Local Community Collaboration the Key in the Search to Save the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher
Prior to 2018, there were only a handful of Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher sightings: these included recent confirmed sightings from two national parks in West Java and much older records from sites across Java, none of which had any recent sightings. Known to have a shy behaviour and generally found in forests near rivers, researchers made the exciting discovery of the kingfisher in Petungkriyono, a mountainous area in Central Java in 2018.
SwaraOwa, a conservation organisation with a decade-long presence in Petungkriyono, saw this discovery as an opportunity to take swift action to find out more about the distribution and population status of the elusive Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher as a crucial first step for conservation action. As Petungkriyono has a sizeable lowland forest remnant which is not yet protected, it was crucial to establish the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher’s distribution, habitat use, and ecological requirements in order to effectively lobby for habitat protection in the area.
With funding from the ASAP Species Conservation Grant and the Oriental Bird Club, Imam Taufiqurrahman from SwaraOwa led the project by designing and coordinating the surveys along the Sengkarang river system which stretched across Petungkriyono and Lebakabarang districts. Surveys were conducted across five main rivers, amounting to approximately 35km of transect distance, and were carried out by boat or foot. Divided into stretches of 1 km with 200 m fixed points, two observers were positioned at these fixed points and made observations for 1 hour-long periods. The entire operation required massive community effort, involving more than 50 villagers. However, ultimately the team had to rely on Imam and his colleague Kurnia Ahmadin to accurately identify the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher when compared with other small kingfisher species known to occur in Petungkriyono.
The team faced the challenge of treacherous terrain and bad weather, and the shy behaviour of the kingfisher meant that observations were fleeting, allowing the team only mere seconds to observe and confirm its presence. In total, Imam and his team encountered the species on 17 occasions along two of the five rivers during their surveys. Imam recalls the team’s first encounter with the species: “It was a very satisfying moment. In happened during fasting month and all the team members were fasting. We had walked quite a long distance and the team was exhausted, but our efforts were paid off when we saw the kingfisher!”
As the rivers are often utilised by local communities for tourism activities, Imam and his team further engaged with the local community. They are currently engaging with local tourism operators to improve bird identification, with an emphasis on the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher, with the hopes that Petungkriyono will be promoted as a bird tourism area. In October 2022, Imam and his team successfully organised a three-day-long bird race in Petungkriyono, with 22 participating organisations convening from across Java. This brought beneficial economic impact to the local community, and helped to highlight the significance of the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher to the wider tourism community.
The next step for conserving the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher is to develop a regional plan to protect the bird’s habitat. Given how its distribution crosses multiple administrative districts, SwaraOwa plans to continue local involvement in monitoring the kingfisher’s riverine habitat. They also have the task ahead of raising awareness of this species’s importance and rallying Petungkriyono community support to have strong conservation impact for the Javan Blue-Banded Kingfisher.