Friday, June 29, 2012

28 June 2012: Pelagic off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

I wasn't expecting much today, and was pleasantly surprised to have my expectations exceeded!

These two Long-tailed Skuas were flushed by the boat before 8 a.m., an unusually early start to proceedings.

A brisk southerly wind built up during the day, and a succession of thundery squalls interrupted the bright sunshine.

This made for interesting lighting and a cool breeze throughout the day - very pleasant.
What a difference a ray makes! Two Bridled Terns taken within three minutes of each other! Bridled were the predominant tern on show today - about 120 or so.
Two juvenile Sooty Terns. The first is still in complete juvenile plumage; the lower two photos show the second bird, already in moult. The patches of white are caused by feather bases being exposed by missing feathers above.
A sight often searched for - the diminutive form of a petrel skimming the waves!
A Swinhoe's Storm-petrel - the first of 3, though technically, the other two were too far away to go down as anything but "dark-rumped storm-petrel - probably Swinhoe's". These are my first in the area, and over a month after I would expect the main passage period to be. Perhaps the southerly winds and fog-like haze of the last few weeks have  held some up.
Another surprise - two Short-tailed Shearwaters. It doesn't look as though these two are going to make it to the Bering Sea! Most Short-tailed Shearwaters undergo a full moult in the far north, becoming flightless for a time. I don't know if that is what is happening to the lower bird, it doesn't look too healthy, and may have picked up some feather pollution leading to waterlogging. For a moment as we caught sight of it swimming past, I thought we had found our first auklet!!
Haze? What haze? This was the weather by the time we came back in - the wind change and rain have thankfully cleared the air.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning Bird Songs with Doctor Warbler

This is just brilliant!

After watching, check the date it was uploaded!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The Jewel Hunter, Chris Gooddie

The nice people from Princeton University Press popped this book through my letterbox (metaphorically - it's too big to go in  my letterbox and too thick for even my postman to fold in two, though I suspect he tried) the other day. It's been out a while of course, long enough for a good number of 'proper' reviews to be written, to which I refer you if that's what you're looking for.

In case you don't already know, the 'jewel' in the title refers to pittas - all 32 currently recognized species, and a few other races besides, in the world, and the 'hunt' was the quest to see them all in a year. The author, Chris Gooddie, describes in the opening chapter how this hunt was conceived as the solution to a serious bout of mid-life crisis. You may have followed the blog Pittasworld (now defunct) which outlined his plan and brought together a scintillating collection of photos and art. You may even have met Chris and friends as they trawled the forests of Fraser's Hill, Taman Negara, Danum Valley or Sepilok during his "Year of the Pitta" a couple of years ago. He evidently lived to tell the tale, and kudos to him for following up on his promise to write it all down - hence, The Jewel Hunter.
First and foremost, I was glad to get this book so I could work out where the bird was on the cover - I'd spend quite a bit of time squinting at small images (like the one above) of it, trying to make out what the picture was. Now, I can reveal that it is actually a ... well, get yourself a copy if you can't figure it out!

I'd read quite a few reviews of the book before reading it, some of which were less than glowing, so I can't say I came to it with great expectations. However, by the middle of the first chapter I was thoroughly hooked! The book is an absorbing account of Chris's many and various experiences, not only of birds but also of the people and places he encountered along the way. The content is at times witty, at others sobering, often quirky, and always identifiably British!

There are a number of reasons why I really enjoyed this book:
1. I got a real feeling of being there (minus the many and considerable discomforts of actually being there!)
2. By the time I was halfway through, I knew that this was a book I would be urging my wife and daughter to read "so you can understand me". Actually, I'm hoping that it might make my birding extravagances look reasonable by way of contrast, thereby gaining me a bit more 'licence to bird' ("at least you're not as mad as that Chris Gooddie nutter.").
3. I learned a lot. Although probably quite a lot of us have our own theories about how to go about seeing pittas, I would wager that, having read this book, there'll be a few new techniques you'll want to try out - there certainly are for me.
4. Linked to 3, reading the book made me feel like going out and finding pittas. Any book that makes you want to go out into the field has got to be good.
5. Some of the pitta photos make mine look really good! Mind you, that's because they are all by the author, all taken within the aforementioned yearlong period, and often taken while he was either suffering from dysentery, soaked to the skin, several days up treacherously muddy mountain trails, seriously bleeding from leech bites and falls, or all of the above (not to give too much of the story away!)
6. It has lots of lists -from why pittas are the best things in the world, to how to make a propah cup of English tea (not that I ever make lists you understand).

So - did he succeed in seeing all 32 species of pitta? You'll have to buy the book to find out. I would lend you mine, but you'll need to take your place in the queue!

Finally, to whet your appetite a little further, I decided this was as good an excuse as I need to present my own humble collection of pitta photos - only Malaysian ones in my case!

Blue-winged Pitta, Kedah.
Mangrove Pitta, Pulau Pinang.
 Hooded Pitta, Kedah.
Garnet Pitta, Pahang.

 Black-headed Pitta, Sabah.
 Blue-banded Pitta, Sarawak.
 Blue-headed Pitta, Sabah.
Giant Pitta, Sabah.
 Rusty-naped Pitta, Pahang.
Bornean (left) and Malayan Banded Pittas.

Friday, June 22, 2012

20 June 2012: Penanti

Having left the folly of flycatcher-hunting, I dropped into Penanti en route home to check on the Oriental Pratincoles.

 One was standing sentinel on the access road and wasn't that interested in giving way to my vehicle!
Interesting to see that post-breeding moult has already begun - those slightly greeny-glossed scapulars, wing coverts and tertials are new, as are the darker feathers on the head. 
The adults were all just starting wing moult - the inner four or five primaries and their respective coverts had been replaced.
I could only see two juveniles - suggesting that the season hasn't been a good one. Both were just fledged. Sometimes pratincoles will raise a second brood after the first is fledged - wonder if this may happen here?
The inevitable Red-wattled Lapwings making their disapproval of my presence known! I was surprised to hear a Blue-winged Pitta calling not that far away in the scrub. However, it didn't want to play, and I was unsuccessful in luring it into view. While searching, I did spook a Red Junglefowl - another species I was surprised to find at this rather open location.

20 June 2012: Lata Bukit Hijau, Kedah

With Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker having finally fallen, I have been badly in need of a new bogey bird to give me something to complain about! Well, the search is over and I can proudly announce that my new bird-I-should-have-seen-by-now-but-haven't is...

White-tailed Flycatcher

Although not in the same league as the woodie (which drew astonished gasps from even novice birders when I let slip that I hadn't yet seen one) - the flycatcher is a genuinely difficult bird to see in Peninsular Malaysia -  it does have the essential 'bogey bird qualification' of having been repeatedly searched for and not seen. I've searched for it at the Gap and Ulu Gombak, and more recently Penang Hill, where rumours of a pair tempted me to scale a fiendish set of steps in the forlorn hope of seeing them.

My latest failure was today, when I set off pre-dawn to Lata Bukit Hijau, Kedah - a once-scenic series of waterfalls cascading through some secondary forest.

Leptospirosis anyone? Another ecotourism success!

Sadly, no sight or sound of the aforementioned flycatcher, or indeed, almost any other birds - just two male Rufous-winged Philentomas chasing each other round the forest.
The highlight of the morning was this gathering of butterflies on a pile of ... er, poop. I love the little guy with the red wings and funky blue topknot - if anyone knows what it is, please do tell! [This helpful reply is from Tou Jing Yi:

"The large ones should be Amathusia phidippus (Palm King).

The lovely small ones are some skippers, but being so colorful, should belong to the subfamily that are collectively known as "Awls", this particular one I believed is the Burara etelka
(Great Orange Awlet), I should have seen these once....

The yellow ones are actually moths, but being colorful and day flying, could easily be confused as butterflies, a few similar species occurs together, this one should be Dysphania subrepleta, hard to be certain from this angle but the wings seemed to be reasonably well marked, at least 2 other similar species occurs in the same habitat." Thanks, Tou!

Monday, June 18, 2012


As the Editor of Suara Enggang, I apologize for the very late appearance of 2012 issues to date. This has been due to "unavoidable circumstances" which we hope have now been fully resolved. As you can see, the first proofs of the March issue are now in circulation. The cover photo of a Plaintive Cuckoo by Ingo Waschkies raises the bar yet again, and the contents will, we hope, offer something of interest to Malaysian birders from both East and West.

The Editorial Team and Designer are working extra hard to try to get both the March and June issues distributed by Aug 31. Thereafter, we'll be doing our best to get the final two issues of the year nearer to schedule.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

13-14th June: Pedu Lake, Kedah

I stole a couple of days off work to accompany Choo Eng, Angie and James to the access road to Pedu Lake up on the Malaysia/Thailand border. Warning: there follow some of the worst photos you are ever likely to find on a bird blog!

A male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker.
A typical view of a Raffles's Malkoha!
These two Red Junglefowl looked like a couple of old dears out for a morning stroll!
At last!! A flock of noisy, broad-winged and apparently tailless birds chasing each other around the treetops turned out to be...
GREY-AND-BUFF WOODPECKERS! Not the greatest views, but my #1 "Bogey Bird" laid to rest at last!  
If you have one of the older versions of Robson, you'll see that Whiskered Treeswift is illustrated with all dark wings. The 2008 edition corrected this oversight, but the rather obvious broad white trailing edge to the wing is still absent in other field guides. Odd how something so obvious can go unnoticed - but then - how many people really look at flying swifts/swiftlets/treeswifts?!
The sun setting beyond Pedu Lake.
Early morning Blyth's (Javan) Frogmouths were very active. Above is the female - plainer and more rufous; below is the male.
Hooded Pittas were rather numerous, easy to hear but difficult to see!
We watched a displaying Great Iora briefly. It's many, many years since I last saw one. When it was doing its fluttering parachute display, the bird showed a very obvious white rump (see lower picture). The photo shows that the 'rump' appears domed, as if fluffed out. When I got home and checked the books I was rather puzzled to find that Great Iora doesn't have a white rump! Further reading solved the mystery. The nominate race which we get here has "long, silky, white upper flank feathers" (Wells 2008), and it seems that it puffs these up when displaying, giving the impression of a white rump. Well - you learn something new everyday!