Birds of Bali Barat

The island of Bali gets millions of visitors every year, but very few make it to the western tip of the island, just across the Java strait, where the underrated Bali Barat National Park is found. The main draw to visit the park is the critically endangered, and only Bali endemic, Bali Myna.

The Bali Myna was only “discovered” by western scientists in 1912, and already at the time its distribution was limited to the western part of Bali and its population was believed not to exceed 1000 individuals. According to Victor Mason’s “Birds of Bali”, the start of the bird’s demise in the wild is ironically linked to its appearance in “The Red Book : Wildlife in Danger” published in 1969, an ancestor of today’s IUCN Red List, attracting the attention of international collectors. The effect was immediate : from a few hundreds wild birds in the early 70s, the population dramatically declined to less than 15 in the early 90s. The establishment of the National Park in 1995 and the setup of a facility to release captive birds in the wild did little to counteract the trend : by 2013, hundreds of captive birds have been released in the wild, but the wild population is still around 15, among which only 3 are thought to be “wild-born” birds. The culprit : poaching for cage birds. With international regulations now forbidding the trade in Bali Mynah, the market has become essentially domestic, as with economic growth more and more rich Indonesians can afford the 3000 or 4000 USD that a single bird was said to fetch on the black market at the highest.

But the Bali Myna is not threatened by extinction as a species, as it is easily bred in captivity, and thousands of birds are kept by zoos or private collectors worldwide. Those collectors have also contributed to the reintroduction programmes in Bali Barat, as well as on the adjacent island of Nusa Penida, with little success so far as with rampant poaching the released birds are soon back into captivity.

However, some glimmers of hope have arisen with the establishment by the Indonesian government of a captive breeding programme that aims at achieving several goals : getting local breeders and bird traders on the right side of the fence with a system of licensed breeders feeding a legal trade for the bird, dampening the black market by setting a “reasonable” price tag for the bird (USD 1000 for a pair instead of USD 3 or 4000 for a single bird before), and also incentivizing local villagers in and around the park, where most of the poachers are thought to originate from, by helping them to setup their own captive breeding facilities. Hoping to have thwarted the poaching threat, the National Park authorities are now planning an ambitious release programme of 200 birds in the next 5 years, resetting the local wild population close to its original level.

Even with currently few birds in the wild, Bali Mynas are easy to see when visiting the park. As usual in Indonesia, you need a permit for this, and a guide is compulsory. If you’re primary target is birdwatching, i do advise that you use the services of Hery Kusamanagera (hery_kn@yahoo.co.id) who is a Park ranger and a fine birdwatching guide, used to cater for foreign birdwatchers; he will sort out for you all the details for your visit. There are currently 2 locations for the Bali Mynas : one is next to the Menjangan resort near the main road, one is at the Brumbun ranger station on the Prapat Agung peninsula, where captive birds set for release are also kept, most conveniently accessible by boat. In both cases it won’t take long before you hear their distinctive call and get to see them at close range, since most of the “free” birds are from captive origin and therefore very tame. More than just adding a rare bird to a list, seeing a Bali Myna in the wild is a really enjoyable experience, as it’s a beautiful bird which is fun to watch as it noisily roams around, usually in a pair or a small flock. It’s a stout bird, not very adept at flying and often low on branches or even on the ground foraging for insects and fruits or seeds, which might explain why the species has developed as an endemic in Bali, never making it across the narrow channel separating the island from neighboring Java.

But Bali Barat is not only about the Bali Myna, the bird list for the park nears 200 species, and other key species include :

Black-winged Starling, a close relative to the Bali Myna and a Java-Bali endemic, which is now also listed as critically endangered for the same reasons as the Bali Myna (poaching for Cage bird trade). Bali Barat is said to have over a 100 birds, possibly the largest local population. You’ll find it in the same habitat as the Bali Myna, but it is a shy bird that will usually keep to the canopy.

Javan Sparrow, another Java-Bali endemic, and another bird threatened by the Bird cage trade on its original distribution range. In Bali Barat it is rare and seasonal, as the birds seem to come to Bali from Java at the dry season.

Javan Banded Pitta, yet another Java-Bali endemic (since it was split away from Malayan and Bornean Banded Pittas) which is locally common in lowland forest close to the sea. As for all pittas, it is a fun bird to look for but good sightings (and even more good photographs) are never guaranteed !

Beach Thick-knee, a large and scarce shorebird despite its wide distribution range. Bali Barat is one of the most reliable site for the species outside of Australia.

Javan Plover : an Indonesian endemic, which can be found on the salt pans on the North-east fringes of the park.

Green Junglefowl : another Indonesian endemic, easily heard and seen around Menjangan Resort.

Rufous-backed Kingfisher, a tiny gem which can be found along forest streams.

Lemon-bellied White-eye : an indonesian endemic which mostly occurs on small islands. In Bali Barat it is found on Menjangan Island, just opposite to the Brumbun ranger station.

and many others, including the Indonesia endemic Spotted Kestrel, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon,  Small Blue Kingfisher, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker, White-shouldered Triller, Crescent-chested Babbler.

It takes a good 2 days to explore the different habitats of Bali Barat, and in addition to the monsoon and savannah forests along the coast, Gilimanuk bay and the salt pans near Pemuteran will yield a good number of shore birds, including occasional rarities at migration. The area has plenty of accommodations to offer, from cheap hotels in Gilimanuk to the upmarket 100 USD+ resorts (Menjangan and Mimpi). If you visit the area from the South of Bali, it takes roughly 4 hours by road to reach the park, and very good birding can be found just across the strait in East Java, in Baluran and Alas Purwo NP as well as Ijen Nature Reserve (see previous post).

A good link to start preparing your Bali Barat trip : http://burung-nusantara.org/birding-sites/java-and-bali/bali-barat/

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