©A Peep Behind Wallacea Line For Sulawesi Tarictic Hornbill

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“In late April 2008, a revisit to North Sulawesi concluded to be one of the best offshore travelling highlights in bird digiscopy. Rather sadly though, the wilds of fast disappearing tropical rainforests of the Indonesian Archipelago stared blankly in return – spelling gloom and doom of an impending permanent loss of flora and fauna pristine habitats that future generations will not get to see anymore.

“I had the exclusive service of enthusiastic local bird guide – Fan to show me the endemics I returned specially for. Had I waited a bit longer, it would be harder and less chances of seeing any quality birds left in the wild.

“As we took to a 8km trail walk, we unknowingly spooked a largish black bird perched above us. I heard only the waffle of heavy winged beats and in time to see a startled bird flew further away. Fortunately, she flew and perched onto another branch along side a steep ravine.

“For me, it was only a black looking bird that did not want to be disturbed nor did the bird gave me any adrenalin rush on site.

“For Fan, he was more excited than I for he knew what he saw and screamed in a whisper.
‘Sulawesi Hornbill! Sulawesi Hornbill!’.

“Fan had only seen this Hornbill species twice and urged me to take a photo shot. I had to bend over to the edge of the ravine to peep glimpse of this partially hidden bird under the tree canopy through my binoculars.

“Photographing this bird was assessed not easy but Fan and I teamed up well. For safety harness, I had him holding on tightly to the rear of my waist pouch belt, with room only for DGScope to do a one-legged stand, me one footed stand and my right foot hung loose over the deep ravine edge!

“This bird-Sulawesi Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides exarhatus) has turned out to be the second endemic Hornbill species for the island of Sulawesi and its adjacent islands- a bird much more difficult to see and professed to be less photographed (left).

“There are two sub-species: P. e. exarhatus found only in N. Sulawesi and the Lembeh Island and P. e. sanfordi found in the rest of Sulawesi.

“I was to later realise this photographed species was in demand by scientific studies and field guide authors, despite the fact she turned out rather drab and blurry.

“Upgraded from ‘Near Threatened’, this species has recently joined the ranks amongst the ‘Vulnerable’ species of Hornbills in the IUCN Red Data List of endangered birds. This means the Sulawesi Tarictic Hornbill has a 10% probability of extinction within 100 years.

“Considered to be scientifically a smallish Hornbill of 45cm size, the female bird with virtually all feathered black has pale corrugated upper mandibles looking like a ripen cocoa pod (below left).

“She soon made her way amongst the lists of flora/fauna Sulawesi endemics in the published manual, ‘Manual Identifikasi Beberapa Spesies Kunci Di-Sulawesi’ by authors Abdul Haris Mustari and Iwan Kurniawan published in 2011 with sponsorship from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and in collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry Department of Indonesia (above right).

“‘Polished’ up by Morten Strange, this Sulawesi Tarictic Hornbill (P. e. exarhatus) from N. Sulawesi made her second debut two years later and joined the ranks of 56 species of Hornbills in the latest, newly published Photographic Guide book, ‘Hornbills Of The World’ tri-authored by Pilai Poonswad, Alan Kemp and Morten Strange (left) LINK.

“A ‘must have’ book for all birders and photographers who have a penchant for Hornbills. Packed with much updated information, it has an impressive collection of contributed bird photographs taken in the wild by more than sixty photographers worldwide; to include some outstanding images from famed photojournalist – Tim Laman, renowned for his exceedingly successful ‘Birds-Of-Paradise’ project with National Geographic and in collaboration with Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“Having recently made a birding tour of West Java and so disappointed at the fast disappearing bird species in forest reserves, parks and gardens, I resigned to the fact that I was not going to be able to see or photograph bird rarities in the wild – not going to be easy anymore.

“To have a glimpse of them at second best, I had to see what was available behind cages and bars at Bird Parks and this… I reluctantly did and splurged on one as a day outing trip (left).

“Birds in bird parks/sanctuaries have sacrificed their freedom to live in captivity and in keeping their species conservatively alive become showpieces, upkeep and revenue earners in the name of education, science, recreation and ecotourism.

“Here a forlorn male, adult portrait of a Sulawesi Tarictic Hornbill (P. e.sanfordi) posed with a demure look through his long eyelashes. |PLATE 6|

“What makes this Southerner sub-species anatomically different from his wild sister of the north?

“I discovered the difference only after reading, ‘Hornbills of the World’. I hope readers will find the answer too and be mesmerised in the newly released publication by Draco Publishing and Distribution Pte. Ltd. Or contact/visit Nature’s Niche Bookshop in Singapore for a 25x25cm action packed copy LINK.”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
1st Jne 2013
Copyright article and all images: Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird & Conservation Fund

1). Manual Indentifikasi Beberapa Spesies Kunci Di-Sulawesi by Abdul Haris Mustari and Iwan Kuniawan. Published 2011

2) Hornbills of the World by Pilai Poonswad, Alan Kemp and Morten Strange. Published 2013.

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