Saturday, April 10, 2010

8th-10th April 2010: Whistling Thrush Project, Langkawi

With the help of Irshad Mobarak and his trusty team at Junglewalla Tours, Kim Chye and I finally made it to Langkawi to try to mistnet the Blue Whistling-Thrush there.

After a ferry trip from Kuala Kedah during which we saw 2 Pomarine and a Long-tailed Jaeger, we checked in to the Sugary Sands Motel in Pantai Cenang, right next to the even better named CD Motel (my wife warned me to stay away from those!).

The first evening we set up nets at the foot of Gunung Raya, the island's tallest mountain, where, we were assured, whistling-thrushes 'always' come out and feed in a roadside culvert.

While waiting for the thrushes we were entertained by the constant to-ing and fro-ing of hornbills, including this Great Hornbill, looking perfect in the low evening sunlight.

The red eye shows that this bird is a male.

Apart from the Great, there were numerous Wreathed Hornbills flying around.

A yellow-pouched male.

And two shades of blue-pouched females.

A flock heading to roost.

We also headed to roost having caught nothing, and neither seen nor heard a thrush.

The morning of the 9th we returned and opened the nets, full of fresh expectation. By eleven o'clock the situation of the previous evening hadn't changed. We had planned to meet Irshad for lunch, after which he would take us to the Andaman hotel, where, he assured us, the thrush practically lives in the lobby.

The hoped-for Mountain Hawk-Eagle and Jerdon's Baza on Gunung Raya failed to appear, but some compensation was provided by this migrant Peregrine resting on a satellite tower at the summit.

Before lunch we headed down to the mouth of the Cenang river, where there is some nice marshland. We found a small plover roost, comprising 69 Pacific Golden, 40 Lesser Sand Plovers, 1 Greater and, best of all, 2 White-faced Plovers, a male and a female.

A rather distant White-faced Plover, showing the broad white collar, which tends to be fluffed up, emphasizing its width. This was the female. Not only was this the first record for Langkawi, it was also the latest ever spring date for White-faced Plover in Malaysia. Some great recent photos of White-faced Plovers and Kentish Plovers can be found at Jon Cheah's pbase site.

There were a few migrant passerines in the coastal scrub, including Oriental Reed Warblers and Asian Brown Flycatchers (pic).

After lunch Irshad took us to the Andaman, which is a mightily impressive hotel. We found that a National Geographic team were staying there while they shot a documentary on flying creatures - Colugo, flying lizards and flying frogs. We also met some of Irshad's team and heard some great stories of close encounters with King Cobras. Sadly though, no whistling-thrushes.

Undaunted, we went on to Kilim Geopark, where we were told the location of a whistling-thrush nest in a cave - surely we could not fail there!

At Kilim we saw this resident race of Peregrine, so dark that it could easily be mistaken for a Bat Hawk, or perhaps Oriental Hobby.

A short boat trip down a Brown-winged Kingfisher-infested stretch of river (according to the locals - we contrived not to see any!)brought us to the cave, where we quickly located the whistling-thrush nest...empty. A short vigil revealed thousands of bats, which we did not relish the thought of ending up in our nets, but no thrushes.

We decided to head back to Gunung Raya.

Some entertainment was provided by a flock of low-flying Brown-backed Needletails. These flying torpedoes zoom overhead with a loud whooshing noise. The only way I could get any pics at all was to point the camera in their general direction and press the shutter, hoping that I might catch one in frame and reasonably in focus. These were my best efforts!

The light was great...! I'll just have to keep trying for that perfect shot!

At dusk, while the National Geographic team retired to the five star comfort of the Andaman, we went back to our Sugary Sands Motel. Something wrong somewhere!

Our final morning, the 10th, we headed straight for the Andaman, determined not to miss the chance to at least photograph and record the thrushes.

For the second day, the birds were inexplicably absent, though all the staff we spoke to could show us exactly where they perch and feed 'practically every day'!

Blue-winged Pittas are extremely common on Langkawi. We heard 3 or 4 on Gunung Raya, and there were a similar number calling around the Andaman. This one would fly from one conspicuous perch to another, calling continually.

This one had some dark flecking on the throat.

Some trees outside the hotel were fruiting, enabling us to get close views of a number of species that are normally high in the canopy.

A female Asian Fairy Bluebird (I was hoping the male would join her but no such luck!)

One of the BBB (Boring Brown Bulbuls!) - this one is a Red-eyed.

An immature male Orange-belied Flowerpecker...

He should grow up to look like this!

A nice male Thick-billed Green Pigeon.

On our way to Kuah to take the ferry back to the mainland, we stopped at Kisap to search for Black-hooded Orioles. Our run of luck continued however, and we saw no sign of them.

A Red-wattled Lapwing.

So, not only did we fail to see or hear the whistling thrush, we failed to catch a single bird (our first blank trip), and we also failed to see all four of the Langkawi specialities - the hawk-eagle, the baza, the oriole and the kingfisher! Just goes to show - there are no guarantees in birding!

On the plus side, I discovered that I have managed to photograph nine of Malaysia's ten species of hornbill in the last three months, and eight of them in the last two weeks!


Terence Ang said...

The Migrant Peregrine look like the japonensis considering the look of the bar on the underpart

Erwin said...

I love hornbills.. can't see enough of them! There are many of them on Langkawi for some reason.. we've seen more of them over there in one week than in 6 weeks in the forests of Belum and Temengor :p. Strange y? ^_^