Journey to Eastern Indonesia – Judy Sara

Indonesia is a photographer’s delight. Volcanoes were the target of our previous trip in 2013 but in October and November 2017 we decided to concentrate on wildlife.

JS 1Collecting flora and fauna for botanical gardens, zoos, museums and private collections was an important business in the 1800s and Eastern Indonesia had one of the most diverse species lists. In this area, two continental plates are colliding as the Australian Plate slams into the Eurasian Plate. This results in a unique mixture of Asian and Australian flora and fauna especially on the island of Sulawesi.

Our trip consisted of two sections. The first was seven days with a birdwatching guide from Mala Tours touring northern Sulawesi. This was followed by ten days cruising on a traditional Indonesian ship, the Ombak Putih, from the island of Ternate to Sorong in West Papua, via the beautiful region of Raja Ampat, with SeaTrek.

JS 2Visiting Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve enabled us to see two primate species endemic to Sulawesi. We searched for the Crested Black Macaques in the forest. These monkeys move along the forest floor in troops of 20 or more and were easy for our guide Samuel to locate. Spectral Tarsiers are primates that sleep together in a dormitory tree during the day and leave at dusk to feed. Tourists crowd around this tree at dusk and many photos are taken as the tarsiers wake up and leave to feed. Their amazingly large eyes hint of their nocturnal activities.

The Bear Cuscus is a large possum and having this marsupial and primates both living in the same forest is direct evidence of the collision of the Australian and Eurasian continental plates.

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Figure6 Knobbed Hornbill

Our favourite bird was the Knobbed Hornbill.  You can certainly hear these magnificent birds coming! Their call sounds like dogs barking and as they fly closer, they sound like a helicopter coming in to land!

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Figure7 Sulawesi Dwarf-Kingfisher

From one of the largest birds to one of the smallest. This Dwarf-Kingfisher knocked itself out flying into the glass of our restaurant so the owner left it to recover in a basket overnight, then let it go in the morning.

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Figure 8 Sahul Pitta

The most beautiful bird we saw was the Sahul Pitta.

Samuel had said they were really easy to photograph- they just sat on a log in a clearing! This bird didn’t follow the script. We missed seeing it when we first searched for it, so went back the next day. It took Samuel about an hour to find. We celebrated when I finally got a photo as getting the light to shine on its feathers was difficult.

The most famous of European museum collectors who visited Indonesia was Alfred Russel Wallace. Our cruise (Wallace Sails and Trails) visited some of the places where Wallace acquired specimens to send back to the British Museum.

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Wallace wrote a book in 1869 that is still in print today; The Malay Archipelago. The Land of the Orangutan and the Bird of Paradise, a Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature. Tony Whitten, our expert guide, often read us the relevant section of the book when we arrived at a new place. Figure 9 shows the illustration from this book of the hut Wallace lived in for six months. The locals have made a copy of the hut for tourists to visit.

Wallace called Birds of Paradise ‘the most beautiful of all the beautiful living forms that adorn the Earth’ and was fascinated by their displays.  Greg and I were also captivated. The discomfort of walking to the leks in the dark and the hot humid conditions were forgotten when the birds started to display. Wallace even has a bird of paradise named after him – Wallace’s Standard Wing. Unfortunately, the photographic conditions were such that I only got a record shot of this bird.  I had more luck with the Red Bird of Paradise and Wilson’s Bird of Paradise

Cruising gave us many opportunities for snorkeling. The clear water was teaming with corals, sponges and fish. In fact, the section near West Papua, Raja Ampat, has incredible biodiversity. I especially liked the soft Gorgonian corals and the beautifully camouflaged Tasseled Wobbegong Shark.

The tour company, SeaTrek, was very respectful when visiting villages. We donated two large water purifiers to each community and left sporting equipment and books. One of the most interesting villages was that of the sea gypsies. The government have settled them on an island to enable their children to be educated, and true to their previous oceanic lifestyle, they built their houses over the sea.

These people were quite different to those we visited on the island of Waigeo. It was great to go into the school and interact with the students. They taught us a song in their language and we taught them one in English.

Everyday life was interesting. This woman and her friends were working under a tree near the sea. It takes two days to weave one basket.

We will have many fond memories of our time in East Indonesia and will continue travelling to our closest neighbour, immersing ourselves in its unique flora and fauna.

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Figure 21 Limestone islands of Raja Ampat

Judy Sara

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