Thursday 9 August 2018

West Java - August 2018 : Part 1


Java is the 5th largest island of Indonesia, located just south of the equator. Like many tropical islands, Java is a hotspot for endemic species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and most importantly, birds. This make Java a popular destination for birders, in hope to catch a glimpse of some of the unique birdlife only found here and nowhere else.

Indonesia have been on my “to go list” for a while, the many islands and huge area it covers make for a highly diverse country, with well over 1,700 species on it’s country bird list. West Java holds a small portion of those interesting endemics, many of which are montane species, and most of these can be found at Gunung Gede, a volcano located just south of Jakarta.

The close proximity of Gunung Gede to Jakarta make it a perfect location for a short birding trip. Captain got together a band of birders with Yuen, Kei, Henry Lui and myself for a trip to West Java, He got in contact with Boas of Jakarta Birder to help us find some of the island’s endemics as well as dealing with the logistics of the trip.

Gunung Gede is quite well known within the birding community as one of the top birding destination in West Java, although being so close to Jakarta it is also a weekend hotspot for local Indonesians. Therefore, it is best to avoid birding here during weekends, as it is famous for getting extremely busy during weekends with hikers and holiday makers. There is only one walking trail which goes from the now disused Cibodas Golf Course up to the summit, making it quite a straight forward hike. Most of the trail sits well above 2,000m above sea-levels, therefore cool during the day at around 20°C, although temperature may drop down to 5°C at night! (Which we experienced first hand...) The peak of Gede is just shy of 3,000m, most birds are found in the forest below so birders rarely have to venture up that far. The best time to visit Gunung Gede is during the dry season, from April to October. We experienced glorious weather from day one till the end, and never had a spot of rain. Back in Jakarta temperature was well above 30°C during the day, so be prepared for extreme temperature variation!

West Java holds many endemic avifauna goodies, of which many can be found at Gunung Gede, including the highly sought after Spotted Crocias and Javan Cochoa, the beautiful Javan Trogon, the Chestnut-bellied Partridge as well as the elusive Javan Woodcock. The list goes on and on...but the population of these great birds are also decreasing rapidly, as bird trapping in Indonesia is a huge problem, whereas some areas in the country is completely stripped of birds. The wild bird trade in the country directly endanger many species. It is a huge shame, but the demand for wild birds are so high that bird catchers will do anything to try and catch rare birds to sell for good money.

Our plan was to get on an early flight to Jakarta, where Boas will pick us up from the airport and we will drive straight to Cipanas to stay overnight, then hike up the waterfall trail early next morning and camp up the mountain for one night before descending the next day, bird Cibodas Botanical Garden the day after and finally a short visit to Jakarta Bay for Frigatebirds before we catch the flight back to Hong Kong in the afternoon.

Day 1 - 1st August 2018:

More of a travelling day, we gathered at HKIA at 7:15am, Cathay Pacific offered a pretty good price for the flight considering it was in the middle of summer holidays! This meant onboard entertainment and meals! Not bad for a change (I usually go with budget airlines). Our flight was pretty much on schedule, the four hour flight went smoothly and we landed at Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta International Airport at around 1pm Jakarta time. It took us a while to get the luggage, but Boas picked us up at the arrivals with no fuss at all, he is a very lively guy and extremely friendly. We got our luggages in the cars and off we went!

Jakarta's traffic is infamously bad, although it was much better than I expected, perhaps it wasn't the peak rush hour, although traffic got worst once we turned off the motorway, as cars and motorbikes fought over lanes in fairly narrow roads. It took us well over three hours to get to the Raja Fashion Outlet near Cipanas where we had dinner.

Traffic jams on the way towards Cipanas

It was already dark when we arrived at our hotel, the Zuri Resort is located nearby, it is pretty decent and rooms were spacious and comfortable. After we got settled in, I went outside briefly to look for some wildlife. There were a few moths around the buildings, although not as much as I expected.

Asota plana

Creatonotos transiens

Musotima suffusalis

Boarmia bisinuata

Melanitis leda - a sleeping butterfly

A nearby water lily planter was inhabited by two Common Asian Toads. Nearby was a wall which had a constant trickle that was covered in moss, below it was a small stream, which was certainly a good place to look for any sign of life. Parathelphusa convexa, a species of freshwater crab were quite abundant here, while a few Kuhl's Creek Frogs were found, they resembles somewhat like our Lesser Spiny Frogs. The most interesting find was probably a Marbled Bow-fingered Gecko, which have beautiful orange iris.

Asian Common Toad

Parathelphusa convexa

Kuhl's Creek Frog

Marbled Bow-fingered Gecko

Day 2 - 2nd August 2018:

I woke up at 5:30am to the songs of Horsfield's Babblers, got dressed and looked outside to a clear blue sky. Sadly, the morning chorus did not get any louder as it usually did in other South East Asian countries, it dawned on me (no puns intended) that this is the effects of bird trapping. In the nearby stream we added a single Sunda Forktail which gave a fleeting view before disappearing into the bamboos.

Small stream outside our hotel room where we saw a Sunda Forktail

A buffet style breakfast was served, after we filled our bellies it was time to head up the waterfall trail. It was a few minutes drive to the trail entrance, a sign indicates the distance to the summit which is 12km, our hike was around 7km to the camping ground, doesn't sound much but considering the back pack and cameras we were carrying it was still a fairly tough climb. We were dropped off here and met with the other local guide Adun who will help with Boas to guide us on this trip.

Main entrance of Gunung Gede

Things started off extremely slowly, we saw barely any birds on the first 30 minutes of our hike. A few Indonesian False Bloodsuckers entertained us, first a rather tame individual which I managed to caught for a hands on look, and than two more presumed male in territorial display.

Indonesian False Bloodsucker - Pseudocalotes tympanistriga

It wasn't until a flock of Javan Fulvettas and a few Crescent-chested Babblers made an appearance that things started to improve. Both of these were endemics, although the latter did not cooperate for a photo, we got satisfying views none the less.

Javan Fulvetta

Crescent-chested Babbler - my only record shot...

A small flock of Eye-browed Wren-babblers foraged in the dark undergrowth, views were close but obscured, one finally perched up for me to get a quick shot before they disappeared into the undergrowth again.

Eye-browed Wren-babbler

Things improved even more when two more endemic species were spotted in a small feeding flock, including a female Trilling Shrike-babbler which had been split with Chestnut-fronted Shrike-babbler. While the lovely Rufous-tailed Fantail posed for us all for a good long look.

Trilling Shrike-babbler

Rufous-tailed Fantail

A few Sunda Warblers gave close views, this good looking seicerus warbler although is not a Java endemic, it is an Indonesian endemic, found from Sumatra to Bali. A Javan Whistling Thrush was also spotted, this turned out to be one of the commonest endemic along the waterfall trail, they have a very different call to most Whistling Thrushes, instead of a whistle it make a rather harsh three note call.

Sunda Warbler

Javan Whistling Thrush

We arrived at a concrete bridge where the forest opened up to a marsh, Boas heard the calls of Spotted Crocias in the distance and tried calling them in, although they responded it wasn't quite enough for us to get a look. A family of Little Pied Flycatchers gave good views nearby, a juvenile begged for food constantly. Adun found us the endemic Orange-spotted Bulbul in the distance, while another one popped up on another tree nearby later on and gave excellent views.

Looking towards Gunung Pangrango

Little Pied Flycatcher - female

Little Pied Flycatcher - male

Little Pied Flycatcher - male with juvenile

Orange-spotted Bulbul

We took a rest at one of the rain shelters, a beautiful diurnal moth of genus Callidula fluttered around nearby, while a flock of Javan Grey-throated White-eye foraged above, this species is also known as Javan Heleia, the subspecies frontalis is endemic to West Java. After a good rest, we continued on and ran into another feeding flock, this time with the beautiful Blue Nuthatch and some more Javan Fulvettas. Although Blue Nuthatch is not a lifer for me, it is certainly one of my favourite nuthatch of all time!

Callidula sp.

Javan Grey-throated White-eye

Blue Nuthatch

Javan Fulvetta

A Brown-throated Barbet kept calling but did not make it easy for us to get a glimpse, it took some effort but in the end we managed a very obscured but identifiable view of this endemic barbet. While on the forest floor, Pygmy Wren-Babblers and Lesser Shortwings were far easier to spot than the barbet...

Brown-throated Barbet - you will have to use your imagination a bit...

Pygmy Wren-babbler - race rufa

Lesser Shortwing

Another ground dwelling bird was also spotted in form of the Javan Tesia. This is yet another endemic species found here at Gede, and much to our delights it is also much easier to see than other members of it's family.

Javan Tesia

Snowy-browed Flycatchers were fairly common along the trail, we encountered several pairs, all of which were extremely confiding, but I can hardly get tired of them, males are such smart looking birds!

Snowy-browed Flycatcher - male & female

Large flock of Sunda Minivets made an apperance, although they stayed high up in the canopy and made it hard to photograph, females of this species is peculiar in that they are also red, but lacks the black chin. Banded Broadbills called constantly, Boas finally managed to call one in and gave us a brief look.

Sunda Minivet - female

Banded Broadbill

Lunch was served at one of the rain shelters, the luxury of birding with Boas and his team is that he have organised people to prepare a cooked meal for us along the way! This was much more than I ever expected, and certainly a rare luxury for me while out birding. Around the rain shelter was a very confiding Javan Whistling Thrush, my guess is that it had learn that being around these rain shelters where people rest and eat they can get an easy meal.

Javan Whistling Thrush - looking for easy meals

After lunch we continued our journey up, Adun (he's got extremely sharp eyes) spotted some movement in the trees and exclaimed 'Fruit Dove!', and soon we were looking at an extremely handsome male Pink-headed Fruit Dove, a species endemic to Indonesia. Although this species is fairly common at Gunung Gede, good views are hard to come by, so I was very pleased with this encounter! A little further up a few Fire-tufted Barbets made an appearance at a fruiting tree, this species was not previously recorded in Java, but had slowly increased in numbers, some speculated that they derived from escaped birds, although they are found naturally in Sumatra, whether these are descendants of genuine wild birds remain unclear, they are certainly great looking birds though and remains to be one of my favourite barbet species!

Pink-headed Fruit Dove - male

Fire-tufted Barbet

Although we saw many endemic species throughout the day, none of our key target species had been spotted up to that point. It was getting darker as the day went on and we started to worry we might not get to see any of our target species on the first day. Suddenly, Adun heard the call of the Javan Trogon. We scanned the forest for any sign, but saw no movements. Suddenly, Kei fired his shutter, none of us saw what he was taking photos of, I looked and realise a male Trogon was perched right out in the open! The amazing colours was certainly jaw dropping, and no doubt one of THE highlight of our trip! The trogon gave amazing views for as long as we wanted, before melting back into the forest. This certainly hyped us all up and we were smiling rest of the way.

Javan Trogon - bird of the day!

We had to walk past the hot springs to get to the campsite, it was an interesting experience, as steam engulfed us and hot water flowed below our feet. It was 4pm when we reached our campsite, which was already setup by Boas's team. As we settled in with a nice hot cup of tea, Boas told us a Javan Shortwing was hopping nearby our campsite, with a little patience the small bluish bird hopped into view! This species had been split with White-browed Shortwing, and it's clear why, it lacked the white eyebrows!


Javan Shortwing - male

We decided to take a dip in the hot springs, it was a weekday so no one was around and we had the place all to ourself! The water was in fact very comfortable and it felt like such a luxury after a long hike up. We even added a female Javan Shortwing at close range when one hopped out to peek at us while we were in the spring! Temperature dropped dramatically after dark, from a comfortable 20°C to a chilling 7°C. They started a fire and we all huddled around it.

Hot springs at Gunung Gede

The fire was our salvation in the cold!

At around dinner, Henry was feeling unwell and shivering quite violently. We were all quite concerned about his safety as hypothermia could set in if he cannot warm up. After dinner his conditions did not improve, so he decided to walk back down hill. It was most unfortunate, but we all agreed it was probably safer for him to not stay the night. A guide assisted Henry down hill while the four of us stayed on for the cold night.

Dinner served at campsite

After dinner, we went out looking for Javan Scops Owl around the campsite, we heard a call from afar but the call never got closer. We were however rewarded with good views of a few Red Giant Flying Squirrels.

Giant Red Flying Squirrel

The night was extremely cold, temperature dropped even further to 5°C. It was so cold that I woke up at around 1am and hardly slept afterwards, but not even the call of Javan Scops Owl could get us out of our tents...

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant birds.... I must overcome my prejudice against Java ! (To be clear: I've enjoyed birding other islands in Indonesia...).