Monday, June 29, 2009

28th June 2008: Johore Bahru

In the hour before we were due to leave JB I had chance to take a few snaps of the common garden birds which I normally overlook.

This male Pink-necked Green Pigeon was busily collecting nesting material.

As was this 'moustached' Yellow-vented Bulbul!

A male Common Tailorbird seemed to be prospecting for possible nest-sites.

A male Red Turtle-Dove in the next-door rambutan tree.

And a female Long-tailed Parakeet flying overhead.

27th June: Panti Forest Reserve, Johore

A weekend trip to Johor Bahru to celebrate a family 50th wedding anniversary gave me the opportunity to make my maiden visit to Panti.

I arrived before dawn, and so was in time to see a few Malaysian Eared Nightjars overflying the carpark.

True to its reputation, the place seemed alive with bird activity, though getting good views wasn't always easy. My main goal for this short trip was to photograph as many babblers as I could, with the prime target being rail-babbler. I heard a rail-babbler calling distantly around 8am, but it soon stopped calling.

This Short-tailed Babbler was easier to get views of as it displayed to an unseen mate or rival with much wing-flicking. This bird was much less intensely coloured below than one I photographed in Sarawak earlier in the year, which is probably of the race 'saturatum'.

Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers were numerous. They tend to go around in pairs, and I witnessed a territorial confrontation between two pairs by the roadside. Each pair would sit on a branch side by side calling together. At one time the two pairs were just feet apart. Once the boundary between the territories had been established, the pairs went their separate ways.

Black-capped Babblers were also frequently heard calling, and this one crept right up to me, alternately calling and searching for prey in the leaf litter.

Just after seeing this babbler I met up with Simon Cockayne and Piet Opstaele from Singapore. We explored a few trails together in search of the scarcer denizens of Panti, and did manage to see a pair of Crested Wood-Partridges crossing the road, and hear another few birds calling.

This Moustached Babbler came to check us out. It's not a great picture, but it shows how faint the 'moustachial stripe' on this species can be - quite confusing!

A few other birds seen along the roadside...Banded Broadbill and Raffles's Malkoha.

Even in the middle of the day, when forests birds usually go quiet, there was still a good amount of activity, including a singing White-crowned Forktail. At around 2pm I heard another Rail-Babbler calling, and this time, the bird was responsive to my attempts to imitate the call, eventually walking right past me just a few metres away. Unfortunately, leaves and other undergrowth blocked almost all my shots. Oh well, I'll just have to go back and try again!

Later I found a patch of stream where bulbuls were coming down to bathe, including a number of challenging juveniles!

This one's a juv Buff-vented I think.

And here's a juv Red-eyed.

A juvenile Buff-vented Bulbul and another bulbul taking a refreshing dip in the stream.

At this point I would have loved to stay on another few hours, but family responsibilities required that I call it a day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whistling Thrush Project: Fraser's Hill 22nd June 2009

I decided to stay one more night rather than rush back to Penang last night, and gave myself the luxury of some early morning birding for a change. I decided that the Gap road was favourite, especially after reports of the female Pin-tailed Parrotfinch and a male Bamboo Woodpecker during the Bird Race.

As usual, there were more birds heard than seen, but a few did show themselves in between periods of being enveloped in low cloud!

This Hill Blue Flycatcher was singing right beside the road.

I was quite pleased to get this shot of an Everett's White-eye. They are common enough, but nearly always in the very tops of the trees.

While photographing the white-eyes I heard the swooshing sound of hornbill wings, and a Rhinoceros Hornbill landed in a tree practically overhead. It didn't stay long though, being scared away - not by me...

..but by a furious Greater Racket-tailed Drongo! David and Goliath came to mind!

As I was retracing my steps to the car in mid-morning, I heard the unmistakable call of a Marbled Wren-Babbler in a ravine on my right. Having listened to the call on tape so often I could hardly believe that I was hearing one 'for real'! I made my way down into the ravine as quietly as I could, and spent a while sitting quietly, but the bird stopped calling after a short while.

I climbed back onto the road and resumed my descent with mixed feelings. I'd at least heard one of the fabled birds ... but I hadn't seen it. Oh well!No-one said they were easy!

However, less than 50 meters further on I heard another one calling up the hill on my left. Again, I made my way into the forest as best I could and found a place to stand quietly. After a few minutes I saw a largish bird fly in to the bank opposite me. I thought it was probably a laughingthrush and resumed my search for the babbler. A moment later the 'laughingthrush' re-emerged from the undergrowth, whereupon it revealed itself to be a huge wren-babbler!

My flash failed to go off for this pic, but it shows the proportions of the bird well - very unwren-babbler like - more like a rail-babbler!

All the descriptions of Marbled Wren-Babbler I can find describe the bill as black and the facial skin as blue, whereas this bird has a pale blue lower mandible and pink facial skin. I'm not sure whether this may be due to sexual differences or simply that descriptions tend to be taken from skins with discoloured bare parts.

I'd like to dedicate these images to the memory of Ong Kiem Sian, Singapore's 'first lady of bird photography'. Sian passed away after a long battle with illness just a few days ago. I never met her, but we corresponded, and she particularly encouraged me to attempt to photograph species which are less well-known. So - here's my tribute to an amazing woman with a passion for the birds of this region. She'll be deeply missed but will continue to be an inspiration to many.

Whistling Thrush Project: Fraser's Hill 21st June 2009

More of the same today - down to Jeriau at dawn to the depressing predictability of the non-appearance of any whistling thrushes!

A juvenile Slaty-backed Forktail on the path at dawn. There are two pairs at Jeriau, both with one young.

The trogon party was still around.

At the fruiting tree I photographed this juvenile Blue-winged Leafbird, which lacks the obvious blue on the wing of adults.

A family of Yellow-eared Spiderhunters had been visiting the tree over the past two days, but had eluded my camera till today.

This bright yellow day-flying moth was sucking up the goodness from a pile of Forktail droppings - yummy!

I found this snake on the path near the entrance to Jeriau. It was quite docile and looked small and non-threatening. I assured some other birders that most snakes are non-venomous and that this one was probably quite safe. To prove the point I picked it up by the tail and with a small stick to move it off the path. When I got home I sent the pic to my herp expert Muin, and he wrote back: "This is a [Striped] Coral snake, Calliophis intestinalis. Lucky you didn't try to hold it. One bite can kill a man." Yikes! I shall be a lot more respectful around snakes next time!

A distant shot of the subadult Black Eagle.

A Mountain Fulvetta seen on Hemmant's Trail.

We packed up our nets mid-morning, having drawn a blank in terms of whistling thrush capture for the first time. Still, we did at least see and positively identify one bird, and establish that not all whistling thrushes seen at Fraser's are necessarily Malayan.

Whistling Thrush Project: Fraser's Hill 20th June 2009

We were at the Waterfall before dawn, but unfortunately there was no whistling thrush there to greet us.

Some distraction was provided by a female Red-headed Trogon which spent most of the morning around where we had set up our ringing station.

Later we came across an extraordinary party of five birds, which we assumed were a pair with three juveniles, although no apparent juvenile plumage could be seen. Even more peculiar was this behaviour of two of the birds - an adult male feeding another apparently adult male bird!

The party stayed together throughout the two days we were present at the site, inciting several non-birding picnickers to comment on the 'pretty red birds'!

This male Little Cuckoo-Dove was another early morning visitor to the trees around our ringing station.

A short distance away, a fruiting tree attracted a variety of birds, including Blue-winged Leafbirds...

...and several Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers.

After closing the nets in mid-morning Muin and I worked our way slowly up the road, listening for Marbled Wren-Babblers at promising looking ravines. We drew a blank on the babblers, but saw several of these attractive Echo modesta damselflies.

The start of the Bird Race was greeted with torrential rain, which sent all but the most dedicated back to their digs. No such luxury for this pair of Little Pied Flycatchers!

In the late afternoon I returned to Jeriau to open the nets again, while the other team moved the nets from the top gate of the old road to a couple of streams on the new road. Once again we drew a complete blank. Even the Jeriau Blue did not put in an appearance!

A Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher turned up at dusk to hawk for moths in the gathering gloom.

On the way back to our vehicles after dark, we came across this 'gravid' Cyrtodactylus elok, which goes by the amazing English name of White-eyed Bent-toed Gecko! Gravid means it's pregnant apparently. You can see two eggs beneath the skin. Thanks to Muin for educating me!

After dinner I took out a party of people anxious to see the owl. Unfortunately we only got glimpses of the bird in flight this evening. I did manage to snap this wolf spider though.