Friday, 13 March 2009

Regency of Bolaang Mongondow : The Birds Are Coming……….

It’s off the beaten track but the Mount Ambang Wildlife Reserve near Kotamobagu is a great place to see and hear some of North Sulawesi’s weird and wonderful wildlife.
The car engine coughs and splutters up the steep road winding out of the dusty market-town of Kotamobagu (the local coffee’s a specialty). Leaving behind the bendis (horse and carts) wobbling around town to be chased by angry, horn tooting bright blue minibuses, we climb and climb and climb.

The heat and dust is swapped for a refreshing breeze and wafts of eastern spice - clove and cinnamon trees spot the landscape - then the car plunges into rainforest. Deep, forest clad gorges line the road until, finally, the hairpin bends easy, stomachs settle, heartbeats subside and you can take a look around. We’ve arrived in Singsingon, the easiest access point to the reserve.

Stepping out of the car it feels cool and the fields of onions, corn and potatoes lend a familiar feel to a stunning landscape. Away in the distance is the smoking Soputan volcano, whilst rising up from the flat fields around the village are the mountains of Ambang.

Calling in at local forest warden Yus’s house, to arrange a guide and to make sure there’s some of that coffee waiting for us when we get back, we set off.

The nice thing about Ambang is there are no steep hills to climb. The footpath to the reserve winds gently uphill, passing through tidy agricultural plots, and the local farmers stop hoeing to stare, smile, and wave. An hour or so brings you into the forest, and the weird noises start.

First there’s the chatter and drone of cicadas and crickets. Then a telephone rings, errr.actually it’s a hair-crested drongo - crazy noise, crazy name, crazy bird. At last - some wildlife!

Next a brass band starts playing. It’s time to look for the wonderful, trumpeting malia, a large, yellow, thrush-like bird. Groups of malia, announce their presence long before becoming visible and their manic calls and energetic actions attract many other species.

Accompanying the brass band is the big bass boom of a hornbill; a whoosh of wings and a pair of these huge fruit chomping monsters is looking down on us from a tall fig tree.

Walking through the reserve along wide, but usually muddy footpaths, can bring encounters with all manner of animals. Birds are easiest to see, but there’s always a chance of bumping into some crested black macaques, big black monkeys that are unique to north Sulawesi, or even - if you’re really lucky - some rarer beasts such as an anoa (a miniature forest-living cow).

Ambang is home to some really rare species, and is a mecca for the wildlife enthusiast. But much of the time things are difficult to see. Remember to be patient, take binoculars, and stick close to your guide - he’ll have eyes like a hawk.

Even if you miss the furry and feathered guys, and chances are they’ll run or fly away just as you spot them (they always do), just enjoy the hike, the forest, the smells, and trying to work out where some of those noises are coming from. The moss and orchid drenched trees, towering ferns, and dizzyingly deep drops to crystal-clear mountain streams - yes, it’s safe to drink - washed in the afternoon sunlight.

Stumbling out onto the Singsingon road again, it’s a few strides before our legs stop shaking and get used to the flat. Back to Yus’s for that coffee, a great selection of local cakes of course, and hoards of noisy, nosy, happy kids. Then down the road again, descending into the dust and warmth of Kota. Bendis are snoozing, even the minibuses have chilled out.

Now, what was the telephone bird again?

The reserve is under the administration of the National Park office in Kotamobagu and visitors must obtain permits from here; the office is out of town in Mongkonai on Jalan AKD, telephone 0434-22548. Kotamobagu is a four-hour drive from Manado. Many of the local travel agencies in Manado could arrange an Ambang trip.

People visiting Ambang will have to be accompanied by a ranger - not only is this advisable given the area’s remoteness, but rangers can also assist with language and organizing food/accommodation close to the site. Daily rates are usually between US$3 and US$5. Check at the park office.

The paths are not too steep, but visitors will probably be walking an 8 km round trip so it’s not for the faint hearted. Wear stout shoes, long trousers and long shirts to combat thorns and nettles. Take a raincoat, better still an umbrella, some water and snacks, and insect repellant. (by Adam J. Fenton)

Bolaang Mongondow Tourism

Before Gorontalo became a separate province, it was the westernmost regency of North Sulawesi. However, that honour now goes to Bolaang Mongondow. It takes around five hours to drive from Manado to Kotamobagu the administrative capital. You can take the coastal road via Inobonto or the winding mountain road via Modoinding, either way the scenery is fantastic.

Geographically dominating the regency, and forming its principle attraction is the Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park (formerly known as Dumoga Bone). It is here in this huge sprawling park of 300,000 hectares that you may encounter, with patience, some of Sulawesi’s fascinating endemic wildlife. Volumes can and have been written about Sulawesi’s strange and unique species of wildlife. Most notable of which are the peculiar mammals such as the babirusa or “pigdeer” which is found nowhere else in the world, and is distinguished by its horn-like tusks which grow upward from the top jaw piercing the layer of skin and curl around in front of the eyes. Its now unfortunately uncommon to see a wild babirusa, and takes, were told, at least one or two weeks in the forest to track one down. Likewise, the Maleo bird, a fowl which lays an egg eight times the size of a chickens egg into warm volcanic soils to incubate it, is also rarely seen near here, but there are two major nesting sites near Tambun and Tumokang where you can see maleos and their chicks up close. Commonly seen here are the redknobbed hornbill a species peculiar to Sulawesi, and the Tarsius Spectrum, the worlds smallest primate, a gremlin-like creature about the size of a softball with huge eyes and ears who comes out at dusk to feed on insects.

In 1985, over 200 scientists involved the Wallacea project, the largest entomological expedition ever mounted, had their basecamp and laboratory at the park headquarters at Toraut near the village of Doloduo, about 50 km west of Kotamobagu. Today visitors can use these facilities with double rooms for only a nominal sum per night. Its pretty quiet here, but the food is good, and you can do as much hiking in the forest as you want. The attendants here will arrange for guides, and there are many day-long excursions including one to a waterfall. On your way back to Manado, you may want to test your mettle with an ascent of magnificent Gunung Ambang. At a moderate height of 1100 metres it takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace reach the crater where you can explore the steaming fumeroles and the sulfurous moonlike environment.
A short drive from Ambang are lakes Tondok and Mooat, both of which are picturesque and easily accessible as the road runs right past them and they make delightful place to stop for lunch or a refreshing snack.

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