| Birdwatching Areas: Gunung Ambang Nature Reserve, North Sulawesi|
by Jon Riley, from OBC Bulletin 32, December 2000.
The Indonesian island of Sulawesi, lying at the heart of Wallacea, is famous for its unique array of species: at least 88 bird species are found nowhere else in the world. The majority of these endemics are restricted to the island’s montane areas and has become familiar to birdwatchers visiting the impressive Lore Lindu National Park in central Sulawesi (1-3). However, away from Lore Lindu, many mountain ranges remain little explored.
A chain of mountains runs along almost the entire length of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi. In the west this forms the Tentolo-Matinan range and reaches heights of over 2,000 m, whilst to the east the huge Bogani Nani Wartabone (Dumoga Bone) National Park includes extensive areas of montane forest. The only recent surveys of these mountains revealed a diverse avifauna with many exciting endemics (4).
To the east of the national park lies the small – 8,000 ha – Cagar Alam (Nature Reserve) Gunung Ambang. Like many reserves throughout Indonesia, Ambang has not been surveyed in detail and the biological diversity it supports has yet to be adequately documented. In November 1999 I led a team of scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia Program in Sulawesi on the first in-depth surveys to be conducted at the reserve. These led to the discovery of two of Sulawesi’s threatened endemics – Matinan Flycatcher Cyornis sanfordi and the recently described Cinnabar Hawk Owl Ninox ios (5). We also found that the reserve was an excellent birding site, easy to reach from the provincial town of Kotamobagu, and a visit to Ambang could be combined with a stay at the Toraut research station at Dumoga Bone, already a popular location with birders. Below I provide details of access, accommodation, and the more interesting species.
Access and accommodation
The reserve is under the administration of the National Park office in Kotamobagu and birders must obtain permits from here; the office is out of town in Mongkonai (get a mikrolet – blue minibus) on Jalan AKD, telephone 0434-22548. Kotamobagu is served by buses from Manado (where there is an airport with international and domestic flights) and Gorontalo (for people arriving from Palu/Lore Lindu).
Birders visiting Ambang will have to be accompanied by a ranger – not only is this advisable given the area’s remoteness, but rangers can also assist with language and organising food/accommodation close to the site. Daily rates are usually between US$3 and US$5. These rangers are used to the demands of birders – such as early starts – and know their birds; check at the park office.
Access to the best birding areas is from the village of Singsingon, located at a chilly 1000 m. The village can be reached by a crowded public bus – one hour – from the centre of Kotamobagu or alternatively one can charter a bus direct to the village for a more comfortable ride; expect to pay about US$5. Ask the park office for help.
There is no official accommodation in Singsingon but visiting birders can stay in the nature reserve guard post at the edge of the village. The post has running water and electricity, but no beds (at November 1999) and visitors need to bring camping mats or similar. Accommodation can also be sought in Singsingon village with a local family – contact Yulius Domingus (Yus) the local park guard. There are some food stalls operating at night, but for US$2 or US$3 per person per day Yus can arrange for food to be prepared for you. This will be simple – rice and fish – so it’s a good idea to shop in Kotamobagu.
The footpath to the reserve winds gently uphill from close to the Singsingon guard post, passing first through agricultural land and scrub, then selectively logged forest before reaching relatively undisturbed forest after some four km. Ambang is an easy site to visit: there are no steep hills and the paths through the forest are well-marked.