Easy roadside birding, beautiful scenery and amazing local culture; and a ton of endemics!
Key bird species:
Brown Goshawk; Spotted Harrier; Short-toed Eagle; Sumba Buttonquail; Red-naped Fruit-Dove; Sumba Green-Pigeon; Citron-crested Cockatoo; Sumba Boobook; Little Sumba Hawk-Owl; Mees’s Nightjar; Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher; Sumba Hornbill; Elegant Pitta; Sumba Cuckoo-shrike; Sumba Brown Flycatcher; Sumba Flycatcher; Chestnut-backed Thrush; Red-headed Myzomela; Apricot-breasted Sunbird;
Sumba has a lot of birds packed into a small number of sites! All but one of the endemics are found in forest, and if you are lucky you can see them all in 1-2 days.Sumba Buttonquail This is the only endemic which cannot be found in the forest, and is most often searched for near either one of Sumba’s two airports. The most commonly visited site is Yumbu, around 20 km east of Waingapu. Take a car or ojek (motorbike taxi) along the coast road until an obvious bridge over a wooded ravine is reached. The fields on either side of the bridge, and on either side of the road hold Sumba Buttonquail, but seeing them is not always so easy, and probably will require lots of marching around in the hope of flushing one. An alternative, if you arrive or leave from Sumba’s other airport, Tambolaka, is to head north from the airport towards the coast, then east along tracks towards the Newa Sumba Resort. Sumba Buttonquail have been seen in the fields and grassy scrub near the resort. Be careful identifying buttonquails, as both sites also hold Brown Quail, and both Red-backed and Barred Buttonquail are recorded on Sumba! The scrubby coastal strip can also be productive for other species, including Spotted Harrier, Brown Goshawk, Barred Dove, Australian Bushlark, Green Junglefowl, Apricot-breasted Sunbird and Sumba Brown Flycatcher. Forest birding near Lewa The small village of Lewa lies in the centre of Sumba on the main east-west road, around one hours drive from Waingapu, or around two hours drive from Tambolaka. It is famous for being close to some nice forest, and for having a birder-friendly guesthouse that can help arrange transport, guides and logistics (see details below). Around Lewa there are several good spots for birding, any one of which can get you all the endemics if you are lucky. To the west of Lewa lies Manupeu-Tanah Daru National Park, the biggest national park on the island (the other national park is Laiwangi-Wanggameti in the south-east of the island). The edge of the park begins around 10 km to the west of Lewa. Here the main road drops down through 2-3 km of nice forest situated between km markers 68-72. Birding is excellent along this road in the early morning, and all of the forest endemics can be seen here on a good day, plus non-endemic goodies like Elegant Pitta and Chestnut-backed Thrush. Simply get a ride from Lewa and get dropped at the top or bottom and work your way slowly along the road, exploring any side trails that look interesting. The site is especially reliable for night birds, and a small clearing just off the road at around km 69.5 (where the road turns a sharp right-hand bend as you come down) holds both endemic owls and Mees’ Nightjar. To the south of Lewa, also within Manupeu-Tanah Daru National Park, is another forest site, near the village of Watumabela. The village is around 20 km south of Lewa and is best reached by car or a long motorbike ride from Lewa. From the village trails head west towards the park and forest. Most birders head to a hill-top viewing site about an hours walk away in the hope of picking up pigeons and Citron-crested Cockatoo, the specialities of this site. Finding the right trail to this observation hill is not so easy, so you will probably need to take a local guide. Early morning is best, meaning it is likely that the drive and the walk will both be in semi-darkness. During the wet season the trails may become overgrown and difficult to negotiate. To the east of Lewa are a few small patches of forest that have proved very productive for birding over the years. These forest patches have the distinct ‘advantage’ (from a budget birding perspective!) of not lying within the national park. This means you can avoid any kind of forced formality in visiting them (see below!). Access is from a side trail heading south from the main road around 10 km west of Lewa (at about the km 51 marker). Following the side track brings you to the forest after only a short walk and then the birding is similar to the forests west of Lewa. Forest birding near Waikabubak For birders coming from the western end of Sumba, or for those with more time, the section of the cross-island road between around km markers 93-95 is great. This area can either be accessed from Lewa (about 40 mins drive) or from the town of Waikabubak further to the west (about 20 mins drive). The roads descends (or rises.. depending on where you are coming from..) through around 4-5 km of good condition forest, and in several places provides excellent views over the forested valley below. This area lies at the western boundary of Manupeu-Tanah Daru National Park and holds all of the forest endemics. The views over the valley provide an excellent look-out for pigeons and parrots, including Citron-crested Cockatoo. The areas at the bottom of the road, near the metal bridge that forms the boundary of the park, holds the endemic owls and Mees’ Nightjar.
Access and Accommodation:
Sumba has two airports, both served by flights from Denpasar, Bali, with fluctuating schedules to other airports in the Lesser Sundas (Kupang, Bima, etc). Most birders opt to fly to Waingapu, the bigger of the two (but that is not saying it is big!), and then base themselves initially in Waingapu town where there are several hotels (look in Lonely Planet for examples). For those arriving at Tambulaka airport in the west, the nicest accommodation option is the nearby Newa Sumba Resort (www.newasumbaresort.com), which also has excellent birding in its grounds.From Waingapu to get to Yumbu for the buttonquail you can simply hire a car (from your hotel), a taxi (if you can find one) or an ojek (motorbike taxi). To get to Lewa or Waikabubak from either Waingapu or Tambulaka you can seek out public buses (ask at your hotel for where to find one) or rent a car for the trip (again your hotel will be able to arrange this). In Waikabubak there are several basic hotels, while in Lewa the place to aim for is the homestay (losmen) run by Kathy & Cornelis Hary (Jl. Pameti Karata, Lewa, Sumba, 87152). To contact Hary’s Losmen, call Mamma Rewu on +6285239910745 or email another guy in the village named Budi at b_Karwelo@yahoo.de and he can apparently pass a message on. To get to the sites around Lewa, ask for help at Hary’s Losmen. To get to places from Waikabubak you can get a car from your hotel and head east towards the forest, or negotiate any other form of transport that suits your budget (bus, bike etc!). Dealing with the national park The concept of organised ecotourism has not yet reached the management authorities of Manupeu-Tanah Daru National Park, whose approach to visiting birders is more typified by complete randomness, obscure and at times expensive charges, guides that don’t guide, and a complete lack of receipts. As several of the sites mentioned above are within the park, you do technically need permission from the park to go birdwatching there. There are several possibilities for how you deal with this. We make no recommendation here, as everyone seems to have a different experience, these are just your options!
- Just go there anyway, and birdwatch along the roads (km 93-98, km 68-72). The chances of you bumping into any park staff are pretty remote.
- Let Hary’s Losmen in Lewa sort you out (in advance, if you can). They will know the latest situation with the park and can help you arrange whatever formalities are prevailing. This may or may not involve you taking a guide from the park, and may or may not involve you paying variable amounts of money to them. There is also a local guide, Freddy Hambuwali who apparently knows the Sumba sites and can help you with arrangements (firstname.lastname@example.org) or alternatively use one of the ‘Indonesia-wide’ local guides/agents or tour companies to take the pain out of the logistics!
- Present yourself to the park, and negotiate. The head office of the park is in Kupang (very useful..). There is also supposedly a section office in Lewa, and possibly also Waingapu and Waikabubak. If you can find any one of these, turn up and say what you want, and the park will start quoting prices. The mandatory requirement is that you get an entrance ticket, but the official price is only a few dollars for a few days. There is also a mandatory small extra charge if you have a camera. This said, don’t expect to be quoted the mandatory charge, and the park can (by law) at their discretion require you to be accompanied by a guide, for which there is no set charge. The good news (!) is that you are more than free to haggle. If you don’t like what they quote you first, offer far less and try and agree on something acceptable. If you finally cant agree on a price or ‘service’, then walk away, revert to option 1 above, or concentrate on the forest outside of the park!
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