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Monday, 28 December 2015

Birding USA 2015

And another year is almost biting the dust! But before we close off this year I can just share some of my 2015 birding experiences, something that is long overdue. It'll be short though... It's been a very busy and demanding year and unfortunately most of that busy time did not involve any bird watching. That I am attempting to capture my 2015 bird watching in a single post probably says it all. Anyway, herewith a short flavor of this years avian encounters.

During the first months of the year my bird photography was mostly done casually around the house or in the parks close to our home. The  Edith L Moore sanctuary is a small park within walking distance that is managed by the Audubon society and this is a good place for a short stroll. I have seen quite a number of species here and it's nice to see the Eastern screech owls after dusk.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis Cardinalis). 
The northern cardinal is one of the commoner and definitely one of the more conspicuous birds found in any brushy habitat. Frequently seen in our garden as well.
Green heron (Butorides virescens). 
There is a small pond in the Edith Moore park, where this small heron has been seen a few times.
Broad banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata confluens).
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). 
This small woodpecker is common in the greener parts of town. They're often seen in pairs working their way up and down a tree.

Our street had some breeding night herons and we also had a nest in a tree next to our driveway. It's nice to see these birds surviving in large urban environments - though I did curse them the first time I took note of their presence because of the large white splashes that were spray-painted across my car! Below is a pic of one of four youngsters that were seen regularly in our driveway.
Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctynassa violacea). 
On the rare occasion I had the luxury to spend some time a little further afield and I managed to visit a few parks with family and friends around Houston, a.o. Bear Creek, Brazos Bend, Baytown and the Gulf coast. Both brown and white pelicans can be seen around Baytown.
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).
The ruddy turnstone had always eluded me in Brunei. They're more common at the Gulf coast.
Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), Surfside beach.
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens), Baytown (photo from 2014)
Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), Bear Creek park.
No crocodiles, but the alligators can still reach impressive sizes, like this one in Brazos bend park.
American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Brazos bend (photo from 2014).

In April I luckily did manage a day at High Island, which is renowned for it's spring migration birding, see High Island is about an hour and a half drive from where we live in Houston. For someone who spend the last five years in Brunei, where accidentally bumping into a fellow birder is as rare as finding a jambu fruit dove on your doorstep - I recall both happening to me once - birding in high island is quite the experience; besides birds there are birders everywhere, literally hundreds of them, all packed in a small patch of forest!

During spring migration all these birdwatchers don't seem to effect and scare away the birds. Most birds that can be seen during spring use High Island as a refueling station after having just crossed the Golf of Mexico and before moving further north. Drip feeders are set up strategically for the convenience of all the visitors, birds and humans.
The other surprise is the colors on the warblers. Compared to Asia the warblers in the new world are a bolt of colors! I did manage to rake up a good number of new birds, including more than 10 species of wood-warblers during just a single morning. Below a small sample of the warblers that were seen.
Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia).
Bay-breasted warbler (Dendroica castanea).
Black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens).
Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia)
But there was more on show: catbirds, kingbirds, vireo's, brightly colored tanagers, orioles and the odd bunting and grosbeak.
Summer tanager (Piranga rubra).
And in High Island I also bumped into my first and only cuckoo this year, a new species for me nonetheless.
Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
The Katy prairie is another reasonably good place to visit close to home. The draw back is that there are very few trails and these are only open to the public a few times per month. Tress passing is highly discouraged and I am not going to challenge that policy, especially when considering the Texas gunlaws! The prairie is good for raptors and I also did see a few Northern Bobwhites earlier in the year. Apparently this time of year should also be good for wintering ducks and geese, but the species variety in the ponds that I visited last week was rather low and had none of the hoped for species.
Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus).
We did have a few weekend trips this year, although none were dedicated birding trips. The most birdy was a long weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and a few days in Moab, Utah during thanksgiving also brought up a few nice birds. And a spring trip to the California bay area was a good reminder to never forget my bins. But I did. I guess I just have to go back!

In Steamboat Springs I did connect to good number of new species, even though I hardly any pics to show for it.
Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
Evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
Colorado chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus)
The landscape around Moab is truly spectacular and just driving around is fantastic. The dinosaur footprints made a big impression on my sons imagination.
Canyon-land park, Utah.
In Moab I hardly saw any new birds, but we were treated to a spectacular gathering of base jumpers that were all showing off there courage and skills. We hung around for a while and saw a lot of jumpers taking the plunge. Not a sport for the faint of heart!
Base jumping in Moab
Common raven (Corvus corax).
So, that was a short summary of my 2015 birding. I do have some good intentions for the next year; Costa Rica is taking shape on my calendar and I am planning a few other short trips as well. I'll make some effort to document some of it right here!

All the best for 2016!

Folkert, 28/12/2015

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Birdwatching in Brunei Darussalam

Finally! It has taken me way too long, but last week I managed to put the finishing touches on my Brunei birdwatching documentation. 

Based on my experiences in Brunei between 2010 and 2014 I've attempted to provide a description of some key Brunei birdwatching sites that I've had the good fortune to visit and enjoy. I believe that Brunei has a lot of good birding to offer for the adventurous birdwatchers - and I hope that this overview proves useful to anyone that visits the smallest country on Borneo! And who knows, it may even trigger some interest with others as well…

The document can be downloaded by following the link on the top-right corner of the embedded PDF. 

Happy birding!

Folkert, 16/07/2015.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Last pics from Brunei and some American raptors

A second post from the USA, this time with some American birdlife as well. We recently moved into our new house, after 3 months of temporary accommodation. Last weekend I hooked up my desktop computer and finally downloaded some pics that had been filling up the memory cards over the past few months. There were still a few pictures from Brunei on these. After too many banded krait roadkills, I was very happy to see a live specimen crossing the road on my penultimate night drive in Brunei. Unfortunately I only got one picture in before the snake disappeared in the grass. These snakes are relatively common in Brunei and this is one of the more, if not the most, venomous terrestrial snakes in Borneo. Luckily they are typically not aggressive.
Banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus)
During my final evening in Brunei I took the car for a very short spin around Panaga and snapped a few last shots of the commonest night bird that can be found in the coastal grasses: the large-tailed nightjar.
Large-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)
And now over to you, Houston. It's been quite busy here these last few months; the new job, house and a toddler require a lot of my time. But I do try to have my camera close by and there has been the odd  occasion to snap some of America's birds. And what better bird to get on camera than a national symbol of the USA: the bald eagle! This individual we saw on a trip to a very cold Wisconsin in early December.
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
This wasn't the only individual we came across. On one of the fields we drove past some carrion had been put out and attracted around 15 eagles. 

In Brunei I had always found raptors relatively scarce and good picture opportunities hard to come by. Here it seems quite the opposite. Perhaps it is beginners luck. Another obliging raptor was seen during a walk in one of Houston's parks; a juvenile Cooper's hawk. These 3 different mugshots are hardly cropped.
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
This Osprey was seen in Baytown, a good birding area close to Houston. The subspecies carolinensis that is found here is different than the cristatus subspecies that is found on Borneo. It appears that carolinensis is much easier to see up close.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
I'm looking forward to the next weeks; spring is knocking on the door and that means loads of migrants passing through Houston.

Folkert, 14/03/2015

Sunday, 14 December 2014

From the USA - the Mammals of Brunei

A small update from the US of A. We are slowly starting to settle in our new hometown, Houston. I haven't had a lot of time for any birdwatching yet, though did already see a good number of new birds. Am getting especially excited by all the raptors that can be seen; last weekend we saw a good number of golden and bald eagles while we were up in Wisconsin for the weekend.

I did find some time over the past weeks to document the mammal encounters I had in Brunei in the last  years; it is a far from complete list, but it should provide a good flavor of the mammals that can be seen. This first file is the start of a much bigger documenting effort that I have set myself to do - the birds of Brunei are still to come!

The picture quality in the embedded PDF is not very good, but there is a button in the top right that should link to the original file. Comments and suggestions to improve readability are welcome. Hope this little writing will serve as useful reference documentation for future nature enthusiast in Brunei!

Folkert, 14/12/2014

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Bye Bye Brunei

Instead a long rambling post I think it is better to end my blogging from Brunei in style end share some of my favorite pics of 2014, for various reasons. In no particular order:
A band-bellied crake. The rarity of the bird makes up for any aesthetic value that this picture lacks.
Not an earth-shattering picture of a Brahminy kite. This is the most commonly seen raptor around Brunei, but in 4 years time I've never  had the good fortune to get an up-close picture opportunity.
Panaga wouldn't be the same without the ever-present collared kingfisher, its laughter being on of the most recognizable sounds in the gardens.
This common palm civet that I saw on KB road was missing 1 eye, which made it rather tough-looking.
Crimson-winged woodpeckers. One of the resident woodpeckers that can be heard and seen in the Panaga gardens.
A good number of sand plovers were present from August onwards. This is a greater sandplover.
I have a soft spot for broadbills and was very happy to come across this obliging juvenile in the Borneo highlands. 
Several grey nightjars were wintering along the KB road. This individual was found for a few months habitually on the same spot.
August and September were again good for terns. Small numbers of gull-billed terns were seen occasionally along the coast.
A harlequin tree frog. A nice pic, nothing special, but a great reminder of the Gould's frogmouth and eagle-owl we missed on that night. 
A stunning huntsman spider at Teraja. From web-reference this one is possible called Heteropoda davidbowie, or the "david bowie huntsman spider".
Not a native species to Borneo, but there are good numbers of these Java sparrows around Wasan and at Jerudong park.
Kuala Belait road, early in the morning, with a mongoose and a macaque. This road has been my local patch for the last couple of years and a final post wouldn't be complete without a including a reference.
A leopard cat. There are far better pictures of this elegant little feline, but none that were taken on the Kuala Belait road like this one.
A lesser sandplover mid morning at the Seria beach. 
I did come across a Malaysian brown snake in 2012, and had another great encounter this year. The blue tones seem a bit strong in this picture - am not entirely certain why. 
The Mantanani scops owl. I was very lucky to have a close encounter with this owl on Mantanani island.
This oriental plover was one of two birds that graced the grassy pitch in front of the Panaga clinic with its presence.
A very confiding pacific reef egret in Kota Kinabalu.
This barn swallow perched nicely when I took a visitor out earlier in the year.
Finally, a picture of a snake in my garden! Usually they are gone as soon as I run out with my camera. This time I already had a camera in hand, though admittedly not the right lens or body…. 
Sold! But not to this plaintive cuckoo, Borneo highlands in February. 
A sanderling, an uncommon wader that typically can be seen along the coast during late summer/early autumn migration.
A silver gull that was eying me suspiciously in Australia during a family holiday earlier in the year.  In 5 years Borneo I cannot claim to have seen a single gull...
A slow loris. I have seen these cute animals on various occasions in Brunei, unfortunately even a caged one on the Jerudong market. I like it a whole lot better to see them like this, free in the wild.
A swamp toad, one of the type-species of the Lower Belait peat swamps.
My visit to the Borneo highlands was very rewarding. This temminck's sunbird came very close to my lens.
A wedge-tailed eagle that I saw in Australia in May. One of the things that I have always found intriguing in Brunei was the low density of raptors and I am still not certain why this is - I doubt it has anything to do with bad luck.

That's it. I will still compile a few annotated documents about birding in Brunei, which I will post on this blog at a later time. For now it is really goodbye to Brunei, it has been a memorable adventure.


Folkert, 12/10/2014