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Bird Watching and National Parks the Ecotourism Drawcard

Bird watching has become an exciting ecotourism activity in Sebangau National Park, Central Kalimantan, with 106 bird species recorded in the 568,700-hectare forest conservation area. Binoculars and a bird guidebook are all that are required to enjoy the wild birds within or on the fringes of the forest, while the morning and afternoon are the best times to see these lovely creatures feeding, playing and seeking mates.

Petak Bahandang village in Tasik Payawan district is one of the most interesting locations in which to observe bird life. Situated on the border of Sebangau National Park, the settlement is about three hours’ sail from Kasongan port, Palangkaraya. Part of the village population belongs to the Dayak ethnic group.

In Petak Bahandang, a mainly agricultural community, no fewer than 10 bird species can be detected around the forest border close to the community farms. Among them are the rhinoceros hornbills (Buceros rhinoceros), swallows, greater coucals (Centropus sinensis) and various honeyeaters.

It is also nice to watch the birds near the swamps or woodlands along the banks of the Katingan River. Bird watchers can cruise down the river, which is more than 200 meters wide, while surveying the behavior of birds, notably brahminy kites (Haliastur indus), which are frequently found perching on the top branches of tall trees. These rare hawks are known for their graceful flight.

Around the peatland forest park, visitors can also find hornbills, a protected species active in the afternoon and morning. “They are generally seen in pairs, flying from one branch to another,” said Tatang Suwardi, a national park officer and bird watcher.

“The birds also indicate that this area remains in a natural condition with its food supply chain (intact),” said the forest ecosystem control officer.

The nature reserve has various forest sub-types. Its marshy forest is home to diverse land and water biota while its non-wood products like rattan, rubber and jelutung resin are utilized by locals. Rattan and resin are mostly found on Sebangau and Katingan riversides. The other unique feature of this park is that 95 percent of its ecosystem is composed of peatland.

According to Drasosopolino, head of Sebangau National Park, the peat forest in Central Kalimantan is in general seriously damaged due to illegal logging and forest fires, which are harder to prevent every year. Peat fires are difficult to extinguish because the flames spread beneath the soil’s surface. “Now the only peat land left is located in Sebangau National Park,” he said, adding that peat could also function as a climate regulator and fresh water reserve.

Although some regions in the province are former forest concession and illegal logging areas, Sebangau National Park and its environs continue to possess highly diversified species of fauna and flora. Its natural beauty enhances its ecotourism status, with its forest abounding in exotic vegetation, besides unique wildlife like its 35 species of primates.

Sebangau is also home to thousands of orangutans and proboscis monkeys. These primates, however, cannot be found around Petak Bahandang village, which is teeming with countless birds and their cheerful sounds, which fill the air before dawn and dusk.

The writer, Bambang Parlupi, is a member of Sahabat Burung Indonesia, a bird observation and conservation association in Indonesia.