Tangkoko Delights – Birding Indonesia


With comfortable accommodation, good food and a reputation for great birds the leg of our trip that took us to Tangkoko, North Sulawesi, was much anticipated by the Zootherabirding group earlier this month. While the weather was not exactly how we imagined it, with lots of rain, we still managed, with local assistance, to find a lot of exciting birds, including one that was to be voted “Bird of the Trip”.

Ochre-bellied Boobook, Sulawesi Scops Owl, Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill, Sulawesi (Purple-winged) Roller, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, White-necked Myna, Ivory-backed Woodswallow and Tabon Scrbfowl were all highly rated by all participants and extraordinary encounters with Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus, Sulawesi Crested Macaque and Spectral Tarsier also made for a memorable visit. However, it was the collection of Kingfishers that birders talk about when they mention Tangkoko that made for the most colourful spectacles in the forest.

Our first foray into the lowland forest at Tangkoko was quite wet! However, between the rainy spells we managed to see some cool stuff with the first interlude being a pair of Tabon Scrubfowls foraging in the leaf litter. Shortly after this was followed by finding a male Green-backed Kingfisher which obligingly sat on its perch giving us walk-away views.

Green-backed-kingfisher-male1Male Green-backed Kingfisher

More rain made things hard on both mornings in the lowlands but we did see Green Imperial Pigeon, White-faced Cuckoo Dove, White-eyed Spangled Drongo, White-rumped Cuckooshrike and lots of Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeons in addition to a female Green-backed Kingfisher to make the pair.

Green-backed-Kingfisher-female1Female Green-backed Kingfisher

In the torrential rain on our second morning our local guides located a soggy-looking Lilac Kingfisher for us, thankfully we located a drier one another day which is pictured here.

Lilac-kingfisher1Lilac Kingfisher

We also got great views of a real little gem in the form of Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher which lit up the dark forest and later, on our second morning, our local guides found us 4 Red-backed Thrushes foraging together which we watched for around 20 minutes. This was one of those birds that was much more stunning in real life than the pictures in the field guide implied and the quality of the experience, coupled with the beauty and surprise of the bird resulted in this species being voted as “Bird of the Trip”.

An afternoon boat trip took us to an area of mangroves in search of more Kingfishers but along the way we saw Lesser Frigatebird, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Grey-tailed Tattler and some Little Terns. Our boatmen did a great job of quietly paddling us along the mangroves and it did not take too long before we were enjoying this Great-billed Kingfisher.

Great-billed-KingfisherGreat-billed Kingfisher

Tangkoko sure lived up to its reputation with Kingfishers as over the next half an hour we added Ruddy, Collared, Sacred and Common Kingfishers to the tally here and there was a nice supporting cast of Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon as well as lots of Sulawesi (Slender-billed) Crows.

Another much-anticipated feature at Tangkoko were Owls on daytime roosts. Well, good luck with that then, all known roost sites had been abandoned on our visit, possibly as a result of the rain but we were also told that photographers often get too close and flush the owls. Still, we did manage to locate Sulawesi Scops Owl at night, the “old-fashioned” way and accidently disturbed an Ochre-bellied Boobook along a trail.

Sulawesi-Scops-OwlSulawesi Scops Owl

Ochre-bellied-boobookOchre-bellied Boobook

At Tangkok there are a couple of well-known watchpoints from which to see species such as parrots and pigeons but due to the weather we never did very well from those spots although we did see Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill, White-faced Cuckoo Dove, Great hanging Parrot, Sulawesi Triller and White-rumped Cuckooshrike up there.

However, another real highlight for us were the mammals sightings. This location is famous for Sulawesi Crested Macaque and we had a few wonderful encounters with them as they foraged right around us and at one point a big male came right up to us and walked through our group.

Sulawesi-crested-macaque1Sulawesi Crested Macaque

At one point we were led up to a large tree of tangled vines that held a family of Spectral Tarsiers. In the rain they were hiding and it looked like we would not get a good view but all of a sudden one jumped out to take a look at us, as if it knew the routine and was ready to be photographed. What a wonderful animal!

Spectral-tarsier1Spectral Tarsier

Mammal sightings are at a premium in Sulawesi so it was with some surprise that we had another top mammal experience with this Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus which we accidently woke up as we passed its hollow log sleeping place.

Sulawesi-dwarf-cuscus1Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus

Although the weather was pretty bad through most of our stay at Tangkoko and we managed to get more or less all the clothes we had totally soaked, we saw many of the most attractive birds of our entire tour here and it would have been nice to have spent more time here to relax a little and enjoy the location and wildlife some more.

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