Seram Part 2 – Indonesia – Well That Ended On a Happy Note

After a rough 6 day trek up Mount Binaiya we planned to finish up our time on the island of Seram by visiting a very tiny island off of the northern coast where Olive Honeyeater has been known to occur, a bird only found on very, very tiny islands. You see, Olive Honeyeater is a weird little bird that specializes in tiny islands and is restricted to small islets off the west coast of West Papua with a strange isolated satellite population off of Seram which has been present for the last 100 years. We wanted to see this isolated population. We had met a fisherman from the night before whom we had purchased fish off of and asked if he could be able to ride us out to the small island known as Loesaolat.

Typically birders spend a boatload, pun intended, on hiring a boat from one of the “resorts” in town to get out to the island. We like to share the wealth with the locals so if the fisherman could take us it would be a win-win! He would gain some additional income and we would be able to visit the island for less than half the price of the resort boats! The fisherman said he could take us so we coordinated a time, 2PM, and a price, 200,000 rupiah, and planned to come back the following day for our little adventure. The next morning was our first opportunity to bird the road, the area most visiting birders spend all of the time on so we planned to bird the road before meeting up with our new fisherman friend. Our motorbikes were late so we walked the early part of the morning until we found someone to ride us. Just before light we had a Seram Boobook come perch directly on an open branch just after we played tape. It was so sudden that we weren’t nearly ready. It seems that actually having nice views of this bird is uncommon and yet we had seen two different birds very well! We finally caught a ride up the mountain and began birding the road. It was birdy in the early morning but we had definitely missed the earliest part of the day due to our ojeks being late. We had great views of Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk, Seram Crown, Seram Myzomela, and Wakolo Myzomela, but we were really there looking for flocks. Up until this point we had missed Bicolored White-eye and knew it would be associating with flocks. Really, it was the last main target bird for Ross who had seen nearly everything else. I managed to get on a Bicolored White-eye among a group of Seram Leaf Warblers and Streak-breasted Fantails but couldn’t get Ross on it before it disappeared. We had a few great flocks after that and the opportunity to scan through them but didn’t find the bird. By 11 o’clock it was beginning to show signs of rain so we walked down towards a viewpoint shelter and waited for a ride. As we were putting away the gear to make getting in a car easier we had a truck and a van pass us but figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find another vehicle. Traffic wasn’t heavy along the road which made walking it very enjoyable, but it was present. Unfortunately after those two vehicles passed us all traffic going down the mountain ceased to exist. It was a full TWO HOURS before another vehicle came down the road. We flagged them down, got in the back seat and road to our turn off and had to walk the remaining 2 kilometers to Masihulao (after the hike we elected to stay in the village for 100,000 a night instead of spending more time at the resort which was 700,000 for a night!) where we were staying. We switched into flip flops and flagged another vehicle headed in the direction of Sawai so we could meet up with our fisherman friend. As you can imagine, we were late. It was 3:30PM when we arrived and it was raining. Our fisherman friend called us out for our tardiness, surprising coming from an Indonesian when Indonesians are notorious for never being anywhere at the time they said. He was right though and we explained that we didn’t have a ride because not a single vehicle passed us for 2 hours. He told us we would have to wait for the rain to stop which we wanted to do anyway. The raid did lighten up a bit and by the time we were on the water it was already 4PM.

We underestimated how slow our little fishing boat would be and when we were halfway there we were laughing at all of the ways we had screwed this up. We weren’t going to get to the island until it was practically dark. It was raining. Most importantly, we didn’t even know if the Olive Honeyeaters would be there considering they were seasonal. What else could go wrong?! Surely this was a recipe for disaster. We rode the whole way there underneath our umbrellas trying to stay dry. By some miracle the rain subsided just as we were arriving and it appeared it wasn’t too dark to give it a shot. Unfortunately as we were walking around we couldn’t seem to find any of our target birds. The island is only 200m from end to end and very easy to walk the length of in a short amount of time. These birds were supposed to be conspicuous! If they were here, we would have seen/heard them by now! Two out of three in our trifecta of wrongs had worked out in our favor but perhaps the birds just weren’t here at this time of year. We had no idea what their ‘season’ was. Just as we were about to leave and give up Ross heard a sound and eventually located the source as an Olive Honeyeater! We had nice looks at 6 individuals but only managed a sub-par recording and sub-par photo. It wasn’t until we had decided we would leave that the birds started calling loudly and posing in the open. No clue where they were when we first arrived but our little getaway went from the worst possible scenario to pretty close to perfect. We had the whole island to ourselves. The sky went from rain to a miriad of shades of blue. Seriously, the only way our visit out to the island of Loesaolat Island could have gotten any better was if one of the many Greater Crested Terns that we passed on a nearby sandbar had a wintering Chinese Tern among them (but sadly it didn’t, a bit too early in the season  I guess). Regardless, what we thought was going to turn out to be a total disaster was very enjoyable and we had views of a neon orange and pink sunset behind a blue mountain backdrop to keep us company for the ride back.

We were beyond excited to arrive back at the fisherman’s house, not because our trip wasn’t enjoyable but because we were starving and before we left had arranged that the fisherman’s wife cook us dinner upon our return. Before we left we bought another five fish off of the lady and asked if she would cook them up for us. She had agreed and rattled off a few other Indonesian specialties. We were picturing coming back from sea to a feast and hoped that we wouldn’t be disappointed. We weren’t. There was indeed a feast waiting for us and we chowed down on delicious battered and fried fish, sweet sticky rice, white rice with a spicy homemade sambal, fish soup, noodle soup, and sautéed veggies. It was everything we had wanted it to be and we left completely stuffed. All of this for just 100,000 rupiah! Another win-win because to us that meal was well worth the $7.50 and I’m sure she’s thinking she made out like a bandit! We headed back to our little homestay but not without buying a few more of the delicious banana-wrapped croissants off of the girls on the side of the street. Those darn treats were just too good to pass up and in our 48 hours of being back down the mountain Ross and I consumed 40 banana croissants between the two of us!

Our fantastic dinner with two great people!

We only had one final morning before we had to be back to town to catch the ferry. We coordinated with the taxi driver who dropped us off nearly a week ago to come pick us up and be there at 5AM so we could get up the mountain and walk the road before actually getting on our way. We had put pretty much zero faith that he would be there at 5AM like we asked so we were preparing to ask around for another ride by 5:10 if he hadn’t arrived. I was blown away when the driver pulled up at our homestay doorstep ready to go and we didn’t have to resort to our backup protocol! We made it to the top of the first pass at dawn and had plenty of bird activity to keep us company. We were kicking ourselves for not having gotten up here earlier the day before. Darn those ojeks! Again we had done so well that we really only had a few targets. I was hoping for Purple-naped Lory and Ross was looking for Bicolored White-eye. The Seram Dwarf Kingfisher that we were both missing we had already written off because if we hadn’t seen one amongst the many little gullies we had passed while on our trek we certainly weren’t going to see one along the road! We immediately had a flock of Mountain and Seram White-eyes, but the Bicolored was no where to be found. Our morning looked a lot like the morning before, only with slightly better weather and a driver to follow a bit behind us and pick us up when we wanted to go back to the top. We walked up and down the road a few times focusing on the elevation that we felt would give Ross the best chance for this darn white-eye. It was a nice morning but the closer we got to our deadline of 9AM, the time we told ourselves we would officially leave by, the more frustrated Ross was getting that he had missed this bird. I kid you not, it wasn’t until all of the gear was put away and we had officially decided we would leave as soon as our drivers pulled up that I yelled to Ross “I have it!” The bird flew off before he could get on it and all we saw were some Streak-breasted Fantails. He then was sure that I had misidentified a fantail to the point where I doubted whether I had seen the bird or not! We scanned the flock of fantails and sure enough I relocated the bird that I had and knew it was not mis-ID’d. I managed to get him on it and we both just started laughing. I don’t think you can make something like that up. Or I guess you could, but Ross said “I had better get a photo or no one is going to believe this” and we watched a single Bicolored White-eye from the exact same spot as I had it from the day before.

Ross managed to achieve the unheard of during our trip to Seram – ticking all but one of the targets, Seram Dwarf Kingfisher. How we never managed to see one of these buggers after countless hours in what appeared to be prime habitat is beyond us. We should have seen that darn bird and cleaned up every endemic in Seram, something that has never been done before. We definitely did things a bit differently than those who had come before us. We had climbed a mountain. We saw some super rare birds. Without a doubt I can say I am the first female to have Seram Thrush on their life list. The whole ordeal was challenging sure, but absolutely worthwhile and we left having managed to see some of the best birds of our trip!