Pulau Mantanani: 8 – 12 Oct 2012: Owls and swifts

The Mantanani islands’ chief ornithological claim to fame is that they give their name to Otus mantananensis, Mantanani Scops-owl. It also occurs in the Philippines (a different race), so it’s not quite a full endemic, but the islands are the only place you can see it in Malaysia, and I was told it would not be a problem to see!

I won’t go into the hours I spent looking for them in detail. Suffice to say that I heard them every night, and twice had birds calling in the tree directly over my head, but I never got a glimpse. They seemed not to be particularly shy, and would allow close approach, but stayed resolutely hidden in the very tops of trees – the most densely-foliated parts. Once locals knew that I was looking for them, they would come and tell me how they saw one sitting in full view the night before in such-and-such a place. The next night I would go there and listen to them calling in the distance!

One night I finally got a view of a dark shape drifting overhead and landing in a nearby coconut palm. It seemed a bit large, but what else could be flying around at night? I finally found it in the spotlight and this is what I got.It’s probably a really rare endemic or a new species, but it’s not an owl!

Finally, news came that some kids had caught one and were keeping it in the nearby village. Well, I thought gloomily, I might as well at least see it. I was taken to a house and a few minutes later the bird was brought out for inspection.

Not a scops-owl at all, but a  Boobook, Northern I presume. Turns out some kids had catapulted it out of a tree. The person keeping it was not one of the aforementioned, and was keeping it (he said) with the intention of releasing it into the wild once it was able to fly. There didn’t seem too much wrong with it I thought, and I felt its chances of survival probably diminished the longer it was kept in captivity, since I don’t imagine it would thrive on a diet of rice and fish.

My assumption of identification is based mainly on location. However, the endemic resident race borneensis is very heavily streaked below (see this photo, taken at Sepilok), a pattern quite unlike the broad brown and white streaks of this bird. I wasn’t able to take measurements and I missed the critical photo of the closed wing, on which, on Northern, the 2nd outermost primary should be longer than the 5th (shorter or of equal length on resident Brown apparently). On this spread wing shot, the 5th looks much longer than the 2nd, but that may be because of the way the outer wing is splayed.

Mantanani is less famous for being the only known breeding site of Germain’s/German’s Swiftlet in Sabah. This must be one I suppose.

This White-throated Needletail spent about 5 minutes cruising up and down the beach at 6.15 am on 9th Oct – just before the Osprey came through. It was an adrenaline-charged few moments! The wing moult is at a very similar stage to the one I saw in Kundasang two days previously.


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