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Monday, 16 December 2013

Malayan Night Heron 2013

Attentive readers may have discerned from previous posts that the Malayan night heron, or tiger bittern, is a regular winter visitor to the Panaga area. This year is no different and I am pleased to notice that the birds seem to have a knack for picking suitable gardens. Last year an adult was regularly seen in the garden of some of our friends. This year it has gotten even better with one bird picking the backyard of Kolbjorn, my Panaga birding buddy, as its wintering home!

Obviously I couldn't let the opportunity slip to get some better photographic records of these shy migrants; Malayan night-herons are notoriously skittish and this one proved no different. So yesterday, armed with some army netting, I stopped by at Kolbjorns house to convert the door to his garden into a make-shift hide. The testing was this morning and at 6:30 I stood almost leisurely inside Kolbjorns living room, with the door ajar, ready to get some pics of the heron. The heron dutifully performed and below are some of this mornings shots.
Malayan night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus)
Malayan night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus)
Malayan night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus)
Malayan night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus)
Malayan night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus)
Needless to say that I am quite pleased with the effort, even though the light was still a little too poor to get some action shots of the worm-catching.

Big thanks to Kolbjorn and his family to allow me in their house in the wee hours of the morning!

Folkert, 16/12/2013

Monday, 4 November 2013

A short trip to Danum valley

My mom is fully enjoying her retirement and is visiting again. This time I decided to show off a little and take her to Danum valley, in my view one of the best eco-tourism locations on Borneo: pampered to the max plus great birding and wildlife viewing. Below a short summary of our trip.

The drive from Lahad Datu to Danum takes around 2.5 hours through forested area. A couple of kilometers before we entered the conservation area we passed a group of pig-tailed macaques. When encountered on foot I find that the males of this species can be quite menacing. Safely tucked away inside the car I got a rare opportunity to try for some portraits:
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
This species is declining in population and currently listed as Vulnerable by IUCN. The main threat is loss of habitat. It saddens me to say that I've also seen a juvenile on sale at one of the local markets in Brunei a couple of months back.  
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
When the big guy started to growl it was time to go!
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
Danum valley is top of the bill when it comes to nature tourism in Borneo. The lodges are perfect, food is excellent and staff and guides go out of their way to make your stay unforgettable. Our guide during the stay was Lister (what's in a name...), who introduced himself during lunch. Fittingly, I provided Lister with my list of around 20 target species for this trip.

We stayed around our cabin in the early afternoon. A couple of flowering ginger plants outside our balcony were visited frequently by the resident little spiderhunters.
Little spider hunter (Arachnotera longirostra).
After the small midday siesta before we set out for some afternoon birding. A noisy group of sooty-capped babblers were the first birds to greet us.
Sooty-capped babbler (Malacopteron affine).
After about an hour, we had just reached the canopy, a sighting of a large elephant herd just outside the gate was called in and we joined the open truck to see them. The elephants were a little weary at first and we moved up the road to give them some space. A baby elephant was still suckling and under constant protection of its mom and two larger relatives.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
Later, we moved down the road to get some eye-level views:
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
Sightings of elephants along the road to Danum are relatively frequent, primarily because the vegetation along road- and riversides forms a favorite food source for the elephants. Don't let that fool you into believing that these are common mammals, they're an endangered species with a dwindling population size on Borneo of around 2500 individuals.

There were very few males in the group, two young ones and a bigger adult, easily recognized by the tusks.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
We stayed until dusk was finally setting in.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
A nice cold beer was waiting for me when we arrived back at the lodge! No time for too much leisure though as the night-drive was already lined up and we had only time for a quick dinner (which was again excellent!)

The highlight of the night-drive was a sighting of this Western or Horsfield's tarsier. This was only the second time that I've seen this cute little carnivore.
Western tarsier (Cephalopachus bancanus).
The next morning we first set out for the canopy walk. Along the way we heard Bornean wren-babbler and got decent views of a male rufous-chested flycatcher (a lifer for me).

A pair of bristleheads was the only noteworthy sighting at the canopy and we soon decided to head for one of the trails. Hairy-backed bulbuls were foraging close by, more exciting was a chestnut-capped thrush that was seen sitting on a log, another lifer!
Hairy-backed bulbul (tricholestes criniger).
A few noisy black magpies seemed to be following us on the trail.
Black magpie (Platysmurus aterrimus).
The yellow-bellied bulbul is a common forest species.
Yellow-bellied bulbul (Alophoixus phaeocephalus).
At around 11:00 AM things were quieting down and we headed back to the lodge for some lunch and an hour or two of rest.

This moustached babbler was the first bird we saw as we set out on our afternoon walk.
Moustached babbler (Malacopteron magnirostre).
Further down the jacuzzi trail a male scarlet-rumped trogon was very confiding and provided some great views from almost every possible angle. Even though this is a common forest species, I'll probably never tire of seeing these splendid birds.
Scarlet-rumped trogon (Harpactes duvaucelii).
A pair of giant pittas was heard, but our attempt to call them in went unanswered. As we trekked on the rain really started to come down and we arrived back at the lodge soaking wet. In the evening Lister and myself took out one of the 4WD to search for Large and Blyth's frogmouth. I can be fairly short about this attempt: no frogmouths.

The next morning we tried our luck with the giant pitta again and we soon heard the pair calling from jacuzzi trail. The birds proved very responsive and we had some great naked eye views of the birds hopping across the trail! The male showed itself only once, but the female kept close by for at least 45 minutes. My photographic intuition and judgement was a little out of tune and I missed one or two good photo opportunities. Below the one shot I managed that actually has the bird in frame. It's in the center, don't worry if you fail to see it...
Giant pitta (pitta caerulea).
This was a great birding moment! The giant pitta may not be the most colorful of the pitta's, but its size (larger than I had imagined), rarity and reputation give it amazing appeal.

On the way back to the lodge this large-billed blue flycatcher was a little more cooperative in front of my camera. Supposedly, this is a relatively common species, but one I'd never seen before!
Large-billed blue flycatcher (Cyornis caerulatus).
The remainder of the morning was spend on the hornbill trail. We were after banded pitta and any of the 3 lowland wren-babblers. No such luck with these, but this olive-winged woodpecker was a nice surprise; one of the rarer Bornean woodpeckers, this was another lifer for me.
Olive-winged woodpecker (Dinopium rafflesii).
After that, it was time to pack our belongings and head back to Brunei. Danum valley again fully delivered; great mammal sightings and a respectable 80+ bird species seen well with some great new ones. I hope I'll be back for the wren-babblers some day!

Big thanks to Lister, without him I would definitely have missed some species.

Folkert, 05/11/2013

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Chestnut-cheeked, finally

The chestnut-cheeked starling is a breeding bird in Russia and Japan and listed as a scarce winter migrant to Brunei.

On Borneo these starlings are known to congregate with asian glossy starlings, and most of the recent Borneo sightings seem to be of scattered birds hidden in larger flocks of their glossy cousins. Taking the cue of scrutinizing flocks of glossy starlings resulted in loads and loads of records in the last two years of... glossy starlings. Didn't see a single chestnut-cheeked in there.

Until last week that is when my patience was finally rewarded! A casual look at a group of asian glossies close to home revealed two cheeky chestnuts up in a bare tree.
Mixed starlings
The birds were fairly high up and I had to crop the pics a little to move the chestnut-cheeked to center stage. Both the birds are males.
Chestnut-cheeked starling (Sturnus philippensis)
Not a bad looking starling.
Chestnut-cheeked starling (Sturnus philippensis)
Glad to have finally "ticked" this species on my Borneo list!

Folkert, 17/10/2013.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Garden flycatcher

The weather has been fairly consistent the last week: heavy downpour during the night and mostly overcast days. Ideal to catch some good migrants on their way south!

I, however, have been mostly occupied with much necessary tasks around the house and have had little time for birding. Luckily our garden can still be rewarding, especially during bird migration. This weekend I noticed a small bird sallying back and forth from the same branches, typical for a flycatcher.  The camera was quickly grabbed, with results below.
Dark-sided flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica).
These shots are practically full frame and taken without the aid of a hide, the bird hardly noticed my presence. Perhaps still tired after a hard night of flying.
Dark-sided flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica).
This is a typical juvenile bird, as indicated by the yellow gape and spotty appearance.
Dark-sided flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica).
Not bad for a garden encounter. I assume that the bird was only passing by, it disappeared later in the afternoon and I haven't seen it since.

Folkert, 14-10-2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wasan early September

Sometimes luck strikes. This Saturday Kolbjorn noticed a purple-backed starling from the leisurely surrounding of his garden. Only a second record for Borneo (the first was from 1892) and great addition to the Panaga list. Despite Kolbjorn notifying me immediately I missed the bird by roughly 45 seconds. Dave has already posted Kolbjorns pics on his blog so I won't repeat it here.

Another good place for rarities is the Wasan rice scheme, our destination this Sunday. On the way over there we noticed a lot of asian glossy starlings feeding close to the road - the result was mayhem, for the glossy starlings that is: we counted at least 20 dead birds on the road between Jerudong and Wasan. Something we'd both not seen before. The number of starlings in Panaga has also dramatically increased in the last week; perhaps these birds do locally migrate and the roads offer easy food after a long journey?

As usual, at Wasan there were plenty of wandering whistling ducks around. A quick estimate yielded around 150 individuals, which seems to indicate that their number is on the rise.
Wandering whistling duck (Dendrocygna arcuata).
Wandering whistling duck (Dendrocygna arcuata).
Besides the ducks, wood sandpipers were in their hundreds and could be seen everywhere. A little adverse discrimination from my side; as the wood sandpipers were so abundant I didn't take a picture of a single bird! Other common waders that were seen included golden plovers, red-necked and long-toed stints, marsh sandpipers and a single greenshank. While walking through the long grass near the edges we flushed some blue-breasted quails, but we never got any decent views.

I only got my first painted snipe a couple of weeks back, when I saw two birds in the Seria grasslands. I almost felt a little disappointed that we flushed around 10 to 15 birds when we traversed one of the paddy fields - it nearly suggests that painted snipe are easy sightings!
Female greater painted snipe (Rostratula benghalensis).
The female of this species is the one with the bright colors. Not only that, she also typically has more than one devoted male!
Greater painted snipe (Rostratula benghalensis).
The best part however was the sighting of two buff-banded rails. A first bird flew up only a few feet in front of us. Shortly later, this second bird came out in the open. The first record of this species in Borneo only dates back to 2007, when two birds were seen at the Tempasuk plain by Madoya. There have been several sightings in Sabah and Sarawak since, including a couple of chicks as documented by Wong Tsu Shi (see here). Still, this is a very nice record, and I suspect a first for Brunei.
Buff-banded rail (Gallirallus phillipensis).
Buff-banded rail (Gallirallus phillipensis).
One noteworthy wader was a single Curlew sandpiper, a scarce passage migrant to Borneo, that was seen foraging together with a group of wood sandpipers. This is the second curlew sandpiper I've seen the past two weeks. Closer to home, the below individual has been consistently feeding at the same spot in the Seria grasslands:
Curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea).
Curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea).
Oh, and sometimes luck strikes twice. When I dropped Kolbjorn at his house the purple-backed starling did a little fly-over.

Folkert, 11/09/2013.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A short stay at KNP HQ

With my mother-in-law in town, we decided to escape the lowland heat for a day and book ourselves for a night in one of the lodges of Kinabalu Park. Our trip to Sabah's best known mountain was not a birding trip. Still, I would have an hour here and there to explore the area around park HQ.

We arrived on August 30th just before the afternoon rain came down and while my wife, son and mother-in-law took an afternoon nap I decided to have a short walk around the area. Close to the entrance of the botanical gardens I met a Danish birder, Jacob, and while we were sharing some of our Kinabalu sightings, this Bornean whistling thrush was hopping into view behind us.
Bornean whistling-thrush (Myophonus borneensis).
Together we tried our luck at the start of the Liwagu trail. There was plenty of late afternoon activity, though the rain made for poor photographic conditions.

After diner I went out for half an hour to see if I could spot any frogs and maybe even the mountain scops owl. Judging by the noise there were definitely plenty of frogs around. I only managed to locate 3  individuals and have really no idea what this tiny species is (a microhyla?).
Frog species
Next to the house this tarantula was hiding in ambush. My best attempts to lure the spider out of its hole had completely the opposite effect and the spider retreated only deeper into its shelter.
Tarantula - note the green pads on the bottom of its legs.
Our accommodation was near perfect. This was the view of the mountain I woke up to!
Gunung Kinabalu
This whole birding thing of adding new species to your bird list can at times become quite obsessive. The last time I visited the KNP HQ with Andrew Siani, see To the mountains of Sabah, I missed a couple of common "easy" birds, which I was targeting now. Because this trip was primarily a little family get-away I kept my hopes modest and any sightings of the Kinabalu specials would be a real bonus.

One of the first birds that I noticed was a group of grey-throated babblers, a common species around the park. Still, a new species for me and I couldn't have asked for a better start!
Grey-throated babbler (Stachyris nigriceps).
The bird is ringed and so were many of the other birds I saw this morning, something Kolbjorn had also pointed out after his trip to Kinabalu a couple of months ago.

A group of Sunda laughing thrushes were loudly making their way through the forest. In their wake this Ochraceous bulbul was following: another new bird for me.
Ochraceous bulbul (Criniger ochraceus).
I decided to do the start of the Liwagu trail and then head back through the Silau-Silau trail. One of the first birds I noticed was this very obliging Bornean green magpie. Until 2011 this species was known as the Short-tailed green magpie, but it has since been split into the Bornean green magpie (Cissa jefferyi) and the Javan green magpie (Cissa thalassina). While the Javan green magpie is listed as no less than critically endangered, its Bornean cousin is fairly common around KNP HQ. Still, another lifer for me!
Bornean green magpie (Cissa thalassina).
It was fairly quiet on the remainder of the trail and by 8:30 I had made my way back to share breakfast with the family at the Liwagu restaurant.

From the window we had great views of a common Bornean endemic: two Chestnut-hooded laughing-thrushes were foraging in the bushes next to the restaurant.
Chestnut-hooded laughing-thrush (Rhinocichla treacheri).
I was quite pleased to get some neat close-ups of these smart birds. A noteworthy sighting was of a red-breasted hill partridge while taking a little walk with our son. Like last time the birds were easily heard, but proved impossible to get in front of my camera.
Chestnut-hooded laughing-thrush (Rhinocichla treacheri).
Later in the morning we made our way back to Kota Kinabalu again. I really enjoyed this little trip, though one night was really too short and I definitely need to come back for some of the trickier birds!

Folkert, 02/09/2013.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A rainy morning at Labi road

A short post from a very wet morning at Labi road 9 days ago. These rainy overcast days can be quite good for bird watching, but are typically not the best for non-flash photography. Most of the pics taken failed my keeper tests; below some pictures that did not, even if only just!

An adult and juvenile rufous piculet provided some entertainment in the wet and dark undergrowth alongside the road. Did I already mention that circumstances were not ideal for photography without flash? The below pic is the only one I kept from a series of around 20...
A juvenile Rufous piculet (Sasia abnormis)
A group of distant red-leaf monkeys were noisily making their way through the canopy. This individual stopped briefly to check me out, but very quickly moved on when it realized I was trying to slowly get closer.
Red-leaf monkey (Presbytis rubicunda)
During one of the dry spells I noticed a small flowerpecker flying into a tree nearby and was very pleased to confirm it as another scarlet-breasted flowerpecker. The third one this year and all three birds at different locations.
A bum-view of a scarlet-breasted flowerpecker
I did get some better views this time, but no opportunities for a clean shot. Below is the best picture that I managed. How frustrating is that little branch! It is interesting that this area at the lower end of Labi road appears to still have considerable species influx from the very close by peat swamp forests.
Scarlet-breasted flowerpecker (Prionochilus thoracicus)
Finally my "pishing" had the opposite effect and the bird flew off. This juvenile plain sunbird proved a little more obliging for a few clean shots.
Plain sunbird (Anthreptes simplex)
A pair of distant grey-capped woodpeckers provided some good views. Below is the female.
Grey-capped woodpecker (Dendrocopus canicapillus)
The buff orange wash on the breast and belly, one of the features that distinguishes it clearly from the superficially similar brown-capped woodpecker, shows really well in this picture.

The first migrants are also slowly coming in; a short drive around the Seria area this weekend came up with plenty of sandpipers, 2 different plovers, long-toed stints and a single redshank. Hope to share some more on this later.

Folkert, 20/08/2013.