This photographic trip took place over three weeks during February/March 2017. The visit proved to be very different in nature to any previous expeditions due to the unique situation in Wallacea. Overall the photography proved to be very difficult since the areas were generally forest, although often quite open, the birds were not abundant and when we were observing displays these took place early in the morning in poor light conditions. Much of the time was therefore spent searching for a specific bird in a known location rather than randomly observing birds while travelling around. The result was a fairly limited list of birds, many of which however are endemics. It has to be said that although there is a long list of endemics for Wallacea the taxonomic splitters have taken every opportunity to exploit geographical separation of the islands to create new species based on barely discernible differences. It has to be admitted that the title of this article is not entirely accurate, however, more than fifty percent of the birds photographed were endemic and very few of the remaining ones were familiar to us even with extensive experience of photographing birds in Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of Asia.
Wallacea is a collection of islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago first identified as an area of biological interest by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859. Wallace noted that there is a line of demarcation, the Wallace Line, which marks the rather abrupt change from Asiatiatic animal species to the west of the line to a mixture of Asian and Australian species to the east.The line he defined runs between Borneo and Sulawesi and through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. Even though the distance between Bali and Lombok is only 35 km the difference in the fauna is striking. Although Wallace did not understand the reason for such a clear biogeographical divide we now know that it resulted from the different origins of the land masses during tectonic plate movements in ancient times. Some indications of the original affiliations of the current islands can be seen from the depths of the sea between the groups of islands.
The visit to Wallacea had been due to start with a brief stay in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, however, a cancelled flight from Amsterdam to Jakarta resulted in a lost day and a start in Palu on Sulawesi instead. The time in Palu was largely spent in Lore Lindu National Park, where the first endemic species for Sulawesi were seen.The second destination on Sulawesi was the town of Manado at the northern tip of the island where Tangkoko National Park was the focus of our attention. Photography here was a little easier due to the more open forest canopy. It was here that our list of Kingfishers began to expand significantly. Of particular interest during this part of the trip was a visit to Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park where a conservation project is underway for the Maleo. This is a large bird which lays a single egg buried deep in the sand, which it then leaves to incubate and hatch unattended. The chick hatches after 90 days and can fly immediately and has to fend for itself without any parental care.
The next part of the tour involved flying onward from Manado to the volcanic island of Ternate (where Wallace spent much of his time) and then immediately transferring by boat to Sofifi on Halmahera. It was here that we saw our first members of the Bird-of-Paradise family, the Paradise Crow and Wallace’s Standardwing. Once again many of the birds seen were endemic to Halmahera.
Our final destination was Waigeo Island in West Papua, which was reached by flying from Ternate back to Manado and then on to Sorong on mainland West Papua. A two-hour ferry ride from Sorong took us to Waigeo, a major destination for scuba diving. It took great persistence and physical exertion here to add Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise and the Red Bird-of-Paradise to our photographic record together with a number of other interesting species including the marsupial Common Spotted Cuscus and the Western Crowned-Pigeon. Returning from Sorong to Makassar en route for Jakarta and the journey home permitted some time to see a few more interesting endemic species in the area close to Makassar.
Author: Roger Marchant
Photographs: Roger Marchant (except Wilson's Bird of Paradise)