Big Year 2015: April Summary

The month started with my first pelagic trip of the year, off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah, and this was followed by a first visit to East Malaysia for 2015, taking part in a Wild Asia HCV assessment of some oil palm estates near Lahad Datu. Highlights of these trips were Long-tailed Jaeger from the boat, and a few birds in Sabah which were good to get under the belt – Wrinkled  and White-crowned HornbillsStorm’s StorkChestnut-necklaced Partridge and Black-headed Pitta among them. Pechora Pipit in Kota Kinabalu and Malaysian Night-Heron in Penang were painful misses.

However, everything came to a sudden halt while I was deep in a palm oil plantation near Tabin Wildlife Reserve when I received news of the death of my father. I immediately flew home to be with the family, and have made the decision to spend an extended time in the UK to be with my Mum and help her sort out my Dad’s effects.

My Dad had been ill for a few years with Alzheimer’s disease, and his health had gradually declined to the point where he was unable to recognise family. He had a quiet but strong faith in God which sustained him in the final difficult years, and I have no doubt he is now in a much better place, so I don’t really grieve for him. But we all miss him of course! He had a great love of nature, and of birds in particular, and also of the arts. He was a fine artist, wood carver, calligrapher, musician (piano and organ), photographer (see the third placed pic here), sailor and many other things. Most people who met my Dad say that I look like him, and there’s no doubt I resemble him in many other ways besides. Certainly many of his passions live on through me. I’ll be happy if at the end of my life I have made half the positive contribution to the world that he made. Anyway – here are some of the pics taken in the last month – dedicated to my Dad, without whom none of them would have been taken!


A Long-tailed Jaeger bombing the terns around an ikan bilis boat, off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


Common and White-winged Terns, some of the 5,000+ we estimated to be in the vicinity. Off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


Some of ‘the lads’ hard at work! Off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


Bridled Tern – another year tick. Off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


A tiny glimpse into the untold tragedy of annual migration – this Eyebrowed Thrush is one of countless numbers that never complete the journey each season, for many reasons. This one was probably unable to store up sufficient fat reserves to make the sea crossing. Off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


The last of several Long-tailed Jaegers for the day, this one an adult with full tail streamers. Off Tanjung Dawai, 2 April 2015


Sabahan birder Zaim Hazim kindly met me at KK airport and took me around the local sites for half a day. He dug out a pair of Malaysian Plovers on the baking hot Lok Kawi beach. Sadly, the long-term wintering Common Ringed Plover had already departed for the breeding grounds, but I hope I can catch up with her later this year. Lok Kawi beach, 5 April 2015.


Rufous Night-Herons were dependable at their roost in town. Kota Kinabalu 6 April 2015.


We flushed many snipe from the paddy fields at Penampang. Some of these looked large and pale, possible candidates for Latham’s?? However, all the ones I managed to photograph were, I think, Pintailed. If you think otherwise about this one, please let me know! Penampang, 5 April 2015.


A pair of feral Red Avadavadava… yes – those! Penampang, 5 April 2015.


Chestnut-necklaced Partridges were not uncommon in some of the forest fragments in the estates. Seeing them was another matter! Near Lahad Datu, 7 April 2015.


Crested Jays in one small patch of forest were a nice surprise. Near Lahad Datu, 7 April 2015


A high density of White-crowned Shamas in several estates was a good sign that trapping bans are reasonably well-enforced. Near Lahad Datu, 8 April 2015


Hooded Pittas were rather common in larger forest patches on slopes. This juvenile was particularly accommodating, despite the poor light. Near Lahad Datu, 8 April 2015


Adults were much more wary! Near Lahad Datu, 7 April 2015


A smart Grey-headed Babbler, one of relatively few babbler species surviving in forest fragments. Near Lahad Datu, 7 April 2015

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Estates can be great places to observe mammals. Low’s Squirrel, near Lahad Datu, 9 April 2015


Large Treeshrew. Near Lahad Datu, 9 April 2015


Too bad about the leaf! Malay Civet. Near Lahad Datu, 8 April 2015


Pig-tailed Macaques are always good value for their great expressions. This one was just yawning! Near Lahad Datu, 8 April 2015


Definitely guilty! Pig-tailed Macaque. Near Lahad Datu, 8 April 2015


We disturbed a mother Orang Utan and baby making a bed for the night on the edge of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. 10 April 2015.


Common Palm Civets were indeed the commonest of three civet species seen. Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015



A very anxious baby Asian Small-clawed Otter which was momentarily separated from its mother by our sudden appearance. (They were happily reunited shortly afterwards!). Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015


Leopard Cats were very numerous indeed in places. Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015.

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Buffy Fish-Owl was the only owl species seen; Reddish Scops, Oriental Bay and Barred Eagle-Owls were all heard. Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015


A young Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle roosting in oil palm. Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015


A pair of large Red-tailed Racers were seen in this one palm two days running. Near Lahad Datu, 9 April 2015


Critical Endangered Storm’s Stork on the fringes of Tabin WR, 9 April 2015.


Wrinkled Hornbill, one of four hornbill species seen. Near Lahad Datu, 9 April 2015


A pair of White-crowned Hornbills flew in at last light. Near Lahad Datu, 9 April 2015


A curious Black-headed Pitta. Near Lahad Datu, 10 April 2015


Blue-throated Bee-eater nests creating a striking impression! Near Lahad Datu, 11 April 2015


The highlight of the trip was this stunning Malay Weasel. It had killed a treeshrew, but then left it in its haste to get away from us. Then it was just a matter of hiding and waiting for it to come back and collect its meal!

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Which it duly did, within 5 minutes!


A brief but memorable encounter!
































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