Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
June 15, 2023
Sprinkled liberally throughout the tropical waters between peninsular Malaysia and Australia, the 17,000 plus islands of Indonesia make up a patchwork of exciting habitats each with its own unique flora and fauna awaiting discovery. The geography lends itself to extreme biodiversity, as the tropical climate and splintered landmass have left many areas relatively unadulterated, with a high number of endemic species. To add to the appeal, the landscapes are wonderfully exotic, with volcanic peaks rising from tangled rainforests, shimmering rice paddies and cerulean seas fringed with glorious paradise beaches.
Indonesia has long been a fragmented bridge between Australasia and the Far East and as such makes a particularly interesting destination for naturalists, because it is the meeting point of two major groups of flora and fauna. Many of these species can be found in the Wallacea transition zone, where the wildlife from both Australasian and East Asian groups are present, as well as plentiful species that are native to only this area. For birders this diversity is a big draw and in the Wallacea zone alone there are 240 endemic species.
Here we have rounded up some of the most interesting destinations within the archipelago for bird life. It is by no means an exhaustive list, as the options for birders in Indonesia are endless, but it gives a broad overview of what to expect in some of the important wildlife areas.
It may be a bit trickier to reach and to travel around, but West Papua is the jewel in the crown of Indonesia’s many birding hotspots. Home to many amazing species, including birds of paradise, this tropical wilderness is a birder’s dream destination. Exploring ecosystems as varied as snow capped mountain ranges and tropical lowlands reveals a huge variety of ornithological oddities that few humans have ever laid eyes on. The untouched nature of West Papua requires a fairly intrepid trip without home comforts, but the sheer number of species and the thrill of the diverse habitats is worth the effort.
It’s the variety of ecosystems that makes this park such a rewarding location for birders. It sits in the lowlands in the south of Sumatra, encompassing swamps, grasslands, rivers and coasts, and boasts almost 300 species of birds. Some of the most sought after species which attract birdwatchers from all over the world are the white-winged duck and the Storm’s stork, both of which are extremely rare. It is also a prime location for nocturnal birding adventures, where sightings of oriental bay-owls, reddish scops-owls, large and Gould’s frogmouths, and also Bonaparte’s nightjars are common.
There is a higher percentage of endemic birds in Sulawesi than on any other island on the planet. In the centre of the island the 2,500 square kilometre expanse of the Lore Lindu National Park protects the forested plateau, which is home to 70 endemic birds including many montane species. It may be a vast area, but the best birding sites are clustered in a relatively accessible area surrounding the Wuasa and Sedoa villages, as well as the Anaso Track and Lake Tambing. Look out for the bare-faced rail, several hawk-owls and kingfishers, geomalia, great shortwing, purple-bearded bee-eater and the maroon-backed whistler, among many others.
This string of islands running east from Bali are fascinating destinations for birders, with a different population on each island, all of which include some endemics. This area stretches into the Australasian zone, so there are many species here that are completely different to those in western Indonesia. Combine an exciting trip to Komodo, land of the Komodo ‘dragon’ (actually a giant lizard) with the opportunity to see the threatened yellow-crested cockatoo, especially early and late in the day. Flores offers good birding too, with a variety of endemics, and many of the prime sites are within easy reach of the main point of arrival in Labuan Bajo. Sumba also has a good birding setup as there are plenty of species accessed via a small number of sites.
There are a surprisingly good selection of birding sites in Bali, some of which are home to a large number of interesting species – the rare Bali starling being the most iconic. In the west of Bali one of the prime birding sites covers a 750 square kilometre territory encompassing rainforests, mangroves and coastal plains, parts of which can be explored on foot or by boat. The only remaining habitat of wild Bali starlings is within the park and understandably human presence is not encouraged, but there is a breeding centre where you can see these beautiful creatures at close range. The Tegal Bunder Trail is a well known highlight for birders, along with boat trips into the mangroves around Gilimanuk Bay.
It may be one of the most densely populated islands in the world, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of birding opportunities here. Java offers a variety of habitats including tropical rainforests, temperate forests at altitude, coastal lagoons, grasslands and wetlands. Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park is the best place to go in search of Javan montane endemics, but to tick a good number off your list it is advisable to stay a few days to allow for exploration at various altitudes. The Cibodas Botanic Gardens on the fringe of the park are a pleasant place to stop and survey the canopy and open areas for birds. There are trails in the national park which allow for great viewing, both during the day and after dark. Species to look out for include endemics such as the Javan hawk-eagle, Javan fulvetta, Javan heleia, and the chestnut-bellied partridge, among many others.
Make it happen
If you have specific species on your wishlist, our local experts are ready and waiting to plan a bespoke itinerary to meet your requirements. Similarly, if you are looking for a broad introduction to Indonesia’s bird life, our local experts can help you. Send them a few details of your plans and priorities and they will begin crafting a tailor made trip which you can tweak and tweak again until you have your perfect holiday. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.