Chuping sugar cane fields, now fast becoming a rubber plantation, continue to pull in the rares in their swansong season. Hor Kee fluked a fabulous Short-eared Owl (flushed by plantation workers as he happened to be nearby!) and James Eaton managed to find a Richard’s Pipit (potentially the first confirmed record for Peninsular Malaysia) in the week before Christmas. So there was little discussion as to destination when Choo Eng and I planned a little Boxing Day excursion.
Even before we arrived at the owl site, we came across a Greater Spotted Eagle sitting by the track at first light.
This Oriental Reed Warbler was sunning itself in a scrubby bush. The whole area was alive with prinias and warblers, and probably much else besides. The best we could conjure up was 2-3 Thick-billed Warblers, which were evidently numerous in this habitat.
I also managed to disturb this young Large Hawk-cuckoo from among the rubber saplings. However, despite much tramping and collecting of irritating burrs and grass-seeds, we failed to find an owl. We were disappointed but not terribly surprised, given the enormous area of suitable habitat. We decided to scan the wider area in the hope of finding the bird hunting somewhere.
Although there was no sign of the owl, there were plenty of raptors to keep us entertained…
Short-toed Snake-eagles became a regular feature of the day – at least three birds and possibly more. Two here shared a thermal with an Oriental Honey-buzzard (top right). There were 3-4 of the latter around too, and a couple of Black Bazas.
At one point we watched it sparring with a male Peregrine – wish they could have been closer, but the comparison in shape and size was instructive nonetheless – the Kestrel being much slimmer-bodied and -winged, and longer-tailed.
Another couple of distant raptors proved to be a Black-shouldered Kite mobbing a pale morph Booted Eagle! Again, closer would have been nicer, but it was encouraging to know that this pale Booted, last seen by Hor Kee back in mid-November, was still around, so perhaps the owl might be also! Later we also saw the dark morph Booted, but it was even further away, so I didn’t bother with a photo!
With our efforts focused on scanning the horizon, passerines received less attention. However, I found it hard to pass up an opportunity to enjoy Red-throated Pipits – one of my favourites!
Throughout the day we noticed two Long-tailed Macaques apparently marooned in the middle of this new ‘desert’ atop the high tension pylons and cables. In this picture, one was on the pylon, the other had ventured some way along the top high tension cable.
Soon it was getting to ‘harrier o’clock’, when the harriers began to congregate before roosting, and, we hoped, when the owl might show itself!
…a crepuscular Grey-faced Buzzard hawking, nightjar-like, for dragonflies at dusk – behaviour I have neither observed nor heard of for this species. This last brought the number of raptor species for the day to 13, despite having seen almost none of the ‘common’ Malaysian species (i.e. no Brahminy or Black-eared Kites, no Crested Serpent-eagle,Changeable Hawk-eagle or White-bellied Sea-eagle, and no accipiters)!
Sadly though, despite spot-lighting for an hour after dusk, no owls!