Tuesday, July 28, 2009

26th July 2009: Whistling Thrush Project: Perlis

Having pretty much ascertained that there were no whistling-thrushes around where they are usually seen in the State Park, we packed our bags early and drove south, planning to stop at a few spots along the way.

The strategy was simple enough - head for the nearest limestone karst and look for an access road that would take us as near to the base as we could get.

At the first one we tried, we hit the jackpot almost as soon as we got out of the car - two Blue Whistling Thrushes flying away from the cliff face above treetop height. I waited around the car, while Eileen, our eager assistant for this trip, walked off to try to get a GPS reading.

I was rewarded after 10 minutes by a whistling thrush landing in a tree not far away with a beak full of worms, clearly on its way to feed nestlings. It wasn't that obviously different from 'dicrorhynchus' birds we have seen further south, though the white tips to the median coverts looked whiter and more distinct (larger?).

Soon afterwards, Eileen came back with the news that she had seen two birds near where she had taken her reading - one of her descriptions sounded just like a whistling thrush, and the other like a Blue-winged Pitta, so we went back to the area, and soon saw the Whistling Thrush fly in to search for food. Once the bird had left, we decided to try putting a net up. The sun was well up by this time however, and the bird saw the net when it returned, and neatly avoided it!

The bird definitely has clearer white median covert tips than any 'dicrorhynchus' I've seen, and a less massive bill (compare with this bird), but the culmen of this bird looks dark, rather than all yellow as it's supposed to be.

Eileen had really been hoping to catch a glimpse of a pitta this trip, but the Banded Pitta at the State Park had been silent and invisible, so she had missed out. Now however, as we waited for the whistling thrush, a Blue-winged Pitta started calling close by, and a few minutes later, flew past us toward where the whistling thrush had been feeding, straight into our net!

So she saw her pitta after all - just reward for all her help and hard work. Thanks Eileen!

A final stop en route home produced our first returning waders of the year - about twenty adult Wood Sandpipers in very worn breeding plumage. Happy days are here again!

25th July 2009: Whistling Thrush Project: Perlis State Park

Despite a hike up to Wang Burma, an upstream cave, there was still no evidence of whistling thrushes in the vicinity on our third day at the site.

In fact, bird activity overall was pretty low, with only one bird caught all day - an adult female Rufous-collared Kingfisher.

An Orange-breasted Trogon put in a brief appearance in the morning, and a confiding Red-bearded bee-eater sat over our heads and digested a large bee for some time.

In the afternoon I went back to the swallow site about an hour earlier than yesterday to take advantage of the light. I couldn't resist a few photos of an idyllic little house at the edge of the rice fields.

Back to the swallows and swifts...

An adult Asian Palm Swift...

... and a juvenile, showing a shorter tail, paler rump and underparts and pale-tipped coverts and remiges.

One of a few House Swifts zipping around.

The swiftlets here seem small and have very pale rumps and underparts. They are similar to the ones which breed in 'swiftlet hotels' around Penang, only here they probably breed in caves as there are no artificial nesting sites in the area. My guess is that these are the nominate race of German's Swiftlet.

I caught one flying temporarily upside down as it shook itself after a bath.

The Rufous-bellied Swallows were again cooperative today. I noticed some variation in the intensity of streaks on the underparts. This one had quite noticeable streaks.

While this one was apparently unstreaked.

I managed to improve on yesterday's efforts.

At night I went out again in my quest for the elusive loris. Here's another colour version of Humerana miopus.

And I believe this is Polypedates leucomystax - Common Tree Frog.

A spider guarding its nest under a leaf.

I found this Wagler's Pit Viper while scanning the canopy for a calling Collared Scops Owl.

After two hours of lorisless searching I was on my way back to the dorm when there was an enormous crashing sound of something heavy falling to the ground in the nearby undergrowth. After initially thinking that maybe a branch was hurtling toward my head I turned round to see a pair of Lorises scuttling hurriedly across the road. Putting two and two together, I realized that the sound must have been the lorises falling out of their tree, possibly getting carried away in amorous pursuits! Calculating the direction of their hasty entrance into the forest on the other side of the road, I walked down the valley in an attempt to head them off, and was duly rewarded with the sight of the male climbing a small sapling.

On the scoresheet at last!

And to finish off with, who could resist buying these "Lie Fallow Puffs" in the border market? To quote from the packet, "Made of choice material, adopt advance technology, best enjoyment. We like the new taste. We need the quality and we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. You are the new man. How delicious can not forget. Special taste."

Well, we didn't find what we wanted in the form of a whistling thrush, but after scoring a last minute equalizer against the lorises, I was feeling slightly like a new man. Lorises - so slow!

24th July 2009: Whistling Thrush Project: Perlis State Park

Our first full day at the Park, and disappointingly, no sight nor sound of any whistling-thrushes.

A few birds did fly into our nets, and they were duly processed and released. Even though they are not the focus of our project, having birds in the hand does give us a valuable chance to build on current knowledge. For example, we were able to handle adult and juvenile Grey-cheeked Bulbul - juvenile plumage in 'undescribed' according to Wells 2007 - so we were able to fill that small gap.

This juvenile Chestnut-naped Forktail is quite different from that described and illustrated in Wells 2007, which has a dull chestnut mantle (similar to adult female). Is it possible that our bird is a juvenile male, while the one illustrated and described in Dr Wells' book may be a juvenile female? Several Ficedula flycatchers are sexable in juvenile plumage, and it seems that other taxa may be too.

Another case in point - we were lucky to catch two male Rufous-collared Kingfishers at the same time. One had a clear yellow lower mandible and was in primary moult, while the other had extensive dark markings on the lower mandible and had uniformly fresh plumage. A sign of immaturity?

Short-tailed Babblers were particularly common on the slopes near our accommodation and we caught one. The other common babbler was Black-capped, which was noticeably absent on the slopes but numerous on the flat valley bottom along the stream.

Chestnut-winged Babblers were only noted along the Prince of Denmark trail, where the undergrowth is a bit more open.

These birds gave an interesting response to playback of their calls. They immediately sat close together, fluffed up their back feathers and started to preen each other, while calling at the same time.

An adult (male I guess?) Acanthosaura armata, or Horned Tree Lizard.

In the afternoon we visited a valley between two limestone ridges where about forty Rufous-bellied Swallows were coming to bathe and drink in an irrigation pond. Unfortunately I missed the best light conditions. These are my best attempts at a challenging subject!

After dinner I was determined to have another go at photographing the deceptively un-Slow Loris, so drove slowly along the road to the border spotlighting from the car. After several kilometers I finally found a Loris - not on the wires this time, but near them - and started to take a few blurry photos. However, my endeavours were cut short by the arrival of a Police Landrover, whose occupants wanted to know why this foreigner was taking so much interest in apparently photographing telecommunications installations at night! After a lengthy explanation I was allowed to resume my journey, but of course, by then the Loris was long gone - 2-0 to the Lorises!

A few other fruits of my labours at night:

A pair of Red Giant Squirrels sailed over our accommodation and spent 5 mintues exploring holes in a nearby tree.

The best I could manage of a 'flight shot'!

Most eye-shine when lamping at night comes from spiders, and some of them are very impressive indeed. I wouldn't fancy getting a bite from the jaws of this one!

This stunning creature was suspended over the road - luckily I saw it before walking into it!

Mammals are a lucky find at night - and a challenge to photograph well! This is the best I could manage of a Greater Mousedeer.

And this is some kind of rat!

Limnonectes blythii. Blyth's River Frog.

Hylarana or Rana labiallis. White lipped frog.

Humerana miopus. Diagonal-lined Frog.

Also Humerana miopus, but in a different shade!

Hylarana glandulosa. Rough-sided Frog.

Leptobrachium hendriksonii. Spotted Litter Frog

Frogs were many and varied! Thanks to Muin for helping me to id them, and for pointing out this excellent website.

Sleeping beauty! A roosting butterfly.

An impressive-looking and noisy Forest Gekko.