Birding on Flores

Summary:

Great scenery and great birds. The large selection of endemics ranges from the easy to the very hard.

Key bird species:

Green Junglefowl, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Wallace’s Hanging Parrot, Leaf (Rainbow) Lorikeet, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit Dove, Barred Cuckoo Dove, Parzudaki’s (Ruddy) Cuckoo Dove, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Flores Green Pigeon, Flores Scops Owl, Wallace’s Scops Owl, Moluccan Scops Owl, White-rumped Kingfisher, Cerulean Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Flores Minivet, Tenggara (Glossy) Swiftlet, Flores Crow, Flores Monarch, Flores Warbling-flycatcher (Russet-backed Jungle-Flycatcher), Trumpeting (Brown-capped) Fantail, Bare-throated Whistler, Chestnut-capped Thrush, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Flores (White-browed) Shortwing, Pygmy Cupwing (Wren Babbler), Russet-capped Tesia, Flores Leaf-Warbler, Scaly-crowned Honeyeater, Wallace’s Heleia (Yellow-spectacled White-eye), Eyebrowed Heleia (Yellow-browed Dark-eye), Thick-billed Heleia (Dark-eye), Crested Heleia (Dark-eye), Golden-rumped Flowerpecker, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flores (Blood-breasted) Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird, Flores Spangled (Wallacean) Drongo, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Pale-headed Munia, Five-coloured Munia, Timor Zebra Finch.

Birdwatching locations:

Labuanbajo

Most people will arrive in the west of the island at the busy town of Labuanbajo. There are several good birdwatching options nearby, all of which can be undertaken as day trips from town, or combined with a move east towards Ruteng.

Dolat wetlands

This seasonal wetland is reached by following the road around 4 km south of Labuanbajo. During the height of the wet season it is hard to miss as chances are the road will simply end in flooded fields. During the dry season the fields will probably not be flooded, but the area is still interesting for a look around. Birds possible include Wandering Whistling-duck, Sunda Teal (look out for the rarer Australian Grey Teal amongst them), Javan Plover, Malaysian Plover and Beach Thick-knee (on the beach), Wallace’s Heleia, Flame-throated Sunbird, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Black-faced Munia Timor Zebra Finch and Barred Dove. Rails and crakes should also be a possibility. Stork-billed, Cerulean and Common Kingfishers are also a feature around the mangrove dominated channels and pools. Elegant Pitta is present in remnant forest patches.

Potawangka Road

This area of degraded lowland forest is a short drive east of Labuanbajo. After around 10km from town (on the main East-West road) take a left turn onto a smaller paved road towards Terang (some drivers may only know this site as ‘the road to Terang’). After 2-3 km this road enters degraded forest and continues through it for another 2-3 km. By exploring a bit off the road you may be able to find better condition forest on steeper slopes nearby. One such path heads off to the left near a small stream. Birds possible in this area include Green Junglefowl, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Bonelli’s Eagle, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Flores Crow, Flores Green Pigeon, Wallace’s Heleia, Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird and Timor Zebra Finch. Exploring further along this road could also be rewarding, as degraded forest is found all along the roadside for a further 10-20km.

Lake Sano Nggoang/Nunang

This volcanic lake (500ha, elev circa 650m) is located about 30-35 km to the SSE of Labuan Bajo (as the crow flies). The access is first from the Flores Highway toward Ruteng, after 30km there is a turn to the right toward Werang, and then on to Nunang (total 25km from the highway). The trip can be done from Labuanbajo by car or Ojek (2h30 total), but beware that at the rainy season or right after the last stretch can be difficult. Nunang village is situated on the south shore of the lake, and has several home-stays catering to “ecotourists” with up to 20 beds available in the whole village. Birding is around the village and along the road, and following little trails into the forest. Recent conservation efforts by local NGO Burung Indonesia are quite visible as, unlike most birdwatching sites in Flores, the place is very birdy and birds rather confiding as a hunting and trapping ban in the area seems well enforced. Key species around the village : Pacific Black Duck, Flores Green Pigeon, Flores, Wallace’s and Moluccan Scops-Owls, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Flores Minivet, Flores Crow, Wallace’s Heleia, Chestnut-capped and Chestnut-backed Thrush, Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird. From the village it is possible to trek up the nearby mountain in search of higher elevation species such as Flores Monarch. Flores Hawk-eagle is also said to occur in the area.

Puarlolo

This small forest patch lies alongside the main East-West (Ruteng) road around 36 km east of Labuanbajo. It can easily be reached as a day trip from town, or en-route to or from Ruteng. Look out for the birdwatching signs and the obvious telecom tower set just back from the road on the right (as you travel from Labuanbajo). Small trails leave from the clearing in front of the tower, and a more obvious trail descends from the main road a couple of hundred metres back from the turn-off to the tower, around the back of a small building/office.

Getting into the forest here should get you the sites main speciality, the highly range restricted Flores Monarch. Look out for these unobtrusive birds in the middle- to lower-story. Other birds possible include Green Junglefowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, Russet-capped Tesia, Crested Heleia, Thick-billed Heleia, Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, Chestnut-backed and Chestnut-capped Thrushes, Rufous-chested Flycatcher and if you are lucky, Flores Crow.

Ruteng area

The central town of Ruteng, 4-5 hours drive east from Labuanbajo, is the best base for the next few sites; which should see you getting most of the sub-montane and montane specialities of Flores. The first three sites are also a good bet for the mysterious and rarely encountered Flores Giant Rat.

Danau Rana Mese

This small lake (Rana Mese) lies around 20km east of Ruteng on the main road to Bajawa. The lake is surrounded by good condition forest which can be accessed by either birding along the main road or from any number of smaller side trails that leave the main road. Historically there was a track that left from near the lake to the summit of Poco Ranaka (starting about 500m back towards Ruteng from the lake, and stretching 10km to the summit), but this is now largely overgrown.

The forest in this area holds many birds, including the possibility of Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit Dove, Barred & Parzudaki’s Cuckoo Dove, both Flores and Wallace’s Scops-Owl, White-rumped Kingfisher, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird, Flores Minivet, Bare-throated Whistler, Trumpeting Fantail, Russet-capped Tesia, Flores Leaf-warbler, Eyebrowed, Crested & Thick-billed Heleias, Helmeted Friarbird, Scaly-crowned Honeyeater Golden-rumped Flowerpecker, Flores Flowerpecker, Five-coloured Munia (in more open areas). The lake itself often holds Pacific Black Duck and Little Grebe.

Golo Lusang

This site lies around 8km south of Ruteng, where the road reaches an obvious pass before dropping steeply down through degraded forest in a series of hairpin bends. The best birding is usually had by starting at the pass and walking down through the hairpins for a few kilometres. You can then either walk back up, or plan ahead and get someone to pick you up down lower! Birds here are similar to those at Danau Rana Mese, but the views are more impressive, the dawn chorus of Bare-throated Whistlers is memorable, and Flores Shortwing & Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch are also possible.

Poco Ranaka

Around 8km east of Ruteng an old access road head south from the main road and stretches around 10km to the summit of Mt Ranaka at 2,300m where there is a telecom station. The track up to the summit is surfaced as a result, but is generally neglected, overgrown and not usually passable by vehicle. It may still possible to reach the summit by motorbike but be careful as the track is slippery, and you may find yourself walking after a while! You may even be able to descend through the forest 10km to Lake Rana Mese, if you can find the trail. If you have spent a lot of time road birding, which often seems to be the case in the Lesser Sundas, this track makes a nice change, although it is quite steep in places.

Many of the same montane species present at Rana Mese and Golo Lusang are also present here, including Flores & Wallace’s Scops Owls, Pigeons & Doves, White-rumped Kingfisher, Flores Shortwing, Pygmy Cupwing, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch and Bonelli’s Eagle.

Pagal

Around 20 km North of Ruteng, and at lower altitude, this patch of degraded roadside forest starts around 2-3km beyond the village of Pagal, and continues for 3-4km. Birding is from the roadside or from any interesting looking side-trail you can find. Birds recorded here have included Flores Hawk Eagle, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, Flores Green-Pigeon, Parzudaki’s Cuckoo Dove, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Trumpeting Fantail, Russet-capped Tesia, Flores Minivet, Wallace’s, Eyebrowed, Crested and Thick-billed Heleias, Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpecker and Flame-breasted Sunbird.

Kisol

The village of Kisol lies around 2-3 hours drive south-east of Ruteng and usually makes for the last stop on many birding itineraries (or the first, depending on which end you start!). The area has several remnant patches of lowland and hill forest, and it is for this reason that most people visit. By basing yourself in Kisol there are a number of local birding options, and some interesting areas to explore.

South of the village a road heads off 12km towards the coastal village of Nangarawa (leaving the Seminary, turn right onto the main road, then cross a small bridge after around 100m, then turn left). The road starts off paved and then becomes rough cobbles. Follow it for a few kilometers through farmland and it then starts to rise and enters nice forest for several more kilometres. Birds seen in this area include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Moluccan and Wallace’s Scops-Owl (both species can be found in any forest block, although the latter is much less common), Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Mees’s Nightjar, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Flores Crow, Russet-capped Tesia, Chestnut-capped Thrush, Trumpeting Fantail, Eyebrowed Heleia, Flores Green Pigeon, Flores Crow, Thick-billed Heleia, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird.

Another favourite option is to head off towards the forested slopes of Gunung Pacandeki, easily visible to the SW of Kisol village. Taking a right turn off the Nangarawa road before it rises will eventually take you to the edge of disturbed primary forest, with the road/track going through this forest for c1km. This area has most of the specialities, with the main targets usually including Chestnut-capped Thrush, Flores Green Pigeon, Flores Crow, Elegant Pitta and view points over the mountain forest where Flores Hawk Eagle is often scoped. At night Wallace’s and Moluccan Scops Owl are possible, with the latter very numerous. The road through the patch of forest here was subject to being upgraded in 2016, with considerable local disturbance (hopefully the work crew didn’t include any bird trappers!).

Kelimutu

Further east in Flores the scenic three crater lakes of Keli Mutu are a popular tourist destination to the north of Ende, along the road to the eastern town of Maumere (which also has an airport serving Kupang and Denpasar). Standing at the top of the mountain at dawn looking other the multi-coloured lakes is a wonderful sight. Walking back along the trail and road to the village follows patches of montane forest with most of the montane endemics, including Bare-throated Whistler. Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon is more numerous here than at Ruteng (presumably as less hunting). Birding above the village in the scrub and degraded forest can also be productive, in season, Flores Green Pigeon is not uncommon along the roadside, and other species such as Ruddy Cuckoo Dove, Crested Dark-eye, Pale-headed and Five-coloured Munia are also present.

East Flores

East of Maumere the mountainous areas of east Flores are little explored and would be worthy of a visit by the adventurous birder wanting more and not following the ‘usual route’. You could then continue to Larantuka at the eastern tip of Flores and continue from there to the islands of Pantar, Alor and Wetar. One good place that is definetely worth a look is Gunung Egon, to the east of Maumere. A small paved road (becoming kind of unpaved as you get higher!) heads south off the coast road, after passing through a few villages it starts to enter some excellent forest, with a ton of potential. Check it out on the map below. There is plenty of accommodation nearby in Maumere, and a car, or better still a motorbike, can get you where you want to be.

Access and Accommodation:

The most reliable access to Flores is through the western hub of Labuanbajo. As this town also serves the tourist trade to Komodo and Rinca islands, it has the most flights and the most hotels, restaurants and travel agents. At time of writing Labuanbajo is served by flights from Bali, Kupang and Ende (in central Flores). Ruteng also has timetabled flights from Kupang (but these are sometimes diverted by local weather conditions in Ruteng). Alternatively you find it easiest to continue east to Ende, or even Maumere (in eastern Flores), and get a flight out from there (to Kupang, for example). Schedules are prone to change all the time, however, so check the airline websites first, and keep checking them until the day you fly! Labuanbajo is also served by regular ferries from Sumbawa, and less frequent boats to other places like Sumba. Check in town or ask you hotel for advice if you want to travel onwards by boat.

For accommodation, Labuanbajo has plenty to choose from, as does Ruteng. Best to check a guide book like Lonely Planet, or a website like TripAdviser, for something that suits you. In Kisol options are more limited. Most people stay in the catholic seminary, where a room and food can be provided. The seminary usually prefer to be contacted prior to your arrival, but we don’t have contact details (if anyone can help…). If the seminary is not accepting visitors then the small town of Borong 10km to the west has a couple of basic hotels.

Public buses and shared taxis run to and from Labuanbajo eastwards to the main towns, including Ruteng and Borong. If you were looking for a local guide, your options for a friendly driver-cum-guide are pretty wide in Labuanbajo; just ask at your hotel or at one of the many agents in town (try Incito Tours perhaps, as they have at least one driver – Pak Marcus – who knows where all the birding sites are). They will know the main places, and you can use the instructions here to find the rest. They won’t know any birds or calls however, and they may not speak much English (try and ask for an English-speaking driver when you get the car?). If you wanted a birding guide you’d be better trying one of the local Indonesian agents listed elsewhere, many of which could arrange a tailor-made tour or Flores, or go through one of the reputable international bird tour companies. Getting places by public transport is also not hard in Flores, as most sites lie along the main East-West road which is served by local buses. Using motorbike taxis (Ojek) is then a useful way to explore places like Ruteng, or even just hire a bike yourself for a few days (ask any Ojek driver!).

More info:

Scroll down the page for related information, including photos, comments, trip reports, guides and services, articles and news. If you can update this account, or find things have changed, please add your comments below to make it easier for the next person. Thanks!

Site map:


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