Birding Indonesia Part 2: Nusa Dua Lagoon

September 3 to 6, 2018

We arrived in the middle of the night to a humid and barren international terminal at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, the capital of the island and province of Bali.

This Blue-eared Kingfisher was a Nusa Dua Favorite for me.

The long walk to immigration was slower than usual as Cam wasn't feeling well--Sam carried him while I trollied the bags.  By the time we got to immigration the lines were outrageous as several planes had just arrived--thankfully an employee waved us to a special line for special assistance--since we were traveling with a child.  The stares from the onlookers settling in for their wait could have burned holes through us.

We passed through without issue and after a short wait, our bags arrived--customs was just as quick, and we were soon on our way through the madness that was drivers awaiting arrivals--it was chaos.  And despite checking every single sign, I could not find our hotel shuttle--we'd been forgotten.  We ended up getting a taxi and paid the going rate for the trip across the southern peninsula to Nusa Dua (about 250,000 Rupiah--we got quotes from 200-400,000... at the time of this writing 14,000 Rupiah = $1 US Dollar).  The streets were quiet and we were at our hotel in no time.  We checked in, were escorted to our rooms and then came sleep.

View of the Conrad Bali Grounds from the Bar

Being in paradise didn't spur an early rise to enjoy it--we were exhausted and slept in before grabbing breakfast at the restaurant in the Conrad Bali.  You wouldn't have known you were in Bali from any other major resort in the west--the Conrad is ran like all Hilton's and the service is phenomenal.  It's just not an authentic Balinese experience.  A friend had told me that Nusa Dua was the soulless version of Bali.  It lacked the culture, the history, and the type of experience westerners envision when they think of Bali.  And he was right.  We stayed here as a cushion to land on when we arrived, knowing that our 4-year old was going to be out of his element, this would be a soft introduction to a world he could never have imagined.  So it was a perfect way to relax by the beach and pool for a few days to kick things off.  So that's what we did.

The gorgeous beach at Nusa Dua

Beside's heading up the road for dinner the following 3 nights, we didn't leave the hotel grounds during the day.  It meant that the birding was rather limited.  I quickly added the commonplace YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL and CAVE SWIFTLET that were a constant--along with EURASIAN TREE SPARROW and SPOTTED DOVE.  I managed to pick up my first PACIFIC REEF HERON as a flyby on the beach one afternoon.  But birding was slow, and the only bird I got really excited about was a flock of WHITE-HEADED MUNIA that landed in a palm tree outside our room.

A White-headed Munia outside our room

So we relaxed and ate some excellent meals at Mr. Bob, Ketut's BBQ, and Blaze.  These aren't traditional Balinese spots--but fusion Balinese with "almost" Western pricing (a little bit less than eating in the states).

 The BBQ Platter at Blaze

Various Satays at Mr. Bob

But don't worry I did go birding.  The last two mornings I set aside to head over to the nearby Nusa Dua Lagoon (or Lagun, or Waste Water Plant, or Wastewater Treatment Plant, etc) at sunrise and spend a few hours tracking down my first real Bali birds.  The lagoon was a 15-minute walk from the hotel--or a 30,000 Rupiah ($2.00 USD) taxi ride. It was convenient to get to.  I just didn't know how I should go about birding it.  There isn't a lot of information online, and none of the info I did find mentioned how to go about getting permission--so I did what I thought was logical--I walked through the open front gate, past people busy working, and made my loop around the ponds.  Nobody stopped me, asked questions, or gave me a hard time about being there.  Just nods and smiles in passing.

One of several signs at Nusa Dua Lagoon

So my advice is, if you go to the Nusa Dua Lagoon, walk in the main gate at the southwest corner and follow the paved trail around the outside of the ponds, then exit through the gardens in the southeast corner.  I arrived just after 6:00 AM both days since that was about the earliest I'd seen checklists on eBird.  I'm not sure what the open/close time is, but I felt like being there early was going to be the best for birding anyways.

Sunrise over Nusa Dua Lagoon

Walking in, the main ponds are to your right--and I was immediately impressed by the sheer number of wading birds I could see without even lifting my binoculars.  GREAT, INTERMEDIATE, and LITTE EGRETS were joined by GRAY and PURPLE HERONS.  There were STRIATED HERON, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, and JAVAN POND HERON on every tree. It was incredible.

Great, Intermediate, and Little Egrets (plus a pond heron and Striated Heron)

A flash of blue caught my eye as I followed a SMALL BLUE KINGFISHER flying across the water--it was gorgeous!  There were cormorants too--3 species all sitting in various tree tops--LITTLE PIED, LITTLE BLACK, and plain old LITTLE CORMORANT.  There were also terns, with LITTLE TERN being present in decent numbers, while a small flock of GULL-BILLED TERN and a single COMMON TERN passed over while I walked the grounds.

L to R: Little Black, Little Pied, and Little Cormorant

It was overwhelming as there was so much new--but there was also quite a bit of singing and calling from the mangroves that lined the outside of the pond, and I didn't know most of the sounds... Slowly but surely birds worked their way into the open.  There were OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRDS and GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE (pronounced jerr-ah-go-knee), and COMMON IORA and CINEREOUS TIT.  New, new, new, new.  LARGE-BILLED CROWS called incessantly from the treetops, while PACIFIC SWALLOWS skimmed the water.

A not-so-golden-bellied Golden-bellied Gerygone

A pair of PACIFIC BLACK DUCK flushed from a hidden bank and disappeared somewhere else on the ponds. Slightly disappointed I didn't get a photo.  The songbirds in the mangroves weren't at all responsive to pishing, so I had to be patient and wait for them to emerge and see.  Such was the case with MALAYSIAN PIED-FANTAIL and WHITE-SHOULDERED TRILLER which both made a racket out of sight before finally emerging to be identified.

Malaysian Pied-Fantail

White-shouldered Triller

A pair of drongos emerged across one pond and would be the only GREATER RACKET-TAILED DRONGOS I saw of the trip.  I caught a flash of color flying and realized it was a green pigeon.  The male bird landed in a tree in great sunlight and I had my lifer PINK-NECKED PIGEON! I saw several more female birds, but none were as striking as that first individual.

Stunning male Pink-necked Pigeon

As I rounded the last corner for the long east path to the exit the kingfisher action went wild.  I saw 4 species in the last 1/4 mile including several SMALL BLUE KINGFISHER, a lone SACRED KINGFISHER, a handful of COLLARED KINGFISHER (the defacto-every habitat kingfisher throughout Indonesia), and my personal favorite of the trip--a BLUE-EARED KINGFISHER, which sported a stunning combination of blue, green, purple, rufous, and white in its plumage.

Small Blue Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher

The first morning was a nice haul as I tallied 47 species in just over 90 minutes.  I finished up the loop and headed back to the hotel for another day of relaxing.

Looking southwest from the northeast corner of Nusa Dua Lagoon

The following morning, September 6, I followed the same routine, and made my way to the Nusa Dua Lagoon in the dark, arriving by 6:00 AM, and following the same loop around the ponds.  The birding was much the same as the previous day, only I paid closer attention to my counts for waders as I felt I had severely underestimated--and I had, by as much as 1/7 the actual number of birds--for instance on the second trip I counted 81 LITTLE EGRET as compared to just 11 the day before.

Lots of Egrets and Terns

With more of a focus on counting things, I wasn't as steadfast on trying to wait for birds to emerge from the mangroves.  Instead, I kept my eyes out over the trees in the open.  It paid off with a RACKET-TAILED TREEPIE as a prize for the day.

Record shot of a Racket-tailed Treepie

The only other new bird I added was a SCARLET-HEADED FLOWERPECKER which was the most stunning bird the water treatment plant had to offer.

What's not to love about a Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker?

I did take some time to photograph several birds from the previous day, with better light including JAVAN POND HERON, LITTLE TERN, PACIFIC REEF HERON, and PURPLE HERON.

Javan Pond Heron "hiding"

Little Tern about to dive

My best shot of a Pacific Reef Heron--not on a reef...

Super cooperative Purple Heron

In the first 4 days, I tallied 31 new life birds, and most of that was on day 3 at the lagoon. It was an enjoyable and relaxing introduction to the island.  I had gotten on a normal sleep schedule and was ready to head to the interior and west of the island, where I knew my bird list would explode.

Photos from These Days
Nusa Dua WTP (Lagoon)

Checklists from These Days 
Conrad Bali
Conrad Bali
Mr. Bob Beachfront Bar
Conrad Bali
Nusa Dua WTP
Nusa Dua WTP

Other Posts in this Series
Indonesia Part 1: Via Hong Kong
>> Indonesia Part 2: Nusa Dua Lagoon
Indonesia Part 3: Sebatu and Ubud
Indonesia Part 4: West Bali National Park
Indonesia Part 5: Flores Endemics
Indonesia Part 6: Komodo National Park
Indonesia Part 7: Recap & Logistics

Birding Indonesia Part 1: Via Hong Kong

August 30 to September 2, 2018

We left SLC on Thursday, August 30th in the morning, arriving in LA, and then departing there for Hong Kong by lunch.  The 15-hour flight went by smoothly, while we lost the rest of Thursday and almost all of Friday, arriving in Hong Kong around 6:00 PM on Friday the 31st.  As I've learned from looking at most travel destinations in Southeast Asia, the travel west typically involves a 2-day wash on the front end of every trip.  After clearing customs and immigration it was an easy walk through the airport to the Regal Hotel via a sky bridge.  We were soon in our room, asleep.

The following morning I hired a driver to take me to meet my guide at train station outside the city.  In retrospect I should have just taken the train as I learned later in the day, it is extremely easy and cost effective.  Instead, I overpaid for a guy who "didn't know where I could grab a coffee".  Definitely use the trains if you visit HK.

Hong Kong is Great for Birding...

The ride was quicker than expected and I was dropped off at Kam Sheung Road Station about 20 minutes early--there were birds everywhere so I pulled my binos and camera out of my bag.  They immediately fogged beyond use.  I spent the next 10 minutes acclimating them to the humidity as I stumbled over the first birds of the morning.  EURASIAN TREE SPARROW was easy, and there was no shortage of RED-WHISKERED BULBUL and JAPANESE WHITE-EYE in the trees in the parking area.  My first highlight was a BLACK-COLLARED STARLING, which was an amazing looking bird.

Black-collared Starling at Kam Sheung Road Station

Several COMMON MYNA and COLLARED CROWS added to the life list, while more exciting things like CHINESE POND-HERON and HOUSE SWIFT passed overhead.

House Swift flyover

I spotted the only other Caucasian fellow in the car park and quickly met my guide for the day, John Allcock, a Brit living in HK, and working as a research assistant at the University of HK.  John is an expert birder, and his knowledge of the avifauna of Hong Kong appeared unparalleled when I researched him online.  After introductions, we made a quick look over the Kam Tin River on the edge of the parking area, where COMMON SANDPIPER, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, and LITTLE EGRET were all present--but not much else.

While the majority of the day would be spent at Mai Po Nature Reserve, we kicked things off with some forest birding in an attempt to add some breadth to the wetland birds that would be plentiful later on.  Being my first time in southeast Asia, anything in the forest would be new to me, and I had hopes that breeders and migrants would commingle to produce a nice list to kick things off.  As we arrived at Tai Lam Country Park, the rain started.

This would be the common theme to the day--rain.  Birding was slow but everything was new.  SPOTTED DOVE wasn't exciting but the WHITE-RUMPED MUNIA that followed were!

White-rumped Munia at Tai Lam Country Park

The rain moved off long enough for us to have more than an hour with the birds getting very active.  We didn't have a lot of species, as the forest was quiet, but the experience was thrilling.  We sound found a PLAINTIVE CUCKOO that was being tended to by COMMON TAILORBIRDS.  All the while STREAK-BREASTED SCIMITAR-BABBLERS were singing from the jungle.  Eventually, we got into a flock of GRAY-CHINNED MINIVETS that would bring a handful of other birds with them.

A male Gray-chinned Minivet

Several SCARLET MINIVETS joined the frenzy while JAPANESE TIT, YELLOW-CHEEKED TIT, and VELVET-FRONTED NUTHATCH were in the periphery.

Although introduced, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch is still a lovely bird

With things slowing back down we opted to head towards Mai Po, but not before John spotted a pair of CHESTNUT BULBUL, which in turn led us to the best find of the morning, a female ORANGE-BELLIED LEAFBIRD, which did its best imitation of a leaf from the canopy.

Orange-bellied Leafbird hiding behind a leaf

With a good start to the day under our belts we headed north towards Mai Po--while we were driving and talking about local birds, John mentioned how common MASKED LAUGHINGTHRUSH were--as several erupted into chatter just outside the car--impeccable timing.  I should have taken a picture--this time, and the next--but I figured I would get better looks.  Unfortunately, I passed and missed my opportunity!

Mai Po

We arrived at Mai Po and started birding the fish ponds along the entry road.  Right away John spotted a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER perched right next to the road--a photo opportunity of incredible fortune--until a car quickly passed, sending the kingfisher all the way across the pond--an identifiable photo would have to suffice.

White-throated Kingfisher at the entrance to Mai Po

There were loads of common birds at the ponds including LITTLE and GREAT EGRETS, CHINESE POND-HERON, LITTLE GREBE, and CRESTED MYNAS.  I was excited about the smaller stuff like the PLAIN PRINIA that provided stellar views right next to the pavement.

Plain Prinia singing away

We added a few more new birds as we made our way to the visitors center, with WHITE-SHOULDERED STARLING and WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING providing good looks with a flock of EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS and CRESTED MYNAS visiting dumped bags of bread next to the road.

White-cheeked Starling

White-shouldered Starling with a Eurasian Collared-Dove

Taking care of the necessary fees, and paperwork (most of which John helped take care of before I arrived in HK), we headed out into the preserve walking the dikes along fish ponds, making our way towards the larger wetland impoundments.  Right away we saw a WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, COMMON KINGFISHER, and had a flyby ASIAN KOEL.  The koel would be a common sight, but always in the distance, flying off before we got anywhere near them.

Common Kingfisher in the rain

There was no shortage of common songbirds in the thickets and mangroves that lined the trails. Both RED-WHISKERED and LIGHT-VENTED BULBUL were common, while JAPANESE WHITE-EYE were in abundance.  We eventually tracked down a cooperative ORIENTAL MAGPIE-ROBIN, and had fantastic looks at flyover BLACK KITE.

Oriental Magpie-Robin along the trail

All of this happened during the first hour of on again off again rain showers.  Deciding to get out of the rain we visited the main blind that looks out over a popular shorebird impoundment.  Here we would wait and watch for several hours as torrential rainfall came and went, along with birders, photographers, and families hiding from the rain and checking out the flocks of birds scattered through the viewports.  The birding was incredible.

Incoming shorebirds at the blind

It started slow, with a few MARSH SANDPIPERS, BLACK-WINGED STILTS, and a flock of WHIMBREL.  There were wading birds like GRAY HERON and INTERMEDIATE EGRET, but it was quiet.  John spotted a couple of GARGANEY, hiding amongst the grass--a long overdue lifer. I kept entertained by the pond-herons and their shenanigans fighting over fishing spots.  A flock of SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA provided my best looks and photos of this species yet.

Scaly-breasted Munia feeding

Then came the squall--and with it, flock after flock of shorebirds leaving the open mudflats along the ocean for the sheltered impoundment.  It started with more WHIMBREL, quickly followed by large flocks of EURASIAN CURLEW that we couldn't manage to pick a Far Eastern bird out of.  Then came the PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS, CURLEW SANDPIPERS and BLACK-TAILED GODWITS.  It was a non-stop funnel of shorebirds that we scanned through the sheets of rain pounding down.

Eurasian Curlew were the largest shorebirds present

Pacific Golden-Plover in the grass

Curlew Sandpiper hanging on to some breeding color

Black-tailed Godwits coming in to land

As the birds flocked on the sandbars and islands in front of us it made scanning through them easier.  We started to pick out other birds like GREAT KNOT, RUDDY TURNSTONE, ASIAN DOWITCHER, and BAR-TAILED GODWIT.  The lighting wasn't optimal, but occasional breaks in the rain provided enough relief to quickly pick out the smaller birds that were hiding amongst the larger species.  Both GREATER and LESSER SAND-PLOVER were picked up, along with RED-NECKED STINT, TEREK SANDPIPER, GREEN SANDPIPER, COMMON REDSHANK, COMMON GREENSHANK, and RED KNOT. 

Great Knots (Wth the black speckling)

Asian Dowitcher

Bar-tailed Godwit sticking together

Greater Sand Plover getting close enough for a decent shot

While John scanned with his scope I took pictures of what I could--I wished I'd had my scope and digiscope rig as I imagined I could have probably shot some fun video of the action unfolding in front of us.  A SWINHOE'S/PIN-TAILED SNIPE took flight from the grass, not providing any clues to hone in exactly which species it was.  A RED-RUMPED SWALLOW made a single pass, providing my only of the entire trip.  A major highlight for the day came when I spotted an incoming BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL, an endangered species that is perhaps seen here better than anywhere else in the world.

Black-faced Spoonbill on approach

Then things slowed.  No new birds after a while, then some birds started departing as the skies cleared momentarily.  We ate lunch, then packed up and headed across the marsh.  It was mostly walking, and listening to the chorus of white-eyes, prinias, and bulbuls.  But one stop provided satisfactory views of a couple fly-by YELLOW BITTERNS, and one bird that sat long enough in the reeds for identifiable pictures.

Yellow Bittern "hiding" in the reeds

We reached the far end of the impoundment we'd been watching all morning, where another blind was available--we decided to take cover as the next squall reached us.  While we waited out the rain, there wasn't much int he way of birds, and nothing new.  The rain stopped again, and this time it was for good.  The skies started to clear, and you could see the mountains and city surrounding the wetland.  With the calming of the weather, birds started to get active again and we zeroed in on a few remaining shorebird targets.  First John picked out a LONG-TOED STINT along with a KENTISH PLOVER in the basin of an empty impoundment.

Digiscoped Long-toed Stint

Digiscoped Kentish Plover

We then cut across the mangroves via the "floating walkway".  This 1/2 mile or so jaunt is not for those who have any fear of narrow walkways--as this one consisted of two 2x8's side by side, with a handrail along one side, and an open fall to the canal below on the other side.  Making matter worse were how slick the boards were because of recent rain--and the constant rain and humidity here in general.  I slipped once but luckily caught myself on the handrail.

After what seemed like an all too long jaunt through the mangrove forest, we emerged to a blind overlooking Deep Bay, an arm off of the South China Sea.  There were a couple early winter gulls lounging on the mud, with a "Mongolian" HERRING GULL, and a pair of BLACK-HEADED GULLS adding to our tally. We would tick off a few more lifers with PIED AVOCET and GRAY-TAILED TATTLER.  There were plenty of other shorebirds on the flats, but the last 2 would be it for new shorebirds for the day.

Distant but identifiable Pied Avocet

Gray-tailed Tattler on the flats

While John tried to turn one of the stints on the flats into a Broad-billed Sandpiper for me (no luck), I was fascinated by the BLUE-SPOTTED MUD SKIPPERS playing in the mud just outside the blind.  There were literally 100's of these amphibious fish that resemble something like a mix between a fish and a frog. When the tide is low the skippers emerge and are very active feeding, sunning, and defending their territories against other skippers.  With so many, the territorial disputes were constant, and there seemed to always be a couple skippers 6-10" above the mud as they flung themselves at one another.

Blue-spotted Mud Skipper taking flight!

The things that amuse us... Anyways, we wrapped up birding the flats and headed back towards the visitors center.  Along the way, we would add a few more songbirds including a calling ORIENTAL REED WARBLER, a BLACK DRONGO, several GREATER COUCAL, a flyover trio of RED-BILLED STARLING, and a small flock of AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE that were picking bugs out of a fence that separated Hong Kong from mainland China.

Azure-winged Magpie posing

After trekking 6 miles we arrived back at the visitor center, enjoyed some ice cold water from the filtered water machine, checked out of the reserve, and added one more species before we left.  A lovely GRAY TREEPIE flew in and landed in a dead snag above the parking lot providing great looks.  If it weren't for one branch in the tree constantly blocking the face the pictures would have been superb!  John said he'd only ever seen 1 or 2 at Mai Po over the years, and incidentally, it was only the 2nd sighting in eBird for this species at the preserve.

2nd ever Gray Treepie in eBird for Mai Po

As we departed I tallied up our list for the day, which had crept north of 90 species--well beyond my expectations which had been tempered when I contacted another guide who said I could expect around 70 species during my visit.  John Allcock had proven that he was the person to go to for birding in Hong Kong.  We headed back to Kam Sheung Road Station where the tour came to an end.  I was very thankful that I found John--who I tracked down using eBird and some Facebook sleuthing because he doesn't have a website, or easy to locate contact information on the web. I'm sure glad he happened to check Messenger and get back to me before my trip!  If you are headed to Hong Kong and need a guide, shoot me a message and I can put you in touch with John--you won't regret it.

 The "Border Wall" at Mai Po

I packed my gear and boarded a train back towards the city.  I found that the transfers were easy, the cars were clean. Before I knew it, I was picking up Sam and Cam who'd spent the day at Disneyland (fair trade?).  We spent the next day in Hong Kong as well and visited Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island--very easily reached via taxi or train.  I imagine an early morning trek through the forest here would probably be fairly good for birds, but we took a mid-day tram ride, and the crowds were in excess.  Birding was slow and quiet.  That night we headed back to the airport, checked in to our next flight, and left Hong Kong behind for our next destination--Bali, on the island nation of Indonesia, where this blog series will continue...

Photos from These Days
Hong Kong Birds and Birding Photos

Checklists from These Days 
Kam Sheung Road Station
Tai Lam Country Park
Mai Po Nature Reserve
Tian Tan Buddha

Other Posts in this Series
>> Indonesia Part 1: Via Hong Kong
Indonesia Part 2: Nusa Dua Lagoon
Indonesia Part 3: Sebatu and Ubud
Indonesia Part 4: West Bali National Park
Indonesia Part 5: Flores Endemics
Indonesia Part 6: Komodo National Park
Indonesia Part 7: Recap & Logistics