Where to go on a “visa run” from Taiwan? The simplest solution is to take a short flight to Hong Kong and return the next day. A more enjoyable option is to go a little further afield and enjoy a vacation at the same time. With our three-month entry visa for Taiwan expiring in mid September, and with Jenna’s Ashtanga yoga guru coincidentally hosting a workshop in Bali in the same week, it was an easy choice. Bali is just a five-hour direct flight from Taiwan, and conveniently lies within the same time zone as it is almost directly south.
The island is an easy birding destination, and several key sites lie within a 90-minute drive of our base in Ubud. As one would expect of a major holiday area, car rental is straightforward to arrange and very cheap (I used Bali Car Finder for the third time, and as always found them reliable and efficient to deal with). The actual driving part is not so easy. Bali’s roads are narrow, lined with trees, and clogged with heavy traffic, keeping average speeds down to 40km/h or even less. That crazy roundabout just outside the airport has probably daunted many a first-time visitor to the island.
I don’t need many birds from Bali, having visited here just last year on honeymoon, so this trip was about enjoying some relaxing birding, not a relentless tick-hunt to all corners of the island. I saw 97 species during my time here, including 34 year ticks and 3 lifers – a satisfactory haul from two trips to Bedugul, single visits to Serangan Island and Nusa Dua, and a couple of short walks in the countryside around Ubud. The Bali Barat national park is much further afield, and I decided to forego making a trip out there this time. Ditto Uluwatu, where the only possible day for me to drive there coincided with a big religious festival and national holiday – definitely not the time to be anywhere near a major temple. So White-tailed Tropicbird will have to wait until my next visit.
Bedugul botanical gardens in the uplands of the center of the island is a very pleasant birding location, with cool temperatures and attractive parklands as well as decent opportunities to get into some primary forest. On my two visits here, I focused my attention on the hiking trail that leads uphill from the western road. To get there, turn left shortly after the entrance gate, and follow this westernmost road around, past the temple. Just after the first of two small bridges, a narrow trail leads uphill on the left. This trail passes through good forest, with some steep sections – I walked for about 2km but the trail continued so I cannot say how far it goes. The most frustrating experience in here was failing to see a Javan Banded Pitta, which was calling not far from the trail but in dense forest and I couldn’t find a good enough vantage point to have a realistic chance of seeing it.
Other birds that eluded me here included another potential lifer, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, which judging from the number of singing birds is common but evidently very hard to see. Lesser Shortwing also sings from everywhere but despite my best efforts to catch a glimpse of one (I didn’t have a tape, by the way), it had to remain on my “heard-only” year list.
A reliable target at Bedugul is Javan Whistling Thrush, which can usually be found in the early morning in the western section of the park. In my experience, this is THE classic early-morning roadside bird – conspicuous at first light but it seems to completely disappear after the first hour of daylight, in common with others of its genus (Taiwan Whistling Thrush has similar habits).
Bedugul highlights: Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Grey-cheeked Pigeon, Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo (heard only), Javan Banded Pitta (heard only), Rusty-breasted Whistler, Flame-fronted Barbet, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Sunda Warbler, Mees’s White-eye, Crescent-chested Babbler, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, Lesser Shortwing (heard only), Javan Whistling Thrush, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Short-tailed Starling.
Serangan Island is Bali’s prime shorebird site, and the place most likely to turn up a rarity. Australian birder Steve Jones watches it regularly, and I bumped into him on my visit, which was fortuitous as he was able to lead me to the best spot for Beach Thick-Knee. These enormous, impressive shorebirds are under threat from disturbance and habitat loss in much of their range. It is incredible they survive here – and indeed successfully bred this year – on a stony plain that appears heavily disturbed by cattle, farmers, passing fishermen, and even groups of teenagers on their motorcycles.
Another personal highlight was Oriental Plover, only my second-ever sighting of this species, while Javan Plover – an Indonesian endemic – is fairly common here.
I had a quick look at Nusa Dua sewage works later the same morning – the settling ponds and surrounding mangroves at this insalubrious spot are a reliable site for several key species including Cerulean Kingfisher, Olive-backed Tailorbird and Bar-winged Prinia, all of which made it onto my year list at this site although I failed to locate Island Collared-Dove here.
Serangan Island and Nusa Dua highlights: Sunda Teal, Beach Thick-Knee, Javan Plover, Oriental Plover, Far Eastern Curlew, Cerulean Kingfisher, White-shouldered Triller, White-breasted Woodswallow, Olive-backed Tailorbird, Bar-winged Prinia, Plain-throated Sunbird, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker.
Finally, the Ubud area provides some enjoyable and easy birding, with birds fairly abundant in the rice paddies and wooded gullies around the village. A prime target for many visiting birders is the spectacular Javan Kingfisher, whose loud call is omnipresent in the rice paddies. Actually seeing the bird well is much trickier, and it was only on my penultimate morning here that I finally had great views of one.
I didn’t connect with Java Sparrow or White-headed Munia, but felt more than amply compensated with good views of three Black-naped Fruit Doves along the Campuhan Ridge trail just outside Ubud – a fine way to round out my Bali trip.
Ubud highlights: Grey-cheeked Pigeon, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Brown-backed Needletail, Mossy-nest Swiftlet, Javan Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Javan Munia.
Bali lifers: Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Mossy-nest Swiftlet (total 2,132).
2016 Year List total: 833