Big Year 2015: March summary

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!).

March aggregate

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!

March monthly

Dennis’s April total will be hard to match!

Great Eared-Nightjar_Air Itam Dalam_040315_IMG_5590

A Great Eared-Nightjar gave great views at Air Hitam Dalam early in the month.

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 CupwingSilver-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!

Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker_Sg Sedim_070315_IMG_5771

The Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers of Sungai Sedim were widely admired while the fruit lasted

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.

Wedge-tailed Pigeon_Cameron Highlands_160315_IMG_6012

This male Wedge-tailed Pigeon watched me shivering below him just after dawn!

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.

Indian Pond-Heron_Kubang Semang_190315_IMG_6327

Hor Kee found this Indian Pond-Heron locally just about showing enough breeding plumage to be identified.

Korean Flycatcher_Air Hitam Dalam_200315_IMG_6567

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher has been renamed Korean Flycatcher in the new checklist. Either way, it’s a smart bird, especially now that it’s moulting into breeding finery.

Slaty-breasted Rail_Kg Batu Jelutung_190315_IMG_6389

I didn’t see Slaty-breasted Rail till December last year, so I was mighty glad to get it out of the way early this year!

Black-and-red Broadbill_Air Hitam Dalam_200315_IMG_6539

An obliging Black-and-red Broadbill at Air Hitam Dalam


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.

Thick-billed Warbler_Timah Tasoh_210315_IMG_3320

Having only heard this on my last Perlis visit, it was good to get a view of this Thick-billed Warbler at Timah Tasoh.

Grey-capped Woodpecker_Chuping_210315_IMG_6851

A nice reprise following three Grey-capped Woodpeckers seen  but not photographed in Taiping, the obliging Perlis bird. I missed this species altogether in 2014.

Zappey's Flycatcher_Chuping_210315_IMG_6882

It was a real ‘Yeehaa!’ moment when we set eyes on this adult male Zappey’s Flycatcher. Adult male is the only plumage where certain identification is possible on current knowledge, and there aren’t many seen compared to all the females and first years. A triumphant 400th species for the year!

Green Sandpiper_Chuping_280215_IMG_5255

The Chuping Green Sandpiper. I took this shot during the February visit.

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 FirebackCrested PartridgeBlyth’s Frogmouth, Helmeted HornbillMalaysian 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. 

Rufous-winged Fulvetta_Ulu Kali_230315_IMG_7068

Rufous-winged Fulvettas at Ulu Kali are common and confiding.

Siberian Thrush_Ulu Kali_230315_IMG_7075

This would set hearts aflutter if it turned up on my lawn in England! Female Siberian Thrush, Ulu Kali.

Crested Partridge_Taman Negara_230315_IMG_7174

Not the best pic you’ll ever see, but a pair of Crested Partridges is not to be sniffed at!

Crested Fireback_Taman Negara_240315_IMG_7383

Forest chook! I’m good-looking and I know it! A male Crested Fireback, Taman Negara

Helmeted Hornbill_Taman Negara_240315_IMG_7278

An overflying female Helmeted Hornbill, Taman Negara.

White-bellied Woodpecker_Taman Negara_240315_IMG_7471

One of a party of White-bellied Woodpeckers that entertained daily at Taman Negara.

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!


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