|North Sulawesi, Birding on Sangihe, Talaud & Siau
Aethopyga duyvenbodei, Elegant Sunbird, Burungmadu Sangihe
The string of islands off north Sulawesi including Sangihe, Siau and Talaud are not so easy to get to, but loads of great endemics await those who try it.
Key bird species:
Talaud Bush-hen; Talaud Rail; Grey Imperial-Pigeon; Red-and-blue Lory; Blue-naped Parrot; Azure-rumped Parrot; Sangihe Hanging-Parrot; Sangihe Scops-Owl; Talaud Kingfisher; Red-bellied Pitta; Cerulean Paradise-Flycatcher; Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher; Golden Bulbul; Gray’s Warbler; Sangihe Shrike-Thrush; Everett’s White-eye; Sangihe White-eye; Elegant Sunbird
The three main islands of Sangihe, Siau and Talaud each have their own attractions, so they are considered here in turn.
The island of Sangihe probably has the most to offer to the visiting birder who is short of time. It is relatively easy to get to and has some excellent accessible birding. All of the endemics, bar the mysterious Sangihe White-eye, can be seen in 1-2 days birding.
The place to head first is the village of Lelipang, near Tamoko. From here you can access the slopes of Gunung Sahengbalira where all of the endemics are found. From the village up you have a chance at two of the more widespread endemics: Sangihe Hanging-Parrot and Elegant Sunbird. For a chance at Cerulean Paradise-Flycatcher your best bet is get a guide from Lalipang (see below) and head into one of several shady woody gullies above the village. These gullies are the preferred habitat of the flycatcher, which can often be seen accompanying squirrels through the canopy! Next you need to head higher, onto the ridge of Gunung Sahengbalira to pick up the last of the day-time endemics, Sangihe Shrike-Thrush. These can be found in the low and mid-storey of the ridge-top forest. Climbing up and down from the ridge makes for a tough day’s birding, but the rewards are there. Look out anywhere in the forest for Sangihe White-eye, however it is many years now since one has been seen. Sangihe Scops-Owl is pretty widespread on the island, and in addition to seeing them at the sites above, they can be heard and seen from many locations around the coast road.
Getting all the endemics on Talaud is quite a tall order, and probably requires a stay of several days. Natural forest is much more extensive on this island, giving a greater range of sites to try, and also allowing plenty of scope for exploration.
A good site to try first for an introduction to Talaud is to the north of the town of Beo. Following the coast road for a few km brings you to a large box-girder bridge over a river. Paths follow the river on both banks and soon enter nice forest. Here you have a chance at the local variation on Red-bellied Pitta (a candidate for species status), the three Tanygnathus parrots, Red-and-Blue Lory, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and Talaud Kingfisher.
Also close to Beo, to the south-east, are some forested slopes that have much of the above, and also a chance at the recently described Talaud Rail. A track heads in towards a spring in one location, passing through some wet and swampy patches of forest along the way. This track could be worth an early morning walk to have a chance at the rail, that otherwise only ever seems to be seen as chance roadside drive-bys!
For the more adventurous, a trip to the forested interior is a good one. Several sites are accessible from the cross-island road heading east from Beo towards the village of Rainis on the east coast. Taking a path in from across the big river, that the road passes by after a few km, soon brings you to nice condition forest on the ridges and slopes above. The path leaves from the vicinity of the village of Bengel, if you need something to aim for. Here you have a chance at Talaud Bush-hen, although it is easier to hear than see. The forest also has many of the same birds as above, plus Everett’s White-eye and Grey Imperial Pigeon can be seen. There is also a Red-and-Blue Lory communal roost tree in this area, where you can see the amazing spectacle of hundreds of lorys coming to roost in the evening. You can visit this area as a long day trip from Beo, or camp out for an extended stay.
The main attraction on Siau is the critically endangered and almost virtually unknown Siau Scops-Owl. This remains only known from the type specimen, but in 2007 a recording was made of a owl that may well be it. The location the recording was made is on the road rising up from behind the town of Ulu (and eventually crossing the island), just beyond an obvious old lava flow. The owl was heard here again in 2008, but remains unseen. While birding at night in Siau make the most of the spectacular volcano, the summit of which glows red at night, and don’t be surprised by the frequent earth tremors!!
Access and Accommodation:
Each of the islands is served by boat from Manado, plus Sangihe and Talaud are occasionally served by plane, also from Manado. The standard ‘slow’ boats all run at night, and separate boats serve each island. They usually depart three times a week, going out one night and coming back the next, and take Sunday off. By the slow boat from Manado it is around 6-7 hours to Siau, 8-10 hours to Sangihe, 12-14 hours to Talaud. The boats are comfortable, if you can get yourself one of the top deck cabins, and are generally pretty sea-worthy! On Talaud it is most easy to get off the boat as soon as it lands on the mainland at Melonguane, and then take a ojek north to the town of Beo which is the best base. The boat makes the journey too, but it will take you several hours longer to get there. Repeat this trick in reverse when it is time to leave to save yourself some more time.
There is also a ‘fast’ boat to Sangihe (that sometimes stops in Siau on the way). This also runs three times a week, but travels by day. The boat has pretty comfortable airplane style seats, and cuts the journey to Sangihe down to about 6-7 hours.
Unfortunately getting boats from one island to the next is pretty unreliable. You could ask around in the relevant ports for information on boats that may be available, but it is safer to expect to have to return to Manado each time and take the normal routes. To get find out the latest boat schedules, to book a ticket, and to get on a boat, head to the docks in Manado. The ticket offices are along the street opposite the ‘Hotel Celebes’, and the boats themselves board from just behind the offices. You are unlikely to need to book in advance, unless you are planning to travel during a holiday period (like Christmas or Easter).
Scheduled flights to Sangihe and Talaud seem to come and go. The airline most likely to run the routes is ‘Wings’, a subsidiary of Lion Air. You’d need to ask a travel agent or at the airport in Manado to find out what is on offer at the time of your visit. If flights are running, they are not usually daily, so the overnight boats still present the easiest way of getting to the islands.
For Sangihe there are several basic hotels in Tahuna, but a better base is in the village of Lelipang at the Rainbow Losmen. This is also the place to hook up with the best local guide, Wesley Pangimangen (+6281523847827; Wesley_rainbow@yahoo.co.id), who can show you around and show you all the birds.
For Talaud there is nice (basic) hotel in Beo known as ‘Penginapan Meysan’. The best guide for all sites on Taluad is Michael Wangko (+6285240002341; firstname.lastname@example.org). He used to work for BirdLife International, so knows his stuff. If he is not available there is another guy, based in Bengel (near the roosting tree mentioned above) who you could try: Anto Galluh (+6285256312264).
You may be advised to report to the police when you arrive in Talaud just to let them know you are there, as it is a remote border area and security is a bit tighter than Sangihe. They may even be waiting at the ferry port, and ask you to report. Just explain that you are there birding, and will use local guides, and you shouldn’t have any problems. The main police office is in Melonguane, where you will probably get off the ferry, so this is convenient to do on your way in.
On Siau there is accommodation in a couple of simple hotels in the town of Ulu where the ferry stops, of which the ‘Jakarta Hotel’ is probably the nicest. There are no birding guides as such on Siau, but you should have no problem hiring an ojek (motorbike taxi) and driver for the evening (to look for owls), and people will probably realise what you are up to. You might not find anyone that speaks any English on Siau, so a bit of Indonesian would be useful.
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