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An Insider Looks at Ball's Colorful Birds

Well, did you see the birds in Bali When you were staying there last year, Or was your time assigned entirely To seeing sights and swilling beer, Sifting sand or shifting gear?

The hobby of bird watching is above all a delightful recreation, and no longer merely the province of collectors and academics. And what better place than Bali to indulge the urge? What pleasanter island, what wilder domain, and what fresher air in which to nurture it?

We are lucky in Indonesia. The zoogeographic range embraces not only both hemispheres but also the Oriental and Australian regions, which are divided by the Wallace Line running between the islands of Bali and Lombok. Extending from the mountain forests of Sumatra to those of New Guinea, there rests a largely unpeopled clime and an unrivalled diversity of avian life.

Bali alone boasts something like 300 different bird species, including of course migrants, from massive Hornbills and Storks to diminutive Sunbirds and Spider hunters - to say nothing of one of the world's rarest and most beautiful birds, the Rothschild's Myna (also known as the Bali Starling), which occurs only in Bali.


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Our view of such marvels, moreover, need not be confined to the aviary. There lies the wild, readily accessible to all, even to those who inhabit, for example, the crowded tourist beach resorts or the city of Denpasar whence an hour's drive at most to Ubud or Bedugul and indeed there is more than enough to feast the eyes here without the need to venture beyond the garden gate.

Within my very own garden situated in the central foothills of Bali, I have seen something like eighty different types of bird. On one side, there extends a dense curtain of greenery, mainly of flowering shrubs, coconut palms and fruit trees, with here and there a shady acacia and clump of bamboo, the whole surmounted by a towering cotton tree. This is the resort of a host of arboreal birds, the most remarkable being the Black aped Orioles and Ashy Drongos; the former a glorious golden-yellow with a broad black band through the eye to the nape, and the latter an unrelieved dark gray with deeply forked tails, always prominently perched and admirable for their acrobatic hawking of insects.

Beneath the canopy, the Magpie Robins endlessly disport and vent a rich vocabulary of imprecations and sweet fluting calls, whilst the restless Pied Fantail dashes to and fro, pirouettes and trips the light fantastic, characteristically flirting its tail the while. Always in evidence are the ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbuls, chattering and chortling, as they race each other from palm to palm.

Of the smaller birds, the most commonly occurring are the Bar-winged Prinias and Ashy Tailorbirds, alternately creeping and darting through the bushes in search of grubs; the vivid Scarlet-headed Flower peckers and metallic blue-throated Olive backed Simbirds, busily rifling the hibiscus blossoms to sate their appetite for minute insects and nectar; and the cheerful green yellow Common Iora, which hops about in the thick crown of a rambutan tree, now and again betraying its presence with a long drawn-out mellow whistle, slowly increasing in pitch and ending abruptly on a lower note: tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-tyou.

To the east is an open expanse of terraced rice fields, gently ascending to a ridge. Andhere, according to the season, is the haunt of Watercock and Cinnamon Bittern, of Ruddy breasted Crake and flocks of stately snowy white Plumed and Little Egrets. Consorting with the latter and usually distinguishable by the buffy-rufous patches of their nuptial plumage, are the Cattle Egrets; while scattered about in frozen attitudes, some Javan Pond Herons stare warily at passers-by, the breeding birds richly adorned in buff and cinnamon and black, which is curiously transformed to white when they erupt into flight.

Over flying the fields are Swift lets and Swallows, and tiny tumbling Fantail-Warblers, whilst swarms of marauding Munias wheel this way and that to escape the clappers, before descending in a mass to ravage another patch of unguarded grain. There patiently sits the little Pied Bushchat, rather resembling a miniature Magpie Robin in appearance, and likewise perched and keenly espying its prey, is the spectacularly caparisoned Javan Kingfisher, whose radiant presence makes such an indelible impression on all who behold it. Like others of its tribe, it may be found along the river-beds of verdant ravines, but it also frequents the paddy-fields where it may more readily be observed, perched atop a slender pole or the thatched roof of a small shrine, sacred to Dewi Sri, goddess of agriculture and fertility.

To live thus, surrounded by birds, not to say invaded by them, is a joy and an ever lasting revelation. Other regular visitors include the Magpie Robins, those conspicuously pied and vocal denizens of all the gardens of the East. In pops the Ashy Tailorbird, insignificant mousy gray thing, refocus face peering inquisitively about, tail cocked vertically. The coast is clear. Bounding sprightly gaited over the boards, it hops on a cushion, inserts its narrow pointed bill, and extracts a scrap of kapok stuffing. A cautious backward look, more poking and prodding till the bill stuffed with white fluff, for all the world like the thief that it is and sporting instant whiskers and a beard in order to avoid detection. A final cursory glance, and away to add some comfort to a miraculously stitched leafy nest in the hedgerow.

Then what are those elegant little olivegrey-brown birds, clambering about in the variegated copper-leaf and croton bushes yonder, every so often emitting a plaintive: twee-wee-wee, succeeded by utterances of quite explosive force? Notice the long white tipped tail feathers, white throats and upper breasts, twin white wing bars, amber eyes and lemon-yellow bellies. They are the Bar winged Prinias or Wren-Warblers, which seem to thrive in any habitat from montane forest to coastal mangrove, and especially in ornamental gardens. Yet their geographic range is confined to Sumatra, Java and Bali. Nowhere else may they be found

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