Friday, 20 July 2012

Fraser's Hill

Well it’s been a while since my return from Malaysia, so apologies for delay in completing the story but have been tied up with office work since I got back home. But Fraser’s Hill was as good as ever with all the usual goodies like Spectacled, Malayan and Black Laughingthrushes, Malayan Whistling-thrush, Fire-tufted Barbet, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler, Blyth's Hawk-eagleRufous Piculet, lots of Red-bearded Bee-eaters, Blue Nuthatch and others.

Blyth's Hawk-eagle

Chestnut-naped Forktail - again

Fire-tufted Barbet

Red-headed Trogon

Rufous-browed Flycatcher

Rufous Piculet

Orange-breasted Trogon

My primary focus was on getting Rusty-naped Pitta and despite another bout of illness had a couple of attempts at the wee beastie. I knew it was a real toughie and had previously been subject to a few negative comments about my chances of success. Well in your face!! The first attempt saw the three of us at the spot where I’d head one back in March along the Telecom Loop and we scuttled noisily downhill about 50 metres. Sitting amongst the leaf litter I gave it a blast of call from the ipod and one responded immediately, but sounded another 50m or so away further downhill. We waited and waited and it called a few times more then fell silent. Knowing this could either mean it had got the hell out of there or was coming in we sat quietly and waited some more. It did indeed come closer but not close enough and in the end Lee left and Sophy and I made our way further down the steep slope and spent the next couple of hours watching and waiting, without any luck. So a whole morning wasted then!

Our last morning in Malaysia saw us out before first light and the others, knowing my desire to see the pitta, left me alone to try on the Bishop Trail. Thanks guys! It was dark inside the forest so I headed down to the bottom of the trail and sat down on a log and listened to the sounds of the forest coming to life. It was a really wonderful experience just sitting there, listening and waiting with Streaked Wren-babblers, Buff-breasted Babblers and Lesser Shortwings coming in real close. But no pitta calls. So I walked on a few hundred metres more and played a short burst from the ipod, and a pitta responded immediately from somewhere in the distance. I couldn’t pinpoint the direction so retraced my steps and played again, but it didn’t help as the pitta was so far away. Feeling dejected I trudged on for maybe half a kilometres and played the call again and one responded off to my right below the path – and very close. But I had dense vegetation either side of me and no view, but I squatted down and waited. Total silence enveloped the immediate area and after a long twenty minutes I tried the call again. And again the pitta responded close by from more or less the same area, so I moved slowly along the path for a few metres and could just manage a small view of the forest floor under a fallen tree. The pitta called again and I waited, staring intently at the only bit of forest floor available to me. More minutes passed and my legs were cramping and back aching – not as young as I used to be!! Then the pitta called again from a bit closer and from the direction I was hoping and then a shape hopped into the clearing under the fallen tree. My heart pounded and hands were shaking as I raised my bins slowly and in the shadows there was the pitta – undoubtedly, unequivocally a pitta but no colours or features were possible. Then it moved into the better light for a few seconds and that image was seared into my brain for all time! Yes!! I blinked and it was gone. I waited for another half an hour but that was it – my Rusty-naped Pitta. No photo, but the buzz I got and the high were unparalleled with anything else so far this week. As I walked along the path to meet the guys I walked past a gulley in the left and a pitta hopped out and flew down the slope in perfect light. Another or same Rusty-naped Pitta! Wow!! As I got up to the road and the guys were there I didn’t want to gloat or celebrate as that wouldn’t be fair, so I just walked past them without saying a word with my arms raised!! A rock sailed past my head and I jumped into the bus with a beaming smile. Our birding was over in Malaysia, I’d had more lifers than I had the right to expect, filled in quite a few gaps on my list and had a good laugh! Must have a holiday more often – next year Ethiopia…..

Sultan Tit

Streaked Wren-babbler

Streaked Wren-babbler

Spectacled Laughingthrush

Taman Negara - The End

Some final images from Taman Negara:

Rhinoceros Hornbills

Gould's Frogmouth
Had much better views of Gould's Frogmouth on our last morning at TN and was sad to leave here.

Kuala Tehan

Looking across the Tembeling River to the Mutiara Resort

Tembeling River

Tembeling River

Nice Forest

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Taman Negara - Day 6

A cracking day today, our final one in fabulous Taman Negara, began with the daily dip on Rail Babbler. One was calling along the Jenet Muda Trail and we tried leaving the ipod some distance away in the hope that the wee beastie would creep in for a peek, and after that epic fail we crept into the forest and stalked the bird but only managed to encourage it to go further away. I was torn whether to stay and wait it out, hedging my bets on this one bird at the expense of others – or just go birding with the others. Things still didn’t bode well with several birds only heard, including the elusive Crested Jay in the same area. Glad to say common sense prevailed as we had a barnstorming day and after the guys had said it was dead along this trail yesterday, it was rather pleasing to have possibly our best day of the week. Nothing to do with me right?! So we kicked things off with Crimson-winged Woodpecker up close, followed by a huge Great Slaty Woodpecker further down the trail, then a Rufous Woodpecker appeared and finally a pair of awesome Checker-throated Woodpeckers obliged for several minutes. So that filled some gaping holes in the pecker list! We also had a load of babblers: White-chested, Ferruginous, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned, Sooty-capped, Moustached, Chestnut-winged, and best of all was a pair of raucous Fluffy-backed Tit-babblers.

Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler

Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler

We birded right through the day, not stopping for lunch, ignoring the heat and humidity and kept on pulling in goodies. Two key birds were added to the list today, and I was very pleased to nail them as they are species everyone wants to see, especially if new to se Asia. First of all I found a male Banded Kingfisher perched high up over the trail, and he stayed for quite some time looking down at us with a real crazy, mad eye! Then a Rufous-collared Kingfisher gave us the run around, and we all independently saw it t some stage before it finally perched up, half-obscured for several minutes. Great views and a lifer for Sophy and Lee who both seemed rather pleased.

Banded Kingfisher

Rufous-collared Kingfisher

 We also had Little Spiderhunter, Green Iora, Black Hornbill, Rufous Piculet, Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot, Drongo Cuckoo, Crested Fireback and some others. All four previously seen broadbills were calling but we didn’t bother them and a Chestnut-naped Forktail was calling along a stream.

Crested Fireback

But after so many great and repeated views of all these good birds, I was thinking there’d be no lifers today, but as the trail got ever steeper on the way up the hill a couple huge birds flew into a large tree off to the left. Through a gap in the canopy we could see they were hornbills, but then a really long white tail with a black band dropped down which could only be one thing. Then the bird hopped up the branch revealing a red face and short casque: Helmetted Hornbill! Well, I wanted to do a jig right then and there but didn’t have the energy as I was totally knackered and obviously way too cool to do that. So a quick air punch had to suffice and that was it. We walked back to Kuala Tehan, got a boat across the river and celebrated with burgers and fries and lots of cold drinks. Our plan was to go owling later but that was quashed as it started to rain heavily just as a Reddish Scops-owl and Gould’s Frogmouth began calling.

Taman Negara - Day 5

So the day started disastrously for me as I stumbled to the fruiting tree along the River Trail and saw a fine pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills but got sick again and returned to the cabin. Managed to raise myself in the afternoon and returned to the tree but only heard Helmetted Hornbill and Rail Babbler

Rhinoceros Hornbills

But down at Lubik Simpon beach a male Blue-banded Kingfisher flew in and perched up showing his breast band, and suddenly I was feeling a lot better! When a couple Malayan Eared-Nightjars flew over I was practically ready to run a marathon – well almost. As it got dark we heard a weird call behind us and thought it may have been a Large Frogmouth of all things but it wasn’t responsive and we’ll never know for sure. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Taman Negara Day 4 - Pure Jam!

Well the day started brilliantly back at the fruiting tree across the river, as the first bird I put my binoculars on was a male Jambu Fruit-dove!! I couldn’t get the words out quick enough when i saw it and there was probably some expletive mixed in with the bird’s name but I didn’t care, everyone got on it easily and it stayed feeding the whole time we were there. A female was also present but was nothing on the male! 

Jambu Fruit-dove

Jambu Fruit-dove

Jambu Fruit-dove

Today was also turning into a bulbul-fest as Finsch’s and Buff-vented were among the first of 12 we had today. But, alas, no partridges so we hailed a boat and went over to the Kuala Tehan side where we negotiated for a boat to take us upriver for about 45 minutes to a different trail. It was very pleasant sailing upriver, with clear blue skies and primary rainforest all around, Rhinoceros and Wreathed Hornbills flying over. 

Straw-headed Bulbul - record shot.

Another lifer appeared in the shape of a Straw-headed Bulbul perched on the riverbank and we followed it for a while, a really impressive bulbul for a change. Once we were dropped off we birded around the old buildings where some flowering trees were pulling in Olive-winged Bulbul, Sultan Tit, Violet Cuckoo, another pair of Finsch’s Bulbuls, Blue-winged Leafbird, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, and some others as well.

Chestnut-naped Forktail

Chestnut-naped Forktail

Chestnut-naped Forktail

One of the highlights of my trip then occurred, and a bird I’ve waited for years to see and been asked by a fair few people where they can get it……. On the small stream running along the edge of the forest was a Chestnut-naped Forktail. I couldn’t believe it and had shaky hands trying to hold the bins still but it was going nowhere, in fact after we’d all watched it for a while I braved the leeches and stole downstream slowly and hid behind a mossy boulder and waited for a bit. Sure enough the bird began working it’s way towards me, oblivious it seemed and kept on coming. I was all set up for a long (ish) range photo when it crossed a patch of sunlight midstream but it came so close and I was afraid to move my hands to change the iso setting. This was incredible for an allegedly skittish bird to allow me the privilege of being so close to one of my dream birds – and I fortunately got a couple of decent images out of about 300 taken! Shaky hands again didn’t help – but I didn’t realise at the time I was on the point of some bad virus that would lay me low for the next 24 hours. Anyway we worked the trail uphill a short distance but apart from calling Great Argus and Malayan Banded Pitta and some previously seen babblers it was quiet. So we returned to Kuala Tehan mid-afternoon and I took to bed whilst the others nailed Helmetted Hornbill – not jealous at all!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Taman Negara Day 3

The fear was that today would be something of an anti-climax following yesterdays rich haul of goodies, and the day started well with a very confiding pair of Black-throated Babblers that gave repeated views. Then a Scaly-crowned Babbler began calling and flew in nicely for us, and as we watched this Sophy had a quick view of a Crested Jay flying by. We really wanted to get to the place where we heard Rail Babbler yesterday, but as we crossed the tricky little creek there was so much commotion coming form some large trees off to the right. It must have been another fruiting tree as loads of green-pigeons were flying in and out, mainly Thick-billed but also a couple of Large Green-pigeons were present. Then a Black Hornbill flew out and a short while later a Wreathed Hornbill flew across the tree. Wow! What with more looks at Rhinoceros, and later a Bushy-crested Hornbill in a huge tree across the river, and later still we heard Helmeted Hornbill and we were on a hornbill-roll. Much better than the pancakes served at breakfast!! 

But anyway, back at the fruiting tree Lee latched on to yet more Black-and-red Broadbills, then a Buff-necked Woodpecker appeared, whilst Sophy and I worked on calling in one of the three Large Wren-babblers calling. Somehow Lee was the only one to nail it, which is somehow remarkable as we spent maybe an unsuccessful hour on them and he just bowled up and saw one straight away! But we’d get it later today, so whatever! We walked on for maybe a kilometre along the undulating trail, over tree roots, across the bridge and got to the real muddy area beside the old fruiting tree and got lucky with a pair of Short-tailed Babblers that just appeared right in front of us showing their grey faces, thin moustachial-line, scrawny necks and small heads – oh and short tails. 

Short-tailed Babbler

A Horsfield’s Babbler then began calling but we really messed up as it was another lifer for me, but it somehow disappeared in the canopy overhead. So finally we got to the Rail Babbler place but it was all quiet and frustration began to set in. Not even a Garnet Pitta calling and I know there’s one on territory somewhere here. But just then a Malaysian Banded Pitta starts calling and I beckon Lee over to the steep gulley where I think the bird is. It’s actually a little further away over on top of the opposite side of the gulley, so we sit down on the muddy floor and I play the call which makes the bird go berserk and it calls a lot faster than before. It’s moving around a lot, calling from here and there and we are scanning frantically and then I spot some blue and yellow through the foliage which looks really out of place amidst the brown bank and green foliage....... and there it is. Yes! It hops along a bit and comes out onto a fallen log and sings repeatedly, letting us watch it at leisure and far enough away not to disturb it. After a few minutes it melts away, and we go over and try to get closer views but it remains elusive, crossing the path twice at high speed. Excellent but I must admit I was getting a bit tetchy despite this success. Where are the Garnet Pittas

So we go down to the river for a break and get Stork-billed and Blue-eared Kingfishers, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird and Straw-headed Bulbul. Then Dom arrives and says the Garnet is calling now, so we rush up to the path and sure enough I can hear one – at last. This is my No.1 bird for the trip but how are we going to get it, as it’s way up the slope and it’s so dense in there. I try calling it in and after a little while it does come closer, but not a lot. Nothing for it but to move slowly and as quiet as possible up the hill, which in the end was only a couple of hundred yards sneaking between vines and over fallen, rotting trees. It was difficult to be quiet but we take it slow and the birds still calling and as we get closer realise its high up somewhere form a dense (of course!) area of vine covered trees. We wait and listen, cupping our ears to get a sense of direction as to where the bird is and we look and look but nothing is apparent. We’re afraid to move any more as the bird is really close but we have to get a different angle as we’re looking into the sun so clamber over a large rotting tree trunk and there it is! Wow – Garnet Pitta

Garnet Pitta

Garnet Pitta

A stunning vision of scarlet, black and deepest most exquisite blue is calling from a bare perch some thirty feet up a tree and we all get on it with beaming smiles all around. A lifer for three of us and a thrilling hunt. We spend the next 20 minutes admiring its beautiful plumage and I manoeuvre around to try and get a photo, which once again results in a record shot as they all seem to be here! But man, what a bird! I really wanted to punch the air right then but waited til we got back down to the path! So then we decided to go over to the opposite side of the Tahan River as we’d heard of another birder getting Jambu Fruit-dove, Crested Partridge and Finsch’s Bulbul at a fruiting tree. Must admit I had to look at the book for that last one – never been on the radar with that bird until now. Well it took an age to get back to the Mutiara, with loads of students walking past us noisily and a few birds on the way back. We took a boat across to one of the floating restaurants for some refreshments as it was hot and mid-afternoon before taking another boat across to the other jetty. We managed to find the tree without much problem and settled down for a lengthy wait and within 10 minutes a bulbul with a yellow throat, yellow vent and darkish olive cheeks flew in above us quite close…. Could it be, yes checking all the features and sure enough we’re looking at Finsch’s Bulbul – another lifer. 

Finsch's Bulbul

Finsch's Bulbul

Boy we’re really doing well up to this point, but as you know birding is a great leveller and we can’t keep this hit rate up. But then a Chestnut-rumped Babbler creeps out from the vines overhead and onto our life lists as well – what a cracker with black throat, pale eye and strong chest streaks. I’m feeling like a kid in a candy shop all of the time here and not afraid to admit I’ve had a load of lifers so far – so I’m making a mental note right now to go on a birding holiday more often. This is so much fun! No pressure, great birds, lifers and not just any old lifer but birds that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. And I’ve learnt a lot of calls and had really good looks at loads of birds I’ve seen whilst leading tours but sometimes I don’t get the chance to study birds as much as I’d like on tour. So this is heaven. I walk back to a small stream then, trawling for Crested Partridge, but stumble upon loads of birds bathing and manage to get a photo of Sooty-capped Babbler amongst others. Frustratingly there was probably a jungle-flycatcher here but it disappeared quickly. 

Large Wren-babbler

Still more Chestnut-rumped Babblers and then a Large Wren-babbler calls and I run back to get the others and we have mind-blowing views of it perched out in the open for ages, then circling us and more views. Much better than my last time in southern Thailand. And that was it, as a heavy rain shower ends proceedings here and we get drenched going across the river but the rain stops and we spend the rest of the evening scanning the swiftlets. Think they are all Germain’s but……. Although the view across to the National Park & Mutiara Resort is quite something. A quick bash at night birding drew a blank so we finish for a well deserved hot shower.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Taman Negara Day 2

Well what a day this turned out to be! My excitement at our first days birding at Taman Negara was kind of overwhelming and I was not disappointed with many classic Asian birds, and we packed a whole weeks highlights into one day. What with a trogon, good kingfisher, 4 broadbills, 3 hornbills, 8 babblers (in their name), excellent woodpeckers, a frogmouth and a Bat Hawk! Yes, my first time in Taman Negara and I guess the top bird guides will probably snigger at that – oh well!

Gould's frogmouth

So we got up and were ready for a full day on the trails by 6am and with first light at 7am it was worth a little blast into the trail that begins beside our cabin. I tried a few owls with no response, and then tried Gould's Frogmouth, but not with much expectation. All of a sudden one responded far off but the trail split into two right next to us and we walked a bit in the direction it had called. Waited. Waited. Another call, this time much closer. I clicked the ipod and bam! It flew right over my head and into the tangle behind me, fortunately a gap in the foliage revealed some eyeshine and there it was, about 30 feet away at eye-level - well my eye-level anyway! Excellent. I fired off a couple quick shots with Lee holding the spotlight but I never manage to get good nightbird photos, so had to settle for a record shot. We were totally ecstatic with that and my first lifer of the day. Then we had a great breakfast to celebrate as the restaurant opened at 7am – and my favourite, pancakes!! Sophy arrived shortly after and we also met another Brit birder, spending a few weeks here Dom, who had some great recent info which certainly helped. In fact we all worked really well as a team, finding each other lifers all day and a great spirit of camaraderie developed very quickly. No pressure, just good birding, and no stone-coloured clothes in the rainforest amongst us!

An Abbott’s Babbler got the ball rolling on the steps of the Mutiara, although I did try stringing it into something else more interesting before playing the call and the bird firing out of the dense undergrowth like a rocket and almost colliding into us. We spent the whole day along the River Trail and probably only walked maybe 3 kilometres along it, so quite easy, a little tricky in places with some steep, slippery sections. We took some food from the breakfast buffet for lunch as there was no way we were coming back for lunch – just too many birds to see. So one of my main reasons for coming here was to get more familiar with the calls, which is working and to really crack the babblers. Well this is easier said than done but with some perseverance and help it turned out to be a good day for that also. 

Chestnut-winged Babblers

Chestnut-winged Babbler

White-chested Babbler

A few glaring babbler omissions on my list were finally put to bed, with Rufous-crowned, Sooty-capped and White-chested Babblers showing nicely. The latter was really obliging right alongside the river when we took a detour just to scan the tall trees for hornbills, and succeeded in getting the first of several views at Rhinoceros Hornbill. The other two are canopy babblers and it was good to get them done with, sorted the calls and move on! Chestnut-winged Babbler was the commonest of the family, and Ferruginous Babbler showed well, as did Moustached and a surprise for me anyway was a Buff-breasted Babbler

Rufous-backed Kingfisher

Rufous-chested Flycatcher

So on to more birds, I really liked the Rufous-backed Kingfisher that posed nicely on a vine for us, just a shame I’m not on form with the camera as it’s not a sharp image. But an immature male Scarlet-rumped Trogon came out well, but it’s always a pain getting something satisfactory on these canopy birds. Such as the broadbills, which really put on a show today. A pair of Black-and-red Broadbills got the ball rolling, followed by Black-and-yellow, then Banded and finally Green Broadbill much later in the afternoon. And we had seconds of two of them at different times of the day, so could really appreciate the beauty and their colours. It was nice just to admire them and see how they behave.

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Banded Broadbill

Banded Broadbill

Green Broadbill

Green Broadbill

Green Broadbill

We also had a few flocks as well, with one in particular giving us Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Scarlet Minivet, Black-naped Monarch, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker. During the heat of the day, and it is hot here (and sweaty) we lounged beside the river which was nice as we had a flask of coffee! But there was Malaysian Blue Flycatcher (another lifer to add to the Rufous-chested Flycatcher earlier), Rufous-tailed and Ashy Tailorbird, and a Stork-billed Kingfisher as well. And possibly my biggest surprise of the day was just before lunch when a really huge fruiting tree, well I knew it was fruiting because on inch long bullet of a fruit missed my head by a millimetre, anyway a Wrinkled Hornbill flew out of it and was later followed by a couple of very big Rhinoceros Hornbills. Yes another lifer!

Dark-throated Oriole

Orange-backed Woodpecker (female)

There were several bulbuls today as well, but we’ll see to them tomorrow! We also had Purple-naped Sunbird, Dark-throated Oriole, Rufous-winged Philentoma, a great view of Orange-backed Woodpecker (a bird I’d wanted to see for a long time), Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, and some commoner things. But the frustrations of rainforest birding are a great leveller as we heard some other really good birds, most notably Rail Babbler, and didn’t hear others I was hoping for like Garnet or Malaysian Banded Pitta (yet). But you can’t win them all and I was happy to get Bat Hawk flying over the Kuala Tembeling river from the floating restaurant. Not too shabby huh?!