|North Sulawesi, Birding at Gunung Mahawu
Just outside Manado and a great spot for Scaly Kingfisher.
Key bird species:
Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk; Metallic Pigeon; Speckled Hawk-Owl; Scaly Kingfisher; Purple-winged Roller; Pale-blue Monarch; Chestnut-backed Bush-Warbler; Sulawesi Blue-Flycatcher; Sulphur-bellied Whistler
Gunung Mahawu is a forested volcano about 1.5 hrs drive south of Manado, above the town of Tomohon. It is a readily accessible spot which holds some interesting species, most notable Scaly Kingfisher, for which it is one of the easiest and most reliable sites (but be warned, that doesn’t make it automatic!).
The mostly commonly visited birding location at Gunung Mahawu is a track that leads to the crater summit. This used to be a dirt track, then a footpath, but has now been surfaced almost as far as the crater. Take the main (properly surfaced) road east of Tomohon (see map below), follow it up the hill almost to its highest point, and then look out for the access track on the left. It crosses open fields for a few hundred meters, and then enters degraded forest. From here the trail continues all the way to the summit (a further 2 km). Birdwatching is good all along the track, especially in several densely wooded gullies along the way. Scaly Kingfisher is often seen or heard in the lower sections on this path. A tape is useful, and it may persuade birds to call back or approach. They wont typically break cover, and they will usually be close to the ground (1-3m). They have also been known to approach a tape silently, so seeing them can still requires some skill and luck!
Other nice birds commonly seen along the track include the Sulawesi endemic Pale-blue Monarch (split from Black-naped Monarch) and endemic Sulawesi Blue-Flycatcher (split from Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher). Chestnut-backed Bush-Warblers abound on the higher sections. At night Sulawesi Scops-Owl is everyhwere, and occasionally Speckled and Ochre-bellied Hawk-Owls can be heard (and seen..).
Another site to try for Scaly Kingfisher in further on the western flank of Gunung Mahawu, in the grounds of the Alamanda Resort. The Alamanda is a kind of religious retreat, with beautiful grounds surrounded by nice forest. It is free to enter (a donation is welcomed) and if you check it is OK at the entrance gate, you are free to wander around inside. If you follow the entrance road in towards the main building (accommodation block, canteen etc), and then follow it around and descend a bit towards a gate, an obvious foot path heads up the hill into forest on the left. If you follow this path you can see many of the same birds as above, and after about 1 km it enters good habitat for Scaly Kingfisher. If you continue on the entrance road beyond the gate, it descends to an open area with a chapel and grotto etc. The open area is surrounded on all sides by nice forest, so this can be a good spot to view canopy species, including pigeons.
Access and Accommodation:
By car or taxi from Manado, drive first to Tomohon, and then follow the roads on the map below to reach either the summit trail, or the Alamanda Resort.
By public transport take a bus from Manado to Tomohon, and then probably easiest to get an ojek (motorbike taxi) to either site. Make sure to arrange a pick up time before the guy leaves if you want to avoid a long walk back to town! To get an ojek to the summit trail, ask for the village of Rurukan (where Sir Alfred Russell Wallace lived for a while!) and the turn off is just before it. Minibuses may also ply the route to Rurukan too, as an alternative.
To enter Alamanda it is usually ok just to turn up at the entrance gate. If you wanted to try contacting them in advance they do have a web-site here.
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