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Sunday, 14 December 2014

From the USA - the Mammals of Brunei

A small update from the US of A. We are slowly starting to settle in our new hometown, Houston. I haven't had a lot of time for any birdwatching yet, though did already see a good number of new birds. Am getting especially excited by all the raptors that can be seen; last weekend we saw a good number of golden and bald eagles while we were up in Wisconsin for the weekend.

I did find some time over the past weeks to document the mammal encounters I had in Brunei in the last  years; it is a far from complete list, but it should provide a good flavor of the mammals that can be seen. This first file is the start of a much bigger documenting effort that I have set myself to do - the birds of Brunei are still to come!

The picture quality in the embedded PDF is not very good, but there is a button in the top right that should link to the original file. Comments and suggestions to improve readability are welcome. Hope this little writing will serve as useful reference documentation for future nature enthusiast in Brunei!

Folkert, 14/12/2014

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Bye Bye Brunei

Instead a long rambling post I think it is better to end my blogging from Brunei in style end share some of my favorite pics of 2014, for various reasons. In no particular order:
A band-bellied crake. The rarity of the bird makes up for any aesthetic value that this picture lacks.
Not an earth-shattering picture of a Brahminy kite. This is the most commonly seen raptor around Brunei, but in 4 years time I've never  had the good fortune to get an up-close picture opportunity.
Panaga wouldn't be the same without the ever-present collared kingfisher, its laughter being on of the most recognizable sounds in the gardens.
This common palm civet that I saw on KB road was missing 1 eye, which made it rather tough-looking.
Crimson-winged woodpeckers. One of the resident woodpeckers that can be heard and seen in the Panaga gardens.
A good number of sand plovers were present from August onwards. This is a greater sandplover.
I have a soft spot for broadbills and was very happy to come across this obliging juvenile in the Borneo highlands. 
Several grey nightjars were wintering along the KB road. This individual was found for a few months habitually on the same spot.
August and September were again good for terns. Small numbers of gull-billed terns were seen occasionally along the coast.
A harlequin tree frog. A nice pic, nothing special, but a great reminder of the Gould's frogmouth and eagle-owl we missed on that night. 
A stunning huntsman spider at Teraja. From web-reference this one is possible called Heteropoda davidbowie, or the "david bowie huntsman spider".
Not a native species to Borneo, but there are good numbers of these Java sparrows around Wasan and at Jerudong park.
Kuala Belait road, early in the morning, with a mongoose and a macaque. This road has been my local patch for the last couple of years and a final post wouldn't be complete without a including a reference.
A leopard cat. There are far better pictures of this elegant little feline, but none that were taken on the Kuala Belait road like this one.
A lesser sandplover mid morning at the Seria beach. 
I did come across a Malaysian brown snake in 2012, and had another great encounter this year. The blue tones seem a bit strong in this picture - am not entirely certain why. 
The Mantanani scops owl. I was very lucky to have a close encounter with this owl on Mantanani island.
This oriental plover was one of two birds that graced the grassy pitch in front of the Panaga clinic with its presence.
A very confiding pacific reef egret in Kota Kinabalu.
This barn swallow perched nicely when I took a visitor out earlier in the year.
Finally, a picture of a snake in my garden! Usually they are gone as soon as I run out with my camera. This time I already had a camera in hand, though admittedly not the right lens or body…. 
Sold! But not to this plaintive cuckoo, Borneo highlands in February. 
A sanderling, an uncommon wader that typically can be seen along the coast during late summer/early autumn migration.
A silver gull that was eying me suspiciously in Australia during a family holiday earlier in the year.  In 5 years Borneo I cannot claim to have seen a single gull...
A slow loris. I have seen these cute animals on various occasions in Brunei, unfortunately even a caged one on the Jerudong market. I like it a whole lot better to see them like this, free in the wild.
A swamp toad, one of the type-species of the Lower Belait peat swamps.
My visit to the Borneo highlands was very rewarding. This temminck's sunbird came very close to my lens.
A wedge-tailed eagle that I saw in Australia in May. One of the things that I have always found intriguing in Brunei was the low density of raptors and I am still not certain why this is - I doubt it has anything to do with bad luck.

That's it. I will still compile a few annotated documents about birding in Brunei, which I will post on this blog at a later time. For now it is really goodbye to Brunei, it has been a memorable adventure.


Folkert, 12/10/2014

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


This Monday was one of Godwits.

The day started off well with this flycatcher that I noticed sallying from one of the trees in our garden during breakfast. Almost an exact repeat from October last year, see garden flycatcher.
Dark-sided flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica)
We were having a day off and I took the opportunity to drive around some of the remoter areas of Brunei. First though was a stop at the very familiar grasslands surrounding Seria. This very skittish black-tailed godwit was foraging in one of the grassy pools.
Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa)
This was in fact the very first godwit ever seen by me! Next we drove on to Wasan rice fields, where numerous rarities have been recorded in the past. The first birds we saw were, waddaya know, another 4 godwits!
Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa)
Apart from the godwits Wasan didn't turn up anything special. Kolbjorn counted around 260 whistling ducks (I was too lazy to count with him) and there where good numbers of wood sandpiper and long-toed stints. Other notable birds seen where snipe, yellow- and cinnamon bittern, black-winged stilts and a lone greenshank. Noticeably absent were any raptors. We did see and hear some warblers whizzing by on a few occasions but never had prolonged views to nail the ID.

On the way back we saw this blue-necked keelback on the road. The snake was kind enough to stay with us for a few pictures.
Blue-necked keelback (Macrophistodon rhodomelas)
Blue-necked keelback (Macrophistodon rhodomelas)
Blue-necked keelback (Macrophistodon rhodomelas)
A very pretty snake to end a good day with!

Folkert 07/10/2014

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Oriental Plover

I decided this afternoon to do some easy birding as I haven't been feeling the best lately. So rather than go on a jungle walk I took out the car for a drive around the grassy areas behind the seawall.

To my surprise there were two oriental plovers on the pitch next to the clinic. Not only a great find for Panaga, but also a lifer for me. I suspect one of the birds to be a juvenile, the other an adult loosing its breeding plumage.

The second rarity drove up to my car ten minutes later, a fellow birder in the name of Kolbjorn. In my 5 years in Brunei I have never met another birder unplanned in the field; there clearly is a first for everything. We spend a good amount of time to get a photo of the plovers. There was still some distance to overcome, but in the end I did manage to get some keeper shots.
Oriental plover (Charadrius veredus)
Oriental plover (Charadrius veredus)
Oriental plover (Charadrius veredus)
Oriental plover (Charadrius veredus)
Not bad for a casual drive on a leisurely Saturday afternoon.

Folkert, 04/10/2014

Monday, 29 September 2014


Last week, Kolbjorn and myself went for an evening walk on one of the more remote sidetracks of Labi road. We arrived shortly before dusk and walked a good distance before the sun was fully set. The area that we walked through is mostly peat swamp and the track had a nice stream next to it with a deep rusty brown color from all the leaching tannins. The walk was livened up by the sounds of two rhinoceros hornbills deep into a domestic dispute, a great slaty woodpecker and some very skittish red langurs.
The real reason we were there was to search for some night birds. We had just turned from the furthest point when we heard a very distinctive call close by, one that I couldn't straight away place. A search on the iPhone quickly revealed the culprit: a Gould's frogmouth. And not just one, but two birds. I still don't know how we managed it, but we somehow completely messed up this opportunity and never got a visual. The birds fell silent very soon and were only heard very distantly afterwards. Maybe the playback we used was akin to a serenading cat, whatever it was we never saw a glimpse.

It goes without saying we felt a little defeated, but at the same time also very elated; we only just had started the walk back and with a start like this the remainder of the walk surely would be brilliant. So, in way, it wasn't a total surprise that we got a response from a barred eagle owl less than 200 meters later! First one and a little later a second one. We managed this time to record the two birds duetting, but again, no visuals! One owl even flew over our head, but picked a branch just facing away from us, and the dense undergrowth prevented us to walk in. We spend close to an hour trying to get a view, but to no avail; the birds wouldn't give themselves up.

Luckily this Harlequin tree frog, that we found a little further down the track, was more cooperative and didn't object at all to take center stage. In fact, every time it jumped it seemed to end up in an even better photographic position.
Harlequin tree frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)
Supposedly this is a common species, though that does't mean I see it very often. I fact, I actually can only recall to have seen it in Danum before.
Harlequin tree frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)
Harlequin tree frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)
Just before we reached the car we stumbled upon this spiny turtle. My knowledge of turtles isn't that great and I didn't realize at the time that this is actually rapidly becoming a very rare species. The IUCN lists this turtle as endangered, as unfortunately these animals still end up way too often on dining plates and in soup bowls somewhere in SE Asia.
Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa)
The population in Brunei is still considered as relatively stable, though if I were this little fellow I wouldn't stray off into more populated areas.
Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa
And, since this still is a blog about birds, I'll end this post with some shots of the birds I got on camera the last two weeks. A collared kingfisher; while these are very common around Panaga, they're actually not that approachable and unplanned close-up opportunities are not common. This one was sitting on the fence of a beam pump.
Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)
While on my way to Bandar I briefly stopped at Wasan rice fields. There were quite a few black-winged stilts around.
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
And a couple of white-winged black terns.
White-winged black tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
And finally, a superb record from Brunei. Recently a second photographic record of the spectacled flowerpecker was made in Labi hills by local photographer Mr. Asmali Asli. See also:

This species was only discovered in Danum in 2009 and it is therefore truly excellent to have the second encounter in Brunei. Moreover the pictures are fantastic! I have been at Labi ridge numerous times and never had the luck to find a species with this type of allure there. In a way I am almost glad to leave Brunei so I won't be able to give in to obsessive, and more than likely unsuccessful, chases of this very elusive species.

Folkert, 29/09/2014

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Panaga and surroundings, 2nd week of September

Last weekend we ventured to the Baram delta. For anyone who wants to follow suit a word of advice: do not go at high tide!!! Hardly any exposed beach and we didn't see much… the trip would have been a complete waste of time if it wasn't for some distant greater crested terns (a Bornean lifer for me) and the good tidal lesson. Perhaps I'll have another attempt next week.

Closer to home migration is in full swing and small groups of red-necked stints can be found frequently on the beach.
Red-necked stint (Calidris ruficollis)
This bird was one of a small group foraging in the late afternoon.
Red-necked stint (Calidris ruficollis)
Their close relatives, the long-toed stints, can be found in the small creeks, puddles and pools of the coastal grasslands
Long-toed stint (Calidris subminuta)
Long-toed stint (Calidris subminuta)
While on my way home from lunch this week I noticed a lesser adjutant circling over the grasslands. Luckily I had a camera in the car to record the encounter. I saw it landing behind the trees lining the river edge of the Sungai Seria, but work duties prevented me from seeking out the bird.
Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)
The last confirmed sighting from Seria dates back to 2009 - so this is quite a good record. The next day I tried to see if the bird was still around. My search along the river edge only turned up this crocodile.
This morning I spend a short hour at Badas. I did see a couple of birds, o.a. grey-chested jungle flycatcher and the customary hook-billed bulbul. From a photographic perspective it wasn't the most productive hour; I failed to get a single bird on camera. The only picture I had when I walked out the forest was of this butterfly...
This woodswallow that had perched just above my car offered some small solace. Often overlooked, like many of the more ordinary birds, they are really quite handsome.
White-breasted woodswallow (Artamus leucorhynchus)
Folkert, 13/09/2014