Con and I went to Kerinci-Seblat National Park in Sumatra for birding. The places birders go to in this national park are usually Mt Kerinci (>1800 m elevation) and Tapan Road (<1500 m elevation). Click here for maps of these two places.
As Con mentioned, "In a nutshell the logistics consist of getting tickets to Padang, and contacting Subandi. He does the rest. It is really that easy." Hence, I would just add a few comments.
- Wear waterproof footwear and bring an extra pair. We met with rain almost everyday late afternoon and the rain lasted for hours. The main trail on Mt Kerinci turned into a stream when this happened. As for Tapan Road, I wore sandals without issue.
- Wear layered clothing. It was rather chilly in the morning. As you climb Mt Kerinci, you will get warmed up. I started with three layers and was down to my t-shirt halfway through. The outermost layer should preferably be waterproof with long sleeves as you might need to walk in side trails with wet vegetation. As for Tapan Road, two layers is sufficient.
- Rooms: All four guest rooms are en-suite with ceiling lights. However, you will need to bring your own toilet papers. There are no mirrors in the room.
- There were no leeches on Mt Kerinci. At Tapan Road, you mainly bird along the road, hence no leeches. However, you might need to walk into a few of the side trails (at most tens of metres in) for pittas and Marbled Wren-babbler. Con encountered a grand total of 2 leeches.
- No mosquitoes were encountered throughout the trip.
- There were some pesky flies when we attempted to wait out the rain at Pos 3 (Camp Cochoa) Shelter.
- The guides are great with the endemics and near-endemics, but be prepared to ID the small birds (like flycatchers, warblers) and raptors.
- Do alternate days of Mt Kerinci and Tapan Road to give your body (and knees) some rest.
15 Mar - Day 1 (Padang to Kersik Tua)
The first day was spent travelling. A few years back, you could fly straight from Singapore to Padang, but now you have to transit at Jakarta. Upon reaching Padang, a car was waiting for us and then it was a 7-hour ride to Subandi's Homestay at Kersik Tua (or Kersik Tuo or Keresik Tuo...) The only bird of note was a Black Eagle in flight. The highlight, however, was a Large Flying Fox in flight.
16 Mar - Day 2 (Mt Kerinci)
As Subandi had guests to guide, his son-in-law guided us instead (Coincidentally, I have met one of Subandi's guests, Cagan, in 2005 at Changi Cove!) After clearing the tea plantations and vegetable farms, we reached the forest edge. Just 15 mins into the forest, we encountered one of the mega endemics of Mt Kerinci - a male Schneider's Pitta! Our guide saw it a few metres away on the trail, but it quickly took flight and landed on an open perch a short distance away. Con's camera was still in his bag! Fortunately, it stayed long enough for Con to set up his camera and snapped a grand total of 5 photos. The Schneider's Pitta looks like a Giant Pitta, but sounds totally different and is smaller. We were really lucky as the bird never show up again for the rest of the trip, although it was heard again.
The Lesser Shortwing subspecies leucophris here is different from the Peninsula Malaysia subspecies wrayi - both sexes are brown instead of dimorphic. Eye-browed Wren-babbler was a lifer for me, whereas Con has seen it in Thailand. Pygmy Wren-babblers were also encountered along the way.
At Pos 1 (Base Camp) Shelter, a few Three-striped Ground Squirrels kept us company while a pair of highly vocal endemic Rusty-breasted Wren-babblers sang their hearts out. The other squirrel we encountered was a Low's Squirrel. The forest also echoed with Siamang howls.
The common flycatcher here is the Snowy-browed Flycatcher. You can see it at eye level. The common mid-canopy flycatcher here is the Grey-headed Flycatcher.
We saw these in bird waves: Grey-chinned Minivet, Golden Babbler, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-throated Fantail and Blue Nuthatch. These bird could also be found at Fraser's Hill in Peninsula Malaysia. Other Fraser's Hill birds here were Collared Owlet (heard only), Long-tailed Sibia and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush.
At Pos 2 (Air Minum), there is no shelter, but a big signboard. Nothing special here today. Moving on, a highly responsive male White-browed Shortwing played with us a bit.
Next, at Pos 3 (Camp Cochoa) Shelter, we had our lunch. After that we saw a Sunda Bush Warbler. It was rather active in the undergrowth and very vocal. The next endemic was a Shiny Whistling Thrush. We did not have good view of the other endemic - Sumatran Drongo (that will have to wait till Day 5 at Tapan Road.) Another mega endemic - Sumatran Cochoa - was heard-only at Burnt Tree. We never connected with it for the whole trip...
While Con waited at Burnt Tree, I followed our guide to the First Shelter, which has no shelter! It is so called because there used to be a shelter there. At 2400 m elevation, this was the highest we went. The highlights here were Mountain White-eyes feeding on fruits and a female Rufous-vented Niltava. The guide saw Sumatran Green Pigeon and Orange-spotted Bulbul, but for Con and me, these will have to wait till Tapan Road. We also got migrant Siberian and Eyebrowed Thrushes.
Somewhere between Burnt Tree and First Shelter, our guide showed me a tree with scratch marks. He said those were made by Sun Bear!
At around 3:30 pm, the dark clouds moved in and soon it started pouring. We took about 9 hours to get to the First Shelter and it took us about 2 hours to rush down to the forest edge in the downpour. The trail turned into a gushing stream! I got a bad left knee after that... Fortunately, we were doing Tapan Road the next day. Due to the rain, no night birding tonight.
17Mar - Day 3 (Tapan Road)
Tapan Road is about two hours' drive from the homestay, so we woke rather early. We started the day with the endemic Sumatran Treepie and Sumatran Green Pigeon. The treepies are fairly common. We saw them on all 3 days at Tapan Road. You will probably hear them before seeing them. The pigeons are also fairly common, although we did not see them on the last day at Tapan Road.
Soon we encountered a bird wave of Blue Nuthatch, Oriental White-eye, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Grey-chinned Minivet, White-throated Fantail, Grey-headed Flycatcher and White-browed Shrike-babbler. The guide pointed out an endemic female Blue-masked Leafbird, but the view was brief. The Oriental White-eye has more extensive yellow on belly and paler flanks than the Mountain White-eye. The Grey-headed Flycatcher is the more common flycatcher here.
Other common birds here are Barred and Little Cuckoo Doves, as well as Orange-bellied Flowerpecker.
Fire-tufted and Black-browed Barbets were very common and highly vocal.
Next up, one of the mega endemics of Tapan Road - Graceful Pitta. The guide brought us to a gully and whistled one out. The rather tame bird was just a metre or so away from us! It looks and sounds like a Garnet Pitta. Later in the day, we went to another gully and saw its inhabitant too. According to Subandi, there should be one Graceful Pitta in every gully!
After enjoying great view of the pitta, we headed for the first Marbled Wren-babbler gully and saw not one, but two of them! However, good views were rare. They kept calling during the hour or so we were there, but they just would not show themselves well to us. Nevertheless, we were glad to finally nail this skulker.
The endemic Spot-necked and Cream-striped Bulbuls are common birds of Tapan Road. A word of note is in order regarding the Cream-striped Bulbul. In the MacKinnon and Phillipps field guide, Cream-striped Bulbul is described as having pale eyes, while Sunda Bulbul red eyes. However, as you can see from the photo below, Cream-striped Bulbul does have red eye. The key features telling them apart from Sunda Bulbul are the crest, pale throat and white streaks on the back. So this whole trip, we did not have any confirmed sightings of the Sunda Bulbul.
We heard a Collared Owlet which sounded close. When it flushed then we realised how close it was. It was just a few metres up on a roadside tree. Some recognise this as a separate species Sumatran Owlet. It was also nice to saw the near-endemic Sunda Cuckooshrike found only on Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
We made it passed Bridge 2 but did not go far. When backtracking on Tapan Road, we ran into Subandi. Cagan has seen another mega endemic of Tapan Road - Sumatran Peacock Pheasant - running across the road! Wish we had the luck too... On the way back to the homestay, we met with rain again, but fortunately we were in the car this time. I think it took us about 3 hours to reach the homestay.
18Mar - Day 4 (Mt Kerinci)
After easy birding on Tapan Road, it was back to Mt Kerinci. While Con stayed at the Base Camp to stalk out the pitta, I followed the guide up the trail. Today, Maroon Woodpeckers were rather active. Other new birds for the trip were Sunda Minivet, Sunda Warbler, male Rufous-vented Niltava and Indigo Flycatcher.
We met Subandi at Air Minum. While chatting with Cagan and his partner, the guides suddenly alerted us to a calling endemic Red-billed Partridge. It was calling from the dry riverbed and it was close. However, despite great effort to whistle it out and crossing the dry riverbed, tracking through the thickets, the bird did not show. While we bashed in the thicket, a pair of Sunda Laughingthrushes were laughing noisy at us. Next, my guide took me to the other trail at Air Minum and after some effort, viola! A Red-billed Partridge responded and ran on the trail giving great view. However, it was too fast for photography.
Continuing on, somewhere before reaching the Burnt Tree, my guide spotted some movement at eye level by the side of the trail. It was a night bird in daytime roost. The bird was just a metre or so from us! After some discussion, it is identified as a Mountain Scops Owl. However, if anyone can turn it into a Rajah Scops Owl, I would be happy to hear.
Moving further up towards the First Shelter, we sensed the rain was coming. So it was time to descent. When we reached Pos 3 shelter, we decided to wait out the rain. Big mistake! The rain never stopped and the trail turned into a stream again... Oh well, here we go again. My bad knee came back halfway through. While I endured the pain, relief came in the form of a male endemic Salvadori's Pheasant perched on a branch overhead. How did the guide spot it in the rain and darkness?? He also saw two Golden Cats crossing the trail. Since we were close to the Base Camp, my guide went to get Con. Meanwhile I setup my camera in the rain and snapped some photos. After a while, my guide returned informing that Con had bailed out before the heavy rain. The rain continued through the night, so no night birding again.
19Mar - Day 5 (Tapan Road)
Today, we were back at Tapan Road and finally had Subandi as our guide. We have not seen a single trogon yet! So this was our target and Con wanted to take better photos of the pitta. I was also after the Giant Swiftlet, so I kept looking up. However, throughout the whole trip I never connected with it; just the other swiftlet species and a Fork-tailed Swift. According to previous trip reports, Glossy Swiftlets are common, but I found it to be rare. Nevertheless, those efforts looking up did return some consolations in the form of raptors, namely Crested Serpent Eagles and Blyth's Hawk Eagles.
Our next target bird was an endemic Sumatran Drongo. Followed by a flowering tree attracting Blue-masked Leafbirds, Temminck's Sunbirds, Oriental White-eyes and endemic bulbuls.
Before the trip, Con and I were wondering when the breeding season is on Sumatra. I guess we cleared our doubts, as we saw a pair of nesting Long-tailed Broadbills, two pairs of nesting Ashy Drongos, mating Whiskered Treeswifts and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes carrying nesting materials.
Left: Ashy Drongo - a very common bird at Tapan Road. Right: Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike carrying nesting material
Finally at around 4 pm, we saw a Sumatran Trogon. After playing with it for a while, we discovered there was a family of four in that area. While Con was snapping away, I took a walk and found a group of at least three Bushy-crested Hornbills.
On the way out, we saw a band of endemic Mitred Leaf Monkeys (aka Sumatran Surilis). The guide called it Banded Langur, which is a name reserved for another species.
20Mar - Day 6 (Tapan Road)
It was back to Tapan Road again. First target bird today showed up in the form of a near-endemic Orange-spotted Bulbul. Besides it, there were also a Greater Yellownape, Hill Prinias and White-headed Munias. The prinias are very common on Tapan Road, while the munias were seen on 2 out of 3 days.
Left: Orange-spotted Bulbul - found only on Sumatra and Java. Right: Hill Prinia - common at Tapan Road.
While Con was stalking out at one of the pitta gullies, I had fun with a pair of nesting Long-tailed Broadbills.
As well as found a vocal Fulvous-chested Jungle-flycatcher, a Yellow-bellied Warbler and some Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes.
Three more mammals were seen today - Lesser Treeshrew, Black-striped Squirrel and an otter. I saw the otter under Bridge 2, but it disappeared too quickly, so no photos.
The only reptile encountered was a dead snake - Speckle-bellied Keelback. It was about 1 foot long and has a distinctive pattern.
There were also some nice butterflies. The majorities of them are Straight-line Map-wing (Cyrestis nivea nivalis).
21Mar - Day 7 (Mt Kerinci)
This was our last day of birding and we only had the morning session. Since we had missed all the night birding on previous days, this is our only chance at it, a couple of hours before dawn. We woke early and spent 2 hours or so at forest edge and vegetation farm searching for the Sumatran Frogmouth. Initially, Subandi brought us to the usual spot, but there was no response. So we headed towards the entrance, then the bird started calling from the usual spot! So we walk through the vegetable farm to the forest edge and track it down after some effort. Seeing the bird is one thing, getting a good frontal shot is another.
All this while, a Mountain Scops Owl was calling. Today, we only had time to make it to Air Minum. While Subandi and Con tried for the Red-billed Partridge, I had some fun with a pair of near-endemic Sunda Blue Robins.
The final endemic we managed to get was the Sumatran Wren-babbler. However, it took some bashing through a side trail at Base Camp. The view was not too satisfying, but the long curvy bill was unmistakable. We also heard a Schneider's Pitta on the other side of the gully.
So that is our adventure in Sumatra, 16 out of 19 endemics (number varies depending on which split is recognised), missing the Sumatran Peacock Pheasant, Sumatran Cochoa and Brown-winged Whistling Thrush.
Photos and write-up from Con.
Bird list (Sumatran endemics in bold):
1. Purple Heron - 1 enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
2. Cattle Egret - common enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
3. Crested Serpent Eagle - a few heard at Mt Kerinci, a few seen at Tapan Road
4. Black Eagle - 1 enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
5. Blyth's Hawk Eagle - 3 (2 adults, 1 juvenile) at Tapan Road
6. Red-billed Partridge - 1 at Mt Kerinci Air Minum side trail
7. Salvadori's Pheasant - 1 at Mt Kerinci near Base Camp
8. Slaty-breasted Rail - 1 at Kerinci vegetation farm
9. White-breasted Waterhen - 1 enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
10. Sumatran Green Pigeon - 1 at Mt Kerinci, 8 at Tapan Road
11. Barred Cuckoo Dove - 2 at Mt Kerinci, fairly common at Tapan Road
12. Little Cuckoo Dove - common at Tapan Road
13. Spotted Dove - common between Sungei Penuh and Tapan Road
14. Rock Pigeon - 5 enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
15. Dark Hawk Cuckoo - 2 heard at Tapan Road
16. Asian Drongo Cuckoo - 1 seen and few heard at Tapan Road
17. Rusty-breasted Cuckoo - 1 at Tapan Road
18. Greater Coucal - 1 heard at Mt Kerinci
19. Collared Owlet - 1 seen at Tapan Road after Bridge 2, few heard at Mt Kerinci and Tapan Road
20. Mountain Scops Owl - 1 at Mt Kerinci near Burnt Tree, 1 heard at Mt Kerinci forest edge
21. Sumatran (Short-tailed) Frogmouth - 1 at Mt Kerinci forest edge
22. Fork-tailed Swift - 1 at Tapan Road
23. Glossy Swiftlet - 1 at Tapan Road
24. Swiftlet spp. - very common at Tapan Road
25. Whiskered Treeswift - 5 (including 1 mating pair) at Tapan Road
26. Sumatran Trogon - 6 (including 1 family of 4 and 1 juvenile) at Tapan Road
27. Oriental Dollarbird - 1 at Tapan Road
28. White-throated Kingfisher - 1 at Kerinci vegetable farm
29. Red-bearded Bee-eater - 1 heard at Tapan Road
30. Bushy-crested Hornbill - at least 3 at Tapan Road
31. Rhinoceros Hornbill - 1 heard at Tapan Road
32. Fire-tufted Barbet - common at Tapan Road, a few at Mt Kerinci
33. Black-browed Barbet - common at Tapan Road
34. Greater Yellownape - 1 at Tapan Road
35. Maroon Woodpecker - 2 seen and several heard at Mt Kerinci
36. Long-tailed Broadbill - 2 pairs (including 1 pair nesting) at Tapan Road
37. Graceful Pitta - 2 at Tapan Road in roadside gullies
38. Schneider's Pitta - 1 at Mt Kerinci between entrance and Base Camp
39. Barn Swallow - many enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
40. Pacific Swallow - several on Tapan Road
41. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - 6 (including 1 with nesting material) at Tapan Road
42. Sunda Cuckooshrike - 1 at Tapan Road
43. Grey-chinned Minivet - 2 pairs at Tapan Road, 1 pair at Mt Kerinci
44. Sunda Minivet - 1 at Mt Kerinci
45. Scarlet Minivet - 1 pair at Tapan Road
46. Sumatran (Golden-fronted) Leafbird - 1 at Tapan Road Bridge 2
47. Blue-masked Leafbird - 5 at Tapan Road
48. Cream-striped Bulbul - common at Tapan Road
49. Spot-necked Bulbul - common at Tapan Road
50. Yellow-vented Bulbul - 2 heard at Mt Kerinci forest edge
51. Grey-bellied Bulbul - 1 at Tapan Road after Bridge 2
52. Ochraceous Bulbul - fairly common at Tapan Road
53. Orange-spotted Bulbul - 1 at Tapan Road
54. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo - a few at Tapan Road
55. Sumatran Drongo - 1 at Tapan Road
56. Ashy Drongo - very common (including 2 pairs nesting) at Tapan Road
57. Black-and-crimson Oriole - 2 males, 2 females at Tapan Road
58. Sumatran Treepie - common at Tapan Road
59. Blue Nuthatch - 4 at Tapan Road
60. Lesser Shortwing - 2 at Mt Kerinci
61. White-browed Shortwing - 1 seen, a few heard at Mt Kerinci
62. Sumatran (Long-billed) Wren-babbler - 1 seen, 2 heard at Mt Kerinci; 1 heard at Tapan Road
63. Rusty-breasted Wren-babbler - 2 seen at Base Camp, several heard at Mt Kerinci
64. Eye-browed Wren-babbler - 2 at Mt Kerinci
65. Pygmy Wren-babbler - 1 seen, a few heard at Mt Kerinci
66. Marbled Wren-babbler - 1 pair at Tapan Road Marbled Wren-babbler Gully 1
67. Golden Babbler - fairly common at Mt Kerinci and Tapan Road
68. Grey-throated Babbler - 2 at Mt Kerinci, several at Tapan Road
69. Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush - 1 pair at Mt Kerinci, several at Tapan Road
70. Sunda Laughingthrush - 1 pair in dry riverbed at Mt Kerinci Air Minum
71. White-browed Shrike-babbler - 2 at Tapan Road, 1 heard at Mt Kerinci
72. Long-tailed Sibia - fairly common at Mt Kerinci
73. Sunda Blue Robin - 1 pair at Mt Kerinci Air Minum
74. Sunda Forktail - 1 heard at Tapan Road
75. Sumatran Cochoa - 2 heard at Mt Kerinci
76. Shiny Whistling Thrush - several at Mt Kerinci
77. Siberian Thrush - a few at Mt Kerinci
78. Eyebrowed Thrush - 1 at Mt Kerinci First Shelter
79. Golden-bellied Gerygone - 1 heard at Tapan Road
80. Chestnut-crowned Warbler - 1 at Mt Kerinci
81. Sunda Warbler - several at Mt Kerinci
82. Yellow-bellied Warbler - 1 at Tapan Road
83. Mountain Leaf Warbler - common at Mt Kerinci
84. Sunda Bush Warbler - 1 seen, 2 heard at Mt Kerinci
85. Eastern Crowned Warbler - 1 at Tapan Road
86. Mountain Tailorbird - 2 seen at Mt Kerinci, 1 heard at Tapan Road
87. Hill Prinia - common at Tapan Road
88. Fulvous-chested Jungle-flycatcher - 1 at Tapan Road
89. Verditer Flycatcher - 2 at Tapan Road
90. Indigo Flycatcher - 1 at Mt Kerinci
91. Asian Brown Flycatcher - 1 at Tapan Road
92. Snowy-browed Flycatcher - common at Mt Kerinci
93. Mugimaki Flycatcher - 1 male, 2 female at Tapan Road
94. Rufous-vented Niltava - 1 male, 2 female at Mt Kerinci
95. Large Niltava - 1 male at Mt Kerinci Base Camp
96. Grey-headed Flycatcher - fairly common at Mt Kerinci and Tapan Road
97. White-throated Fantail - 2 at Mt Kerinci, 2 at Tapan Road
98. Long-tailed Shrike - common at Kerinci vegetable farm and between Sungei Penuh and Tapan Road
99. Javan Myna - 4 at Kerinci vegetable farm
100. Temminck's Sunbird - 4 at Tapan Road, 2 at Mt Kerinci
101. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker - common at Tapan Road
102. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - 1 female at Tapan Road
103. Mountain White-eye - 5 at Mt Kerinci First Shelter
104. Oriental White-eye - common at Tapan Road
105. Black-capped White-eye - 2 at Tapan Road
106. White-headed Munia - 8 at Tapan Road
107. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - common enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
1. Otter sp. - 1 at Tapan Road Bridge 1
2. Large Flying Fox - 1 enroute Padang to Kersik Tua
3. Black Giant Squirrel - 1 heard at Mt Kerinci
4. Three-striped Ground Squirrel - common at Mt Kerinci
5. Black-striped Squirrel - 1 at Tapan Road
6. Plantain Squirrel - 1 at Tapan Road
7. Low's Squirrel - 1 at Mt Kerinci
8. Lesser Treeshrew - 1 at Tapan Road
9. Pig-tailed Macaque - common at Tapan Road
10. Mitred Leaf Monkey - common at Mt Kerinci and Tapan Road
11. Siamang - common at Mt Kerinci