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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Labi Road, 28 July

Last Saturday (28 July) I spent two early morning hours at Labi road. I had initially planned on a longer trip, but the snooze button on my alarm clock just did it's job far too good. When I reached Labi road it was well past 7 AM. As it was one of these days that by 9 AM the heat was already very oppressive I decided to go home early. By that time everything had mostly quieted down anyway, and I had also promised to help clean up the house...

A high tree at the start of the side road provided some good views of a grey-rumped tree swift. It was just slightly too high up for any close-up pictures. During it's preening session the treeswift was briefly accompanied by a thick-billed spider hunter.

Grey-rumped treeswift (Hemiprocne longipennis)

A pair of asian fairy bluebirds were calling to each other across the road. I managed a couple of shots of the male, the presumed female kept herself frustratingly well hidden. 

The pictures below are my first relatively decent shots of these birds. While they are not uncommon in Brunei, I've never been lucky in getting good views from close by. I still hope I'll get a better photographic opportunity someday as the the black and blue is really very striking.

Male asian fairy bluebird (Irena puella)
Same bird.
A black-thighed falconet (Microhierax fringillarius) was using the top branch of a dead tree as a lookout for passing prey. Together with it's Sabah cousin (the white-fronted falconet) this species of falconet is the smallest bird of prey in the world. It feeds predominantly on big bugs that it usually catches mid-air. It is fairly common bird in Brunei. 

I spend some time watching this bird. At one point it swooped down from it's branch to catch a juicy bug mid-air. On examining the pictures the size of the talons seems disproportionally large. The bugs don't stand a change against this weaponry.

Black-thighed falconet (Microhierax fringillarius)
Same bird, on the lookout.
Look at the size of the talons.
Taking off.
With prey.
Prefer the leg.
On my way back a pair of black-and-white bulbuls flew by in front of my car. Another chestnut-bellied malkoha was showing itself just before the turnoff back onto Labi road. Hardly saw any of these last year, but the since a couple of months they seem to be popping up everywhere.

Folkert, 29/07/2012

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


The Bornean Bristlehead is an endemic species to Borneo with almost iconic status. In the taxonomic classification the bristlehead does not share it's family with any other species; this bird is the only member of the mono-specific family of Pityriaseidae. Add to this the fact that the bristlehead also looks like no other species and it's general scarcity and it becomes a major tick on any birding list. Because they are nomadic a bit of luck is required to find them.

The birds are unmistakable; predominantly black, roughly 25 centimeters in size, with a distinct red and orange head and a strong, long and sturdy black beak. I have seen bristleheads now 3 times in Brunei, always on side roads of Labi road. It's uncommon to rare and classified as near threatened. 
With the advent of more accessible high-end digital photography there are now more photo's of this enigmatic species appearing in the public domain, but until the beginning of this century there were very, very few pictures if any at all.

Below are some of my captures of the last encounter (June 2nd 2012) I had on Labi road. I counted 3 bristleheads together with 4 black magpies feeding up in the canopy. Compared to the magpies, and previous encounters, the bristleheads were very quiet this time and only an occasional croak was uttered.

Male Bornean Bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala)
Looking for food.
Enjoying a praying mantis.

The black magpies that were in the same flock are also an uncommon encounter in Brunei (though definitely not as uncommon as the bristlehead). The magpies seemed to be more shy than the bristleheads -admittedly I was also mainly focusing my attention on the bristleheads- and I only managed one acceptable photo of a magpie, and not a very good one at that.

Bornean Black Magpie (Platysmurus aterrimus)
Folkert, 25/07/2012

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Treron Pigeons at Badas

One of the areas close to our house that I like to go to is the Badas road. The easy access to the (degraded) peat swamp makes this an unique area, and there are some bird species found here that I rarely see elsewhere. I suspect the hook-billed bulbul to be present, but have yet to see one.

I am sharing a couple of pigeon species that I regularly encounter here. Both species usually travel around in small flocks of up to 10 birds. The first species is a common resident of Borneo; the little green pigeon (Treron olax). Together with the pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans) this is the commonest of the green pigeons in Brunei.

This species is very common around Badas and with a bit of luck and persistence a good subject for colorful pictures.

Male little green pigeon (Treron olax
Female and male,
bit closer together please and...

Though less common, Badas is also one of the better areas to find the second species I will show here: the cinnamon-headed green pigeon (Treron fulvicollis). According to web-searches this species is getting increasingly rare and is currently listed as near threatened by IUCN. The cinnamon-headed is far more skittish than the little green pigeon (and the feral pigeons in Amsterdam!). It is a  pretty bird, with diagnostic yellow socks on both male and female birds. Only the male has the striking cinnamon colored head.

Male cinnamon-headed green pigeon (Treron fulvicollis)
Female cinnamon-headed green pigeon,
enjoying the late afternoon sun.
Another male pigeon,
in same tree as the female.
Unfortunately also at Badas bird catching is on the rise. The target species for the bird catchers are usually parrots and shama's. The trapping is mostly done with cages, but nets are also commonly used. This last method is far more damaging and causes a cruel end for many birds. One of the issues is that most bird catchers really don't see what is wrong with their hobby and a lot of the bird catching is just happening out in the open.

A juvenile asian glossy starling in a net,
distressed and nearly dead.
Both through the PNHS and the BNS we have been feeding back our concerns to the authorities. I hope we'll see some more control soon!

Folkert, 23/07/2012

Andulau highway

On saturday morning (21/07/2012) I went to Andulau forest with Gregory Teo, a biology teacher from Kuala Belait who is pursuing his Masters degree with UBD. Greg spent the last 6 months surveying the the effect of the construction of the new Telisai-Lumut highway to bird species diversity and he kindly invited me along to share some his field research.

During his masters project Greg surveyed 4 transects running perpendicular to the new road. On each of these he then observed the number of different bird species encountered at roughly 200 m. intervals along the transect. According to Greg the change in diversity along these transects is quite significant. In total he has recorded over a 100 different species in his survey area, with a couple that are still unchecked on my Bruneian list.

What struck me was the width of the new road. The area cleared seems to easily hold a 50 lane highway and it makes you wonder what the additional benefits are for clearing an area this wide. Another concern is clearly the accessibility to the forest this new road will create. Already the amount of poaching seems to be increasing and I expect this only to become worse once the road has finished.

We didn't get very lucky with the bird- and wild life on our morning trip. We saw some red-leaf monkeys on our way in. Inside the forest we had to content ourselves with a pair of rufous-crowned babblers. Only on our way out of the forest we got a little more excitement: a pair of chestnut bellied malkoha's and this velvet-fronted nuthatch, chipping dead bark like an experienced woodpecker.

 Velvet-fronted nuthatch (Sitta frontalis).
Our poor bird count was probably due to the increased forest disturbance, noise from the roadworks and a bit of bad luck. I did really enjoy this morning and learned a lot about environmental control. Thanks Greg, I owe you at least another trip down Labi road.

Folkert, 22/07/2012

Friday, 20 July 2012


Another post that is well overdue.

February 3rd 2012, together with my wife and two good friends we went for a long weekend to do the headhunters trail in Mulu. It's fairly easy access from Brunei, a quick bolt across the border to Miri and a 30 minute plane ride before touchdown in Mulu.

We had been in Mulu a couple of occasions before and went straight for the longboat this time to take us to the start of the 8 km. trail to camp 5. 

On arrival the stream next to camp 5 served as the perfect cooling down. Because of an injury I wouldn't be able to join the rest of our party for the climb to the pinnacles the next day.

A pygmy squirrel
View from camp 5 on the limestone cliffs.
A wreathed hornbill is also enjoying the afternoon sun. 
Another view from camp 5, down the river.
So the next morning my three companions went up the pinnacles while I stayed behind to shoot some pictures of the animal- and birdlife around camp 5. 

I was walking down the Melinau gorge when I heard some commotion overhead. A group of langurs, but not the familiar silver-leaf or red-leaf monkeys we see in Brunei. A family party of 4-6 Hose's Langurs (Presbytis Hosei), a very rare sighting. And that is an understatement!

The Hose's langur is a primate, endemic to the island of Borneo. Due to habitat loss and extensive hunting the populations have severely declined over the past decades. The IUCN website tells us more, there are 4 subspecies of Hose's langur:

  • Miller's grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) - "Endangered"
  • Everett's grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei everetti) - "Vulnerable"
  • Hose's grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei hosei) - "Data Deficient"
  • Saban grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei sabana) - "Endangered"

So which one is it? It is not subspecies (ssp.) canicrus, thought to be extinct, but recently re-discovered in Kalimantan. Ssp. sabana, or the grey-leaf monkey, is a rare subspecies in Sabah. And as ssp. everetti is found in Kalimantan, the species I encountered must be the Hose's grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei hosei), which indeed fits with the described range of the species. Thanks to an attentive reader (see comments) I have corrected this to Everett's grizzled langur now.

Some further googling indeed confirms its rarity - Cede Prudente's blog is the only place where I can find some other photographic evidence of the existence of this species. 

Hose's Langur (Presbytis hosei everetti); one of the adults
Hose's Langur (Presbytis hosei everetti);
a youngster, checking me out. 
Hose's Langur (Presbytis hosei everetti); same juvenile. 

Besides a siberian blue robin, I didn't see an awful lot of exciting wildlife after this. That I missed a big trogon (Whitehead's?) the others saw on their ascend of the pinnacles seems only fair.

The next day we set off for the second part of the trek in the direction of Limbang. The last time we did this hike we were lucky with views of an argus pheasant and a glimpse of the extremely rare and endangered bay cat. This time the usual bulbuls and babblers. A banded broadbill and an asian paradise flycatcher at the end of the trail both provided some reasonable views.

After about 11 km we reached the stream where a longboat picks you up for the final 3 hour stretch. I really enjoy this part; you just sit back and see the jungle glide by. We saw stork billed kingfisher, emerald dove and red-and-black broadbill before reaching the longhouse where some cold beers were waiting for us. The longhouse marks the end of the trail - the next day we were dropped off at Limbang for our flight back home to Miri and Brunei.

Folkert, 20/07/2012

As a final note; I did share one of the langur photo's with the Malaysian Nature Society, but I am actually not sure if they ever published it.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Brown birds

A bird that I encounter on every trip into the jungle is the bulbul. Some bulbuls are quite stunning in their coloration, most are however indistinctly drab colored. One of the guides in Danum Valley once boldly referred to them as 'bbb's': boring brown birds. 

This I don't fully agree with. On their own they can indeed appear quite dull, but there also lies the challenge. Did it have red-eyes? maybe a creamy vent? slightly more olive-colored wings? It wouldn't surprise me that brown bulbuls are often mis-identified. 

Something else irked me a little bit when I started to get more comfortable with identifying birds. The aptly named red-eyed bulbul is not really the red-eyed bulbul. In Brunei the cream-vented bulbul holds much more claim to that name. It was only later that I discovered that there is a white-eyed variant of this species. I suspect that the pioneers of bird-naming didn't start their quest for naming birds in Brunei.

Back to the boring; boring is a very subjective qualifier and it is hard to argue with someones opinion. Maybe the pictures below can change that opinion a little. The pictures were taken on a morning trip to Labi road (July 14th 2012), roughly 45 minutes from our home town of Seria. All the bulbuls came and went for their morning breakfast to the same fruiting tree.

An adult cream-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus simplex).
 Note the monotonic deep red iris.
A juvenile cream-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus simplex).
The red-eyed bulbul (Pycnonotus brunneus).
Note the two-toned iris; orange inner and red outer ring.
Another cream-vented. 

In the same tree another brown bulbul wanted to get center stage. A pair of buff-vented bulbuls. The buff-vented bulbul is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN list of threatened species. Luckily this species is still regularly encountered in Brunei, though good views are not always easy to get! This bulbul is easily identified by it's white-grey iris and distinct crown/hairdue.

A buff-vented bulbul (Iole olivacea),
making it's presence known.
The same bird.
The same bird stretching it wings.
More next time.

Folkert, 19/07/12

The first one!

Right, my first blog. And about time.

Let me kick off with a little introduction. I have been living in Brunei for nearly three years now - and in all likelihood will at least stay for two more. The sultanate of Brunei Darussalam is the tiny state wedged between Malaysia on the tropical island of Borneo - not to be confused with middle-eastern Dubai.

Two years ago some friends & colleagues from the Panaga Natural History Society invited me to join on a trip to a longhouse for the "Teraja Survey" (PNHS Teraja survey - pnhs.teraja). My wife had somehow successfully conveyed that the little birdwatching I did in my pre-teens in Holland made me an expert birdwatcher in Borneo. That I couldn't separate a drongo from a trogon really didn't matter.

The bug did hit again though that weekend and I found myself going into the jungle more and more often on the early weekend morning's. Clearly my childhood interest never really went away.

The intent of this blog is to share some of the natural beauty that surrounds us, though occasionally I may stray from this self-set goal and share parts of my other immediate surroundings that I find fascinating.

One of my main interests is in bird photography and the bulk of the blog will consist of, you guessed it, pictures of birds and some accompanying text.

I hope you'll enjoy it!

Folkert, 19/07/12