Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blast from the Past: Beidaihe 1985!

I have recently been sent a few photos from 25 years ago by Martin Williams, and he's given me permission to post them here.

In the days before boy bands and fantasy football, what did a bunch of guys get up to in their formative years? Well, in this case, we went to China and 'rediscovered' Beidaihe - one of the great migration spectacles in Asia!

Here we were on the Lotus Hills - our migration watchpoint - where we sat virtually every day for three months (well - not all of us at once - we took it in turns!). Ahh - those were the days before carbon fibre tripods, goretex and telescopes you can see through! Note the preponderance of Barbour coats and draw-tube scopes, and not a pair of roof prisms in sight! Actually, I still have that Velbon aluminium tripod - and it still works!

What looks like a plastic bag of rubbish in the foreground is actually our collective lunch - a large quantity of local biscuits we called 'rusks'. They were tasteless, furred up the tongue and gummed our mouths shut for minutes on end, but they filled us up and they were cheap!

The intrepid team was (left to right): Martin Williams, Ron Appleby, Steve Holloway, Geoff Carey, yours truly, Simon Stirrup and Roger Beecroft.

Where are they now?

Martin: An author, video producer, tour guide, Outstanding Earth Champion and all-round eco-hero based in Hong Kong. Check out his websites at,,

Ron: No news

Steve: Last heard of as the Non-Estuarine Coastal Waterfowl Survey (NEWS) Project Officer at the British Trust for Ornithology (trying saying that with a mouthful of rusks!) and co-author of several stellar publications such as The Wetland Bird Survey 2001-03 Wildfowl and Wader Counts. Good on you Steve!

Geoff: Chairman of the Hong Kong Bird Records Committee and co-author of some books like this and this.

Simon: Owner of some seriously expensive camera gear and a stunning collection of wildlife pics, showcased on his website:

Roger: Runs an environmental consultancy and has been involved in wetland recreation schemes such as this one (Scroll down to Kingfishers Bridge).

So all-in-all - a great bunch of guys that I am proud to have crossed chopsticks with.

Daily Log time at the hotel. I notice that everyone seems happy except me. Perhaps I am thinking "Why is always ME that has to write up the log?" Or maybe the rusks are taking their toll?

Hope to post more pics soon.

For more info on Beidaihe, take a look at some of the articles here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sungai Sedim, Kedah, Penang: 15th May, 2009

I've had a hankering to visit this site for some time, and finally did so yesterday. The weather was not at all promising - dawn was a wash-out, and I had forgotten that Friday is the weekend in Kedah, so the place was way busier than I'd excpected.

In spite of this, there were a few good birds around.

The view from the canopy walkway is spectacular.

Temminck's Sunbird is a species I rarely see in the Peninsula, though it is common enough in parts of Sabah.

This male Pale Blue Flycatcher was a pleasant surprise. As the photo shows, he was singing away, and was very showy.

White-bellied Yuhinas are common enough, but always difficult to get good shots of.

This Chestnut-breasted Malkoha was hunting for caterpillars around the car park.

Later on I found this Green-billed Malkoha. It had just been killed by a car unfortunately.

Moustached Babblers were singing everywhere.

I was sure when I photographed this that it was a new species of dragonfly for me, but on inspecting the books, it turned out to be a green morph of Ictinogomphus decoratus, a common species which is more usually yellow and black. Still a very nice-looking beast.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Whistling Thrush Project: Ipoh 11-13th May 2009

This second field trip took us to the limestone karst outcrops around Ipoh, where Blue Whistling Thrushes have a healthy population. This is a habitat I am wholly unfamiliar with, so it was a fascinating and eye-opening few days.

Our first site was Kek Look Tong Caves, which is also the site of a Buddhist temple.

The entrance to the caves when we arrived pre-dawn.

We set up one net inside the cave with the permission of the head caretaker of the temple. However, we discovered that the whistling thrushes were feeding newly fledged young, so they were extremely secretive. The ceiling of the cave was intricate and colourful - I never realized that caves could be so beautiful and impressive!

Just a small section of the incredible rock formations.

Outside the caves, Blue Rock Thrushes were plentiful and tame.

Juvenile birds called incessantly from the cliff face to their parents, begging for food .

There is also a thriving population of Java Sparrows, originating from released captive birds but now breeding quite successfully on the cliffs.

Eventually a whistling thrush appeared high up in the gloom of the back of the cave.

We managed to tempt it down to the floor of the cave by throwing some bread out, and it eventually flew into our net. Here it is before capture.

And here it is wearing its new 'bling' - pink and red colour bands. These bands will enable observers to identify individual birds, enabling us to learn more about their behaviour, size of territory, etc. The bird is resting in the mouth of the cave, sheltering from a heavy rainstorm.

Later on it came down to bathe in a small stream inside the cave. After another day we had seen no other whistling thrush than this one, so we decided it was time to move to a new location.

We moved to another temple site, and almost straightaway located another pair of birds. The birds were using a pool at the base of another limestone outcrop, so we set up our nets there.

These birds were out in the open, giving me the first opportunity to take pictures of them in natural light.

Whistling Thrushes have a distinctive habit of opening and closing their tails like a Chinese fan.

We were pleased to catch one of these birds, bringing our total to two for the trip and three overall.

We took a look at a couple of other sites - this one is Tempurung Cave.

No sightings of whistling thrushes here, but the butterflies were some compensation! Here is a male Common Mormon buttering up a female.

And this has to be one of the most stunning butterflies I've ever seen - a Banded Peacock apparently.

There were a few late Brown Shrikes still around, as well as this rather smart singing Long-tailed Shrike.