Timor, Birding on Timor

Timor, Birding on Timor



Ptilinopus cinctus, Black-backed Fruit-Dove, Walik Putih


Easy access to some great sites and birds. A trip to Timor is well worthwhile.

Key bird species:

Short-toed Eagle; Bonelli’s Eagle; Red-backed Buttonquail; Red-capped Plover; Timor Green-Pigeon; Timor Imperial-Pigeon; Black-backed Fruit-Dove; Slaty Cuckoo-Dove; Olive-headed Lorikeet; Olive-shouldered Parrot; Iris Lorikeet; Green Figbird; Timor Oriole; Timor Bushchat; Timor Stubtail; Buff-banded Bushbird; Black-banded Flycatcher; Timor Blue-Flycatcher; Orange-banded Thrush; Plain Gerygone; Fawn-breasted Whistler; Timor Friarbird; Black-breasted Myzomela; Streak-breasted Honeyeater; Yellow-eared Honeyeater; Black-faced Woodswallow; Timor White-eye; Red-chested Flowerpecker; Red Avadavat; Five-coloured Munia; Timor Sparrow

Birdwatching locations:

The island of Timor supports a large number of endemics, almost all of which can be seen with relative ease in a trip of only a few days to the Indonesian side of the island. Only two of the island’s endemics are only reliably found in the eastern side of the Island, in Timor Leste; Timor Green Pigeon and Timor [Pheasant] Coucal. The sites described below include the most commonly visited areas, which give you a shot at everything West Timor has to offer.

This is the name given to a small degraded patch of lowland forest not far from Kupang. Despite the size of the forest patch, and its condition, Bipolo is an excellent site to visit and supports many of Timor’s endemic birds. Coming by road Kupang you will cross a bridge at the eastern end of the forest and the road then cuts through the trees for about 1.5 km, before emerging at a village on the far side. Around half way along the road bends to the right and there is a huge fig tree on the left at the bend. This is a great spot to start, as the tree invariably seems to hold many pigeon, including Black-backed Fruit-Dove and Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, also Green Figbird. Birding along the road, and on the many foot trails that enter the forest, should then start to get you birds such as Olive-shouldered Parrot, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Timor Oriole, Timor Stubtail, Buff-banded Bushbird, Timor Blue-Flycatcher, Black-breasted Myzomela, Streak-breasted Honeyeater, Plain Gerygone and Red-chested Flowerpecker. The forest patch also supports one of Timor’s most wanted: Orange-banded Thrush. During the wet-season (Nov-Apr) the forest also supports many Elegant Pitta, but these appear to be completely absent during the dry season.

By following the road through the forest to the village on the far side, then turning immediately left to follow a track south along the edge of the forest (by foot or car) you soon emerge onto the edge of a vast open area of wet rice paddy. Before you enter the rice paddy area proper, take a good look around the scrubby edges. This is one of the most reliable places to see Timor Sparrow, and Zebra Finch, Five-coloured Munia and Brown Quail are also often seen. Scan the dead trees in this area to look for Black-faced Woodswallow and keep an eye on the sky above for raptors including Short-toed Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle and Spotted and Australian Kestrel.

Continuing into the rice paddy areas, you can pick up more munia and zebra finch, and also look out for Red Avadvat. By continuing south on the same trail, across the centre of the rice paddy area, you come to the end of the road at the edge of an area of fish ponds. Take a walk out onto the earth banks and look out for Red-capped Plover, for which this area always seems to hold a few. Also scan the flocks of Sunda Teal as there can be a few Grey Teal mixed in.

You have to admit that is quite a list of birds for an area of forest of only about 1 ha, that when you first arrive will probably make you think ‘is this it??!’.


The next stop on the road east is Camplong. This is the name of a village, behind which is some nice condition forest below a ridge. The altitude here is around 300m and the birds start to change in their general composition. Follow the main road through the village until you almost reach the other (eastern) side. There is then a unpaved track heading south, which after 200m comes to a T-junction. Turn left (east) here and after another 200m the track enters nice forest. Lots of paths head into the forest around here and are all worth exploring.

The birding is great in all of these wooded areas with birds regularly seen here including Slaty Cuckoo-Dove, Timor White-eye (Dark-eye), Buff-banded Bushbird (easy to hear; surprisingly difficult to see!), Island Monarch, Spectacled Monarch, Timor Stubtail, Timor Blue-Flycatcher, Orange-banded Thrush, Timor Bushchat and Plain Gerygone. It is also possible to see Black-banded Flycatcher and Yellow-eared Honeyeater here, but they are not so common. By night the tracks around Camplong are a good place to try for Southern Boobook.

Soe (Ole Nasi)

A couple of hours drive to the east, the land starts to rise and before you reach the town of Soe you pass a nice patch of forest known as Ole Nasi, that is definitely worth a visit. The entrance to the forest is not obvious from the main road (see map). On a right hand bend there is a single house, and it is from this house the trail heads north, first through a bit of scrub and secondary growth, and then into the forest. If you turn up at the house on the corner they will know what you are looking for, and chances are one of the kids will show you the way for a small tip.

The main trail heads in more or less a straight line, passing one small grassy clearing after around 500m, then coming to a second, bigger clearing after another 500m. The birding is good all along the trail, and from the clearings. Look out especially for both Orange-banded Thrush and Black-banded Flycatcher, as both are found here. Other species regularly seen include Slaty-cuckoo Dove (try from the clearings), Olive-shouldered Parrot, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Black-breasted Myzomela, Streak-breasted Honeyeater, Timor Friarbird, Plain Gerygone and Red-chested Flowerpecker, Buff-banded Bushbird, Timor Stubtail, Timor Blue-Flycatcher, Timor Bushchat, Dusky Cuckoo-Dove (near second clearing) and Barred Dove. Timor White-eye has also been recorded here. Look for raptors from the clearings, including Bonelli’s Eagle that is regularly seen here.

Gunung Mutis

From the town of Soe roads head north towards West Timor’s highest point at Gunung Mutis. You will want to head this way too to complete the round up of endemics! From the village of Fatumnasi a track heads north and soon enters a bizarre park-like forest of big trees and grassy under-storey. This area lies above 1,500 m and the birds are distinctly different to those of the other sites mentioned above. If you are arriving early in the morning from Soe what will immediately hit you is the number of parrots flying around: Olive-headed Lorikeet is abundant here, and mixed in with them are a few Iris Lorikeet. The latter you can see anywhere up here, so just keep checking parrots until you meet one. Yellow-eared Honeyeater and Timor Leaf-Warbler are also pretty abundant up here.

A good spot to aim for is about half way along the track (which eventually descends down to another village on the other side), at about the highest point. Look out for a pond and clearing on the right (north) of the road. The pond may be dry when you visit, but it should still be obvious enough. Park here and then look for a less distinct trail (an old logging track) that heads past the pond and continues east into nice condition forest with a much fuller under-storey. This trail continues for around 3 km, eventually coming out by a massive clearing (you cant miss it!) and gives you nice views of Gunung Mutis itself. Where this side trail first enters more dense forest, just beyond the pond, is a great place to try for Chestnut-backed Thrush, and also the slightly strange Timor subspecies of Pygmy Wren-Babbler (no idea how that ended up here!). Closer to the big clearing at the other end of the trail, the path follows a ridge line. Check the big trees along the edge of the drop-off for one of Timor’s hardest endemics, Timor Imperial Pigeon. Look out here also for Metallic Pigeon. Scanning around from the big clearing might get you more pigeons and parrots or big raptors, or it might just get you sunburnt.

Access and Accommodation:

Getting to West Timor is easy by air. The airport is the closest thing to a transport hub in this part of Indonesia and has regular flights from Jakarta and Bali, as well as connecting flights to other towns and cities in the Lesser Sundas.

The airport lies just outside of the city, and depending on your plans, you will probably find yourself heading into Kupang for at least your first nights accommodation. The nicest and most convenient places to stay lie along the coast road into town. At the ‘top’ end of hotels there is the ‘Hotel Kristal’ while further into town there is also the very reasonable ‘Timor Beach Hotel’. Take a look at a guide like Lonely Planet for more idea of what is on offer to suit you.

To get around Timor the easiest option by far is to charter a car and driver for your whole stay (see more below). If this is beyond your price range however then you can still get to all the sites by combinations of public transport (you can get anywhere in Indonesia by public transport if you have the time and patience). The best bet for up-to-date information is to interrogate the hosts at your chosen accommodation as to how to complete the next leg of your journey. Guide books like Lonely Planet also have useful information on public transport.

Bipolo lies around 1.5 hours drive from Kupang, and as there are no accommodation options locally it is easiest to visit the site as a day trip from Kupang, or as part of an onward heading mission towards Camplong/Soe.

Camplong lies pretty close to Bipolo, and also around 1.5 hours drive from Kupang. There is a possibility of accommodation in Camplong, at a Catholic guesthouse run by nuns, ‘Wisma Oe Mat Honis’ (phone +62-380-850006). Alternatively, it is easy enough to avoid the need to stay in Camplong altogether by either visiting the site as a day trip from Kupang, or by making the onward drive to Soe after you have finished birding for the morning or evening.

In Soe there are several accommodation option, the most often used of which is probably the Hotel Bahagia II (+62-388-21095), although the alternatives are equivalent in quality. To visit Ole Nasi nearby the drive is only around 15 minutes, so Soe is the best base to visit there.

To visit the Gunung Mutis area the drive is around 2 hrs from Soe. There is a small, basic homestay in the village of Fatumasi run by a guy called Mathius Anin. To find him try asking around the village, or try his mobile phone (+6285239890563). Alternatively, you can visit the site direct from Soe (an early start so you get to the forest for dawn) and then simply return to Soe at the end of the day.

In terms of local guides, at time of writing we are not really aware of any that are based in Timor. Several of the domestic travel agents in Indonesia, however, have staff that have visited Timor on birding trips and will know their way around. Alternatively, we know of one car and driver who has regularly ferried around birding groups, and so knows all of the sites listed above. He doesn’t speak English, and wont come with you birding, but he will deliver you to exactly where you want to be and then you can simply find all the birds yourself. If you fancy this option, brush up your Indonesian and then try Pak Yanto on +62-813-3716-7989. The other way to get a car and driver sorted is to try any of the hotels in Kupang, as they will know where to find one, or try the small bar ‘L’Avalon’ (lavalon_e@hotmail.com) near the Timor Beach Hotel, as the owner speaks excellent English and regularly organises sightseeing tours for foreign backpackers visiting Timor (the bar also sells cold beers.. which you don’t get from the nuns in Camplong for example!). You might even be able to organise a car in advance by contacting L’Avalon before you arrive. If you take a car and driver with you for a few days, you will normally be expected to provide their accommodation and meals, unless you negotiate otherwise in advance.

Bipolo, Camplong and Gunung Mutis are all forest area under some management authority of the forestry department (Bipolo is a ‘Nature Reserve’, Camplong a ‘Recreation Forest’ and Gunung Mutis a National Park) but they are not big on formalities and so no advance preparation is really required. If you bump into forestry dept staff at any of the sites just try offering to pay a small retrospective ‘entrance fee’…

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