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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

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