Sulawesi: 17-20th October 2018

February 28, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

My second trip in October (immediately after Sumatra) was a short trip to the island of Sulawesi, also part of modern-day Indonesia. The island has a fascinating natural history and had long been on my wish-list, particularly since reading so much about it in Alfred Russel Wallace's The Malay Archipelago. I actually started planning this trip almost as soon as I accepted my job in Bali.

I had originally hoped to spend longer exploring the island but I soon ran into a few obstacles (in particular, ludicrous quotes from guides and tour companies) and decided to make it a short one instead. My wife and daughter also joined me this time - it was our 2 year old's first experience of the jungle!

We flew from Bali to Manado in the far northeast of the island. We then transferred to Tangkoko, staying just outside the national park itself. The 4 hour drive was interesting and for a change there was no oil palm to be seen. Instead the scenery along the drive was quite varied (though still largely cultivated) so I actually enjoyed it.

We stayed at a lodge called 'Tangkoko Hill' which was recommended to us by a friend. There were a few similar lodges scattered around but there's not really much choice in the area. The reception from the owner of our lodge was a bit frosty (he didn't show much interest in us), but the other staff made up for that. In general we were well looked-after and certainly well-fed. Our daughter was basically adopted by the owner's family!

After unpacking and settling in, I set off for an afternoon / early evening trip into the national park with a local guide called 'Julian', provided by the lodge. Julian was a very knowledgeable guide and was good at spotting wildlife. The main target for the evening was the spectral tarsier (Tarsius tarsier), a small species of primate. They were not hard to spot - it actually felt too easy! Tangkoko has a road going most of the way in, and some quite clear signs that lead to a fig tree, inside which reside a family of tarsiers. We waited until just before nightfall after which they emerged from the tree. I was a bit unsure about whether or not I would take a photo as the use of flash was necessary by the time they had emerged. I decided that I would but I limited myself to 2 shots and positioned myself a good distance away. These are the photos that I took:

Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)


Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)

I also saw the first owl of the trip - a Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata) sat in a tree:

Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata)Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata)

The next morning we headed back into the forest early in search of Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra). We encountered a troop within about 10 minutes, heading away from the beach and into the forest. There was very little light in the forest, making photographing these fast-moving monkeys quite challenging:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

After spending about half an hour with the monkeys we continued on in search of other animals. One of my favourite encounters was with a knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix), a very impressive endemic Sulawesi bird:

Knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix)Knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix)

This male was slowly making his way towards a tree which housed a female. When breeding, female hornbills seal themselves inside tree cavities and rely on the male to bring them and their chicks food. Amazing!

We also encountered a trio of ochre-bellied hawk owls (Ninox ochracea) sat in a tree:

Ochre-bellied hawk owl (Ninox ochracea)Ochre-bellied hawk owl (Ninox ochracea)

One animal that was very high on my 'must-see' list was the Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus). These curious creatures are marsupials - a group of animals that start to appear in SE Asia once you cross the 'Wallace line'. We saw a few in Tangkoko, but unfortunately they were very high up in the canopy and I only managed one photo:

Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus)Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus)

We weren't really focussing on the herpetofauna so I only came across one reptile - this littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata):

Littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata)Littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata)


We also chanced across a lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis), which was so compliant that I was convinced it had been strapped to the tree...

Lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis)Lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis)

The next morning we went out again in search of the macaques. As yesterday, the light was tricky and I didn't quite get the photo I was hoping for! I did have one interesting encounter though - my guide told me that this is Naruto - the famous 'selfie monkey' who was at the heart of an animal rights / copyright dispute started by PETA:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) - Naruto the famous selfie monkey (?)

I'll have to take Julian's word for it that this was the actual monkey...

We also encountered a Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus) on the way out of the park:

Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus)Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus)

Afterwards we headed back to our accommodation ready to transfer back to the airport.

Whilst we were waiting for our transport a troop of macaques broke into the lodge grounds in search of fruit, granting me a few bonus images!:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

These unexpected bonus photos have since become my favourite photos from the trip, even if they're slightly let down by the setting of the slightly unnatural-looking hotel grounds.

My final photos of the trip were of a pair of Sulawesi lined gliding lizards (Draco spilonotus) on a tree in the lodge grounds:

Sulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - maleSulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - male Sulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - femaleSulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - female

Another short but sweet trip and I'd love to go back to Sulawesi if I get the chance - there's plenty more to see!


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