Friday, April 30, 2010

25-28th April 2010: AWC Training Workshop, Brunei

After having to postpone several times, I finally made it to Brunei to conduct this workshop for Wetlands International. My main concern was that, being the end of April, there would not be any birds left to identify or count - but I needn't have worried!

What IS he going on about? Participants trying not to laugh at my attire - a cross between commando and Englishman-with hanky-on-head-at-the-beach!

Getting good views and notes on a - no, not a green rubbish bin - an Intermediate Egret just beyond the green rubbish bin.

The bird after the egret was a nice surprise - a breeding plumaged Grey-tailed Tattler.

The lagoon near the Billionth Barrel Monument at Seria held a variety of roosting waterbirds, but also showed evidence of degradation. The vegetated fringe had recently been cleared right to the waterline.

The few roosting waders were a little difficult to view in the harsh light, but we were able to grapple with the differences between the Plover and Sandpiper family with these helpful Pacific Golden Plovers and Common Redshank.

This Yellow Bittern was entertaining to watch as it switched its tail from side to side to lure fish within striking distance.

Our second field trip was to Tutong Sewage works, where the presence of about 170 egrets of 4 species and a small number of Oriental Darters gave just about the right level of challenge for first-time counters.

We did it! Another batch of AWC volunteers trained and 'battle-ready' for AWC 2011!

After the end of the workshop and before my flight the following day, I managed to revisit Sg Seria to photograph some of its inhabitants, including two Chinese Egrets in breeding plumage.

The IUCN Red List estimates that there are no more than 3,400 of these stunning birds left in the world.

Breeding on a few islets off the coasts of North and South Korea, Russia and northern China, the majority of the population winters in the Philippines and the north Borneo coast.

Sg Seria is a traditional wintering area for small numbers of Chinese Egret. We saw one here during the Miri workshop too.

There were a few waders on the sandbars at the mouth of the river at low tide. A small group of Greater Sand Plovers included this smart breeding plumaged bird.

The very worn median coverts make it likely this bird is in its 'first summer.'

This video shows the rapid feeding runs typical of Greater Sand Plover, similar to Kentish and White-faced, but not to Lesser Sand Plover, which walks shorter distances and at a much slower rate when seeking food. Did you spot the Sanderlings in the flying flock?!

There was a lone Kentish Plover. The large bill, pale legs and complete breastband all suggest the eastern 'nihonensis' race.

The rivermouth in late afternoon.

And the river itself.

White-breasted Woodswallows were apparently nesting nearby, and mobbed anything that entered their 'space', including me!

My thanks to Pg Shamhari, Shirley, Zah and Dina for ensuring a smooth and successful workshop!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

24th April 2010: Juru, mainland Penang

Around the end of April things go a little bit flat, birdwise, in this part of the world. Most of the migration is over, and as a consequence, you feel that birding gets rather predictable until the end of July, when the waders start arriving from the north.

I had a half day to get out today, so decided to try my luck searching for rare pigeons at Juru. Both Cinnamon-headed and Orange-breasted Green Pigeons are seen there on and off - never regularly - and I have yet to connect with either species.

Baya Weavers are common enough, but this male looked resplendent in fresh breeding plumage, sitting on a frond of dead Acrostichum fern.

After a bit of searching, I managed to find some pigeons, and set my scope up with high hopes...

At first I thought they were all Pink-necked, but then I began to notice some subtle differences! The bird at the bottom, obscured behind the leaves, seemed to have orange and pink on the breast, but a green face and greyish nape.Hmm!

Then I noticed that the middle top bird, which I'd taken to be a male Pink-necked in the awkward light, in fact had a green face.Hmm Hmm! Orange-breasted!

A male Pink-necked for comparison.

Another couple of views of the two males (top and bottom left) next to a male Pink-necked (top right). The male Orange-breasted look distinctly smaller than the male Pink-necked, which makes me wonder whether the upper female bird may be Pink-necked and the lower Orange-breasted...

The uppertail pattern of Orange-breasted is different from Pink-necked. The central tail feathers are all grey, lacking the dark terminal band. You can just about make out the difference in these two tail shots (Orange-breasted on the right.) All in all, these were a lot more difficult to distinguish from each other than I'd anticipated, though in better light the job might have been easier!

Last year an aberrant Jungle Myna was found in Ipoh. I looked for it during the whistling-thrish project visits without success. But today I found one here that looks very similar - with a whitish throat and underparts and a contrasting black breastband.

The Water Buffalos had found a way to stay cool under the hot sun!

Elsewhere I saw another green pigeon in flight with maroon wing coverts. Cinnamon-headed?? Nope - "just" a male Thick-billed!

Another Pink-necked.

Still some migrants about - a nice Tiger Shrike skulking in the shadows!

I was pleased to photograph this Rufescent Prinia; it has quite a localized distribution in Penang.

I spent quite a while trying to photograph bee-eaters - I've not had chance to photograph Chestnut-headed and Blue-throated together before.

A couple of portraits!

I really wanted to try to get some sharp flight shots, but the light was a bit awkward, so my efforts can be improved upon! These were my best Chestnut-headed attempts.

And these were my best Blue-throated.

Getting a good flight shot is a combination of good technique and good fortune! First, you've got to get the bird in frame and in focus (that's where the skill comes in). Then you need to bird to be in a photogenic pose (that's the luck part!). Those three factors don't coincide in the same shot often. And then, when they do...

...Murphy's Law kicks in and the bird flies behind a branch!

I was so frustrated at losing this one that I decided to indulge in a spot of Photoshoppery! It is cheating? Well- I'm not pretending it's a photo ... or a painting - more of a hybrid - a phainting?!

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!