Brunei: Lower Belait, 19 June

After a day spent at an H&S briefing, it was back to the field today with Merijn and Marianne. It was our first visit into an substantial area of intact peat swamp forest, at the peak of the dome, where the peat was 9m deep.

On our way, Merijn asked if I believed in ‘jinxing’ birds by saying you want to see them. I said, no, exactly the opposite – I pray and tell God what I’d like to see, and then leave it up to Him! So we agreed that we’d like to see Hook-billed Bulbul and Grey-breasted Babbler – two peat swamp specialists which would be lifers for both of us.

IMG_4185Going in! We had to cross 100m or so of cleared land to get into the forest proper.

IMG_4179It was great to step into the forest at last.

IMG_4162The going was tough – lots of fallen trunks to negotiate – and if you missed stepping on a root, this could be the result!

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Pic courtesy of Marianne Rense

I had two nicely bruised shins by the end of the day!

Nevertheless, there were birds! We had just had great views of Rufous-tailed Shama when Merijn called out “Hook-billed Bulbul!” There ensued several moments of pandemonium, as we tried to get a stable place to stand and at the same time see the birds, which were being elusive and staying in the thick stuff. Eventually everyone got reasonable views, but no photos!

Not long afterwards we heard the weird calls of Bornean Bristleheads. I played the call and they flew into the closest tree to us! Four birds gave great views, but I only managed to get a couple of shots before my camera stopped working! Frustration!

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We walked on into pretty much pure alan forest. This is dominated by Shorea albida, a huge tree with a straight trunk that grows up to about 60 metres tall. Bristleheads seemed to be with us constantly, but we couldn’t work out if there were lots, or whether just one flock was following us!

IMG_4167 IMG_4164Peat swamp is very rich in pitcher plants, with eight species occurring in this area (apparently). I guess these are two of them.IMG_4178

With the DSLR still refusing to cooperate I spent some time trying to photograph damselflies with my S95. This is Podolestes harrissoni (thanks to Rory Dow for the id).

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Pic courtesy of Marianne Rense

Marianne found these cool shield-buglike creatures. Not sure if they were fighting or kissing!

While watching various bugs we heard the soft sound of a babbler’s scolding call. It was all the invitation I needed to play Grey-breasted Babbler’s song. with immediate and spectacular results! A pair spent some time circling us and generally showing off – both exhilirating and frustrating given my lack of camera! Fortunately, Merijn had his!

130619 Badas hyrdo transect 1 Grey-breasted Babbler 3

Pic courtesy of Merijn van Leeuwen

130619 Badas hyrdo transect 1 Grey-breasted Babbler 2

Pic courtesy of Merijn van Leeuwen

130619 Badas hyrdo transect 1 Grey-breasted Babbler 1

Pic courtesy of Merijn van Leeuwen

Not having the distraction of the camera, I was able to focus on just enjoying the birds – the culmination of years of dreaming! This was one of the birds which inspired me to start the Peninsular Malaysia 500 Club. I was interested in finding out which species  ‘seasoned’ Peninsular Malaysian birders have yet to see, as an indication of which resident species are rarest and also perhaps, most threatened. I invited anyone who had seen 500 or more species in Peninsular Malaysia to send me their lists, and I found that this species was on very few of them (including my own!). The fact that almost no one has seen it in the past 20 years suggests that is much more threatened than its ‘Near Threatened’ IUCN/BirdLife threat status suggests. Well – now at least I have seen it, though not yet in Peninsular Malaysia! The PM 500 Club is always open to new members. Just a) see 500 species in PM and b)send me your list to join!

IMG_1450Once we were back out on the road and away from the intense humidity of the forest my camera soon started working again! Here’s a shot of one of two Lesser Adjutatns taking advantage of the midday heat to do some thermalling.

So we ended the day with not only Hook-billed Bulbul AND Grey-breasted Babbler, but also Bornean Bristlehead, Rufous-tailed Shama and several other quality species as well. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about jinxing vs praying!

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