Here we go again….

I ended with 209 species for the Big Year 2016 way below Lim Kim Keang’s winning total of 251. That’s fine as I was targeting 200 for the year. Thank you all for the alerts and help. You know who you are.

I decided to continue with BY 2017 partly because of the few rare species that was seen at Ubin on the second day. I needed the motivation to get off my butt to chase the goodies that will surely come around this year. And of course for the fun of the chase.

I have yet to hit the century this year while the leading pack are already in their 150 plus. But that’s ok, they are more hardworking. Good for them.                                                          Here are some of the characters I met in the first six weeks of the New Year.

MIP at Ubin

Mountain Imperial Pigeon. A SG lifer thanks to Kim Seng for finding it on Ubin on New Year’s Eve. Only our third record partly as this montane species is a resident at Fraser’s Hill. Three Pied Imperial Pigeons were seen flying over Chek Java on the 2nd morning and we also had reports of the Green Imperial Pigeons foraging in Changi Business Park as well. Three imperials at one corner of Singapore at the same time. Not bad!

Cinnamon Headed Pigeon at Ubin

Loke Peng Fai found a different looking pigeon near Ketam Quarry on the first day. It turned out to be a young Cinnamon-headed Pigeon. The next day when we descended to look for it, there were twelve of them on the same tree. Unbelievable! Where did they come from? The female with two males behind.

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I cannot resist going down to the Rain Forest of the Botanic Gardens to nail down these two gems that took up winter residence there. The bonus was a released Silver Pheasant and later on a Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. The nesting Black Cobra under the log was more effective in keeping us back than the notice out up by Nparks.

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Another easy tick was this young Jambu Fruit Dove feeding at Chinese Gardens. The trees were short and the berries were low hanging which means eye level shots. Can’t asked for more.

VonSchrenck's at SBTB
Went down to Satay by the Bay to look for the returning Black Bittern but instead found this confining adult VonSchrenck’s Bittern behind the undergrowth. This is new for the Gardens.

 

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This juvenile Yellow Bittern definitely agrees with the saying ” No fish got prawns also can”. At the Chinese Gardens.

Oriental Scops Owl at DFNP Grey Morph.
Only the grey morph Oriental Scops Owl was still around Dairy Farm this week. Could this means that the two met here? This shot was taken on 10 Feb. Last seen on 12th.

 

Blue and White Flycatcher at DFNP
Only a poor record shot of the Blue and White Flycatcher at DFNP. Good thing Francis Yap and Con Foley were able to get great frontal shot of this adult flycatcher to confirm its ID. The small white side of the tail seen in this shot is one of the features for id.

 

Eastern Crowned Warbler at DFNP
Thanks to Kok Hui for this record shot of the Eastern Crowned Warbler at DFNP. It was very vocal and its sub song and yellowish undertail gave away its id. Time to check on the Sakhalin Warbler.

I was too lazy to drive to Bedok for the Crested Goshawk since I had some good photos of them from Bishan Park some years back. Same with the Green Imperial Pigeons at Changi Business Park. The snipe and the Grey Nightjar at Chinese Gardens left by the time I got around to visit. I have yet to visit Kranji Marshes and CCNR this year and will have to find an excuse to get my butt there… one of these days.

 

The Orang Laut of Danga Bay

The original Orang Laut of Johor was said to have come from Singapore. Known as Orang Asli Seletar they settled in around Kampong Sungei Melayu and Sungei Temon of Southern Johor to escape the malaria infested Pulau Seletar many generations ago.

They are now facing an uncertain future as the mangrove forests surrounding their village is being reclaimed for high rise condominiums of the Waterfront City and the Danga Bay complex. 

They now irked out a living tendering their mussel farms at the bay as the fishing along the Straits of Johor is impacted by the reclamation to build Forest City, another mega residential development near the second link.  ( Source: Leong Kwok Peng)

During a recent jointed NSS and MNS Johor recce trip to explore the mangrove forests at Southern Johor, we get to meet the families and watch their way of life. Here are some images of these forgotten group sidelined by progress and the march of time.

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The mussel farm with the Kampong Melayu village in the background. Lesser Sand Plovers used the floating drums as high tide roost.

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Scrapping green mussels from the barrel. This is the main source of income of the Orang Asli at Kampong Melayu.
Orang Asli women cleaning mussels.
Hard at work cleaning green mussels under the hot sun, this Orang Asli women still has a smile for us. 
The Orang Asli Village directly linked to the jetty.
The Orang Asli Village is built right next to the jetty. 

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The children are still not used to strangers to their village.

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He is only four and is already helping his dad out on the boat with us. What will his future be like?

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Helping us to take a group photo on the reclaimed land, these Orang Asli men must find ways to secure the future for the next generation.

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The kampong gathering place for the Orang Aslis living at this village. Vincent Chow (right) in long sleeves, the Chairman of MNS Johor is helping these Orang Asli fight for their ancestral home and land.

The NSS Bird Group wish to thank Vincent Chow and Simon Siow of MNS Johor for organising and hosting this trip for us and their first class hospitality. 

Danum Valley Adventures. Part 2 (Birds).

In the four days of birding at Danum Valley, we seen and heard a total of 111 species, including six Borneo endemics collectively. This is slightly more than one third of the 300 species recorded here. I was happy with my eight lifers but disappointed that we dipped on our No 1 target Giant Pitta. It, the Fairy Pitta and the Borneo Banded Pitta were heard calling at several places but just refused to show. Baiting is not allowed in Danum Valley.

Blue-headed Pitta

We actually had a great start when we got the endemic Blue-headed Pitta, a male at that, on the very first morning. This was after exhausting trek in humid conditions and leech infested trails. I think this has to be one of the most beautiful pittas around. As with most pittas in the lowland rain forests, it is difficult to get good views through the dense undergrowth. So I am happy with this blurred record shot. This sighting went some way to compensate for missing out on the Giant.

 

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Ju Lin was the only one who had good views of this Black and Crimson Pitta in the day. The rest of us had to wait for the night walk. The local guide found it sleeping on a thin branch by the side of the trail just above our heads. Without eyelids they sleep with their eyes open. The light did not seem to bother them at all. Seeing a pitta in the wild within touching distance was unreal. We saw another one on the way back. If only it was a Giant.

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This sleeping Scarlet-rumped Trogon (right) did not want to be disturbed at all. Looks like a headless trogon with its head buried in its body

Diard's TrogonThis female Diard’s Trogon (above) was very cooperative but refused to turn around for a front view. On other days we would have been excited to see a trogon in the forest, but this sighting was more of a distraction for us.

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Night walks would not be complete with seeing the nocturnal birds. Andrew heard the call of the Gould’s Frogmouth and we all cupped our ears trying to pinpoint its location . We swept our lights across the trees and branches in the direction of the calls. But it was like looking for a ghost. Our guide had the sense to scramble down a slope. He found it sitting nicely on a open vine. We were super excited and gave out a collective sigh of relief. Another lifer down for me. One the way out, the guide showed us the resident Brown Wood Owl, sitting smugly on its favorite perch. This was not expected but most welcome sighting. What a great end to a night’s work.

Crested Fireback

 

We got this Crested Fireback during a night drive. This male roost high up in the tree canopy with its mate nearby. This is the North Borneo race nobilis, where the male has a deep maroon belly. The rufa race has a dark blue underpart and can be found in Sumatra, South Tenasserim, Thailand and East Malaysia. I wish I can see it in its full splendor in the day.

 

Boreon Bristlehead

 

Every birder’s dream bird when birding in the Borneo Rain Forest had to be this rare endemic Borneo Bristlehead. I missed this at Tabin few years back. So when Andrew heard the call and whispered “Bristlehead” we were all transfixed. He found it high up in the canopy.  The sight of its flaming head was enough fir us to jump for joy. A lousy record shot is better than no shots. A mega lifer for me. Now I can afford to wait for a better eye level view some day.

pa211116The Striped Wren Babbler is a real skulker in thick undergrowth and palm thickets. I was lucky to find this “window” for a clear shot. Surprisingly it perched there for some time singing away instead of its usual behavior of moving around non stop. Earlier we ticked the rarer endemic Black-throated Babbler, a super lifer for all of us. Unfortunately, no shots.

Chestnut-necklaced Partridge through the undergrowth.
Chestnut-necklaced Partridge through the undergrowth.

Partridges is another family of birds that are notoriously hard to see in the thick forest floor. They are very shy and confining. The Chestnut-necklaced Partridge was one of our target birds. Andrew recognized it’s melodious clear whistle and tracked it as it moved across the forest floor. We were really happy for some open but brief views when it crossed the trail. Most times, we were lucky for partial views like this photo. On Borneo it is restricted to Sabah and locally common. This was also a lifer for all of us.

 

 

 

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These two song birds have evolved in North Borneo. The Magpie Robin (left) has a all black belly. This sub species pluto  is found in E. Java and N and E Borneo. But it has yet to be split unlike the White-browed Shama (right). The White-Browed is endemic to NE Borneo. Except for the white brow it looks like the White-rumped Shama and even sings like it. This particular shama can be found every morning around the field center and easy to shoot.

Our thanks to Andrew Siani for getting these endemics and lifers for us.

Reference:

John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali. Oxford Press 1993.  

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000. 

Danum Valley Adventures-in Search of the Giant. 17th October 2016.

We booked our trip to the Danum Valley Conservation Area a year ago right after Tai Ping Ling’s successful hunt for the Giant Pitta in October 2015. The DV Field Center is a two hours drive from Lahad Datu, the nearest town. As there are no direct flights from Singapore to Lahad Datu, we had to stop over at Kota Kinabalu for a night.

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All smiles at the start of the Borneo adventures. At Kota Kinabalu airport about to board the MAS Wings turboprop plane for the 55 minutes hop to Lahad Datu. Alan OwYong, Goh Yue Yun, Alfred Chia and Tan Julin. 

Cropped Forest outside Danum

The logged forest buffering the Danum Valley Conservation Area. 

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The 438 sq km conservation area was suggested by the WWF Malaysia in 1976 . Yayasan Sabah Foundation agreed to conserve it as National Park in 1980. The DV Field Center is on the fringe of the area. Further in is the more luxurious and expensive Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

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A herd of over 20 Borneo Pygmy Elephants blocked our way to the field center. A great start to our trip. We did not see any elephants inside the conservation area during the whole of our stay. 

Danum Field Center from the air

The Field Center where we stayed. Food was as good as can be expected in such a remote place. The rooms are clean and comfortable at night even without aircon. Power cut off at midnight so charging of batteries had to be done early.

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The viewing veranda and dinning area at the field center. A great place to watch wildlife coming through. This is where I photographed the endemic Bornean Gibbon and child swinging by. Free wifi available but too low for surfing. Signals for mobile phone is sporadic at best.  

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Leech socks are a must but they will not prevent leeches from getting in. I got beaten behind my head and under my armpits, Alfred in his nipples and the rest at more respectable parts of the body. 

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The Segama River and the surrounding the dipterocarp pristine forests in front of the Field Center.

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Andrew Siani our guide for the trip about to cross over to the Waterfall trail to look for our pittas on the first morning. Everyone was looking clean, fresh and full of expectations.

 

Rare Pink Katydid at Danum Valley.

We heard the call of the Giant Pitta at a hillside ridge after hiking for 2 hours. This was our target for the visit to Danum Valley, Borneo last October. Unfortunately it refused to show despite waiting for hours. To pass time we went looking for other creatures on the forest floor. This very rare Pink Katydid was right in front of our noses and we almost missed it. Another gem in the Borneo Rain Forest. It did not take away the disappointment of dipping on the pitta but it helped.

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This was taken with my Samsung handphone. This Kadydid will not move one feeler to try and pretend to be a young leave.

Despite its color it did not stand out in the forest as it managed to find some young pink leaves to blend in. It just pretended to look like a new shoot. We could get very close to it and it will not move a single part of its body. This is part of its survival strategy. The more common green Katydid does not have this problem to hide from its predators.

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It managed to find this plant with young pinkish leaves to blend in as much as possible.

So why does a Katydid want to turn pink in a green forest? Apparently it has no choice. The genetics will supply this reddish pigment to one in five hundred kadydids as a quirk of nature due to a condition known as erythrism. It also give them the instinct on how to survive.

 

First Look at the new Leica Noctivid Binoculars.

I have been using my old faithful Leica 10×42 BN binoculars for more than 25 years and have resisted retiring it. When I heard that Leica is bringing out a new binocular this October I was anxious to get my hands on one to try it out.

I was delighted when Leica Camera Asia Pacific offered to loan the Noctivid 10×42 to me to test it out during the Raptor Watch on 6th November. It has a simple slim design, very compact and comfortable to hold. At 860 grams, it does not have the heavy feel.

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The slim compact design of the new Leica Noctivid 10×42

The first thing I noticed is the larger eye piece compared to my old pair. At 19 mm it provides a better eye relief for a comfortable viewing. However there was some vignetting even at the full extension of the eye cups. Which means that I cannot rest the eye cups on my eyes for viewing. A longer extension should solve this problem.

 

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The larger exit pupil lens of the Noctivid at the bottom compared with the older model.

It was overcast for most of the day over at Telok Blangah Hill and not many raptors were migrating. In spite of the less ideal conditions, all the members who tried it were impressed with the optics. The color rendition was good without much loss. I can make out the different shades of black of the plumage of Aerodramus Swiftlets, Swallows and a Glossy Swiftlet flying around. Light transmission was high due in parts to the special glass of the prism and non reflective coatings on the lenses. This was obvious when I use to look through the darker parts of the woods. Compared to my old pair the Noctivid is definitely brighter. Later in the afternoon, the sun came out long enough for me to check its true performance. It wasn’t glaring, still comfortable and vivid, just what you would expect from a high end binoculars. Close focusing up to 2 meters was sharp, another great improvement found in many of today’s optics.

My thanks to Leica Camera Asia Pacific for the loan of the Noctivid. Now all I need is a good excuse to ditch my old pair.

More information at https://sg.leica-camera.com/Sport-Optics/Leica-Birding/Binoculars/Leica-Noctivid.

 

Painted Wing Lifers

Thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Lena Chow and a few others, I now pay great attention to the butterflies I see along the way when I am out birding. Some days birding can be slow so there is no harm in looking down instead of up for these painted wings zipping around or resting under the leaves.  Adding birds to my national list of 335 is getting tough, but there are still hundred plus new butterflies that I have not seen in Singapore.

It helped that my micro four thirds Olympus OM-D set up with 70-300 mm birding lens allows me to get some decent shots of these creatures without having to change to a marco lens. Of course the results are not that spectacular but good enough for posting.

Some of the butterflies that I photographed last months include two lifers to kept the excitement going during these outings.

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This Malayan Sunbeam at Bukit Batok NP was so engrossed with licking on the surface of the Simpong Ayer leaf, that it did not move at all. Obviously it did not get its name from the pale underside but rather from the bright orange of the upperside. The other sunbeam is the Sumatran found mostly around the mangroves.

Psyche at DFNP
The dainty Psyche was flying just above the grasses while I was trying to shoot the Crimson Sunbird at the Helliconia patch at Dairy Farm Nature Park. A forest edge butterfly , both sexes look alike.

 

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We were at Dairy Farm Nature Park to shoot the Jambu Fruit Dove that was feeding on the False Curry Leaf Tree when this colorful day moth Dysphania subrepleta was struggling to fly. It may have just eclosed and needed some time before flying away to the safety of the greenery.

Common Five Rings
The Lord of the Rings, the Common Five Rings is the rarest of the Rings. Found in the same localities with the three and Four Rings. It is hard to separate from the other Rings in the field, so I was told to just photographed them. This was taken at Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. A week later I had another one at the car park at Hort Park.

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The Centuar Oakblue is another lifer from Bidadari. I was there to check out the returning migrants and saw it flitting around a low bush. It is the biggest of the oakblues but easy to miss.

Reference: Gan Cheong Weei and Simon Chan Kee Mun. A pocket Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2007.  Steven Neo Say  Hian. A Guide to Common Butterflies of Singapore. Singapore Science Center. 1996