Monday, August 5, 2019

Return of the Black Hornbills

Pair of Black Hornbills, Male on top of tree and Female just below
It was a hot Sunday morning and the White-Bellied Sea-Eagle that soared above the coffeeshop in Segamat, Johor near a freshwater canal, was an incidental raptor that signaled a possibility that the wild birds that I had seen many years ago near the marshlands of my hometown, could be making a comeback. My parents have been in and out of hospitals for the past few months, so birdwatching for me had to be put on hold during the public holidays and even on weekends. However, 45 minutes was all I had to explore the riverside area where I used to bird when I was working in Johor, many years ago. I didn't waste a single minute as I drove like mad to squeeze in as much birdwatching as I could and it was a blissful 45 minutes indeed. Just as I was about to hop back into my car and head back home to ferry my parents out for dinner, a pair of Black Hornbills (Anthracoceros malayanus) flew across the bridge and perched on this bare tree (see picture above). The Oriental Pied Hornbill was heard calling out earlier, and to see the Black Hornbills instead of the Oriental Pied was a pleasant surprise that evening for me. Need to spend some time learning the calls of Black Hornbills which are available through Xeno-Canto website.
More about this riverside area near Segamat, Johor can be read HERE. White-bellied Woodpecker was the first wild bird I encountered when I had stumbled across this riverside in early 2000. I had never seen a White-bellied before so that Woodie really brought endless happiness to me. Not everyday one gets to see one of the largest woodpecker species in the world, here in Malaysia and nearby my hometown.   

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Looking for Birds in the Highlands with friends from Taiwan


Bukit Tinggi Japanese Gardens
Friends from Taiwan visited Peninsular Malaysia recently and I was lucky enough to be able to accompany them on the last remaining 2.5 days of their 1-week birdwatching trip. It was a rainy Wednesday evening when I left office at Cyberjaya as I headed towards Bukit Tinggi. Heavy rain in Kuala Lumpur delayed my arrival by half an hour but thank goodness I could skip heavy traffic jams by exiting KL via Duke Highway. Andy Lee had led our Taiwanese friends towards Bukit Tinggi from Fraser Hill and Bentong, Pahang. They had just arrived at Selesa Hillhomes Resort and Mark Ng was getting ready to bring our friends for dinner at Kampung Bukit Tinggi. Mountain Peacock-Pheasant at Japanese Gardens did not disappoint our guests. However, the Ferruginous Partridge did not turn up that morning. Awana Biosphere park was our final birdwatching stop for the day. Just as we were driving downhill towards Genting Sempah, for dinner on the 2nd day of birdwatching session, two White-Crowned Hornbills flew over the road and perched on trees in the opposite hills. Our Taiwanese friends jumped out of the cars that were parked at the safest side of the curb. They stood safely on top of mound of grass in the middle of the road whilst we the drivers sat in our cars observing the hornbills (and the oncoming cars that were driving down from Genting Highlands). White-crowned hornbills' appearance at the end of our birdwatching session before Thursday night dinner at Genting Sempah capped off a good day of birding.
The checklists submitted to eBird Malaysia portal can be viewed below:-
https://ebird.org/malaysia/view/checklist/S57990883
https://ebird.org/malaysia/view/checklist/S57990956
Our Taiwanese friends had a precocious 7 year old girl, Elsa (Mr and Mrs Schumi Wu's daughter) with them throughout their trip. She was all bubbly and energetic at dinnertime. The trail was not suitable for her but the rosewater apple (jambu air) trees and fields surrounding Awana Biopark were just as interesting to her. Little cuckoo doves flew around us at Awana grounds. Some of the birds seen during the full day birdwatching session at Bukit Tinggi and Awana, Genting Highlands were...
Juvenile White-rumped Shama
Red-Billed Malkoha
Red-Billed Malkoha amused us at close range hopping around two trees
Solitary Black-thighed Falconet 
Changeable Hawk-Eagle perched on a rainy day as we were leaving Bukit Tinggi
Paddyfield Pipit perched high on a cable
White-Crowned Hornbill of Genting Sempah
Group photo at Awana Biopark photo credit to Low Kok Hen

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hunt for Green Pigeon species post Global Big Day 2019

Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Pigeons and Doves, there are around 300 species being recognised globally, of which more than 50 species are likely to occur in Southeast Asia according to Ecology Asia's website. A particular Green Pigeon species in Malaysia sparked some excitement for me post Global Big Day 2019. A flock of this Green pigeon species was seen feeding on a fruiting tree in Perdana Botanical Garden (Lake Gardens) in Kuala Lumpur as I ended my Global Big Day birdwatch count there on a hot Saturday morning. The second count site at Paya Indah Wetlands in the afternoon was in the pipeline, so I couldn't stay on to observe the flock of Green Pigeons for a longer period of time.     
The possibility of the Orange-breasted Green Pigeon was there and in order to reconfirm my earlier observation as the Pink-necked OR the Orange-breasted, I made a second trip to Perdana Botanical Gardens on Sunday afternoon. I miscalculated the traffic jam and ended up being stuck for half and hour at the Merdeka Square roundabout. As I made my way to the exact spot where I had seen the flock of green pigeons feeding in the fruiting tree the day before, I was lucky enough to encounter a pair of Golden-fronted Leafbird. This pair were most likely to be escapees from KL bird park which is adjacent to the Lake Gardens. Glad to see this pair flitting about freely within the Botanical Garden grounds. The Golden-fronted Leafbird was the "golden" find for me that Sunday afternoon and all frustration from the horrible and unexpected traffic jam encountered earlier melted away at the sight of this leafbird species. Melodious calls of this Golden-fronted leafbird species were different from the Orange-bellied leafbird that can be found in the montane forests of Peninsular Malaysia.     
Golden-fronted Leafbird
The flock of Green Pigeons flew into the same fruiting tree later in the evening and after observing them for a longer period of time, the pinkish tinges on the neck of the juvenile were visible so it was the Pink-necked species indeed. My checklists submitted for eBird's Global Big Day 2019 initiated by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for Perdana Botanical Gardens is available HERE, and HERE for outskirts of Paya Indah wetlands and HERE for Cyberjaya, with the final bird heard being the Large-tailed Nightjar.     

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Montane Birds of Malaysian Highland

Streaked Spiderhunter
Selangor Bird Fair 2019 was held over two days from 20th to 21st April 2019 at Kuala Kubu Bahru, a quaint town at the foothills of the Titiwangsa range. The town is also popular for its kaya pastries, muffin cakes and there is a shoplot hidden at the end of the corner of the town, which is quite well-known for its curry wantan mee, yong tau foo and claypot mee. The district council of Hulu Selangor hosted this annual event to promote birdwatching amongst the local community, including schoolchildren, college and university students. The closing ceremony was held at Mini Stadium in Kuala Kubu Bahru, which started quite late. I needed to drive back up to Fraser Hill, since I needed to check in at Puncak Inn by 6pm. Luckily I manage to reach the Gap, Selangor in time to birdwatch a bit. My checklist from eBird Malaysia is available HERE. Some of the birds sighted at Fraser Hill included the Streaked Spiderhunter above from the early morning walk near the entrance to Gap Road at Selangor-Pahang border (see checklist HERE), the Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo (don't think I've seen this species yet at Fraser Hill - see checklist HERE), Long-tailed Broadbill, the Malaysian Hill-Partridge (only 1 turned up that day as I sat quietly from across the road - see checklist HERE). Final birdwatching stop was back at the Gap Selangor as I drove down from Fraser Hill. A Gold-Whiskered Barbet was perched out in the open in a bare tree nearby the public toilets and I observed it for a few minutes in the hot mid-day sun. The checklist submitted through eBird Malaysia for this Barbet is available HERE.   
Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo
Malaysian Hill-Partridge (Arborophila campbelli) 
The police station at the Pahang border of Fraser Hill reminds us all of the hills' 100th year anniversary - the Little England of Malaysia celebration of a century in 2019! 
MINDEF accommodation for government staff only
Beautiful yellow moth - food for the montane birds

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Talang Forest - Hidden Green Gem in Negeri Sembilan

Black-Bellied Malkoha
Meeting up with my friends from Malacca and Negeri Sembilan to birdwatch on a Sunday morning at a forest in Talang really brings back fond memories. I was a workaholic and due to work travel commitments from 2007 to 2013, I didn't go birdwatching regularly. It was a workshop on waders in 2014 (which you can read about HERE) and helping a dazed Black-backed Kingfisher (which is on the cover of my blog) that led me slowly back to the birdwatching community of Malaysia. I started out birdwatching with my friends from Negeri Sembilan and Malacca, not all of whom are as crazy about birds though since some of them are more into macro-photography, and just enjoying the flora and fauna in the forest. These were my friends whom I joined during a trip to Cambodia in 2014. It was not strictly speaking a birdwatching trip but more of a leisurely group trip to explore Siem Reap, Cambodia. However it was during some stops along forest and paddyfields that some of us could not resist whipping out our binoculars to look for birds. The Blue Rock Thrush even showed up outside our bedroom window where we stayed at Siem Reap almost on the dot every morning at 6.45am. I still remember that rock thrush hopping up onto the tip of the rooftops. The Trips to Tonle Sap and a bird sanctuary within the edges of the lake can be read HERE and the visit to Angkor Wat temple HERE.
Bug in the forest that looks like a firefly
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Blue-winged Leafbird in thick green foliage
Cream-vented Bulbul extracting nectar from these ball-like flowers
(Photo Credit: Vuthy Taing)

We were greeted by Asian Openbills flying over and above us as they glided gracefully above us and across town when we stopped for breakfast at the sleepy town before Talang. Checklists submitted through eBird Malaysia portal for incidental birding can be viewed HERE and for Talang forest HERE. It grew blisteringly hot by noontime and we bade farewell to each other after having our lunch at town. By chance, I stumbled across a Cendol and Iced Shakes stall in Senawang as I stopped for a quick break at Petronas Station. The Mango Ice-cream Shake was a refreshing cool drink on a blisteringly hot afternoon. The cendol jagung was so-so. Worth checking out this stall when there are traffic jams along North-South Plus Highway.  


Friday, March 1, 2019

Asian Pied Starling and Incidental Birding

Asian Pied Starling, a lone bird was first spotted foraging on the lawn behind Palace of Golden Horses as I was leaving my office which is nearby this iconic hotel in Mines Resort area. Then a pair showed up and I got my camera ready. This Starling is considered a feral species, and was introduced into Peninsular Malaysia. How so remains a mystery to me. It was described as an invasive species in Japan, the impact on which is unknown and apparently this species has a record of breeding in Tokyo. Read more from National Institute for Environmental Studies website HERE.   
The sighting and more pictures of this Starling species recorded in my checklist through eBird Malaysia, and that checklist is available HERE.
Mangrove Pitta (Learn more about this pitta species via eBird HERE) is one bird I'd like to encounter and it would be such a treat to find it when I least expect to. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Chinese New Year 2019 Springtime in a Tropical country

Pacific Swallow pair roosting for the night outside my family house
Chinese New Year 2019, Year of the Earth Boar/Pig has arrived and we bade farewell to the Dog. Plus Highway Travel Time Advisory was only covered in Paul Tan's blog HERE. Was on the lookout for Plus Highway's 10% discounts for 10 of their highways but no further information about this in Plus highway website at all. The pair of Pacific Swallows came home to roost in the evenings on this nest which their predecessors have built over the course of a few years. Thank goodness this pair of swallows were not frightened by the fireworks set off at my neighbourhood in Johor on the eve of Chinese New Year  - they were seen every night resting on this mud nest which was built on top of our electricity meter. Quite a deep nest and any hatchlings would be having a tough time climbing out of it. The parent bird would have to lift the chick out from base of this nest. Have never seen adult swallows lift their baby chicks out of this nest before. Have seen baby chicks before in the car park of my sister's former condominium residence in Bukit Jalil, and that nest was much smaller since the babies extend their necks and could peek out of it. Swallows were the theme behind Ben Independent Grocer's Chinese New Year 2019 decor in Publika mall. The giant-sized swallows "flying" in mid-air near the giant-sized nest and eggs decor with tagline "Home is where the Heart is", had me all  homesick this time of the year. The Pacific Swallows showing up when I was back home in Johor during Chinese New Year week, was a real bonus for me:) My 2018 blog on this species of swallows can be read HERE. The 2019 Plus Highway Advisory below was confusing!  

Friday, February 1, 2019

Memorable Farewell from Northern Lapwings of Taiwan

Northern Lapwing, Yunlin County, Taiwan
Northern Lapwings were stunning and this particular species was one of the migratory birds featured in Roald Dahl's book "Boy", in which he recollected the days of his childhood growing up in the rural countryside of England. Wadertales blog described a study on the Northern Lapwings of Buckinghamshire by David W.Snow and Barbara Snow in 1976, and the strangeness of these lapwings, can be read HERE. It was truly astonishing to see this species of Lapwing flourishing in the ricefields of southwestern Taiwan. The lapwings' emerald green plumage were particularly striking especially when the afternoon sun shone on this flock. EBird Checklist for Yunlin County, Taiwan can be viewed HERE. Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vallenus) is listed as Near Threatened by IUCN. Northern Lapwings were a birding dream come true for me. This flock of Northern Lapwings are very different from the Grey-Headed and Red-Wattled Lapwings that I've seen in Peninsular Malaysia. The former's "Pee-Wit" high-pitch calls are hauntingly melodious.    
Star Bird of Yunlin County, Taiwan
pop-up cardboard was visible throughout the Asian Bird Fair 2018
at High Heels Park exhibition venue 
It was truly a memorable farewell gift to see and hear this flock of Northern Lapwings as we departed Yunlin and headed to the High Speed Rail station to catch our night flight back to Kuala Lumpur from Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. Special thanks to Schumi Wu and his friends, for such a memorable birdwatching adventure in Taiwan. The food was amazing and the lifers were extraordinary. Beautiful video by Taiwanese birdwatcher below features a flock of these beautiful Northern Lapwings in flight and congregating in the rice-fields of Taiwan below. Brings back good memories of our time with friends and Lapwings:)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Lone Wild Goose - Lesser White-fronted Goose

Lesser White-Fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) looked slightly smaller compared with the ducks in the farm. This endangered goose is considered a rare winter visitor/vagrant to Taiwan and we were very lucky to see it early that morning as we entered the last day of birdwatching in southwestern coast of Taiwan. We had a night flight to catch at the Taoyuan International Airport. This species of Goose is classified as Vulnerable in IUCN redlist HERE
This Lesser White-Fronted looked like it was trying to mingle with the ducks. The ducks looked bigger than this Goose - I wonder whether this could be due to hormone injections. Have read that such injections are common practice in industrial duck farming to expedite the growth rate and  subsequent supply of duck meat for the hungry hordes of humans. Hopefully this is not the case for the ducks in this farm, and that there would be agricultural grains fed to the ducks, with some to spare for this endangered goose as it looked to be spending its winter with the ducks in the farm. How this Goose ended up in this farm remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the Lesser White-Fronted Goose was indeed a sight to behold, its greyish plumage standing out amongst the snow white plumages of the ducks. It had such a slim neck, pink beak and such pink webbed feet! Its occasional honks almost drowned out by the noisy quacking of the ducks which were in the hundreds.    
Lesser White-Fronted Goose "honk-ing" to the ducks
Wild Goose trying hard to mingle with ducks
Lone Goose figuring out where it stands......
Lesser White-Fronted attempts to mingle again with the ducks
The ducks seem bewildered by this individual Goose 
LWF Goose lowers it neck and appears to be looking for food
Ducks are moving away from the LWF Goose 
LWF Goose looks lonely and hungry
Off it goes in search of food on the sandy soil
LWF Goose facing us neck down in quite a threatening-looking pose...
But it was actually poking its beak into sandy soil looking for food 
LWF Goose waddles daintily forward... 
In search again of tasty morsels hidden in the sand
World Wide Fund for Nature in Finland has a Project known as the Lesser White-Fronted Goose Life Project which you can read about HERE.
This Lesser White-fronted Goose, alone, hungry and trying its best to mingle with the domesticated ducks in the wind-swept coast of Taiwan, was the subject of a poem written by a Chinese scholar centuries ago. The poem, in English as below:-   
Lone Wild Goose (Du Fu, Chinese poet)

Alone, the wild goose refuses food and drink,
his calls searching for the flock.

Who feels compassion for that single shadow
Vanishing in a thousand distant clouds?

You watch, as it vanishes from sight,
Its plaintive calls cutting through you

The noisy crows ignore it:
the bickering squabbling multitudes 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pretty Pheasants and Partridges

Taiwan Partridge
Dasyueshan had more avian surprises waiting for us. This family of Taiwan Partridges turned up on a sleepy afternoon. They look similar to our Malaysian Hill Partridge of the highlands. However, Taiwan is lucky to have this as their endemic species. Click HERE to read more about Wild Bird Club Malaysia's special encounter with the Malaysian Hill Partridges of Fraser Hill. The Swinhoe Pheasant was another special species which we encountered. Quails, partridges and pheasants are not doing well in South east Asia, according to this article HERE. The researchers in Mongabay article concluded that three Sundaic endemics - the Dulit Partridge (Rhizothera dulitensis), the grey-breasted partridge (Arborophila orientalis) and the Sumatran partridge (Arborophila sumatrana) now live only inside protected areas. Taiwan's Swinhoe Pheasants look to be thriving in the mountain ranges of Daesyushan. 
Taiwan Partridge with reddish tinge on throat
Standing still for a few seconds
Taiwan Partridge looked resplendent
Swinhoe Pheasant behind foliage - its colourful plumage gave it away:)
Looking so turkey-like, this Swinhoe Pheasant
Male and Female (or Juvenile Male?) Swinhoe Pheasant
Male Swinhoe Pheasant with its entourage
Swinhoe dance was performed by a group of ladies during the 9th Asian Bird Fair 2018 opening ceremony in High Heels Park, Chiayi County, Taiwan. You can read more about this HERE.

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