Sulawesi, 2009

Sulawesi

Bunaken National Marine Park

I traveled to Bunaken the day I arrived in Indonesia.  I only saw a couple fruit bats that I could not ID and a Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus in a cage.  Every local I talked to insisted that the Cuscus did not occur on the island.  There are a few marine mammals that are often sited offshore.  Pantropical Spinner Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphins, False Killer Whales, Melon-headed Whales, Common Dolphins, Pilot Whales, and Dugongs are all possible.  Only the first two and possibly the Pilot Whales are common.  Another island, Manado Tua seems to be the place for the Dwarf Cuscus.  When foreign film crews want to film them, the locals take them there or acquire the Cuscuses there.  I don’t think there is any accommodation on the island, but home stays can be arranged.  A guide I talked to said to give yourself three days to have a good chance of seeing them.

Nantu Forest

My primary reason for visiting Sulawesi was to find Babirusa.  Nantu is the best place to see them.  It was time consuming to arrange, with a 2  hour interview for an entry permit and then another 1 ½ hours for a police permision to travel in the countryside permit.  The latter I doubt is necessary and I think was just another way to get a little more money out of me.  From Gorontalo it was a 3 ½ hour car ride, 2 km on a motorbike, a 3 hour boat ride, another 15 minutes on a motorbike, and then a half hour hike, and a short swim across a river.  This should be eliminated by the end of 2009.  They were paving a road to where we got out of the boat.  If they build a bridge it will be just a car ride plus the walk and swim.    It was mandatory to use a forest department guide, but that was ok as I wouldn’t have found the place without him.  His name was Rhamat Biki and he spoke decent English.  I speak no Indonesian.  I stayed at the ranger station and ate with them.  It was the most primitive place I’ve stayed, but was good enough for me.  There were Heck’s Macaques around camp every day as well as Sulawesi Wild Pigs.  In the evening I spot lighted 2 Timor Deer across the river.  The next morning we went to the blind above the salt licks and waited.  The first few smelled us before we saw them.  Then we heard a lot of squealing, so we went and checked it out.  We came upon a group of 6-8 Babirusa, 3 males, 3 females, and some young.  One of the young was badly injured by a male and probably died, as it didn’t flee with the rest.  It was still alive, but didn’t move even as we stood next to it.   After that I saw several Babirusa every time I went to the blind.  I had long, satisfactory views.

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On the way to the blind I saw a few squirrels, probably  Northern Dwarf Squirrel.  There are apparently two common squirrels that Biki referred to as big squirrel and little squirrel.   I ended up having about 35 Babirusa sightings in 2 ½ days.  My guide said that was pretty unlucky, as it usually much better.  Lowland Anoa, Bear Cuscus, and Spectral Tarsier are all possible here.  I heard the Tarsiers one night.

Togean Islands

There are several species of dolphins around, with Risso’s Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Melon-headed Whales, and Pantropical Spinner Dolphins regularly.  A pod of Killer Whales passed thru within the last couple of years.  All the guide books saw Dugongs are common here, but the locals tell a different story.  Most fishermen have either seen 1 ever or none, at least the ones I talked to.
Kadidiri Island –  I stayed here a night before heading to Melenge Island.  I was showed a few places where Babirusa hang out and saw several tracks, but did not see any Babirusa.   Apparently to see Babirusa there, they have to be harvesting coconuts, then they come in and eat them as they are drying.  I did see a pod of Pantropical Spinner Dolphins while sitting on the porch of my room. I was told, dolphins are regular, but not seen everyday.  Normally they are Spotted Dolphins of some sort.

Melenge Island – Melenge is the island to go to for mammals in the Togeans.  I only searched for Babirusa and Togean Macaques once, but found both.  My guide Eowon found me a female Babirusa at close range within 50 minutes.  We then went into the coconut plantations to look for the macaques.  There was a heavy downpour for an hour and then after another two hours we found three Togean Macaques.  I had slightly obscured, but good long views of three of them.  The small tail was clearly visible.    That night Eowon took me to look for tarsiers.  We were not successful, so I tried the next night with the same luck.  I then moved to Lestari Bungalows on the other side of the island.  I was provided an old Baju man, Amil, as a guide.  He found them, but we were never able to get a light on them.  There were at least 6 calling from all around us.  We tried the next three nights, but never heard them again.  We heard Babirusa at close range every night, but I never got a light on them.  I was told Bear Cuscus were quite common until a fire a few years back and now they are very difficult to find.  There is a bat cave that I visited twice.  I have not figured out Ids on any of them yet, but I have pictures of I would guess 2-4 species of fruit bat and two smaller species.  Bats are hunted in this cave and fly as soon as a light goes on them.  There are tons of bats here still.  I don’t think they shoot them, just club them.

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Tangkoko

This small park is only about 2 hours from Manado.   The main attractions are the Black Crested Macaques and the Spectral Tarsiers.  Both were pretty easy to see.

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Bear Cuscus can be found with a bit of looking.

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I also saw Northern Dwarf Squirrel and Lesser False Vampire Bats and a species of fruit bat in a hollow tree.

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Having a guide here is mandatory.  Don’t say you’re a birder as they charge more for that.  A birder I talked to saw another species of squirrel, a large rat, and a Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus.  The Dwarf Cuscus was seen while looking for owls at night.   Babirusa are extripated from the park.  Lowland Anoa are thought to still occur, but the lead ranger said “You might find an anoa or you might find god, the odds are about the same.”

Species List

  1. Babirusa
  2. Sulawesi Wild Pig
  3. Timor Deer
  4. Bear Cuscus
  5. Spectral Tarsier
  6. Heck’s Macaque
  7. Togean Macaque
  8. Black Crested Macaque
  9. Northern Dwarf Squirrel
  10. Lesser False Vampire Bat
  11. Pantropical Spinner Dolphin
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India, 2010

India, 2010

Jan 4th thru Jan 27th

I arrived back in India in late December, but didn’t head out until early January.  I basically had two main goals in mind, see Gharials and Tigers.   After looking at Jon’s site I decided my first stop should be the Chambal River Lodge.

Chambal River

My main goal here was the Gharials, but I did pretty well on mammals as well.  I saw my first non-feral Rhesus Macaques on the bus ride in.  I took an afternoon boat trip and saw plenty of Gharial, as well as the backs of some Ganges River Dolphins.  A couple Nilgai and a Jungle Cat rounded out the trip.

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That night I arranged a night drive in hopes of finding a Hyena.  We saw plenty of Golden Jackals but no Hyena.  They did teach me a good method, which I used everywhere I could for the rest of the trip.  They took me to places with carrion.  The better place was where butchered cows were dumped.  The other location was near some temples with human bodies in the river being the bait.  We saw no bodies, but there was an unidentified eyeshine that could have been a jackal or a hyena near the temple.  I walked around in the yard when I got back and saw another Jungle Cat and an Indian Hare.   The next day I went down to the river for a walk along it.  The only mammals were a  Gray Mongoose and a Five-striped Palm Squirrel on the side of the road.

Bharatpur

I stopped here to break up my trip.  The park was quite dry, but there were several mammals that were easy to see, Nilgai, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Rhesus Macaque, and Golden Jackals were everywhere.

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In the late afternoon I saw a Jungle Cat briefly.  If you’re facing the main gate, turn to your right and walk until you smell the dead cows.  This is a great place for Golden Jackals at night.  I saw 26 at one time.  I was told that Striped Hyenas are quite possible there, but I did not see them.  I saw a Common Palm Civet on the wall of the park as I walked to the dumping site.

Ranthambhor

This was my first realistic attempt at Tigers.   I stayed for a couple days and went on the afternoon Canter rides, as the mornings were quite foggy.  Nilgai, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Wild Pigs, and Hanuman Langurs were all very common.

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The only lucky sighting I had here was a Leopard, which the guide said is quite rare.  Five-striped Ground Squirrels and Rhesus Macaques were also seen as well as a Gray Mongoose on the way out.

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Bandhavgahr

After a miserable few days of travel, I arrived at Bandhavgahr, to find that the price of jeeps was out of my range, and that there were almost no backpackers in town.  The first night I found someone to take me on a night drive outside the park and found a Jungle Cat.  The next evening I had the idea to just show up where the jeeps waited in line and see if anyone would let me hop in.  The second one I asked was happy to take me for paying an even share.  They said they were only looking for Tigers and wouldn’t be stopping for anything else.  Within 10 minutes of entering the park I was within a few feet of a large male Tiger.

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We watched him for about 10 minutes and then headed off to look for more.  We didn’t find any that night, but we did see the typical Spotted Deer, Sambar, Hanuman Langurs, Wild Pigs, and Rhesus Macaques.  The next morning I shared a jeep with 3 backpackers.  We saw nothing of note until a Golden Jackal and a lot of vultures towards the end.

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Just as we pulled out of the park a young male Tiger crossed the road in front of us giving about a 2  minute view.  I left that afternoon.

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After being frustrated by cold and Indian travel inconveniences I bought a train ticket all the way to the southern tip of India.  I didn’t plan to go that far, but I wanted options.  I ended up getting out in Coimbatore and decided to go to Eravikulam in Kerala.  I was over public transport, so I got a cab for the journey.  I saw the typical monkeys and Wild Pigs along the way, as well as a perfectly posed bull Asian Elephant with huge tusks.  However the driver would not stop for it.  He pretended to not understand, but I’m pretty sure he did.

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Eravikulam NP

This park is beautiful, but a huge disappointment.  There is only a 1 km, paved trail that you are allowed to walk on.  The rest is closed as far as I can tell.  Luckily the Nilgiri Tahr hang out along the path and are tame.  I actually saw people pet them.

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I stopped by Indira Gandhi NP on the way out, only thing good were the Nilgiri Langurs.  I also saw an Indian Hare, which I hadn’t seen the time before.   I also saw a Small Indian Mongoose and some Gray Mongooses out the windows of trains and buses.

Species List

  1. Bengal Tiger
  2. Leopard
  3. Jungle Cat
  4. Golden Jackal
  5. Common Palm Civet
  6. Gray Mongoose
  7. Small Indian Mongoose
  8. Ganges River Dolphin
  9. Nilgiri Langur
  10. Hanuman Langur
  11. Bonnet Macaque
  12. Rhesus Macaque
  13. Indian Elephant
  14. Nilgiri Tahr
  15. Nilgai
  16. Spotted Deer
  17. Sambar
  18. Wild Pig
  19. Five-striped Palm Squirrel
  20. Three-striped Palm Squirrel
  21. Indian Hare
  22. Indian Flying-fox
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Sri Lanka ’09

Dec 12th 2009 to Dec 29th 2009
This was my first trip to Sri Lanka.  I was traveling with my neighbor Rachel and her coworker Morgan, so I didn’t do quite as much mammal watching as I would have on my own.   We flew into Colombo, where we stayed the first night and I saw my first Indian Flying-foxes.

Anuradhapura

The next morning we arranged a car and driver and headed for the ruins at Anuradhapura.  We arrived in the rain well after dark.  The next morning we toured the ruins and saw a colony of Fulvous Rousettes at the first site.  I forget which site it was, but if I ever figure it out, I’ll edit this.  The bats were on the left hand side of a structure and were quite obvious, any guide should know about them.  Hanuman Langurs and Toque Macaques were common throughout the sites.

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Over the next couple days we hit a a few more cultural sites, but I saw nothing new.  Part of this was because the driver was afraid of the forest and would get drunk when we got to the hotel to avoid going out at night.   This was especially disappointing at Sigiriya, as other trip reports indicate some impressive species there.

Kandy

There were several Indian Flying-foxes roosted around the lake.

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Uda Walawe National Park

We went on one evening here.  We saw plenty of Asian Elephants and Spotted Deer, and a few Golden Jackals, Hanuman Langurs, and Toque Macaques.  Unless you just love Elephants, skip this place and spend the extra time at Yala.

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Sinharaja, Diniyaya

As the other entrance seemed a little more difficult to get to by public transport, we chose Diniyaya.  This was probably a mistake as far as mammal watching goes, but I did see a few species, some of them lifers.  I went for a night walk along the road out of town and did pretty well for being on foot.  We started out with a Short-nosed Fruit Bat in a palm tree and then an Eurasian River Otter in the drainage ditch nest to us.  About an hour later we also saw an Indian Flying-Fox, a Small Indian Civet, and a Common Palm Civet.  The next day we went on the tour into the forest.  It was a flop mammal wise, with only a couple of Giant Squirrels and a few Palm Squirrels.  I did however see a Ruddy Mongoose cross the road on the way there.

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Yala

Yala had by far the best wildlife watching we encountered in Sri Lanka.  Rachel and I arrived in the late afternoon and arranged for a trip into the park the next day.  Turns out the guys we arranged it with were a bit shady, so I won’t recommend them, but the guide was good and the trip went well.  We left at the right time, but apparently enough rangers did not show up,  so we were delayed at the gate for over an hour.  In the end we were allowed to continue without a ranger, but we had lost the early morning hour with only seeing Indian Flying-foxes.  I didn’t matter, our guide was good.  Within an hour we had our first of 5 Leopards.

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Throughout the day we saw several Spotted Deer, Sambar, Palm SquirrelsHanuman Langurs, Toque Macaques, and Wild Pigs.  At one of the stops I saw the dry forest subspecies of the Grizzled Squirrel.

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Directly after lunch we stopped at a group of jeeps who had seen a Leopard.  The Leopard walked out of the trees and stayed in the area for about 5 minutes.  As it left, two more Leopards appeared near it in the distance.  3 Leopards at once!

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As it got later in the day we picked up a few Asian Elephants, a Ruddy Mongoose, and a Black-naped Hare.

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We closed the day with one last Leopard, surrounded by 20+ jeeps, all fighting for position.  We didn’t stay, as this was our 5th Leopard and many of the Jeeps hadn’t seen one yet.

The next night we went on a night drive in the area around Yala and then over to Bundala.  The moon was a bit of an issue, but we did see several of the common species as well as a Small Indian Civit and a lifer Indian Gerbil.  There were also a few Black Turtles on the road, which I was quite happy to see as well.

Kottawa Conservation Forest

After missing Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys in Sinharaja, this small reserve outside of Unawatuna was my last resort.  I arrived and found it closed.  I did make my way into an unsigned area and found some Toque Macaques and Giant Squirrels.  On my way out, I heard and tracked down one Purple-faced Leaf Monkey.  When I returned to Unawatuna  there were several in the trees at my guesthouse.

Unawatuna

We stopped thru here a couple times.  I found a bat cave full of Fulvous Rousettes.  To get there, head west along the beach, climbing on the rocks.  It’s loud and smells, you can’t miss it.   There were Palm Squirrels and Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys in the trees of our guesthouse, Black Beauty.

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Whale Watching

Sperm Whales and Blue Whales are both regular off the southern coast in December and April, I believe.  The trips are quite expensive and none had been seen in 6 days when I inquired, so I didn’t go.

Species List

  1. Leopard
  2. Golden Jackal
  3. Ruddy Mongoose
  4. Eurasian River Otter
  5. Common Palm Civit
  6. Small Indian Civit
  7. Asian Elephant
  8. Sambar
  9. Spotted Deer
  10. Wild Pig
  11. Hanuman Langur
  12. Purple-faced Leaf Monkey
  13. Toque Macaque
  14. Black-naped Hare
  15. Grizzled Squirrel
  16. Palm Squirrel
  17. Indian Gerbil
  18. Fulvous Rousette
  19. Indian Short-nosed Fruit Bat
  20. Indian Flying-fox
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India, Tamil Nadu

Dec 3rd 2009 to Dec 12th 2009

This was my first trip to India.  My neighbor recently moved to Chennai, so I figured this would be a good time to visit.  The first day I was in Chennai I saw a Three-striped Palm Squirrel and a few small bats at dusk.  I spent a few days uneventfully in Chennai before heading out on a quick trip to the Western Ghats.   I  booked a car, train ticket, and hotel from a shopping mall travel agency.  Good move on the car and train, but the hotel was way over charged and not where I wanted to be.    My first train in India ended up arriving 8 hours late, most of which I spent sleeping on the floor of the train station.  It was another 2 hours late by the time I arrived in Coimbatore.  My driver was waiting for me on the platform with a larger car than expected.   My driver ended up being great company and really willing to put in the extra effort.  He had an Indian name I had never heard before and have since forgotten.  That’s unfortunate, as if I were returning, I’d hire him again in a second.   It was late afternoon so we headed to Pollachi to check into the hotel.  It was too late to enter the park, so we headed up the Valpari road for some nice views and some Bonnet Macaques.    The next morning we were the first and only ones in line waiting for the gate to open at Indira Ghandi National Park.  The gate opens at 7 am, rather than the advertised 6 am.  It worked out though, as we saw a pair of Sloth Bears cross the road 10 minutes in.  Next were a few Hanuman Langurs followed by great views of my first Gaur, with Spotted Deer and Nilgiri Langurs at the top.

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I went into the tourist office and inquired about my target, Lion-tailed Macaques.  They said they didn’t typically see them there, and they are more common near Valpari.  There is a troop in an isolated forest patch that is acclimated to humans there.  Luckily I had done some research and began asking about specific Sholas.  I mentioned Anakundi Shola and was told I needed permission to go there.  Permission  was a quick minute walk and 2 minute talk.    As we were getting ready to leave with our guide, an Indian couple asked to join us.  I said yes as we had the room and we headed off.  Turns out one of them was Ravi Kailas, who guides for wildlife tours.  They both knew quite a lot about where to look for Indian wildlife, I however didn’t write down most of the great advice they gave me.  I don’t know what I was thinking.    It was about a 2 hour drive thru the park to the Shola where we hiked around in hopes of finding Lion-taileds.  We missed them, but did briefly see a Brown Mongoose, Gaur, and a few troops of Nilgiri Langurs.  At this point I had a choice between going to Ervakulam NP for Nilgiri Tahr, and then hit the acclimated Lion-taileds at Valpari, or go Varagaliar Shola deeper in the park.  I chose Varagaliar, and we headed in the next day with a new guide.  I would have preferred the first guide, as the new one coughed loudly and smoked most of the time, but nothing could be done.  It was a longer drive, maybe 3 hours in, with a couple stops to help locals by transporting stuff for them.  I think this is mandatory on a trip in.  Upon arriving at Varagaliar, we immediately found the Lion-tailed Macaques.  They are as impressive as the Sulawesi Macaques if not more so.

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I watched them for an hour or so, and then we walked down the road to the border of the district we were in.  I have never been in a more pleasant forest.  There was a light breeze, no bugs, and a fresh flowery smell on the air.   There were Tiger tracks and porcupine quills on the trail. On the way back we stopped at the Macaques again and there was a Malabar Giant Squirrel with them.

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After that we dropped off the ranger and headed out.  I don’t think you’re supposed to stop on the road, but my driver didn’t seem to mind, so I checked out most of the culverts under the road.  Several of them had Lesser Wooly Horseshoe Bats.

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There were also some geckos, some of which I was later informed are currently undescribed.  When we were no more than 2 k from being out of the park, we rounded the corner and saw a large mammal I didn’t recognize.  After a second I realized it was about 8 Dhole hanging off the side of a buck Sambar.  They broke off the attack when we stopped and stayed around the Sambar.  The Sambar was done for, they just needed to finish it.

India - SrL 1 231 As they were getting ready to attack again, a bus full of Indians passed us honking, stopped in front of the Sambar, (Dholes have disappeared now) got out, and proceeded to take pictures with their cell phones from 5 feet in front of the Sambar.  They made me miss a kill.  I was quite frustrated, but at least I saw the Dholes.  We then proceeded to Ciombatore where my train was on time.  I was back in Chennai for one day to get ready for Sri Lanka.

Species

  1. Sloth Bear
  2. Dhole
  3. Brown Mongoose
  4. Lesser Woolly Horseshoe Bat
  5. Gaur
  6. Spotted Deer
  7. Sambar
  8. Wild Pig
  9. Lion-tailed Macaque
  10. Bonnet Macaque
  11. Nilgiri Langur
  12. Hanuman Langur
  13. Three-striped Palm Squirrel
  14. Malabar Giant Squirrel
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