Another month based mostly in the north of the Peninsula, with visits to sites in Pulau Pinang (Air Hitam Dalam, Kubang Semang, Permatang Nibong), Kedah (Sungai Sedim, Pendang), Perak (Taiping, Bukit Larut), Pahang (Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands and Taman Negara) and Perlis (Timah Tasoh, Perlis State Park, Chuping). All this travelling added 105 new birds for the year, leading to a nice symmetrical tally of 444 by the end of the month (I think 444 sounds like “die, die, die” in Chinese, which is how it felt at times!).
Here’s an idea of how I’m doing compared to Dennis Yong’s Big Year in 2006. I’m 132 ahead of where Dennis was at this stage in his Big Year, but he had a really big April, with his first visit to Sabah in that month, so I am not lulled into complacency!
Dennis’s April total will be hard to match!
The month really got going during the first day of a Taiwanese group tour on the 7th, when we found a fruiting tree at Sungai Sedim festooned with flowerpeckers, including at least four of the near mythical Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, as well as a briefly visiting Thick-billed Flowerpecker. We also managed an early morning Blue-banded Kingfisher. Good as it was, the day would have been even better had I managed to get onto a male Asian Emerald Cuckoo seen briefly by Mun and Hor Kee, but then you can’t see ’em all! A few days in Taiping and up Bukit Larut enabled me to whittle down my list of still-wanted montane birds, with Pygmy Cupwing, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Speckled Piculet and both Siberian and Orange-headed Thrush being added. A male Banded Kingfisher and a very close Malaysian Honeyguide (my third for the year!) were nice bonuses. In Taiping I was pleased to add Grey-capped Woodpecker but frustrated to miss an Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo seen by others in the group. Cuckoos were fast becoming my bogey bird family!
A lengthy list of montane specialities recorded at Cameron Highlands by Lau Jiasheng proved too tempting to resist; I drove down late on the 16th and spent the remainder of the night attempting to sleep in the car on the very cold slopes of Gunung Brinchang. All the shivering was worth it as I managed a stunning round-up of scarcities at dawn the next day, including Wedge-tailed Pigeon, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Rufous-vented Niltava, Chinese Sparrowhawk and Asian House Martin. Barred Cuckoo-Dove eluded me for the second trip in succession, as did Sunda Cuckoo and Rusty-naped Pitta, both heard but not seen.
In between major trips, I tried to catch up on gaps that might prove hard to fill later in the year, and I was especially pleased to add Indian Pond-Heron and Korean Flycatcher at local venues.
Another raid on Perlis’s riches with Mun on the 21st proved a success overall, although we missed two of my much-wanted targets – Orange-breasted Pigeon and Dusky Crag Martin (where are they these days?). We scored Racket-tailed Treepie and Thick-billed Warbler (at last!) at Timah Tasoh, and then had an inspired time scouring the isolated mature rubber plots on the hilltops of Chuping for migrants, the pick of which were an adult Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo and an adult male Zappey’s Flycatcher – my 400th species for the year. A showy Grey-capped Woodpecker and a repeat viewing of the Green Sandpiper were nice bonuses.
Another short tour saw me at Taman Negara from 23-27th, via Ulu Kali where I picked up Rufous-winged Fulvetta, which had eluded me twice at Cameron Highlands. Even though the National Park was desperately dry and bird activity relatively low, I still managed 43 new birds for the year in three and half days, the pick of which were Crested Fireback, Crested Partridge, Blyth’s Frogmouth, Helmeted Hornbill, Malaysian Rail-babbler and Red-legged Crake. An adult Rufous-bellied Eagle flying over the car on my way back proved to be the last new bird of the month, with plenty of birds still to go back for later in the year.
April is on the doorstep, when I will be turning my attention to the spring seabird passage and spending some time in Sabah (sadly mostly in oil palm rather than in good forest). Other than that, there are still a few scarce migrants I’d be glad to see, so please let me know if you find anything good!