Digging into the goldmine – Indonesia, treasure trove for birding

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Cibodas for birdwatching in Indonesia was a no brainer since the web had thrown up a large bird list there.  Our initial attempt of trying to fix this tour with a Jakarta local adventure tour organiser couldn’t materialise because of our need for good accommodation.  Finally, the web led us to a place named “Freddy Home Stay”.  We booked ourselves there for a weekend of birdwatching, least bothered about knowing the kind of place it was, excited with only the prospect of spotting some truly interesting species.

We left Jakarta by 14.00 hours on Friday from Kunningan and drove straight to Cibodas.  Thankfully, the drive was free of traffic. As we crossed Bogor and moved towards Puncak we got our first taste of the beautiful natural landscape of Indonesia.  The drive up the hill of Puncak got us to switch off our car air conditioner for the first time in Indonesia, real welcome relief.  We had a brief stopover at a roadside stall for Bandrek (local Ginger tea) and barbequed Corn. Bandrek, is a simple mixture of tea powder, ginger and brown sugar.  Add this mixture to a glass of hot water and you get a real refreshing drink.  Bandrek, became a regular in all our meals over the next few days.

After this brief stopover we drove to Cibodas straight and we were in town by 5 PM.  Freddy’s is on the street to the Gardens and we were hoping to see a large board or hoarding. But all that we got was a small name plate in-visible at first sight.  We didn’t want to believe that it would be such a small place tucked away inside a narrow lane.  Uma, Me and Samvit for the next few minutes didn’t know who will start the conversation first about our chosen place.  So here we are in a new country and in a truly backpackers place and unsure of what’s in store for the next couple of days. Not to mention our grasp of the language was extremely poor.

Indra met us about 30 minutes later and listening to him talk about birding in fluent English made us forget our disappointment of the stay.  After another round of Bandrek, the floor was set for Indra to tell us what’s in store for the next two days.  The bird list given by him in an assuring manner got us really excited.  As we were getting ready to retire for the day, without batting an eyelid Indra told us we can start the next day by 3am and bird till evening.  Birding so early in the morning in the hills was something we weren’t prepared for.

We are up at 2.00 in the morning and were pleasantly surprised to see our host give us piping hot Banana Pancakes and by now our truly favourite Bandrek.  After a good hearty breakfast (don’t know what else you call a meal at this point of time in the day) we set off in pursuit of the nocturnal birds.

After the initial walk through the market and golf course we reached the Gede Gunung Panoranga National Park.  First, we set off on the mountain trail path, heard calls of Javan Scops Owl and were hoping it will come closer to us.  That was not to be and after a little wait we moved to our next catch Javan Frogmouth.  There was a real faint call of the Frogmouth and Indra was quick to latch on to it and tracked it down to precision.  The Frogmouth was nicely perched right at the top of a tree giving us a fairly clear view and also allowed us to photograph him with a flash for our first wildlife photo of the trip.  After it flew off, we set out for our next nocturnal bird, the Salvadoris Nightjar.  We reached an open area to the other side of the National Park’s office.  After a good 20 minute wait as rightly predicted by Indra, the bird comes and sits on a small rock on the ground with its eyes glowing in the dark.  As we tried moving closer to him it flies out but to our pleasant surprise comes back and perches on the same rock.  Now with 2 out of 3 of the nocturnal birds seen, we head back to the trail in pursuit of Scops owl.  No luck here and the early morning light slowly creeps in.  Just as the light comes in, we see a group of Ebony Leaf Monkeys jumping around the treetops. We came expecting only birds but were treated to some animal photography too.

We now set out on the trail path, barely a few meters up the path we were greeted by Sunda Blue Robin.  For the next 15 minutes a couple of these Robins came and perched really close to us showing off their bright blue colours.  Next on the path were the loud calls of Horse Field Babbler.  After a long patient wait, we finally got to see the bird.

The next 15 minutes were absolute bliss.  We get a Pygmy Wren Babbler at a catching distance making noisy calls.  For such a small bird, it’s call was quite strong.  Nothing seemed to deter the Babbler not even our camera flash.  We realised what a real beauty he was only when we came back and saw our pictures on the big screen.

Pygmy Wren Babbler

By now the lights were out and there were quite a variety of calls which for novices like us was truly confusing.  Indra was able to cut through all this variety and move closer to the list that he discussed with us last evening.  One could clearly see the professional at work here.  As we set out to get the tougher species in the list – White Bibbed Warbler, the Lesser Shortwing kept us company regularly coming close to us.  The beautiful brown colour and white bibb of the warbler was a real treat, true to his shyness he just refused to come anywhere close to us but did give us enough of view.  Next on Indra’s schedule was the fruiting tree and as if he had fixed the appointment with Flame Fronted Barbet, he said the species would be there now.  He was again dead right the Barbet was there along with two more of his friends Indigo Flycatcher and Sunda Minivet.  As we were moving towards the fruiting tree, we were treated to real close up view of Pied Flycatcher (male and female) and Blue Nuthatch.  Pied Flycatcher did present itself to make a pleasing wildlife photo of a bird with clean green background. Indra was knocking off things from the bird list like a master.

Little Pied flycatcher

With the fruiting tree piece done the next on the agenda was an open space to look for the raptors.  The raptors in the list were Javan Hawk Eagle and Black Eagle.  As we moved towards the open space, we managed to see Blood Breasted Flowerpecker and Roosting Javan Frogmouth.  While we waited for the raptors, we get to see Orange Spotted Bulbul pecking away at fruits and Glossy Swiftlet flying all around us.  Both the raptors didn’t disappoint and we managed to catch them on flight at quite a distance though.

Blood Breasted Flowerpecker

With raptors done the next halt was to a stream which is the first stop point for us in the trek.  No birding here with the noise of weekend revellers around.   Didn’t realise that by this time, we had done 6 hours of birding non-stop and we were headed to the tougher climb to the hot water spring for Javan Kichoa and Javan Trogan.  On the way up the Little Spiderhunter call stopped us on our tracks and we spotted one very close.  30 more minutes into the trek we were way too tired to move ahead and decided to return back.  Kichoa and Trogan had to wait.  Had we not checked the time; we would have probably continued our birdwatching.  The mind gives up earlier than the body.

Spider Hunter

We stopped on the way back at Blue Lake for birding but with no luck.  After a quick lunch at the lake (packed food from the Freddy’s in the morning) we trekked back.  The trek on the way back was no short on birding.  We heard fairly loud calls of Javan Tesia but couldn’t spot one.  The highlight of the trek was Black Winged Flycatcher Shrike.  Kept hopping in the bushes hence no chance of pictures.  Further ahead from there we spotted White Flanked Sunbird and Rufous Tailed Fantail.

As we moved ahead, we were treated to groups of Ebony Leaf Monkeys and Javan Leaf Monkeys. Unlike the morning, now we got really close up view of both these extremely adorable primates.  After another 20 minutes of trek we spotted a Mountain Tailorbird.  It played hide and seek with us for the next half an hour refusing to come on camera.  Finally, he won and moved back to the bushes.

The birding didn’t stop even when got out of the Park, Indra again showed his skills by spotting the Collared Scops Owl in a completely camouflaged tree.

Day 1 of bird watching, we clocked 10 hours of field work, the most we had ever done.  An exhausting but satisfying day of nature photography.  Summarised bird list at the end of of the day made at Freddy’s home stay with Bandrek to refresh us.

  1. Oriental White Eye
  2. Javan Grey Throated White Eye
  3. Blood Breasted Flowerpecker
  4. Little Spiderhunter
  5. White Flanked Sunbird
  6. Rufous Tailed Fantail
  7. Little Pied Flycatcher
  8. Indigo Flycatcher
  9. Mountain Tailorbird
  10. Sunda Warbler
  11. Sunda Blue Robin
  12. Chestnut Fronted Shrike Babbler
  13. White Bibbed Babbler
  14. Crescent Chested Babbler
  15. Pygmy Wren Babbler
  16. Horse Fields Babbler
  17. Blue Nuthatch
  18. Lesser Shortwing
  19. Orange Spotted Bulbul
  20. Sunda Minivet
  21. Black Winged Flycatch Shrike
  22. Flame Fronted Barbet
  23. Glossy Swiftlet
  24. Javan Frogmouth
  25. Salvadoris Nightjar
  26. Collared Scops Owl
  27. Javan Hawk Eagle
  28. Black Eagle


  1. Ebony Leaf Monkey
  2. Javan Leaf Monkey
  3. Tree Shrew
  4. Giant Squirrel
  5. Ground Squirrel

Impressive bird list considering that we had done only half the trek, Indra managed to show us about 80% of the bird list done the previous day.

Day 2 – Birdwatching inside the garden with Indra’s brother Edwin

We started off with spotting the Spotted Kestrel right at the entrance and moved to the tree for our date with Yellow Throated Hanging Parrot.  As we waited for him Blood Breasted Flowerpecker kept us occupied with his antics.  Finally came our Parrot, not disappointing us.

Spotted Kestrel

After this we moved deeper into the garden.  As we approached the tree looking for the most wanted species of the place, Pygmy Tit we heard a huge flutter to the right and see the beautiful Chestnut Breasted Malkhao, flying away from the tree right above us thanks to our noise.  We spent the next few minutes kicking ourselves how we could have avoided the miss.  I kept looking back at the perch of the Malkhao and felt miserable about how close he really was.

Our disappointment didn’t last too long, just a little further we get to see Chestnut Headed Flycatcher and Orange Spotted Bulbul.  Done with them, we had to walk quite some distance and on reaching an open space we were instructed by Edwin to be silent and patiently wait.  However, without testing our patience, on the bark of a broken tree we catch White Flanked Sunbird, Great Tit, Indigo Flycatcher, Javan and Oriental White Eye.  All these and more in just one spot within 30 minutes.

As we moved back to our search for Pygmy Tit, Edwin spotted a Salvadoris Nightjar roosting.  Again, in a completely camouflaged environment.  After managing some pictures of Nightjar almost immediately we were treated to watching Pied Flycatcher hunt.

Blue Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher and Long Billed Spider-hunter had almost made us forget the original pursuit: the Pygmy Tit.  Not for Edwin though, he was clear about the search and led us to the smallest bird in the park Pygmy Tit.  Not one but a large flock.  With this bird ticked off from the list we thought it was time for us to move ahead.

Little did we know that the spectacle is yet to start. Long Tailed Macaque group kept us enthralled, few jumping around and the mother caring for their the young ones.  In the midst of this a beautiful female Macaque also posed for a nice portrait.  A small walk from the Macaques we saw the hero fly in and perch.  The Javan Hawk Eagle, Edwin said, and we pinched ourselves to check if it was true.

The next 30 minutes must have been the only frustratingly long wait in the last two days of birdwatching, looking for Lesser Forktail in the path to the stream.  On a Sunday afternoon with so many people and noise around, will Forktail show up?   Our hope was waning, we were looking at one another as to who will decide to move on.  This lull in decision making proved to be providential, the Little Forktail not only showed up but came in really close to us looking for its feed oblivious to the noise.

Little Forktail

By now Uma was down with a severe headache, after Edwin’s trademark massage, in 15 minutes she is normal.  Contended we head back to our rooms to pack up and leave for Jakarta.  As we wait for the car to get back to Freddy’s, a Black Eagle flies in close to the hill wishing us goodbye.

Wonderful way to sign off our nature photography trip to Gede.