31st May, 2016

Bali Starling

Bali Starling (Leucospar rothschildi) - Julak Bali
Iconic and endangered bird species endemic to the islands of Bali

Indo-Australian Wildlife Watch

G'day folks. I just looked at my previous blog entry and thought to myself, wow, it's been a long time between drinks. My excuse is I have been busy! I have recently returned from a 2+ week trip adventuring in Bali looking for birds, reptiles and whatever else popped up along the way. I also stopped into Sydney for a few days to find a few critters. It was my first time overseas alone and although troublesome at times, was an amazing experience. 

I based myself in a few areas during my time here including:
- Pemuteran
- Sanur
- Nusa Penida Island
- Gianyar
- Ubud

Upon arriving into Bali very early (midnight), I made the 3 hour drive to Pemuteran which is in North West Bali. This gave me close proximity access to Bali Barat National Park which had my target animal there. The endangered Bali Starling (as seen above). 

The park can be found in the most western part of the island. Nowadays it has a total area of 19,000 ha. but at the beginning the park extended much further eastward than it does today, at that time covering a total area of about 77,000 ha. Mangrove Forest. The Bali Barat Park is mountainous and it consists of primary monsoon forest, mangrove forest (310 ha.), lowland rain forest, savanna, sea grass vegetation types (40 ha.), coral reefs (810 ha.), sandy beaches, and both shallow and deep sea waters (3,520 ha.).

As the Bali Barat Park is a protected area, accessibility and land use are subject to a zoning system which defines the degree of allowed activities. If you plan to explore the park, you will have to hire an official Park guide as I did for the 3 days I spent exploring this region. My guide during this time was Kuat Wahyudi (Yudi for short). He is a National Park ranger for this region and a seasoned bird guide. If you are interested in birding Bali and would like a guide, he is one of the best, especially for the National Parks and surrounding Java areas. 

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Map of West Bali and the National Park zonings

My arrival to Bali was during the 2nd month of the wet season which left me with limited viewings of wildlife due to inclement weather. On average temperatures reached high 20's to low 30 degrees celsius with humidity never really getting below 85%. As it rained quite often most species stayed within the shelter of the surrounding forest canopies. Most viewings were through binoculars with the odd animal getting close enough for a photographic opportunity.

The list of birds seen at the park are as follows but not limited to: White-breasted Woodswallow, Glossy Swiftlet, Common Tern, Bridled Tern, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Olive-backed Sunbird, Bali Starling, Lesser Coucal, Bar-winged Prinia, Savannah Nightjar, Small Minivet, White-shouldered Triller, Great Tit, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Javan Kingfisher, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Pied Fantail, Zebra Dove, Island Collared Dove, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Green Junglefowl, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Black Eagle, Javan Plover, Coppersmith Barbet, Small Blue Kingfisher, Sunda Scops Owl & Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

Other animals were: Javan Deer, Grey Monkey, Black Monkey, Wild Boar, Water Monitor, Barking Deer, Giant Squirrel. 

A selection of animals found in the West Bali National Park (Bali Barat) and it's surrounds.

A selection of images during my time in the National Park from rainforests, to rice fields and glorious mountain views.

My main target for this trip was the Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi). The Bali Starling is extremely rare in the wild and is listed as critically endangered. It is endemic to Bali and in the wild probably number about 100 birds. Larger numbers exist at the Nusa Penida Bird Sanctuary (sourced from captive populations) on an island east of Bali; various zoos including the very popular Bali Bird Park and by bird collectors in nearby Java where hundreds of individuals are being kept. 

The wild population are still threatened by poachers who can sell the birds for several thousands of dollars. However, there is a captive breeding population for release and other wild populations exist in the national park at various locations as well as the above mentioned Nusa Penida Island.

I saw these birds on several occasions including nearby the National Parks Office where I yielded my best shots, including this one below of a male displaying for a female (note the band for ID purposes and protection).

Bali Starling

Male Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi) - The National Bird for Bali

I headed over to Nusa Penida Island to spend some time at the Friends of National Parks Foundation quarters (head to www.fnpf.org for more information and to of course donate). They have various volunteer programs that work with local wildlife and villagers to educate them on how to better care for their beautiful country. Their key conservation project works with Bali Bird Sanctuary to promote the Bali Starling breeding programs along with the local turtle saver projects. Unfortunately time of year prevented me from working with these marine reptiles. 

The weather was rather inclement during the few days spent so time was rather limited in what I was able to do and also see. Animals were sparse however highlights included Bali Starling, Chestnut-headed Bee Eaters and Reticulated Python. I had also heard that Tropic birds frequented the south side of the island but I may just have missed them by a month or two.

The accommodation at the FNPF is very basic given it's price but the funds to go directly towards their various conservation and education projects. I had the pleasure of meeting the forefather of the FNPF Dr. Bayu Wirayudha and had the pleasure of discussing various Balinese projects along with the history of it with him over a coffee before he departed the next day! 

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Various images from Nusa Penida Island

Reticulated Python on Nusa Penida Island

My last 2 days in Bali were spent birding in Ubud's rice fields and along Denpasar's lake's and coastal regions as well as a few hours spent up at the Tabanan Regency. My guide was Su, she runs Bali Bird Walk and was a wealth of knowledge! An amazing lady with a heart of gold! (http://www.balibirdwalk.com). A lot of birds that we would often see back home in Australia such as our wading and waterbird species like Cormorants, the odd Australian Pelican and Eastern Curlew were present in the coastal regions. Highlights during these two days were: Blue Earred Barbet, Orange Throated Barbet, Crested Serpent Eagle, Javan Hawk Eagle, Metallic Asian Starling and Scarlet Minivet (male and female).

Upon my return from my birding around Denpasar I had some free time in the afternoon so I wandered down to the famous Ubud Monkey Forest. Wow, my first encounter with tourists! They were everywhere, so I decided not to take any photos as I felt the monkeys were not displaying natural behaviours. It cost a few dollars to enter and you walk around taking photos of all the monkeys. Wasn't my cup of tea but I was there and had not a lot to do at the time so I thought why not!

Ubud Monkey Forest

My time in Bali now came to an end, I now had to battle Bali New Years Eve traffic to get back to the airport in time! (Bali New Years is traditionally known as Nyepi - Day of Silence). My driver wanted to urge of the side of caution and give plenty of time to get to the airport. Well, we did and there wasn't much traffic at all! I got to the airport 8 hours early and now had to sit in departures aimlessly awaiting my flight! Next stop before home was a few days stop in at Sydney to do some spotlighting...

I had a few targets in mind whilst here. 
1) Powerful Owl (never been able to find one back home in South East Queensland - GO FIGURE!)
2) Death Adder
3) Rock Warbler (Endemic)

I caught up with local photographer Trevor Scouten (http://www.trevorscouten.com) and stayed with good friend Shaye who is an avid reptile lover and keen photographer. On the first night we went to a local spot where Powerful Owls had been spotted and it wasn't after too long that we got our first owl. A pair of Boobooks. Trevor had explained that he saw a last season juvenile in the area so we waited in anticipation and used some callback. It wasn't after too long that we heard a juvenile return call and caught up with this amazing owl (Australia's largest nocturnal raptor species).

Juvenile Powerful Owl

Juvenile Powerful Owl

We also visited the Royal National Park which was another haunt for Powerful Owls. We came up empty handed but did have good views of Australian Owlet-Nightjars, multiple Glider and Possums along with an introduced species, the Red Fox. I did return here one morning in the hope I would find the Powerful Owl's roosting to no avail. I had also hoped of capturing the Rock Warbler in a fairly "reputable" location but the inclement weather proved disheartening. 

That night I returned to the first Powerful Owl location in attempt to find some adults. After a brief walk, nothing was heard or sighted so we (Shaye and I) returned to the car. Upon approach I heard a deep bellowing call, a male Powerful Owl. I looked frantically for the specimen and located it sitting on a fence with a Ring Tailed Possum in it's talons. It flew off to a nearby tree and I followed. He was calling constantly for it's partner and I took some photos. I noticed it had one eye which was probably the result of an old injury from a prey item. He stuck around for a few moments and flew off into the nearby valley with his calls echoing almost a kilometre away.

My attentions now turned to reptiles with local wildlife enthusiast Leo Skowronek taking myself and Shaye out for a night on the infamous Herp Mile out in the North Shore of Sydney. I had read various reports on what had been seen on this stretch as well as Leo telling us how good this place was so had to get out and walk it. We arrived before dark and begun walking. I had good views of female Superb Lyrebird foraging at dusk as well as White-Throated Nightjar calling and responding to callback extremely well. One Boobook Owl was present which gave Leo his first opportunity at night bird photography. I'm talking about birds quite a bit here when this was aimed for herps but I don't have many herps to talk about. It was a bit of a disaster with the only find being a Giant Burrowing Frog. Unfortunately the joys of wildlife photography and searching is the fact that you can never guarantee anything! It's a challenge but worth it!

My last call to arms before heading back home to the Gold Coast resulted in catching up with good friend Brendan Levot. He is a wealth of knowledge and is a part of Wildside Australia. They have a mission to inspire you with images, videos and information on our native plants and animals  so you can help us to protect and conserve them for years to come. Brendon mentioned he also knew of a good spot for Powerful Owl so we were off again out past Penrith, western Sydney. Guess what? No owls this time but the environment was very encouraging for Rock Warbler and he said that there was a good chance of seeing them here. He wasn't wrong. It was an overcast day so lighting was not on my side but did manage a few keepers. What an interesting little bird endemic to a very small part of NSW and found no where else in Australia! 

Rock Warbler... on a rock!

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The Rock Warbler was a fitting end to what was a somewhat quiet time in Sydney. Bearing in mind time was of the essence and I did spend most of it catching up with friends and my brother Kane, I was happy with the outcomes. I now venture back home with some great memories.

I'd like to thank my guides Yudi and Su in Bali! A big thanks to my good friend Agus who gave up his spare time looking for virtually anything that slithered, jumped, hopped or flew! These guys made my time in Bali amazing and would not have been able to see a lot of things without their local knowledge and expertise.

Trevor, Brendon, Shaye and Leo in Sydney for their hospitality and knowledge on local species and hotspots. Enjoyed the whole trip immensely and look forward to my next big adventure at the end of the year!

Stay tuned.

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