Lombok – Indonesia – The Biggest Snake of Our Lives

This section of the trip never was supposed to happen, so it should be considered a huge win to be able to add an extra week into our trip itinerary and visit the islands of Lombok, Bali, and east Java. These unanticipated additions into the trip would allow us to pick up birds we never would have seen otherwise. Despite the fact that any new birds obtained from this section of the trip were all going to be a bonus, it was still hard to swallow our first few dips of the trip. [DIP, noun, meaning: to not see a target bird.]

Lombok is a small island only 22 miles away from the island of Bali (surely you’ve heard of it) and our time here was very brief, less than 24 hours to be exact. While on Lombok, we were planning on visiting the town of Senggigi, a popular tourist destination. I’m not sure what average tourists do here, but we came because there is an eco-park on the edge of town where we were hoping to find two birds, Rijani Scops-owl and a potential future split, Lombok Drongo. [SPLIT, noun, meaning: a subspecies that could be elevated to species status.] Anyway, we arrived in Lombok after a very quick flight over from Bali and hopped on a bus to take us to our destination. It was late by the time we arrived (9pm) and we were starving after not having eaten a proper meal in quite some time so we grabbed some food before heading to the homestay we were to be staying at. Ross had found a place to stay along the same road as the eco-park because we figured it would be easiest to just be able to walk to and from our birding destination. Ross contacted the cheap homestay prior to our visit and found it had vacancies so it was perfect. We directed a taxi driver to our presumed homestay, but when we arrived at the point where the homestay was supposed to be, it was nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, the location as shown on google maps is not accurate. We had our driver call the homestay to ask for directions and we found that the homestay is nowhere near where we had wanted it to be. We had the driver let us out because staying somewhere along the road of the natural park was more important than cheap lodging. But expensive lodging is not how we roll so when all we found along the road were fancy resorts and spas we weren’t really sure where we were going to be staying. We asked a few places to see if they would let us camp but we were turned down. Since we were on the same road as Kerandangan Natural Park and practically almost there, we decided to just walk with all of our bags and try for the owl since it was already well after dark. (I just wanted to add some pictures but keep in mind that these photos were taken the following morning. Instead picture this moss-covered slippery trail in complete darkness.)

Within Kerandangan Natural Park there is a pavement trail that leads to a few waterfalls and it was along this trail that we started walking. We had barely walked in when we heard a Rijani Scops-Owl calling nearby. This target was going to be easy! Easy? WRONG! As soon as Ross played the call back to the bird to call it in, the owl shut up. We were exhausted but willing to stay up all night if that’s what it took to see this bird, it was the main reason we came to Lombok! The pavement trail was incredibly slippery and walking along it in the dark was quite treacherous. We stashed our big bags and started walking on the “trail” searching and listening for another owl. As we were walking around in the complete darkness with nothing but our headlamps lighting the way, we came across a python spanning the width of the trail and then some! The massive snake had to be over 15 feet long! It was pretty incredible to see one of these things up close! Indonesia is home to some huge pythons and oddly, right before we came on this trip, we read an article about how a man working in a palm oil plantation was SWALLOWED WHOLE by a python!! After going missing, the 23 year old wasn’t found until several weeks later. The people of Indonesia are small and the snakes are very big. (A link to the 2017 article in case you want to read about it.) You may read this article and say “no thanks” but that didn’t stop us from wanting to see one! This particular snake that we ran into wanted nothing to do with us and when Ross reached out and touched it, the python went zooming away and slithered into the nearby river, but not before we snagged a few pictures of this incredible beast. We continued walking along the trail playing tape but heard no more responses from the owl.

As we were looking at the map of the area trying to figure out what trails to walk, we noticed the map showed campgrounds. Perfect because we still needed a place to sleep for the night. We looked around for a worker but found no one so we decided we would just go to the campground and set up our tent. Unsurprisingly, the map was completely inaccurate and we never located the “campground” but did find a comfortable and flat location to set up our tent. As we were getting ready to pump water (we bring a water purifying pump with us to avoid having to buy water) we heard the owl start to call again. We dropped our things and headed in the direction of the calls. Soon we located the spot where the owl was calling from but we couldn’t seem to find it. Not sure how because when it flew away we noticed that it was sitting in the middle of a bare dead tree! Major fail. At least we had a glimpse and an idea of where the owl liked to hang out. We returned to our water, set up our tent and heard the owl calling again. This time we knew where to look and we spotlighted the bird in the same bare tree! Finally after 3 hours of searching we had decent looks at our target, but the photo was beyond sub-par for Ross’s standards. He opted to stay awake hoping to get a better photo while I opted to get some sleep. His efforts were a success and he did manage a few better photographs before coming to bed. He decided he would get up early to try again before the sun came up. We both had to laugh because those darn owls called ALL NIGHT LONG while we were in our tent but were quiet during the early part of the night and the wee hours of the morning while Ross was out looking. Perhaps it wasn’t as easy as we thought, but target number one was accounted for.

The next morning we woke up and walked the trail looking for the drongo. We walked the length of the trail and surprisingly never fell despite the sidewalk trail being the equivalent of us walking on a sheet of ice. The moss/algae that grew on it was super slick! The morning was quiet for morning birding standards and along our walks we managed looks at Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Elegant Pitta, and Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, but not much else. Despite several hours of scanning we never found the drongo. We had finally dipped a bird. Although we were bummed to miss the drongo, we couldn’t complain too much as we had been in Indonesia for over three weeks and this was the first target we had missed! We packed our bags and decided to get on our way mid-morning to make it to Bali the following day.

As soon as we walked into the ferry terminal we were bombarded by people wanting to sell us a ticket. I’m always under the impression that motorized transportation people are out to get you to pay more than what it should cost, but if we overpaid for our bus to Bali from Lombok (including ferry fare) I have no idea and really don’t care because the trip to Bali was fairly straightforward and really not expensive, 150,000 rupiah (or $11 USD). We got on a bus in Lombok, boarded a ferry, rode across the strait for the next 4 hours, and then the bus drove off the ferry and all the way across Bali. Technically the bus was going all the way to Java but we were getting off a bit early. While we were on the ferry we hoped to pick up some seabirds. The stretch of ocean in between Bali and Lombok is supposed to be decent birding but it was uncanny how our slow ferry managed to get to the strait just as the sun set. Seriously. Just as the sun set. We never really got any good birding, nor did we get much sleep that night as our ferry was full of smokers and our bus the temperature of Canada in the winter time. Oh well. We finally arrived on the other side of Bali around 2am and were waking up at 4:30am for a full day of birding! More on that to come soon!