Wednesday, June 25, 2008

22nd June Bukit Larut, Taiping

Just a few hours this morning before we had to head back down, so I got up before dawn to station my hide where I could overlook a stretch of road where I had seen the Malayan Hill Partridge yesterday.

Partridges were conspicuously absent, but I was kept company by a Rufous-browed Flycatcher that came down to the road regularly to feed.

This mossy boulder was his look-out post.

A Pygmy Wren Babbler must have worked its way all round me, 'singing' its squeaky pump song, but remaining out of view almost the whole time. It finally popped up on the opposite side of the road.

Still singing!

After I had packed up my hide, a aChestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler started calling nearby, but it was even more difficult to entice into the open!

Needless to say, on my way back to pack, I found that a partridge had been seen crossing the road twice further down! Never mind, next time...!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

21st June, Maxwell Hill, Perak

Maxwell Hill, or Bukit Larut, as it is known locally, rises 1250m above the quaint town of Taiping. It was apparently the first 'hill station' established in colonial times on the mainland of the Peninsula, but is now the poor cousin of the three other more popular hill destinations - Cameron Highlands, Fraser's Hill and Genting Highlands.

The lack of tourism pizazz makes it rather attractive to birders, and some have been making regular visits over the last 15 years or more.

I arrived in Taiping, after driving from Kapar, at the dead of night. Well, actually, it was only 10.30pm, but the streets were as deserted as they might be at 3 in the morning, such are the home-loving folk of Taiping. The town is built more or less in a grid format, which means that it is the Town of a Hundred Traffic Lights - or possibly a Thousand. I know, because I waited at most of them while trying to find my way to the hotel I had booked for the night.

Next morning I took a ride in one of the landrovers provided to ferry people up the hill, and met up with a group of Penang-based birders staying at Speedy's resthouse.

My main goal was to try to see the Rusty-naped Pitta which had been seen briefly a week or two previously, but, sadly for me, it had shut up by the time I arrrived.

A walk up to the summit produced a curious party of Sultan Tits. With their fine spiky crowns and royal yellow colours, they are certainly aptly named.

The two-tone tail is caused by moult. The older, browner feathers are being pushed out by the new glossy black ones.

A male Black-throated Sunbird - a familiar sight at all the hill stations.

A solitary Malaysian Hill Partridge eluded my efforts to improve on my shot of one at Fraser's Hill recently, and a pair of Pygmy Blue Flycatchers were also rather shy and elusive. This is the male. This is apparently the first record of this species at the hill for some years.

I disturbed a small party of Bushy-crested Hornbills feeding on some fruiting trees near the road.

A Horsfield's Baron posing for me on a roadside fern.

This was the view from our resthouse after dark - Taiping in all its splendour.

At night the pair of White-bellied Swiftlets nesting in the house came to roost with their two almost-fledged young.

This fine Masked Palm Civet came to help itself to the leftovers of our dinner left out specially.

This Atlas Moth beat itself to oblivion on one of the outside lights. In front of it is a 'normal' sized moth!

The local Brown Wood Owl was very obliging, coming to call just outside our house after dark.

The Mountain Scops Owls weren't nearly as accommodating, but while out on a walk to try to see one, we came across this beauty,which is apparently a juvenile Vertebral Slug Snake (Pareas vertebralis). Thanks to Muin for the id!

Monday, June 23, 2008

20th June 2008: Kapar Power Station Ashponds

Visiting a winter wader roost on near enough midsummer's day may seem the height of folly, but the large number of waders recorded at Kapar in late May made me wonder how many birds were actually not actively migrating, but were choosing to oversummer at Kapar.

I arrived at the site at about 2pm, and the ashponds were completely devoid of birds - a barren wasteland. Within an hour though, the first Eurasian Curlews began to drift in, and, by 5 o'clock, there were over 3,500 waders (and 17 species) present! Unfortunately from a photographic point of view, the majority did not roost at the usual site, but chose instead to feed not far from the inflow pipe. Here's a selection.

All the birds I could age were in '1st summer' plumage. Birds which hatched last breeding season would have undergone a body moult into 1st winter plumage last autumn, and then another body moult into '1st summer' plumage. This means that most of their flight feathers would be around a year old, and extremely worn and bleached. In theory, these feathers are not replaced till the second autumn of the bird's life, when it moults into its second winter/adult winter plumage.

However, what was interesting was that most birds had already begun to moult their primaries.

This Bar-tailed Godwit has just begun its primary moult; the inner two are full grown, and the third is still growing. The primary covert moult is happening in parallel. Note how much paler and more bleached the old feathers are.

Another Bar-tailed Godwit in the same flock has almost completed its primary moult (only the longest outermost two are still unmoulted), though it doesn't seem to have started secondary moult yet.

This Whimbrel shows clearly the difference in colour between the outer unmoulted primaries and primary coverts, and the fresh inner ones.

Another interesting variation on view was the range of barring on the underwings of Whimbrels. Unbarred white underwing coverts are supposedly a feature of the race 'phaeopus', while barred underwing coverts should indicate 'variegatus'. However, this photo shows that there may be some intergrades.

Here's a composite of the three birds with raised wings in the photo above, which nicely illustrates the gradation in degree of underwing covert barring.

Another noteworthy observation was the count of Ruddy Turnstones - 42 being double my previous highest count in Malaysia. Some of these birds seemed to be in pristine breeding plumage, which made me wonder whether some were already on their southward journey, possibly failed breeders??

Overall totals were:


Grey Plover 50
Pacific Golden Plover 3
Lesser Sand Plover 300
Greater Sand Plover 180
Eurasian Curlew 650
Whimbrel 900
Bar-tailed Godwit 400
Common Redshank 450
Common Greenshank 36
Terek Sandpiper 50
Ruddy Turnstone 42
Red Knot 15
Great Knot 200
Red-necked Stint 100
Curlew Sandpiper 160
Sanderling 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper 1

TOTAL 3538


Grey Heron 25
Purple Heron 2
Little Egret 75
Great Egret 1
Little Tern 8
Gull-billed Tern 15


As I was leaving the site I had one more pleasant surprise - the sight of a leucistic Javan Myna feeding among some cows.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

6th June 2008: Fraser's Hill, Part 7

Our last morning at the Hill, I decided to focus on trying to get better shots of the Malayan Whistling Thrush. The dawn was clear, but cloud soon descended!

A nice atmospheric shot of a thrush in the glow of a street lamp.

It seemed that the birds had accepted the presence of my hide by this time.

This shot shows both birds.

This picture shows the shiny blue forehead, contrasting with the dark lores, well.

A Rufous-browed Flycatcher had been visiting the same spot over the previous two days, and I finally managed a reasonable shot of it today!

I went for a short walk along Hemmant's Trail before check-out, and came across this solitary Malaysian Hill Partridge. Unfortunately I had my flash on the wrong setting, or it might have been a decent picture!

The same can be said of this record shot of a Buff-breasted Babbler, my last photo of the trip.

All in all, I felt this visit had been a successful one, with outstanding views of a number of tricky species, and a respectable total (for June) of 84 species. I saw Little Spiderhunter and Common Tailorbird at the top of the hill for the first time, a sign of rising temperatures? I saw Red Junglefowls at the Rubbish Dump again (first noted two years ago). Notable absentees from my list were Bronzed Drongo and Verditer Flycatcher.

5th June 2008: Fraser's Hill, Part 6

I again set up the hide at the whistling thrush site, and this time the bird obliged. Unfortunately, the early morning fog made using the flash tricky (the flash bounces off the mist, creating a milky effect). Also, I find that the flash creates very unnatural colours with a bird as irridescent as a whistling thrush.

Here are a couple of efforts with the flash. These show shiny blue lesser coverts and forehead which enable it to be identified as a Malayan Whistling Thrush. Notice also the bluish edges to the secondaries and lack of shiny spots on the throat or median coverts, and small bill and head relative to Blue Whistling Thrush.

These shots, taken using natural light and a very slow shutter speed, give a more realistic idea of colour. Neither the lesser covert patch nor the shiny forehead are always visible, and a better way to eliminate 'dicrorhynchos' Blue Whistling Thrush may be the smaller bill and head proportions (compare these pics with these (and scroll down to 29th Feb), taken in the Cameron Highlands of a bird which is probably 'dicrorhynchos' Blue.

A sucker for punishment, I again spent two fruitless hours at the pheasant spot, although I did manage to photograph this Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush.

A quick visit to Jalan Mager produced a very obliging Pygmy Wren Babbler, as well as another whistling thrush (calling only), a small party of Bay Woodpeckers and a Red-headed Trogon.

Bishop's Trail was again in fine form, with Red-headed Trogon, Pygmy Blue and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, Greater Yellownape and Blue Nuthatch seen, and, best of all, a party of three Large Scimitar Babblers.

These were incredibly furtive and difficult to get a clear shot of. The only thing that helped me was the fact that the three birds would follow each other, choosing the same perch as the previous bird. I managed to get these shots by focusing on the branch that the previous bird had landed on and waiting for the next one!

At dusk I went down to the Gap in the hope of photographing Malaysian Eared Nightjar. Unfortunately the clouds descended into the valley, cutting visibility down considerably.

I got a lucky couple of shots of a Yellow-vented Pigeon flying to roost.

Several Brown-backed Needletails whizzed overhead, and finally, a pair of Malaysian Eared Nightjars flew over once, heading up the valley, not to be seen again.

This Collared Scops Owl gave good views in the mist.

4th June 2008: Fraser's Hill, Part 5

I set up my hide pre-dawn at the place where I had seen the whistling thrush yesterday. While making final adjustments to my camera I heard a flutter of wings and the shrill whistle of the thrush from the left side of my hide. I had accidentally flushed it from a few yards away without actually seeing the bird at all. It didn't return!

My next stop was the pheasant spot, where I waited for 2 hours, seeing only a Buff-breasted Babbler. I heard a Malaysian Hill Partridge calling distantly and briefly.

Things picked up considerably once I hit the Bishop's Trail in mid morning.

This Black-eared Shrike Babbler was part of a mixed flock that also included Rufous-browed and Pygmy Blue Flycatchers.

Here's the female Pygmy Blue.

And here's the male.

There were also Long-tailed Broadbills, which I didn't manage to photograph, and two Red-headed Trogons, which I did.

A large mixed flock of laughingthrushes included several Black Laughingthrushes - incredibly wary and difficult to photograph well!

One of my best sightings on the trail wasn't a bird but this gorgeous Red Malay Harlequin Butterfly - Paralaxita damajanti.

I was also pleased to find this rare endemic damselfly, Coeliccia erici.

In town, the kids found this stunning green beetle.

Back at High Pines, I managed to photograph a few birds from our room...

A male White-browed Shrike Babbler...

 of several Blue-winged Minlas...

...and a Mountain Leaf Warbler - much brighter than race in Sabah (see here, photographed almost exactly a year ago!)