Only Sumba Buttonquail Turnix everetti and Mees's Nightjar Caprimulgus meesi were not seen through our binoculars or lenses during the 9 days we were in Sumba. Sumba is an island in southern Indonesia, rich in various ikat weavings, vast grasslands, a strong ethnic culture and an endless list of interesting spectacles for tourists to enjoy. We came here looking for new birding spots to see the island’s endemic birds.
Depart from Juanda International Airport and transit briefly at Ngurah Rai International Airport and arrive at Umbu Mehang Kunda Airport, Waingapu, East Sumba Regency at 11:40 on 17 August. From 18 August to 22 August 2017 we attended the 2017 Birding and Photo Competition held by Manupeu Tana Daru & Laiwangi Wanggameti NP at Praingkareha resort in Billa Village, which was attended by about 55 participants from many regions in Indonesia. After the event is over, we stayed for next 3 days and nights to more watch and take documentation more the birds.
The day before the competition is starting, we went to Lambanapu village in 7 Km south of Waingapu for a short birding. We met with Pak Kornelis a woven ikat craftsman who still practices in the traditional style using natural dyes. He kindly let us, with permission, go birding in his garden and rice fields, only 300 meters from his house.
His garden area contained many plants including Tamarind, Morinda, Kapok Randu, Indigo. We were accompanied by two teenagers, who acted as our guides. For nearly two years, the boys have been diligently documenting the local biodiversity including birds around the Village, so they are well aware of the birds that live there.
Around big Tamarind tree we observed Arafura Fantail, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Indonesian Honeyeater, Sumba Flowerpecker, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Ashy-bellied White-eye and our main target Asian “Nusa Tenggara” Paradise-flycatcher.
Around 15:00 we continued observations from the edge of the paddy fields, that were filled with shrubs along the banks of the river. We saw Pale-headed Munia, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Scaly-breasted Munia, Pied Bush-chat, Paddyfield Pipit, Brahminy Kite and at the end of the session a few flocks of “Timor” Zebra Finch.
That night we stayed at Waingapu then on the following day along with the participants, we left for Billa using local public transport called OTO. OTO is a truck modified in such a way as to transport humans, agricultural produce and even livestock!. It was an epic form of public transportation!
The trip from Waingapu to Billa (110 km to the south) took 4 hours , including about of 1.5 hours of fine asphalt road, and numerous stop, along the famous Wairinding hill, and several other interesting locations to enjoy views of the picturesque Sumba landscape. The rest of the journey (2.5 hours) was along an ugly 1980s asphalt road that wasn’t in good condition at all, making the ride very bumpy and uncomfortable.
We finally arrived at Praingkareha resort, Billa Village at 15:00, and headed to a river that still runs as a small stream, with some puddles at the end of the dry season. Along the river various kinds of trees grow, the fallen leaves scattered on the rocky bottom, yet the water still flows over them.
During our stay (until 25 August 2017) the river was an ideal place to search for endemic and resident birds.
Birds that we met here such as:
Endemic Chestnut-backed Thrush , which can be found every day, sometimes perched on a branch above the river or looking for insects behind leaves and near puddles. Orange-footed Scrubfowl scavenged busily on the ground oblivious of us despite being in plain sight, from morning to afternoon. Mixed flocks of Spectacled Monarch, Arafura Fantail, Broad-billed Flycatcher often visit the river in the afternoon to bathe or drink. They all got very close to us , all the better to take photographs.
Sumba Brown Flycatcher, Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba Warbler (Jungle)-Flycatcher visited one by one, to perch on small branches and swoop down to catch their prey or simply wait silently on stones.
Sumba Flowerpecker were also seen eating tiny yellow fruits that grow on riverside plants. In the undergrowth, at least two individuals of Elegant Pitta were heard but trickier to catch a glimpse. Little Cuckoo-dove and Asian "Gray-capped" Emerald Dove would appear at the edges of the river to drink, and above female Pale-shouldered "Sumba" Cicadabird move from branch to branch.
We found a big dry tree that in the morning hosted many species such as Great-billed Parrot, Sumba Green-pigeon, Marigold Lorikeet, Green Imperial Pigeon, the endemic race of Yellow ‘Citron”-crested Cockatoo, Red-naped Fruit-dove and even Sumba Hornbill.
The smaller branches were observed being picked by Red-naped Fruit-dove for material to construct their nests.
We visited the Laibola hill on 20 August 2017 at around 06.00, from this location one we enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the landscape around Praingkareha resort. As the sun slowly rose the birds began actively seeking perches, and we managed to see several pairs of Electus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, dozens of Slender-billed Crow and around 40 Sumba Hornbills.
Below the hill there is a forest patch, great for seeing Cinnamon Banded Kingfisher especially in the morning before 09:00 this bird can be easily located from their chirping, and seen perched quite low. From this vantage point, it is easy to find Sumba Myzomela, Apricot-breasted Sunbird, Wallacean Drongo, Ashy-bellied White-eye, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Black-naped Fruit-dove, Helmeted Friarbird, Rusty-breasted Whistler, Short-tailed Starling. Along the forest patch we heard Elegant Pitta calling one to the another.
During our last three days in Billa, especially in the evening, we focused on finding two endemic species of boobooks. We found one only 400 meters from the camping ground, using playback techniques to discover a pair of Greater Sumba Boobook.
On the final night after observing Greater Sumba Boobook, we searched for Little Sumba “Least” Boobook. After walking about 3 Km from the camping ground we stopped in a vast grassland started calling, and scoped around the area. At the far end of grassland in the middle of a tree trunk, we finally saw one individual. We tried to get as close as we could and managed to get photograph.
The bird flew into the forest so we had to follow it in, looking for the elusive critter. Surprisingly, we soon heard at least fours individuals, managing to get clear and short views better than before. At 23:30 we finished owling, and set off back to the camp.
On the last day prior to Waingapu, we returned to the river. We waited on the other side of the almost dry pool, when at 08:00 an Elegant Pitta, which is usually only heard, came down from behind a bush.
The gorgeous bird started flipping leaf litter with it's bill while hopping to the nearest pool. We did not stop pressing the camera shutter while sitting as still as we could behind some rocks. Finally, the bird perched on the highest rock, and in that moment we were amazed at the blend of colour all over its body.
Although we were only in Sumba for 9 days, and only visited two locations we successfully managed to spot 19 endemic species, and 43 resident species, missing only Sumba Buttonquail and Mees’s Nightjar. Although, according to the park ranger, these Lesser Sunda endemics it are also present on Billa.
We were amazed by Billa, a place to see almost all endemic Sumba by just sitting waiting by the river, or simply walking around the camp area. We called it One Stop Birding Site, the best place to photograph almost all the endemics! Hopefully we will go to Sumba again to complete the endemic list, and explore more, anyone want to join? Feel free to contact us via e-mail for information about the site and organising a tour.