Antics of a pair of young Crested Goshawks.

27 February 2021

I missed the nesting of the Crested Goshawks at Sin Ming early this month. Heard that the goshawks at West Coast Park have fledged and decided to pay them a visit this morning. A few photographers were already there pointing their lenses at a pair of them perched on a Pong Pong Tree. They seem oblivious to our presence. Their parents were not around. A sign that they are now old enough to look after themselves.

But as youngsters, they are still playful and I stayed around to try to capture their behavior and interaction with each other. They were contended to jump from branch to branch keeping some distance from each other. I was hoping for them to come together to see how they will behave.

My wait was over. They only came together just once for this shot. The younger goshawk timidly moved to the older one looking for sibling affection but got none. ( Perfect heart shape markings on the belly of the goshawk on the left)
Even at this age, the older one is the more domineering of the two. The younger goshawk appeared to be submissive.
This looks like a half eaten rat that the parents caught earlier. Both goshawk flew down to the ground to pick up this carcass and tried to eat it. But either one knew how to tear the flesh out from the carcass.
A squeaking call of the squirrel lured one of the goshawks to adjacent tree. After a quick look around it gave up and decided to have some fun doing some leg stand.
Learning to groom itself at a young age. Preening its tail feathers one at a time.
Back view showing one of the ID features, equal width white and black tail bands
Another feature, a thicker tarsus for catching bigger prey. I have come across these goshawks going after domestic chickens. Once a prey is clamped by those sharp talons, escape is nigh impossible.

Doing a “Safe Year” in a Pandemic.

We called off the Big Year 2020 when the government declared a “Circuit Breaker” in April. Birding was put on hold for the next few months, except around our homes and the balcony. Most of us spent our time doing hard disk birding on our laptops “Social distancing ” became the new buzz words.

An unexpected wetland haven at the open grasslands off MED created by the monsoon rains.

The pressure was off but some of us continued keeping a list of our sightings for the year. We just carry on with our own safe birding. Even now we all have our masks on. I am glad to end the year with 208 species. I thought that it will be interesting to blog on what happened during the year and how we cope with the pandemic.

The highlight of 2020 for me was the six SG lifers which I did not count on. I made a big mistake of­ choosing to take an afternoon nap instead of rushing to SBWR for the mega Gadwall tick, o­­­­­­nly our second record since 1989. Ah well you cannot win them all.

The rare Slaty-legged Crake sheltering at Ponggol

The year started wonderfully well in January with a Slaty-legged Crake sheltering at a most unusual place, a small stripe of plants at a Punggol Central apartment block. This rare winter visitor was a lifer for many of us, me included. A second lifer was an out of the blue appearance of the White-cheeked Starling, an East Asian species, feeding at the open grassland at Seletar end. Other rare winter visitors seen in January were the Red-throated Pipit roosting at Turuk Track for a week and an Orange-headed Thrush hiding in the dark undergrowth at Dairy Farm Nature Park.

A national first White-cheeked Starling at Seletar Aerospace Drive

This was followed by two lifers in February, the Brahminy Starling at the Jurong Lake Gardens (JLG) thanks to the Records Committee upgrading it to Category A and the Chinese Blue Flycatcher inside CCNR. The second record of the Tiaga Flycatcher at West Coast Park and a Watercock at JLG made this a busy month.

The Chinese Blue Flycatcher appeared for a day at JLG for many of us who missed the one at CCNR.

In March, many of the photographers was mesmerised by a shining male Asian Emerald Cuckoo feeding on the Tussock Moth caterpillars on a Ficus tree behind Ghim Moh estate, a teaser just before CB. 

We all took a breather for a good part of the mid-year and restarted in September with an elusive resident, a Barred Buttonquail at the grasslands at Jurong Lake Gardens.

The grasslands at JLG is attracting more and more birds to the gardens.

By November, we were cranking our necks to the skies over the Southern Ridges eagerly awaiting the arrival of the migrant raptors. I missed the super rare Eurasian Hobby over at Henderson Wave, the prime spot for raptor watch, but was compensated by Grey-faced Buzzard over at Kent Ridge Park and a Greater Spotted Eagle. A rare Rufous-bellied Eagle was hunting over the forest at SG quarry. Most of us were delighted to get photographs of this raptor, even though it was a plain looking juvenile.

Only the adult Rufous-bellied Eagle has a rufous belly.

The heavy December rains flooded a large part of the open fields off Marina East Drive, transforming it into a temporary wetland for the migrant waterfowls. Watercocks, Baillon’s Crakes, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and the rare Grey-headed Lapwing could not resist the aquatic buffet being offered there. 

The Pheasant-tailed Jacana was a surprised visitor to the flooded grasslands at MED

Over to the north, the open fields at Harvest Lane was welcoming Sand Martins in November followed by the rarer Asian House Martins. A pair of the shy resident White-browed Crakes found refuge at the low-lying waterlogged farmland there. This may be the last season for us to bird there as all the plots are being developed into high tech farms.

The few Sand Martins were feeding together with the swiftlets over at Harvest Lane.

My nemesis flycatcher arrived at Dairy Farm NP in November. It was the  Narcissus Flycatcher, a female, a most sought-after lifer by many. I missed this rare migrant flycatcher by a day at Bidadari. The prayers of the bird photographers were answered a month later when a stunning male Narcissus Flycatcher turned up at the SBG Healing Gardens in December. First time a male was recorded in Singapore.

Female Narcissus Flycatcher showing the two wing bars, white fringes of the tertials and rusty rump.

My last lifer of the year was a Chestnut-cheeked Starling, a vagrant. I was photographing a flock of Daurian Starlings at the Grandstand in early December and found one with a patch in its cheek. I, Ho Hua Chew and Alfred Chia went back the next morning to try and find it. By a stroke of luck, Alfred was able to scope an adult among the hundreds of Daurian Starlings roosting in an Albizia there.

A heavily cropped shot of a starling showing a dark patch on its cheek.

It had been an eventful year to say the least. The birding community here was mindful of the pandemic and observed the rules when birding. A few national firsts were recorded. My thanks to many of my friends for the alerts and assistance in finding many of the rarities. Let us continue to cooperate and enjoy watching our feathered friends in 2021.

Safe Birding all!

Looking back to a Birdiful November.

­­­­­­­­­I am sure that many of you like me had a super busy November chasing the many rare migrants that arrived here on their way south.

My lifer the female Narcissus Flycatcher at Dairy Farm Nature Park.

The highlight of the month for me had to be the female Narcissus Flycatcher that made landfall at Dairy Farm NP on 19th. I dipped on the past sightings at Bidadari and the last one here. As with the previous year, more gems like the Siberian and Eye-browed Thrushes dropped by to feed on the White Mulberries at the park.

A first winter male Siberian Thrush was the first to arrive. An adult male followed a few weeks later.

Most of us spent the first week getting roasted at Henderson Wave hoping to catch some rare raptors coming through. The lucky ones hit the jackpot with a juvenile Eurasian Hobby. I had to be contented with a Peregrine Falcon, Greater Spotted Eagle and a Jerdon’s Baza.   

This Jerdon’s Baza was one of the few raptors that came down low over Henderson Wave.

When news that some marsh terns were seen foraging off the Marina Barrage early in the month, many of us got great shots of the White-winged Terns flying over. A short walk to the granite sea wall rewarded me with some wintering Kentish Plovers although I was not able to find the recently split White-faced. Two Sanderlings were also wintering there.

A large number of these White-winged Terns were seen for the first time fishing off the Marina Barrage this season.
Kentish Plover at Marina Barrage sea wall. Their numbers were low this season.

Once again the Healing Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens was attracting many of the migrant flycatchers with a myriad of insect life there. All the three paradise flycatchers, including a white-morphed, were keeping us busy. I was happy to redo my male Blue and White Flycatcher here.

The male Blue and White Flycatcher with its black throat, one of the many flycatchers that descended on to the Healing Garden this season.

This may be our last season to bird at the open farmlands at Neo Tiew Harvest Link as all the plots have been sold. A few snipes were feeding at a wet patch at the end of the road. One was confirmed as the Common Snipe. Over 350 Pacific Golden Plovers were using the dry open spaces as their high tide roost. Up in the air, Marsh Harriers came and went on the same day, but a few Sand Martins stayed around to feed with the Aerodramus Swiftlets.

A few Sand Martins spent a few days foraging at the open grasslands at Neo Tiew Lane this month.

My year list is just below average at 190 partly because of Covid. I still hold up hope of reaching 200 by year end. Bring on December!

Singapore Bird Family Grand Slams.

Singapore Bird Family Grand Slams.

12th May 2020

There is only so much HDD and balcony birding one can do during this CB period. With the release of the 2020 edition of the Birds of Singapore Checklist, I decided to go through my list of 359 species to date to see how many bird family “grand slams” (of 5 or more species) do I have. If you are doing this as well, do let us know what your “grand slams” are.

1-MacRitchie Forest

A magical place inside CCNR.  How insignificant are we? Photo: Glenda Heng.

Not that many as it turned. Only 11 out of a total of 26 families with 5 or more species in it. I was missing the Little Green Pigeon for the 14 Pigeons and Doves Columbidae  family. But now with the acceptance of the Oriental Turtle Dove, a national first, it will be that much harder to complete.

I though I have the  12 Rails and Crakes Rallidae family done and dusted but found out that the Eurasian Coot, a stray last seen in 1988, is in this family. Arrrrh……

Thanks to Francis Yap:) I “lost” the 13 Bulbuls Pycnontidae family when he photographed the Black and White Bulbul at Jelutong Tower in 2012.

A big thank you and shout out to all my friends, past and present for the timely alerts and help. Many of you will recall the happy memories of when we got these species together. Special mention to all my mentors and my long time birding friends Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee and Yang Pah Liang for being with me in this journey since the early 1990s. These are the stories of the sighting of the last species of each of the eleven families.

1. Ardeidae (Bitterns, Herons and Egrets) 19 species.

It was a late afternoon phone call from Vincent Ng that an Indian Pond Heron was seen at Bidadari Cemetery. Joseph Tan had photographed it on 11 April 2015 but did not processed it until Er Bong Siong posted his a week later. It was subsequently identified by Francis Yap. Link. Our first record was from Senoko on 20 March 1999 by Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah. It was listed in Category D ( Wild birds but possibility of released or escaped cannot be ruled out). Since then, we had 8 more records from Farmway 3 in 2012 and 2016, Bidadari 2015 and 2018, Bishan Park 2018, Jurong Lake in 2019, Windsor Park and Transview Golf Course in 2020. This should not be a difficult family to complete.

Indian Pond Heron at Bida

The first Indian Pond Heron seen in Bidadari in 2015.

2. Charadriidae ( Lapwings, Plovers) 11 species.

I was late to tick the Grey-headed Lapwing at SBWR on November 2011, found by Lim Kim Chuah. But when news that one was scoped inside Kranji Marshes on 23 October 2016, we went running in to the tower to look for it. I remembered missing it by 5 minutes as it flew over the open field outside the Marshes. Geoff Lim and I decided to drive into Harvest Lane to look for it. We flushed it just after we got out of the car. For most the Common Ringed Plover will be your nemesis in this family.

Grey-headed Lapwing at KM
The Grey-headed Lapwing roosting with the Red-wattled Lapwings inside Kranji Marshes.

3. Cuculidae ( Cuckoos and Coucal) 19 species.

Asian Emerald Cuckoo Female
Asian Emerald Cuckoo Female

The last cuckoo was supposed to be the Lorong Halus’s Jacobin Cuckoo in 2015 but a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo turned up at Siloso, Sentosa in late December 2017 changed that.  Link . Topping this was our third record and this time an adult male in its full brilliance found by Kelvin Ng and friends on 23 March 2020 next to the Ulu Pandan Canal behind MOE Ghim Moh.

The adult female Asian Emerald Cuckoo was much easier to identify than the first juvenile female photographed by KC Tsang in 2006.


 

 

4. Tytonidae/Strigidae (Owls) 10 species.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another successful nesting of this rare resident owl

January 2016. Another late afternoon phone call this time from See Toh that almost knocked me off my seat. A juvenile Barred Eagle Owl was spotted again at the car park at Bukit Timah NR. I missed the last appearance as I was away and was glad to have completed this difficult family which has the vagrant Short-eared Owl, Northern Boobook and the most sought after Brown Wood Owl in it. I had an old entry in my notebook of a BEO sighting on 16 Nov 1996 near the summit of BTNR during a survey, but I do not have any strong recollection of this sighting.

 

5. Alcedinidae ( Kingfishers) 8 species.

The migrant Black-capped Kingfisher is known to be super skittish, secretive and hard to find here. Most of the old records were from Pulau Ubin, hidden in between the mangroves. That was where I got mine. For many of the birders it was the most wanted kingfisher. Most should have this family grand slam by now with the Ruddy Kingfisher ever presence at Kranji.

SBWR

 

6. Picidae (Woodpeckers) 8 species.

1-DSC03272-001

I was lucky to be birding when the White-bellied Woodpeckers were still around. Then the former resident Great Slaty Woodpecker made a spectacular reappearance on May 2018 at BTNR. But it was the Buff-rumped Woodpecker that eluded most of us until Adrian Silas Tay found one at Pulau Ubin on May 2019. Good thing it stayed around long enough for us to tick it.

This male Buff-rumped Woodpecker stayed around the same patch at Pulau Ubin.

7. Psittaculidae ( Parrots and Parakeets) 6 species.

The rare forest wanderer, Blue-rumped Parrot numbers have remained small all these years. They can be seen flying across the Central Catchment Forest in small flocks on good days. It was only the discovery of a fruiting Star Fruit tree at Venus Loop that we were able to see them close up. This should be an easy grand slam for all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nationally threatened Blue-rumped Parrot feeding on the Star Fruit at Venus Loop.

8. Monarchidae ( Monarch and Paradise Flycatchers) 5 species.

SBWR

None of us expected to see an Indian Paradise Flycatcher here as it was not their usual wintering range. But Oliver Tan photographed one at SBWR on 2 December 2017 which was later identified by Dave Bakewell. Link. Our second and third records the following year were at SBWR as well.

The identity feature of this Indian Paradise Flycatcher is the long crest.

 

 

9. Hirundinidae ( Swallows and Martins) 5 species.

Sand Martin
Sand Martin

Both martins in our Checklist were hard to find, Surprisingly I got the rarer Asian House Martin before the more common Sand Martin. Both can be easily overlook unless you pay attention to any flocks of flying swallows.

 

 

10. Phylloscopidae ( Warblers) 5 species.

Sakhalin Leaf Warhler

The Dusky Warbler would be the missing warbler for this family for most but I was around when Peter Kennerley mist netted one at Tuas in 1994. Instead my warbler to complete this family was the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler that was heard calling along Dairy Farm Loop by Lim Kim Keang on March 2014. We had the Pale-legged Warbler in our Checklist, but the sub song was clear enough for us to replace it.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler replaced the Pale-legged Warbler in our checklist.

11. Cisticolidae ( Cisticolas, Prinia and Tailorbirds) 6 species.

This is an easy family to complete as all the 6 species are our common residents. Among them the forest edge Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was the hardest to find and photographed for some time. But their presence at Dairy Farm and Venus Loop made it much easier now.

Rufous-tailed Tailorbird at Wilton Close

This Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was photographed along the railway track at Wessex Estate.

HDD Hard Disk Digging. CB Circuit Breaker, CCNR Central Catchment Nature Reserve, MOE Ministry of Education, BEO Barred Eagle Owl, BTNR Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, SBWR Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Reference: 

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore 2009. NSS

Craig Robson. The Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.

 

The Killing Skies of Gomantong.

The Killing Skies of Gomantong.

If you have an afternoon to spare when you are in Sandakan, do take a 2 hours drive out to the Gomantong Caves and see for yourself the natural spectacle of mass exodus of bats leaving the caves in endless streams.

1-DSC09842

Spirals of Wrinkled-lipped Bats streaming out of the Gomantong Caves at dusk.

Every evening since recorded history, more than a million bats, mainly Winkled-lipped Bats leave the Gomantong Caves in never ending spirals into the night skies. This awesome sight can last well into nightfall. The bats will spend the night feasting on insects all over the countryside before returning to the cave to roost before dawn.

Another drama is waiting to unfold. It will be a life and death encounter over the killing skies of Gomantong.

1-DSC09711-001

Meeting the colony of bats side on, the Bat Hawk is built for the kill.

The resident Bat Hawks and the Rufous-bellied Eagles have been spending the day resting up for this moment. It is a buffet not to be missed. The larger Wallace’s Hawk Eagles and smaller Peregrine Falcons will wait nearby for their turn as there is no need to rush and fight for such an abundance of food.

1-DSC09911

Cropped photo of about 300 bats in a single frame.

The Bat Hawks are specialised bat predators. With folded wings they will slice into the colony of bats, twist their bodies upright, push their talons up front and try to snatch at any of the bats that come close to it. Once in a while it will miss catching one or the bat somehow managed to wriggle out of its grasp. But it will be a matter of time before the Bat Hawk gets its talon on one. It will tear and eat it on the wing to save the trouble to coming back for another.

1-DSC09505

The Bat Hawk locking on to a bat with its talons by twisting its body backwards.

The Rufous-bellied Eagle is less agile. It will have to fly into the cloud of bats several times before getting hold of one. The smaller Peregrine Falcons are known for their speed and they use it to good effect. They will thermal higher up above the colony of bats and then dive down for the kill. Their success rate is almost 100%.

1-DSC09810

The adult Rufous-bellied Eagle had to make several dives before catching one.

On the day of observation, the Wallace’s Hawk Eagle was the less interested and did not join in the killing frenzy. It perched nearby watching the spectacle even as the bats were flying directly overhead. Maybe it had its fill or was just waiting for its favourite species to appear.

1-DSC09994

The Wallace’s Hawk Eagle perch just below the colony of bats waiting for the right time to hunt.

I was ecstatic to be able to witness and capture this life and death drama, mother nature’s wonder, over the killing skies of Gomantong.

Reference: John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo.

Balang Revisited

The Birds of Sungei Balang.

The rice fields of Sungei Balang, a short drive north of Batu Pahat, had to be the richest waterbird site in Johor. It is also the foraging site for the main flock of the Lesser Adjutants and the wintering grounds for migrant raptors and shorebirds.

1-DSC09732

The monsoon rains have arrived. Time for a new crop of rice. Rich foraging grounds for the White-breasted Waterhen and the Wood Sandpiper.

 

1-DSC08628

We counted over 60 Lesser Adjutants that day. There were over 200 Asian Openbills thermalling over Balang this morning.

1-DSC08518

The daily buffet provided by the plowing of the rice fields attracted a one day Woolly-necked Stork, a second for Malaysia, to Balang.  We missed it by a few days. 

Sand Martin

A few Sand Martins ( above) together with Barn and Red-rumped Swallows hawked for insects flushed up by the plowing.

1-DSC09501-001

Not giving each other an inch of space as they fly towards the plowed field for their feast.

1-DSC09316

Marsh Sandpipers are well adapted to feed at freshwater rice fields besides mud flats.

1-DSC08841-001

But the Little Ringed Plover in breeding plumage prefers to forage at freshwater habitats.

1-DSC08440

A Greater Spotted Eagle was wintering there the week before. But only this juvenile Black Kite and a male Eastern Marsh Harrier were around.  A Booted Eagle was photographed wintering there this week.

1-DSC09762-001

Tick-tock, tick-tock, the tail of the skink swinging from end to end as it was being eaten alive by the Black-winged Kite, the most common resident raptor here.

1-DSC09120

Common Moorhen with juvenile given the zoom in treatment for effect.

1-DSC09289

This wintering Black Drongo has a rather stubby short bill, so how is it going to catch insects with it?

1-DSC08776

With hundreds of dragonflies around this Blue-tailed Bee-eater saved time hunting by snapping up two at one go. 

1-DSC08696

No stones around for this Stejneger’s Stonechat so a mud mount will do.

1-DSC09688

This is the closest we got to a Citrine Wagtail. The white supercilium did not curved down enough to form a half circle behind the ear. Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

1-DSC09720-001

Sometimes lup sup birds like these Scaly-breasted Munias are worth shooting. There were flocks of White and Black-headed Munias around as well.

1-DSC09614-001

The star bird of the trip is this rare Small Pratincole pointed to us by Chris Gibbins. The site fidelity of this pratincole is truly amazing.

I wished to thank Kim Keang and Veronica for arranging this trip and doing all the driving.

 

A Hattrick of Phalaropes.

The Red-necked Phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus, is a long distance migratory wader that breeds in the Arctic Tundra and spend their winters on the tropical waters off Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Borneo. The females are more brightly colored than the males and takes no part in raising its young, a reversal to the norm.

1-DSC09267

Part of the main flock of 11 Red-necked Phalaropes that spend their winter at sea.

It is an accident visitor to Singapore with a winter bird seen at the Tuas flooded grasslands from 16-25 November 1994. This was my only national first record.

We have to wait for another seventeen years before another was seen foraging in the Straits of Singapore on 17 April 2011 during a NSS Pelagic Survey. Coincidentally I was on board on this trip.

1-DSC09060

The lobed toes of the right feet that helps them to paddle themselves on water can be seen in this photo.

 

On 8 October 2016, Frankie Cheong photographed a moulting juvenile to winter plumage at a freshwater puddle at the reclaimed land at Pulau Tekong, our second land record.

1-DSC09250

In flight the upper white wing bar stands out.

Last Saturday 28 September 2019, we came across a floating flock of 14 juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes again at the Straits of Singapore, north of Batam.  My hattrick! This is the first multiple sighting of this vagrant.

They were busy feeding among the floating sea grasses, paddling around in small circles with their lobed feet. This unique habit helps to stir up the marine invertebrates up to the center for easy pickings.

1-DSC08870

Our first multiple sightings as all the past three were single birds.

With this record and hopefully more in the years to come, we may be able to reclassified their status from vagrant to a rare winter visitor.

Reference: Wild Bird Society of Japan. A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia.                    Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of Taiwan Endemics. Yilan to Lalashan.

Our decision to fly to Taiwan and look for the endemic birds in late June was inspired by Ping Ling’s recent birding weekend to Daxueshan. She even introduced us to Liao Mei-Feng, one of the top bird guides in Taiwan. I swear she knew the calls of just about every resident species in Taiwan. She picked us up at the Taoyuan Airport in her Honda CRV and we spent the next nine days driving up and down the central lowlands and mountains in search of the 28 endemic birds that lived here.

1-DSC04750 A number of small resorts and homestays at Baling town provide accommodation for tourists to Lalashan. They are fully booked during the cherry blossoms season in February, a good time to photograph birds with a backdrop of the pink flowers.

By the time she dropped us off at the airport we had seen 27 endemic species and I managed to photograph 24 of them, more than what I had hope for. We would have got the easy Chestnut-bellied Tit at Basianshan on the last day if not for the rain. But on the whole it was a super trip. For sure it will not be possible without her local knowledge, experience and skill. A big thank you to Mei-Feng for her tenacity and be at the right place at the time. It was almost like she had pre-arranged with the pheasants and partridges to come out to meet us.

Yellow Tit

Tits are very curious birds. They can be easily attracted by the calls of the Collared Owlet. An uncommon endemic, they can be found in mixed montane forests. One of the earlier endemics that we ticked off.

1-64874453_477701059645229_5449028667747336192_n

Photo opportunity are around every corner and turn along the twisting mountain roads. Photo: Liao Mei-Feng.

After the side trip to Yilan for the Fairy Pitta, we made our way to Lalashan Nature Reserve, the home of the ancient sacred trees. I have birded here on my own before but it is so different with someone who knows the place well.

1-DSC04392

The lush green valley inside the Lalashan Reserve, with a giant Redwood Cypress tree in the distance.

This is where we got the rare endemic Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush, Ianthocincla ruficeps, thanks to the alertness of my wife. Mei-Feng was over the moon as she did not expect to find this laughingthrush here. Just as well as we did not get to see them again during the trip.

Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush

We stayed in a small family guest house that overlooks the Baling Valley.  A bubbly lady ran the place and is known for her vinegar fruit drinks. We don’t have a choice of what to have for dinner. Her husband insisted that we must have their popular deep herb infused fried chicken. Who are we to refuse? It was very flavourful but I would prefer it to be a little less well done.

1-20190618_090435-001

Flocks of Yuhinas and Tits visit the trees in front of the balcony of our guesthouse in the morning. We enjoyed staying in this cosy and friendly place.

Taiwan Yuhinia

Taiwan Yuhina, a common endemic, comes in flocks and sometimes as part of a bird wave.

1-DSC04199

A very attractive Black-throated Tit is another common resident of the mixed mid level forests. 

1-DSC04079

Wild lilies and orchids add colour to the dense and dark forest.

Wild Orchid

65015633_588356488238942_8840101400311496704_n

One of the 22 giant Redwood Cypress that the reserve is famous for. Most are over 2,000 years old existed before Christ. Photo: Liao Mei-Feng.

 

Rusty Laughingthrush.

The Rusty Laughingthrush move in family groups foraging among the undergrowth. A common endemic, that have lost fear for humans, often coming close to path in the reserve.

Rusty Laughingthrush Juv

A newly fledged Rusty Laughingthrush waiting for the parents to bring back food.

White-tailed Robin

White-tailed Robins are common in the mossy forests. The subspecies in Taiwan is the montium. Residents of Indian Subcontinent and China and uncommon resident in highlands of Thailand and Malaysia. 

Lalashan in Fuxing District is a mere two hours drive from the airport. Many of the resorts at Baling Town can arrange pickup from the airport.

Reference: Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia

Mu-Chi Hsiao. A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan.

 

 

Nesting Fairy Pittas in Taiwan

When I contacted Liao Mei-feng to arrange our birding trip to Taiwan to see the endemic birds in the Central Mountains, I was curious as to why she included a night stay at Yilan in the north. Apparently a pair of Fairy Pittas, Pitta nympha, have returned to a small park near Sanxing to nest. This was their third year back to the site. It seems that the recent two nestings had failed and the pair was determined to try for another brood. This was good news for us.

20190617_084425

The foraging area is just next to the path. Their nest is somewhere up in the slopes in the dark thick forest on the right.

The drive from the airport on the expressway took us about two hours. We reached the site in the late afternoon and the birders there told us that the pittas came out twice this morning. They were there photographing the nesting of a pair of Taiwan Barbets. We waited till dusk without success and went to check in a local hotel at Yilan City.

1-DSC03802

The moss covered fence gave this shot some greenery.

We made the right decision to go back to the park early next morning to try again. Normally the place will be packed with photographers but this being a Monday there was only one other birder there. He had good news for us. One of the pittas came out to the path earlier.

64313224_2534862693192659_4292461835417812992_o

Liao Mei-feng’s photo showing the pair of Fairy Pittas out foraging among the dead leaves.

We sat down and waited away from the site which cordoned off by the park staff. We did not have to wait too long. The first pitta flew in from the gully on the left and perched on the moss covered railings by the path. It was followed by its mate. Both then hopped down to the ground and started to forage for food. The Fairy Pittas look very similar to the Blue-winged Pitta. The Fairy Pitta is smaller. It has a whitish breast and belly and smaller blue wing patch. In flight the white wing patch is also much smaller. 

4-DSC03882

Looks like a Blue-winged Pitta if not for a whitish breast and belly.

We were elated. The last time I had a glimpse of this pitta flying out of its nest was in Dongzhai in June 2016 after waiting for hours. This is the first time I get to photograph them up close. It seems that they got use to the park visitors there and were not skittish in the presence of photographers as long as we do not make any sudden movements and get too near to them.

Fairy Pitta

In the days that follow, we learned from friends that they were brooding a third batch. We hope that this will be successful just like the ones at another site further south where photos of a pair with four chicks were attracting hordes of photographers. They also breed in SE China, Korea, South Japan and winters in Borneo.

A big thank you to Mei-feng for taking us there to see and photograph my last remaining pitta in the super group of Indian, Blue-winged and Mangrove Pittas.

Reference: Mu-Chi Hsiao and Cheng-Lin Li.  A field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan. Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. 

 

 

Wild Sandakan-Sharks, Rays and Conch.

I always visit fish markets in places I travel to if I can find the time. You get an education on the variety of marine life and the life of the people there.  The Sandakan Central Market is right in the middle of the town a few minutes walk from the Four Points Hotel. It also is next to the sea with a wharf for fishing boats to berth. Fishing boats unload their catches here directly to the stalls a few meters away. You cannot get fresher seafood than this.

Besides the usual groupers, snappers, lobsters and all sizes of prawn, I found a variety of lesser seen seafood like rays, sharks and shellfishes here. This is the best way to find out the kind of marine life off the coast of this part of Borneo. 13-20190302_083750

The fish section of the Central Market faces the sea with a wharf for the fishing boats.

10-20190302_083352

Fishing boats unload their catches directly to the wharf next to the market.

06-20190302_08311312-20190302_083642

Enterprising owners setting up makeshift stalls by the wharf to auction their crabs and prawns to wholesalers.

11-20190302_083430

Tying up and sorting swimmer or flower crabs.

09-20190302_083226

A mix of baby sharks with no chance of growing up. The top ones maybe Grey Reef Sharks.

08-20190302_083205

Conches big and small. Must be delicacy here. Anyone knows the name of these conches?

07-20190302_083152

Spotted Eagle Ray.

04-20190302_083022

Cutting up another spotted ray for the restaurants.

05-20190302_083049

The sad looking underside face of a ray.

02-20190302_082841

Bonitos, a ray-finned predatory fish in the same family as the Mackerel and Tuna. Not a prized fish here.

Many thanks to Stephen Beng for identifying these sea creatures.