Sunday, July 30, 2023

Komodo Island - Indonesia

I did a previous post on Rinca Island which is near Komodo Island and part of Komodo NP. That post talks somewhat about the Komodo dragon and Komodo NP. It appears that there are only a few places that visitors can visit on Komodo Island: the Loh Liang Ranger Station, Pink Beach for snorkeling, and Kampung Komodo, the main village on the island where some limited lodging is available. I believe the other red marked areas on the map below are diving areas. 
This map shows Komodo Island to the left and Rinca Island to the right. We visited the Loh Liang Station in Liang Bay about where the "X" is. We also went snorkeling at Pink Beach just beyond the southeast end of Liang Bay. 
We visited in the morning and were some of the first visitors. As we took a small boat to the dock we could see a Komodo dragon on the beach. 
We hurried up to see it and it started to head inland. Vincent, our guide, hurried up and got our NP ranger, we had to be with, and we found the dragon we'd seen on the beach now going through an area of buildings. It was a young male, probably about six feet long. 
Then we started following it down a trail and walked slowly behind it for quite a while. The NP guide placed our iPhones on the trail in front of the dragon and got some fun video of us following behind the dragon. Note a large group behind us, waiting their turn to see the dragon we were following. 
We eventually went ahead and let the group behind us take a turn following the dragon. We walked through a forested area and the ranger showed us a large mound which was used by dragons to deposit eggs. 
We saw several banded pigs, also known as the Indonesian wild boar. They are a food source for the dragons. 
We also saw a number of orange-footed scrubfowl, also known as orange-footed megapode. They were too far away for cell phone photos and moved to fast for my camera on manual focus. I've got a very blurry photo below. 
We took a walk up a small hill and got a good view of Liang Bay. As we started down the trail our ranger spotted a large dragon just a bit off the trail resting beneath a small tree. He estimated it at 20 years old. 

The video below has migrated in my post to this position and rather than fight it I'm incorporating it in. The video is of an old dragon, estimated by our guide at 20 years old, walking along on an injured front foot, likely injured in battle years ago. We saw it shortly after seeing the dragon on the beach below. 
We heard a squawk and a yellow-crested cockatoo was on the dead branch of a large tree near us. I got a poor, blurry photo. I found out later that this cockatoo is critically endangered and there are only about 2,500 of them that exist in the wild, with Komodo Island being the largest population. 
We went further and the ranger showed us a large hole in the bank of a dry river that the ranger had seen a dragon go in the day before, he believed to lay eggs. Then the ranger rushed ahead and said to hurry. Two dragons were mating, surrounded by people taking photos. They were slowly making their way away from the beach and into the forest. I thought the female on the bottom was doing the moving, but our guide Vincett said it was the male on top doing the pushing to get away from all of the people. He said this mating can go on for two or three hours. 

Then we saw another dragon a short distance away near a tree at the edge of the beach. We watched it awhile. 

Then a short distance away we saw a very large dragon, estimated by the ranger at 20 years old, walking on a bum front leg, likely injured in battle. [See the video above that migrated away from this spot.]

We walked through some buildings full of locals selling carved wood dragons and shell necklaces. I bought a six ounce Sprite that had what I wanted most: a cold drink. 

We walked out on the dock and caught our small boat out to our main boat moored in the bay. We visited Pink Beach outside of the Bay and had our best snorkeling ever. Judy may have some video taken by Vincent with his underwater camera. 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Yellow-Crested Cockatoo

The yellow-crested cockatoo, also known as the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo, is found in East Timor and the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi and the Lesser Sundas. It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. Wikipedia notes an estimated population of less than 2,500. There are five subspecies, including Cacatua sulphurea occidentalis, found in the western and central Lesser Sunda islands, including Komodo, Rinca, Padar, and critically rare on Flores. The IUCN estimates that there are 1,200 to 2,000 mature birds extant and further that Komodo Island has an estimated population of 1,100 birds, which looks like it may be the place with the largest population.  
Yellow-crested cockatoo range from Wikipedia.
It has white plumage, a black bill, bluish white bare skin around the eye, gray feet, a yellow or orange crest and yellow ear coverts (coloring on the cheeks), and yellow undersurface on the wings and tail. 
We were in the Loh Liang Valley on Komodo on a hike led by a Komodo NP guide when one landed in a tree near us and started squawking. The guide got quite excited and asked to see my photo. He was a little disappointed with it as was I. My camera was not functioning well because of water damage and I was using manual focus that was not always cooperating. I'm glad I at least got a recognizable photo. 

I have always associated cockatoos with Australia and was surprised to see one on Komodo. However, there are 21 species of cockatoo and there are some dramatic differences between them. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Rinca Island (Komodo NP) - Indonesia

Rinca Island, pronounced Rintja in Indonesia, is an island between Komodo Island and Flores Island among the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Most people get there by a 2 hour flight (about 306 miles) from Denpasar's Gusti Ngurah Rai Airport (on Bali Island) to Labuan Bajo's Komodo Airport in western Flores Island, followed by a two hour boat ride, if heading straight there, to the pier in Loh Buaya Valley run by Komodo National Park. Rinca is 70.46 square miles and has 1,747 inhabitants as of 2020. Loh Buaya Valley is the only place on Rinca that tourists can visit and it is not possible to spend the night there (Loh Buaya Valley is only open between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.) and it is not near where the inhabitants live. Tourists are limited to the boardwalk and the 1.07 km circular Hidden Nirvana trekking path which goes through the forest and then up a small hill, to give a view of Loh Buaya Bay, then back to Loh Buaya Vallley. Tourists must be accompanied by a NP guide. I am only now seeing that the age limit for visitors is age 65 (I was 66). Komodo NP gets less precipitation than any other area of Indonesia, and it is warm: the average high temperature is a low of 84 degrees in January and a high of 91 degrees in September with an average 36% humidity level, which sounds pretty low, but I was sweating profusely.
Komodo National Park was established in 1980 and declared a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1991. It was established to protect the Komodo dragon but its purpose was expanded to protect both terrestrial and marine biodiversity. It is part of the Coral Triangle and was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature beating out other contenders such as the Galapagos Islands and Grand Canyon. It covers Komodo Island (which is 150 square miles), Rinca Island (which is 70.46 square miles), Padar Island (which is 3.86 square miles),  Nusa Kode (in the south bay of Rinca), Gili Motang (which is 12 square miles) and 24 other islands and a portion of Flores Island (119.69 square miles in Mbeliling and Ngorang Protection Forests and 11.58 square miles in Wae Wuul and Mburak Parks). Komodo dragons, the jewel and namesake of the park, are rated as endangered by the IUCN and the most recent statistics I could find (as of 2021) show they are found on Rinca (1,100 to 1,500 with about 500 adults, the largest subpopulation), Komodo (earlier estimates show it with more than Rinca, but the most recent shows similar numbers, but a little smaller than Rinca), Padar (extinct in the 1970s but re-colonized in 2004 with less than 10), Nusa Kode (less than 100), Gili Motang (less than 100) and three subpopulations on Flores (about 100 in Wae Waul Reserve and 2,000 scattered in non-protected areas). Flores is very large, 5,996 square miles, with a population of 1,897,550, but most of the Komodo dragons on it have been extirpated. 
We flew from Bali to Labuan Bajo and were picked up at the airport by our guide, Vincent. We were taken to the harbor and taken by a small boat to our boat moored in the harbor with five individuals on it, a captain, two cooks and two other deck hands. We went to Kalong Island first, where we purchased a carved wood Komodo dragon and a shell necklace from local vendors, then climbed to the top of a small mountain for views.

Then we sailed to Rinca where our boat was moored and we were taken by small boat to the dock in Loh Buaya Valley. There is a very large statue of two Komodo dragons fighting on the dock. 

Where the dock hits dry ground there is a large section of mangroves along the shore where we saw a number of long-tailed macacques, also known as crab-eating macacques. They were looking for and eating crabs.

This mother crab-eating macacque has a baby and appears to be suckling while she is groomed by another macacque.
We also saw a few birds. My camera and lens were damaged by water in Sumatra and so many of my photos are blurry because I was using manual focus on a camera that was not cooperating (many of the photos were taken using my i-Phone). 
Pacific swallows

Hair-crested drongo
We walked along a board walk where there were several stations with national park personnel giving information on the Komodo dragon and Komodo NP. Before the first station Vincent spotted a huge dragon just off the side of the elevated boardwalk resting.

Eventually the boardwalk led us to a compound with two large circular buildings surrounded by walls. There was a small museum inside one with information about the NP, a small snack station and souvenir venders selling carved wooden Komodo dragons, necklaces and other items. There we met our NP guide. Then I noticed a Komodo dragon in the area outside the gated compound and rushed over to take a photo. 
Victor accompanied us with our NP guide who was carrying a long pointed stick with two prongs at the end to push back any aggressive dragons. There was another large resting dragon outside the gate which didn't move and another one near it that our NP guide was able to get to move. 

We took the Hidden Nirvana trekking path up through the valley and climbed slowly up to the top of a small hill where we got a beautiful view of Loh Buaya Bay and other islands beyond it.

Behind us was the terrain of Rinca.
We started to slowly walk down the hill and Vincent noticed a dragon curled up in the grass off to the side that our NP guide had missed.
We continued down the hill near the compound where we got extensive views of some more dragons. 
Our NP guide was able to distract and wake up the snoozing dragon we'd first seen and got it walking. 

Then it encountered another dragon that had come into the valley and everyone got excited because they thought they were going to fight. However, they just stared at each other for a while and both walked away, one some ways back of the other. Judy and I followed them from behind the barrier, watching them go closer toward the ocean. 

Another dragon came out of the forest and into the yard outside the gated buildings. We went back out into the yard with the NP guide for some more photos. 

The Flores Rusa is a subspecies of the Javan Rusa on Flores and nearby islands. It is one of the dragons' favorite meals. What was amazing is that they were in close proximity to the dragons outside the main buildings. Apparently the dragons, like a large snake, eat and then go long periods of time in between meals. The deer must sense when it is safe to be near them. 

This Flores Rusa was a particularly fine specimen that was in tall grass on our way back out to the dock.  

This was a spectacular visit. We saw a good number of dragons and some of their prey and got quite close to the dragons. This was something I've wanted to do since I was a little boy and it was a dream come true.