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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Jarring in Brunei

I thought it would be good to share some of my recent nightjar pictures. It's not that I am obsessed with these birds, but they do know how to pose for the camera! There is a nightjar in this first one; just follow the shooting direction of the camera's.
Making friends with a large-tailed nightjar.
With Merijn, Ulmar and Kolbjorn.
We came across this large-tailed while looking for snakes and frogs for the Wetland surveys - the 'herping' was not very successful that night, not a single snake. Luckily there was still this bird that kept us entertained for a couple of minutes.
Large-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)
 trusting it's camouflage.
Here are some more pics, all taken with a 15-85 mm lens! From previous posts you may have gathered that the large-tailed's not only form a good picture subject, but that these birds are also rather common.
Same bird close-up from the side.
And a close-up from the front.
There are another 4 nightjar species in Borneo. From these the Bonaparte's nightjar (Caprimulgus comcretus, also referred to as Sunda nightjar) is the rarest; a thinly scattered species that, due to habitat loss, is listed as threatened (vulnerable) by IUCN. I always had a sneaky suspicion that one of the nightjars I had seen could have been a Bonaparte's nightjar. With a recent evening walk Dennis Yong picked up the call and I did finally confirm this species when it briefly flew overhead.

Now, obviously, I had to go back to the locality to see if I could get some better views! The below picture is the results after 3 stake-out attempts.
Bonaparte's nightjar (Caprimulgus concretus).
The clear white tail-tips suggest that this is a male.
I am very pleased with this shot as there are only few photo's of this small nightjar, though secretly I'm hoping I'll get a closer shot without the fiery eyes one day.

Folkert, 14/03/2013.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Wetlands International surveys

If you're expecting loads of nice bird pictures, this post may be a little disappointing... There has however been some great birding in Brunei last week, even though the total number of birds seen is rather low and the photographic evidence even more meager. But what a week!

In an earlier post I mentioned that Wetlands International just started with an 18 month project for the lower Belait district. This is a collaborative effort between Brunei Shell Petroleum and Wetlands International. There are several objectives to this project that foremost aim at a sustainable future for the fragile peat swamp forests of Brunei's lower Belait district. For more information please see this link.

The Biodiversity surveys form an important part of the project and since last week some globally recognized experts are surveying the area, including Dennis Yong. Dennis is one of the foremost Malaysian naturalists and his skills with picking up and identifying bird call are truly impressive - he seems to not only identify almost every single call, but is also able to mimic most calls directly from memory. And he is a really nice guy!
I feel very fortunate to also have been given the opportunity to help out. This week I have been assisting in the field on a couple of occasions, and especially Saturday was very memorable: the first time I have taken a boat ride up river from the Kuala Balai road to venture a deeper into the peat swamp forest. Saturday early morning we (Kolbjorn, Dennis, Merijn and myself) had arranged to meet up at the end of the Kuala Balai road. On our way over Kolbjorn and I had some splendid views of a ruddy kingfisher. We dipped however massively on the clouded leopard(!) that was seen by Dennis and Merijn next to the road, and only 10 minutes after we had past the exact same spot.
Our upstream destination was a little rickety rail track leading to a small logging concession, only accessible from the river. The rail track runs through some good peat swamp forest. On the river we spotted a chestnut-winged cuckoo (Clamator coromandus), which provided some good views. This is an uncommon/rare winter visitor to Borneo and was a lifer for me.

We arrived at the start of the trail/track around 08:00 and there was enough activity going on. We heard plenty, including 5 different hornbill species, good views were however few and far between. The most enticing call was surely the hook-billed bulbul. Attempts to call it in were unfortunately unsuccessful, and I hope to have another opportunity soon. Kolbjorn soon spotted a scarlet-breasted flowerpecker (Dicaeum thoracicus), a male, foraging in front of us. Another lifer for me and what a stunner! From habitat description the presence of this bird is not unexpected; to actually see one is an entirely different matter!

Besides the birds, we did also see some other forest life. This sambar deer was seen next to the track before it shot off with an ear-piercing alarm call.
Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor).
This giant squirrel observed us from a tree and then made for the deeper forest, possibly showcasing how it's cousins, the flying squirrels, evolved with some huge jumps. 
Cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis).
There were also plenty of cool insects around. This Kytadid does an excellent job in mimicking a leaf.
Kytadid sp.
On the way back on the river we noticed a group of 5 straw-headed bulbuls. I had seen these birds previously in Danum and on the river upstream from Limbang, though never before in Brunei. The straw-headed bulbul is listed as vulnerable, mainly because of trapping for the cage-bird trade. To see it in Brunei is a good record. The 3 pictures I got are absolutely useless - but since this blog is mostly about the Brunei birding I decided to stay within the theme and include one anyway:
Straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus)
A final noteworthy record is the Bonaparte's nightjar (Caprimulgus concretus), also listed as vulnerable by IUCN. A bird was calling for several minutes early Tuesday evening. We had almost given up getting any views when luck finally struck and the bird flew into the beam of my flashlight from which we could follow it for around 5 seconds with some good close-up views - and more than enough for a positive ID!

All and all a very good week, 3 lifers added and some great calls identified. Am already thinking about the next trip upriver.

Folkert, 10/03/2013

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Back in Brunei

I have been a little quiet the last couple of weeks, primarily because I was on leave. We spend some time in Europe with family and friends, which was very enjoyable. The winter weather was a nice change from the Bornean heat and humidity and even being snowed in for a day in the UK was fun.  Of course it is hard to complain with views like this:
View from our window, Cumbria (UK).
Maybe I ought to bring a proper camera next time: the snowy background could have made some pretty pictures of the local finches and robins!

Yesterday Kolbjorn and I went for some early morning birding in Teraja. Birding wise the morning was a hard going. There was loads of activity, but we only recorded very few species. The dense forest cover makes for difficult bird watching and the only reasonable picture I got is of this cicada.
Cicada sp.
This morning I spend some hours at KB road and around the Seria grasslands. This cinnamon bittern was trying hard not to be noticed!
Cinnamon bittern (Isobrychus cinnamomeus).
Usually there are some little ringed plovers around the ditches of the Seria estuary between September-April. This male is already in nice breeding plumage.
Little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius)
Another update is on the Malayan night heron. Since the encounter mentioned in a previous post I have now seen two other individuals around Panaga, all 3 birds within a 15 km. radius. This was the first one:
Juvenile Malaysian night-heron (Gorsachius melanolophus).
A second bird, also a juvenile, I saw a couple of days later roughly a kilometer away from the locality where I saw the first bird. Upon scrutinizing the pictures I am convinced that these are 2 different birds.
Juvenile Malaysian night-heron (Gorsachius melanolophus).
A third bird, an adult this time, was already seen by some friends of ours in their garden. Robert was kind enough to call me when he saw it one late afternoon. As soon as I arrived at his doorstep I noticed the bird running for cover. Despite some later attempts I never got the bird on camera. Luckily Kolbjorn did get a very good picture!
Adult Malaysian night-heron (Gorsachius melanolophus).
Picture by Kolbjorn Schjolberg, published with his permission.
The Malaysian night heron is normally considered a relatively rare migrant, and I had always thought that this species was a real specialty of Panaga. With 3 observations and reasonable certainty that it is still under sampled, this may actually be a fairly common migrant in the coastal areas of Brunei and Sarawak. Due to it's skulking and secretive behavior it is still a very tough bird though!

Coming weeks I'll likely support Wetlands International, see link, a couple of times as field assistant. The biodiversity surveys in support of an overarching wetlands conservation study for the Kuala Belait peatswamp will start this week. Hope that will turn up some good species!

Folkert, 03/03/2013.