Misool and the search for Bernstein’s Lory – By Mehd Halaouate Birdingindonesia 11-2017
After having found the Rajah Lories in the Fakfak and Bomberai region we, Bob Jackson and I had one subspecies left to look for in the wild, the Bernstein’s Lory Chalcopsitta atra bernsteini and for that we had to travel to Misool island, one of the Rajah Ampat islands or the Papuan Western Islands.
We have also seen these Lories both in the birdmarket and in the Birdpark in Bali. They are beautiful birds with a more bluish tin in the feathers except wing feathers which they have a rusty brown shine. The thighs are more of very dark red coloration. In a good light they look just stunning.
Getting to Misool:
We had few days left so we decided to give this trip a try. We flew from Fakfak back to Sorong city and spent one night in a shabby hotel as most of the good accommodation was fully booked due to a big national meeting in the city. Delegations and representatives came from all over Indonesia to attend. We checked so many hotels before we found one that could give us 2 beds for one night only as the next day they were fully booked. That was enough for us as the next day we would be on a speedboat heading for Misool.
The speedboat trip started around midday and took more than 5 hours cutting through amazing atoll islands and some colorful vast reef areas. The weather was good so there wasn’t much of disturbances.
The boat stopped in 2 small islands before it arrived to our destination, Fafanlap village, just before dark. The village looked too crowded for our taste and the forest behind the village was all logged so we explored the possibilities to get to another location. We asked around and soon we connected with a local who came from another location to pick up his daughter, she came with the same boat. We boarded his longboat and soon we were on our way to his village. It took us another 30 minutes before we arrived to a village called Lilinta.
As it was already dark we needed to find a place for the night. We did as we always do, asked to meet with the head of the village. The man offered to give us shelter for the night so we accepted his offer. His wife cooked us some rice, vegetables and fish. After dinner we started discussing with this man the reason for our visit, finding the Black Lories. He informed us that one of his neighbors has 2 birds that he keep free flying in his house and we can visit him if we wanted to see them.
Nothing to think about and soon we were knocking on this neighbor’s door.
This guy had a beautiful pair of Bernstein’s Lories and their story is just sweet. He got the first one as a baby brought from a nest in the forest. He continued the hand-feeding and never chained it or kept it in a cage. The bird got used to the family and soon started to fly further and further from the house but always came back before dark. The family gave this Lory food when it comes back which consists of warm sweetened rice with coconut milk and bananas from time to time. The same thing early in the morning before it flies to the forest to never be seen during the day. He was offered another chick for a small change. He did the same thing with the new bird which was smaller and now he has what we think a pair of healthy happy birds with the freedom to fly as they wish.
We were amazed how stunning and healthy these birds were considering the diet they were fed on but they did feed on nectar and berries in the forest.
We took few shots and thanked the man for his hospitality. We asked if it was alright to come and visit before the birds leave for the forest. It wasn’t an issues but informed us that we had to be early.
Early the next morning we visited again and the birds were having breakfast. They took their time and preened each other for a while before they decided to fly away. It was a great experience to witness as they flew fast between the electric wires and landed in some trees a distance away. They flew around the village for a short time before they were gone out of site.
We asked around for a local to take us to the forest close by for some birdwatching. An old man who used to be a hunter accepted to show us around.
The trail started just behind the village through some very disturbed forest with no tall trees left. I guess they were all logged for building houses and boats. There were few bird species around but not that many parrots. We saw Rufous-bellied Kookaburras, Frilled Monarchs, a King bird of paradise, Papuan Hornbills, few Rainbow Lorikeets, Eclectus Parrots, Red-cheeked Parrots and Large Fig parrots. We heard few Bernstein’s Lories calling from a distance but didn’t manage to locate where they were perched. We flushed a Western Crowned Pigeon, they usually when flushed fly a small distance and then perch giving possibilities for good views and photos but this one flew far and fast. The local guide wasn’t that good in spotting the birds so we had to do ourselves.
The Bernstein’s Lories were present but not the way we were hoping for, they were always on the move and very difficult for us to get any decent photographs. So we decided that we would try to find another forest where there are more birds.
Before the trip I asked some friends who have birded Misool region and I was given names of good locations for that. We picked one and decided to ask the locals to get us there.
We agreed on a price and the owner of the house where we stayed accepted to take us on his longboat. His wife prepared lunch for us and we gave a donation as a token of our appreciation for given us shelter and food.
The place or the village we decided to try is called Kapacol (pronounced Kapachol). It took us more than an hour to get there. As soon as we arrived we visited the head of the village and discussed the reason for our visit and that we wanted to spend 2 nights in his village. He offered us accommodation and we bought few food items for his wife to cook for us. We were surprised that the locals live by the sea but very few were interested to do some fishing. We said that we would buy the fish if they had some. We lived on rice, noodles and vegetables.
Behind the village there was a steep climb if we wanted to do some forest birding. The locals suggested that the best place to find the Lories was a longboat drive up a river where there are many coconut palms and where the birds have been seeing in few occasions feeding on the coconut flowers. That sounded good to us and the next day with the head of the village and few locals we took the longboat to this location. We trip took us close to the shore for about 20 minutes before we entered a river with mangrove forest on both sides. After another 2o minutes we started going through some Bananas gardens. The river stared to get shallower and shallower so we decided to continue by foot.
We arrived to some coconut trees but we couldn’t hear any Lories.
We continued through the farms and the remaining patches of forest. We saw few Bernstein’s Lories flying by but not a single one perched. I guess we were there in the wrong season too.
Plenty of Eclectus, Red-cheeked Parrots and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos around.
We were still satisfied to have found them and seen them flying in a reasonably good numbers.
We always discuss with the locals these species and the best time to see them fairly easy and in good numbers. In the case of both the Rajahs and the Bernstein’s and according to the people who live in these regions the best time to get good views of these birds is during the breeding season which starts around end of April and through to June July.
Because of the short time we had in the region we didn’t give the species a fair chance to show its beauty. Maybe the best way to go is spending a week or so in each site during the breeding season. A very good reason to come back to these paradise-like locations.
The next day, after our river trip, we thought we head back to Sorong to make sure that we make our flight back to Bali. In these areas things can happen unexpectedly and bad weather can put a stop to all travel. Being stuck in these islands when there is a storm is horrible experience. I have suffered through that few times to know that it is best to careful and plan ahead.
Although we didn’t get the photographs we were hoping for or good possibilities to get these but we are still happy to witness these stunning species in their element and in fairly good numbers. Now we know what to expect so the next trip will be a longer and well prepared one.
Like my friend Bob Jackson says before any trip we embark on: BRING IT ON.