It's not just about birds
We hadn't contacted Wayan Sumardi before two of us turned up at the Murni restaurant near the Ubud bridges. There was a sign for Bali Bird Walks but no people about. Then Sumardi appeared with a welcoming smile inviting us in to get a bottle of water and soon we were in a local taxi taking us through the small streets of Penestanan.
In front of a small farm Sumardi was telling us about the crops growing there, then suddenly said look over there on the roof peak that's a yellow vented bulbul. Can you hear it call? She found another bird up on a coconut palm and we focused our binoculars on it. Then there were two and a white egret flew fast and low over the corn ripening in the sun.
We now started walking, passing down a small lane past a woman pushing a cart. The view opened wide at the end of the path and Sumardi got busy pointing out and naming birds all around us.
Panning our binoculars across the rice paddies to distant trees we followed the birds she spotted. You have to be quick. The birds don't stop in one place for long.
Then there was a butterfly on a leaf demanding a photo . Sumardi pointed out a white flower on the edge of the creek beside us. You can squeeze juice from it and after diluting with water it provides relief for tired eyes.
It was nice to see a grass roof on a nearby house. Its called alang alang and the sheaves of grass should be in two layers to give full protection for a number of years, otherwise it needs early replacement Sumardi told us.
Some mud walls of the rice paddies were newly repaired because the ducks have been breaking them down looking for snails and over there water rats have burrowed through it. A farmer looked up with a wave from his work as he raked the recently tilled liquid mud that would be receiving new rice plants in regular rows next week. How do they keep the lines straight we ask and move on to questions about the whole cycle of growing the staple crop here in Bali. We saw an area of taller sticky rice plants that need 6 months or more from planting till harvest. Normal rice needs 4 months till ripe.
We look over to see men in conical hats leaning over cutting the golden rice plants with sharp curved knives. Women thresh the cuttings, dropping husked rice onto woven mats as the sun beats down. Long sleeves and long sarongs protect against the sun and against the insects that can make their arms and legs so itchy. Leaves from that plant over there will ease the irritation. All these plants seem to have medicinal use.
Brown ducks follow their leader in noisy groups through areas recently harvested. Egrets follow the ploughmen as he turns over the earth in preparation for planting. A Java kingisher flashing past in a blaze of bright blue, orange and red adding to the 30 bird species Sumardi has mentioned and we strain eyes through binoculars trying to get good focus on him when he lands on a small tree ahead of us. Can't see it. Sumardi without binoculars tells us it's on the next tree. A confirmatory re-focus just achieved and another group of birds rise from ripe rice plants so we move to follow them. A skink is disturbed from sunbathing on the path ahead and runs wiggling from side to side till he finds a way off the path.
Its starting to get hot but we move into the shade of jackfruit and banana trees and white butterflies with black spots fly around us. Soon we are near the end of the walk and and a light green snake farewells us as we move down the steps to Bintang hill and we head to Murnis where a cold drink is calling us. We sit in the cool re-living our walk with Sumardi and promising that we should do this again.
She gave us a printed list of 53 birds that you can see around Ubud. That is just a short list she tells us. I don't know how many species we saw. But what I do know is that now when I walk around the Ubud area I find myself looking for birds everywhere. I should buy a Bali birdbook and I will do that. Might need a butterfly one too. And a book about plants in the area. Don't forget all the other creatures too. Now I can't walk past a rice paddy without noticing what stage the rice growing is at.
Contact Sumardi on firstname.lastname@example.org or call +62 81 23913801. You won't regret it.
Cost is USD$37 per person including lunch. You won't regret that either. We were also lucky that there were just two of us but I think it would be fun with a larger group also. There iis a web site www.balibirdwalk.com. The meeting point at the Murni restaurant is only 15 minutes walk along a lovely path from The Shala Bali.