Thursday, 17 September 2009

Central Java: Borobudur, Birds & Bats

5 to 12 July 2009

Tim and I gallivanted around Central Java in a one week spree, taking in the key sights of Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogja or spelt Yogya in short), Prambanan, Borobudur and Dieng Plateau. Central Java is characterised by a number of perfect volcanic cones such as Mt. Sindoro, seen here from Dieng Plateau, a highland hideaway three hours by car from the regional capital of Yogya. In Wonosobo, the town nearest Dieng Plateau, there are at least four volcanoes nearby: Mt Sumbing (3,371m), Mt Sindoro (3,162 m), Mt Bisma (2,365 m ) and Mt Ragajembangan (2,177m). Arguably, Indonesia's most famous and most active volcano is Mt. Merapi (2,911m) which has erupted regularly since 1548. Merapi's majestic cone looms large as one travels around Yogya as it is just 30km to the north of the city.

We stayed three nights at the cosy Ministry of Coffee, a boutique hotel that sits in the middle of tourist-friendly Jalan Prawirotaman in Yogya. The hotel's ground level is a quaint coffee-and-cake place, serving up chocolatey delights like 'Death by Chocolate', which was only average by my standards (after being pamperted by Fullerton Hotel's Valrhona chocolate buffet, nothing comes close). On the second level is a simple library that is a favorite hang-out of laptop-toting tourists and locals alike, who stay for hours surfing the net with the hotel's free Wi-fi. Rooms, located at the back, came with smallish balconies and colour-matched bedsheets and walls, but were a tad tiny.
We breakfasted on the roof of the hotel while looking out for Scarlet-headed Flowerpeckers (endemic to Indonesia) visiting the tree on the opposite side of the street.

I was thrilled to find this Common Sun Skink (Mabuya multifasciata) lurking in our hotel's garden. It looks different from the ones in Singapore though, with its yellowish throat/flank (whereas those in Sinagpore are mostly reddish or olive brown), but our good friend Dr Leong Tzi Ming IDed it as such.

Pasar Ngasem is the city's Bird Market located to the north of Taman Sari (Water Palace). This market is a hub for the region's legally or illegally caught wild birds (some are claimed to be bred). We spotted many juvenile specimens that we suspect have been poached from their nests. (In the later part of the trip at Dieng Plateau, we came across a man who showed us such a nest with two chirping baby Long-tailed Shrikes in it.) However, as we visited the market near closing time, we didn't see all that much as some shops were already shut by 430pm. Came across this man feeding live worms, individually skewered at the end of a long wire, to various birds (including the Yellow-vented Bulbul) held in cages. The live worms are obviously a tasty protein supplement to the dried food that these birds typically feed on. Birds seen/sold here include the Coppersmith Barbet, Orange-headed Thrush, Javan Kingfisher, sunbirds, some unidentified endemic thrushes (rare), white-eyes, woodpeckers, parrots, junglefowl, and even plain jobs like bulbuls and mynas. Deserving special mention is the Common/Rock Pigeon (Columba Livia), which seems to be a local favourite as we came across many households with wooden pigeon houses built up high, sporting the cream-brown and iridescent-black breeds. Also on sale in crowded cages was the polka-dotted Tokay Gecko, apparently kept as pets or double yuks, eaten as food.

Ants tending to their whitish larvae, bred and sold as bird feed.
We were approached by a Batik tout, a pleasant 50-year old local who spoke passable English and guided us around the Bird Market, filling us in on the various curosities encountered. He next brought us up a flight of steps at the back of the market to the ruins of the Water Palace (Taman Sari). Here, we were treated to a splendid view of the city, showing clearly its low-rise and neatly laid-out nature. Locals also gravitate here for romantic picnics or just to hang out with chatty family and friends.

Our impromptu guide-cum-batik-tout then led us down a long passageway towards the Water Palace proper. After a series of confusing turns and twists down side streets, where we saw regular concrete houses abutting these ancient structures, we were shown a bird's eye view of the Sultan's abandoned bathing pools that once served as a pleasure centre for the noble class (photo above). Even though the main gates to the attraction were already closed, our guide simply led us around the back, and we got to see the formal palace square being transformed into a village playground with kids enjoying soccer and volleyball. And yes, we did enter a batik shop where I bought a kerchief-size print of a farmer and his dog walking on a dyke, cast in a sunset silhouette. Lonely Planet has maligned such Batik touts. In contrast, we felt that ours had shown us a side of Yogya that we would not have discovered on our own. We tipped him generously as a sign of our gratitude.

Wayang Kulit or Shadow Puppet. Over here, I photographed the puppets on the obverse side (in full colour) as they were being manipulated with great finesse by the puppet master (dhalang) who was practically a brilliant one-man-show, animatedly acting the various roles with nuanced changes to the tone of his voice. On the right of the photo is the Hindu Tree of' Life, propped up on a banana log that stretches the entire length of the cloth screen.
According to this link,
usually, before the play the dhalang meditates before the Tree of Life. This tree/mountain (kayon/ gunungan) puppet is a link between himself and the gods, between the Upper and the Underworlds, and symbolizes the universe. The kayon starts both shadow and rod puppet plays. It brings the puppets to life. Later in the play, it is placed back in the center to mark a change of scene, or fluttered to represent a strong natural force like a wind. At the end, it marks the finish of the play.

On the side where the audience is usually seated, the same puppets appear as mysterious back-lighted shadows of their colourful self, while the puppet master is cleverly hidden as his silhouette is too far away from the white-cloth screen to be clearly captured. This excellent Wayang Kulit performance was on the grounds of the famed Sonobudoyo Museum, accompanied by a huge gamelan orchestra. As audiences, we were allowed to move around to take photos. In truth, I preferred watching the colourful side than the shadow play (there were chairs on both sides). The museum also has a Wayang Kulit making demonstration where we saw how these puppets were carved out of cow's leather (kulit = processed cow hide) with a sharp knife, and painted lovingly with a fine brush.

Kota Gede's fine silver filigree of a common form of street transport - the trishaw (becak) which we often sat in to get around Yogya.

Prambanan temple, located 17km east of Yogya, is a must-see tribute to Central Java's Hindu past, before her people's mass conversion to Islam. Sadly, this Shivaist Temple was damaged by the Bantul/Yogyakarta Quake (magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale) which hit on 27 May 2006. When we were there, restoration was still taking place, with barricades preventing us from entering the main temple edifice. However, we were allowed into the smaller surrounding temples. This is a snap of Prambanan seen from across the river.

Close up views of Prambanan Temple.

As with Borobudur, the Prambanan Temple Complex is rather massive, with extensive trees and grass patches interspersing the various temple clusters. While walking around, we spied several of these purplish crabs living in the drains that bisected the grounds. We also got to see the Coppersmith Barbet, a sub-adult and adult pair, which looked startlingly different from the ones found in Singapore. The amount of deep red on its face was spectacular.

As part of the Prambanan day-tour package that we were on, we were dropped off near the river that ran just behind the Prambanan Ballet theatre restaurant that served an expensive buffet. Giving the buffet a miss, we spent more than half an hour on the raised embankments looking at wildlife, including the Javan Kingfisher captured here with my 12x zoom lens (Indonesian endemic - lifer for Tim) that I spotted fishing from a banana stump. We also saw birds like the Grey-capped Woodpecker and Olive-backed Tailorbird. As a side note, our tour brought us up to Bokso (a hill), a supposedly good place to see the sunset, but we (including the French couple with us) were shocked at the Rp75,000 per pax rates for viewing spots. We asked to be driven back to Prambanan. Had we stayed to admire the pricey sunset, we would have missed this spot of wildlife watching. For dinner, we walked out to the main road where we found a warung serving Tim's favourite Mie Bakso (meatball noodles).

While following an energetic Olive-backed Tailorbird around with my bins at the Prambanan river, I suddenly spotted this beautiful but well-camouflaged lizard in the background. IDed as the Bronchocela jubata (Green Crested Lizard - Indonesia), not to be confused with Bronchocela cristatella (Green Crested Lizard - Southeast Asia) by Ming - a lifer! The light was rapidly failing, so this is my best shot with the 12x zoom.

Two more animal species spotted that night - one huge Four-lined Treefrog (found also in Singapore) at the mini water feature just outside the ballet grounds, and several unidentified insectivorous and fruit bats zipping through the air.

The Prambanan Ballet was held in an outdoor theatre to captitalise on the cool night air during the dry season. The prominent outline of the ethereally-lighted Prambanan temples served as the theatre's backdrop. The ballet was fairly interesteing, a kaleidoscope of changing scenes as various lavishly-costumed actors performed the first act of the Ramayana. I especially liked the cavorting monkey troops played by boys in macaque guise complete with dangling tails. Hanuman himself paled in comparison. Here, the key actors pose with the audience at the end of the performance.

The ancient monument of Borobudur has always ranked amongst one of my must-see places in Asia, and rightfully so, as it is Indonesia’s top destination, even surpassing Bali in terms of tourist arrivals. After witnessing the intricate beauty of Angkor’s Hindu bas reliefs, I craved for more stone carvings in this Mahayana Buddhist equivalent located 42 km northwest of Yogyakarta. In fact, Borobudur was the main reason for us visiting Central Java.

Being Christian and in a great hurry to see everything in the two miserable hours given by our day tour (a move we regretted, we should have stayed at least half a day), we headed straight for the top of the monument, puffing and heaving ourselves up the steep stairway. Thankfully, there were relatively few people in the early morning hours just after sunrise, and we enjoyed our packed breakfast of quiche, cut fruits, yoghurt and a somewhat cooled and half-spilt coffee as we feasted our eyes at the symmetrical volcanoes of Mount Merapi and Mount Sindoro set amidst a serene backdrop of rolling hills. Tantalising bird calls were everywhere, confirming what Ding Li had said about Borobudur’s gardens being a good place to look for birds. Unfortunately, we barely had time to see the main carvings, much less the avian life.

Directly surrounding us were 72 seated Buddhas, mostly enshrined in perforated stupas, made famous by their frequent use in Indonesian tourist promotional materials. Some of these stupas have been artfully exposed, and we gravitated towards one which revealed good views of the sage’s lotus posture and beatific smile. Tim suddenly realised that he had lost his spectacles again. We had to retrace our steps, and were very grateful to locate it on one of the lower balustrades where we had paused to catch our breath. This pair of cheap eyepiece which we had purchased in Yogya to replace his regular specs that somehow got lost, was to be the butt of our jokes as its fragile frame continued to break up into ever smaller pieces as the trip progressed. At the end of the tour, all that was left was the lenses with two short protuberances on each side, with just enough finger space for Tim to hold on to it as he read his many novels. Obviously, someone must have sat heavily on it, causing many hidden fracture lines that materialised as the days bored on.

Pre-dating Angkor by some 300 years, Borobudur was built between AD 770 and AD 830 and is a splendid architectural accomplishment comprising three circular platforms sitting atop six square platforms featuring some 2672 bas reliefs and 504 statues of Buddha. Buddhist practitioners typically make their pilgrimage beginning at the base of the monument’s East gate, proceeding upwards in an anti-clockwise direction. The various levels and the numerous relief panels along the way represent the transition from the world of desire to the final peak of nirvana.

Spotted bees flying in and out of a hole in one of the massive building blocks at Borobudur. Notice that the sting is on the bee's head and not at the rear of its abdomen.

Tim was happy to find two Common Sun Skinks, this time in reddish colouration, basking at two separate locations in Borobudur.

Dieng Plateau is a hidden gem only revealed in the pages of Lonely Planet if you are specifically looking for a nature sojourn close to Yogya, specifically 142km from Yogya and 100 km from Borobudur. This entails a journey of 3 hours by private car or 6 hours by public bus. We opted to get there on a day-tour package combining Borobudur with Dieng. Such trips do not do justice to either Borobudur or Dieng as tours start and end on the same day with more time spent travelling than actual sightseeing. For us, we opted to stay for a full 4D/3N up on the 2093m plateau. Glenda had advised us to stay in Wonosobo (the nearest ‘big’ town) which has nicer hotels and more civilised facilities. We decided against this option as we wanted to be closer to nature, exploring both its day and night life, that is, searching for both diurnal and nocturnal animals.

As the oldest Hindu temples in Central Java and its first known standing stone structures, the Arjuna Temple Complex (dedicated to Shiva) is one of the cultural highlights of Dieng Plateau, comprising eight small and simple shrines built in the 7th and 8th centuries. Archaeologists think that the Arjuna complex originally numbered more than 400 temples (a temple city of priests) but tragically only a handful remain today. For us, its scenic mountaineous setting made the whole visit that much more beautiful. Appropriately, the word Dieng is a condensation of the Sanskrit "Di Hyang" meaning "Abode of the Gods".

The Arjuna temples have very narrow entrances that admit only slim folks, else one has to squeeze one's tummy in to enter crab-like from sideways. Even though we were in Muslim territory, we still found evidence of burnt green joss-stick, paper, food and flower offerings inside most of these shrines, suggesting an amalgation of beliefs.

While photographing this yellow bloom, an iridescent insect (a fly?) fortuitously landed to harvest its nectar and pollen.

Candi Bima, is unique in Java with its numerous sculpted Shiva heads (kudu) peeping out from beneath arches lined with lotus petals (1st row). In the 2nd row are kalasa pots symbolizing abundance. These carvings decorate its entire roof. To me, Candi Bima was the most memorable of the Arjuna temples. According to, these carvings originate from South India, with examples being the Pancha Rathas in Mamallapuram and Galaganatha in Pattadakal.
Shiva’s carrier, Nandi the Bull is seen here as a bull-man, a unique representation in Hindu iconography found nowhere else. Displayed in the tiny Kailasa Museum at Dieng Plateau, next to Candi Gatutkaca.

We entered the last Arjuna temple Candi Gatutkaca, located just next to the tiny museum, at close to nightfall. Luckily, we had our torches with us, and Tim immediately discovered this tiny black bat clinging from the highest, darkest corner of its tapering high roof. We fiddled around for a good twenty minutes, getting out our 100-400mm lens, fixing on the big flash, adjusting its manual focus, beaming our combined torches, and firing off a series of test shots before we emerged with some reasonable photos and beaming smiles.

We tried to locate the frog calls heard from the field ditch, but failed even after an extensive search. We got lazy on all nights, and did not climb the hill behind our hotel to the stream we had discovered, or slip into the fenced Telaga Warna, to look for frogs. We heard from the losmen staff that deer and wildboar sightings are possible up on the hill at night. By virtue of our own sloth, sadly, the only nightlife we got was this batty encounter.

The fetching turquoise waters of Telaga (Lake) Warna is caused by its high sulphur content, which unfortunately had a lingering smell of rotten eggs due to the presence of hydrogen sulphide (H2S). At certain spots, the lakes were even bubbling and steaming. This phenomenon occurs because Dieng Plateau is a complex volcano / huge collapsed caldera. A complex volcano is an extensive assemblage of spatially and temporally related major and minor volcanic centers with associated lava flows and pyroclastic rocks. We visited Telaga Warna three times in all, each time discovering more and more new things about this superb waterbody. On our second trip, I was lucky to see the Javan Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) twice, crossing the path (presumably it had emerged from the lake) and scampering along the sides of the strip of trees abutting the main road. It disappeared into a hole. Five minutes later it popped out of the hole and ran off in the opposite direction. Even though we staked it out again, Tim didn't manage views. Also saw a rat nibbling at rubbish but couldn't get good views as it was highly obstructed. Has Rattus norvegicus invaded?

Telaga Warna's mirror lake just next to it, Telaga Pengilon (not coloured but clear), supports a healthy population of Pacific Black Ducks and other waterbirds like the Common Coot, Little Grebe and White-breasted Waterhen. In the soft evening light, the ripples on the surface of this lake was most enchanting.

We observed Pacific Black Ducks flying, fishing, swimming and preening at the marshy water edges and isolated islands in the middle of Telaga Pengilon. Telaga Warna itself also has this bird in smaller numbers.

From Telaga Pengilon, Dieng Plateau appeared in the gentle sundown light as a sequence of tranquil ridges clothed in swirling mist.

A Shield Bug clambers about an ornamental plant lining Telaga Warna.

A Javan Tree Shrew (Tupaia javanica) at Telaga Warna shot by me using manual focus at 400mm handheld, as it ran from branch to branch feasting on the tree's leguminous offerings. Note that its tail is slightly longer than its body. Tree Shrews have one of the highest brain to body ratios in the world, higher than that of humans, and is even thought to be the ancestors of all primates!

The same Javan Tree Shrew shot by Tim using manual focus at 400mm handheld, as it made a leap from one branch to another. Note the yellow banding above its reddish nose!

Rows of potato plants, the commonest crop grown here in the highlands. Notice the plastic strip covering the soil perforated with regular holes for the plants to grow through. Apparently this prevents weeds from flourishing and saves the farmer the hassle of weeding. These huge plastic strips are disposed off after each growing season. Other profitable foreign crops in Dieng include (*surprise surprise*) the wasabi (horse radish eaten with sushi) planted by Japanese investors, and Mexican habanero peppers - both of which we saw.

Dieng Plateau sports an average altitude of 2100m asl, supporting a clime that makes it suitable for growing temperate vegetables or essentially what cannot be grown in the tropical lowlands. The humble Peruvian root, the potato, is the main crop here. Of course we had to sample it sliced and fried, and our verdict was ‘Wow!’ Even the German family at the next table dining in the tiny restaurant of the Losmen Bu Djono (our hotel) was impressed, with their daughter content on eating fries doused in ketchup as her main course.

Fried in piping hot oil, the initial bite of a big wedge was through a pleasantly crisp skin, yielding to a moist and tasty mash inside. For me, its crisp and firm texture, combined with its yummy natural flavours due in part to it being grown in rich volcanic soils, was enough to render it ‘so good that you can even eat it on its own’, sans chilli or ketchup. We also tried the boiled version but we had to give this the thumbs down as most of the taste was lost in the boiling, while the condiments used did not make up for the missing flavours.

The potato as a cash crop is relatively rare in Indonesia compared to rice, given that the bulk of the country is mostly low lying and hence too hot to grow the tuber. Tim heard from the locals that Dieng’s potatoes taste better than imported varieties and hence command a premium in its main sales market of Jarkarta.This has enriched Dieng’s farmers greatly. Instead of living in thatch-and-wooden homes that have to be rebuilt every few years, most farmers here reside in clusters of concrete houses with attendant electricity (hence TVs and other electronics are commonplace), served by shops and other amenities. They go to their fields to work by day, returning to their brick-and-motar villages by nightfall.

As a symbol of their wealth, each tiny village has its resident mosque, and there appears to be an inter-village rivalry to see who can build the nicest mosque. We came across many places of worship with fairly outstanding architecture (given the usual drabness of the surrounding houses), incorporating elements like Middle Eastern-nesque Islamic calligraphy as well as artfully constructed and fancifully painted onion domes that made pretty postcards photos. In contrast, the mosques characterizing the lowland villages we passed on the way up to Dieng simply sported mass-produced metallic domes that spun in the sun, post-structurally fixed onto plain buildings that had been painted a pious green-and-white.

In Dieng, we were constantly reminded that we were surrounded by mosques as each had its own muezzin call to prayer (adhan). From our hotel room, we could hear at least three different voices blasting from atop three mosques within a hearing radius of 6 to 8 km. The most patently obvious call was the one that woke us up at 5.15am every morning. Much as it is sometimes irksome, especially if one wants to sleep in, we had no problems with it as birders (= early risers), and we actually found the adhan to be soulful and soothing. As the world’s largest Muslim country, it is inevitable that we get to hear the muezzin call five times a day while holidaying in Indonesia. To us, hearing it again this trip serves as a poignant reminder of our earlier tours in this diverse archipelago.

The Javan Cabbage is quite different from the white Beijing cabbage we normally eat. The leaves are mostly green with some white and are stir-fried until scrumptiously soft. However, it was not on the regular menu, we had to specially ask for it, and this request took three days to fulfill!

A closeup view of Mt Sindoro or Mt Sumbing (not sure which), seen from the hilllock behind our hotel in Dieng Plateau.

Mock strawberry, Potentilla indica (formerly Duchesnea indica), is also known as the Indian strawberry. Although the foliage and fruit are similar to the true strawberry, it does not share the same genus Fragaria. The Mock Strawberry has yellow flowers, while that of the real McCoy is white or slightly pink. It is native to eastern and southern Asia, but has been introduced to other parts of the world as an ornamental plant. The fruit has red seeds, and while juicy and edible are not sweet like the true strawberries. We found this low bush on its own growing admist tall grass, just off the main trail in the Dieng hills. Thinking that we had stumbled upon wild strawberries, we ate the fruit and was surpised to find its hollow, seed-filled core. However, taste wise, it was pretty similar, although a lot less fleshy.

Since Dieng is a hilly plateau, potatoes are grown on terraces or giant steps cut into the hillside to form a strip of land that is even and flat, following the natural contours of the slope. These terraces were literally everywhere, as far as our eyes could see, with every conceivable slope carved up to maximise crop output, even at the highest and steepest elevations. This man-made landform also made Dieng extremely scenic, especially when the mists rolled in, engulfing parts of the hillside in a wispy cloak of white. Potato fields are ringed with plants like Javan Cabbage, Maize and other leafy vegetables. A single row of these alternative crops line the entire edge of a terrace, just before the step-down to the next lower level. These plants are obviously meant to hold the soil together during rains, especially after a potato harvest in-between plantings / or in the fallow period.

Rising majestically between the potato terraces stands the perfect cone of Mt Sindoro, an active stratovolcano.

The misty summit of the hilly trek behind our Losmen yielded our target bird the Javan Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus / Nisaetus bartelsi) - we had two close-up flypast views at eye level. Over here, we also ticked off the Mountain Tailorbird and a bee that kept buzzing around me while I stood stock still in fear. Not sure if it was attracted to the sunblock that I had liberally applied. Birding at Dieng is nothing short of dismal. I had a grand total of just two lifers: 1. Javan Hawk-Eagle and 2. Striated Grassbird, and this is my first time birding in Java! There were many overlaps though with my East Indonesian Birding trip (ie. Bali, Flores, West Timor and Sulawesi).

The transition from dusk to nightfall high up on the plateau is always magical and an experience to be savoured.

We had to pass by a small Muslim cemetery on the way up the hill behind our losmen. Contrast the bare mound of earth topped with two stumps (in the foreground) with the nicely-tiled similarly-shaped headstones in the background. I'm not sure if the bare construction is a work-in-progress or a poor man's version of a headstone. We even saw fresh flower petals ceremoniously scattered along the length of one of these earthy mounds.

The basic but friendly Losmen Bu Djono (hotel) was our base for three nights (Rp100,000 per night, twin share). It came with ensuite bathroom, firm mattresses, thick blankets and hot water. The food at its restaurant was generally of high standards and we enjoyed all our meals there. Dishes we liked include Mie Rebus (delicious clear soup noodle with lots of veges and chicken - different from Singapore's starchy version), Banana Pancake (a huge banana cake, not in the least flat), Mie Goreng (fried noodles with lots of ingredients), Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Ayam Bakar (grilled chicken) and Ayam Goreng (fried chicken). The ginger tea came with bits of floating ginger.

Map of the key sights in Dieng Plateau on the walls of our losmen.

We paid Rp100,000 each for a half-day ojek (motorcycle) tour of Dieng's lesser-known but equally-stunning attractions. Here, we enjoyed one of the prettiest sunrises I've been privy to witness, near Sembungan, Central Java's highest village at 2,100m. The vista comprised a vast sea of clouds broken by islands of isolated volcanic peaks. We arrived at the coveted viewing rock after a heaving 10 min trek and 20min climb.

As the sun rose in slow succession, colours took on the richest hues, with the skies turning a light fushcia pink while casting the volcanic hulk in a shade of deep meditative blue.

As the earth warmed up, the sea of clouds parted to reveal stunted montane vegetation clothing the upper slopes, potato terraces carved out of the middle reaches, and villages way down in the valleys below.

Kawah (Crater) Sileri is a volcanic waterbody that is so hot that there is a constant emission of steam from the lake surface at the contact areas between the hot conventional water currents and cool mountain air. Despite the danger of this caldera boiling over, potato farming takes place right up to the water edge. Dieng has a number of such waterbodies, the most famous of which is Kawah Sikidang (all tourists visit this as part of the main tour).

Tim on his ojek (motorcycle taxi). We were rather unprepared for the cold weather (day temperature 18-23 degrees celsius, night temperature 10-15 degrees celsius), but thankfully, just opposite our losmen was a shop selling cheap warm clothing where we bought beanies, gloves and scarves that were pretty decent.

A juvenile Long-tailed Shrike. Our ojeks happened to stop for fuel, and I crossed the road to look closely at this caged bird. The old man peddling it immediately showed me a nest with two cheeping newborns of the same Shrike species that he had obviously plucked from the wild (this nest was placed in a closed basket). I scarcely think that captive-bred birds build nests. In Dieng, the Long-tailed Shrike is one of the most common birds encountered, together with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Striated Grassbird and Sooty-headed Bulbul. Other than these, we hardly saw any other types of birds around. Perhaps all the other bird species have been poached to extirpation, or perhaps there is altitudinal migration during the Austral winter, resulting in an absence of other bird types? There were not many raptors around either - we only saw two species the entire time we were there - one Javan Hawk-eagle and one Black Eagle.

Kawah (Crater) Candradimuka was a rather alarming sight with water that was boiling furiously, leaping as high as 1.2m into the air (take a close look at my photo). Indonesia seems to trust in its people's common sense as there were no safety barriers at all. The air was so full of sulphur that we had to approach the crater with masked faces.

The Hot Spring was the last stop for our half-day tour of Dieng's off-the-beaten-path destinations (incl. Dringo Lake and Jalantunda Put (cenote)). Here, we encountered a party of eight little boys who stripped down butt naked before our eyes and frolicked merrily in the hot mineral waters. Throughout this enjoyable half-day excursion, we didn't see any other tourists, which was a great pity as these places are well worth a visit.

As I approached the hot spring (which flowed outwards as a hot river), I was so distracted by the scenery that I didn't notice that I was crossing a very narrow bridge. Next thing I knew, I had fallen into a muddy ditch (at least 2m deep), landing squarely on my bums, legs in the air. Thank God that my backpack had protected my spinal cord. I sat in a state of shock for at least 15 seconds, quite unable to speak, which worried Tim to death. Then I tried to get up, and was grateful that aside from being winded and muddied, I had not twisted / broken anything. I experienced only a little pain, but there was a huge strain on my muscles, especially those of my stomach. I had to be hauled up by strong arms. My guide apologised profusely for not forewarning me. Later, I examined this 'bridge' and realised that at first glance, the tall grass on either sides of the ditch appeared to be part of the solid ground, and I had placed my left foot on this illusion, not realising that there was only air underneath.
Ironically, Tim also fell into a ditch the day before. While trying to take a photo of him with a volcano as a backdrop (up on the hills), I asked him to 'move to the left'. He did so without looking and suddenly disappeared from view, accompanied by a loud yell. Thank God that he too was unhurt, except for a gash on his finger caused by the ripping action of a thorny mimosa. While trying to haul him up, I felt myself being pulled over by his weight and had to let him go, which resulted in him grabbing wildly at the mimosa to break his second fall! In the end, he had to place his jacket over the thorny ground to hoist himself up.

We strolled through the little village just next to our losmen (hotel) and was charmed by this street vendor who carried his entire store on his shoulders comprising on his right, a little wok full of sizzling hot oil and on his left, various bite-sized food strung together in satay sticks, waiting to be fried. Stopping to buy his offerings was this little girl on her bike. I was amused when she placed her just-fried stick of fish cake (sans plastic bag) straight into the basket of her bike. Our attitude towards cleanliness is clearly miles apart. Unfortunately, the fried fare tasted plasticy to us.

Tim's favourite Mie Bakso (Meatball Noodles) with ketupat (rice cakes) suspended at the top. This is also a carry-on-your-shoulder's mobile store.

As there were no private (tour) cars or buses on the day we were due to return from Dieng, we had to endure the 6-hour public bus back to Yogya. This was an extremely smokey affair, which even became dangerous as Tim is severely allergic to cigarette fumes. He had to breathe through a wet cloth which acted as a filter, plus sit next to the open window. By the time we got back, his asthma had set in, and the poor boy was positively wheezing and very weak. That night, we tried eating at the famous Via Via restaurant right next to our hotel (Grand Hotel Rosela), but had to convert it to a take-away meal when we couldn't escape the whiff of more ciagarette smoke. People here are allowed to smoke indoors. The bus ride itself was interesting for Tim (nothing new for me as that was my main mode of tranport while birding East Indonesia), as locals brought up all kinds of things with them, including a closed woven basket that emitted cheeping sounds.

Back in Yogya, we visited the excellent Sonobudoyo Museum on our last day. This curious bird-woman (or buddha?) statuette caught my eye, as did many other artefacts. Spent many hours photographing the exhibits.

Wayang Angmo - the Belanda (Dutch) influence is clear.

Wayang Kancil - mousedeer with hunter?

Empek-Empek Kamto in Jalan Beskalan, a side road off Yogya's main street Jalan Malioboro. This fried fish cake eatery was recommended by a Straits Time article. We managed to hunt it down with some difficulty, eating at the quieter arm of this fast food chain (two outlets in the same lane). Tried several varieties of fish cake paired with various food - this particular dish had a boiled and fried egg incorporated. Tasty especially when dipped in its in-house sauce, but not that worth the meandering find.

Teh Botol or bottled tea was everywhere and was our favourite drink as it was refreshing and not overly sweet.

Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker. Photographed this with my 12x zoom at fairly close range, on a side lane off busy Jalan Malioboro. Bird was preening itself for a good ten minutes.

We went for the Horse Carriage exhibition (part of the Sultan's Palace Kraton collection). This was the Sultan's grandest carriage by far. Another cart proved interesting as it had an Indian godhead leading the fore, and not surprisingly, flower petal offerings were placed at its feet.

The clappity-clap of horses' hoofs can be heard all over town, and we felt compelled to take the rather expensive ride in this andong (horse-drawn carriage), from Jalan Malioboro back to our hotel.

Bird List for Central Java (highly pathetic, only 2 lifers for me)
5 to 12 July 2009
Observers: Gloria Seow and Timothy Pwee
Cut and pasted from my excel file, with sequence as follows:
Common Name
Scientific Name
Location / Remarks
Purple Heron
Ardea purpurea
Cattle Egret
Bubulcus ibis
Javan Pond Heron
Ardeola speciosa
Pacific Black Duck
Anas superciliosa
Dieng - Telaga Warna/Pengilon Relatively big colonies. At least 30 birds present.
Black Eagle
Ictinaetus malayensis
Dieng - while riding on ojek
Javan Hawk-Eagle (L1)
Spizaetus bartelsi
Dieng - lifer
White-breasted Waterhen
Amaurornis phoenicurus
Dieng - Telaga Pengilon. Only saw one or two birds
Common Moorhen
Gallinula chloropus
Dieng - Telaga Warna/Pengilon. Smaller numbers than PB Duck.Spotted a confusing juvenile.
Little Grebe
Tachybaptus ruficollis
Bingwen helped me sort out my photos to ID it as such, and not the Australian Grebe. Both Grebes are rare in Indonesia. Saw at least three birds at any one time.
Rock Pigeon
Columba livia
Yogya and Dieng - very common and kept as pets.
Swiftlet species
Collocalia spp
Yogya - circling the skies
Coppersmith Barbet
Megalaima haemacephala rosea
Prambanan field - Red on face very startling and different from the delica subspecies. Saw parents with juvenile.
Grey-capped Woodpecker
Dendrocopus canicapillus
Prambanan River - Again, this looks different fr the Singapore variety.
Pacific Swallow
Hirundo tahitica
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Pycnonotus aurigaster
Yogya and Dieng - common, seen in gardens
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Pycnonotus goiavier
Yogya - common
Striated Grassbird (L2)
Megalurus palustris
Dieng - common
Olive-backed Tailorbird
Orthotomus sepium
Prambanan River - active. It helped me locate the Indonesian Green Crested Lizard.
White-breasted Wood-Swallow
Artamus leucorhynchus
Prambanan Ballet - outside, near dusk
Long-tailed Shrike
Lanius schach bentet
Common in Dieng
Olive-backed Sunbird
Nectarinia jugularis
Common in Yogya
Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker
Dicaeum trochileum
Photograped in the city of Yogya.
Mountain White-eye
Zosterops montanus
Dieng summit - three birds high up. Photographs.
Scaly-breasted Munia
Lonchura punctulata
White-headed Munia
Lonchura maja
Yogya - at hotel
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Passer montanus
Dead common in Dieng and Yogya

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