Scenario: The trip was motivated primarily as a surprise. A close female friend was celebrating her 50th birthday in Bali with a couple of female friends. I wasn’t invited, but decided, on the spur of the moment, to surprise her on the day. And, as I was going there to really only spend 30 minutes with her, I might as well make it a birding trip as well! So I made it a 12 day trip and researched places to go. So, as a single birder, Colin Reid of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, I started in Sanur, visited Bali Barat National Park in the northwest, Bedugul in the hills where I experienced Nyepi Day and the celebrations the night prior, Ulu Watu on the south coast and finished in Seminyak on the west coast.
Transport: It’s probably not advisable to drive yourself in Bali. I’d never been in Indonesia before and so I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but 1. The hire car cost was very high – probably because of the insurance - and 2. The traffic is horrific.
The easiest way to get around is to get a driver. These can be picked up at the airport where they tout, almost aggressively, for your business. My friend has a regular driver she uses and I hoped to emulate that for my trip – but it didn’t quite work out, as you’ll see.
You can negotiate the price of each drive, but generally it is relatively cheap and, when you see what they have to do to get you where you want to be, you won’t argue the cost. I can’t really advise who to pick at the airport, I just said ‘No’ to the first guy and chose the second – just to feel like I had a choice, I guess. I already knew the average cost of the first ride to Sanur, so had some bargaining power – this can be easily found via Mr Google. Drivers are available almost everywhere – even in the depths of Bali Barat NP as, again, you will see.
Accommodation: Almost unlimited! I used Booking.com and just chose places that fit within my budget close to where I wanted to be. I’m a basic kind of guy – clean, secure without any frills, that’s me. You can spend as much or as little as you like. Some places – especially in Bali Barat are very expensive – and the choices were a little limited there. I stayed at the Bajul eco Lodge Plataran and would highly recommend it to anyone going to Bali Barat for both price, location and service.
I have described the individual places I stayed in detail in the following narrative.
Research: I knew it wasn’t going to be the best time of year to go – summer and it would be hot and humid. However, I was going and that was it. There was, surprisingly, limited information available, especially when one considers how huge a holiday destination it is for Australians and Europeans. But I guess most people go for the beach lifestyle, the bars and markets, especially in the Kutah, Denpasar corner in the southwest. I wanted to avoid that area completely, but did end up on the fringes of it at Seminyak – somewhere I would never return to. So I based my decisions more on environments and the thin data that did exist. I also restricted my activities to the western end of the island – I have no idea what the rest of the island might be like – but would eagerly return to go east if the opportunity occurs.
I used ‘A Field Guide to the birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali’ by John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps, as my main guide to both species and as a basis for a wish list. Having birded parts of Malaysia and Thailand years ago and given the relative sparsity of species available in Bali anyway, I didn’t have a huge expectation. Birds like White-tailed Tropicbird, Javan Pond Heron, Sunda Teal, Barred Buttonquail, Green Junglefowl, Javan, Long-billed and Malaysian Plovers, a handful of Fruit Doves, 3 Cuckoo sp, a couple of Owl/Owlets, 3 possibly common Kingfishers and 2 uncommon, several Babbler species and Flowerpeckers. There was definitely enough to get me interested, but on the densely populated western edge? It remained to be seen.
Normally I never use guides. I much prefer to find my own stuff. However, as I will describe, I did use a local guide in Bali Barat mainly because, supposedly, one needs a guide to access most of the national park. As it happened he and I didn’t bird in the national park at all so I was left a bit bemused, however, it actually proved to be a positive move and I didn’t really feel like birds were being pointed out to me, rather that we found them together – and it helped with speedy identification of course.
Day 1 – 27.2.19 (Wednesday)
The Uber arrived within a few minutes at 7.30.
8.10 Checked in through the automated system and bag dropped my 9 kg check-in bag.
Through security and passport control and in the smoker’s area in the departure lounge with a skinny flat white, extra hot, by 8.40.
The flight left on time and from my window seat I shared a three seat row with only a chick in the aisle seat. We landed safely on time. I thought I had to get a visa for my stay, but, apparently, for a stay of less than 1 month, you don’t. All good. It took ages to get through the passport control. I don’t know if its always like that – I suspect it is – but anyway through I got, collected my bag and headed for the exit.
Immediately outside the exit door, a money changers place. So I changed $400 – and got a wad of notes in exchange. The rate is currently ~10,000 rupiah per $1.00 Aus so……It feels like a lot of money, but it isn’t really.
I was accosted pretty quickly by a dude trying to sell me a ride in a taxi – he wanted 250,000 R (that’s $25Aus). I had read the going rate was 150,000 – 200,000 so waved him off and continued on.
Outside and another guy approached me. He, too, wanted 250,000. I said no, too much, and he agreed to 200,000. I thought, this could go on all day, so I said yes. And, I believe, lucked out? I got a really nice guy in a very smooth black van type who appealed to me and showed interest in being my driver for the whole holiday. This was what I was hoping for – i.e. someone whom I liked, and felt I could trust, could speak reasonable English (I’m hopeless at languages, not arrogant) and was available.
The driving was crazy, Asian style, I guess. Dozens of mopeds and motorbikes, no one paying any attention to lane control. Some indication, lots of horn blowing and driving right up people’s asses. All good!
Mangde (mang day) found my first accommodation, Radha Home Stay. I paid him the agreed 200,000 R ($20) and he agreed to pick me up on Saturday morning at 10am for the 3-4 hour drive to Bali Barat.
I was pretty happy that I had found someone to drive me - as I had hoped. I checked in. I had a double room with en-suite, I guess you’d call it. Air conditioned, thank goodness, ‘cause it was very, very humid, with a small shared garden at the end of the building. There was no swimming pool or restaurant as such. A small bar fronted the place and that’s about it. The room clean and tidy looking. But I’m not looking for much anyway, just a place to lay my head and feel secure.
I sorted some stuff out and then went for a walk, using MapsMe on my iPad as a guide. The street outside was very narrow, not too busy, but full of restaurants, cafes, touristy type shops and so on. More expensive, luxury resorts were set off the main road down private side roads. I wanted to find my way to the beach and eventually did so. It took about 10 minutes, but I probably could get there in less. I wandered along the beachfront seeing my first Bali birds – Spotted Doves, Eurasian Tree Sparrows and what I’m pretty sure were Cave Swiflets. The only swift in the book that is not pictured, but advises that it is the commonest swift in Bali so…..
I wasn’t expecting much in the way of birds in Sanur so wasn’t disappointed.
I was hanging for a coffee and stopped at a beachfront place and got a flat white, extra hot. It cost me 38,000 R. Yikes!! But then again that’s only $3.80…….phew!
I found my way back ‘home’ picking up a fedora style hat on the way for 150,000 R - $15. I just felt like getting one, don’t know why, but I did.
After a rest in the air con, I decided it was time to have something to eat. I picked a restaurant at random – about 50 meters from where I was staying – and ordered a Bintang to start with ($3). I had spring rolls and a nasi goreng thing which was more than I could eat, followed by another Bintang and finished with another good flat white. I didn’t think I’d find good coffee here, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem. My meal was 259,000 R or $26 which I considered an excellent deal.
Trip List – 3 Lifer – 1
Day 2 – 28.2.19 (Thursday)
Hung around ‘home’ until breakfast at 7.30. I was very pleased and a little surprised at the selection. I had the banana pancakes which were lovely, but could have had eggs on toast any way I wanted them or nasi goreng Bali style – maybe tomorrow. Coffee was a bit gritty, but the small fruit plate with dragon fruit, pineapple & watermelon was a nice start.
I decided to head out for a bit of birding. I hadn’t actually expected to do any here in Sanur, but with little else to do, headed for a patch of ‘forest’ 2.5 kms along the road. Not many people around and the shops were just opening, but the taxis continually tooted their horns to attract my attention as I walked. It’s a bit annoying, but easy to just ignore them. The majority of shopkeepers and transport guys sitting on the side of the road offered me greetings and a smile – which was really nice. They all seem very friendly.
I never did find the ‘forest’ but close to where I think it was I did find a patch of ground that was basically barricaded off, rough grass and ground cover, scattered trees. I pushed through a large hole in the fence and spent the next couple of hours just hanging out in the relatively small area. Yellow-vented Bulbuls everywhere – I even found a pair building a nest, not something you see every day. Cave Swiflets overhead and very close fly-bys under the trees – if I’d had a butterfly net I reckon I could have caught one. In the trees I managed to pick up Olive-backed Tailorbird, Common Iora, Pied Fantail, a Sacred Kingfisher and I heard a Coppersmith Barbet, though failed to see it. I also heard a Plaintive Cuckoo – sounded very like Brush, but it, too, eluded me visually. Spotted Doves all over too and I heard Peaceful (or Zebra, as its known here) Dove – at least I assume it was a wild one.
There were several butterflies knocking around, but I managed to only get photos of one – appears to be a very worn Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus, one I don’t think I’ve seen before – but it’s very like Lesser Wanderer.
I also took photos of a very large spider – which I think is a Giant Wood Spider and saw a reddish squirrel which is probably a Plantain Squirrel Callosciurus notatus although I didn’t see any stripes on its sides – it was a pretty brief view along the roadside.
It was very, very, humid, I was sweating like a pig by the time I gave it away at 11 and headed ‘home’. I stopped at the first café I came to and had a coke (no ice, just in case) and a flat white. I got a little lost, not a lot, just a little, on the way back and actually walked right past ‘home’. Jesus, sometimes I’m hopeless with directions.
By the time I did get back I was ready for a cold shower and a little lie down in the air con.
After I felt recovered I went for a coffee, then a little shopping. I wanted a couple of sarongs for myself and got two for $30. Maybe I could get them cheaper elsewhere, but it was just easier and they seem like good quality.
I hung out at ‘home’ for the rest of the afternoon, had a couple of Bintangs next door and read a lot. It was just too hot to go anywhere without purpose.
Ate at the same place in the evening and crashed relatively early.
Trip List – 11 Lifer – 2
Day 3 – 1.3.19 (Friday) B for Birthday, or D for Disaster, Day?
I didn’t sleep much overnight and was up and dressed by 5am. It took a while but I managed to establish contact with the birthday girl and, eventually, had my 30 minutes and it was all good. A bit shaky at first, admittedly, until the shock passed, but OK in the end.
First objective achieved, now to do some birding!
Once again, around Sanur I wasn’t expecting to do much, so hung out most of the day around ‘home’. It was very hot and humid – hopefully it’ll be a bit cooler elsewhere, but I’ll get out early morning anyway and avoid the middle of the day, wherever I am.
What a day it turned out to be……. I had brought what I considered at the time to be enough money – Australian dollars – with the intention of changing it to Rupiah as needed. I hadn’t spent a lot in the last few days, but had started to worry I may not have enough, so had decided to withdraw some more – just to be sure, despite the penalty of fees from local banks.
I went to an ATM at the bank next door and tried to withdraw money – nothing, ‘unable to process this transaction’. I tried a few times – no success. I asked the security guard and he told me to walk down to another ATM registered as BNI ‘down the road’. So off I set. Cutting a long story much, much shorter, I spent most of the day trying to organise a cash withdrawal either on the phone to Australia or visiting various ATMs up and down the local street. It wasn’t that I had no money – I had over $300 cash after all – but anticipating the cash needed to pay the drivers, buy meals etc, I didn’t think I’d have enough to see me through and I thought there may be a lack of ATMs away from the touristy areas – which there were in fact.
It was a mistake I won’t make again. I should have changed as much money at the airport as I believed I needed for the WHOLE trip. I always had my credit card as backup – but 1. I hate the fees imposed by my bank, 2. Not everywhere has the facility to accept credit card payments in places like Bali and 3. Quite frankly, I don’t like using it where security might be an issue.
In my paranoia I assessed my money and decided I could afford to eat tonight – but restricted myself to the cheapest meal and Bintang I could find. Then retired for the evening to continue watching ‘Sons of Anarchy’ on my laptop.
Trip List – 11 Lifer – 2
Day 4 – 2.3.19 (Saturday)
Success! I walked down to the local ATMs after breakfast and managed to withdraw cash via my credit card/Savings account. Hallelujah!! I celebrated with a decent coffee. I finished packing and went to pay the bill. Luckily I had got cash out because the credit card machine wouldn’t work and I had to pay with Rupiah. A little frustrating, but worse was to come…
I was sitting outside with my bags at 9.50, waiting for Mangde to arrive, as agreed, at 10. By 10.45 it was obvious he wasn’t coming. We tried to ring him 10 or 12 times - his phone was continually engaged. I’d obviously made a bad error of judgment thinking he was reliable and trustworthy. In all honesty that’s not like me – I pride myself on being a relatively good judge of people, however, maybe I’m not. This was a definite fail. Give the guy his due – maybe he found something better? Maybe we had a communication breakdown? Maybe he’s just a dick – whatever, I was a bit pissed off and very worried. Now what do I do? The staff at Radha offered me their driver – an uncle I think of one, but actually the owner himself – Mr Radha. So at 11.00 we set off on the potentially 5 hours there (and 5 hours back for Mr R) at the agreed price of 860,000 R – or $86. Sounds like a lot of money? Would YOU do a 10 hour round trip for 86 bucks? I know I wouldn’t!
Mind you it’s less than 150kms…..yep. One hundred and forty four kilometers.
It was, in the end a slow, lorry laden, motorbike-frenzied four and a half hours. We made some conversation, but Mr R’s English was a little limited and his accent strong so….most of the trip was in silence. Houses, shacks, shops, people, motorbikes, cars, small trucks and lorries surrounded us most of the time with the odd area of rice paddies. I did see at least 1 Javan Pond Heron, in flight, along with a number of Intermediate Egrets, a Long-tailed Shrike perched up and a Grey-rumped Treeswift overhead.
As we approached Gilimanuk we started seeing Long-tailed Macaques Macaca fascicularis beside and on the road.
We finally reached the turn off to the resort and stopped at a pole barrier. The security guards checked my booking, looked under the car with a mirror on a stick and then one of them rode his moped the 3 kms in along the unsealed track, through thick bush, to the resort itself – its actually IN Bali Barat National Park! Wow! I was met by all three staff – a lovely young girl and two guys, one of whom spoke good English, thank God! I said goodbye to Mr R, paid him $100 and wished him a safe journey home and then…..
Apparently I am the ONLY guest in the whole place!
‘Welcome to the jungle’, he says, ‘you are our king” Far freaking OUT!!
I had paid $123 for 3 nights including breakfast in a dormitory situation. As I was the only guest they had upgraded me to a jungle cabin, set on stilts, all timber with a lovely veranda, stone bathroom, double bed, sitting room with flat screen TV and air conditioning. A water dispenser served both hot (for coffee, supplied) and ice cold water that was safe to drink. It was just at the edge of the compound surrounded by trees with a through-the-trees view of Banyuwedang Bay.
I was just blown away. It was amazing!The staff had organised a park pass already for me and could organise a guide. In the grounds there was a Bali Starling release area and, he told me proudly, there are 168 species of birds to be seen.
I settled in, had a shower and a shave, then it was time for ‘afternoon tea’ – coffee and cakes in the ‘dining’ area, an open sided, covered seating area, 20 meters from my stairs. As I enjoyed the food a number of pigeons landed in the trees overlooking the bay. They were, of course, feeding on the outside branches on the other side of the trees so it took me a while to actually see them properly – Pink-necked Green Pigeons.
After afternoon tea I wandered down the steps to the mangrove-fringed beach and walked out on a bamboo pontoon thing. Above, Cave Swiflets circled, then a medium-sized raptor appeared – Crested Goshawk – circled a few times, had a go at a swift or two, then disappeared behind the trees. As I returned to the beach a large Monitor Lizard stalked off. It was as big as the biggest Goannas from home, but not as well marked. It was an Asian Water Monitor Varanus salvator, close to 5 ft or 2.5 meters?
So far, so good! I heard Coppersmith Barbet and Green Junglefowl calling nearby and thought I heard a Pitta? There were a few other calls/noises that I had no identification for, but there’s always tomorrow! Apart from being a lovely, isolated, eco-friendly place– and me a Very Special Person (!!) – the potential here seems great. I asked for a guide to go birdwatching after breakfast the next day - I have to have a guide to enter the park proper – they were afraid I would get lost and anyway, no harm. So long as I could pay for everything with my credit card I didn’t care!
Trip List – 18 Lifer – 4
Day 5 – 3.3.19 (Sunday)
I was awake and on the veranda again at 5.30. Dawn wasn’t until 6.30 but I thought I might get some calling owls. I did – I heard a Sunda Scops Owl calling a little distance away. Used playback but heard nothing more, unfortunately – and I don’t tick birds I only hear. They have to ‘pass across my retina’ for me to ‘see’ them.
Got dressed and wandered around the tracks nearby. Lots of Yellow-vented Bulbuls. I mean…….lots. As any birder will know, a bird like this is a pain in the ass. Because you’re in unfamiliar territory you need to check every bird and it soon becomes ‘just another f…….g yellow-vented furball’. We’re a patient, understanding lot, us birders! I persevered.
Down a side track two male Green Junglefowl strutted their stuff – well, they walked across the road. Out here? No farms, no ‘habitation’, they have to be real, wild birds. So – tick!
Coppersmith Barbets were still calling and dozens of Peaceful or Zebra Doves. I thought they were uncommon in Bali – but not here. Another pain in the ass bird!
I did see a few Pink-necked Green Pigeons, but little else in my short foray before breakfast at 7.
Interesting! Chicken porridge? A sticky mass of chicken-flavoured rice in a small bowl – actually even cold it was quite nice! Cold scrambled egg (I think it was only one) on toast and three huge pieces of Dragonfruit to finish. Nice! Coffee of course, gritty, but piping hot.
I set off for another walk along the tracks but had to be back by 9 as I was being ‘guided’ to the Bali Miner/Starling rehabilitation centre. I said I could walk, but Ria seemed to think a 20 minute walk would tire me out, so I said Oooookay and waited for the guide. We drove.
All of 7 or 8 minutes to a building housing a number of large aviary type cages filled with approx (?) 30 birds? It was nice to see the effort being made and the video cameras showing eggs and chicks in a couple of the nest boxes was cool, but I wanted them in the wild and this wasn’t going to qualify as a tick. I made the right noises and took photos and video anyway, cause its probably the only chance I’ll get, then was driven back to the ranch.
I set off again, alone, and walked the tracks for a couple of hours. Finally saw several Coppersmith Barbets, but all high in the canopy and out of any sort of decent photographic range. I mainly took photos of Green Junglefowl, butterflies and a dragonfly sp. I walked as far as Menjangan Resort which is reputedly very expensive and supposedly has Javan Banded Pitta ‘in the grounds’. Adopting the usual attitude, I walked in as if I owned the place and no one questioned my presence. However, I could have been the only non-guest guest as there didn’t seem to be anyone else around.
I headed back to ‘home’. All in all it was bloody hard work. Plenty of calls, already mentioned, birds very hard to see in the thick deciduous bush. I did see Great Tits, 1 Olive-backed Sunbird, Common Iora, Sacred Kingfishers and several family groups of Long-tailed Macaques. One male huffed and puffed at me, but I told him to stop being stupid and he walked away with his tail in the air. You have to be firm with these monkeys you know!
As I got close to ‘home’ two deer appeared before me. Javan Rusa deer – nice looking animals with huge ears. They were pretty confiding, making no moves to run away.
By the time I got back it was midday and pretty steamy. There was a nice ocean breeze though which made sitting on the veranda very pleasant. Ria informed me that she had organised a bird guide from Feather Encounters for 6.00 – 12.00 tomorrow morning. Cost - just under $100. Good. Hopefully they’ll deliver on some of the stuff I should be seeing.
I hung out at ‘home’ for the afternoon until afternoon tea. Then, as it had cooled down somewhat, I went for a short walk back up the track and down towards ‘The Residence’ – an apparently secluded twin apartments overlooking the ocean – and with a pool. I was tempted to strip off and jump in, as there was no one there except another smaller Asian Water Dragon and something else than pounded away into the forest, but resisted just in case.
On the way back I managed to find a pair of Scarlet-headed Flowerpeckers, but apart from that, just the usual stuff.
At 18.00 I was collected by a driver in an open-sided mini van thing and driven around to The Octagon resort. On the way on the road we flushed a group of doves – 2 or 3 Peaceful and two I was sure were Island Collared Doves.
Wow!! What a place to have dinner – or stay. Pretty cool, probably quite expensive, but as I am the only guest at Eco Lodge, they don’t have a chef on hand, so I had dinner beside the infinity pool. Very nice – the food and the view and the ambience (!). The staff were lovely and the Bintangs were cold. (The two course meal + 2 beers = $41)
Trip List – 24 Lifers – 7
Day 6 – 4.3.19 (Monday)
Up at 5.15, dressed and ready to rock ‘n’ roll. At 6.10 a driver from The Octagon resort picked me up in an air-conditioned car and drove me out to the main road and then along to the junction just outside Gilamanuck where we met my bird guide.
A little, wizened, older man dressed in t-shirt and cargo pants who only came to my chest. No bins, no scope, no book. O-OH. Wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – but I wasn’t to be disappointed. He knew his stuff. He hopped on his motorbike and we followed him about 500 meters down the road away from Gilamanuk sort of towards Kuta, in general terms. We pulled in to what looked like a war memorial and started birding straight away.
He pointed out a group of Balinese Black Monkeys Trachypitechus auratus kohlbruggei. I didn’t realize how rare they were and didn’t pay them much attention – only found later they are an unusual sight outside the forest and not many people get to see them. I didn’t take any photos. It was raining slightly – enough to dampen clothes, but not spirits.
We birded this area for about 2 hours and had great success. It’s an open public area – I reckon anyone could go in and bird it.
We had Chestnut-headed Bee Eaters, Small Minivets, Lineated Barbets, Common Ioras, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Sacred Kingfishesr, Magpie Robin, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Ashy Drongo, Javan Mynas, Slender-billed Crows, Sooty-headed and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Scarlet-headed Flowerpeckers, Black-naped Oriole, White-breasted Woodswallow and heard Lesser Coucal.
Best of all by far – at least 3 wild BALI STARLINGS/MYNAS! I had given up real hope of seeing wild ones, but here they were. We saw them several times and, as far as I could establish, none had rings on their legs.
Then two birds flew from a tree and split left and right towards us. Bage called them as Bali Starlings, but one looked different in flight to me. I tracked it to a nearby tree and eventually got onto it – BLACK-WINGED STARLING!! Bage was excited – he hadn’t seen one here for 4 years!
One of the most pleasing aspects for me personally was I was identifying the birds myself – without having to have them ID’d for me. This is an important point for me. I don’t use guides – in fact the only place I have been guided before was in PNG, where you can’t enter the forest without a local – and he didn’t know much about birds. I do not like the idea of having birds pointed out to me. I’d prefer to find them myself, but sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to go. In this case it was almost like birding with a friend.
By the time we returned to the car park area, it had stopped raining. We mounted up again and drove back down towards Gilamanuk and straight through the junction for about 300 meters before stopping under a huge concrete archway over the road depicting Balinese gods, I guess. We pulled into the right and Bage and I walked across a flat field to a small area of mangroves. We flushed a lot of Spotted Doves and 2 Island Collared Doves on the way.
At the mangroves Bage told me to look at the black sand under the trees for Savannah Nightjar. Within a few minutes we had flushed 3 or 4. Then I spotted one on the ground. One became 3, became 6…..really cryptic as nightjars are, but remarkably confiding – probably believing they were invisible. I had only seen one before – in PNG, at night, in flight, so this was really cool.
We also had a lot of Sooty-headed Bulbuls here, on the walk back across the field a Long-tailed Shrike flew past and a couple of female White-shouldered Trillers made like pipits on the grass. Back at the vehicle again and a 10 minute drive back along towards ‘home’ before we pulled off at a side track.
There appeared to be some confusion regarding my breakfast box. I didn’t care – I just wanted to bird, bugger the food! But something was supposed to be delivered and hadn’t been. Anyway we went down this non-descript track, parked up and again Bage and I walked across to a mangrove area that bordered the ocean and up a creek. Within a few minutes we had a pair of Small Blue Kingfishers. Really cute, beautiful blue colour contrasting with clean white.
We also flushed a single Far Eastern Curlew and a nicely marked up Common Sandpiper. Just behind the beach – Little and Intermediate Egret and a single Striated Heron. In a dead tree more Chestnut-headed Bee Eaters.
As we walked back to the car Bage shook my hand and said thankyou…?? WTF?? It was only 10.00. I thought the birding was till midday. But no, that was it, three hours worth.
OK. It’ll have to do. I slipped Bage 200,000 R ($20) as a tip – I didn’t have any more decent sized cash. He decided then that we would go look for Rufous-backed Kingfisher as an extra. We did – but didn’t have any luck, apparently it’s very difficult to see in the forest although we did spend half an hour along a small shallow muddy creek.
I said goodbye to Bage and headed back towards Bajul Eco Lodge with my driver. He kept talking about a ‘picnic lunch in the forest’?? again, I say, WTF?? I’d rather be birding, but whatever!
We ended up on a grassy area overlooking the ocean where two other dudes had set up a picnic for me! Jesus! Here I am all rain-damp, sweaty, muddy and generally birdy-scruffy and they’ve set this up….. Wow! It was really nice. Fruit skewers, sandwiches and wraps and, most importantly, coffee!
I ate what I could of it, while my very own pair of Small Blue Kingfishers darted around on the mangrove roots and a Coppersmith Barbet called overhead.
Back home and relax, sort 300+ shit photos – the light had been shit, that’s my excuse – write notes, lists and this.
When I got back, Ria – the lovely young girl at Eco Lodge – met me and apologized for my missing my breakfast! I told her not to worry, of course., birding was my focus this morning and breakfast didn’t matter. She also apologized (!) because another group of guests were arriving. WTF?? Apologizing because they have more guests? The other group of guests were, in fact, the police. The top cop in Bali was staying at The Octagon – where I had dinner – and all the nearby resorts had a police presence.
I hung out at home till 16.00 then was picked up and driven over to The Octagon with the intention of having a swim in their pool. On the way, the guy in the car suggested snorkeling and I thought ‘why not?’. The manager met me at the door again and we chatted for a while, then they drove me to the nearby jetty, gave me snorkeling gear and away I went for half an hour. The vis was pretty poor – the tide was running out and it is a mangrove fringed bay so only to be expected. A lot of the coral was dead and silted up, but I did see quite a few nice reef fish and one decent sized Green Turtle.
I watched what looked like Imperial Pigeons of some sort flying in towards the forest. They appeared to have a white wingbar – reminiscent of Common Woodpigeon – but the book I had with me did not describe the wing pattern of any of the Imperial Pigeons. I’ll have to follow up when I get home – suspect they may be Green Imperial Pigeons, definitely not Pied.
Driven back to The Octagon and this time, after passing the police cordon, met the General Manager and chatted to him for a few minutes. Here’s me talking to the general manager in my damp shorts and Speedos, scruffy loose shirt and sandals, my underpants in the bag over my shoulder! Jesus Christ. All good, though, he was very pleasant and engaging and I stressed how excellent the staff at the Eco Lodge were – it was all part of the same organization.
I had dinner. It was amazing! The beef in the Thai beef salad was so tender (I must admit I didn’t eat the lettuce, much to the waitress’s distress), the grilled squid was melt in your mouth, no chewing required and the flamed bananas afterwards? Oh god! Just magic.
After dinner I signed off on the park pass, the bird guide, the two meals and the driver for tomorrow on my credit card – in total just over $310. Brilliant, so easy. Then it was back home and crash around 21.00.
Trip List – 43 Lifers – 15
Day 7 – 5.3.19 (Tuesday)
Up at 6.00, breakfast at 7.00, driven away by Bude at 8.00. It was a long drive to Ulu Watu. The distance isn’t huge, but the traffic, especially for the last 35 kms past Kuta, Denpassar, Legian, was horrendous – it took us over an hour and a half to get through that section.
We stopped off at a waterfall somewhere in the mountains at Bude’s suggestion and walked in to have a look. It cost 2,000 R for me to go in - $2. It was quite nice, and I did see a pair of Lemon-bellied White-eyes along the track.
We also stopped for coffee at a viewpoint over the lakes before actually driving through Bedugul, my next destination.
Finally got to Ulu Watu, checked in at the Ulu Watu Jungle Villas, agreed to meet Bude tomorrow – he had offered to take me to Bedugul, hopefully he will turn up – and took a break in the aircon for a while.
The ‘Jungle’ Villa was a bit of a misnomer. They were, basically, a set of identical concrete apartments set around an open area of lawn with a tiny swimming pool in the middle. Looked very nice, but anything but ‘jungle’.
After it had (maybe) cooled down somewhat I set off to the cliffs with optimism for White-tailed Tropicbird or, at least, a Frigatebird or two.
Even though it was 16.00 when I set out, it was a very sweaty, 40 minute walk to the cliffs beside the Ulu Watu temple. I found a side track to the right of the temple grounds from the bus carpark. It meant I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee for the temple – not that I minded that, but I just wanted to get to the cliffs away from the crowds. With Nyepi Day (Thursday) coming up I suspected the place was busier than normal. I saw my first swallows in Bali on the way – two each of Barn and Pacific Swallows.
I made it to, literally, the cliff’s edge – no protective fence here – and sat and watched an empty ocean for an hour. Not one bird, never mind anything exciting – nothing, nada, zip, zilch. Maybe it’s the wrong season? Maybe they aren’t here all year round? They certainly weren’t here on 5th March 2019.
I was a bit disappointed – more with the fact that I had bypassed Bedugul to come here now for nothing. Nyepi Day is coming up and I planned to be in Bedugul then anyway, because the whole country shuts down for 24 hours – literally the whole country. I had been hoping to be able to quietly bird around the village on Thursday, but it looks like I will be locked in all day which will limit my birding there to maybe an afternoon (Wed) and a morning (Fri) – we’ll see when I get there tomorrow. However, Ulu Watu was a bit of a wash out today.
I walked home again, it was slightly cooler - showered, changed my shirt and walked 100 meters up the road to Mike’s Kitchen for a large pork ribs and potato wedges, Bintang & coffee ($24) which was really good! Then it was home again, for a relaxing evening.
Trip List – 46 Lifers – 16
Day 8 – 6.3.19 (Wednesday)
Up at 6, packed and had coffee in my room. At 7 I walked up the road to Mike’s Kitchen to try and get an early breakfast – it wasn’t open so walked back again and had another coffee.
Bude turned up early at 7.15 and we set off straight away. I had hoped to escape the heaviest traffic – and we probably did – but around the Kuta/Denpasar area it was still pretty heavy.
Took 4 hours to get back up to Bedugul and it was raining when we arrived. Checked in to the Warung Rekreasi Guest house place – in a cabin on stilts in the compound which promises potential for birding tomorrow as I have to stay in the compound for Nyepi Day.
Bude took off after dropping me at the Botanical Gardens – I paid him $80 + $20 bonus and he promised to be back on Friday to take me down to Seminyak.
I walked into the gardens – paid the 20,000 Rupiah ($2) entry fee and wandered around in the rain looking for birds and sheltering when it got too heavy. I didn’t see much. A Small Minivet, pair of Black-naped Orioles and a handful of miserable looking Spotted Doves.
I gave it two and a half hours then walked back to the accommodation stopping for a hot, mug (!) of Bali coffee in a small café on the way (50 cents – cheapest mug of coffee ever!) I also bought some cigarettes as my tobacco was running low – a pack of Indonesian sweet tasting, sweet smelling fags and a pack of Lucky Strike – together, total cost, $4.70.
Back at the Warung R I had another mug of coffee – they obviously do things differently in the mountains – and kept an eye out for birds. A group of Olive-backed Tailorbirds moved through like mice and near my cabin a small flock of Javan Munia fed on grass seeds.
The rain continued.
I hung out for the rest of the afternoon watching for activity from the shelter of the reception/eating area. It rained on and off and dripped constantly. There wasn’t much action. A few Olive-backed Sunbird appearances and when I went down the path to take some photos of Plantain Squirrels I flushed an unexpected White-fronted Waterhen to add to the trip list, but other than that it was pretty quiet.
I waited for the expected Pre-Nyepi Day celebrations – I don’t know what else to call it. It involves community groups making larger-than-life-size images (for want of a better word) of evil spirits ( I think!). They then parade them and, apparently burn them on the night before Nyepi Day. I had seen multiple examples of these images along the roadside as we drove up to Bedugul, but was concerned that as this immediate area appeared to be predominantly Muslim and it’s a Hindu festival, I didn’t know if there would be a ceremony here.
I wasn’t to be disappointed. Around 18.30 everyone, it seemed, had gathered at the crossroads just up the road from the guesthouse and they had 6 of these images gathered together. They are made from paper maiche or Styrofoam and carried on bamboo frames by young men and boys. They shake them around to the music and then carry them to the nearest temple.
It was very exciting and the crowd were in great humour. I appeared to be the only non-local at the celebrations as I didn’t see anyone else looking like me and had a clear view of everything, being slightly taller than the average Balinese – an unusual situation for me!
Everyone was very friendly, in a chaotic scene of good fun and laughter. I videoed as much as I could and followed the procession towards the temple for some way, until I decided it was further than I had anticipated and I left the crowd and walked back home.
I asked about dinner, but was told it was too late, so now hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. Managed to get a cup of coffee and spent some time sorting photos etc before crashing.
Trip List – 48 Lifers – 17
Day 9 – 7.3.19 Nyepi Day
The day Bali shuts down. The whole country. Even the airport closes down.
I couldn’t leave the compound – even the internet had been turned off. Luckily, I could still eat as they continued to serve food for guests. There was only one other couple there so it remained very quiet. No cars or motorbikes on the road. Not a sound, apart from the occasional voice or rattle of domesticity. It’s called the Quiet Day and all activity is banned – or certainly all public activity.
I was woken at 4 after another restless night, by a rolling thunder storm. I got up at 6 to light but persistent rain and felt a bit discouraged. I finally ventured out at 7 and walked quietly around the compound, but saw very little. A few Pink-necked Green Pigeons high in a tree and small flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings overhead.
At 8 I went to break my 36 hour fast and indulged in bacon & eggs on toast, extra toast with strawberry jam, fruit and 3 cups of Bali coffee – and I felt whole again. The rain continued with very damp breaks between the showers. I retired to my cabin. It rained heavily all day. The wind picked up and, at one point, the power went off for half an hour or so. I did virtually nothing.
I watched Sons of Anarchy and read my e-reader. I had stir fried chicken and vegetables for lunch and, for dinner, pork in sweet soy sauce and a Bintang followed by a special Nyepi Day banana pancake, provided by the cook, free of charge. Then I went back to Sons. The only birds of any interest were a brief view of the White-breasted Waterhen scurrying across the lawn in the rain and silhouette views of Pink-necked Green Pigeons and probable, but definitely non-tickable, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons flying high overhead. Even the ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbuls were subdued.
After I got back, in the dark, to my cabin, I turned on the balcony light – and left it on, not intentionally, just because I might go outside for a smoke. One of the boys came up and told me they had to turn it off – for Nyepi. Obviously I didn’t mind. It’s serious shit!
Trip List – 49 Lifers – 17
Day 10 – 8.3.19 (Friday) My Birthday – for what that’s worth.
Woken at 4 by the local Muslim mosque calling the faithful to prayer. Got up at 6 to a damp, cloudy morning but it had stopped raining.
Walked around the compound until 7.45 but saw nothing much at all. Breakfast of bacon & eggs etc again, then walked down to the lake. Nothing there at all – bird-wise anyway.
Back up the hill and into the Botanical Gardens again. This time I stayed off the roads as much as possible, concentrating on the overgrown gullies.
Now I am not a great birder. I enjoy birding, but I’m not an ace by any means. My hearing is poor – especially in the upper register - my right eye is not much good and I wear contacts. But, in my defence, I can move quietly, I’m patient and even I can pick up small birds in the canopy – eventually!
I did all I could but there was just nothing to see. No calls, no movement. Just nothing. I played Javan Barred Owlet in an effort to possibly attract in any small birds within hearing. I did see a single flowerpecker – I think it was a female Orange-breasted Flowerpecker, but only by elimination, rather than definite identification. I was expecting maybe the odd Spiderhunter? Or White-eye? Maybe even a Barbet? But just nothing moved or called. I think an Owlet called back in response, but it only called once and was some distance away – it didn’t respond further and, based on my personal requirements, it remains non-ticked.
I gave it two hours, took a few photos of butterflies and statues, had an instant cappuccino, then headed home, showered, packed and checked my emails while I waited for Bude.
He turned up 15 minutes early and we headed off immediately. It was a two hour drive down to the coast to the Grand Balisani Suites.
On the way I definitely saw Eastern Cattle Egrets in the rice paddies. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I thought I had seen some on other drives - they had been distant and I hadn’t been sure. Just another addition to the trip list!
I checked in – paid and said goodbye to Bude – and went to my room. Standard hotel type room, despite the ‘suite’ name-tag. I headed out for a walk along the beach. Dirty, scruffy, noisy, unpleasant really. A couple of bar/café things along the dirty, potholed road with a large, very noisy, beach club place pumping out duff-duff music at maximum volume. The other, tourist, side of Bali. After the peace of Bali Barat and the local excitement in Bedugul, this was just plain ugly.
I can see why most people probably don’t leave their hotel. The pool area looked…….nice, I guess, but it’s not my scene to lie around a pool on my own.
I went back to my room and wondered what I could do. I had more or less decided to eat in the hotel as I just didn’t fancy the mock-western joints on the beach and there didn’t seem to be any local eateries within easy walking distance. On my return to my room the music from the beach club was penetrating the windows and balcony door so I went down to reception and requested a change. They did this immediately and moved me to a similar room with less of a view behind the reception area. Then I went down and had dinner beside the pool, cause that’s where the dining area was. I ordered the pork ribs and had a Bintang to wash them down. On the menu they had banana fritters listed but when I asked for them I was told they didn’t have them – so I had some watermelon and rockmelon instead. Then the waitress came over and said they were making banana fritters for me. WTF? OK. I waited, they were OK. Then I got up to go back to my room. Another, slightly older, waitress approached me and asked me if it was my birthday? I said yes, but it’s no big deal. She held my hands and wished me happy birthday, as did two other staff members. She said she wanted to give me a cake. I said that won’t be necessary, at my age birthdays are better forgotten. She said she would bring it to the room. I said OK?
Sure enough, 10 minutes later, herself and two other staff members knocked on the door, sang me happy birthday and gave me a small chocolate cake with a candle in it! It was very nice and made me feel just a little bit special for a few minutes. Then Mr Jamieson and I spent some time together to finish off my 64th birthday.
Trip List – 51 Lifers – 17
Day 11 – 9.3.19 (Saturday)
I had read that up the beach, not far from my location someone had seen waders near a freshwater outlet. I headed out at 7 and walked down to the sand.
There was no point in going further. As far as the eye could see people were walking the beach, surfing, dogs…….a waste of time, no self-respecting wader would hang around in that environment. It must have been a few years ago the other guy saw them, maybe before the coast was completely developed?
I went back to the hotel and struggled repeatedly with my key card to get back into my room, having to have it replaced twice. The internet was non-existent, then it was back, then it was gone…. Jesus Christ. I think I need to sit down with Mr Jamieson again – and its only 8am….
I went to have breakfast and the chef made me two soft poached eggs on request, which made my day a little better. Then I struggled with my f……..g key card access again.
Asked for some advice re shopping and, eventually, headed out with the hotel shuttle which dropped me off at the Mercure Resort in Legian. I found the Corner Coffee shop and indulged in a giant flat white before heading off into the streets to spend some money.
After a couple of hours I ended up back in the café for another coffee before catching a Bluebird Taxi back to the hotel.
The rest of the day was spent lazing around the pool, reading, having dinner, watching Sons and finishing off Mr Jamieson.
Trip List – 51 Lifers – 17
Day 12 – 10.3.19
Lay in late, had breakfast, lay around the pool then checked out. My flight was at 16.00, check out was at 12, so I booked a taxi for 13.00 to get to the airport by 14.00 and sat and waited.
The taxi came for me at 12.45 and we were at the airport by 13.30, checked-in, through security – where they took both my cigarette lighters away, WTF? – and into the main coffee shop by 14.10.
I ended up waiting at the departure gate and we left on time at 15.55. Landed on time at midnight. Through customs. Got an Uber home.
Trip List – 51 Lifers – 17
Summary: On the fact that the trip was primarily planned as a birthday surprise, I wasn’t expecting great birding. However, I was surprised at the low results – especially in the total species number. The one day I had with the guide – who took me to a place I wouldn’t have known about – made all the difference. It still wouldn’t encourage me to hire a guide as, in most areas I would bird, there is plenty of information re where and what. I was, relatively, happy with the outcome and would go back again if I could get a bit more info.
I would definitely not plan any birding in the Kuta/Denpasar/Seminyak area – its OK for shopping, and, I guess, partying, if that’s your scene, but for birding one needs to get away from there – anywhere away from there…….
The Balinese people are lovely, there is no denying just how friendly, welcoming and polite they are and there seems to be quite a drive to preserve whatever environment they can.