Birding on Flores
Great scenery and great birds. The large selection of endemics ranges from the easy to the very hard.
Key bird species:
Green Junglefowl, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, Rainbow [Leaf] Lorikeet, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit-Dove, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Flores Green-Pigeon, Flores Scops Owl, Wallace’s Scops Owl, Moluccan Scops Owl, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Flores Minivet, Flores Crow, Flores Monarch, Flores Jungle-Flycatcher, Brown-capped Fantail, Bare-throated Whistler, Russet-capped Tesia, Timor [Flores] Leaf-Warbler, Scaly-crowned Honeyeater, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Yellow-browed Dark-eye, Thick-billed Dark-eye, Crested Dark-eye, Golden-rumped Flowerpecker, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird, Wallacean Drongo, Pale-shouldered Cuckooshrike
Most people will arrive in the west of the island at the busy town of Labuanbajo. There are several good birdwatching options nearby, all of which can be undertaken as day trips from town, or combined with a move east towards Ruteng.
This seasonal wetland is reached by following the road around 4 km south of Labuanbajo. During the height of the wet season it is hard to miss as chances are the road will simply end in flooded fields. During the dry season the fields will probably not be flooded, but the area is still interesting for a look around. Birds possible include Wandering Whistling-duck, Sunda Teal (look out for the rarer Australian Grey Teal amongst them), Javan Plover, Malaysian Plover and Beach Thick-knee (on the beach), Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Flame-throated Sunbird, Black-fronted Flowerpecker and Black-faced Munia. Rails and crakes should also be a possibility.
This area of degraded lowland forest is a short drive east of Labuanbajo. After around 10km from town (on the main East-West road) take a left turn onto a smaller paved road towards Terang (some drivers may only know this site as ‘the road to Terang’). After 2-3 km this road enters degraded forest and continues through it for another 2-3 km. By exploring a bit off the road you may be able to find better condition forest on steeper slopes nearby. One such path heads off to the left near a small stream. Birds possible in this area include Green Junglefowl, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Bonelli’s Eagle, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Flores Crow, Flores Green Pigeon, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird and Zebra Finch. Exploring further along this road could also be rewarding, as degraded forest is found all along the roadside for a further 10-20km.
This small forest patch lies alongside the main East-West (Ruteng) road around 36 km east of Labuanbajo. It can easily be reached as a day trip from town, or combined with a move east towards Ruteng. Look out for the obvious telecom tower set just back from the road on the right (as you travel from Labuanbajo). Small trails leave from the clearing in front of the tower, and a more obvious trail descends from the main road a couple of hundred metres back from the turn-off to the tower.
Getting into the forest here should get you the sites speciality, Flores Monarch. Look out for these unobtrusive birds in the middle- to lower-story. Other birds possible include Green Junglefowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, Russet-capped Tesia, Crested Dark-eye, Thick-billed Dark-eye, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Chestnut-backed and Chestnut-capped Thrushes, Rufous-chested Flycatcher and Flores Crow.
The central town of Ruteng, 4-5 hours drive east from Labuanbajo, is the best base for the next few sites; which should see you getting most of the sub-montane and montane specialities of Flores.
Danau Rana Mese
This small lake (Rana Mese) lies around 20km east of Ruteng on the main road to Bajawa. The lake is surrounded by good condition forest which can be accessed by either birding along the main road or from any number of smaller side trails that leave the main road. For a while there was even a track that left from near the lake to the summit of Poco Ranaka (starting about 500m back towards Ruteng from the lake, and stretching 10km to the summit), but this is largely overgrown.
The forest in this area holds many birds, including the possibility of Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit Dove, Barred Cuckoo Dove, both Flores and Wallace’s Scops-Owl, White-rumped Kingfisher, Pale-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Flores Minivet, Bare-throated Whistler, Brown-capped Fantail, Russet-capped Tesia, Timor (Flores) Leaf-warbler, Yellow-browed Dark-eye, Helmeted Friarbird, Scaly-crowned Honeyeater Golden-rumped Flowerpecker, Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Five-coloured Munia (in more open areas). The lake itself often holds Pacific Black Duck.
This site lies around 8km south of Ruteng, where the road reaches an obvious pass before dropping steeply down through degraded forest in a series of hairpin bends. The best birding is usually had by starting at the pass and walking down through the hairpins for a few kilometres. You can then either walk back up, or plan ahead and get someone to pick you up down lower! Birds here are similar to those at Danau Rana Mese, but the views are more impressive and the dawn chorus of Bare-throated Whistlers is memorable, and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch is also possible.
Around 8km east of Ruteng an old access road head south from the main road and stretches around 10km to the summit of Mt Ranaka at 2,300m where there is an abandoned telecom station. The road is surfaced, but has into disrepair. It is still possible to reach the summit by motorbike but be careful as the road is slippery, or you may find yourself walking after a while! You may even be able to descend through the forest 10km to Lake Rana Mese, if you can find the trail.
Because of the condition the road is usually very quiet and can make for excellent birding. Many of the same species present at Rana Mese and Golo Lusang are also present here, with the addition of the local race of White-browed Shortwing and Pygmy Wren-babbler, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch and Bonelli’s Eagle.
Around 20 km North of Ruteng, and at lower altitude, this patch of degraded roadside forest starts around 2-3km beyond the village of Pagal, and continues for 3-4km. Birding is from the roadside or from any interesting looking side-trail you can find. Birds recorded here have included Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot, Flores Green-Pigeon, Ruddy Cuckoo Dove, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Brown-capped Fantail, Russet-capped Tesia, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Crested and Thick-billed Dark-eye, Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpecker and Flame-breasted Sunbird.
The village of Kisol lies around 2-3 hours drive south-east of Ruteng and usually makes for the last stop on many birding itineraries (or the first, depending on which end you start!). The area has several remenant patches of lowland and hill forest, and it is for this reason that most people visit. By basing yourself in Kisol there are a number of local birding options, and some interesting areas to explore.
South of the village a road heads off 12km towards the coastal village of Nangarawa (leaving the Seminary, turn right onto the main road, then cross a small bridge after around 100m, then turn left). The road starts off paved and then becomes rough cobbles. Follow it for a few kilometers through farmland and it then starts to rise and enters nice forest for several more kilometeres. You can either stick to birding the main track or head off to the right towards the forested slopes of Gunung Pacandeki, easily visible to the SW of Kisol village. The main trail leaves the cobbled track just before the track rises and enters the forest, although other smaller trails will no doubt get you there. Other trails also head in this direction from the main road to the west of Kisol. Asking a local where the ‘hutan alam’ (natural forest) is usually works! Alternatively keep heading along the Nangarawa track (by motorbike or on foot) and leave the road whenever you spot an interesting looking patch of forest. Along the coast itself there are several quite large remnant patches of gallery forest in the steep valleys running north-south.
Birds regularly seen in this area include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Moluccan and Wallace’s Scops-Owl, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Mees’s Nightjar, White-rumped Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta, Flores Crow, Russet-capped Tesia, Chestnut-capped Thrush, Brown-capped Fantail, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Flores Green Pigeon, Flores Crow, Thick-billed Dark-eye, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Flame-breasted Sunbird.
Further east in Flores the scenic three crater lakes of Keli Mutu are a popular tourist destination to the north of Ende, along the road to the eastern town of Maumere (which also has an airport serving Kupang and Denpasar). Standing at the top of the mountain at dawn looking other the multi-coloured lakes is a wonderful sight. Walking back along the trail and road to the village follows patches of montane forest with most of the montane endemics, including Bare-throated Whistler. Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon is more numerous here than at Ruteng (presumably as less hunting). Birding above the village in the scrub and degraded forest can also be productive, in season, Flores Green Pigeon is not uncommon along the roadside, and other species such as Ruddy Cuckoo Dove, Crested Dark-eye, Pale-headed and Five-coloured Munia are also present.
East of Maumere the mountainous areas of east Flores are little explored and would be worthy of a visit by the adventurous birder wanting more and not following the ‘usual route’. You could then continue to Larantuka at the eastern tip of Flores and continue from there to the islands of Pantar, Alor and Wetar.
Pantar and Alor
These small islands to the east of Flores support a few interesting birds, including it seems an endemic variation of Southern Boobook, plus maybe more… Finding forest here is simply an exercise in looking for it, then trying to get into it!
Access and Accommodation:
The most reliable access to Flores is through the western hub of Labuanbajo. As this town also serves the tourist trade to Komodo and Rinca islands, it has the most flights and the most hotels, restaurants and travel agents. At time of writing Labuanbajo is served by flights from Bali, Kupang and Ende (in central Flores) by Transnusa and Merpati airlines. Ruteng also gets occasional flights from Kupang by Transnusa and Merpati. Alternatively you find it easiest to continue east to Ende, or even Maumere (in eastern Flores), and get a flight out from there (to Kupang, for example). Schedules are prone to change all the time, however, so check the airline websites first, and keep checking them until the day you fly! Labuanbajo is also served by regular ferries from Sumbawa, and less frequent boats to other places like Sumba. Check in town or ask you hotel for advice if you want to travel onwards by boat.
For accommodation, Labuanbajo has plenty to choose from, as does Ruteng. Best to check a guide book like Lonely Planet, or a website like TripAdviser, for something that suits you. In Kisol you options are more limited. Most people stay in the catholic seminary, where a room and food can be provided. Usually it seems OK to just turn up, but perhaps if you were a larger group it might be an idea to contact them in advance (but we have no idea how!).
If you were looking for a local guide, your options for a friendly driver-cum-guide are pretty wide in Labuanbajo; just ask at your hotel or at one of the many agents in town (try Incito Tours perhaps, as they have at least one driver – Pak Marcus – who knows where all the birding sites are). They will know the main places, and you can use the instructions here to find the rest. They won’t know any birds or calls however, and they may not speak much English (try and ask for an English-speaking driver when you get the car?). If you wanted a birding guide you’d be better trying one of the local Indonesian agents listed elsewhere, many of which could arrange a tailor-made tour or Flores, or go through one of the reputable international bird tour companies. Getting places by public transport is also not hard in Flores, as most sites lie along the main East-West road which is served by local buses. Using motorbike taxis (Ojek) is then a useful way to explore places like Ruteng, or even just hire a bike yourself for a few days (ask any Ojek driver!).
If you plan to visit Alor and Pantar, there is surprisingly good information about how to get there and where to stay in the Lonely Planet book!
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