Birding on Seram

Summary:

Huge mountains, obscure islands, Salmon-crested Cockatoo and a whole load more central moluccan specialities and Seram endemics await.

Key bird species:

Forsten’s Scrubfowl; Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk; Meyer’s Goshawk; ‘Seram’ (Long-tailed) Mountain-Pigeon; Salmon-crested Cockatoo; Red Lory; Blue-eared Lory; Purple-naped Lory; Moluccan King-Parrot; Moluccan Scops-Owl; Moluccan Boobook; Lesser Masked-Owl; Lazuli Kingfisher; ‘Seram’ Swiftlet; Olive Honeyeater; Seram Honeyeater; Seram Myzomela; Wakolo Myzomela; Seram Friarbird; Moluccan Cuckoo-shrike; Pale-gray Cuckoo-shrike; Black-chinned Monarch; ‘Seram’ Golden Bulbul; Cinnamon-chested Flycatcher; Seram Thrush; Streaky-breasted Fantail; Drab Whistler; Seram White-eye; Rufescent White-eye; Gray-hooded White-eye; Seram Oriole; Moluccan Starling; Long-crested Myna.

Birdwatching locations:

Birding on Seram can be as easy, or as difficult as you want to make it! Getting there from Ambon is straightforward, and since the late 1990s a road has been constructed across the island from near Masohi in the south to beyond Wahai in the north. This road passes close to 1,300m in altitude and so gives you a chance at almost all of the endemics… apart from Blue-eared Lory. If you want to get higher however, the alternative is an arduous trek of 7-8 days towards the central range of Gunung Binaiya. You take your pick: easy roadside birding or killer walk!

The Masohi-Sawai-Wahai Road

Leaving Masohi by the good condition paved road takes you first through farmland, then through degraded forest, then through better condition forest as it heads towards the north coast. You can stop and look for birds anywhere along here and you will start to see the more widespread residents, such as Seram Oriole, Moluccan Starling, Long-crested Myna, Seram Friarbird, Moluccan Cuckoo-shrike, Pale-gray Cuckoo-shrike, but the forest is better if you keep heading north towards the high ground, and there is nothing that is not more abundant further on. The road passes close to the village of Saka on the north coast before doubling back on itself and starting to climb towards the pass to Sawai/Wahai. Just before the climb starts the road passes a collection of roadside restaurants, the last for many miles, and so any self-respecting driver will inevitably stop!

Beyond the restaurants, the road climbs rapidly from around 300m to 1,200m at the first pass. The forest all around here is in excellent condition and birding along the road gives great views. After the first pass it then dips to around 800m before climbing to the second pass at 1,250m. Beyond that it drops steeply down to the Sawai Junction, and on to Wahai. This high ground around and between the two passes affords some of the best birding. It is easy to reach the 2nd pass from Sawai in about 30 mins of driving and from there you can walk down in either direction. Birds regularly seen around the 2nd pass include both the endemic dark-eyes – Rufescent and Grey-hooded – although both can be tricky. Look for Rufescent skulking quietly in low roadside vegetation while Grey-hooded can be a more obvious member of mixed flocks. Other birds often seen here include Seram Honeyeater, Seram Myzomela, Wakolo Myzomela, Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk, ‘Seram’ (Long-tailed) Mountain-Pigeon, ‘Seram’ Swiftlet, Cinnamon-chested Flycatcher, Streaky-breasted Fantail, Drab Whistler and Seram White-eye. This is also the place to look for Seram (Moluccan) Thrush, although there has been no confirmed sighting. It is also worth looking for Blue-eared Lory here, but Red Lory and Rainbow Lorikeet are far more common, and this lies at the lowest end of their altitudinal range.

Dropping down in altitude in either direction brings you into range of mid-altitude specialities like Purple-naped Lory. This species has almost been trapped out locally, but a few remain. Listen for their distinctive calls, or better still take a guide from the Parrot Rehabilitation Centre near Sawai who can take you to areas where they are known to remain. Also on the road as you descend look out for the stunningly beautiful and aptly named Superb Fruit-Dove.

By the time you reach the turn-off to Sawai you are down at around 200m and well into lowland birds. The forest around here is pretty badly degraded but still seems to hold everything you could want to see. This includes Seram (Salmon-crested) Cockatoo – which can also be seen up high, but is more numerous down low – Moluccan King Parrot, the endemic cuckoo-shrikes, Lazuli Kingfisher, and at night Moluccan Scops-Owl and Boobook.

Continuing along the road, either towards and beyond Wahai, or simply the side road to Sawai takes you through more roadside lowland forest ranging from degraded to near intact, and more chances at all of the above.

Offshore Islands near Sawai

Just offshore from Sawai, and easily reached by a longboat chartered from Sawai, is Pulau Sawai. This island is dominated by coconut plantation, mangrove and a few scrubby trees and bushes. Despite not looking like it would hold many birds, is does support a few pairs of Forsten’s Scrubfowl near its eastern end. To see these get a local to show you the location of nest mounds and then start searching in the scrub around there. Given the lack of cover and the size of the island, the birds can do an excellent job of avoiding being seen, so good luck.

A little further to the east of Pulau Sawai is a minute island of only around 200m diameter, with 3-4 biggish trees surrounded by scrub. As unlikely as this sounds, the island can be teeming with birdlife, in particular loads of Olive Honeyeater. This small-island specialist appears to be present on the island is large numbers at least in August, but at other times seems to be absent. The big trees of the island hold roosting Pied Imperial Pigeon and Little Black and Little Pied Cormorant. Tracks have also been seen that almost certainly belong to Nicobar Pigeon. It is easy to combine a visit to both islands into a morning or afternoon.

Trekking in the central mountains and Gunung Binaiya

For those with time on their hands and looking for some exercise, or simply those determined to see Blue-eared Lory or have a better chance at Seram Thrush, a trek to the central mountains could be the answer. This is a bit ‘all or nothing’ as to get to the high ground is going to take a walk of several days from the north coast, or a 2,000m climb up a near vertical wall from the south coast! For anyone interested, the best way to arrange a trek into the interior would be to hook up with either the National Park staff in Wahai, or one of the Ambon-based agents that can make all arrangements (see listings below).

The walk from the north is longer and more gradual, so you should have seen all of the lowland endemics by the time you reach the high ground beyond the villages of Kanikeh and Manusuela. From Kanikeh it is then said to be a 3-4 round trip to the submit of Gunung Binaiya at over 3,000m, or from Manusuela a climb of several hours to the high ridge at 1,800m. If your target is Blue-eared Lory at any cost, then the Gunung Binaiya option is probably the best bet!

From the south coast the straight-line distance from the village of Hatumete to the ridge is a lot less, but this means the climb is very steep. Sea-level to 1,800m in one go! If you don’t get the parrot on the ridge then you’d probably need to descent again and climb from Kanikeh as above. There is an old account of the climb from Hatumete to the ridge in the trip report by David Gibbs (see listings below), but notably he doesn’t see Blue-eared Lory!

Pulau Boano and Black-chinned Monarch

Not many people make it out this way, but if you want to see Black-chinned Monarch that is endemic to the island then you will have to! The best known site for the monarch is now near the village of Huhua. This is either a 14 km walk across the island, passing through open cultivation, scrub and some habitat that should support populations of the monarch, or a 1-2 hour boat ride around the island. From Huhua it is just a 20 minute walk to the known Black-chinned Monarch site (local guides can show you the spot see below for details). Once there, just a single morning should be required for the monarch as they are common in suitable habitat.

Alternatively you could try exploring other lowland forest areas on the island, and they may prove to be present. Come to that, they may even possibly be found on adjacent areas of Seram, but it is not clear that anyone has ever looked!

Other birds of interest include the endemic race of Common Paradise Kingfisher (common), Island Monarch, Slaty Monarch, Lazuli Kingfisher (especially common between Piru and Masika), Forsten’s Scrubfowl and Northern Fantail. The locals in Masika also claim that Seram Cockatoo is still numerous in the forest behind the village.

Access and Accommodation:

Access to Seram is via the regional transport hub of Ambon. To get to Masohi on Seram make your way to the port of Tulehu on Ambon and get one of the twice-a-day public fast ferries to Masohi (1-2 hrs, depending on weather). There are several basic hotels in Masohi, or you can pick up a car and head towards the north coast immediately.

If you are trying for Hatumete, then follow the road as far as Tehoru and then either onwards to Hatumete if the road is open, or catch a longboat across the bay if it is not. If you are trying for Boano head west from Masohi, or alternatively take a ferry from Liang or Mamala on Ambon direct to Kairatu on Seram, which is closer, and pick a car up there.

Heading north on the cross-island road brings you eventually to the turn-off to Sawai (2-3 hours from Masohi), or you can continue a couple of hours more to Wahai. In Sawai there is a nice guesthouse, Penginapan Lisar Bahari, owned by Pak Ali. He can also arrange a longboat to visit the offshore islands nearby. The road from the turn-off to Sawai can be a bit of a mess, so another option you could explore is to stay at the Parrot Rehabilitation Centre nearer the turn-off. Accommodation here would be very basic, and may not be possible at all depending on what is going on at the time. From Sawai you can access the forest all the way to the high pass by car or ojek (motorbike taxi), and the 5-6km from the turn off to Sawai village is easy enough on foot. Continuing along the road as far as Wahai brings you to more accommodation options, but takes you further from the montane birding action of the passes.

To help with logistic arrangements, cars, guides, finding accommodation and dealing with the national park, the best bet is hook up with one of the Ambon-based agents that know Seram very well (such as Pak Ceisar, Vino and gang, see listings below). These guys are also pretty passionate about nature conservation and have been involved with the Parrot Rehabilitation Project for many years. Alternatively you can make your way to the National Park offices in Wahai by public transport (occasional buses from Masohi), and fix things up that way, or even just make your own way to Sawai and let Pak Ali take care of arrangements. Whatever option to go for you will probably find yourself hooked up with the same local guides anyway, as there are not so many people living in this part of Seram and they all seem to know each other! At time of writing the National Park is pretty relaxed about formalities, so none of the heavy-handed pressure for useless guides or obscure payments yet!

To get to Boano there are four daily ferries from Liang (in Ambon) to Kairatu (in Seram), the latest leaving at around 18:00. From Kairatu it is easy to get an public minibus (angkot) to Piru (1½ hours, Rp. 25,000) or to charter a car/minibus (maybe Rp. 200,000). From Piru it is then best to head to the closet town to Boano; the village of Masika (a further 45 minutes by motorbike taxi/ojek; Rp. 50,000). Masika does not have any accommodation though it is possible to stay with the boatman, Hamza (+6281945089177). Hamza is easy to contact him beforehand (though he only speaks Indonesian) and can arrange a charter to Pulau Boano (45 minutes, Rp. 400,000). He can also pick you up from Boano easily for the same cost and knows exactly where to take birders now.

You should ideally head to the main village on Boano first, to report your presence. Head for the village head’s house at the top of the village (the one with the bright yellow steps!). An option for a local guide is a guy named Pak Ade (+6287847079134). He speaks some English and can be contacted in advance to meet you in Boano Town (‘Boano Utara’). In this way he could help with the required formalities. Expect to pay Pak Ade around Rp 2-300,000 per day. Having reported to the village head, and equipped yourself with a guide, your next move is to get across the island to the village of Huhua. Options are to walk or get a boat (as mentioned above). In Huhua you can arrange accommodation at the house of Pak Ibrahim (one of the few locals in Huhua that speaks Indonesian – yes, we mean Indonesia – not English!!). Sleeping here will be pretty basic, so bring a sleeping bag liner or even a hammock.

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2 thoughts on “Birding on Seram

  • Sunday April 24th, 2016 at 02:48 PM
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    Hello,
    We are a little association with the goal to visit countryside and especially birds in the wild. We plan trip each year and we programm to come begining of february 2017 to visit Maluku islands . We’d like to visit national park in Seram to see native birds like Salmon Cockatoo and others. I think we’ll arrive at Ambon and can take a ferry until Masohi, we’ll be probably 10 people.
    Do you think we can organise the visit with a driver and a guide to go to sawai and wahai and around?
    How many days we need? We have not very long time available.
    What is the price for a vehicle for ten persons and a guide?
    Have we to book accomodations ?
    Thank you for your help.
    Regards
    Philippe

    Reply
  • Thursday September 15th, 2016 at 02:57 AM
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    Went in Aug 2016 with Vinno Soewarian as guide; through working with various “ultralister” birding tours, he knows the regular birding route up and over to Sawai v well, along with many birds inc calls etc – found a lot. He booked car, accommodation inc at the tiny town by ferry place where we arrived from/departed for Ambon.
    Great to be in jungle in Indonesia with relatively abundant birds including parrots [compare much of Java!]. A real wild place; found a webpage of someone who climbed to highest point and seemed a nightmare, but reflecting wilderness.

    At Sawai, Vinno took us on boat trip; went up small river past mangroves, looking for crocodiles partly – missed these; were birds, tho only the one kingfisher [Sacred] in place looking ideal for them.
    Also over to “honeyeater island”, where maybe 5 of the olive honeyeaters. Approaching this, a tiny sandy islet with 50 or more Greater Crested and Roseate terns: Vinno mentioned Chinese Crested has been seen there in recent years, and given the slight increase in breeding grounds this would seem worth checking for. A Great-billed Heron was in good view as returned to Sawai.

    Reply

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