Wednesday, March 31, 2010

25th March 2010: Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, Sabah

After three days of workshops in Sandakan, it was a nice change to get some fresh air at the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC), Sepilok, which is just a half hour drive west of the town.

I stayed at Sepilok B & B, which was reasonably priced, clean, and more importantly, just a couple of minutes' walk from RDC.

At RDC I made a bee-line for the Bristlehead Tower and canopy walkway, with high hopes of getting great views of Bristleheads, which are regularly viewed from there.

A male Van Hasselt's (ex Purple-throated) Sunbird had its territorial songpost in a tree next to the tower. Outside of Singapore this is a difficult species to see, as it is a canopy specialist, so it was great to get eye level views here.

A large black bird making funny noises, but disappointingly, not a Bristlehead! A pair of Bornean Black Magpies foraged in the trees in the early morning.

Giant Squirrels in Sabah are an interesting colour variation on the animals in the Peninsula, with an attractive ringed tail.

The Prevost's Squirrels here look different as well, lacking the white flank stripe.

Fiery Minivets and Red-eyed Bulbuls were other visitors during the morning's wait.

The only crow species here is Slender-billed, which is rather scarce in the Peninsula. They're pretty shy, and these were my closest shots.

At the entrance to RDC, flowering plants attracted a variety of sunbirds, including Olive-backed, and more surprisingly, a Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker.

A pair of Black-and-Red Broadbills had built their characterstic hanging nest over water. They appeared to be still building, and would bring a green leaf with which to line the nest whenever they returned to it.

Swiftlets aplenty! This is one of the darker species - Black-nest or Mossy-nest Swiftlet.

And an unfamiliar dragonfly to finish with.

So, no Bristleheads today - perhaps tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marbled Wren-babbler sketch

The leaf-tosser from Fraser's Hill! Not really happy with the way this turned out - a bit bland, but since it's done, I thought I'd post it! Maybe I'll have another go at it some time...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

13th March 2010: Pulau Burung, mainland Penang

I was at the Red-throated Thrush site at dawn to see what would hop up onto the dead trees.

The first thing to attract my attention was a group of three Asian Koels, one of which was holding a feather. No idea what they were up to!

Next up was a preening Lineated Barbet.

Then I spotted a Banded Woodpecker sunning itself at the top of a dead tree.

Later on it went down the trunk and started excavating a hole.

A Dollarbird was an interested bystander!

Along the coastal bund, the female Common Kingfisher had successfully caught...something - not sure what.

Being a Saturday morning, the Landfill site was fairly crawling with bird photographers in cars. I went past one carload photographing White-browed Crakes and a Lesser Whistling-Duck with ducklings - hope they got some nice pics!

Even though they are a common bird, I couldn't ignore the Blue-tailed Bee-eaters in the golden early morning light. Stunning!

There are so many birds at Pulau Burung, and they are very habituated to people in cars, with the result that you sometimes encounter an unusual problem for photography - bird too close! This Slaty-breasted Rail was a good example.

The same was true of snipes. I was very keen to photograph some, but they were mainly on the grass verge besiede the road, and so flushed before I realized they were there. At last though, I got lucky.

A Pintail/Swinhoe's feeding out in the open only metres away!

The dull buff edge on both sides of the lower scapulars, and the barred median coverts showed that this was one of the Pintail/Swinhoe's pair, and not a Common Snipe. The problem was, which one?!

The large, squarish head, with the eye set well back favoured Swinhoe's, as did the thickish yellow legs (covered with greyish grime), but I knew I would need to see the outer tail feathers to be able to identify the bird for certain.

This is a sketch of three snipe species' tails from Paul Leader and Geoff Carey's paper on the 'Identification of Pintail Snipe and Swinhoe's Snipe' from British Birds. The dark grey-filled feather is (roughly) at the centre of the tail, so the picture shows only the left side fanned open.The blue-filled outer feathers are the important ones for identification. On Common Snipe, these are similar in breadth and shape to the other tail feathers. On Swinhoe's, the outer feathers become progressively narrower toward the outside, while on Pintail, the outer feathers become abruptly very narrow and pin-like, without much gradation from broad to narrow.

There are usually two chances to see snipe outer tail feathers in the field. One is when they engage in territorial disputes with other birds, when they will fan and raise their tails. The other is when they preen.

I watched this bird for over two hours, and it only preened the tail briefly twice in that time! This was the first occasion...

...And this was the second. On neither did the bird fully fan the tail. Nonetheless, on the first photo, you can see the tips of the undersides of many of the tail feathers.

The feathers on the left side appear to become gradually narrower, fitting the Swinhoe's pattern.

The second picture reveals that the tips of the upperside of the central tail feathers are white. Leader and Carey state, "The central rectrices of Swinhoe’s Snipe may also be conspicuously tipped pale, often white, unlike Pintail," so this seems to be another pro-Swinhoe's feature.

Although not useful for identification purposes, it was interesting to see that the tertials on either side of the bird were at different stages of moult. On the right side, the upper two tertials were new and still growing, while the lowermost one was old and retained very little patterning. On the left side, all the tertials were old and unmoulted.

A couple more pictures of the bird after it had climbed up onto the bund next to the road.

With the bird sitting so close to the road it was only a matter of time before it was flushed, so I had my sound recorder on in the hope of recording the flight call. When it was finally flushed, however, it was completely silent! Leader and Carey say that "When flushed, Swinhoe’s Snipe calls less frequently than Pintail Snipe, and a flushed snipe which is silent is most likely to be the former." However, I am always wary of arguing from silence!

The very short toe projection beyond the tail tip is another pro-Swinhoe's feature which Leader and Carey indicate might be valid. Check out the short toe projection on this vagrant Swinhoe's Snipe in Finland.

Another view of the outer tail on the bird in flight, though probably not conclusive on its own.

My four best shots of the tail!

Wells states that, on the evidence of the analysis of hunting-bags in the 1940s and 50s, Pintail Snipe is overwhelmingly the commonest of the three snipe species in the Peninsula (97 - 99+% of all shot birds analyzed were Pintail). This contrasts with my own admittedly meagre sample; all Pintail/Swinhoe's Snipes I have identified to species this season have been Swinhoe's. Wells suggests that one potential bias in the analysis results is the "partitioning of winter habitats between species, relative to those most often shot over," with the suggestion that Pintail prefers drier, harder substrates than Common and Swinhoe's. In the same way that hunters might prefer to shoot in drier habitats, birders tend to prefer birding in wetter habitats, or at least, it may be true that birds are easier to observe in the open when there is open water. Whatever the case, it may be dangerous to assume that Pintail/Swinhoe's Snipes are 'most likely to be Pintail' based simply on past data.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

9-10th March: Kedah and Perlis

This trip was some time in the making - I'd been batting around the idea of a trip to Perlis with James, Peter and Mark for some time, and this week we all had a couple of days free, so suddenly it was on.

Our first stop was Bukit Wang Forest Reserve, and our first bird was a male Green-backed Flycatcher, but I hadn't got my camera out of the car by then!

A sunbird feeding on a flowering tree in the car park attracted our attention, and it proved to be a Red-throated - a species I have rarely seen and never photographed before.

Both male and female are very similar to the much commoner Brown-throated. Male Red-throated can be told from male Brown-throated by the much more extensive reddish colouration on the scapulars and wing coverts, redder ear coverts, pinker throat and paler, duller yellow underparts.

I didn't get such clear views of the female, but she seemed to be greener below and to have a less pronounced face pattern compared to Brown-throated.

This young male Wreathed Hornbill sat quietly over the track as we drove beneath him.

A rather distant raptor was identified as a subadult Grey-headed Fish Eagle after some discussion!

Our next stop was Timah-Tasoh, the large lake in Perlis, where we succeeded in getting good views of Pheasant-tailed Jacana but failed to see its rarer relative, Bronze-winged Jacana. A migrant Large Hawk-Cuckoo was another bird of note there.

A stop in the valley leading to Bukit Ayer Forest Reserve gave us a chance to compare the appearance and calls of the resident Rufous-bellied and migrant Red-rumped Swallows which can be reliably seen there.

Rufous-bellied (right) is substantially larger than Red-rumped and has a wheezier flight call.

A Rufous-bellied catching the last bit of sunlight.

The Red-rumpeds are all worn and in heavy moult, so that the rump looks whitish on some birds.

The rufous nuchal collar which is one distinguishing feature from Striated is almost impossible to see, but it's there - just!

The streaks on the underparts are finer than on Striated.

Streak-eared Bulbul was one of the northern specialities James, Peter and Mark had travelled up from KL to see! A family of these birds obliged.

At the Malaysia-Thailand border we watched Dusky Crag Martins and a few Chinese Sparrowhawks and Oriental Honey Buzzards moving north.

The picturesque skyline of Perlis State Park.

We reached the Park HQ in late afternoon, and were treated to good views of 7 Forest Wagtails and 2 Orange-headed Thrushes feeding on the ground as we drove in. There was also a fine male Siberian Blue Robin. Too dark for photography unfortunately!

We'd come hoping for night birds, specifically White-fronted Scops Owl, and mammals. Though we neither saw nor heard the owl, the night-watching did not disappoint!

The first appearance of the evening was a Black Flying Squirrel in the same tree that I photographed Red Giant Flying Squirrel in previously!

This was followed by a great view of a Colugo, most likely holding a baby.

The first of three Slow Lorises - a male!

And another. They seemed to prefer using telegraph wires to trees to travel at night.

A Large-tailed Nightjar by the road was an obliging bird...


This male Javan Frogmouth was equally obliging, and gave us fantastic views.

A moth's last moment!

Flying moth-trap!

Credit must go to James for finding us this amazing bird!

In the morning, on our way south, we stopped to admire a flock of Brown-backed Needletails. The white lores (and they really are WHITE!)indicate that these were the migratory race 'indicus'.

On our way south we stopped at Bukit Jernih, where we marvelled at the makeshift ladders used to scale the sheer cliff faces in search of swiftlet nests.

For about the fourth time the Racket-tailed Treepies eluded me and all of us!

If anyone can help me out with the id of this damselfly I'd be grateful!