Bird Watching in Ubud, Bali

Located in the central highlands of Bali, Ubud is considered to be the cultural center of Bali. Surrounded by numerous rice paddies and ravines, this small town has grown popular due to tourists’ interest in Balinese arts and crafts, and yoga. Compared to the hedonistic Kuta and the luxurious Nusa Dua beaches, Ubud seems worlds away.

I guess Ubud is all about nature due to its surroundings and in tune with Balinese culture. So for my stay here, I looked for some nature hikes to go on. I found a recommended guide through Tripadvisor, called Bali Bird Walk. So being a somewhat birding enthusiast, I was hooked. After a couple of email exchanges with Su, the guide, I was booked for a nature walk. On the morning of the walk, we found our way to Murni’s Warung, the start point. Very soon a loud and cheerful voice greeted us. We finally met with Su, our energetic and knowledgeable guide. After waiting for a British couple to join us, we were off on the walk. Su, gave out binoculars and a birds list to each of us for reference. I didn’t take the binoculars as I already had my 400mm birding lens.

Although the walk started off in the houses of Ubud, we soon found ourselves walking amongst the rice paddies that have come to define the quintessential Balinese scenery. All the while Su was enthusiastically pointing out the local flora and fauna.

The sense of peace and tranquility that Ubud instills is the reason so many tourists come here to get away from it all.
The sense of peace and tranquility that Ubud instills is the reason so many tourists come here to get away from it all.

Besides being knowledgeable on herbs, birds and insects, Su also has incredibly good eyesight. She could pick out birds, animals or insects that were hidden from our untrained eyes.

Can you spot the monitor lizard basking at the top of the tree? Well, this photo was taken at 400mm x 1.6 crop factor for a total of 640mm zoom. Based on our normal eye sight we wouldn't be able to spot this at almost 100m away. But Su could still point it out to us.
Can you spot the monitor lizard basking at the top of the tree? Well, this photo was taken at 400mm x 1.6 crop factor for a total of 640mm zoom. Based on our normal eye sight we wouldn’t be able to spot this at almost 100m away. But Su could still point it out to us.

Su was also able to catch dragonflies bare handed. That’s a neat trick. She explained that in her childhood, they ate dragonflies and that’s how she learnt to catch them with her bare hands.

Catching a dragonfly with your hands.
Catching a dragonfly with your hands. There was no eating of any live insects or animals that day.
Catching a newt too.
Catching a newt too.
There were many dragonflies of various colours and species.
There were many dragonflies of various colours and species.
If you are a butterfly lover, then this would be really your lucky day.
If you are a butterfly lover, then this would be really your lucky day.
Other types of insects are not missed out.
Other types of insects are not missed out. Clockwise from top left: Jeweled beetle, Cicada, Weevils, St Andrews Cross spider.
More creepy crawlies.
More creepy crawlies and a golden chrysalis.

And now for the birds. This was what I signed up for. Being in the South East Asian region, a lot of the birds here can be found in Singapore, either as resident birds or migratory. However, there are some which are found only exclusively in Indonesia.

The Javan Kingfisher. I couldn't get close to it, since it would fly off once it saw me approaching within 50m of it.
The Javan Kingfisher. I couldn’t get close to it, since it would fly off once it saw me approaching within 50m of it. Unfortunately, we only saw 2 of these birds on that day.
There were a lot of egrets and herons patrolling the padi fields for meals. Here is a cattle egret.
There were a lot of egrets and herons patrolling the padi fields for meals. Here is a cattle egret.
A Javan pond heron catching a frog for lunch.
A Javan pond heron catching a frog for lunch.
Scaly breasted munias were feeding on the rice grains.
Scaly breasted munias were feeding on the rice grains.
We heard a bird making a funny 'Zit Zit' noise. And here it is, the Zitting Cisticola. What a name for a bird.
We heard a bird making a funny ‘Zit Zit’ noise. And here it is, the Zitting Cisticola. What a name for a bird. Sounds more like some footballer’s name to me.

We did see a few other birds like sunbirds and the spotted dove which are also commonly seen in Singapore.

Ok, this is also technically a bird. A real handsome looking cockerel from someone's farm.
Ok, this is also technically a bird. A real handsome looking cockerel from someone’s farm.
Another cockerel patrolling his owner's padi field.
Another cockerel patrolling his owner’s padi field.

Besides just looking at nature and bird spotting, Su also explained about the culture of the Balinese. How the herbs are used in their cooking and medicine. We also got a lesson in how the padi fields are managed through the land owners, distribution of land lots to each worker and the harvesting of rice. It really makes you appreciate how tough the life of a rice farmer is.

I guess this is what you would expect to see in Bali after watching 'Eat, Pray, Love'.
I guess this is what you would expect to see in Bali after watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. But I didn’t spot any Julia Roberts types around.
One of the workers leveling the mud before planting the rice seedlings.
One of the workers leveling the mud before planting the rice seedlings.
The shedded skin of a rice field snake.
The shedded skin of a rice field snake.
Motorcycles are the main form of transport for getting in and out of the padi fields.
Motorcycles are the main form of transport for getting in and out of the padi fields.
A wasps hive on a tree above our heads. The wasps were the size of my thumb.
A wasps hive on a tree above our heads. The wasps were the size of my thumb. I wouldn’t want to get stung by them.
The majestic Gunung Agung can be seen rising more than 3000m from the countryside.
The majestic Gunung Agung can be seen rising more than 3,000m from the countryside.

The walk makes a large circle and we ended up back at Murni’s Warung for lunch at around 1pm.

My Own Thoughts

Should you go for this nature walk? Well, that depends on what you expect out of it. If you are a nature lover, then this is a no brainer question. For bird watchers, this would be interesting whether you are from the South East Asian region or much further afield. As I mentioned earlier, most of the birds are common to other South East Asian countries and only a few are exclusive to Indonesia. As to what kinds of birds you hope to see really depends on seasons and a bit of luck.

For casual tourists, this is more a matter of cost then. At USD37/person, this 4 hour walk isn’t cheap by Balinese standards. However, I felt the price is worth it for Su’s knowledge and guiding. I could walk the same route by myself but I wouldn’t see more than 10% nor understand the significance of what I’m seeing. In fact, I met many tourists walking by themselves along the same way, but they were just admiring the scenery without seeing the details. The price does include a nice lunch and refreshments back at Murni’s Warung at the end of the walk.

If you decide to go, then wear light clothing with a hat. Apply plenty of sunscreen as the weather gets really hot and humid. Bring water, although Su does give out a bottle of mineral water before the start of the walk. The distance covered by the walk is roughly 5~6km and it’s over flat ground with some climbing of slopes here and there. Walking shoes would be the best, although I just wore my casual sandals. Most of the time, the birds are really quite far away, although you will be given binoculars to see them. To capture photos of the birds, you will need at least a 400mm lens, or a 300mm lens with 1.4x or 2.0x tele-converter. I don’t recommend walking around with a 500-800mm lens, you’ll probably collapse from sun stroke by then.

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