "Hot Spring Trail", planning to bird our way up 5 or 6 km to the Hot Springs themselves and then camp overnight.  The trail was relatively well maintained, and the going was actually pretty easy (at least going up) despite the steepness of the trail and the very mixed weather (we stopped and took shelter from heavy rain a couple of times).  The birding, while the guides thought it was slow, gave me a bunch of life birds.

Javan Trogon, perhaps the bird I most wanted on this trip

Javan Cochoa, a high quality endemic lifer
Many of the endemic birds of Java can be found along thus trail and we racked up a fair number of them that day - Javan Trogon, Javan Cochoa, Flame-fronted Barbet, Rufous-tailed Fantail, Javan Tesia, Javan Fulvetta, and Javan Whistling-Thrush were among a slew of life birds that I had that day.  Once we'd set up camp and eaten dinner we also added another with a search for Javan Scops-Owl yielding a calling bird close to camp.  Great day of birding, despite the rain and the steep hike.

The camp sight and the team ,..

Friday, March 17

After a rough and sleepless night on the hard ground in the tent - and being woken twice by a Javan Ferret-Badger raiding our supplies and clattering around in our pots and pans - dawn came way too early.  In fact, we were up well before dawn, the plan being to hike another hour or so up the trail before first-light in the hopes of seeing a Javan Scops-Owl and perhaps even a Javan Woodcock. We had decided, given the weather, not to do the 4-hour hike to the crater for Volcano Swiftlet, and while I was sad to miss this bird, the prospect of walking 6-hours down the steep trail in the rain was quite daunting and adding another 3 hours to the hike really wasn't at all appealing.

The owls did indeed cooperate, giving good close views in the light, and while the woodcocks remained elusive, we did get a Salvadori's Nightjar for our troubles.

The hike down was 'tough' and by the time we got to dinner at the hotel that evening my knees and ankles were screaming in protest.  We did add some good life birds for me though, including several target birds like Rufous-fronted Laughing-Thrush, Spotted Crocias, Sunda Forktail and Sunda Bush-Warbler but at that point I would have been very happy never to see that trail again.

An endemic Javan Horned-Frog that spent a couple of hours with us during a downpour

Saturday, March 18

While I was reluctant to go back to the "trail of death" after my knee-jarring experience the day before, I manned up and set off up the very same trail again at dawn.  The decision turned out to be a good one with a great crop of birds seen or heard right at dawn including Javan Frogmouth, Sunda Scops-Owl, Barred Eagle-Owl and a Javan Banded-Pitta.

Javan-banded Pitta in the flash on the trail at dawn
The weather didn't really cooperate unfortunately and the rain and fog closed in quickly, pretty much killing our chances of seeing our target Javan Hawk-Eagle and Giant Swiftlet.  We did get some consolation though when a group of Asian Small-clawed Otters crossed the trail ahead of us and could be heard chirping in the marsh (otter species number 2 for the trip).

Speaking of mammals, we did actually see quite a few on the trail.  Ebony and Grizzled Leaf-Monkeys were common and visible, as were three species of squirrel - the Black Giant Squirrel being the most impressive, but the pudgy little Three-striped Ground-Squirrels quickly became a favorite.  We also saw an Asian Palm-Civet on the trail and some Long-tailed Macaques closer to the village.

Orange-spotted Bulbul in the rain, and the view from the boardwalk ...
note the lack of soaring raptors ....

Coming out of the forest at lunch time, we ate a great meal of goat stew and goat saté while we waited for the torrential rain to stop.  And newly fortified, and with the rain stopping mid-afternoon, we headed to the Cibodas Botanical Gardens and enjoyed some decent weather and another crop of life birds.
The restorative powers of a hot meal of goat ... then on to the Botanic Gardens

The biggest target at the gardens was the endemic Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot which we saw after carefully watching a giant fig tree where they were feeding, well hidden in the green leaves.  While we were there we also finally had a fly-over Javan Hawk-Eagle and a moment of excitement when Khaleb found a Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a life bird for both he and I.

Javan Hawk-Eagle finally surrendered.
The endearing Pygmy Tit.
Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a scarce migrant was a life bird for Khaleb, while
Little Pied Flycatchers turned out to be abundant once I learned their call.

So a great haul of birds, a few good mammals, and I was sure that my knees would forgive me eventually.  Dinner that night was at a restaurant in a shopping mall, where a middle-aged local lounge singer treated us to his versions of popular George Michael songs ... not an experience I'll forget in a while, but I won't forget the great wildlife of this beautiful place either.  Indonesia is a wonderful country filled with the friendliest people and an amazing variety of birds.  Special thanks to Khaleb Yordan (and team) for organizing this trip ... definitely won't be my last trip to Indonesia.

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