When people think of Indonesia, surely one of the first islands that come to mind is Bali. Bali is the most popular vacation destination in all of Indonesia where tons of people visit every year to get a glimpse of Indonesian life, seeking out resorts, yoga retreats, beaches and volcanoes. Bali is a dream destination (so I hear.) Again, this part of our trip was an unexpected surprise and we were doing none of the above. We accumulated enough time to add Lombok, Bali and East Java into our itinerary after having done so well up until this point on target birds. As it goes when you weren’t planning on going somewhere, you don’t research it. We knew about Bali, sure, but Ross didn’t know all of the little details that he normally knows from reading trip reports before coming to the area. That meant that we were going to a birding location and really didn’t have much time to prepare. I should add however that Ross generally doesn’t need much time to prepare (in fact the only bird prep he did for our recent trip to Mitu, Colombia was on the plane while we were en route) but when birding Bali, you must go into the national park to get a few target birds, and coordinating entrance can be difficult. Also, you must use a guide if you enter the park. It is entirely possible to do Bali without hiring a local guide, but for simplicity’s sake, we opted to use local guide KT Wahyudi (Yudi) for the costly price of 2 million Rupiah, or $153 USD. Normally Ross is a DIY birder and prefers finding and locating birds himself, but this cost did include our entrance fee, transportation with a driver for the day, and some snacks so we opted to go with it. Our day was a success and we managed all but one potential target. When all said and done, I think we both agree that the cost was worth it. We had a vehicle and thus were able to visit several different locations allowing us a better opportunity to see our targets in a very short amount of time.
Well, now that you know that our day on Bali went well, let me start from where I left off after finishing in Lombok. Our night prior to this blended directly into morning as we were up travelling for the majority of the night. We came directly from Lombok via an overnight bus ride so we only had about 2 hours of decent sleep in a hotel when we arrived. Our morning started very early when Yudi arrived at 5am to pick us up. We hopped in the backseat of a Toyota 4×4 and headed directly to the Menjangan Resort area located within Bali Barat National Park, the site where we were to find our two main targets Bali Myna and Black-wing Starling. The starling is on the brink of extinction so we knew it would be difficult to find. The Bali Myna already went extinct in the wild, (largely due to wild poaching for the pet trade) but the species has been preserved with birds bred in captivity re-released into the wild. The morning walking though the trails of the park was very birdy and very productive. We immediately had looks at Green Junglefowl, Pink-necked Green-Pigeon, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker when we suddenly had two Bali Mynas come and perch at the top of a nearby tree. We enjoyed scope views of this exceptionally beautiful bird with stark white feathering and a bright blue eye ring. As we continued on to a canopy tower, we had two Black-wing Starlings fly over! Just like that our two biggest targets were accounted for! Excuse the poor photo quality, but sometimes that’s all you get!
The park boasts a newly built canopy tower where you can look off into the distance while standing above the trees. We made it to the top of the canopy tower and again found another Black-wing Starling, this time perched on top of a tree. While scanning the treetops from up high, we also had views of Small Minivet and Coppersmith Barbet. We climbed back down and were walking again when we saw a pair of Javan Banded Pittas cross the trail. The three of us sat down and soon the pair responded to playback and we had excellent views as the ground birds hopped around nearby. While the colorful pitta was a highlight, and coming across a Barred Buttonquail another reward, they were by no means the most coveted remaining birds to find. The final best bird of the morning came in the form of two Java Sparrows which Ross saw fly across the road before our guide heard and identified their call. I never managed to see them, but they are extremely common in Hawaii where we used to live so I was very familiar with this species and am more than satisfied to count the introduced birds on Hawaii in my life list. Ross on the other hand much prefers to see a species in its native land and wouldn’t have been happy if he missed seeing this critically endangered species in Indonesia. (Again, just like the Bali Myna these birds are often caught and put into cages limiting the wild population immensely.)
It was no later than 9am and already our day could be counted a huge success with all of the main targets accounted for! We still had a few targets remaining, but they weren’t by any means as difficult to find. We then drove off to a saltpan area to scan for shorebirds with the main target being Javan Plover. We quickly had great views of an adult and a young bird and Ross managed decent recordings despite being in a fairly noisy area. The photos didn’t turn out half bad either. We drove around this area scanning for other birds and picked up Purple Heron, Pied Stilt, and Small Blue Kingfisher.
We proceeded to drive to another location, this time back into the forest along a creek bed to search for Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher. Perhaps this is where having some idea of birding locations would have been helpful because our route for the day was fairly haphazard. We shouldn’t have spent precious morning time scanning saltpans because those birds would still be there in the heat of the day when forest birds were more likely to be quiet. Despite this, we walked along the trail and soon had an extremely responsive Rufous-backed Dwarf Kingfisher. We didn’t spend much time along the riverbed trail and quickly got back in the car to drive to another location to search for a few other kingfishers. The drive to get to these locations was painfully slow for Ross as he watched cars zoom beside us. Finally he told the driver that it was okay to drive faster, perhaps he was driving slowly so we felt safe? Not sure, but he did pick up the pace after we told him it was okay to drive like he normally would. We arrived at a bridge location where we picked up Javan Kingfisher and Blue-eared Kingfisher. From here we went to a friend of our guide’s who is also interested in birds and does some guiding on the side. (Perhaps he would be a much cheaper option for anyone on a tight budget. I’ll include some contact details at the end of this post.) Anyway, outside of guiding, Made Surya runs a homestay and has a stakeout for a roosting pair of Sunda Scops-owls. We arrived at his homestay and lunch place and quickly were shown to a nearby tree where we had excellent views of a pair of Sunda Scops-owls sitting next to each other to roost.
Not wanting to disrupt their sleep too much, we moved along to where Made also knows of a pair of Javan Banded Pittas that come frequently to feed. Not long after we again had great views of Javan Banded Pitta but we were sure to tell the man to shoot the cat that we saw stalking the area. (Sorry not sorry, cats are terrible for the wild bird population and often feast on native birds. Neither Ross nor I are proponents of outdoor cats roaming around.) It was midday while we were here but that didn’t stop us from having a slew of birds present. We had looks at Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Javan Flameback, and Javan Cuckooshrike. We could have eaten lunch here at the man’s restaurant but we rarely take time out of a day to eat lunch, especially one where we were paying for a guide. We opted to skip out on lunch and continued on our way. The afternoon was a fairly typical birding afternoon, slow going but with a few birds. We headed to a nearby spot where Yellow-throated Hanging-parrot has occurred, and while we never found a parrot (as I’ve said before you can’t really do anything about this, parrots more often than not find you if you don’t have an exact spot for them), we did still have a few new birds for the day with the best being Black Drongo.
Being the middle of day, we had some time to kill before heading back into the forest to find our last remaining targets. On the way back towards our final birding destination, we made a stop at another part of Bali Barat National Park where they are currently raising Bali Mynas. Upon our arrival we not only saw a group of young mynas inside of a large cage, but also around ten Bali Mynas enjoying some free handouts near the large enclosure. As stated before, the Bali Myna has been subjected to extreme pressure from illegal wildlife trade and would be extinct if conservationists hadn’t stepped in to protect this rare bird. Nowadays, there are a few hundred Bali Mynas flying in the wild with new birds still being reared in captivity to help increase the wild population. We enjoyed spending an hour in the area photographing the mynas as well as Javan Myna, Sooty-headed Bulbul, and Grey-cheeked Green-pigeon.
By this point it was starting to cool off and we only really had two realistic targets left, Fulvous-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher and the hanging-parrot. The jungle-flycatcher has a fairly wide range, but is easy to overlook when you see it has a wide range and don’t realize there are a few spots much better than others to get it, one being here on Java. It was while we were looking at potential targets that we even realized this is one we needed to get here. We told Yudi to take us back to the trail where we had Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher as after looking at eBird, Ross knew that this trail was a good place to find the jungle-flycatcher. It was pretty late in the day so we opted for this to be our last stop before we went out to scan for the hanging-parrot at dusk. We walked along the trail and had no shortage of Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfishers. Without using playback even once, we easily saw over 6 different dwarf-kingfishers! Our earlier trip to this location would have been spent a little differently if we had known that just walking the length of the trail would be so good for the kingfisher! The Fulvous-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher was a bit trickier to find but eventually we had a single bird come into a tree above our heads!
We walked out the trail and finished our day standing in a clearing looking for Yellow-throated Hanging-parrot coming in to roost. We had a slew of Pink-necked Green-Pigeons as well as Orange-beasted Green-Pigeon, Black-thighed Falconet, Common Flameback, and Laced Woodpecker but we never found the hanging-parrot. If there was one bird to miss on Bali, it was this one, as this species can be found elsewhere.
We had Yudi drop us off at the ferry terminal where we caught a boat over to neighboring island of Java. As I said earlier, the day was a huge success and we were very happy with how things went on Bali! I could end this post here because our time on Bali was finished, butttttttt we visited Java and still had an extra day so we came back to Bali. Perhaps to keep each post island-specific, I’ll include that final day on Bali here, despite it not following directly after.
We returned to Bali by way of ferry and learned an important lesson along the way. Sometimes, even though they are screwing you, it’s best to just save yourself some hassle and take the overpriced bus. It might be a bit more expensive, but for just $7 more you could save yourself a few hours’ time and a bit of a headache. Worth it. I’m saying lesson learned because after we had laughed at the man at the Java ferry terminal for wanting us to take his bus after quoting us a ridiculous price, we started kicking ourselves because the cheaper bus we found on the Bali side was waiting to fill up before it left. We sat for nearly 2 hours before we demanded our money back and found a taxi driver to take us all the way to our destination. Originally we were trying to save a few dollars by taking a bus to Despensar and then another bus up to Bedegul. Instead we paid money, 500,000 Rupiah, to just go directly there by taxi. it was more expensive, yes, but if we hadn’t bit the bullet, we probably wouldn’t have made it to our destination, because as it was, it was well after 10pm when we arrived in the town of Bedegul. It being the biggest Muslim holiday of the year did not play into our favor as fewer buses and taxis were running. The homestay we had contacted about staying at, never responded but we showed up there anyway and found it to be full. Again, everyone had off for the holiday and the botanical garden we planned to visit is apparently favored among locals as a holiday hangout. It was dark and cold and raining so we were going to take whatever else was nearby. Thankfully a place across the street had a vacancy so we stayed there. Our destination for the next morning, the extremely lush Bedegul Botanical Garden was within walking distance.
We finally crawled into bed exhausted. Ross woke up well before dawn to get up to the Botanical Garden at first light. The guards had no problem with him entering early, but for normal visitors, the park doesn’t open until 8AM. He was searching for a thrush and the best time to get those is first light when they go on the trail, otherwise they stay in the thick underbrush and can be difficult to see. The morning was a failure however when he never found the Sunda Thrush. He returned back to the homestay and soon he and I ventured back up to the park, where by this time it had become increasingly more crowded. Everyone had off for Ramadan festivities and visiting this park is a huge draw for the local Indonesian crowd. Despite there being a ton of people in the park, no one was on the trails and we walked along the gullies and trails without ever passing another person. The trail (as pictured above) was absolutely beautiful and extremely peaceful but we never managed our target thrush. We opted to check out the gardens themselves but found them to be very underwhelming. The people selling orchids at their plant stands outside of the park had a better flower garden than the actual botanical garden did!! We opted to get back on the trails and spent the rest of the morning dipping Sunda Thrush before finally calling it quits due to rain.