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Friday, 21 June 2013

Wetlands International surveys II

It's been a while since my last update. I have been rather busy with work and also was in Europe for 10 days, part work and part meeting up with friends. It felt good to be back in Europe for a while, it's hard to beat enjoying good food with old friends on a long summer evening.

The second dedicated bird surveys for the Wetlands International project started when I was away last week (for an introduction to the WI project, see a previous post: wetlands international survey). WI is doing an excellent job pulling in the experts: after Dennis Yong, this time Dave Bakewell is leading the bird surveys. Dave is one of the foremost bird experts in the region and hardly needs an introduction. If you have never visited his weblog than please do so at dig deep, a great read and teeming with useful information on bird identification.

Again I have again been lucky to be invited to help out. Last Thursday I joined one of the surveys, which was an excellent way to rid myself quickly of the jet lag. We met up in the early morning to explore the more remote areas of peat swamp and kerangas forests that are typical of the lower Belait district. On the way we saw a lesser adjutant, a good omen! At our first locality we had good, though slightly distant, views of a male scarlet-breasted flowerpecker. This is not an easy bird to find and I am very happy that I got a few shots of this splendid little bird!
Crimson-breasted flowerpecker (Prionochilus thoracicus).
There was plenty of other bird activity, though most was out of reach of my camera. Rare birds elsewhere, cinnamon-headed green pigeons are a relatively common sight in the open areas and we spotted several smaller flocks. A group of thick-billed green pigeons had joined the cinnamon-headeds in the tree pictured below, before flying of:
Cinnamon-headed green pigeons (Treron fulvicollis) and
 Thick-billed green pigeons (Treron curvirostra).

With Angus, Dave and Kolbjorn.
When we moved to the next locality we soon heard a species that has eluded me for the past 3 years: the hook-billed bulbul! This is a peat swamp specialist, and there is no surprise that it is found here. Pristine peat swamp forest is getting increasingly scarce on Borneo and with the rapid disappearance of suitable habitat this species is listed as threatened (vulnerable) by IUCN.
Hook-billed bulbul (Setornis criniger). 
And so I finally added this long awaited lifer to my Bruneian list. In the below picture the distinctive white tail tips can clearly be seen - most of the head is however well hidden behind a branch and I will definitely need to try for better photographs in the future!
Hook-billed bulbul (Setornis criniger).
We continued again at dusk with the aim to get Dave good pictures of the Bonaparte's nightjar. Around the Badas area literally thousands(!) of flying foxes can be observed as they fly over to their preferred fruiting spots. The flying fox is the largest flying mammal and it is a very surreal sight to see so many big bats flying overhead in an almost continuous stream, it delivers a vague sense of being part of the latest vampire movie.
These mass wanderings seem a recurring phenomenon, as I had witnessed it before in 2010 and I suspect they are related to temporary localized fruiting periods. With the dusk setting in I failed to capture a good impression of the full scale of the bats passing by, but I did get some shots of individuals flying over.
Large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus).
We did hear and see the nightjar, but the bird couldn't be tempted to show itself well enough for any pictures. While waiting for the nightjar a colugo soared by overhead, landing not too far away from us. These animals can truly glide, I estimate that this individual covered at least a 100 meters with a single jump/glide/flight.
Sunda flying lemur or Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus).
Note the little peeping Tom.
These trips into the more remote parts of the lower Belait seem to imply that some of the species typically associated with nutrient-deficient soil forests are especially sensitive to disturbance. While I have recorded some great birds in the past 3 years along the Kuala Balai road I have never seen hook-billed bulbul and scarlet-breasted flowerpecker there and only very rarely encounter cinnamon-headed green pigeons: one could hypothesize that the road and related activity has a clear negative effect on the presence of the aforementioned species. With the ever expanding human encroachment on nature the efforts of Wetlands International will be an important step towards building a sustainable future for the lower Belait forests. I am anxiously looking forward to the findings and recommendations of this project.

Folkert, 21/06/2013