Tuesday, 16 August 2011

In search of Bali Starling

A couple of months ago, when planning the Bali stretch of this trip, there is only really one bird that you can say is synonymous with the island - Bali Starling, Rothschild's Myna or whatever you want to call that species that is so near extinction it's criminal that it has got to this stage. Bali is a big island, or at least it feels like it is, with the rather slow road network. These days, the Bali Starling is restricted to the extreme northwest of the island in the Bali Barat National Park. It's a 4 hour drive from the popular south and southeast coast that's frequented by tourists.

The 'real' Bali seems to still exist in this lovely corner of the world and, prior to my trip, I'd made contact with Hery Kusumanegara who is the senior ranger at Bali Barat National Park. A genuinely lovely guy, and with what seems extremely limited resources, tirelessly observes and tracks down the last few remaining Bali Starlings (unfortunately it seems as though it's down to 5 genuinely wild birds left now, at 3 locations within the national park). We got a boat from the jetty at Labuhan Lalang and headed the few km to Bumbrun, the site where Bali Starlings are reintroduced into the wild and where a couple of wild birds (told by their lack of rings) still exist.

one of four reintroduced Bali Starlings seen 'in the wild' on Bumbrun
There were four reintroduced birds – all ringed – showing rather well and typically vocal that were hanging around ‘in the wild’ around the release centre. However, there was no sign of the 1-2 wild, unringed Bali Starlings that still persist in the area. A real shame to have come all this way, to not see a genuinely wild Bali Starling. However, the habitat at Bumbrun is relatively dense coastal dry forest. I’d not known of anyone seeing this species away from this site in recent years either.

However, Hery suggested that we bust a move and head back to Labuhan Lalang as he thought we may have a better chance at another site. Just on the outskirts of Gilimanuk, in some pretty marginal habitat where cows were grazing, Hery had discovered a single Bali Starling some 5 months ago. Perhaps it’s a straggler from the nearby monsoon forest? Ever since, one of his volunteers has been helping out and making sure that this bird doesn’t become victim to another bird trapper. For obvious reasons, they try to keep a low profile with local residents while doing their duty.

Bali Starling habitat near Gilimanuk

Anyway, we got to the site and ditched our motorbike. We took a stroll in the midday sun but there was no sign. Hery’s mate arrived and we had a good look around – plenty of usual suspects such as White-shouldered Trillers, Collared Kingfishers and the like. But then, suddenly, appeared a white blob perched in a distant tree. Bins up, and there is was – a truly wild Bali Starling. Brilliant for me to see, but a bit of a double-edged sword; this lone individual being alone, without a mate, and one of only a handful of this species left that is presumably, within my lifetime, destined for extinction. Compared to the reintroduced birds on Bumbrun, this was a truly wild, skittish bird...
the real deal - one of only a handful of wild Bali Starlings left

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