Tangkoko NP – North Sulawesi
Tangkoko was the last stop of my month long mid-autumn Indonesia trip. Located at the North-eastern tip of endemic-rich Sulawesi, this small National park (87 sqkm) is a rather accessible place, a 2 hours drive from Manado airport will bring you to the entrance at Batu Putih, and from there a trail leads into a good quality lowland forest tucked between the Celebes sea and the twin volcanoes of Mt Tangkoko and Mt Duasaudara. WIth over 200 birds on the list, 100 of them endemic to Sulawesi, Tangkoko has became an important stop for birdwatchers touring Sulawesi and the Wallacea area, but actually most visitors will be attracted by 2 species of primates easily seen in the park : the endangered Sulawesi Crested Macaque and the diminutive Spectral Tarsier, allegedly the smallest Primate on earth. The macaques forage on the ground in large groups and are usually easily found near the entrance of the park, apparently oblivious to visitors approaching them, allowing great portraits and close-ups. The Tarsiers are nocturnal, and are usually seen at dawn or dusk around their communal roosting site, typically a tree hole surrounded by vines. At dusk, they generally hang around the roost for 10 to 30 minutes before dispersing in search of insects, their primary diet. As known roosting sites are regularly visited, the animals are really tame and tolerant to lighting as long as intermittent.
This trip was planned in common with Chris Hill, and for 3 days we roamed together the park and nearby locations looking for birds and wildlife. Chris has just posted a great trip report on his blog (http://chrishillphotoblog.com/north-sulawesi-trip-report-november-2012/) with also useful and updated information for independent travelers (http://chrishillphotoblog.com/north-sulawasi-tangkoko-and-the-surrounding-area/). With direct flights from/to Singapore several times a week, North Sulawesi is fairly easy to travel to, and transport, accommodation and guiding are readily available for visiting birdwatchers. In Tangkoko, the “man” to look for is Samuel, he is an outstanding bird guide, and also will arrange transfers and accommodation details (he also runs Mama Roo’s, one of the popular homestays at the entrance of the park in Batu Putih). Birding groups tend to book him in advance, so my advice would be to contact him beforehand, especially during the busy summer season (June-September). His number is +62 (0)81 340 407 690 and he can communicate in English. For all other details please refer to Chris’ report, it has it all.
Tangkoko is notorious for Kingfishers : 8 species can be observed, 5 of them endemics. Among them, the forest dwelling Lilac-cheeked and Green-backed pose little difficulty as long as you can identify their call. They usually sit quietly on a low branch and can be approached rather close. The Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher is more tricky, mostly due to its tiny size and less vocal nature. The Scaly-breasted needs the most efforts : it is a mid-mountain forest kingfisher that can be only found high on the slopes of Mt Tangkoko, a 3 to 4 hours hike from the entrance. We opted for an easier option : the 2 and half hours drive to Mt Mahawu, another volcano located south of Manado, which appears to be the most reliable location for this bird nowadays. It worked for us, as a bird came perching only 10 meters away in a tangle of vines. Last on the endemic list, the huge Black-billed Kingfisher is found in a mangrove area west of Batu Putih accessible only by boat (spare a couple of hours for this trip). Most find it easily, but it took us a prolonged search to finally have the views we hoped for of a bird perched on a bare branch just above the river. To complete the Kingfisher sweep, a pair of resident Ruddy Kingfishers is usually found by the small river near the entrance, a few Common Kingfishers haunt the same mangrove area as the Black-billed, and the ubiquitous Collared Kingfisher is often heard and seen around cultivation areas.
Whereas the coastal trail that starts from Batu Putih is very good for all lowland forest species, canopy specialists such as Hornbills, Pigeons and Doves and Parrots will be better viewed from the Temboan Hill lookout, a 10km drive from Batu Putih. And the trip to Mt Mahawu, beside the Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, also gives access to a number of mid-mountain species that are absent from the Lowland forest around Batu Putih.
During the whole stay, notable sightings included the shy Red-backed Thrush (look for it near the entrance at dawn), Vineous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Ashy Woodpecker, Blue-breasted Pitta (forest), Sulawesi Hawk-eagle, Knobbed and Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbills, Blue-backed Parrot, Golden-mantled and Yellow-breasted Racquet-tail, Ornate Lorikeet, Large and Small Sulawesi Hanging-parrots, Silver-tipped, Pied and White-bellied Imperial Pigeons, Sulawesi Black Pigeon, Purple-winged Roller, Sulawesi Crested and White-necked Mynas (for all those best views from the Temboan Hill lookout), Barred Rail, Philippine Scrubfowl, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Bay Coucal, Black-billed Koel, White-rumped Cuckooshrike, Grosbeak Starling, Sulawesi Babbler, Yellow-sided and Grey-sided Flowerpecker (all fairly common along the coastal trail). At Mt Mahawu, along the last 2-3 km of road and trail to the summit, we saw Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Rufous-throated, Island Verditer and Citrine Flycatchers, Sulphur-bellied Whistler (common), Scarlet Honeyeater, Crimson-crowned Flowepecker. Chestnut-backed Bush-warbler was commonly calling on the road side but none came into view.
The only disappointment came from the night bird category : only the Sulawesi Scops-owl was sighted, as a pair was hunting after dark just across the road from Mama Roo’s Homestay. We searched for the Minahasa Masked Owl in the forest without success, we frequently heard Great Eared and Sulawesi Nightjars but did not manage to get any view (Chris reported seeing a GE Nightjar just above the homestay 2 minutes after my departure though !). There used to be a roosting site for the Sulawesi Masked Owl along the coast but it’s not active anymore.
It was certainly a good trip, we recorded around 90 species in 3 days, almost 40 endemic to Sulawesi. Very pleasantly, birds and primates were generally fairly tame, often allowing for close and prolonged views, something you don’t get often anywhere in Indonesia. We’re glad that we contacted Samuel just before the trip and could benefit from his knowledge during the first 2 days (he had another commitment the last day). He also took care of all logistics, car transfers, boat trip,etc… so we did not lose any precious time on it. Our trip was at the eve of the rainy season, and we had a 2-3 hours long downpour around noon on 2 out of 3 days, making the morning session all the more important. For anyone living in Asia with only a few days in hand, this is a very doable trip, maybe the easiest introduction to Wallacea’s unique Avifauna.