National Day Ramble

Went for a morning ramble to the Peirce Reservoirs with my wife this National Day. It was quiet at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk with a few families out enjoying the nature. But the old Thompson was pretty crowded. Long Tailed Macaques were lining up by the side of the road waiting for handouts from the stream of cars passing by.

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Good to see they were wearing the national colors to celebrate the nation’s birthday at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk.

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This pair of GRT Drongo siblings were still unsure about themselves. They were looking around for their parents and kept calling out to be fed.

Slender Squirrel at LPR
The Slender Squirrel stays close to the Central forests

This Slender Squirrel was moving up and down the trunk of this tree rubbing its face on the bark. I think it is leaving its scent on this tree to mark its territory.

Suffused Flash at UPR
Suffused Flash 

Over at the Upper Peirce Reservoir, I found a rare butterfly, the Suffused Flash, the best catch of the day. There were no flowering plants around and it stayed on the same leaf for a long time. This forest butterfly can be found at the Upper Seletar Reservoir as well.

Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker at UPR
Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker 

A small bush behind the toilet has a parasite plant growing on it. The Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers love the berries of this plant. This male was at eye level and presented a great side profile for me to shoot. Earlier I saw another Flowerpecker, a juvenile Orange-bellied inside the Lower Peirce Forest.

 

Little Terns at the Marina Barrage.

Breakwater at Marina Barrage
Very disciplined shooting session at the breakwaters by the Marina Barrage. Nature next to the CBD.

I think that the breakwaters by the side of the Marina Barrage was built to prevent erosion of the beach fronting the barrage. But it turned out to be a great place to study the post breeding behavior of families of the Little Terns, Sternula albifrons. Besides the Black-naped Terns, Sterna sumatrana, the Little Tern is the only other tern that breeds in Singapore, although we had some sporadic records of the Bridled Terns, Onychoprion anaethetus, breeding at Horsburgh Lighthouse.

Coming in to land.
Frontal flying shots will not be possible without knowing where they will land.
Fluffing up is part of preening to keep the feathers healhty
Preening and fluffing to keep their feathers healthy

Since early July, a few adult terns were using the breakwaters to teach their juveniles flying and survival skills of catching fish in the open waters. As the juveniles are not able to fly for long periods, the breakwaters is a convenient place for them to come in for a rest.

Dinner time.
Parent terns were able to demonstrate the art of catching small fishes to the juveniles near the breakwaters.

At first the parents will bring back the fish for the juveniles and then gradually entice the juveniles to follow them out to fish at sea. The parent birds will catch the small fishes and dropped them back to the water for the juveniles to practise fishing . By the end of July, a few older juveniles were seen fishing on their own having mastered the art of finding and catching the small fishes from the parents.

The juveniles under the watchful eyes of the adult
The juveniles practise flying at the breakwaters under the watchful eyes of the adult

Unlike the period before the chicks fledged, the parent terns at the breakwaters were very tolerant of intruders. They allowed the photographers to come close knowing that the juveniles were able to fend for themselves. Those of us that tried shooting the young chicks at the open grasslands will tell you the ferocity of the adult terns dive bombing every intruder including House Crows that get too near to their chicks.

Stop showing off.
Showing off landing to its siblings much to the delight of the parent on the right.

This in turn allow us to get some stunning photos of these terns in flight, fishing, feeding preening and fighting for food in a natural surrounding. This will not be possible if not for this breakwaters which is just outside the CBD.

Last feed for the juveniles
Parent tern still hard at work with the last feed for the day

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. 1993 The Wild Bird Society of Japan.

Birding China-Wuyuan

Day 8. 4 June  2016

Wuyuan.

The post-card picture perfect village by the river side.
Wuyaun countryside, quaint villages and scenic river and rolling mountains.

Wuyaun at the north-east of Jiangxi province is a scenic tourist destination fame for its colorful countryside in summer and unique architecture of its houses.  One of the main attractions is rafting down the many serene rivers. This is also our last stop of the trip with a critically endangered Blue-crowned Laughingthrush to tick.

Old village riuns with the unique roofs design in the background
Old village ruins with the unique roofs design in the background. Birding overseas bring us to places like this off the beaten track.
Villagers spent their time outside their homes
Village life is so unhurried. 
Blur-crowned Laughingthrush
Blue-crowned Laughingthrush came out to greet us when we got to the site after walking through the village. I was lucky to get this shot early. The entire population is confined to the mixed forest areas in  Jiangxi
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The woodlands site for the Blue-crowned Laughingthrush . The village headman (with umbrella), the self appointed guardian of this laughingthrush kept asking us to leave even though this is a public place. Part of the reason could be the threat of poaching for the cage bird trade. Out of respect for his age, we left.
Tony led the way through the country path behind the village.
Tony Pang led the bash through the country path behind the village for another chance to see the Elliot’s Pheasant and the Short-tailed Parrotbill. It was great that he came along to help us with the birding. We ticked the  Rufous-capped Babbler, Dusky and Huet’s Fulvettas here. Menxiu tried to find the Long-billed Plover by the riverside for us, but the high water level covered many of the sandbars where they like to rest. 

The Barn Swallows were busy feeding its chicks with crickets. The Red-rumped entire nest is made from mud from the river banks.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow returning to its nest to feed its young. They made their nests under the balconies of houses in the countryside.

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Roof top hide
The nest hole of the Pied Falconet brought a windfall for this hotel. The owners built a hide on the roof top for birders looking for close up eye level shots of this rare falconet. Unfortunately the parent did not move out of the nest and the other did not return during the afternoon when we were there.

 

Light-vented Bulbul with a beetle for its chick.
Common Light-vented Bulbul with a beetle for its chick.
Common butterfly helping to pollinate the cucember plant
Menxiu what is this common butterfly that helps to pollinate the cucumber plant?

Finally it leaves me to thank Menxiu Tong, our guide for his bird knowledge and guiding expertise in getting the target species and ordering great food for us, Alfred and his wife for putting this trip together, birding friends Ju Lin, Ping Ling, Pah Liang for their great company and help and Tony Pang for sharing his knowledge of the local birds with us.

The dish of the trip.
And the best dish of the trip was …. the Steamed Pork Knuckles at Wuyuan.  Menxiu turned out to be quite a foodie and knew the off road family restaurants that served signature dishes. The cook told us that he had to steam this dish for 6 hours before he will serve it. We are still drooling over this dish.

Birding China- Poyang Lake

Day 7. 3 June 2016

Poyang Lake.

Reed beds at Poyang Lake
Reed beds at Poyang Lake, largest fresh water lake in China. The size of the lake varies with the season. During winter, the lake is an important site for the Siberian Cranes and half a million migrant waterbirds.

This was not on our itinerary. But since we ticked the Reeve’s Pheasant on the very first day, our guide Menxiu decided to take a detour to Poyang Lake, China’s largest lake in Jiangxi Province to try for the Marsh Grassbird, which we dipped. It meant that he had to go down to the train station to change our train tickets, re-book our hotels and organise a coach to take us there. We are most grateful to Menxiu for doing his best to maximise our birding.

Birding at Poyang Lake with the Visitor's Center on the left
Birding at Poyang Lake with the Visitor’s Center on the left. Six Cotton Pygmy Goose were resting on the roof of the Visitor Center.

 

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We were looking for the Cotton Pygmy Goose on the water but Menxiu found them perched on top of the Visitor’s Center  instead.

 

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This happens in the summer when the lake overflows and made it impassable even for vehicles. We all had to bash through the tall reeds to get back to our car.

 

Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage back at its nesting grounds
Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage back at its nesting grounds
Yabbies from Poyang Lake
Fishing at the lake has since been banned but this did not stop the locals from catching Yabbies.
Cotton Pygmy Goose
Cotton Pygmy Goose on a dreary day. Not that common here.

Next: Wuyuan.

Birding China-Dongzhai National Nature Reserve

Day 5&6. 1 and 2 June 2016

Dongzhai National Nature Reserve.

Dongzhai NR Center where we stayed
Dongzhai National Nature Reserve Visitor Center where we stayed. Good birding around the center. Fairy Pittas were calling behind the center.

The Dongzhai National Nature Reserve is situated in the northern slopes of Dabie Mountains in the province of Henan. It is largely covered by evergreen hill forests. It took a long seven hours train ride from Tianing to reach Xin Yang Dong, the nearest town to the reserve.

Ready to set out for the Revee's Pheasant from Dongzhai NR Center
Setting off on the first morning from the Dongzhai NNR Center with great expectations.

The reserve is the home of the Reeves’s Pheasant, another of the many beautiful pheasants in China. It is endemic to China. Found only around the central and eastern mountains of China, they have been introduced to Europe for gaming.

Reeve's Pheasant Male
Reeves’s Pheasant Male. It’s long silver tail is partially hidden but its zorro face mask is unmistakable.

We got our target bird the Reeves’s Pheasant very early on the first morning. They were not very skittish but preferred to stay behind the undergrowth as much as possible. In all we saw ten pheasants in one morning of birding. This has to be the most satisfying pheasant hunt for us.

Revee's Pheasant female
The female is less colorful. We found this female perched quietly on the branch for almost 15 minutes. Later we realized that it was guarding two chicks nearby.
Fairy Pitta nest
The Reserve is also the breeding ground of the Fairy Pitta. This nest was on a slope among the vegetation about 70 meters away almost impossible to find..

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One of the parent bird sat on the eggs for most of the day and only flew out only in the late afternoon. Wish we had a better and longer view of this pitta.

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We had a surprised visit from Cindy Zheng during our stay at the Reserve. She was spending the day studying the captive breeding of the Crested Ibis at the reserve with the Director of the Reserve Mr.Zhu ( extreme right). She was in Singapore to participate in 6th Asian Bird Fair last October with the Jingshan County Birdwatching Association. They will be hosting the 7th Asian Bird Fair this November in Jingshan County. She heard from Menxiu Tong (in a stylist grey pullover), that he was leading a group of  Singapore birders to Donghzai and decided to drop by to say hello. It was so nice of her to come by and great to catch up again here of all the places. ( Photo: Alfred Chia)

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My first encounter with a Lunar Moth at the center. Such a beauty!

Other birds outside the Donhzhai Reserve include the Collared Finchbill, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Vinous-breasted Parrotbill and the White-cheeked Starling. The Swinhoe’s Minivet is very similar to the Ashy Minivet that we are familiar with. But it has a grey crown and rufous wash underside. It may turn up in northern Malaysia one day.

 

On the way to the train station, we took a drive along the country roads to check out the birdlife around the rice fields. The Red-billed Starling is a very common here. This starling was just added to our checklist based on a sighting at the Tampines Canal last year. The Collared Crow is locally common but near-threatened. So it was great to tick it off as we did not see it anywhere else during the trip. The Crested Kingfisher was a bonus for all of us as we did not know that we can find it here. Many birders to Thailand had to spend hours waiting for this Kingfisher at Mae Wong National Park.

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The Crested Ibis was thought to be extinct but thanks to captive and reintroduction program their numbers are now back in the low hundreds. This individual was foraging in its favorite habitat but we came across a nesting pair at the reserve the day before.

Next: Poyang Lake.

 

Birding China – Emeifeng Nature Reserve

Day 2-4. 29,30 & 31 May 2016

Emeifeng Nature Reserve.

View of the valley
The mountains and valleys of Emeifeng are sights to behold

The Emiefeng Nature Reserve at Tianing County is the site for pheasants like the Elliot’s, Koklass, Silver and the Cabot’s Tragopan. It covers a section of the Wuyi mountains along the border of Fujian and Jiangxi. Tall bamboo forests dominate the lower slopes with denser deciduous types at the higher altitudes raising up to 1,700 meters.

Cabot's Tragopan roosting with two chicks
Female Cabot’s Tragopan roosting with two chicks spotted by Bee Lan on our way down in the evening.

We planned two and a half days of birding here to give us a chance to see all the pheasants, which the group did. We decided to stay in a small town at the base of the reserve after warnings of landslides.

Lamdslide after the heavy rain
We have to walk up after half of the cliff slide down and block the road after an all night rain. Rock boulders were sewn all over the side of the road warning signs that we have to be extra careful.

The best way to see the pheasants was to drive up to the summit in the early morning when the pheasants come out to the roadside to forage and in the evenings when they roost among the trees.

Town elder at Taning County
Town elder at Taning County. So many stories to tell from the expressions of his face.
Crested Myna at Taining town.
Crested Myna braving the rain at Taining town.
Silver Pheasant Male trying to get away from us.
Male Silver Pheasant is always wary of any threats.

 

Female Sliver Pheasant looking for food for the chicks
A female Silver Pheasant out looking for food for its chicks behind the Forest Rest House at the summit.
Rice terraces with the town at the background
Rice terraces with the town at the background.
Chestnut-crowned Warbler
Chestnut-crowned Warbler chipping away
Village at the base of the Reserve
Farming village at the base of the Reserve

 

Collared Owlet was calling all day.
Collared Owlet was calling all day. We got to see them all three days. Thanks to Menxiu for the use of his Canon for this shot.
Bamboo forest ala Crouching Tiger
Bamboo forest ala Crouching Tiger
Wild bamboo is a cash crop.
Harvesting bamboos for sale.
Indochinese Yuhina nest building
Indochinese Yuhina (torqueola) with broad chestnut collar gathering nesting material.
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush Female
Female Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush on a limb.
Huts for processing bamboo shoots.
Huts for cooking and pressing bamboo shoots dotted the roadside. This makes them easier to transport down.
Sultan Tit
Sultan Tit a colorful distraction for a dull day.
Briding near the summit with Bee Lan, Alfred and Pah Liang
Briding near the summit with Bee Lan, Alfred and Pah Liang
Some rodarandans in bloom
Rhododendrons in bloom
Birding by the roadside
Birding by the roadside Ju Lin looking smart in rain gear.
A monestry at the summit of Emeifeng
A monestry and temple at the summit of Emeifeng

Next: Dongzhai NNR

Birding China-Min Jiang Estuary

Day 1. 28th May 2016

Wet and Windy Min Jiang Estuary
Wet and windy Min Jiang Estuary

Min Jiang Estaury.

Min Jiang estuary is about an hour’s drive west of the Fuzhou’s city center. In the summer, the world’s rarest tern, the Chinese Crested Terns made their way from their breeding grounds at Matsu Island to the estuary to perform their courtship and mate. There are only 50-60 breeding pairs clustered at two islands off the Chinese coast.

A pair of Chinese with a Greater Crested Tern
Mission accomplished. A pair of Chinese Crested Terns in breeding plumage.
Setting out to the estaury
Setting out to the estuary. Alfred and Bee Lan with Pah Liang and Ju Lin behind.

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A short boat ride took us to the mud flats.
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Our two intrepid ladies Ping Ling and Ju Lin rearing to go but not knowing what lies ahead.

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It was raining when we got there at noon. The only shelter were these reeds and our tiny umbrellas. Luckily the rain stopped after 2 hours.

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The Chinese Crested Terns flew in after two hours wait. It was both a relief and excitement for us. Menxiu, on the scope was also a relieved guide.

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Alfred washing the mud off his wife’s leg after the muddy ordeal. Surprised none of us slipped and fell.

The Chinese Crested Tern was one of the top targets of the trip. It was also the hardest. The mud flats were quite extensive which means that we have to trudge through ankle and sometimes knee deep mud to get to the coast. The wet weather did not help.

Shooting terns at Min Jiang Estuary
A Chinese bird researcher studying the terns at Min Jiang Estuary
Three Chinese ganging in on a Greater.
Three Chinese ganging in on a Greater. The fourth is out of the frame.
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A pair of Chinese Crested Terns bathing with a Greater Crested Tern. Flying in is the White-winged Tern.
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White-winged and Greater Crested Terns flying in to join the Whiskered Terns at the Min Jiang Estuary. The pair of Chinese Crested Terns are on the left.

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Chinese Crested Tern has a black tipped bill and a black forehead during breeding.

Greater Crested Terns mating
An interested third party at the mating of the Great Crested Terns.
A Chinese Crested Terns enjoying a bath with the Great Crested Terns.
A Chinese Crested Terns enjoying a bath with the Great Crested Terns.
A pair of Chinese Crested Terns with the Greater Crested Terns behind
From a distance the best way to separate the two terns is to pick out the lighter grey wings of the Chinese Crested Terns.

Next: Emeifeng National Park.