Written by Eugeni Capella and photographs by Miquel Bonet i Eugeni Capella
August 29, Salou. Travel to Sulawesi, the poor brother of Borneo, from September 5 to October 3, 2018
Sulawesi, in Indonesia, is the eleventh largest island in the world, although at first glance it can not overshadow its neighbour Borneo, four times larger. It does not have, for example, orangutans, nor the majestic Kinabalu mountain (4,095m). As for birds, it also houses fewer species: 439 versus 638 of Borneo (406 versus 557 if we do not count the wandering birds), always following the taxonomy of HBW Alive.
However, in endemics species Sulawesi wins Borneo by a landslide: 135 species to the 55 endemic ones of Borneo. Given that Borneo is much larger, and also has much more altitude gradient, the comparison is a surprise.
In spite of this, the formation of the island from different islands by collision of the Asian Plate (forming the west and the south-west) and the Australian Plate (forming the South-east and Banggai) with insular arches previously in the Pacific (forming the northern and eastern peninsulas) explains this greater extent of endemism in birds.
For this reason, a trip to Sulawesi already has an entity on its own. In this case, however, this trip is part of another one that Miquel Bonet and Fran Trabalon do and which includes the north of the Moluccas, where I can not go due to lack of time. In addition, it is also a kind of preparation for the challenge we want to achieve in 2019: to see 1,000 species without using aircraft in Ecuador in 75 days.
About the material, in this trip we want to compare GPO 10×42 HD binoculars with Leica Ultravid 10×42, Zeiss Conquest 10×42 and Swarovski 8×30 and 8.5×42. In a quick view in the store, the GPO were similar to ULTRAVID 10X42 HD plus. Now We have to see how they perform in the field.
About the cameras, we want to compare the results of Nikon P900, Nikon D500+Sigma Sport 150-600 and Canon 5D Mark III + 300 mm 2.8 + Duplicator. Not only the equipment itself, but also the ease of retouching the photos in the field.
In summary, this trip is also a rehearsal so that in Ecuador we have the lowest possible contingencies.
The main entrance to Sulawesi is Makasar after stopping at Jakarta or Bali. The cheapest Barcelona-Makasar options are approximately €300. Of course, 40 hours and a change of airport in London. For just over €400 and an average of 37 hours, you can find flights through London, Singapore and Jakarta. We chose the best combination at that time through Istanbul and Jakarta for €683 and just over 23 hours of flights. The departure time is scheduled for Monday, September 3 at 8:20 p.m in Barcelona and arrival in Makasar at 12:30 a.m on September 5.
3, 4 and 5 September, Barcelona, Istanbul, Jakarta and Makassar. The forest of Lompobattang
After meeting with Alberto, a Spanish birdwatcher, in Istanbul, we arrived in Jakarta on the 4th, where we exchanged most of the money we need. Last year we learned that the exchange rate here (IDR 16,600 / €) was better than at other airports or other places of exchange in small cities.
After midnight, on the fifth day, we arrived in Makassar with the intention of going to Malino, a trip of two hours and forty minutes.
A difficult goal to achieve, since it is impossible to rent a car at that time, and the only option is to go by taxi (350,000 IDR in 2016 including the night supplement), but for the expert traveller Petri Hotola it was impossible two years ago to find a taxi driver who would like to drive out of town and even from the hotel could not find a solution. I had the same problem in China.
In Bali, you can contact directly by email with a taxi driver who speaks English for 450,000 IDR a day, 600,000 IDR in Spanish (according to the 2017 references). Being Bali much more touristy and expensive, Makassar is expected to be cheaper. But it’s not like that: two days before us, Daniel Jiménez, a Dutch birdwatcher friend, arrived in Makassar and fortunately he was able to get to Malino for 750,000 IDR with the taxi driver Darius (0062-8124149797), the only one he found who spoke English. Daniel having doubled the usual price, it seemed completely normal to Darius to ask for a million rupees for going to look for it, the price of two and a half days of a car with a driver. We received all this information by WhatsApp while we were going to the El Prat (Barcelona) airport and informed Daniel that we did not want to suffer a worse inflation than that in Venezuela.
Then, in Jakarta we received Daniel’s confirmation about the Darius price: 750,000 IDR.
When we arrive in Makassar, however, nobody turns up, and finally, with Wawan (082396524052), with whom we understand through a mobile translator, we negotiate to take us to Lompobattang forest for 400,000 IDR.
We left the airport at 1:30 a.m. in the direction of Celebes Garden, where Daniel is staying, and everything seemed to go well up to a kilometre before arriving, when petrol runs out, a little before 3.30 a.m. While listening to an owl scream, the taxi driver and I go to look for petrol. It’s black night and we have no luck. So, I’m going to Celebes Garden, where they do not know who Daniel is, and they do not have room 207.
After a while, the taxi driver arrives without petrol. We call Daniel and everything seems to indicate that he is staying somewhere else.
On the way, the taxi driver takes half a litre of petrol from a motorcycle, and we can get to the Celebes Resort Villa, a run-down hotel, although apparently better than Celebes Garden, where Daniel thought he was staying simply because that was the address he gave the taxi driver.
We wanted to go to the forest at four o’clock and take advantage of the night to look for owls. In the end, however, we spent all the day discussing where to find petrol.
Finally, a motorcycle arrives with two bottles of petrol and we can drive 7 km until the forest begins, where we arrive at 6:45 a.m.
Then, we walk a few meters along the road, and we turn to the left by the path “Lompobattang flycatcher”, named by birdwatchers in honour of this bird that is only seen here.
The day has been entertaining, and we have seen our first birds, but the Lompobattang flycatcher has played a dirty trick. After listening a little, only Miquel has been able to see and photograph it! We’ve been waiting to see you for hours, with no luck.
In contrast, regarding Sulawesi leaf warbler (Lompobattang Leaf-warbler) we have been more fortunate. Pity, however, that in this case HBW does not consider it a species.
We also see Slender-billed Cuckoo-dove (Sulawesi Cuckoo-dove), which Miquel can photograph very well.
At six in the afternoon, our taxi driver waited for us on the dirt path and charged IDR 200,000 for the return trip. We thought that he could also be our taxi driver the next day, but to make the same trip he does not want 600,000 IDR now, he wants 1,400,000 IDR.
Darius calls us to apologize because there was a communication error. He offers to come and pick us up tomorrow at the hotel with two cars for 1,400,000 IDR, but he refuses to take us to the forest.
Finally, the hotel locates a taxi driver named Talvi who will pick us up tomorrow at five in the morning with an Avanza White I336 BW for 200,000 IDR, and he will return us for 500,000 IDR to Makassar.
We have dinner at the restaurant right in front of the hotel where we stay, Mie Goreng and Cap Cay. We pay 60,000 IDR.
September 6, Makassar. No luck with the flycatcher
We had arranged to meet at 5 in the morning, but as usual we have problems with the car. The taxi driver tells us that he can not come to pick us up until the afternoon and for the same price he offers us a van to take us to the forest. Finally, we left the hotel at 5:45 a.m. and we arrived at 6:10 a.m. to the track. Then, we go again the same way than yesterday, half an hour later than scheduled.
Today we paid the entrance to the park (100.000 IDR for the whole group), which nobody charged yesterday. Focused on the flycatcher we arrived at 6:42 a.m. where we heard it yesterday and Miquel saw it. The day, however, is windy and you can not see anything, so after two hours we went up to the clearing, a good place to camp if you want to get rid of the taxi drivers one day.
It continues to be windy, so we take a side road that takes us to an area protected from the wind, where we find the Chestnut-backed Grasshopper-warbler. Lacking the flycatcher, we return to the track where our taxi driver was waiting for us.
Everything seems to work fine, but suddenly, the price of the taxi goes from 500.000 IRD to 700.000 IRD because, instead of going to MarKassar, we go near the airport.
It is obvious that all suitcases do not fit in the car and, if that was not enough, the driver’s daughter also comes to prevent her father from falling asleep. After an hour and a half of putting and removing suitcases that do not fit and discussing the price, we all agree that with that car we can not go, so they provide us another for 600.000 IDR that takes us to the Hotel Transit Makassar, located very close from the airport.
When you sleep three or four hours a day, investing more than two hours waiting and discussing transportation is annoying.
At 9:30 p.m., we have dinner at a nearby and very basic restaurant for 20.000 IRD.
September 7, Karenta forest. The curse of taxi drivers is over
At five o’clock in the morning, the taxi driver is already at the hotel. After using the receptionist to translate what we want, we went at 5:15 a.m. to the forest of Karenta, where we arrived at 6:07 a.m.
The forest covers a spectacular karst landscape and the vegetation is lush, but observing birds here is not recommended, since in the absence of a track you have to go down the road, which is very narrow and busy. In addition, we must add the littering that most Asian roads have and occasionally the smell of dead dog. The density of birds is very low and, although we are adding some birds in the list, we do not find any of the three specialities of the area. We already knew beforehand that we set ourselves a difficult challenge.
After lunch, we look out over Bantimurung, a national park with waterfalls (entrance fee: IRD 25,000 for locals / IDR 255,000 for tourists), where we find nothing.
So we return to the forest of Karenta, where we spent the last hours of the day on an esplanade with good views of the forest. We see three species of pigeon, but they are so elusive that everyone misses some.
At seven, we return to the hotel. Fortunately, we have not had any communication problems with the driver, which we paid (400.000 IDR plus petrol) and we are arranged to meet for tomorrow. Finally, today we have not had any problems with the taxi drivers.
We have dinner at the same restaurant than yesterday, where they are charged 2.000 IDR more for the same chicken that yesterday cost 20.000 IDR and a tilapia costs me 45.000 IRD. No big deal: they laugh.
September 8, Central Celebes. From Makassar to Lore Lindu National Park
Today we kept sleeping less than five hours and for five days we have slept three hours a day more or less, a deficiency showed in our physical state.
We have been back with Adi (082 191 990 651), our driver, who takes us five hours around two fish farms (250,000 IDR plus petrol). It is not a wetland, but it has many species. We can not identify any Javan Plover, but, on the other hand, two Sunda Teals can be seen for a moment.
Apart from the duck, the lifer of the day has been the White-shouldered Triller, similar in behavior to a Woodchat Shrike.
After getting distracting a bit with the new birds, we go to the airport to fly to Palu. Alberto and Daniel, who flew last night, had to go out in the morning and inform us of the birds there were on the way, but before taking the plane they inform us that they have not been able to get a taxi and that they leave by bus at 2 p.m.
Once they arrive in Palu, they inform us that they have not yet left and after many changes they inform us that they leave by taxi, supposedly for 350.000 IRD. When we arrive, immediately were offered a taxi driver for 750.000 IDR, and we left before 3 p.m., stopping first to buy each one a box of provisions for Lore Lindu, where we plan to camp for four days.
On the way we stopped by the Oloboju river, where, among others birds, we find the Savanna Nightjar and the beautiful Pale-headed Munia.
We arrived late at night at Sendy’s Homestay (250.000 IDR room), where Alberto and Daniel had already arrived (800.000 IRD). The dinner (50.000 IDR) is better than anything we have eaten so far. Here, things seem much better organized: they offer us a car for the whole day (500.000 IRD) and a guide (300.000 IDR), which is mandatory.
We had planned to camp on the mountain starting tomorrow, but it is forbidden, since in some Islamist attack they killed some person.
September 9, Lore Lindu National Park. Without guide, it is also possible
After having breakfast, we leave at 5 a.m. as we had arranged, but when we go to look for the guide he looks ill and tells us that we better meet tomorrow.
Eventually, a guide is not mandatory. Not long ago the road was paved and the 15 km that once was travelled in an hour, now is travelled in half the time.
We keep sleeping fewer than five hours, except Miquel, who has slept for three and a half hours in order to avoid waking up in a low REM sleep phase, and has awakened in the high REM sleep phase and is now more rested.
The best birdwatching area of Lore Lindu is the Anas track, a road where very occasionally a motorbike rider passes by, and which climbs from 1700 m to 2500 m. We took it easy, and we got up to 2000 m. On the road alone there are many birds: the prettiest of them, the Purple-throated Bee-eater.
At six p.m., while it is already getting dark, we arrive whre at the car, where our guide has arrived, who wants to organize the following day for us. We decided to try it, and we agreed to get up at 2:30 a.m. to start the Anas track at 4 a.m.
Obviously, today we will not look for owls either. We even consider not having dinner to sleep more, but the cure is worse than the disease. So at eight o’clock we go back to have dinner wonderfully.
September 10, Lore Lindu National Park. In search of the difficult Geomalia
At 03:45 a.m., we met for breakfast our guide Lito, with whom we look at Speckled Boobook before leaving, from the accommodation itself. That’s a lifer for us!
At 4:15 a.m., we start to climb the Anaso track at 1699 m. and after an hour we pass by the Helipad (2022 m.). Shortly after, two diabolic Nightjars fly over us.
The most difficult bird of Lore Lindu is Geomalia, for which we make a long wait at seven in the morning, after having passed a hill to 2518 m. The forest is very beautiful, with ferns and mosses, and there are many birds, at least compared to Malino or Karenta Forest.
During the day, my skin has started to inflame throughout the back. Lito says that Inflammations are due to a small caterpillar. I have applied the local remedy to reduce itching: rubbing it with tobacco mixed with water. Back, we stopped to photograph a Heinrich’s Nightjar -also known by the terrifying common names of Satanic Nightjar or Diabolical Nightjar– in his resting place.
At night, already at home, Miquel and Alberto realize that they also have a rash in their skin.
September 11, Lore Lindu National Park. The Diada away from home
The initial idea of today was to go to Lake Tambling for Sulawesi Thrush, but before that we dedicated ourselves to the Cinnabar Boobook, which, although it sings to us, we can not locate.
Later, we cheered up with some birds and finally found in the forest the Lore Lindu Kingfisher, an endemic subspecies of the Scaly-Breasted Kingfisher. Alberto photographs it, Miguel sees it stopped, I see it flying and Fran, who was a few meters away from us, does not even smell it. Daniel, who films, has not entered the forest. This is the observation of many birds in Sulawesi like: in a flash.
A poster, handmade, warns about the presence of terrorists and the camping ban. According to Lito, however, there is no danger currently.
After having lunch and a nap —yes, finally a nap!— at Sendy’s Homestay, we go to some rice fields in the north of the city, where at sunset two Eastern Owls start hunting.
On the way back, we stopped to find the Sulawesi owl and the Spotted owl.
At Sendy’s Homestay, we meet a Swede that we met earlier in Karenta Forest with a BirdQuest group.
September 12, Lore Lindu National Park. The 4,000th species!
At four in the morning, we try the Cinnabar Boobook, being luckier than yesterday: it lets itself get photographed, although it is very far away.
Then, Miquel meets us all. We make a motivating round like those that sports teams make before leaving to the field with the last words of the coach, and says in a deep voice: according to the Handbook, this is my 4000th species. Congratulations!
After the owl, we go to Lake Tambling, where there are the park offices (150.000 IDR for tourists, 5.000 IDR for Indonesians).
The lake is very beautiful and in the vicinity of the houses there are nests of Mustard-capped Lorikeet, a bird that had so far resisted us.
The Birdquest group detects a possible split from Koel, the “Black-billed koel”.
After trying the Thrush and the Lore Lindu kingfisher up the road, we return to the lake, where relaxedly we wait for birds of prey. After a while, we see Sulawesi Hawk-eagle and Rufous-bellied Eagle.
At noon, we return to Sendy’s Homestay, where Alberto and Daniel pack their luggage to go to Palu. We, who are staying for two more days, visit a nearby area, which is accessed along a path parallel to a small canal that someone named the Pipeline trail.
After the fields, we find a depressing landscape: the forest, still smoking, has disappeared. It has been burned to increase the farmland that a growing population demands at the expense of forests.
Two couples of Sulawesi Cicadabird call from afar and, occasionally, they jump from tree to tree.
A couple of Knobbed Hornbills skirt the forest, looking sad as their home disappears.
A Turnix, which we just can not identify, comes out at our feet.
On the way back, although it is already getting dark, a Barred Rail is photographed.
After dinner, we celebrate Miquel’s 4,000 lifers with a beer.
Already at bed I hear a Sulawesi Masked-owl very close, but I have a body which can no longer support me, and I excuse myself by thinking that it’s probably somebody at the Birdquest playing its call.
September 13, Lore Lindu National Park. Geomalia!
Today is the last day we can visit the highest mountains and try Geomalia. So, at three in the morning we have breakfast and at 4:15 a.m. we start climbing the 800 meters of slope through the Anaso Track.
Ten minutes before six, we stop before the hill in a place where on August 21 Lito saw a Sulcassian Woodcock crossing the road.
A little later, still lightening, Geomalia has appeared: eating on the track, going out and entering the forest, approaching one time and bordering us through the woods afterwards.
Very happy to have the work done at six in the morning, we have returned to the Shortwing site, but only Fran has seen it.
In contrast, four hundred meters from the hill, ten Serin Mountain keep faithful to the same place they were three days ago.
At the hill, we saw passing, very close by, six Mustard-capped Lorikeet and two Golden-mantled Racquet-tail. Then, we have decided to try luck for a few hours with the birds of prey that we still lack, but only the Sulawesi Hawk-eagle has appeared.
The idea is to wait for the night to fall and try our chances with the unlikely Sulawesi Woodcock, and this way get rid of our regret of not having camped.
Before nightfall, the helipad gets foggy and cools down. Lito lights a bonfire that we join immediately. We are surprised because he offers us tea, but when it looks like he’s going to take out a pot, he takes out a litre-and-a-half plastic bottle half full of water and puts it into the fire. Immediately, the upper part of the bottle wrinkles and shrinks, but where there is water, it seems to maintain the physical conditions until the water is boiling. At this point he removes the bottle from the bonfire and places a tea gab on it.
Obviously, we do not drink. Without Woodcock and at night, we go down and return home.