Pulau Mantanani: 24 October 2015

Today was Mike and Yann’s last day on the island, which meant that I would have to compensate for losing two pairs of sharp eyes for the last few days of my stay! Having missed Metallic Pigeon on the first day, Yann concentrated on the west end of the island, and was successful not only in seeing a Metallic Pigeon but also getting some very close photos of Tabon Scrubfowl. Meanwhile, Mike and I focused on turning up new migrants. Two sightings of Pied Imperial-Pigeons were  a new island tick and a much-wanted year tick for me – relief! We also had a Chinese Egret foraging in the bay on the north-west coast.

It was soon clear that not much new had arrived, so it was mostly a matter of seeing the same birds from the previous days. Having said that, we did manage to dig up a Tiger Shrike, which we had not seen before. There were two ‘that got away’ today. Yann had brief views of a possible Dusky Warbler, and when I went to look for it, I glimpsed a small dark brown rail or crake deep inside  a dense tangle of undergrowth. Oh well! Can’t nail down everything!


One of the two ‘old’ Taiga Flycatchers still present was still foraging on the beach


Or in the nearby casuarinas


One of five Grey-streaked Flycatchers, enjoying scenic views on the beach too!


The same Grey-streaked Flycatcher


A juvenile Dark-sided Flycatcher was also on the beach!



Two of these were possibly fresh in since yesterday.



Structurally, they are very different from Grey-streaked, looking tubbier and smaller-billed.


Looking huge by comparison, there were 5 Asian Brown Flycatchers.


The bill is the largest and broadest of the three.


There were also a couple of Blue-and-White Flycatchers present, and I managed to get reasonably close for the first time today.


The tone of the blue looks quite different depending on the lighting. It’s the same bird in both photos.



Six Red-throated Pipits were still on the football field.

There were five Arctic Warblers and a Japanese Leaf Warbler still about, but no sign of the Willow Warbler.


Four Sand Martins were counted…



But only 1 Red-rumped Swallow.


Raptors continued to move through in small numbers from mid-morning.


There were four Japanese Sparrowhawks…


Including this one hunting from a perch


3 Grey-faced Buzzards (pic) and 2 Chinese Sparrowhawks


Two of the three Kentish Plovers still present on the Point.


Frigate birds are a constant feature, and today they were a bit closer than usual. A nice comparison of adult male Lesser…


…and Christmas Island Frigatebirds



Some more Lesser Frigatebirds…



The size difference is always obvious when the two species are together.


And some Christmas Islanders!

Pulau Mantanani: 23 October 2015


South beach at dawn


Our homestay.

The day dawned bright and sunny, with little wind, after a clear night. Initially, it seemed like there was not much about, and we guessed that birds had taken advantage of the clear night to move on. However, when we got to the football field – which still had several rainwater pools – we found two juvenile Pacific Golden Plovers, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, a small flock of 8 Red-throated Pipits and several Eastern Yellow Wagtails.


The football field


Red-throated Pipit with Eastern Yellow Wagtail


Red-throated Pipit


Juvenile Pacific Golden Plover


Yellow Bittern

We then decided to work the scrubby bushes around the field, and before long Mike called our attention to a warbler which had just emerged into some dead branches at the edge of a bush. It was immediately obviously something new, and we cycled through a couple of possibilities before quite quickly realising we were looking at…a Willow Warbler! This is a species all of us are familiar with from Europe, but it was not exactly what we were expecting to see in Borneo! The bird sat motionless, other than repeatedly flicking its tail, as we edged around to get a better angle. As we did so, a Japanese Sparrowhawk made a dash for the warbler and pulled out at the last moment as it became aware of us. The warbler froze, apparently in shock, for several minutes, enabling us to get lots of photos before it eventually flew off to an adjoining bush. We took a few moments to compare notes and revel in the rush of adrenaline at having found a ‘mega’ rarity, reflecting that our attention had probably also saved the Willow Warbler’s life!

Willow-Warbler_0M7A4505 Willow-Warbler_0M7A4541 Willow-Warbler_0M7A4557

We then spread out to try to relocate the bird, and almost immediately I flushed a largish, long-tailed, sand-coloured passerine which flew low to the next bush. It wasn’t ringing any bells, and when I got the bins onto the streaky-crowned head, I was still completely flummoxed as to its identity – till I saw the slightly bulbous, conical bill, and the penny dropped – Black-headed Bunting! The bird sat motionless in the bottom of the bush for a short while, enabling Mike and Yann to get onto it, before flying on, and once again we conferred, and checked our cameras, to make sure we weren’t hallucinating! Two megas in a matter of minutes, and suddenly I had moved from 598 species for the year to the magic 600! All buntings are rare in Malaysia, only five species have been recorded. This was about the 5th Black-headed Bunting record for the country, and my first bunting of any description.

Black-headed-Bunting_0M7A4565 Black-headed-Bunting_0M7A4598

We continued checking the bushes around the field, and though we could not relocate either the warbler or the bunting, continued to turn up new birds, including several Brown Shrikes and a Taiga Flycatcher. Grey-faced Buzzards and Chinese and Japanese Sparrowhawks migrated overhead, and there were a Pacific Swift and a number of Red-rumped Swallows and Sand Martins too, both rarities in Borneo. A small flock of 10 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings perched in a casuarina tree nearby. Having exhausted possibilities at the football field, we walked eastward toward the point, seeing Blue-and-white, Grey-streaked, Asian Brown and a second Taiga Flycatcher on the way. At the point itself, we came across our fifth flycatcher species of the day – a stunning male Narcissus!


Brown Shrike


Sand Martin


Taiga Flycatcher


Pacific Swift


Adult (R) and juv Grey-faced Buzzard


Male Chinese Sparrowhawk


Juvenile Chinese Sparrowhawk


Male Narcissus Flycatcher


East Asia’s answer to Blackburnian Warbler!

We returned to the football field after lunch but found it quiet, and then moved to a new area where we located another flock of 7 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings and a Japanese Leaf Warbler – a striking individual with pale lemon yellow underparts.


Japanese Leaf Warbler


An Arctic Warbler for comparison, feeding on the ground.


Arctic Warbler foraging on the beach


White-breasted Woodswallow feasting on a dragonfly


Where bird names get confusing! The grey bird on the left is an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, while the yellow bird on the right is a Grey Wagtail!


Grey Wagtail preening

Moving to the west end of the island in late afternoon, we sat down to watch the frigatebirds gather to roost. As we sat watching, suddenly a needletail flew into the bay. Its squat, compact shape indicated that it was either White-throated or Silver-backed, and as it banked against the dark forest behind, there was no pale throat visible, suggesting it was the latter – another potential first for Borneo! However, at that moment, the Peregrine which we had seen perched on a nearby dead tree earlier powered into view, easily overhauled the needletail and knocked it into the sea! After a couple of failed attempts, the falcon plucked the doomed swift out of the water, but was then in turn chased down by a second Peregrine, forcing it to release its prey (which still appeared to be alive). The second Peregrine caught the needletail in midair and flew off with it. At that moment, a large stingray broke the water surface where the needletail had been moments earlier, leaping high in the air and falling back into the water with a mighty splash!


Sequence 1 shows the Peregrine with needletail in talons being chased down by the second bird


This shows the moment when the prey changed hands. The swift appeared to be trying to fly at this point.


Seconds later this Stingray broke the surface where the needletail had been just a few moments before!

Wow! What a spectacular finale to what had been an amazing day! Or not quite, as we continued to watch and count an estimated 5200 frigate birds (Lesser and Christmas Island) congregate over Linggisan Island like a massive bee swarm, before settling down to roost at last light.


Frigatebirds gathering to roost


The local name for frigatebird is “linggisan” – hence – Pulau Linggisan!

Our passerine count for the day included 5 Brown Shrikes, 7 Sand Martins, 12 Red-rumped Swallows, 1 Willow Warbler, 9 Arctic Warblers, 1 Japanese Leaf Warbler, 8 Grey-streaked Flycatchers, 2 Asian Brown Flycatchers, 9 Blue-and-white Flycatchers, 1 Narcissus Flycatcher, 2 Taiga Flycatchers, 17 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings, 28 Eastern Yellow Wagtails, 7 Grey Wagtails, 8 Red-throated Pipits and 1 Black-headed Bunting!

Pulau Mantanani: 22 Oct 2015

I first visited Pulau Mantanani Besar in October 2012, and a description of the physical aspects of the island can be read here. Some of the birds I saw then can be seen in the posts following that one.

Yann Muzika, Mike Turnbull and I booked this short trip to follow the second Sarawak tour. We had arrived in Kota Kinabalu overland from Lawas amid sometimes torrential rain the previous night and had booked a KK to Pulau Mantanani transfer through the operator which organized our homestay – Blue Life. The van picked us up from our hotel at 7.30am and the drive to Kuala Abai took about 1.5 hours. There was then a bit of a wait for our boat, which gave us chance to scan the harbour. There were a few Whiskered Terns and some waders roosting in the mangroves and nearby mudflats. Once our boat left the shelter of the harbour, the crossing was pretty rough. Visibility was poor and the boat was bouncing around so much that using bins was out of the question. Still, we got lucky when a Brown Booby passed very close to the boat. The boat crew seemed pretty incompetent, and things got a little worrying when the captain asked if any of the passengers had a compass! Yann did, and as a result we eventually found the island! If you’re making this trip at this time of year, be sure to get everything well waterproofed (and bring a compass)!

When we arrived on the island, no-one seemed to know where our homestay was, and there was no-one there to meet us. However, we eventually found a lad with a sort of motorbike tractor who was willing to ferry us somewhere he thought was near where we wanted to go. While he filled up with petrol, Yann hopped off to chase up a briefly glimpsed accipiter, while Mike and I stayed on the trailer. As a result, Mike and I had views of a flock of eight Metallic Pigeons which drifted towards and over us, apparently landing not far off, while Yann missed them. Had we realised how rare these would turn out to be, we would certainly have made more of an effort to relocate them. Eventually we were on our way, needing to duck frequently to avoid getting decapitated by low branches. We arrived at a ramshackle building which we were assured was ‘the place’. It was padlocked and appeared empty, but we unloaded and sat down to wait. In a short while, our man, Otong, arrived apologetically from the direction of the jetty, which he had rushed off to when he saw our boat arriving, so we had neatly missed each other!


Walking through Kampung Padang


Kak Ipah’s homestay

I was glad to learn that the padlocked building was not the homestay. Instead, Otong took us a short distance to “Ipah’s Homestay” – home of Kak Ipah and Abang Arjini, in Kampung Padang. We had the whole upper floor of the house to ourselves, and the accommodation was simple but perfectly adequate. After a good lunch prepared by Kak Ipah, we set off to explore, heading westwards toward the forested ‘tail’ of the fish-shaped island, where we hoped to find more pigeons. I must not forget to mention that the following photos were taken using the new Canon 100-400 IS MkII lens, kindly lent to me by Yann. What a lens it is, as these pics demonstrate!


Grey-streaked Flycatcher – the first of many – back view.


Front view of the same bird.

One of the nice things about Mantanani is that there are very few resident passerines. This means that any bird you see in the bushes or trees has a very good chance of being a migrant. Our first was a Grey-streaked Flycatcher foraging in some casuarinas along the beach. We discovered that this belt of trees fringing the south side of the island was the best place too look for flycatchers. Our total for migrant passerines that afternoon was 1 Brown Shrike, 3 Arctic Warblers, 1 Asian Brown Flycatcher, 3 Grey-streaked Flycatchers, 3 Blue and White Flycatchers, 1 Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Siberian Stonechats (quite a rarity in Borneo), 10 Eastern Yellow Wagtails and 6 Grey Wagtails. Only later we realised that the storm of the previous night had probably resulted in quite a ‘fall’ of migrants,otherwise we might have spent more time searching for them.


Another Grey-streaked Flycatcher, on a more photogenic perch!


A pair of Blue-and-White Flycatchers. Passerines don’t normally migrate in pairs…


‘Philippensis’ Blue Rock-Thrush


One of two Siberian Stonechats perched at the top of casuarina trees.

However, our main focus was on getting the island’s rarer residents, and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying excellent looks at the first of these – Grey Imperial Pigeon. There were many calling at the western end of the island, and they were not too hard to spot. It was a different story with Metallic and Nicobar Pigeons – neither of which put in an appearance. We flushed a couple of Tabon Scrubfowl during our walk through the forest – in flight looking like outsized junglefowl. These also proved to be common and rather easy to see over the coming days.


Grey Imperial-Pigeon

It soon became apparent that the resident White-bellied Sea Eagles had other raptors for company. An Osprey sat on an offshore sandbar, and a juv Grey-faced Buzzard moved around the trees, frequently calling. Japanese Sparrowhawks seemed to be everywhere – we estimated five birds – but there could have been half as many, or twice as many! A calidus race Peregrine sat on a dead tree (exactly where I’d seen one three years previously), and, in an adjacent tree, we were surprised to fined a female Eurasian Kestrel feeding on something.


A distant Osprey on an offshore sandbar


Japanese Sparrowhawks – seemingly everywhere!


Eurasian Kestrel feeding on…something.


pond-heron sp – this lens was such a joy!


Yellow Bittern giving us the eye

We spent some time watching the frigatebirds as they began to congregate overhead prior to going to roost, estimating 700 Lesser and 20 Christmas Island, but not finding a Great despite much scanning.


A cartwheel of frigatebirds!


Juv Christmas Island (L) and female Lesser (R) Frigatebirds


At first I hoped this might be a Great, but it has very faint axillary spurs so I think must be a juv Christmas Island.

As the skies grew dark we decided to beat a retreat before the heavens opened. The rain did start, forcing us to take shelter (and some liquid refreshment!) at the Mari-Mari Resort, where we met resident birder Wesley, who filled us in on the status of some of the commoner species. Once the rain had stopped and dusk had fallen, we went to a spot he recommended for Mantanani Scops Owl and within minutes had a pair very aggressively responding just above our heads, and at times too close for pictures! How on earth did I manage to miss these in 2012?


One more of the amazing Mantanani Scops-Owl

Thus ended our first day on the island. We were all happy with our haul – I had had a massive nine year ticks, which included 4 world lifers (the scrub fowl, the owl and the two pigeons) – I can’t remember the last time I had four new birds in a day!

Big Year 2015: October summary

I ended September on 585, a new Malaysia year record, with high hopes that the next month would get me to my next goal – 600 species in a year. My travels took me to Sarawak and Sabah, with some additional birding in mainland Penang and Kuala Selangor Nature Park. The net result was 339 species recorded, of which 21 were new for the year, taking me to 606 by the end of the month!

I started off on a twitch for a Dusky Warbler reported from Kuala Selangor on Oct 4th. Failing to find that, I moved to Sungai Janggut in the hope of seeing Caspian Tern and Red Knot coming out of the high tide roost at Kapar. Although this also proved a fool’s errand, I did see a few Lesser Adjutants which provided some photogenic moments.


Next up was the first of two tours in two weeks to eastern Sarawak. I made a quick couple of visits to Lok Kawi beach before the tour, but failed to find the Common Ringed Plover which has turned up there for at least the previous nine winters . 585 was becoming a hard number to move from! The first tour was a success for the participants, but pretty poor for year ticks. I had expected to have netted five or six by this time, instead of which I had managed just one – a newly arrived Blue-and-White Flycatcher. Suddenly, 600 was starting to look a long way away! During the course of the week I managed to show my 5th client of the year a Bornean Banded-Pitta without actually seeing one myself – and I was fast running out of chances. A full report, with photos, of the week can be found here. Here’s one of my favourite birds and photos of the trip – Dulit Frogmouth.


The following week was a repeat of the first in terms of itinerary, but fortunately, not in terms of new birds for the year. I managed two more year ticks – including, at last, Bornean Banded-Pitta (the other was Siberian Blue Robin). A full report of that trip is here.

In a little over two weeks I had managed to creep up to 588 for the year, and things were not looking good for me reaching my target this month. All this changed most wonderfully over the following four days however, when I visited Pulau Mantanani off the north coast of Sabah with Mike Turnbull and Yann Muzika. In fact, the trip was so wonderful it deserves a day-by-day blog account in its own right. For now, here’s just a summary of year ticks. On the very rough sea crossing to the island, we pulled out an unexpected bonus in the form of a Brown Booby. This was followed almost as soon as we had set foot on the island by a flock of eight Metallic Pigeons, and by the end of that first day on the island, I had added NINE year ticks to my tally – in addition to the booby and the pigeons, these were Tabon ScrubfowlLesser and Christmas Island FrigatebirdsGrey-faced BuzzardGrey Imperial-PigeonMantanani Scops-Owl and Grey-streaked Flycatcher!


Grey Imperial-Pigeon


Grey-streaked Flycatcher


Mantanani Scops-Owl

If the first day was good, the second was even better in terms of quality. I had a further six year ticks, including Willow Warbler (a first for Borneo and only the second for South-east Asia!), Japanese Leaf Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Chestnut-cheeked Starling and Black-headed Bunting (about the fourth record for Malaysia). After much soul-searching I decided not to count an almost certain Silver-backed Needletail which was killed by a Peregrine before we could make 100% sure of the identification (more of this in a future blog post)!


Willow Warbler


Japanese Leaf-Warbler


Narcissus Flycatcher


Taiga Flycatcher


Chestnut-cheeked Starlings


Black-headed Bunting

The rest of the trip brought only one more addition – Pied Imperial-Pigeon – a bird I was glad to tick off, having failed to find it several times around my home state and on pelagic trips. To say that I was happy with my haul of 16 year ticks from Mantanani would be a considerable understatement!

I just had time before the month ended to squeeze in an early morning trip to Kubang Semang, in my home state of Pulau Pinang, where I added two scarce waders – Ruff and Temminck’s Stint – bringing the end of the month total to 606, and into uncharted waters.

Following Dennis Yong’s 2006 approach, I have included species from all four Categories on the Malaysian list (i.e. including birds which occur solely as a result of human intervention). My next target is to reach 600 species from Category A alone. So far I have 10 non-Category A species on my list, so I hope to reach a ‘clean’ 600 by the end of next month!

Here are the stats comparing my year to date with Dennis Yong’s 2006 Big Year.

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Big Year 2015: September Summary

This month I had a two-week tour of Peninsular Malaysia (with Todd Pepper) with a potential of 27 year ticks on paper. Of these, I managed to get 12 (there are few ‘easy’ ticks now), which was enough to ease past Dennis Yong’s Big Year record of 582, set in 2006. By the end of the month I had reached 585, with 15 to go to reach my next target – the Big Six Double Zero! Despite the low number of year ticks, I managed to record 330 species in September.

The month kicked off in Johor, where there was a host of potential new birds. The four days spent there yielded only 2 new birds disappointingly, though one was a Malaysian lifer, and no less than the logo bird of the PM 500 Club – Grey-breasted Babbler!


Having got untickable views of one in Panti, we found this one ourselves in some remnant heath forest on the east coast. It’s a bird I’ve wanted to see badly in Malaysia over the last ten years or so, so this was a special moment. Good to know that they’re hanging on at a few spots.

The other was Great-billed Heron – a bird I had hoped to see in Sabah but missed earlier in the year. Thanks are due to Mun’im for the gen on this one!

Great-billed-Heron_IMG_8823 Great-billed-Heron_IMG_8829

A bit distant but good value when it was spooked by the Water Monitor in the lower picture!

These apart, Johor was a bit disappointing, due perhaps partly to the stifling ‘haze’ coming from forest fires in Sumatra. I missed the two ‘Cinnamons’ – trogon and pigeon, as well as Brown-backed Flowerpecker, White-necked Babbler and Olive-backed Woodpecker.

At Bukit Tinggi we managed to claw back one of these – a surprise male Olive-backed Woodpecker being so vocal he was just begging to be noticed!

Next up was Fraser’s Hill. Again, there was a nice suite of potential year ticks to be found, although none of them easy. We picked up Bamboo Woodpecker relatively painlessly – my last woodpecker, other than the still-elusive Grey-faced – at the Gap.


Something which had not even been on my radar at the beginning of the year was the newly-split (in the Clements checklist) migrant form of what used to be Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, now elevated to full species status as Amur Paradise-Flycatcher (the resident form is now known as Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher). We had great views of a male Amur in a large mixed feeding flock at the lower end of the Old Road leading up from the Gap.


The bird can be aged as an adult by the all dark bill (first years show a variable amount of pale colouration at the base). From below, it can be distinguished from Blyth’s and Japanese by the glossy, evenly black head which is clearly demarcated from the much paler breast.


From above, the upper part colour is suffused with maroon – quite different from the chestnut of Blyth’s, but rather similar to the purplish maroon of Japanese. In fact, in shade, it can look very like Japanese from above, making a good view of the underparts desirable.


In shade – hard to tell from Japanese!

Large Scimitar-Babbler was a species I had missed on previous visits to Fraser’s this year, and history seemed to be repeating itself when we heard a pair distantly calling which refused to be lured toward us the first couple of days. However, on our third day, we fortuitously bumped into a pair at a spot I had not seen them before, and they gave us great views, albeit in very poor light.

Rusty-naped Pitta is not a species I would consider a ‘given’ in any year list, and especially at Fraser’s Hill, where the birds are probably ‘burnt out’ by playback of the calls. We heard birds at three locations, and at the third, surprisingly, we managed quite decent looks at a bird over several minutes. I even managed to fire off four frames, of which this is the least bad!


We missed a couple of other tricky birds at Fraser’s – no Marbled Wren-Babblers (will I miss seeing them two years in a row??) and no Himalayan Cutia (a dose of good fortune is always needed with these as they’re nomadic) and no Plain Flowerpecker at the Gap. We also, amazingly managed not to see Rufous-bellied Swallow – a Peninsular Malaysia endemic needed by Todd – the significance of which will become apparent later!

Taman Negara was our last venue, and I had four species firmly in my sights, all missed during a trip in April – Malayan Peacock-Pheasant, Malayan Banded and Garnet Pittas, and Large Wren-Babbler. Just three of these would get me past Dennis’s record total, so I was hopeful! We got off to a great start, with a young male Malayan Peacock-Pheasant strutting its stuff on our first evening.

The next day was September 14th – was it to be the day the record would be broken? I knew there was a good chance of both Garnet Pitta and Large Wren-Babbler – the only question was, which would be the ‘record-breaking species’? As it turned out, we took an age to see a Garnet Pitta (ignoring a pair of duetting Large Wren-Babblers in the process!). Finally we spotted the elusive pitta 30 feet up a tree – the record-equalling species. By this time the wren-babblers had stopped calling, and would not be tempted to start again, so we had to go looking for another pair. Finally, at just before 10am, we laid eyes on a nice foraging Large Wren-Babbler, and I was able to text Daphne to tell her that there was a new Big Year record for Malaysia! The celebrations were nearly brought to an end shortly afterward by the realisation that my GPS had fallen off its attachment in the jungle somewhere. However, by retracing our steps, and with the help of Todd’s sharp eyes, we managed to retrieve it, so all was well!

The following day, a very furtive Malayan Banded-Pitta brought the total to 584, but we were still unable to find a Rufous-bellied Swallow for Todd. My trusty unofficial Penang support team member, Neoh Hor Kee, had let me know of some limestone caves in Pahang which had Dusky Crag-Martins, a few days earlier. Todd didn’t need Dusky Crag-Martin, so I had discounted the lengthy detour. However, as I thought about it, I realised that any limestone outcrop that has Dusky Crag-Martin MUST surely have Rufous-bellied Swallow as well! So it proved, and Todd was happy with his swallows, while I was over the moon to finally see the crag-martins, having searched for them without success on several occasions in Perlis earlier in the year.

Dusky-Crag-Martin_IMG_3648 Dusky-Crag-Martin_IMG_9995

A full trip report, with many more photos, should soon be available here.

I paid a couple of visits to the mudflats of Teluk Air Tawar on mainland Penang at the end of the month in the hope of scoring a Red Knot, without success (the best birds were Far Eastern Curlew and Asian Dowitcher – see below), and went on yet another failed twitch for Red-whiskered Bulbul (the only bulbul I haven’t yet seen), so things ended there, on 585, which is, coincidentally the same as the total number of species I’ve seen in Peninsular Malaysia ever (the year list includes East Malaysia).

Far Eastern Curlew_IMG_3907 Asian-Dowitcher_IMG_3889

Next month I’m off to Sarawak again, and then Sabah, and hoping that enough northern migrants will have arrived to enable me to get to 600. Watch this space!

Big Year 2015: August Summary

August began where July left off, midway through a successful tour of Sabah. Thereafter, during a visit to Kuala Lumpur to celebrate my daughter’s graduation, I managed to pick up three feral species (Dennis counted these in his 2006 Big Year, but I hope to set a new ‘clean’ record of Category A birds this year). I made a couple of arduous drives north to the beautiful wilds of Pedu Lake, and ended up looking out at my beloved Teluk Air Tawar – Kuala Muda mudflats on the very last day of the month. These travels resulted in a total of 29 new species for the year – not bad considering this is month 8, and an accumulated total of 573 for the year, which is one more than I managed in the whole of 2014!

New Sp per month Aug

Apart from the two months when I was in the UK, I’ve managed to at least keep pace with Dennis’s monthly totals for most months.

Aggregate total Aug

Almost there! Just 9 more species needed to equal Dennis’s record!


A few shots of some of the amazing places I visited in August – the incredible Kinabatangan River, Sabah…

IMG_5327 IMG_5322


The spectacular, smelly and slimy Gomantong Caves, Sabah – essential visiting for three swiftlet species.


Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley, Sabah.


As mentioned in the July summary, I full write-up of the tour and some of the best photos are in the tour report here, so I will add little here, except some of the photos which never made it into the report.


We were able to watch Red-throated Sunbirds feeding in the same tree as Brown-throated at Sepilok rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC).


The canopy walkway at RDC enables great looks (and photos!) of canopy-dwelling species like this Green Iora.


This Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler at RDC seemed genuinely curious about us!


Borneo’s latest endemic has pinched the name of Brown Barbet (in Clements). The Peninsular form has been renamed Sooty Barbet.


This infant Orang Utan totally stole the show as it fed on fruits alongside its mother at Gomantong Caves.


As usual, the Kinabatangan River provided lots of raptors – this one a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle drying off after an overnight shower!


Jerdon’s Bazas were even more numerous. We saw three roosting in one tree.


A day-flying Bat Hawk was a treat!


Both Fish-Eagles gave good views – this is a pair of Grey-headed.


Lesser Fish-Eagle


Sabah endemic White-fronted Falconet


A family party of falconets.


There are still good numbers of Wrinkled Hornbills along the River


Tony going in for a spot of iPhone photography. Can you spot his target?


Chestnut-necklaced Partridge of the ‘graysoni’ race, or Sabah Partridge if you follow HBW/BirdLife. It is certainly a distinctive taxon. This bird gave us stunning views for over an hour.


Oriental Pied Hornbills getting lovey-dovey!


I was pleased to get this shot of a Cream-vented Bulbul. Most CVBs in Borneo have red eyes (on the Peninsula the iris is white), which makes them more of a challenge to tell from Red-eyed. The underparts are much paler than that species, the eye tends to be blood-red rather than orange-red, and structurally, CVB is slighter than REB.


Some of the star night birds of the Kinabatangan… Brown Wood-Owl


A very accommodating Oriental Bay-Owl!


Large Frogmouth showing its surprisingly yellow mouth.


Not a great shot, but I was amazed at how much white there is in the wing of the muelleri race of Hooded Pitta.


In the steamy forest of Danum we found this tiny Rufous-chested Flycatcher belting out its high-pitched song.


Not rare, but always good to see! Banded Broadbill.


The pittas of Danum Valley. Bornean Banded and Giant eluded us, but we saw the others well. This Blue-headed seemed to dig and dig and dig, till he was almost out of sight!


Black-headed Pitta – great views in appalling light! Just before the rain started.


Blue-banded Pitta – this one reminded us what pittas are all about – dazzling but difficult to see!


A rather large male Orang Utan at Danum – we saw 18 individuals throughout the fortnight!


A much appreciated male Helmeted Hornbill on the last morning of the tour.


A Buffy Fish-Owl behind my room!


The last bird of the tour was this stonking male Sunda Frogmouth.

Making the most of a weekend in KL, I decided that a quick morning in the Lake Gardens should easily ‘clean up’ the foursome of Painted Stork, Hadada Ibis, Golden-fronted Leafbird and Great Myna. Several sweaty hours later I had only seen a pair of ibis, and had to face the fact that maybe urban birding is no pushover! By lunchtime on the second day I was walking around downtown Petaling Jaya scouring the monsoon drains and coconut palms in the midday heat for any sign of mynas. Having taken several hours to get there (dragging my long-suffering family along for the drive), it was at this point that I realised that I would be more successful looking for signs of madness! But, eventually, at the third attempt, we got the myna, and managed a glimpse of Painted Storks while stuck in the evening traffic of Shah Alam. Three out of four targets would have to do. I won’t bore you with more stories of failed attempts at seeing more urban escaped convicts – namely Black-collared Starling and Red-whiskered Bulbuls – suffice to say that I still haven’t seen any!

Pedu was a decidedly more attractive proposition, and I made two trips there in the month, with the primary targets of Plain-pouched Hornbill and Giant Pitta. I didn’t get a sniff of either, but some compensation was had in the form of Orange-breasted Pigeon and Black Magpie (Clements doesn’t split the Bornean from the Peninsular forms, which is a relief, because I’ve missed it so far in Borneo this year!).

Black Magpie_IMG_7542_edited-1

At last! Black Magpie in the bag!

And so to my final two year ticks of the month – a Gull-billed Tern and a Sanderling at Teluk Air Tawar this morning.

Sanderling 310815_IMG_3478I was particularly happy to see the latter, as it will save me a trip to Mersing or Tanjung Aru later in the year! I think it is only the third Sanderling I’ve seen in Penang.

So, having surpassed my 2014 total, it’s all gravy from now on. Next in my sights is Dennis’s record of 582, and after that, hopefully, 600. My ultimate goal would be to see 600 Category A species by Dec 31st (my current total for Cat A is 563).

Here’s a list of what I still haven’t seen but could conceivably see. If you have any detailed, recent information on any of them, please let me know!Aug 2015 yearticks

Big Year 2015: July Summary

I started the month in the highlands of east Sarawak and finished it in Kinabalu National Park in Sabah. In between I had a week of survey work in the Tawau area of eastern Sabah, and a single visit to Sungai Sedim in Kedah. These perambulations netted me 253 species in the month, of which 32 were new for the year, bringing me to 544, exactly 50 species ahead of where Dennis was at this stage in 2006.

The month began as I was coming to the end of an exceptionally productive Birdtour Asia tour of east Sarawak and west Sabah. Our last couple of days netted us some quality birds in the form of Ferruginous Partridge, strutting its stuff across a road in front of us, the less spectacular but extremely restricted-range Hook-billed Bulbul, and a world lifer in the form of both male and female Sunda Frogmouths.

The following week I was surveying oil palm plantations in eastern Sabah, where new birds were markedly less numerous. I picked up just a single new one for the year – White-bellied Munia, but these can be tricky in Peninsular Malaysia, so I wasn’t complaining! I did entertain the idea of visiting some of the islands off Semporna for rare pigeons and the like, but decided to heed local advice that the security situation in the area didn’t really warrant taking the risk.

Back home I managed a single trip out in the ensuing two weeks, and decided to visit Sungai Sedim, Kedah, where Rufous-tailed Shama and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch had been seen recently. I didn’t manage to see either of these, but was well pleased to catch up with three potentially tricky species – Rufous-backed KingfisherLong-billed Spiderhunter and Red-throated Sunbird.

Then it was time for my next Sabah tour, which proved, like the Sarawak trip earlier in the month, to be exceptional! A write-up of the trip, which extended into August, is here. It has plenty of photos in it, which I won’t reproduce here, but I’ll add a few below which didn’t make it into the report.


Mount Kinabalu summit. Awesome!



Two of the seven Whitehead’s Broadbills we encountered.


This young male Whitehead’s Trogon looks bright…


…till you see an adult (sadly, more distant)!


This Mountain Serpent-Eagle perched for over 10 minutes was a personal highlight.


Not a great photo but great views of two Malay Weasels on the same day. That makes three I’ve seen in the Park and five overall (a certain tour leader who can’t be named but has the initials JCE still hasn’t seen any!).


Pale-faced Bulbul – the berries helped!


Golden-naped Barbet showing why it is so-named.


We kept bumping into these – seemingly easier to see now that there are fewer visitors to the Park.


Bornean Stubtail and bling!