Birding on Timor

Summary:

Easy access to some great sites and birds, including some great Lesser Sundas endemics such as, Orange-banded Thrush, Timor Sparrow, Black-banded Flycatcher (surely one of the best Asian Flycatchers), the unique Timor (Buff-banded) Thicketbird, two great Parrotfinches, one only very recently discovered by James Eaton/Birdtour Asia (and yet to be formally described), and two night birds also still awaiting formal descriptions as species in their own right (Timor Boobook and Timor Nightjar). A trip to West Timor is well worthwhile.

Key bird species:

Short-toed Snake-Eagle; Bonelli’s Eagle; Timor (Streaked) Boobook; (Australian) Barn Owl, ‘Timor’ Nightjar, Red-backed Buttonquail; Red-capped Plover; Timor Green-Pigeon (very rare); Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon; Timor Imperial Pigeon (uncommon in West Timor); Black-backed Fruit Dove; Rose-crowned Fruit Dove; Timor (Bar-necked/Dusky) Cuckoo Dove; Black Cuckoo Dove (Timor Black Pigeon); Olive-headed Lorikeet; Jonquil (Olive-shouldered) Parrot; Iris Lorikeet; Marigold Lorikeet (very rare); Yellow-crested Cockatoo (no recent records), Drab (Glossy) Swiftlet, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher; Timor (Green) Figbird; Timor (Olive-brown) Oriole; Timor (White-shouldered) Bushchat; Timor Stubtail; Timor (Buff-banded) Thicketbird; Pygmy Cupwing (Wren-babbler), Black-banded Flycatcher; Timor Warbling (Blue) Flycatcher; Orange-banded Thrush; Timor Spangled (Wallacean) Drongo, Timor (Plain) Gerygone; Fawn-breasted Whistler; Tenggara (Golden) Whistler; Broad-billed Monarch (Flycatcher), Wallacean (Spectacled) Monarch, Island Monarch (rare), Timor Friarbird; Timor (Black-breasted) Myzomela; Indonesian Honeyeater, Timor Meliphaga (Streak-breasted Honeyeater); Yellow-eared Honeyeater; Black-faced Woodswallow; Timor Heleia (Spot-breasted White-eye); Red-chested (Blue-cheeked) Flowerpecker; Timor (Blood-breasted) Flowerpecker, Tenggara (Thick-billed) Flowerpecker, Red Avadavat; Five-coloured Munia; Tri-coloured Parrotfinch, Mount Mutis (Timor) Parrotfinch; Timor Sparrow. ‘Timor Bush Warbler’ (now subsumed within Sunda Grasshopper Warbler) was also originally described from Mt Mutis, but has not been seen at this location for a long time.

Birdwatching locations:

The island of Timor supports a large number of endemics, many of which listed above can be seen from a number of sites in West Timor. The sites described below include the most commonly visited areas, which give you a shot at most targets.

Bipolo

This is the name given to a small degraded patch of lowland forest not far from Kupang. Despite the size of the forest patch, and its condition, Bipolo is an excellent site to visit and supports many of Timor’s endemic birds. Coming by road from Kupang you will cross a bridge at the eastern end of the forest and the road then cuts through the trees for about 1.5 km, before emerging at a village on the far side. Around half way along, the road bends to the right, and there is a huge fig tree on the left at the bend. This is a great spot to start, as the tree invariably seems to hold many pigeons, including Black-backed Fruit-Dove and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, also Timor Figbird. Birding along the road, and on the many foot trails that enter the forest, should then start to get you birds such as Jonquil Parrot (not common), Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Timor Oriole, Timor Stubtail, Timor Thicketbird, Timor Warbling-flycatcher, Broad-billed Monarch, Timor Myzomela, Timor Meliphaga, Timor Gerygone and Red-chested Flowerpecker. The forest patch also supports one of Timor’s most wanted: Orange-banded Thrush. During the wet-season (Nov-Apr) the forest also supports many Elegant Pitta, but these appear to be completely absent during the dry season.

By following the road through the forest to the village on the far side, then turning immediately left (South) to follow a track south along the edge of the forest (by foot or car) you soon emerge onto the edge of a vast open area of wet rice paddy. Before you enter the rice paddy area proper, take a good look around the scrubby edges. This has been a reliable place to see Timor Sparrow, and Timor Zebra Finch, Five-coloured Munia and Brown Quail are also often seen. Scan the dead trees in this area to look for Black-faced Woodswallow and keep an eye on the sky above for raptors including Short-toed Snake-Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle and Spotted and Australian Kestrel.

Continuing into the rice paddy areas, you can pick up more Munia and Timor Zebra Finch flocks, and also look out for Red Avadvat. The rice paddies are another reliable area for Timor Sparrow. By continuing south on the same trail, across the centre of the rice paddy area, you come to the end of the road at the edge of an area of fish ponds. Take a walk out onto the earth banks and look out for Red-capped Plover, for which this area always seems to hold a few. Also scan the flocks of Sunda Teal as there can be a few Grey Teal mixed in. The wetland vegetation holds Australasian Reed Warbler and Broad-billed Monarch.

Back at the western edge of the forest and on the main road, instead of turning south onto the open cultivation, a right turn by a small shop heading north will eventually lead to a small gate into plantation. Taking this track will eventually lead to better forest patches along a mostly dry river bed. This area is good for many forest birds, and especially good for pigeons with Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit Dove, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Timor Cuckoo Dove all recorded. Orange-banded Thrush is also common here.

You have to admit that is quite a list of birds for an area of forest of only about 1 ha, that when you first arrive will probably make you think ‘is this it??!’.

Camplong

The next stop on the road east is Camplong. This is the name of a village, behind which is some reasonable condition forest below a ridge. The altitude here is around 300m and the birds start to change in their general composition. Follow the main road through the village until you almost reach the other (eastern) side. There is then an unpaved track heading south, which after 200m comes to a T-junction. Turn left (east) here and after another 200m the track enters nicer forest. Lots of paths head into the forest around here and are all worth exploring.

The birding is great in all of these wooded areas with birds seen including; Black Cuckoo Dove, Timor Heleia, Timor Thicketbird (easy to hear; surprisingly difficult to see!), Wallacean Monarch, Timor Stubtail, Timor Warbling-flycatcher, Orange-banded Thrush, Timor Bushchat, Yellow-eared Honeyeater, Timor Meliphaga, Black-breasted Myzomela, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Timor Spangled Drongo, and Timor Gerygone. This is also where Black-banded Flycatcher is most frequently seen (pay close attention to the bamboo thickets around and behind the small village – but it can also be seen away from bamboo). By night the tracks around Camplong are a good place to try for Timor Boobook. Island Monarch has been recorded at this site, however it is likely that this species is usually restricted to the small islands off West Timor, than mainland forests.

Soe (Ole Nasi)

A couple of hours drive to the east, the land starts to rise and before you reach the town of Soe you pass a nice patch of forest known as Ole Nasi, that is definitely worth a visit. The entrance to the forest is not obvious from the main road (see map). On a right hand bend there is a single house, and it is from this house the trail heads north, first through a bit of scrub and secondary growth, and then into the forest. If you turn up at the house on the corner they will know what you are looking for, and chances are one of the kids will show you the way for a small tip.

The main trail heads in more or less a straight line, passing one small grassy clearing after around 500m, then coming to a second, bigger clearing after another 500m. The birding is good all along the trail, and from the clearings. Look out especially for both Orange-banded Thrush and Black-banded Flycatcher, as both are found here. Other species regularly seen include Timor Cuckoo-dove, Black Cuckoo Dove (try from the clearings), Jonquil Parrot, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Timor Myzomela, Timor Friarbird, Timor Gerygone and Red-chested Flowerpecker, Timor Thicketbird, Timor Stubtail, Timor Warbling-flycatcher, Timor Bushchat, and Barred Dove. Timor Heleia has also been recorded here. Look for raptors from the clearings, including Bonelli’s Eagle that is regularly seen here. At night the clearings are a good place to try for the undescribed ‘Timor’ Nightjar. Timor Boobook is common and Barn Owl is also present.

Gunung Mutis

From the town of Soe roads head north towards West Timor’s highest point at Gunung Mutis. You will want to head this way too to complete the round-up of endemics! From the village of Fatumnasi a track heads north and soon enters a bizarre park-like forest of big trees and grassy under-storey (a product of overgrazing and burning). This area lies above 1,500 m and the birds are distinctly different to those of the other sites mentioned above. If you are arriving early in the morning from Soe what will immediately hit you is the number of parrots flying around: Olive-headed Lorikeet is abundant here, and mixed in with them are a few Jonquil Parrot and Iris Lorikeet. The latter you can see anywhere up here, so just keep checking parrots until you meet one. Yellow-eared Honeyeater and Timor Leaf-Warbler are also pretty abundant up here, along with Timor Flowerpecker. As you get higher up the Timor form of Pygmy Cupwing becomes frequent along with the Timor form of Island Thrush.

A good spot to aim for is about half way along the track (which eventually descends down to another village on the other side), at about the highest point. Look out for a pond and clearing on the right (north) of the road. The pond may be dry when you visit, but it should still be obvious enough. Park here and then look for a less distinct trail (an old logging track) that heads past the pond and continues east into nice condition forest with a much fuller under-storey. This trail continues for around 3 km, eventually coming out by a massive clearing (you cant miss it!) and gives you nice views of Gunung Mutis itself.

Where this side trail first enters more dense forest, just beyond the pond, is a great place to try for Chestnut-backed Thrush, and also Pygmy Cupwing & Island Thrush. Closer to the big clearing at the other end of the trail, the path follows a ridge line. Check the big trees along the edge of the drop-off for one of Timor’s hardest endemics, Timor Imperial Pigeon, which is uncommon in these higher forests. Look out also for the much darker Metallic Pigeon (form without a white throat). Scanning around from the big clearing might get you more pigeons and parrots or big raptors, or it might just get you sunburnt.

A second area of forest is present below the village of Fatumnasi. This is also disturbed but high canopy forest, with a mostly open, overgrazed understorey. Many of the species above Fatumnasi can also be seen here, such as Olive-headed and Iris Lorikeet, pigeons include, Timor & Black Cuckoo Doves (both uncommon here), Metallic Pigeon and Black-backed Fruit Dove. The area is where the two species of Parrotfinch are mostly recorded. Look out for them feeding quietly in the grassy understorey, or in weedy patches and small clearings. Some species are probably close to their higher elevational limit of distribution here, but are present, particularly as you head down slope (past the stream crossing for example), where the two Cuckoo-doves, Timor Stubtail, Timor Thicketbird, Cinnamon Banded Kingfisher, Orange-banded Thrush and other interesting range restricted species are all possible.

Access and Accommodation:

Getting to West Timor is easy by air. The airport at Kupang is the closest thing to a transport hub in this part of Indonesia and has regular flights from Jakarta and Bali, as well as connecting flights to other towns and cities in the Lesser Sundas.

The airport lies just outside of the city, and depending on your plans, you will probably find yourself heading into Kupang at some point. The nicest and most convenient places to stay lie along the coast road into town. At the ‘top’ end of hotels there is the ‘Hotel Kristal’ while further into town there is also the reasonable Hotel Maliana. Take a look at a guide like Lonely Planet for more idea of what is on offer to suit you.

To get around Timor the easiest option (but not the cheapest) is to charter a car and driver for your whole stay (see more below). If this is beyond your price range however then you can still get to all the sites by combinations of public transport (you can get anywhere in Indonesia by public transport if you have the time and patience). The best bet for up-to-date information is to interrogate the hosts at your chosen accommodation as to how to complete the next leg of your journey. Guide books like Lonely Planet also have useful information on public transport. From Kupang, buses run along the main road to Soe, and can drop you off at Camplong or the junction for the road to Bipolo. Ask at your hotel for the bus terminal. Bipolo is best accessed with private transport, either car, scooter, or taxi from eg Camplong.

From Soe you can arrange a taxi/ojek to go to Ole Nasi (which you will have passed if coming from Kupang). Soe is also the start point for getting to Gunung Mutis. You can take a minibus from the town centre to Kapan, the closest town to Fatumnasi. Once in Kapan you will be approached by many drivers wanting to take you to into the hills. The road to Fatumnasi isn’t great but it can be done by two wheel drive vehicle, but don’t forget to haggle, as the first price will be way above the going rate. At Fatumnasi, the homestay can organise cheap shared transport back to Kapan, Soe or even Kupang, or if you prefer, a private charter.

Bipolo lies around 1.5 hours drive from Kupang, and as there are no accommodation options locally it is easiest to visit the site as a day trip from Camplong or Kupang.

Camplong lies pretty close to Bipolo, and also around 1.5 hours drive from Kupang. There is a possibility of accommodation in Camplong, at a Catholic guesthouse run by nuns, ‘Wisma Oe Mat Honis’ (phone +62-380-850006). Sometimes this is closed for visitors, when this has been the case, a local family across the road will open a room or two to visiting birders for a reasonable price. Alternatively, if you have your own vehicle, it is easy enough to visit the site as a day trip from Kupang, or by making the onward drive to Soe after you have finished birding for the morning or evening.

In Soe there are several accommodation options, the most well-known of which is probably the Hotel Bahagia II (+62-388-21095) and the public bus from Kupang may just drop you off here assuming this is where you want to be, but there are alternatives of varying quality and price. To visit Ole Nasi nearby the drive is only around 15 minutes, so Soe is the best base to visit there.

To visit the Gunung Mutis area the drive is around 2 hrs from Soe. There is a small, and basic homestay in the village of Fatumnasi run by Mathius Anin. To find him get your lift to take you straight to the homestay (everyone will know where it is, and it has a sign outside!), or try asking around the village (his mobile phone +6285239890563). Alternatively, you can visit the site direct from Soe (an early start so you get to the forest for dawn) and then simply return to Soe at the end of the day.

In terms of local guides, at time of writing we are not really aware of any that are based in Timor. Several of the domestic travel agents in Indonesia, however, have staff that have visited Timor on birding trips and will know their way around. Alternatively, we know of one car and driver who has regularly ferried around birding groups, and so knows all of the sites listed above. He doesn’t speak English, and wont come with you birding, but he will deliver you to exactly where you want to be and then you can simply find all the birds yourself. If you fancy this option, brush up your Indonesian and then try Pak Yanto on +62-813-3716-7989. The other way to get a car and driver sorted is to try any of the hotels in Kupang, as they will know where to find one, or try the small bar ‘L’Avalon’ (lavalon_e@hotmail.com) near the Timor Beach Hotel, as the owner speaks excellent English and regularly organises sightseeing tours for foreign backpackers visiting Timor (the bar also sells cold beers.. which you don’t get from the nuns in Camplong for example!). You might even be able to organise a car in advance by contacting L’Avalon before you arrive. If you take a car and driver with you for a few days, you will normally be expected to provide their accommodation and meals, unless you negotiate otherwise in advance.

Bipolo, Camplong and Gunung Mutis are all forest area under some management authority of the forestry department (Bipolo is a ‘Nature Reserve’, Camplong a ‘Recreation Forest’ and Gunung Mutis a National Park) but they are not big on formalities and so no advance preparation is really required. If you bump into forestry dept staff at any of the sites just try offering to pay a small retrospective ‘entrance fee’…

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One thought on “Birding on Timor

  • Wednesday December 16th, 2015 at 10:34 AM
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    Hello
    I would like to do some birding in Timor Leste the first week of July. Could you recommend a birding guide?
    Thank you,
    Dana Bob Zook

    Reply

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