The Bird Walk of Bali
You know, normally this time of year I travel with my friend Susie. We’ve been to Italy, Alaska, Costa Rica, Spain, Switzerland, and a number of other places. This is the first May vacation where we are not together. Susie is a Master Naturalist, birder extraordinaire, and all around nature gal. We’re always on the lookout for local flora, fauna, and partiularly the birds a-flying (or nesting, or tweeting, or whatever birds do).
So in honor of my friend, I have signed up for the Bird Walk of Bali, a guided walking/birding tour through the rice paddies around Ubud. Besides going out with Ketut and Kadek to some temples and walking around town, I really haven’t seen much of the area surrounding Ubud, so I’m excited to get out and see some stuff.
Our guide is Sumadi (Su – can’t go birding with Susie, so I’ll go with Su), a lifelong resident of Ubud. There’s 5 of us total, and she makes sure we each have a pair of binoculars, essential for the day. We also get a list of over 100 birds that we may or may not see, depending on our luck and the season. The restaurant (warung) overlooks a deep gorge lined with tropical foliage. I want to keep the list handy to check the birds off as we see them, but she says she will remember each sighting and we will see how we did after the tour.
The birding begins from the balcony of the warung. A spotted dove sits in the tree right in front of us, swiftlets (white-bellied and edible-nest types) dive and dart above. Su says they fly all day, even napping on the wing. She sees some other birds in the distance, but says we’ll get a better look at them later. Up the hill, through a neighborhood, we points out snails, butterflies, and other insects. This woman knows her nature!
Overlooking an empty field we see the gorgeous java kingfisher (there’s one that visits the Nest – I’ve seen him in some mornings) and a brief flash of the java sparrow, this one only found here in Indonesia. Then we head up into the rice fields. Su is one of the best birding guides I’ve seen, finding birds from just a speck of movement and not explaining what it is until she makes sure everyone can see it.
The rice paddies are a great spot for, duh, finding the birds who like to eat rice. Su’s family owned some rice fields, and it was her job to go out there each day and shoo them away. That’s what all the colorful flags are for in the middle of the fields; they look like decoration, but they are actually makeshift scarecrows. But they don’t do the job well enough, we see kids and older women walking through the fields waving big red plastic bags to scare the birds and save the rice.
But it’s not just birds that we are learning about today, we talk about the community rice culture, harvesting, and irrigation systems as we see a team harvesting the rice. She points out cinnamon trees and wild lemongrass, turmeric plants and huge ficuses. We got a great look at the design of the St. Andrew’s Cross spider and saw some iridescent butterful chrysalis’ as well. We talked about elder care and retirement, foreigners buying up the rice fields for luxury condos, and the fact that most of the rice fields we walked by are for home consumption only. Balinese have rice three times a day, and we saw both white rice (unprocessed) and black rice. People pass us transporting different types of materials, sometimes, Su says, from 2 hours walk away.
We picked up a snack of sweet rice cake from an old man on the trail, then at midpoint stopped at a small food stand for some fresh coconut and taro chips. As we wound back into town along a canal, we could see the new construction she was talking about. No low-walled Balinese family compounds here – villas and western-style houses try to blend in, but really look out of place.
Eventually we get back to the main road and hop a taxi back to the warung where we started. The $37 tour included the snacks, taxi, and a fabulous lunch with lemongrass tea. We pulled out our list and checked off about 20 different types of birds. Pretty good, she said, for this time of year.
After lunch I walked back up the hill to meet Gus at Starbuck’s (yes, there’s a Starbucks here, filled with Japanese and American tourists). We were going to go to the monkey forest temple, but he has some other errands to run and I’m still looking for bigger balls. Turns out by the time we get to the monkey forest temple, we don’t have enough time to explore it because the Yoga Barn offers karma (free to the community) yoga tonight and you’ve got to get there early. I snap a couple of pics of the college students feeding the monkeys in the street and we head to yoga, which we do not want to miss because the fabulous Violeta, healer and pathfinder extraordinaire, is teaching. Gus has been seeing her and has been raving about her all week. The insights! The cleansing! I’ve got to check this out.
The class, a yummy yin class (few poses held longer), was fantastic. We found fellow nester Krista there and all went to our favorite Mama’s for a last meal together before Gus an Krista head out to Canggu, the surf beach town, tomorrow.
When we get back to the Nest (appropriate after the bird walk, no?) we call it a night. Susie, you would have really loved this!