When we arrived at the office of Burung Indonesia Flores Program a few while ago, Samuel Rabenak was replying an email from a foreign bird observer about a trip plan to a number of locations in Mbeliling, some 48 kilometers away from the capital of West Manggarai Regency, Labuan Bajo.
Uncle Sam—his nickname—lowered his glasses down to his nose and took a deep breath. “How are you, My Friend? The schedule is tight until the end of the year,” he greeted us. Since almost all the guests are from abroad, he speaks English fluently. Not only language, he also self-taught in bird observing, in particular Flores endemic birds.
Bird watching activities performed by Om Sam are part of ABI Birding, a business unit which was established in 2016 by Burung Indonesia. ABI Birding serves bird watching activities in Burung Indonesia's work areas such as Flores, Sumba, and others. As a bird guide, Om Sam knows special locations to observe endemic birds or birds of limited distribution. So, he can guarantee his guests will be able to find the birds on their observation list.
In March 2016—the initial period of ABI Birding activities—he said he had explored a number of locations such as Pota Wangka, Komodo Island, Sano Nggoang Lake, Mbeliling, Ruteng, Kisol, even to Bajawa and Kelimutu. Generally, bird watching locations are carried out around the West Manggarai Regency.
West Manggarai possesses a rich biodiversity, especially bird species. Out of five Flores’ endemic birds, almost all are distributed in the area, namely Flores Monarch (Symposiachrus sacerdotum), Flores Scops-owl (Otus alfredi), Flores Hanging-parrot (Loriculus flosculus), Flores Crow (Corvus florensis), Flores Lorikeet (Trichoglossus weberi) and bird with limited distribution and critical status: Flores Hawk-eagle (Nisaetus floris). The Mbeliling Landscape, which hosts most of these birds, also serves as a water source for the people of West Manggarai.
According to Uncle Sam, as a bird guide, he must first conduct a survey on targets which were requested by the birdwatchers before escorting them to locations. In the city of Labuan Bajo alone, in 2016, a number of Wallacean birds were successfully observed. The species were varied, from Wallacean Drongo (Dicrurus densus), Mollucan Scops-owl (Otus magicus), Yellow-spectacled White-eye (Zosterops wallacei) to Flores Crow.
“Foregn birdwatchers were stated to visit on March to November 2016. They usually do a one-day visit to Komodo and Rinca Islands for Komodo dragon. But they spend most of their time on bird watching and observing the forest type differences between the two islands,” he said.
If we take a look at the birdwatcher’s list of birds in every location, Common Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) and Flores Hanging-parrot are the least to be observed. Uncle Sam revealed that in 2016 he only got two chances of encounter in Sano Nggoang Lake and Pota Wangka, both in West Manggarai. “There was only an encounter with Flores Hanging-parrot in Pota Wangka dan Pagal in May 2016. The Flores Green-pigeon is easier to find in the area of Mauponggo and Ende-MoniTrans-Flores Road,” he added.
The guests of ABI Birding are unique. Although some are just birdwatching hobbyists and photographers, the researchers are also using Uncle Sam's services to find the endemic birds and their habitats. So, if his figure is regarded as one of the "keys" to find these unique species, it is not an overstatement.
Richard Noske, a lecturer and bird researcher from Australia was one of his customers. Noske was the discoverer of a number of bird species in Nusa Tenggara. His discoveries were recorded in the Guide Book of Birds in Wallacea—the book which was always on Uncle Sam’s hand to learn from. During 2017, Uncle Sam said, the demand for birdwatching was getting higher and he had his trips packed to the end of the year. That explained his heavy sigh when we met earlier.
Bersambung: ABI Birding, the Key to the Gate of Bird Trip in Flores (Part 1)
ABI Birding is a business unit dedicated for tourism activities on bird and wildlife observations in the working area of Burung Indonesia. Since its establishment in 2016, this unit aims to support the conservation of birds and its habitats in Indonesia. Contact for further information: Email: email@example.com, Handphone: 0812-382-465-47