When I last walked the Bintang Trail at Sungai Sedim, in December, it had been very birdy, so I decided to give it another shot. This time it was, if anything, even better, with a total of 84 species recorded (you can see a full list here).
A few early birds like Diard’s Trogon, Grey-headed Babbler and Chinese Blue Flycatcher got things rolling nicely, but things took off once the sunlight hit the trees, with one fruiting tree attracting a regular procession of bulbuls, including Finsch’s…
…and Buff-vented, making it difficult to know where to point the camera at times!
Near the start of the upward climb I saw the distinctive chubby shape of a Malaysian Honeyguide. I lost track of it momentarily, but then heard a low ‘growl’ and saw it chasing another honeyguide through the branches! Having seen off its rival, it consented to pose for a few photos, even though the light wasn’t the best.
As the morning heated up, levels of bird activity continued to be good.
I added more Chinese Blue Flycatchers (at least five) and this Great Iora moved through as part of a mixed flock.
I glimpsed a raptor landing in a tree through some thick foliage, and was lucky enough to get a shot as it flew off, enabling me to identify it as a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle. The very next bird I saw was a Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, flying overhead calling repeatedly.
The strong overhead sunlight by this stage made for some striking patterns in the foliage.
On my descent I came across a close Red-throated Barbet which was obviously too full of fruit to be bothered about flying off. What should have been a golden opportunity for photos was frustrated by the thick foliage and strong overhead lighting, so these are the best I managed. Still, what a bird! It takes a lot to beat a male Red-throated Barbet!
I was astonished by the length of its rictal bristles, but I guess that’s how barbets got their name!
You can see how these would be useful in guiding fruit toward the bill.
There were 20 or so swiftlets flying above the forest canopy. From the full, broad-based tail and very grey colouration I identified these as Black-nest Swiftlets. I saw some at this locality last year, as well as some birds I identified as Himalayan Swiftlets, so I spent quite a bit of time photographing these birds.
The extent of tail notch was very variable. I surmised that this was a factor affected by moult (in the case of adults) and feather development (in the case of juveniles).
The two photos above are of the same bird, showing how the deepness of the tail notch is also affected by whether the tail is held closed or spread.
Later I was able to photograph some juveniles (aged by their evenly fresh plumage, with no moult visible in the wings). Against a darker background, the lack of warm tones in the plumage is evident.
Later on in the afternoon I took some photos of Germain’s (in Kulim) to try to make comparisons.
Lighting conditions were very different, so probably not much can be said about the apparent colour differences in these photos. Structurally, they do seem extremely similar too, though in the field, Black-nest seems to have a relatively larger head and shorter neck, broader tail base and possibly broader wings. All of these are extremely subtle and perhaps subjective differences. I admit the main basis for identifying the Black-nest as such was the fact that they were in forest far from any known ‘swiftlet hotels’, though the very grey plumage tones add support to my identification.
Juvenile Black-nest (left) and adult Germain’s (right) showing the warmer brown tones of the latter. I have not yet seen any Black-nest with gloss on fresh feathers, as can be seen on Germain’s.
Some Germain’s for comparison – browner, subtly slighter in wing and body and with a smaller-looking head.
Some more shots showing the upperpart tones of Germain’s.
I have to say that, even though I am confident of the identity of these birds, I don’t think I would be able to tackle a mixed species flock! My working assumption is that all swiftlets on the coastal plains in rural agricultural landscapes are the farmed ‘white-nest’ type, aka Germain’s, and that swiftlets in extensive forested landscapes well away from swiftlet farming activities are more likely to be Black-nest, especially if they are greyer and ‘colder’ brown than Germain’s.
Asian Palm Swifts are very different in shape – really skinny with a big rounded head and long, deeply forked tail.
And finally – a Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel. According to Mammals of South-east Asia these are darker orange in the north of the Peninsula than in the south, which this one certainly is. I wondered how one would eliminate the possibility of this being a hybrid with Black Giant Squirrel, since it has black feet and black in the tail.