THE OTHER SIDE OF BALI
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). The other side of Bali. Living. July – August 2009. Pages 28-29. Volume 4, Issue 6. ISSN 1800-0746.
In search of the Bali Starling on Nusa Penida.
We crossed the Badung Strait in a chartered motor boat across to the island of Nusa Penida, to the South-east of Bali. We were in search of the near extinct Bali Starling. Behind us, Mount Agung (3,142m), towered over the Balinese landscape. Dark and brooding, the volcano was the tallest physical feature on an island associated with flat rice fields, but in reality an island of uneven contours with volcanic peaks, born from the tectonic forces in the ring of fire.
Looking to my left, another volcano’s peak seemed to hover in the clouds. This was Mount Rinjani (3,726m) on the island of Lombok. A bird with long narrow wings came over the horizon, solarised against the glare reflected from low lying rain clouds. Hetti and I tried to examine the frigatebird to identify which species it belonged. A boat shuddering and clashing violent against the waves and a continuous spray of sea water drenching us and our optical gear made this difficult. The bird receded to a small dot and then to nothingness as it effortlessly scythed it way through the air.
The boat moored on a jetty and we got ashore on a beach whose gritty sand was grounded from coral. A line of flags bobbed and waved in the water marking where dive boats had anchored. A pair of Pacific Swallows collected mud from the ground to build a nest and Paramie rolled the camera on the island of Bali, seen in perspective from the island of Nusa Penida.
Nusa Penida is a limestone island which is the best place in the world to see free flying Bali Starlings. The last few wild birds held out in the West of Bali, in Bali Barat National Park. The Begawan Foundation has been supporting a project run by Drh. I.G.N. Bayu Wirayudha to reintroduce this beautiful bird back into the wild. Fortunately for us, Sanjiva Gautamadasa, the GM of the Alila Manggis had met Caroyln Kenwrick from the BEgawan Foundation and had arranged for her to have dinner with us at the Alila Ubud. The conservationists hope to bring an element of eco-tourism into the project which had so far solely only focused on the captive breeding and re-introduction. In Ubud, Carol introduced me to Drh. I.G.N. Bayu Wirayudha. A remarkably persevering conservationist, he had spent a year speaking to thousands of the islanders and secured a commitment that they would not capture kill the birds. On Bali as in much of Indo China, birds are either trapped for the cage bird trade or eaten. Wild birds are therefore very heavily depleted and very shy.
In Nusa Penida we noticed an immediate difference. A Long-tailed Shrike stayed perched inches away from moving vehicles. Pink-necked Pigeons gorged themselves on fruit whilst we watched from beneath a Jam Tree, in the garden of the conservation center. Our first few free flying Bali Starlings came effortlessly. Two of the staff took us to a location where they had hung hollowed logs as nesting chambers. The Bali Starling in its all white plumage looked almost unnatural. We wondered what play of dice in the game of evolution could have served a plumage of freshly laundered white.
Nusa Penida could also be termed ‘butterfly island’ as there were many species even in the organic vegetable plot of the center. We ventured into the hilly center of the island, pausing at the top to look at Golden-headed Cisticola before reaching the limestone cliffs on the far side. What may have been forest on the island has been clear felled and very little natural forest remains. The ensuing glassy glades were been over-run by an invader from Tropical America. Lantana was in bloom everywhere, an invader welcomed in certain quarters. A profusion of butterflies were everywhere. I watched Chocolate Soldiers, Lemon and Peacock Pansies and various other species sipping its nectar. Peering over the cliffs we could see a sea fringed with turquoise had nibbled away at the limestone to create arches and other rock formations. On the sheer cliffs we also met our first pair of Black-faced Munias, a bird not found on Bali, a desirable tick to birders.
Another drizzled whipped in from the sea scattering a flock of Lemon-bellied White-eyes, another Sunda specialty. Our bird list and butterfly list had grown and we had gazed at a different landscape to the rainforests we had encountered on the slopes of Mount Agung. A few more long days lay ahead of us. Early morning starts and late evenings as we trekked the last remaining wild places in Bali to search for flying Draco lizards, montane birds and elusive forest butterflies. We were here to help Bali find a new kind of tourist, the wildlife traveller.