Published: August 28th 2011August 28th 2011
Labuanbajo is very hot. I just thought I'd throw that out there. I mean I remembered it was hot, but not really how hot. Although I think its actually hotter than it was last time I was here because all the locals are complaining that its too hot. It hasn't rained since January apparently, and of course the longer it goes without rain the hotter it gets. The first bird I saw in Flores this trip were black-fronted flowerpeckers in the gardens of the Gardena Hotel. I even got some photos. There were other birds around as well but I didn't bother looking. I think that's my problem, most of the birds I'm seeing I've already seen and because I'm really just looking for a few (impossible) target mammals I'm not putting all that much effort into actually birding. Never mind.
The day I arrived in Labuanbajo I headed off in the afternoon up the road a-ways to the village of Tebedo. Last trip I had come here to try and see Wallace's hanging parrots and had met a chap called Frans who told me that the giant rats were also found there, although in the end I saw neither.
That was in June 2009, just over two years ago. I thought it was remarkable that the owner of the Gardena Hotel had recognised me when I turned up, but that was nothing to when I arrived in Tebedo and Frans greeted me immediately with my full name! I'm hoping the reason people still remember here is a favourable one; they don't seem displeased to see me, so I assume so. Once again though, no freakin' hanging parrots!!! Last time Frans told me "July, August, September - always nuri here". I asked him when I arrived this time if there were any nuri around and he said "yes, lots". I waited at the fruiting tree he said they come to until dusk and no parrots showed. I really shouldn't go looking for specific animals, its bound to result in disappointment.
The next morning I caught a bus to Ruteng. Local buses are fun. You jump on in the street outside the hotel and then they drive round and round town trying to find enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. My bus couldn't find any, so after an hour or so we went to a village outside town and
sat there for another hour until more people turned up. Then we drove for a bit before stopping for a cigarette break, drove a bit more, stopped for lunch, drove a bit more, eventually reached Ruteng and then drove around that town for an hour dropping off boxes and sacks. It took eight hours for me to get from the Gardena hotel in Labuanbajo to the Rima Hotel in Ruteng (where, incidentally, the price hasn't gone up at all!). The owner of the Rima Hotel didn't recognise me at all. Bummer.
The reason I was in Ruteng of course was to try and find a giant rat. Around Labuanbajo way they call them bitu (bee-too), around Ruteng betu (be-too). Strictly speaking it shouldn't be too hard to find one. They've been recorded from sea level to the mountains in a variety of habitats and if you ask about them by their local name then absolutely everybody knows them. Its like saying the word "possum" to a New Zealander. Although I'm not entirely convinced that everybody really distinguishes between actual bitu and just really big rats. Anyway, the plan was to search the forests at night at Lake Ranamese and
photo taken from the road above the lake, where the view is actually hidden by a specially-constructed concrete wall!!
Golo Lusang. I asked the boy at the Rima Hotel desk what time their doors are locked. Ten o'clock. Oh, because I will be coming back late, I say. Like eleven? No, more like midnight, one, two o'clock. No, not possible. I managed to bring the time up as late as eleven o'clock but that was the absolute limit. The next problem was arranging a motorbike to pick me up from the lake at night. It wasn't possible said the boy again, nobody will go out there at night. Eventually we found a driver who would but ten o'clock was the latest he would agree to. It really shouldn't be this hard! Ten o'clock only gives me about three hours of darkness. But, on the other hand, its not like I'm even going to find the damn thing anyway so it doesn't really matter!
That afternoon we went off to Lake Ranamese. I wrote about this before from the last trip, but it is a rather curious place. It used to be a sort of nature reserve with an HQ and nice paths everywhere, but its all fallen into complete decay. The path that used to encircle the lake
has almost disintegrated so there's only a portion left on the right side. The gazebo type structures have more-or-less collapsed. The only people you ever see there are fishermen and the occasional birder. But at least its now free to visit! It was almost dusk when we got there so no birds were seen apart for a flock of 200-odd Pacific black ducks on the lake's surface with a few scattered little grebes for good measure. The driver left and I went into the forest on the path. I honestly had good hopes. The forest looked great and I could totally imagine a giant rat sitting on a branch going "eep eep" at me. But no. I heard a Wallace's scops owl while there but that was it. I really really do suck at finding nocturnal animals!
Early next morning (today) I went to the pass at Golo Lusang just outside Ruteng. I hadn't been here before because I didn't know about it on my last visit. The dawn chorus of the bare-throated whistlers was in full swing and what an astounding aural spectacle it is. Its like a parking lot in the future where all the spaceships' alarms
failed play set
at Danau Ranamese
have gone off simultaneously. Absolutely amazing. Trying to see any birds was quite another matter. I am having some trouble finding anything in Flores right now. Eventually I spied some yellow-browed dark-eyes, mountain white-eyes, brown-capped fantails, scaly-crowned honeyeaters and finally a male bare-throated whistler in full song.
Tonight I'm returning to Ranamese but rather than coming back early before the hotel lock-up I'm just going to take my tent and stay there overnight. I'm probably not going to have much fun because while I generally don't mind being out in the forest at night alone, all those abandoned building at the lake's HQ really creep me out. I think I must have watched too much Scooby Doo as a youngling. Over the next few nights I'll also try night-spotting at Golo Lusang and Gunung Ranaka.
There are more photos below