Friday, 2 May 2014

Our Sangihe and Talaud project takes off

Posted by Stuart Marsden and Hanom Bashari

First, I’m delighted to say that the Rainforest Trust and Loro Parque Fundacion have agreed to fund our project on Sangihe and Talaud. The project will be undertaken in partnership with Burung, the Indonesian BirdLife partner. The bulk of the work will be done by Rob Martin (currently at BirdLife in Cambridge), who will start an MPhil/PhD here at MMU in July, under the supervision of Stu, Elias Symeonakis (MMU), and Nigel Collar of BirdLife. Working alongside Rob will be Hanom Bashari of Burung. 

Above - The Sangihe endemic and Endangered Elegant Sunbird Aethopyga duyvenbodei (Photo: Hanom Bashari). Below - Nutmeg, which along with Cloves are a major source of income for the people of Sangihe and a major impact on the forest (Photo: Stu)

Stu has recently returned from a trip to Sangihe and Talaud, where I was accompanied and looked after by Hanom. We first spent some time at Burung’s headquarters in Bogor discussing the project with Agus Budi Utomo, Burung’s chief and Ria Saryanthi. I had the opportunity to give a presentation to Burung staff and local graduates about our work at MMU, and particularly our research on tropical frugivores inside and outside of protected areas.

Above - Another Sangihe endemic, the Sangihe Kingfisher (Photo: Hanom Bashari). Below - Forest gardens on Sangihe. It could be that with a bit of tweaking, some of these habitats might be important for some of the endemics (Photo: Stu)

It seemed to take an age to get to the forest on Sangihe. The terrain is incredibly steep – that is partly why forest remains there when it has given way to clove, nutmeg and coconut plantations elsewhere on the island. We started searching for the Cerulean Paradise Flycatcher at Mount Awu – in forest which was heavily degraded. We didn’t find the bird but there were 1-2 valleys which contained habitat that might be ‘nearly good enough’ for the species. In fact, this seems to be a possible theme for our research….how can small changes to the way people use the forest yield significant increases in an area’s suitability for birds? It may be that creating buffers of lesser-used habitat around streams might be a potential way forward.

Above - Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi and Below Sangihe Shrike-thrush Colluricincla sanghirensis both Critically Endangered (Photos: Hanom Bashari)

Our main recce was at Sahendaruman, where we did see the flycatcher in incredibly steep valleys. There aren’t many birds in these forests – particularly, a lack of monarchs, fantails, white-eyes etc means that mixed species flocks do not seem to develop. A clamber up the steep valley sides took us to the ridge tops – where the interesting-looking Sangihe Shrike-thrush was seen, but no Bulbul and definitely no white-eye.

Ridge forest on Sangihe (Photo: Stu)
Then on to Talaud. This is a very different island, relatively low-lying and ‘non-volcanic’. I has a nice almost  ‘Caribbean-like feel to it. We didn’t have time to get to the primary forests in the island’s interior, where there may be lots of birds and maybe new discoveries to be made, but the garden-type habitats and forest fragments we did visit were birdy. Talaud Rail, Talaud Kingfisher and the ‘new’ pitta were seen, although the only bushhens I saw were five Rufous-tailed Waterhen Amaurornis moluccana. Parrots, including the ‘Sampiri’ (Red-and-blue Lory Eos histrio) were reasonably common and we saw at least two of the Tanygnathus and the racquet-tail Prioniturus platurus.

The endemic and Near-threatened Talaud Kingfisher Todiramphus enigma (Photo: Hanom Bashari)

We visited a Sampiri roost and interestingly, we got the chance to talk to Pak Zaka, a very nice and very knowledgeable parrot trapper-turned-conservationist. My first question was “Are lories rarer now than they were 20 years ago? (when he worked with Jon Riley and Jim Wardill of ‘Action Sampiri’). His answer was quite surprising and incisive. “It is odd…that 20 years ago there were lots of parrot trappers, and year after year there were lot of lories. Now, at a time when there are few trappers, there are few lories. The reason? There are so many chainsaws….people cutting down the big trees that the lories need for nesting. The lories have gone into the big forest in the interior”. 

Red-and-blue Lories Eos histrio - Endangered (Photo: Hanom Bashari)

Finally, I got to visit WCS’s Maleo project in NE Sulawesi and even got to release two baby Maleos. A couple of days searching for Sulawesi endemics at Mount Mahawu and Dumoga Bone NP yielded Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, Rufous-throated Flycatcher, Maroon-chinned fruit dove, some nice owls, Blue-eyed Rail, and several other Wallacean treats.

The Sangihe Hanging-parrot Loriculus catamene is Near-threatened (Photo: Hanom Bashari)

A big thanks to all those kind folk we met along the way. 

Our project on Sangihe and Talaud is sponsored by


  1. Great to see this taking shape! All part to the team!

  2. Talaud Rail is a great score, didn't know that these were being seen much.