Big Year 2015: May-June summary

I spent the whole of May and the first week of June in the UK after my father’s funeral. Despite the idyllic weather and enjoyable temperatures, I was eager to get back and crack on with the Big Year by early June. I had missed a long-staying Malaysian Night-Heron in Penang, as well as the bulk of spring seabird passage, which probably cost me 4-5 species. Of more immediate concern just prior to my return were reports of an unprecedented invasion of Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos from the Austral region to the Peninsula. This is a bird which had only been recorded three times in West Malaysia before this year, and now they seemed to be popping up everywhere. But the question was – would they stay??

And the answer was…



No worries mate! I decided to make good use of jet-lag to get an early morning start my first day back (10 June), and after an anxious hour, managed to catch up with these two birds at Pulau Burung. A third was subsequently found there, as well as about 15 others up and down the Peninsula. A useful article postulating reasons for this invasion was posted on the Singapore Bird Group webpage. It was good to get my year total, stuck on 471 for almost 2 months, ticking over again!

My next priority was to get out to sea as soon as possible in the hope of catching any straggling shearwaters, jaegers or wandering terns. A long, hot day at sea ensued, on 13 June, with very little to show for the effort. The sole exception was a couple of Roseate Terns. By all accounts this has been a poor year for spring seabirds, so it was some consolation that I probably hadn’t missed that much. Since we still had a few daylight hours left, Hor Kee, Mun and I dropped in at stretch of mangroves along the Sungai Merbok, where we ‘jammed in’ on at least three Mangrove Pittas and a Copper-throated Sunbird. I missed the pitta altogether last year, and there have been no easy birds in the north of the peninsula this year, so this was a real bonus!

Roseate Tern1 Mangrove Pitta

I had a couple of weeks before setting off to lead a Birdtour Asia group into the mountains of eastern Sarawak, so spent a few days at Sungai Sedim picking up a few omissions such as Diard’s Trogon, Ferruginous Babbler and Rufous Piculet. The Penang ‘Gang of Four’ (Choo Eng, Mun and Hor Kee and I) also pulled off a very effective dawn raid on 20 June to Panchor State Park, picking up a handy trio of Oriental Bay Owl, Gould’s Frogmouth and Sunda Scops-Owl before breakfast!

Oriental Bay Owl Gould's Frogmouth Sunda Scops Owl

At last it was time to head over to Borneo again; the trip was all that I could have hoped for and more. Highlights were many, but it was especially cool to tick off Dulit Frogmouth as my 500th bird of the year, and to pick up two lifers – the poorly-known endemic race of Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher (surely a good split from the Philippine form) and Sunda Frogmouth. A full write-up of the trip is here. I ended the month on 512 species for the year, and back on track in comparison with Dennis’s ground-breaking Big Year of 2006.

Monthly totals Aggregate totals

I have two visits to Sabah lined up in July, where there are a potential 50 or so year ticks waiting. My latest total is 521, so I’ll be very happy to get past 550 this month!

I’ll end with a few pics from the fantastic Sarawak tour.

Banded Kingfisher_IMG_0522

Male ‘Bornean’ Banded Kingfisher, aka Black-faced Kingfisher

Wreathed Hornbill_IMG_0840

Female Wreathed Hornbill. We had a wonderful evening watching over 40 hornbills of 4 species flying to a communal roost, and an aerial dogfight between a Helmeted Hornbill and a Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle!

Black Oriole_IMG_0583

Black Orioles, mythical a few years ago, now never fail to show

Black Oriole_IMG_0550

They still present a photographic challenge to capture all the colours!

Blyth-s Hawk-Eagle_IMG_0887

Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle overhead

Bornean Barbet_IMG_0846

Bornean Barbet – easy to hear, tricky to photograph!

Bornean Frogmouth_IMG_0709

Bornean Frogmouths performed exceptionally well.


(Sunda) Ashy Drongo

Mountain Barbet_IMG_0725

Continuing the series of barbets in flight! Mountain Barbet.

Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher_IMG_0898

Not much to look at but as rare as hens’ teeth! Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher.

Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher_IMG_0926

It’s not often I put bins on a bird in Malaysia and have no idea what I’m looking at! That was my first reaction on seeing this bird. We worked it out eventually, and with much excitement!

Red-crowned Barbet_IMG_1498

Red-crowned Barbet – always a favourite!

male Sunda Frogmouth_IMG_1631

Male Sunda Frogmouth – rather good!

Hook-billed BulbulIMG_1433

Not the best looker, but highly-prized nonetheless – Hook-billed Bulbul

female Sunda Frogmouth_IMG_1620

Female Sunda Frogmouth – very obliging

female Sunda Frogmouth_IMG_1598

No neck strain for this one!


Whitehead's Spiderhunter_IMG_1273

We got two of the Whitehead’s trio – this is the spiderhunter

Whitehead's Broadbill_IMG_1283

A record shot of the broadbill, which we saw much better than this shot suggests! This was after seeing a pair of Hose’s Broadbills earlier in the day!

Ferruginous Partridge_IMG_1391

They’re not supposed to do this! A Ferruginous Partridge doing an impression of the chicken that crossed the road.

Ferruginous Partridge_IMG_1361

And belting out its song from cover.

Blue-banded Pitta_IMG_1247

The contest for Bird of the Tour was over the moment THIS appeared! Blue-banded Pitta – BOOM!

Blue-banded Pitta_IMG_1208

Sunglasses advised!

Tree Nymph_IMG_0871

A Tree Nymph. Never get tired of these!

Oriental Honey-Buzzard torquatus_IMG_1106

torquatus race Oriental Honey-Buzzard giving a passable impression of a Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle or serpent-eagle.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha_IMG_1468

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Bornean Bulbul_IMG_1295

An obliging Bornean Bulbul


We found the pot of gold at the end!


4 thoughts on “Big Year 2015: May-June summary

  1. Dave, I’m glad to see Borneo featuring prominently in your big year. It’s nice to see that these under-explored highlands of Sarawak are getting more attention (habitat and species diversity must be comparable to Brunei’s mountainous region at the tip of Temburong). Good luck with the big year endeavor, the 600 is definitely in reach now!

  2. Thanks Folkert. Yes, I was struck that you observed Black Oriole and Mountain Serpent-Eagle at Bukit Pagon – must be quite similar. Thanks for the good wishes. As always, an endeavour like this is a collective effort of many, many people, and I am appreciative of all the support!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s