Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brown Fulvetta

Brown Fulvetta (14 cm) Alcippe brunneicauda is widespread lowland and submontane resident of Borneo.

It is generally uncommon and usually found in small parties feeding in mid-storey. It could be underecorded as its call , an up and down series of notes : do-di-do-di-do-di-do, is one of the commonest one can hear in the Sabah forest.

It is a similar looking bird to the Mangrove Whistler Pachycephala cinerea, but should not be mistaken in the field because of distinctive habitats and songs.

Smythies listed A.b. brunneicauda for North Natunas and North-west Borneo, A. b. eriphaea elsewhere.

Myers lists this as monotypic, while Mann follows Smythies while maintaining that the race eriphaea might not be valid as the boundary between the two forms is unclear and they are also poorly differentiated.

One observation is that Phillipps does not list this in both his Common name and Scienticfic name indices in his book.

This bird was photographed in Tawau (my new bird), one among the small party that came to feed. Like other babblers, they are active birds and to get a sharp and infocus shot is a real test to your skill.
Happy birding.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Barn Swallow race in Borneo ?

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, occurs almost globally, is an abundant winter visitor to Borneo, recorded over all habitats from sea level to mountain peaks, and from offshore islands.

Some birds in Borneo during the winter months are in moulting plumage without their diagnostic long tail streamers, they can look similar to juvenile/immature birds in this plumage.

Here are some images of either moulting birds or juvenile birds, I am not sure, they may be all immature birds.
Here is how the adult should look like when not in moult, with its diagnostic breast-band and tail streamers.
The race usually recorded in Borneo is H. r. gutturalis, all the above birds should belong to this race, it occurs across China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea Kuril Island and lower Amur river.

H. r. tyleri,  another race which mainly breeds in South Central Siberia, Mongolia and North East China has been recorded in Myanmar, Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. This race has dusky brick orange over its entire underparts compare to whitish or buffish underparts of the gutturalis race. This race has not been documented in Borneo as yet as it is not mentioned in Smythies, Mann, Phillipps and Myers in their respective publications.

The following bird photographed in Tawau is evidently from the race tyleri by virtue of its distinctive underparts coloring. It could be a regular visitor here, but due to its abundance, it could have been overlooked by most birders.
Edited to add: Thanks to Dave B., who raised the point on the races of satuata and  mandschurica. This might very well be the former, but the the two races might not be always separable.

Happy birding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chestnut-cheeked Starling

Chestnut-cheeked Starling Sturnus philippensis, a very local winter visitor to Borneo, usually flock with Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis.

Its appearance in Borneo is somewhat irregular, not seen in some years, while large flocks were seen roosting in other years, however, it is a very regular visitor to the Philippines,

It breeds in Japan, from Central Honshu to Hokkaido, South Sakhalin and South Kuril Island from April to October, winters in Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

These images of this species were taken near Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, Sandakan in October (My new bird). They were seen flocking with a flock of Asian Glossy Starling.

Happy birding.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bornean Short Python

Bornean Short Python or Short-tailed Python Python breitensteini is a small python, grows to 2 meters, inhibits edges of waterbodies, such as sluggish rivers, swamps and marshes in lowland tropical forests, where they ambush small mammals and birds.

Chinese call this Piglet Python as it looks fat and short, resembling a piglet, against the long Reticulated Python Python reticulatus, which grows to 10 meters in length.

It is endemic to Borneo and known from Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan.

We encountered this beauty when we were photographing birds, it was crossing the access road, slowly and steadily.

Happy birding.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tree Monitor - prelude

Further to my earlier post of the Tree Monitor. My good friend, Mr. K O Ku, generously allow me to share these few shots taken by him when the Changeable Hawk Eagle was trying to secure its dinner.

 Holding the Tree Monitor under its claws.
 Struggling to lift its prey on our approach.

Dropped it and watch out for the human approaching.
 The Tree Monitor seems to have expanded in size and 
the Hawk Eagle must have decided by than to leave as the dinner is too hard to secure.

Happy birding.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tree Monitor

Monitors are the largest of the living lizards. They are swift and active predators of small mammals, birds, bird eggs,  reptiles, amphibians, as well as invertebrates. The Water Monitor Varanus salvator, growing up to 3 meters in length,  is one of the three largest lizards in the world. I have seen large Water Monitors along the tributaries of Kinabatangan, which easily measures up to 3 meters,

Tree Monitor Varanus rudicollis, on the other hand, only grows to about 1.5 meters, half the size of the Water Monitor.

It is a dark, rough necked monitor, widespread in the lowlands. However, many people might not have seen one as it inhibits the forests.

Water Monitor, on the other hand, is widespread but also inhibits in urban environments like rubbish dumps, urban marginal swamps, sewage drains and moonsoon drains adjacent to motorways, is regularly seen and is the commonest road-kills.

This young Tree Monitor was under the claws of a  Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus, but it was too big and heavy for the bird to lift it up into the air. The bird abandoned it while we were approaching. It was quite exhausted and we managed to take some photos before it disappeared itself into the thick undergrowth.

Tree Monitor

Compare to the following picture of a Water Monitor.
Water Monitor

And the Changeable Hawk Eagle that lost its dinner.
Changeable Hawk Eagle

Happy birding.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ruddy Kingfisher

Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda is not an easy bird to see in Borneo, it is commoner in north-east Sabah than anywhere in Sarawak where it is rarely seen. It has been collected from coastal, island and inland localities and from mangroves, swamps and old rubber plantation.

There are two races occurring in Borneo, one race being scarce non-breeding winter visitor from mainland Asia H. c. major and the resident race H. c. minor.

H. c. major is a slightly larger bird at 25 to 27 cm compared to 23 cm of H. c. minor, however, since this species always occur singly, ascertaining the race by size alone base on a solitary bird in the field can be deceptive.

During the duration of the just concluded Borneo Bird Festival in October at Rain Forest Discovery Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan, one bird was seen every day feeding at a small pond next to the Woodpecker Avenue. It was the star bird of the Festival, keeping both the bird watchers and bird photographers waiting by the pond to take a good look/image of it.

This image was taken there during the Festival (my new bird). It is of the resident race H. c. minor because of the following distinctive features:-

1. Rich purple wash on the upper parts compare to orange or ruddy-brown for H. c. major, 

2. Rufous chin/throat compare to almost white chin/throat of H. c. major,  and

3. Purple tinged breast which is absent on H. c. major.

Happy birding.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher

Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher Rhinomyias gularis is an endemic of Borneo, it is a common montane resident along the north-central mountain ranges from G. Kinabalu to G. Murud and G. Menyapa.

It was previously lumped with three races of Jungle Flycatcher found in the Phillippines, split by Wolters (1980) from the Phillippines forms as an endemic monotypic species.

It usually perched on the lower branches in the lower storey and hunt close to ground, it moves on the ground and through the undergrowth much like a thrush.

It can easily be seen and photographed in bushes behind the Liwagu Restaurant in Kinabalu Park. These images of this endemic species, my new bird, were taken there.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus is a common resident of Borneo, it is mainly a sub-montane and montane bird, probably occurring throughout the mountains of Borneo, mostly from 750 to 1835 m, but occasionally brlow 150m.

It is also recorded in low altitude lowland dipterocarp forest at Kalabakan near Tawau.

I saw this bird in Kinabalu Park and Rafflesia Centre, which are montane. I have yet to see it from lowland forests.

This male bird was photographed in Rafflesia Centre, it is my new photographed wild bird.

Happy birding.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Fruithunter Chlamydochaera jefferyi is endemic to Borneo where it is a decidedly local montane species (700–3,200  m),  occurring  in  Sabah  and  Sarawak (Malaysia)  along  the  highland  chain  from  Gunung Kinabalu  to  Gunung  Mulu,  and  also  Gunung  Dulit (Smythies  and  Davison  1999).  In  Kalimantan (Indonesia) it has been recorded west to Gunung Nyiat (Prieme and Heegaard 1988) and south to Bukit Baka Nature Reserve (Rice 1989). It is an aberrant, strikingly marked, thrush-like bird occupying a monotypic genus that was once linked with trillers Lalage or orioles Oriolus (MacKinnon and Phillipps 1993), but is now thought to be associated with thrushes Turdinae (Ames 1975, Ahlquist et al. 1984), or cochoas Cochoa (Olson 1987). (Forktail 18, 2002).

It is not recorded in Kelabit Highland in Sarawak.

It is an unmistakable bird in the field, its black and buff pattern on the head and black breast are diagnostic. When sitting, their position is pigeon-like, but when they congregate at berry trees, they act much like bulbuls. They also resembles laughingthrushes in some behaviors and often occur in pairs. Their flight is like that of a campephagid, in that they dip their pointed wings in and out rather than flap.

This pair is photographed in Rafflesia Centre, Tambunan, my new bird.

Happy birding.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mountain Barbet

Mountain Barbet Megalaima monticola, is the last barbet for me to complete my photo collection of all the Bornean barbets.

It is a common Bornean endemic in hill and montane forest, it has been found almost in all mountains of Borneo that collections have been made.

It looks a little like the female bird of the Red-throated Barbet Megalaima mystacophanos, however, Mountain Barbet has an evidently  smaller bill and the lack of red spot at the base of the rictal bristles on each side (area touching the base of upper mandible just in front of the eye).

It was usually heard  but  it was very difficult to get a decent photo because it was either too hard to locate or perched too high. I managed to photograph the birds at Rafflesia Centre in Tambunan, my new bird.

Monday, November 8, 2010

September water birds in Tawau.

These are some of the migratory and resident water birds photographed  in Tawau in the third week of September 2010.

A juvenile Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Non-breeding Little Tern
Breeding Little Tern

Little Tern is the smallest tern in Borneo and is the only tern that breeds here, comprising of both wintering and resident breeding populations. Recorded to breed in Sarawak and Kalimantan.

A lone Asian Dowitcher Limnnodromus semipalmatus (my new bird) among a group of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa.
 A Little Egret Egretta garzetta which resembles a Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes.
 Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
 A group Red-necked Stints Calidris ruficollis
 The middle bird looks a bit bigger than the others but it is still a Red-necked Stint.
 Another odd-looking Red-necked Stint
 Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
A mud-crap trying to chase away a  Common Redshank Tringa totanus.
 Little-ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
 Wandering Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna arcuata
  Crab in 'HULK' stance.
 Mud- crab
 You know where the inspiration for Transformer comes from.

Many thanks to Sifu Dave Bakewell for confirmation on IDs of the Stints and Egret.

Happy birding.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bornean Bulbul

Bornean Bulbul Pycnonotus montis, a generally scare bird that is confined to secondary growths and forest edge in the mountains, 600m to 1,550m.

Found in G. Kinabalu; Crocker Range and foothills; G Trus Madi; Kaingaran; Lumaku; Malangkap; Sinsuran road; Tambunan; Telipok; Maliau Basin in Sabah, note that some of the records are from areas not exactly montane. Also found in Trusan; Kelabit Highlands and G Dulit in Sarawak.

The species was split by Fishpool & Tobias (2005) from Pycnonotus melanicterus,  into five species; dispar (Ruby-throated Bulbul) in Sumatra, Java and Bali; gularis (Flame-throated Bulbul) in W Ghat and India; melanicterus (Black-capped Bulbul) in Sri Lanka; flaviventris (Black-crested Bulbul) in elsewhere in Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia; and montis (Bornean Bulbul) in Borneo.

The Bornean Bulbul has black head and crest, olive-green upper parts, yellow throat, yellowish green underparts, dark red iris and black bill.

Black-crested Bulbul P. flaviventris caecilli in Peninsular Malaysia has black throat and pale eyes.

Ruby-throated Bulbul P. dispar of Sumatra has red throat and dark iris.

This images were taken in Rafflesia Centre, a montane forest. This bird is locally common there.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Orange-headed Thrush

Orange-headed Thrush Zoothera citrina is a bird occuring from Pakistan to South China, Andamans, Nicobars, Southeast Asia and Sumatra.

 It is a rare montane forest resident of Borneo, known from seven localities from Sabah; Gunung Kinabalu; Gunung Trus Madi; Crocker Range; Kaingaran; Malangkap; Rinangisan and  Sinsuran road. One sight record  from Gunung Palung National Park of Kalimantan Barat in  December 1986 was suspected to be a migrant.

The Sabah bird is of the race Z. c. aurata which has a white bar on the  wing coverts and without bars on ear-coverts.

It has a very sweet song consisting of a series of musical phrases. In Java this bird is a star performer in popular bird singing contests and large number are harvested from wild nests owned by farmers to train as songsters (Jepson, Birding Asia, 9).

It was usually photographed in Kinabalu Park, however, I photographed this one in Rafflesia Centre. One male bird was seen foraging in a fruiting tree late afternoon, and possibly the same bird seen again on the same tree the next day and photographed. This is my new photographed lifer bird of Borneo.

Male Orange-headed Thrush
Happy birding.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bornean Swiftlet and Glossy Swiftlet

Positive field identification of swiftlets  is a real difficult thing to do, and with this latest split of montane Bornean Swiftlet Collocalia dodgei from Glossy Swiftlet  C. esculenta (to some authority, Linchi Swiftlet C. linchi) (the lowland form of which also occur in montane habitats in Borneo), there will be endless arguments as to which is Bornean and which is Glossy.

Before this, Smythies (1999) as revised by G W H Davison listed this a White-bellied Swiftlet, with the montane Mt. Kinabalu form as C. esculenta dodgei and lowland form as C. e. cyanoptila. No Linchi Swiftlet from Smythties at that time due to confusions in physical characteristics to separate the two forms.

Moyle et al. (2008) split Bornean Swiftlet  from Linchi Swiftlet C. linchi, itself a split from Glossy Swiftlet C. esculenta, based on a comparison of molecular data obtained from two specimens of 'unknown identity (but presumably dodgei)' from Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, and data from another study (Price et al. 2004) relating to the specimen of linchi from Java.

Moyle collected 3 individuals of C. esculenta cyanoptila from c.1500 m on the south side of Mt Kinabalu and 2 nestlings close to fledging (of unknown identity, presumed C. dodgei) from c.2730 m, also on the south side of Mt Kinabalu. The putative C. dodgei  fledglings lacked the feather tuft on the hind toes, had white bellies and showed upperparts to be dark brown with a faint green gloss. The nest from which they were removed was built of rootlets, plant fibres and lichens attached to a beam in a hut on two sides with hardened saliva.

Moyle et al. summarise by saying;
Linchi Swiftlet C. linchi has a restricted distribution on various Sundaic islands and has a grey belly.
Bornean Swiftlet C. dodgei is differentiated by molecular data and in morphology, white belly and is a montane species.

Mann (2008) in his checklist of Borneo recognised this montane form as a distinct species but uses the name Linchi swiftlet C. linchi for this species.

Both Phillipps (2009) and Myers (2009) follow Moyle in their fieldguides for Birds of  Borneo and listed this as Bornean swiftlet Collocalia dodgei.

These pictures were taken at montane altitudes, at about 1,600 meters showing what I assume to be Glossy Swiftlets. (Bear in mind that they are split based on DNA and not by physical appearance, physical feather color like bluish or greenish gloss and feather on hind toe are too environmental and moult dependent to be of real help in field identification.)

This might not be Bornean is also reinforced by the fact that the Bornean Swiftlets were collected at much higher altitude at Layang-layang by Moyle.

Taken in Gunung Alab Resort in 2009

 Taken in Gunung Alab Resort in 2010

Taken in Gunung Alab Resort in 2009

Taken near Kinabalu Park HQ, these birds must be Glossy as birds near Park HQ have been established to be Glossy and not Bornean.

Happy birding.