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Banda Sea Cruise + Tanimbar, Indonesia

16th October - 4th November 2017


Leader: James Eaton

Max group size: 10

The huge Indonesian archipelago straddles the equator for more than 5000km and comprises more than 17,000 islands. The eastern islands are among the least-explored of all, many have been visited by less than a handful of western ornithologists, and it is these which we will aim for on this exciting cruise which stops at Tanahjampea, Pantar, Alor, Wetar, Leti, Damar, Babar and culminating on endemic-packed Tanimbar. The birds we are looking for are some of the least known in the world; Tanahjampea Monarch, Tanahjampea Jungle Flycatcher, Alor Boobook, Timor Grasshopper Warbler, Wetar Ground Dove, Wetar Figbird, Black-necklaced Honeyeater, Wetar Honeyeater, Kisar Friarbird, Damar Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Thrush, Tanimbar Bush Warbler, Pied Bronze Cuckoo and Tanimbar Scrubfowl, together with several new species currently being elevated to full species status and of course the potential for exciting discoveries of our own.

We begin on the tropical hub of Bali with a flight to Labuanbajo on the west coast of Flores. Here we will board our fine, private boat and begin our journey on the open ocean, heading north deep into the Flores Sea. Our first destination is the island of Tanahjampea. Since being collected in 1927 Tanahjampea Monarch and Tanahjampea Jungle Flycatcher have only ever been observed by a single observer in 1993 and our own groups in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Our day on the island should produce both species along with a number of other endemic subspecies and soon-to-be-elevated to full species status such as and the equally sledom-seen Flores Sea Cuckoo Dove and more widespread Sahul Sunbird. Our first Elegant and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons should be seen, both of which are abundant on several islands during the tour.

Following 1 ½ days sailing through the Flores Sea, with our eyes peeled on the open ocean in search of rarer seabirds among the throng of Red-footed Boobies, which on our 2011 cruise included Heinroth's Shearwater and Red-billed Tropicbird. Eventually we arrive on Pantar. The dry, open terrain is home to Broad-billed Monarch, Flame-breasted Sunbird and our first Barred Doves though the real reason for anchoring here is for Alor Boobook, a vocally-distinct split from the Southern Boobook complex.

The next island east, Alor is the only time we head to the hills, seeking out the recently-rediscovered Timor Grasshopper Warbler. Several new species to the trip could also be seen; "Alor Cuckooshrike", Mountain White-eye, Timor Stubtail, Sunda Bush Warbler and Olive-headed Lorikeet, along with an outside chance of Flores Green Pigeon and Flores Hawk Eagle. 
Our next stop is the much larger but far-less populated island of Wetar, recently brought to the limelight by the rediscovery of good populations of Wetar Ground Dove which will be a prime target for us. Birding in a beautiful, untouched gorge, using a shallow stream as our trail we will also look for five true Wetar endemics, Wetar Figbird, Wetar Oriole, Wetar Scops Owl, Black-necklaced Honeyeater and Wetar Honeyeater together with several which are shared with nearby Timor; Black Cuckoo Dove, Timor Imperial Pigeon, Marigold and Olive-headed Lorikeets, Jonquil Parrot, Timor Stubtail, Timor Warbling Flycatcher, Fawn-breasted Whistler and Orange-sided Thrush and ‘Timor Nightjar', a species yet to be described.

Moving to the small, arid island of Leti, concentrating on Kisar Friarbird, endemic to just three of these tiny islands, along with Banda Sea Fantail, we might also find our first Wallacean Whistler, Supertramp Fantail. An endemic subspecies of Southern Boobook awaits our night-time forays.

Heading north-east and enjoying some R&R and fabulous snorkelling off the tiny, uninhabited island of Terbang Selatan we head to Damar, one of our most exciting stops of the trip for it is home to the Damar Flycatcher, a species missing since the 19th century prior to its recent rediscovery by an expedition there in 2001 and since then, our visit. Once in good forest this enigmatic species is quite common, at least by voice and we may also find Elegant and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Orange-sided Thrush, White-tufted Honeyeater, Banda Sea Monarch, Black-banded Fruit Dove, another endemic subspecies of Golden Whistler, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher and Banda Gerygone.

Moving south to Babar we could see the strikingly plumaged endemic race of Southern Boobook. During the daytime we might see our first Cinnamon-tailed Fantail, Banda Myzomela which are shared with Tanimbar, along with further chances of Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Orange-sided Thrush, Olive-headed Lorikeet and Tricoloured Parrotfinch; the latter three enjoying the fresh mango literally dripping from the trees!

Just before we reach our final, endemic packed island, Tanimbar, we stop at a nearby small island in search of Tanimbar’s most difficult endemic, Tanimbar Scrubfowl, along with yet more great snorkelling. Tanimbar, the easternmost island of the Lesser Sundas chain will boost our endemic list considerably with Wallace’s Fruit Dove, Tanimbar Cockatoo, Blue-streaked Lory, Charming Fantail, Tanimbar Oriole, Tanimbar Friarbird, Tanimbar Flyrobin, Tanimbar Starling, Pied Bronze Cuckoo, Tanimbar Monarch, Tanimbar Triller and all widespread. More elusive denizens of the forest are shy Tanimbar Scrubfowl and Tanimbar Bush Warbler, which was only recently described to science. We will listen for the fluty song of Slaty-backed Thrush emanating from the forest canopy while Fawn-breasted Thrush, the other endemic thrush skulks on the forest floor. 
At night we should find Tanimbar Boobook, and with a good deal of luck Australasian Masked Owl which has only ever been seen by a few lucky birders in Indonesia.

With such prolonged periods onboard, a range of possible seabirds and cetaceans could provide added excitement. The seas here have never been studied in detail so the sea-birding could be exciting at times. On our previous cruises we found huge numbers of Red-footed Booby and regular encounters with Bridled and Sooty Terns, Brown Noody, Brown Booby, all 3 jaegers and even two firsts for Indonesia; Heinroth's Shearwater and Red-billed Tropicbird – so who knows what else could lurk over the waters! Ceataceans recorded included Sperm, Bryde’s and Blue Whales, Risso’s, Bottle-nosed and Spinner Dolphins.

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