Thursday, 18 February 2016

Another day on the hill

31 December 2015

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

We were booked into the Mutiara Resort at Taman Negara for the second leg of our Malaysia trip. However the recent heavy rain had resulted in flooding and the forecast was for more heavy rain. The floods had made the National TV news and resulted in us frustratingly having to cancel our much anticipated visit. We extended our stay at Fraser's Hill for a couple of days and booked into a beach front hotel at Port Dickson for the other two days. 

I began the morning in my now regular position beside the top gate house hoping, again in vain, for a sighting of the Whistling Thrush. I wandered up the side road as the dawn arrived and very carefully approached the hole in the wall where I'd seen the odd movement last night. With bins raised to my eyes I stepped slowly into a position where I could look into the hidden forest pool. To my amazement as I scanned the back of the pool something flicked onto a fallen twig. I focused my eyes and there was the culprit - a brilliant Lesser Shortwing! This very shy and skulking ground dweller hopped and flicked around for a few minutes giving good views before it vanished into the stream and away into the forest. Brilliant.

Little Pied Flycatcher (female)
I returned for breakfast delighted with my persistence. Later we returned to the side road and then walked the Telecom Loop. In the afternoon I walked some of the Pine Tree Trail before ending the day back at the side road.

Orange-bellied Leafbird
Black-chinned Sunbird

Bronzed Drongo

Streaked Spiderhunter
Chestnut-crowned Warbler
  • Fire-capped Barbet 7
  • Black-browed Barbet 4
  • Green-billed or Black-bellied Malkoha in flight around Telecom Loop
  • Waterfall Swift 10
  • Glossy Swiftlet 10
  • Himalayan Swiftlet 40
  • Edible-nest Swiftlet 10
  • Pacific Swift 60
  • Little Cuckoo Dove 25
  • Blue-winged Leafbird 1 female
  • Orange-bellied Leafbird 3
  • Common Iora 1
  • Large-billed Crow 2
  • Black and Crimson Oriole 2
  • Grey-chinned Minivet 15
  • Ashy Minivet 12
  • Bronzed Drongo 3
  • Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 1
  • White-browed Fantail 1
  • Maroon-breasted Philentoma 2
  • Mugimaki Flycatcher 4 (2 male)
  • Rufous-browed Flycatcher 1
  • Little Pied Flycatcher 1 female
  • Verditer Flycatcher 1
  • Large Niltava 2
  • Lesser Shortwing 1
  • Asian Magpie Robin 3
  • Blue Nuthatch 1
  • Asian House Martin 5
  • Barn Swallow
  • Pacific Swallow
  • Yellow-vented Bulbul 2
  • Dark-necklaced Tailorbird 2
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 10
  • Eastern Crowned Warbler 3
  • Chestnut-crowned Warbler 1
  • Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush 30
  • Streaked Wren Babbler 2 heard
  • Grey-throated Babbler 2
  • Golden Babbler 10
  • Mountain Fulvetta 30
  • Long-tailed Sibia 30
  • Silver-eared Mesia 15
  • Black-chinned Sunbird 15
  • Streaked Spiderhunter 10
  • Grey Wagtail 3
Grey-chinned Minivet
Fire-tufted Barbet
Large Niltava
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

6 February 2016

Holkham Park

I'd seen some photos in the week of the Holkham Park Ferruginous Duck taken by Marcus Nash and Paul Eele. They had been taken the same day and by two birders who clearly knew what they were looking at - however Paul's showed a typical immature/female type Ferruginous Duck in side profile with a greyish bill and apparently black nail. Marcus' showed the bird from the front where it seemed to show a contradictory wide black tip separated from the main grey bill by a distinct, narrow pale band. Confusing, possibly photographic effects but surely interesting.

I decided to go and take a look for myself - interesting learning. We walked from the top of Lady Anne's Drive through the park in a stiff breeze. A large herd of Fallow Deer was gathered under the trees, including a couple of stunning stags. I checked the southern end of the lake and then made my way down the eastern side stopping frequently and checking the ducks. I checked two large flocks of Aythya before reaching the northern end where the two wintering immature drake Scaup were showing well. We walked around the top of the lake and through the trees hearing a couple of Nuthatch and a Treecreeper. The path goes wide of the lake offering no views until you reach the southern end. There was no sign of the Ferruginous, so we continued around the northern end and back down the eastern shore for a second look. The Scaup had moved to the small island hiding from the wind with the main Tufted Duck flock. We climbed the hill and found the Pochard flock, scanned more carefully and there in the low reeds was the target. It showed quite well and allowed some distant phone scoped images. These replicated Paul and Marcus's images - not photographic effect at all - the bill did indeed look quite different from the side and the front. I have seen quite a few Ferruginous Duck but not noticed this previously, maybe I need to look more closely? After enjoying views we walked back to the car as the rain started to fall passing 16 Barnacle Geese feeding on the lawn with the Greylags - maybe the Burnham Overy birds are not so wild after all? A flock of about 25 Redwing flew from a Holm Oak in the rain.

Two immature drake Greater Scaup - Holkham Park
Immature/female Ferruginous Duck- Holkham Park

7 February 2016

Flitcham and Roydon Common

On Sunday morning we went for a 20 mile mountain bike ride through Wighton, to Wells, though the Woods, up Lady Anne's Drive stopping for a pot of tea in the Victoria and Albert, then through Holkham Park and back. We saw three Common Buzzard, a stunning Red Kite, a male Bullfinch and a few finch flocks around the fields. 

In the late afternoon we drove to Flitcham to see the finch flocks that have gathered to feed in the stubble fields - over 100 Linnet and a large mixed flock of Chaffinch and Brambling. As I watched out of the wind behind the hedge a hunting Sparrowhawk literally  whooshed past my ear and down the hedge, diving on, and just missing a Chaffinch feeding on the ground. It took off and circled up over the stubble flushing the many Linnet and taking a casual grab at one that came almost too close. A flock of 40 Stock Pigeons flew over as a huge group of Common and Black-headed Gulls flew south. A couple of Buzzard circled over the woods.

A full and brief rainbow after a sudden downpour over Roydon Common
The main objective was to watch the harrier roost at Roydon Common, hoping for another encounter with the wintering juvenile male Pallid Harrier that had relocated over the New Year period. Within half an hour an adult female Hen Harrier appeared over the back of the Common and flew towards us giving superb views over the heather. I enjoyed the views as it flushed several Common Snipe from the wetter areas. A sudden downpour produced a full rainbow over the heath.

Another half hour passed and a second juvenile male Hen Harrier appeared, the two birds occasionally showing together. A Common Buzzard flew across the common and a Barn Owl hunted in the mid-distance. As the Jackdaws and Crows flew to roost I picked up a small ringtail Harrier approaching above the trees at the back of the common, its swept back wings, slim build and peachy underparts immediately identified it as the Pallid, and I called its appearance to the gathered crowd of some 60 birders. It flew closer and hunted over the common. Over the next 40 minutes as dusk rapidly approached it gave fantastic and finally (I've seen it four times now) prolonged views as it hunted, occasionally at close range, and interacted with the two Hen Harriers. Perhaps being smaller it clearly wanted to state a case and stick up for itself, as it dived and bombed the larger Hen Harriers, once even making contact with the head of a sitting Hen. All the harriers seemed to enjoy playing with each other, practicing their hunting techniques, picking balls of vegetation from the ground and teasing each other, pretending to have prey. The views were outstanding and despite the cold it was a brilliant evening.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia - Wren Babbler, Barbets and Hornbills

Fraser's Hill, 30 December 2015

Started the day in the now familiar way, pre-dawn at the top gate hoping in vain for the Malayan Whistling Thrush to make an appearance. Not a peep from the gully or the forest.  Apparently if anyone plays a tape here trying to attract it, the bird retreats into the forest for up to a week. Seems someone decided patience was too difficult earlier in the week....

Clear skies afforded good flight views of Little and Barred Cuckoo Doves leaving their roost. A Slaty-backed Forktail showed briefly in the road. I drove up to the Pine Tree Trail and walked the first few kilometres down the path. Again it was very difficult birding with little to see in the dense forest. As I returned the same way a male Red-headed Trogon flew up from the side of the path, but just would not perch in open view, eventually retreating into the canopy and despite its rather bright plumage disappearing. 

Langur sp?
After breakfast we walked the Telecom loop, a circular road that skirts a hill with a large telecommunications aerial on top. The road provides treetop views as well as far reaching landscapes across the Cameron Highlands. We encountered an excellent bird wave that included 2 stunning Blue Nuthatch and found a fruiting tree over the road that was full of Fire-tufted and Black-browed Barbets. Three flyover Wreathed Hornbill gave prolonged views as they cross the valley. 

    Blue Nuthatch

    Black-browed Barbet
Fire-tufted Barbet

In the afternoon sunshine we spent a couple of hours scanning from the New Road. The clear blue skies and sunshine reduced the number of swifts, but rewarded us with more raptors including several Crested Serpent Eagles, an immature Blyth's Hawk Eagle and a presumed dark phase Changeable Hawk Eagle (I wasn't convinced it wasn't an Aquila species). A couple of very distant high-flying Hornbills were probably Wreathed. 

Black Eagle
However the highlight was a Black Eagle that circled up over the peak on the other side of the valley and gained height. It turned in our direction and cruised across the forest directly towards our vantage point. It came across the trees beside the road then thermalled up over the cliff edge just a few metres away before turning, flying directly overhead and up the road and out of view - an amazing encounter.

It cruised right over our heads

Awesome views
Large Niltava
Silver-eared Mesia
White-throated Fantail
After a tip off I spent the last couple of hours of daylight on the side road by the top gate. I had encountered the odd bird wave here earlier, but had been told in the evening there was a chance of the incredibly skulking Streaked Wren Babbler and a Rufous-browed Flycatcher. While searching I saw something small flick across a rain water pool beside the road but couldn't get on it - maybe a mouse, but I was sure it was a bird.... I waited for some time, but nothing emerged. As I walked back down the road a movement on the low wall, below the metal fence bars caused me to stop and check. A Streaked Wren Babbler was unbelievably hopping unconcernedly in full view through the small planted shrubs in the wall. I took a position so it might pass and sure enough it hopped into view, with its mate. Unbelievable - two Streaked Wren Babblers - in full view. I followed them along the wall, getting some images in the decreasing light and pointing them out to a passing group of birders. After they flicked away into the gulley a movement in the undergrowth exposed a Rufous-browed Flycatcher - brilliant end to the day.
    Streaked Wren Babbler
    Streaked Wren Babblers

  • Fire-tufted Barbet 5
  • Black-browed Barbet 4
  • Wreathed Hornbill 3 - 5
  • Red-headed Trogon 1
  • Waterfall Swiftlet 5
  • Glossy Swiftlet 10
  • Himalayan Swiftlet 30
  • Edible-nest Swiftlet 20
  • Grey-Romped Tree Swift 4
  • Pacific Swift 100
  • House Swift 2
  • Mountain Imperial Pigeon 2
  • Little Cuckoo Dove 10
  • Barred Cuckoo Dove 2
  • Crested Serpent Eagle 5
  • Changeable Hawk Eagle 1
  • Blyth's Hawk Eagle 1 imm
  • Asian Fairy Bluebird 1
  • Black and Common Oriole 1
  • Grey-chinned Minivet 1 male
  • Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 1
  • Bronzed Drongo 1
  • White-browed Fantail 1
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
  • Verditer Flycatcher 1
  • Mugimaki Flycatcher 2
  • Rufous-browed Flycatcher 1
  • Large Niltava 1
  • Asian Magpie Robin 5
  • Slaty-backed Forktail 1
  • Blue Nuthatch 2
  • Asian House Martin 3
  • Pacific Swallow 10
  • Barn Swallow 30
  • Black-crested Bulbul 4
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 3
  • Mountain Tailorbird 1
  • Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush 25
  • Streaked Wren Babbler 2
  • Golden Babbler 3
  • Grey-streaked Babbler 1
  • Blue-winged Mina 3
  • Mountain Fulvetta 3
  • Long-tailed Sibia 15
  • Silver-eared Mesia 4
  • Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 1
  • Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 1
  • Black-throated Sunbird 15
  • Streaked Spiderhunter 7
  • Grey Wagtail 4

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Fraser's Hill, some sunshine

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia - 29 December 2015

Next morning having recovered from the long journey I was up before dawn and walked down to the top gate. I stop quietly in the shadows waiting hopefully for the famous Malayan Whistling Thrush to appear on the roadside. As dawn came and went there was no sight nor sound of the star bird, and I moved position to watch the birds leaving roost and flying up the hill. Good numbers of Little Cuckoo Dove and a couple of Barred Cuckoo Dove, Himalayan Swiftlets and Pacific Swifts flew by before I returned for breakfast.

Slaty-backed Forktail
The many walking trails around Fraser's Hill were taped off, however I assumed this was to stop the many Malaysian day trippers who drive up from the heat of Kuala Lumpur in their shorts, tee-shirts and sandals to take selfies by the clock tower. The paths are well established, well made and quite clear, but many people seem to have got themselves lost over the years. After breakfast we walked the roads and then ventured down the wettest trail, the famous Bishop Trail. After the rain the path was in places pretty muddy, but passable in walking shoes with care and fallen trees provided entertainment as we walked through the quite dense undergrowth and into a small forest stream. We made it about 1km before Mac decided enough and asked to return. We hadn't seen a single bird. I'd purchased leach socks primarily for Teman Negara but had decided to test them. As we got back to the road Mac removed hers - nothing. Assuming the effort of putting them on had been a waste I confidently removed my shoe to find four of these delightful creatures trying to get to my right ankle, and another crawling up my back - well I can report the socks worked. Swiftly removed we continued around the roads and back for some lunch. Mac wouldn't be venturing up any more trails.....

Mugimaki Flycatcher
After lunch and with clearing skies we drove down the New Road (there used to be just one road up to Fraser's Hill with an hourly up/down rotation, but recently a new down road has been opened with far reaching views across the wide forested valleys and hills. It provides a great place for scanning the canopy and looking for hornbills, swifts and raptors. As the sun came out three Oriental Honey Buzzards soared out of the canopy, a Black Eagle circled a distant peak, 3 Wreathed Hornbill and a Bushy-crested Hornbill flew over the canopy and flocks of mainly Pacific Swift drifted on the updrafts.

  • Red-throated Barbet 1
  • Wreathed Hornbill 3
  • Bushy-crested Hornbill 1
  • Glossy Swiftlet 60
  • Himalayan Swiftlet 40
  • Edible-nest Swiftlet 40
  • Brown-backed Needletail 2
  • Pacific Swift 100
  • House Swift 10
  • Asian Palm Swift 10
  • Barred Cuckoo Dove 4
  • Little Cuckoo Dove 10
  • Oriental Honey Buzzard 3
  • Black Eagle 1
  • Orange-bellied Leafbird 1 female
  • Brown Shrike 1
  • Large-billed Crow 1
  • Bronzed Drongo 3
  • White-throated Fantail 4
  • Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher 1
  • Mugimaki Flycatcher 1 male
  • Little Pied Flycatcher 1 female
  • Verditer Flycatcher 1 female 
  • Oriental Magpie Robin 3
  • Slaty-backed Forktail 3
  • Asian House Martin 2
  • Barn Swallow
  • Pacific Swallow
  • Striated Swallow (Badia) 2
  • Black-crested Bulbul 4
  • Stripe-throated Bulbul 4
  • Yellow-vented Bulbul 2
  • Mountain Bulbul 3
  • Mountain Tailorbird 1
  • Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  • Chestnut-crowned Warbler 1
  • Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush 20
  • Streaked Wren Babbler 1H
  • Golden Babbler 6
  • Grey-throated Babbler 1
  • Blue-winged Mina 10
  • Mountain Fulvetta 20
  • Long-tailed Sibia 30
  • Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 1
  • Black-throated Sunbird 5
  • Streaked Spiderhunter 4
  • Long-billed Spiderhunter 1
  • Grey Wagtail 1
Long-tailed Sibia

The Cameron Highlands

28 December 2015

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

After a delayed Air Malaysia flight from Heathrow we arrived in Kuala Lumpur in the late afternoon. It took a while to locate the car hire company, hidden away in the basement car park, and we were eventually on our way as the last of the evening light began to fade away. Fortunately I'd downloaded the SE Asia mapping for the brilliant Co-pilot sat nav on my iPhone, which soon plotted a route through the quite complex road network to the north. We drove the very winding road up to Fraser's Hill in the pitch black and found our hotel, had a quick meal and finally got to bed after a very long day.

I woke late and looked out of the window across the golf course through some very low cloud. After breakfast the rain started to fall, and continued through to the early afternoon - well it was the end of the monsoon season. I wasn't going to let a bit of rain stop me - well I'm used to a British winter after all. We walked around the quirky town and down to the top gate. Later we drove around the area to get a feel for the area and to locate the various hotspots. 

Fire-tufted Barbet
We encountered our first bird waves, typically comprising a mix of species. The highlight in the first were three stunning Blue Nuthatch, and a superb male Little Pied Flycatcher. Around the town the flowering bushes attracted numbers of Black-throated Sunbirds that gave astonishingly good views and several Streaked Spiderhunters.  

Blue Nuthatch
Black-throated Sunbird
Streaked Spiderhunter
  • Himalayan Swiftlet 40
  • Asian Palm Swift 10
  • Common green Magpie 1
  • Black and Crimson Oriole 2
  • Grey-chinned Minivet 1
  • Ashy Minivet 1
  • Bronzed Drongo 4
  • Crow-billed Drongo 1
  • Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 3
  • Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike 1
  • White-browed Fantail 5
  • Maroon-breasted Philentoma 1
  • Eye-browed Thrush 1
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher 3
  • Mugimaki Flycatcher 1
  • Little Pied Flycatcher 1
  • Oriental Magpie Robin 5
  • Blue Nuthatch 3
  • Barn Swallow 1
  • Pacific Swallow 2
  • Ashy Bulbul 1
  • Mountain Bulbul 4
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 5
  • Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush 11
  • Mountain Fulvetta 20
  • Long-tailed Sibia 25
  • Golden Babbler 8
  • Grey-throated Babbler 1
  • Blue-winged Minla 10
  • Black-throated Sunbird 25
  • Little Spiderhunter 1
  • Streaked Spiderhunter 4
  • Grey Wagtail 5
  • Fire-tufted Barbet 2
  • Large-billed Crow
  • Silver-eared Mesia 7

Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
Silver-eared Mesia