Thursday, July 29, 2010

21st July 2010: Around Kuantan, Pahang

I was in Kuantan to help deliver a workshop on biodiversity issues for oil palm plantation managers (more details here), and I arrived a day early to scout for likely sites for a field trip.

Sadly, most areas of swamp forest remaining in the Kuantan area are badly degraded. The most interesting area ornithologically was a fragment I named Sungai Pancing Selatan, which could be reached down about 5km of logging track. Here I saw and heard a few birds of note - Blue-winged Pitta, Red-throated Sunbird, etc, and a longer visit would have turned up more birds. However, most of the area had been or was in the process of being cleared.

To log swamp forest, first you have to drain it. Drainage canals could be seen in several places slicing through the forest.

This was the fragment I tried birding in, not more than an island of forest.

All around, clearance was progressing and with it, how many tons of carbon are being released into the atmosphere?

According to a local man I spoke to, the forest is being cleared for oil palm. Most likely this is a smallholder rather than a large company. There is so little swamp forest left in Peninsular Malaysia, it's tragic to see what little there is being whittled away.

Lowering the water table to make the land more suitable for agriculture will likely also increase the fire risk greatly.

Elsewhere I came across this bald-headed Common Myna. You can tell when you've become known as the local 'bird-person' in your community, because sooner or later someone will come up to you and say "I saw this funny bird with a yellow head the other day, and it looked like a vulture!" Common Mynas with few feathers or no feathering on their head are a common enough phenomenon, though no one knows for sure what causes it, whether it's part of their normal moult strategy or disease of some kind.

Without the covering of feathers, it's quite easy to see the ear opening, behind and below the eye. Handsome fellow eh?!

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 19-20th 2010: Fraser's Hill

About a week ago I got news from Eileen Chiang, one of our keen volunteers from the Whistling-Thrush Project, that a Malaysian Whistling-Thrush was making regular dawn appearances near the top gate at Fraser's Hill. Apparently it was an unbanded bird, so not the one we caught there last October.

As it happened, I had a job in Kuantan last week, and Fraser's Hill just happens to be a convenient mid-point to break the long drive from Penang!

Having ascertained the exact spot from Durai, I set up my hide before dawn on the 19th and waited...

Pre-dawn, this Slaty-backed Forktail fed around the foot of one of the roadside lamp posts.

Several times I heard the thrush calling, but always from behind my hide! After two hours or so I gave up.

A short visit to Hemmant's Trail provided brief views of a pair of Malayan Partridges, and I heard this pair and another on Bishop's Trail duetting. No photos this time though! Leeches were out in full force after the recent wet weather - I collected 7 on one leg on a brief foray down Bishop's Tail!

I spent much of the rest of the morning on the lower parts of the road down to Jeriau Waterfall in the hope of finding Marbled Wren-babblers or Ferruginous Partridge. I found neither, and my best bird was this Speckled Piculet. Still room to improve my shots of this species!

Just over a year ago I photographed a presumed juvenile Black Eagle near High Pines. While I was birding in the garden I heard the familiar mewing call of a a juvenile and saw this bird - perhaps one from this year's brood?

Unfortunately , though the bird was flying low overhead, the clouds were also low and the light was awful!

The light got worse. This Silver-eared Mesia shot was taken just before the rain started!

And this one was during the rain - while I was sheltering under a convenient roof!

Eventually the sun broke through again over the stunning forested valley below High Pines.

As usual, Pine Tree trail was quiet, though I did see a pair of Chestnut-crowned (aka Malayan) Laughingthrushes feeding a fledged juvenile. This parent was wearing a Wildlife Department ring.

A night drive round Telekom Loop after dinner yielded no close calling Mountain Scops-owls, but this obliging Brown Wood-owl and a Common Palm Civet.

The following morning I was again at the top gate with my hide, but this time with a Cunning and Sophisticated Plan. This time I rotated my hide 180 degrees to face the other way!

As it got brighter and brighter I wondered whether I would be frustrated again, when suddenly, just before 7am, I heard the thrush call, and very soon it alighted on the road. I was treated to a full half an hour (on and off) of the bird feeding on the road in front of me, sometimes just a few meters away! Here is a selection of photos.

Here's a short video of the bird.

Sobering to think that this site is currently the only one in the world where this species can be reliably seen.

Once the thrush show was over for the morning, I hit the trails again, and almost immediately disturbed a male Mountain Peacock-pheasant which had been feeding on the trail. I left the place alone for about an hour, then revisited it, this time flushing a female from beside the trail, and finally, managing to spot the male back in the same place as before long enough to grab a few shots.

The second shot gives a more accurate impression of the tail length. Sadly he turned his head away at that moment!

A short visit to High Pines garden in the hope of a repeat of yesterday's performance in better weather provided some consolation for the absence of the eagle in the form of a Grey-bellied Squirrel...

... and an obliging singing male Little Cuckoo-dove.

Not a bad morning's birding, all before 9.30am. Now it was time to hit the road and start the long drive to Kuantan. However, I already had plans for the return leg of the journey, to try to get better shots of the obliging pheasants.

Shrinking forest. This scene was just a few kilometers beyond Fraser's Hill on the road toward Bentong - hill forest being cleared to make way for oil palm - it's still happening...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Malaysian Whistling Thrush 20 July 2010

I just spent a couple of days at Fraser's Hill trying to photograph Malaysian Whistling Thrush. As you can see, I succeeded! More pics to come when I get home next week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

16th July 2010: Sungai Sedim and Penanti, Kedah

I made an early start to get to Sungai Sedim by dawn. I haven't been back for a while, and the road to the car park has been fully upgraded. Still, they've done a good job of it and the forest is still largely as it was.

A fruiting tree near my parked car was attractive to several bulbuls at dawn. Red-eyed and Black-headed were regular visitors. Finsch's were calling but never put in an appearance sadly.

A Red-eyed Bulbul drops in for breakfast!

A young male Scarlet-rumped Trogon arrived in the clearing unannounced. Unfortunately I had accidentally knocked the dial on my camera to Auto, so this was taken at ISO3200 - so not as good as it might have been, but not bad for that ISO speed!

This Red-eyed Bulbul was taken at ISO1250.

Several Agile Gibbons were calling, and I spotted this lone male feeding in the tree tops. He looked really huge - big beefy arms and very woolly fur.


Agile Gibbon's call is quite different from the more fluid, sustained calls of White-handed Gibbons. Agile Gibbon has a very small range in South-east Asia, being confined to northern Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand.

After Sungai Sedim I visited the Small Buttonquail site near Kulim. The area is still undeveloped, though a lot more overgrown than before. An extensive walk over the area produced no buttonquails at all.

On the way home I paid a short visit to Penanti, which is a favourite site of bird photographers in the State, due to the fact that there are usually bee-eaters and pratincoles breeding. Not today however. The only Oriental Pratincole I could find was one with a damaged wing.

Common Ioras are extremely common at this site.

I came across a juvenile Paddyfield Pipit still partially dependent on the parent bird. It was a good opportunity to study the juvenile plumage of this species.

This was the adult, looking decidedly bedraggled!

Interestingly, it appeared to have some freshly replaced crown feathers.

Here's the juv, looking pristine by contrast!

It was interesting to compare this with the Blyth's Pipit I saw earlier in the year. Compared to that bird, this one shows a quite different median and greater covert pattern, a heavier malar and more strongly marked head pattern, predominantly dark-centred mantle and crown feathers, and boldly-streaked rear flanks.

The dark loral line is quite obvious in these views.

A very bold and contrasting head pattern!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

14 July 2010: Sungai Burung, Penang Island

It's mid-July, times are hard, pickings are slim!

I equipped myself with the call of Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo and headed off to some mangroves this evening, but again, not surprisingly, drew a blank!

The Copper-throated Sunbirds which I discovered 4 years ago are still in their favoured area, but less photogenic owing to the undergrowth having been cleared. Now they keep to the tops of the palms.

I told you times are bad. Reduced to photographing House Crows...

Jungle Mynas...

Crested Serpent-eagle...

Brahminy Kite...

...and Asian Glossy Starlings. Actually, these birds are one of my favourite common birds. Juvs and adults both look smart in different ways. This is a juv already starting to grow some glossy green adult feathers.

This younger juv is still all in fresh juv plumage, and the eye is just changing from brown to red.

Check out the difference in eye colour between these two birds!

This post just shows that it's not all about finding interesting and exciting birds! You have to put the hours in as well!