Needletail detail, Kundasang, Sabah, 7 Oct, 2012

On our last morning at the Borneo Bird Festival, as well as scrutinizing flycatchers, I spent some time watching a wheeling flock of needletails which appeared out of the low cloud for a few moments, and then just as quickly, disappeared!

This is how they appeared in life – pretty much black silhouettes! Nevertheless, it’s not too difficult to see some diagnostic differences between the Brown-backed Needletail (left) and the other one!

1. Check out the needle-like feathers projecting beyond the tail tip – very long and obvious on the Brown-backed, with the central cluster being longest. There are no needles visible on the right hand bird.

2. Body proportions. The Brown-backed not only seems bulkier, but longer-bodied (the head and and the bit behind the wings both seem longer). Perhaps because of the longer body, Brown-backed seems relatively shorter-tailed.

So, the right hand bird isn’t a Brown-backed, but what is it? Chances are, it’s a White-throated (a rare migrant) rather than a Silver-backed (still not confirmed in Borneo), but, is there any way to be sure?

Thank heaven for Photoshop! By substantially lightening the image, I can see what I couldn’t see in the field – a nice, well-defined white throat patch – so White-throated it is!

Another view of the White-throated, with needles just about visible.

A terrible photo, but Pygmy Ibons (White-eyes) seemed very numerous in the hotel grounds, and with more time, I would probably have got some nice shots. They seemed especially fond of the pine trees behind the main building. This is not an easy species to find at the Park HQ, so the Heritage Hotel might be worth a short visit for this species.

I saw my first Siberian Blue Robin of the season tail-shivering in the pines below the hotel.


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