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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Wasan Rice Fields

We had a day off work Friday because of the Eid-al-Adha holiday, which offered me a great opportunity to drive down to Wasan. I have only been there a couple of times in the past. The Wasan rice fields cover an area of roughly 5 square kilometers and form Brunei's biggest agricultural development. The place is ideally suited for migrating birds that prefer paddy & fresh-water habitat. Some exceptional historical records for Borneo come from Wasan; northern lapwing, grey-headed lapwing and black-collared starling have all been seen here in the past.

Unfortunately Wasan is still a good hour drive from Panaga, otherwise I'd probably visit more often. I still managed to arrive quite early and was greeted by a pair of overflying wandering whistling ducks. Two weeks ago a number of rusty-rumped warblers were observed by Merijn. And at my first stop, next to a little stream, 3 warblers showed themselves within a couple of minutes. Too briefly for any positive ID's though - and my knowledge of migrant warbler songs and calls clearly needs updating.

When I returned with camera, one bird in particular provided some nice photo opportunities, despite the poor light. But what was it?
Even though the flank feathers are disturbed (the bird was picking at it while I was observing) the streaky appearance of the black droplets seems limited to the breast only. Luckily I got some more pictures to confirm a correct ID.
Same bird: rusty-rumped warbler (Locustella certhiola)
Note that white tips to the tail, which are a key diagnostic of rusty-rumped, are not very clear. Two other details however allow an undisputed ID:
  1. The very prominent white tip/spot at the inner web of the tertials.
  2. The blackish band in the tail feathers.
These two features clinch the ID: a rusty-rumped warbler, also known as Pallas's grasshopper warbler (Locustella certhiola). The streaking on the breast and the heavy black streaks on the rump suggest that this is a first calendar-year bird - many thanks to Kolbjorn and his Norwegian friends for pointing that out and general discussion on identification!
Rusty-rumped warbler (Locustella certhiola), with the distinct features.
Unfortunately the other warblers didn't provide any photo opportunities. This greater coucal flew into view while I was trying to get some more warbler pictures. Initially I had identified this bird as a lesser coucal, but someone kindly pointed out this bird actually must be a greater coucal. The red iris, heavy bill and strong convex culmen are diagnostic. Thanks Dave!

Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis)
During winter time the Wasan rice fields are also home to large flocks of wood sandpiper. I didn't see as many as last year, but there were still several hundreds around. Besides some common sandpipers I didn't see any noticeable other waders, nor any signs of the lapwing that was seen a week ago...
Wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
There were also plenty of yellow wagtails around.
Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava)
Much to the annoyance of the local farmers, the area also holds big populations of munia's and related seed-eaters; chestnut-, dusky- and scaly-breasted munia are all abundant. A specialty of the Wasan rice fields are the Java sparrows. These birds originate from Bali and Java and are an introduced species in Borneo. In spite of all the ingenious scare crows the farmers employ -and unfortunately I also did see a couple of nets- these birds are doing extremely well and are impossible to miss.

Juvenile java sparrow (Lonchura oryzivora)
Adult java sparrow (Lonchura oryzivora)
Wasan is a place with great birding potential in the winter time to see some rare migrants and I am fully planning to visit a couple more times this season!

Folkert, 31/10/2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Badas, Sungai Seria and some migrants

On Friday, October 19th, I spend a morning with Merijn in the field. Merijn was over from KL to align the planning for a possible future bio-diversity study in the south of Brunei. Merijn, a fellow countrymen and a keen birder, had asked me to accompany him to some of my favorite sites.

We started the morning at Badas, and highlights included a substantial flock of cinnamon-headed green pigeons, a blue-rumped parrot disappearing into a tree-hole, a grey-headed fish-eagle and a couple of hard-to-see shrikes (that we settled on to be tiger-shrikes). As usual there were plenty of dollarbirds and long-tailed parakeets about.

Male Long-tailed parakeet (Psittacula longicauda)
Male Long-tailed parakeet (Psittacula longicauda)
As it was low tide I also wanted to spend some time at the Sungai Seria estuary. The estuary underwent some big, manmade changes last year with the aim to make the water management more efficient in preventing small floods during the wet season. As a side affect the estuary now seems far less attractive to migrant waders and the exposed tidal flat during low tide has substantially decreased. the number of waders we saw was limited and a little disappointing.

We still saw some nice birds though. There were were a couple of common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) on the lookout for fish. Every year a few of these kingfishers can be found around the estuary. This is however the only locality where I have seen this species thus far. I did get some good pictures of the female.

Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
One of Merijn's co-workers had found a dead von Schrenk's bittern earlier in the week in Lumut. No rare bittern's around today, but we did see several little heron's and this yellow bittern flew straight into our view. This is by far the most common bittern in the greater Seria area.

Yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)
Another regular winter visitor to Sungai Seria is the Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes) and as luck would have it one flew over and landed nearby as we were about to leave. This species is listed as vulnerable by IUCN and the total global population is estimated to be less than 3500. Every year still one or two of these egrets call the Seria estuary their winter home. I can only hope this will continue in the coming years. The bird today did a good job in keeping it's distance, so no close-ups.

Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes)
The past two weeks some very good observations have been made in Brunei. Unfortunately I didn't see most of them! The special ones:
  • Brown-backed flowerpecker (Dicaeum everetti), October 13, Panaga. Kolbjorn saw this species in his garden. This species of flowerpecker is very rarely recorded and might only be patchily distributed in Borneo. This is a great find and a very nice addition to the Panaga species list. For some good pictures of this species check Con Foley's website:
  • Grey-headed lapwing (Vanellus cinereus), October 16, Wasan ricefields. Bird seen in flight by Merijn. This is a very scarce winter vagrant. The PNHS sighting list has only one other recording in Brunei, which dates back to 1995. Merijn also saw a pair of Common sand martin's (Riparia riparia), another scarce winter visitor, during this visit.
  • Chestnut-cheeked starling (Sturnus philippensis). October 11 and October 13, Panaga. Seen by Kolbjorn in his garden. An uncommon winter visitor, though not as rare as the previous two species. A little envious of this one, as I was trying hard the last two winters to add this species to my list. Good thing is that this sighting does present me with a glimmer of hope for the next couple of weeks!
I did manage to add one new species to my Bruneian list as well:
  • Crested myna (Acridotheres cristatellus). Two birds in the car park at the Bandar airport on October 20.
Also am fairly certain I saw a Common kestrel flying over the Seria grasslands. As I only got brief naked-eyed views from the car I am a little hesitant claiming this one, even though it's hard to imagine it being any other bird.

Folkert, 21/10/2012

Monday, 8 October 2012

Another visit to KB road

I hadn't been to the Kuala Balai road for quite some time. This weekend I took my mum there, who is visiting her grandson (and us to a far, far lesser extend), to show her some nature close to our house.

We left the house at around quarter past six and the morning mist was still covering the low-land shrub and fields as we pulled onto the Kuala Balai road. While I was pointing out a dollarbird, a red-billed malkoha flew by and landed relatively close by. Hadn't seen red-billed malkoha's yet at the Kuala Balai road so a great start of the morning! Still waiting for a glimpse of the black-bellied malkoha to complete my malkoha-list along this road.

I did manage to pull of a couple of quick snaps - but with the morning light, distance and the typical malkoha habit of hiding between the foliage, these turned out rather poor. I have therefore also included a better attempt, made sometime last year at Labi ridge.

Red-billed malkoha (Phaenicophaeus javanicus).
Labi ridge, March 2011.
Red-billed malkoha (Phaenicophaeus javanicus).
KB road, October 2012.
The melodious song of the yellow-bellied prinia's was heard a couple of times. The rapid and loud wingbeats of the prinia's are often just as diagnostic as they move around between the long grass.

Yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris)
At the far end of the road another nice surprise: this lesser cuckoo-shrike flew into view just as we were about to go back home. While described as a common resident I don't see them that often. I got to see the markedly undulating flight pattern quite clearly this time. The bird is a male, the female is much paler and has a barred underside.

Lesser cuckoo-shrike (Coracina fimbriata)
The morning ended with a flat tire! I had driven over a huge nail that had pierced my tire fully and had to stop the car to put on the spare. The offer to help of several people passing by is a great illustration of Brunei's friendly nature and with some combined effort we were quickly on the road again.

The visit was unexpectedly fruitful with a couple of great species, two of which where new to me at this locality (cinnamon bittern and red-billed malkoha) and white-bellied munia's are also not seen every day. And, most importantly, my mum also definitely enjoyed the whole experience!

Folkert, 08/10/2012