Sunday 26 August 2012

Beachy Head (26-27 August 2012)

Sunday 26 August 2012.  I met John King at Birling at 06:25 and we covered most of the areas on the head seeing 3 Sparrowhawks, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Sand Martin, 15 Swallows, 18 Yellow Wagtails (8 in Birling cow field and 10W), 3 Redstarts, 4 Whinchats, 16 Wheatears, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, single Reed & Sedge Warblers, 27 Whitethroats, 20 Willow Warblers (including one acredula type), 3 Spotted Flycatchers and 2 Ravens.  

Redstart in the Old Trapping Area - two were seen here as well as a male in the rides above Whitbread Hollow

Male Wheatear above Belle Tout Wood, at least 15 were present in this area

Monday 27 August 2012.  06:30-14.30 at Beachy Head.  Pleasant walking around mostly in company of John King & Simon Linington but birds took some digging out although after a black year in 2011 a Pied Flycatcher in Shooter's Bottom made it worthwhile. Without going into Whitbread Hollow or Cow Gap (both rather exposed in a stiff southerly wind) I saw a Sparrowhawk, 3+ Peregrines (2 chasing a Greenshank below the cliff edge - Peregrines need to eat but we hope it got away), 6 Swifts, 140 Sand Martins, 15 Swallows, 2 Tree Pipits,  54 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Redstarts, 5 Whinchats, 15 Stonechats, 9 Wheatears, Lesser Whitethroat, 28 Whitethroats, 2 Blackcaps, 9 Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Pied Flycatcher, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Ravens and a Crossbill.  About 50 Gannets were seen from occasional glances out to sea but when JK & I heard of an impressive passage past Dungeness we tried a short seawatch from Birling but only saw 6 Sandwich and 4 Common Terns.

I called in at Arlington on the way home but had my usual unproductive visit - no Osprey, no terns, single Ringed Plover, Dunlin & Common Sandpiper, 4 Sand Martins and 2 Swallows.  I then tried the Adur as the tide was still low seeing 25 Ringed Plover, single Dunlin & Common Sandpiper and 4 Sandwich Terns but no colour-rings amongst the few gulls.  Finally half an hour up on Mill Hill hoping an Osprey might fly past - one didn't - produced 5 Swallows.

Sandwich Terns on the Adur
first winter Lesser Black-backed Gull on the Adur

Shoreham & Southwick (14-25 August)

14 August.  Single Ring-necked Parakeet over M25, Sparrowhawk over Crown Road but all the Swifts have gone.
15 August.  Peregrine on Southwick Power Station chimney but the Ringed Plovers are no longer on the beach.
17 August.   Four Common Sandpipers on the Adur.
18 August.   One Common Sandpiper and 2 Swallows on the Adur.
19 August.  30 Turnstone roosting on a boat on the Adur at high tide.
20 August.  Willow Warbler & Hedgehog in our garden.
21-24 August.  Peregrine on Southwick Power Station chimney
23 August.  Arctic Tern, Common Tern and 3 Sandwich Terns in Shoreham Harbour and a Sparrowhawk on the beach.
24 August.  a small bat on the wall by the cycle lane between Hove Lagoon & King Alfred.
25 August.  Widewater 06:30-07:30 strong WSW, showers: Gannet 3E:62W, Common Scoter 2W, Sandwich Tern 13E:6W & Common Tern 1W.

soon to be replaced Shoreham footbridge 

Monday 13 August 2012

BORNEO August 2012: Rafflesia Centre, Sabah

13 August.  Our final morning in Sabah was restricted to a couple of hours birding along the road by the Rafflesia Information Centre in the Crocker Range before returning to Kota Kinabalu for our flight home.  Our afternoon visit (on 6th) hadn't been particularly productive and we were not too optimistic we'd do any better this time especially as it was rather a dull morning and I was feeling rather lethargic after the exertions of the Mesilau Trail!  We heard Crimson-headed Partridge and Mountain and Bornean Barbets, the latter for the third time on the trip - somewhat frustrating as it would have been new for me.  We did see 4 Bornean Bulbuls which were rather more impressive than anticipated and the more usual Black & Crimson Oriole, Sunda and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes and Chestnut-crested Yuhina. 

We found the trip harder than expected (although I have memories of our visit in 1987 being hard too), in fact one of the hardest destinations I've been to.  We considered that July-August is not the best time of year to go to Borneo, although as in 1987 it was the only time Nick could be away for more than two weeks.  The exceptional dryness probably meant that 2012 wasn't a good year to go but we weren't to know that when booking the trip back in January.  Given the circumstances we considered the trip had been successful (Yeo finding us Blue-banded Pitta on day one almost guaranteed that!) although Bornean Ground Cuckoo and Hose's Broadbill were major misses.  I saw nine new birds, including four of my six targets (Blue-banded & Bornean Banded Pittas, Bornean Bristlehead and Everett's Thrush).  Nick saw six new birds and, having seen the Banded Pitta and Bristlehead before, two of his four targets.

Blue-banded Pitta at Kubah (Yeo Siew Teck 24 July 2012) 
possibly my favourite field guide cover

Sunday 12 August 2012

BORNEO August 2012: Mount Kinabalu

In August 1987 Nick Preston & I spent 10 days birding at Mount Kinabalu.  I found that visit hard work, not helped by it being quite wet, not least on our first afternoon when Nick saw a Whitehead's Broadbill which was obscured for me by his seemingly enormous umbrella!  It took me took me eight days of searching to eventually see one, Nick having managed a second a day or two earlier.  During this time we saw most of the Kinabalu specialities, some several times, with our main gaps being the rarely seen Mountain Serpent Eagle and Everett's Thrush.  We spent the night in a mountain hut for the higher altitude species (and to give me a break from looking for the broadbill) although I had untickable views of the not-so Friendly Warbler.  Nick had no better luck with them in 2002 so although we were keen to see as much as possible, and some of the birds there were really stunning, it was these misses we would concentrate on during our return.  

10-12 August 2012.  With the Bristlehead saga at Sepilok taking up much of our last week we knew we'd be fortunate to get much out of Kinabalu in our remaining two and a half days.  After leaving Sepilok we drove straight to Mount Kinabalu National Park, checking into the reasonably priced Mountain View Guest House about 500m before the entrance at about 1pm for a two night stay.  

Our first afternoon was spent on the Bukit Ular trail, the traditional best area for seeing Everett's Thrush, and the road before the Timpohon Gate.  Light rain and low cloud hampered birding somewhat although cleared in time for us to see a pair of Whitehead's Trognos in perfect light, magic!  On our second day we started again at Bukit Ular, getting on the trail before dawn, we then walked down the Mempening trail and back up Silau-Silau before doing the Bukit Ular trail again although by then the afternoon rain had become rather more persistent.  

On our final day, and acting on information from a local birdguide we'd met the previous day, we drove to the Mesilau Resort and walked the restaurant loop soon after dawn - another Everett's Thrush site where we drew a blank.  We then decided to go up the Mesilau Trail thinking it would be an easier way to get into Friendly Warbler habitat than the main trail up from the Timpohon Gate - after all it started at 2000m rather than 1866m and reached Layang-Layang at 2700m (and above the lower limit of Friendly Warbler range) after 5.7kms rather than 4.5km so it should have involved less climbing over a longer distance?  We got permits to go through the Mesilau Gate an hour before it officially opened at 8am and set off.  The Mesilau Trail immediately climbed steeply to an excellent ridge (where we saw a suberb pair of Fruithunters) and then dropped and dropped, to a small stream about 2.5kms out where a pair of Everett's Thrushes were seen well, the male singing continually for 20 minutes.  The trail then dropped further before finally crossing a river and starting to climb very steeply.  So much for the hope if it being an easier route.  By now it was a question of going on or writing off any chance of the Friendly Warbler.  We chose to continue with the hope that we'd quickly see the warbler and return.  This was not to be, not helped by the first bird we heard being too distant to get close to.  By now we were still climbing steeply but considered it was easier to continue to Layang-Layang and take the main trail down to the Timpohon Gate than it would be to return to Mesilau as that would involve the long steep climb up from the river before dropping down from the ridge.  The only slight problem with Plan B was that we'd then need to get a taxi the 15km from the Park HQ to the Mesilau Resort where we'd left the car, and at current rate of progress we might not make it to the HQ much before 6pm by which time taxis might be in short supply.  About 5kms out from Mesilau Nick heard a Friendly Warbler fairly close to the path.  It was responsive, probably having being untroubled by birders, and gave excellent views.  We continued to Layang-Layang from where it was pretty much downhill all the way to Timpohon Gate where we arrived at about 4.45pm.  There was no shuttle-transport waiting so we continued walking to the HQ, arriving at about 5.45pm.  We quickly got a taxi to the Mesilau Restort, somewhat tired but satisfied with a very successful day.  It was then a 2.5 hour drive to the Gunung Alab Resort for our last evening and a final few hours in the Crocker Range before heading for the airport.

Birds seen at Kinabalu during 10-12 August included Red-breasted Partridge (4 on Bukit Ular trail), Crimson-headed Partridge (unfortunately only heard), Little Cuckoo Dove, Whitehead's Trogon (an excellent pair in superb light on the Bukit Ular trail), Checker-throated Woodpecker, Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Bornean Whistler (lots), Blyth's Shrike-Babbler, Ashy & Hair-crested Drongos, White-throated Fantail, Bornean Green Magpie (Silau-Silau & Mesilau restaurant loop), Bornean Treepie, Pale-faced (Mesilau Trail) & Ochraceous Bulbuls, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Bornean Stubtail (Bukit Ular), Mountain Leaf & Yellow-breasted Warblers, Friendly Warbler (one heard 4.5km out and one seen 5km out on Mesilau trail), Mountain Wren-Babbler (Bukit Ular & Mempening), Sunda & Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Mountain Black-eye (Mesilau Trail), Black-capped White-eye, Bornean Whistling Thrush (several), Everett's Thrush (a pair 2.5kms out on Mesilau trail), Fruithunter (a pair 1km out on Mesilau ridge), White-browed Shortwing (Mesilau restaurant trail), Bornean Forktail (Silau-Silau), Eye-browed Jungle-Flycather (Silau-Silau & Mesilau), Snowy-browed Flycatcher (several), Yellow-breastd Flowerpecker and Temminck's Sunbird.

In 1987 we had seen Crimson-headed Partridge as well as Mountain Scops and Brown Wood Owls, Whitehead's Broadbill, Island Thrush, Temminck's Babbler, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Mountain Tailorbird, Little Pied, Pigmy Blue and Indigo Flycatchers, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Whitehead's Spiderhunter and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch.

a younger, smarter?, me at the Timpohon Gate in 1987 about to set off to one of the mountain huts.   
Nick on the way to Layang-Layang in 1987.  One of a very few occasions that I've managed a climb ahead of him!  Although only going for a night we had to carry all our gear as there was nowhere to leave it in the hostel we'd been staying in at the HQ.
view from the road-side shelter below the Bukit Ular trail
very atmospheric with the clouds coming in on our first afternoon ...
... and then almost clearing from the summit
impressive moth in the Mountain View Guest House
moss covered trunk on the Bukit Ular trail
another view with the summit almost on view, day two
male Fruithunter on the Mesilau Ridge
taken with my compact camera at the limit of its digital zoom 
a very smart bird, as was the accompanying female, and one I was very pleased to renew my acquaintance with
view from the Mesilau Ridge

one of the few sections of the trail that wasn't going up or down very steeply
panorama from the Mesilau Ridge
the summit of Kinabalu from the Mesilau Trail
soon the clouds were rolling in ...
... although thankfully we didn't get any rain on our third and final day
the Mesilau Trail in the clouds 
Kinabalu summit during a break in the clouds
pitcher plants on the Mesilau Trail
me tired but happy having just seen Friendly Warbler on the Mesilau Trail.  Still a km to Layang-Layang and 25 to our car but who cares!

Jankowski's Bunting

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or navigate to June 2010 on this blog for more photos of Jankowski's Bunting.

Friday 10 August 2012

BORNEO August 2012: Sepilok RDC

August 1987.  Sepilok had been the highlight of our trip to Borneo in 1987.  Over the course of three visits we spent the best part of 13 days birding the two main trails there at that time (Mangrove and Waterfall) . The obvious highlight was seeing Giant Pitta, still one of my top three birds, although I did not get off to a very auspicious start.  We arrived late morning of 22/7 and were given a room with a shared kitchen & bathroom in a researchers resthouse by the entrance.  There was no food available so Nick volunteered to go back into Sandakan to buy rice and sardines.  I headed straight into the forest and spent the rest of the day birding with Rufous Piculet and Diard's Trogon the not overly impressive highlights.  I returned after dark hopeful that Nick had got us some food.  He had and with an hour or so of light left wandered into the forest and within half an hour had found a male Giant Pitta on the short Nature trail by the seat.  Game, set and match Preston!

I looked for it unsuccessfully off and on for the next three days when at 8am on 26/7, halfway down the Mangrove trail, I suddenly became really tense and froze - perhaps I'd subconsciously heard something hopping off trail.  What seemed an eternity later I saw a slight movement of a large pitta shaped bird just off the path.  It seemed to take an age to raise my binoculars but there it was, an absolutely stunning male Giant Pitta!  It was some distance (1 km+?) from Nick's bird but was it the same?  Not much caring about that, I watched it for a couple of minutes before it melted into the forest.  I resisted the temptation to rush back and tell Nick and instead continued birding the Mangrove trail.  At 5.50pm on my way back I disturbed it again in almost the same spot.  Then I couldn't help rushing back and, passing the seat soon after 6pm, saw a female in the same area Nick had seen the original male!  The next morning (27/7) I saw the female again near the seat at 7am and the male at 6pm (so almost certainly 3 Giant Pittas in 2 days!).  On 28/7 I saw the male at 7am and 6pm.  We then went to Gomantong and returned on 1/8 when I saw the male near the seat at 6pm.  We then went to Mt Kinabalu but returned on 13/8 seeing two Blue-headed Pittas which had eluded us until then (a recording from Nigel Redman greatly helped).  On 14/8 it was business as usual with the Giant Pittas and I saw the female at 10.30am and from 6.05-6.15pm and the male at 6pm (the closest we got to seeing them together which made us feel they had a nest nearby and were 'working' shifts).  On 15/8 the female was near the seat at 7am and I watched the male from 6-6.15pm.  I didn't see either on 16/8 but on our last day, 17/8, the male was near the seat at 6.15am.  Magical.

Nick returned to Sepilok in 2002 but found it greatly changed with no Mangrove trail and access to the Waterfall trail restricted to 'with a guide only'.  He was very disappointed, but still saw a Giant Pitta crossing the trail!

8-10 August 2012.  Back to 2012 and we hadn't planned a return, Nick wasn't keen after his 2002 experience and I didn't want to spoil my memories from 1987 although the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) with its canopy walkway hadn't existed then so was easily regarded as a (slightly) different place.  My not seeing Bornean Bristlehead at Kinabatangan or Danum was a major disappointment and I suggested I could leave Nick at Poring while I drove to Sepilok and twitched it (Sepilok RDC apparently being the best site in Sabah).  Nick appreciated it was a major bird for me, and had first hand experience of how grumpy I was likely to be if I didn't see one(!!), so he came too to help out.  Great, but unfortunately the bristleheads didn't realise that a quick twitch was required and didn't show for the first two agonising days we spent almost entirely on the RDC canopy walkway.  Each evening we reluctantly retuned to Sandakan (a 30 minute drive) and checked back into the cheap hotel there at about 8pm, leaving at 5am the following morning to be back on the walkway before dawn.  The walkway was impressive and quite nice to bird from although it is being extended and the sound of construction works in the near distance was at times very distracting/depressing.  It was never that busy, especially not early in the morning and we saw a selection of other reasonable birds, including good numbers of Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeons which were new for Nick (I'd seen them in Sumatra before).  It was a very pleasant surprise to see Yeo Siew Teck there (of Blue-banded Pitta fame) guiding a bird photographer.  We also enjoyed the company of Amy & Cherry, birders from Hong Kong who were at Sepilok for three days before going to the Kinabatangan River with Robert Chong.  On our second afternoon two Spanish birders arrived from Danum for their second try for Bristlehead - it was clearly not as straight-forward to see at this time as we'd been led to believe..

Day 3 at Sepilok RDC dawned with Nick and me on the walkway as it was starting to get light.  As previously we based ourselves in the Trogon Tower.  The Bristlehead Tower didn't seem to be in such a good position and had rather too many illustrations of you can guess what.  Soon after the Spaniards arrived and based themselves within shouting range in the Bristlehead Tower followed by Amy & Cherry and Yeo & his photographer client who remained on the walkway.  I had wandered down to the far end of the walkway which wasn't covered by anyone when Nick shouted.  If there was a gold medal for the RDC triathlon (fastest run to the Trogon Tower, climb to the top and get onto the bristlehead) I would have won it - just in time to see the last of 4 birds stick its head out of a low tree and disappear behind the next much taller one.  Everyone else arrived soon after I did and fortunately the birds were not out of sight for more than a few minutes before reappearing and then getting successively closer.  We all relocated to the end of the walkway where we got excellent views as they worked their way through the middle canopy although my attempts at photography leave a lot to be desired!  Interestingly, given that the literature suggested they are very vocal and often first located by call, we didn't hear the Bristleheads at all.  Perhaps the exceptionally dry weather had made them more silent than usual - as it seemed to have done for a lot of species - and that might have accounted for them proving to be much harder to locate than expected.

Also from the walkway we saw Bat Hawk, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon, Long-tailed Parakeet (including a flock of 50), Raffle's, Red-billed and Black-bellied Malkohas, Bushy-crested and Black Hornbills, Orange-backed, Rufous, Buff-rumped, Buff-necked and Grey & Buff Woodpeckers (unfortunately I missed the last, best, one), Black & Yellow Broadbill, Black & Crimson Pitta (only heard by us but Yeo and the Spaniards saw one), Black Magpie (a flock of three went through quite quickly on our second morning, so near yet so far ...), Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Purple-throated & Crimson Sunbirds.

Soon after the Bristleheads had gone we left Sepilok and were very relieved to be turning left, to drive back to Mt Kinabalu for the last two and a half days of our trip, rather than right to Sandakan.
No memancing on the main lake at Sepilok RDC
The Bristlehead Tower
'if today is your lucky day ... ', it was eventually
one of many excellent photos of bristelhead that I enjoyed much more after the event than before ...
more bristleheads, although I didn't spot the typo at the time
panorama from the Trogon Tower, the bristleheads eventually appeared in about the middle of this view and worked their way left and closer
Red Giant Flying Squirrel in nestbox opposite the Trogon Tower
we watched it leave its nestbox at dusk both evenings we were at Sepilok, on the first it climbed into vegetation above as it got dark but the second it glided down about 100m  to the base of another big tree, ran up that and glided another 50m over the walkway.  Brilliant. 
Bat Hawk from the canopy walkway, photograph reproduced with kind permission of Amy Leung.  Note prominence of yellow eye
Eye-level Black & Yellow Broadbill from the Trogon Tower

Broadbills are almost as good at Pittas and this is one of the better ones
a glance at the Field Guide cover was an immediate pick-me-up when lack of bristleheads was getting to me
not all the pictures at Sepilok RDC were painful to look at.  We'd seen Black & Crimson Pitta well several times at Danum
recently considered a separate species, Bornean Banded Pitta Pitta schwaneri, is another we saw well if a little briefly at Danum
perhaps the most striking of all Borneo's pittas, Blue-headed we'd seen on our first visit to Sepilok, and again very well most days at Danum (probably involving 6 individuals)
Interesting cloud on our last evening.  Red sky at night ...
... birders delight,  and so it proved to be
my best efforts of Bornean Bristlehead, one of the group of four seen

the only occasion I really wished I'd taken my main telescope and tripod on the trip as I could doubtless have done a lot better digiscoping even though they didn't stay still for long
Bornean Bristlehead kindly provided by Yeo ( ) who did much better  than I did
Another of Yeo's shots of this rather bizarre species.  I was very glad not to be going home having missed it on both my trips to Borneo.
Eight very happy birders (including me) of four nationalities reliving the bristleheads at the end of the Sepilok RDC walkway.  Cherry  (hidden) and Amy at the back, Yeo's photographer (back on) with Yeo (hidden) and Nick reviewing his very impressive images and the two young Spanish birders (one hidden)
me in front of the Trogon Tower, smiling rather than scowling, so no prizes for guessing this is an after shot rather than before although I still look pretty disreputable I'm very happy! 
my notebook indicating daily attempts at seeing Bristlehead by successive RDC entrance stickers.  Very thankfully the room for three more was not needed!