Monday, December 30, 2013

Mahua Waterfall

Mr. Kong Ket Leong and I drove to Rafflesia Information Centre on 14th December 2013 to photograph the Whitehead's Spiderhunter Arachnothera juliae, which story will be told in another episode.

This posting is about Mahua Waterfall and the birds we managed to photograph there, it is 6 km detour from Kampung Patau along the Tambunan Ranau road. (Rafflesia Information Centre is along Tambunan Penampang Road).

On recommendation of Sifu Chee Su Ken we stayed at Hostels in Mahua, aptly called Mahua Rainforest Paradise for the night before our return to Tawau the next day. It has good accommodation with electricity supply, in contrast to Gunung Alab Resthouse (the place we used to put up while photographing birds in Rafflesia Reserve) which supplies electricity using its own generator for the earlier part of the night only.

Mahua Waterfall is 1000m above sea level, about the same altitude of Gunung Lucia in Tawau Hills Park and Crocker Range Park near Keningau. It is at this zone that we see the coexistence of both montane and lowland bird species, however, the density of montane/submontane species is more than lowland species in this altitude zone.

Here are some of the pictures taken during the trip.Unless otherwise stated, they all taken at Mahua.

 Endemic Mountain Barbet Megalaima monticola, calling from the top of a faraway tree.
 Leucistic Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica, taken along the way from Tambunan to Tawau, infront of Maliau Basin, you will not miss it if it is flying there with the other swallows.
  Leucistic Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica, side view of the same bird.
 Male Whiskered Treeswift Hemiprocne comata, taken along the way from Tambunan to Tawau, along this stretch of road, there are many Whiskered Treeswifts perch on the telephone wire, oblivious to the passing traffic.
 This is Female Whiskered Treeswift along the same stretch of road.
 Silver-rumped Spinetail Rhapidura leucopygialis, taken in Maliau Basin entrance, one of my few shots of this species showing its rump.
 This is either a female Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus or Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus satararus from Rafflesia Reserve,  I am not sure which as it was silent. For a discussion of these two Cuculus species in Borneo, please see my earlier post here.
 Mountain Imperial Pigeon Ducula badia, a lone bird perched at the tip of a bare branch early in the morning, however, many individuals were seen flying overhead later.
 Male Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris, common and approachable bird in montane forests.
 Female Grey-chinned Minivet.
 Female Blue and White Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, wintering species commoner in montane habitats in Borneo, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava is commoner in the lowlands. An easy way to tell them apart is by looking at the color of the feet, the later has dark legs.
 First winter male Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki, my last lifer for 2013, my number 393 bird photographed in Borneo. This is another migrant that prefers montane to lowland forests here.
 Black-and-Crimson Oriole Oriolus cruentus, this bird just refused to come lower.
 A group of wintering Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus, they prefer montane and hill forests here during winter.
 Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus
 Endemic Bornean Treepie Dendrocitta cinerascens,
 Checker-throated Woodpecker Picus mentalis, a species found from lowland to montane forests in Borneo.
 Endemic Bornean Ibon Oculocincta squamifrons, submontane species.
 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, this individual was foraging downstream of Mahua Waterfall.
 Ochraceous Bulbul Criniger ochraceus, commonly seen in montane forests.
 Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis, found also in lowland forests in Tawau Hills Park.
 Endemic Bornean Whistler Pachycephala hypoxantha, another common inhabitant of montane forests.
 Sunda Laughing-thrush Garrulax palliatus.
 Grey-throated Babbler Stachyris nigriceps, commonly seen in bird wave in montane forests.

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Grey-headed Lapwing, vagrant to NW Borneo

I was lucky to photograph 2 Grey-headed Lapings Vanellus cinereus, on 25th November 2013 at Penampang Paddyfield, on the west coast of Sabah.

It is a vagrant to north-west coast of Borneo, less than 10 records so far, 3 previous records from Brunei (Late November to early December 1974,  September 1981 and September 1995), 2 previous records from Sarawak (January 1975 and October 1985) , 1 recent record from Sabah (November 2011).

These two birds on current visit was located by Mr. Eugene Cheah on 15th November, who alerted birders around Kota Kinabalu. Since I had earlier planned a family trip there on 23th, I brought along my camera to try my luck.

This is my lifer, my #392 photographed bird of Borneo.

 Immature bird
 Adult bird

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recording birds with digital images

Digital photography is becoming the norm for recording new bird sightings against the conventional methods of describing by notes and sketches. New members to this hobby will most likely own a digital camera, the conventional notes and sketches will be resorted to only after failure to capture decent images of their subjects. Digital images are convenient media, they save you the trouble to compose descriptive notes, where you might miss some fine details needed to nail the identity in the process.

A seasoned bird watcher will likely ask whether there are any images when confronted with assertion of new and rare bird sighting by fellow hobbyists.

I exclusively take photos and do not make notes and sketches, my birdlist only account for birds that I managed to take decent images.

However, digital images can be tricky at times.

When looking at the above images, it seems that there are more than one individual in the series, but the images are of one individual only. See that the lighting conditions can play tricks on the images, thus care must be taken in assessing the identity when viewing digital images.

Positive ID based on digital images alone might not be sufficient in certain cases, as more birds are now split based on DNA rather than morphology.

Sometimes bird sounds, habitats, and habits need to be noted to aid in identifying the birds positively. For example, the subject bird in this post, which is most likely (over 99% ) an Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis, might very remotely (less than 1 %) to be a Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas, however, I think they can only be positively identified by calls/songs, but I heard no call when taking these photos.

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bornean and White-crowned Forktail

It has long been established that there are two races of White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti in Borneo, one from highland E. l. borneensis and the other E. l. frontalis from lowland, but there are occasional records of overlaps while the highland form is found in lowland and vice versa.

Moyle et. al. (2005) demonstrated these two forms are different phylogenetically and morphologically and the montane form is a different species endemic to Borneo.

Mann (2008) in his Checklist for Borneo classified the lowland form as Southern White-crowned Forktail E. l. frontalis and the the highland form as Northern White-crowned Forktail E. sinensis borneensis

Sheldon et. al.  suggested in 2009 that the highland form to be called Bornean Forktail Enicurus borneensis here.

These two forktails sound and look identical, birders traditionally distinguish them by habitats. Their specimens collected from Borneo are distinguished by measurements, however, their wing and tail lengths overlap and are confusing.  Identification based on observation of tail length is not reliable as it varies among different individuals and may be age related.

Susan Myers (2009) is the first to suggest that Bornean Forktail has lesser white in its forehead than the lowland White-crowned Forktail in her Field guides to the Birds of Borneo.

I have wanted for quite some time to prove her point, but good photos of  White-crowned Forktail are hard to take, they are skittish and usually occur in remote forest streams. Bornean Forktail, on the other hand, is relatively easier to photograph in Kinabalu Park, so we have good photos of Bornean Forktail in the Internet while photos of White-crowned Forktail from Borneo are hard to come by.

I have over time accumulated photos of White-crowned Forktail from Borneo, these photos are from Tawau and Tabin, far away from high mountain ranges of Borneo, so it is quite safe to label them as such.

The following composite images show the forehead and front of individual birds, after looking at them and other images in the links, we know we can reliably use the extent of white in the bird's forehead to positively ID the bird, especially in areas where they overlap.

 Birds with crown feather lifted (left panel : Bornean Forktail from Kinabalu Park, right panel : White-crowned Forktail from Tawau (upper bird from Andrassy Forest Reserve, lower bird from Tawau Hills Park.)

Birds with crown feather at rest. (left panel : Bornean Forktail from Kinabalu Park, right panel : White-crowned Forktail (upper bird from Andrassy Forest Reserve, Tawau, lower bird from Tabin Wildlife Reserve)

It is evident from above that the extent of white in the forehead and crown of these two species differ, especially visible when the crown feathers are lifted. When at rest the forehead white feather of White-crown Forktail extends well towards the crown touching the upper nape, while Bornean Forktail only has the white forehead feather extends midway to the crown.

More images of Bornean Forktails are here:

More images of White-crowned Forktail from Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo are here:

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mulu Short-tailed Babbler ?

There is a mysterious Short-tailed Babbler, (similar to the Short-tailed Babbler Malacocincla malaccensis poliogenys of Sabah, Brunei and eastern Borneo, and the Barito drainage in Southern Kalimantan, and M. m. saturatum of western Borneo) dwelling in the forests of Borneo, it was not seen nor photographed in the wild since 1898.

Its existence is without doubt due to a specimen taken from Gunung Mulu in Sarawak in 1898.

The following passage is copied from Smythies, The Birds of Borneo, 4th Edition.

"Another taxon, M. m. feriatum Chasen & Kloss 1931,was described from a single specimen collected by J. Waterstradt in March 1898, from an unrecorded altitude at G. Mulu. This may represent a distinct species (Deignan, in litt. to Smythies), with an entirely ochraceous underparts from the chin and throat to vent (except central abdomen) and chestnut crown contrasting with the mantle, the mantle lacking the greyish tinge obvious in Sabah examples of M. m. poliogenys. Wing 75, tarsus 30, bill from gape 23.5 mm. All other races have the throat white. This form could be montane, but no evidence of it was reported from the Royal Geographic Society expedition to G. Mulu National Park in 1977-78."

Apparently no one has seen or reported it since than.

Its only illustration can be found in both first and second edition of Phillipps' Field Guide To The Birds Of Borneo, in which the bird is depicted just like what is described in Smythies. For obvious reason, Quentin has named it Mulu Short-tailed Babbler, (For ease of narration, I will call it Mulu Short-tailed Babbler or Mulu Bird here), he also thinks it probably occurs in  montane forests, in contrast to Short-taild Babbler which occurs elsewhere in lowlands in the same National Park

I have on 14th September 2013, photographed a bird which looks remarkably similar to the Quentin's Mulu Bird in Tawau Hills Park, the image is shown here with other images of Short-tailed Babbler for comparison.

This is the Tawau Hills Park Bird.
Same bird showing a little more throat and breast.
Close up of the head showing the lack of white throat
This is a Short-tailed Babbler of the poliogenys race about 100 meters away from the earlier bird, but taken one week later, for comparison.

This is a Short-tailed Babbler photographed in RDC, Sepilok, Sandakan Sabah, also of the poliogenys race.

The Tawau Hills Park bird is photographed in lowland habitat similar to those inhabited by Short-tailed Babbler. This shows that these two birds are sharing same habitat, therefore, could this two birds are actually different taxon? Well, may be,  our different Bulbuls are sharing common habitats, feeding on the same fruits from the same trees in the same forest.

Could this be a bird in juvenile plumage? The bird in the image does not look like a juvenile bird as the light color gape line is no more visible, indicating that it is a mature bird. An image of juvenile Short-tailed Babbler taken nearby in Tawau Hills Park show whitish throat, however, there are some young individuals showing varying amount of ochraceous on the throat, but the white on the throat is usually prominent.
Image of juvenile Short-tailed Babbler, courtesy of my Bird photography buddy My CP Lim, taken in Tawau Hills Park, showing contrasty white throat.

The original Mulu bird is popularly perceived to be of montane origin, but no altitude data was recorded for that specimen. However, some birds in Borneo are known to occur in a wide altitude range, occuring both in montane and lowlands habitats. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis, Little Cuckoo Dove Macropygia ruficeps and Checker-throated Woodpecker Picus mentalis, to name a few, are all  found both in lowland and montane forests in Borneo. So the Mulu Bird could possibly be lowland, montane or both.

Am I saying that this is the Mulu Short-tailed Babbler? I do not know, although this individual looks very different from the Short-tailed Babblers that we normally encounter, there are so many unknowns for the Mulu Bird, we need more info to be sure.

I have discussed this with Mr Quentin Phillipps who has shared his view with me and I take the liberty to share his thoughts on this bird here.

"Given the fact that it was found in the lowland forest where there are already many Short-tailed Babblers my guess is that it is an age related variant of the normal Short–Tailed Babbler eg immature first year bird or something similar  but there is a possibility that it could be a cryptic species. This can only be proven conclusively if you find several similar birds living in the same area and if the breeding song is distinctively different from that of Short-Tailed Babbler. Obviously it is well worth further research to find out what the situation is." 

Hence, this entry in my blog is to alert birders and photographers out there in Borneo not to ignore the lowly Short-tailed Babbler they encounter in the field (my mistake of taking for granted this is another ordinary Short-tailed Babbler, otherwise I would have taken many more photographs from this encounter), the ochraceous  throat may not be readily visible under dim forest light and in thick undergrowth where this species love to forage, its habit of incessant hopping about is not helpful for birders and photographer to make a clear and unobstructed observation either.

With additional input, we would than know whether there is actually a Mulu Short-tailed Babbler M. m. fetiatum or the Mulu bird is just a variant of Short-tailed Babbler.

Before I conclude, let me share an interesting image of a Short-tailed Babbler from sifu Sulaiman Salikan taken in Taman Negara, Sg Relau, Merapoh, Pahang on 5th October 2013. This bird is of the nominate race M. m. malaccensis, we can see that its throat is not as contrastingly white as we usually see, which indicates there are varying amount of ochraceous present at the throat of different individuals.
Short-tailed Babbler M. m. malaccensis Taman Negara, Pahang

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rare and notable bird sightings in Sabah - 2nd & 3rd Quarters 2013

The list shows the notable bird sightings in Sabah in the second and third quarters of 2013, feel free to email me if I miss out anything.

A Word file with links to the relevant images is at Borneo Bird Images Document list.

Happy birding.

Photodocument of Wild Birds of Borneo.

Standard References for my blog.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gunung Lucia of Tawau Hills Park, Part 2.

Here are the birds that I managed to photograph, the punishing terrains as well as the long jungle trekking preclude us from lugging our usual bird photography gears, hence most images are only good for record.

 Eyebrowed Wren-babbler Napothera epilepidota, my lifer,  scarce sub-montane and montane resident, a small terrestrial wren babbler with very short tail, seen once below Lucia Camp and once above. It can be distinguished from the similar endemic Mountain Wren-babbler Napothera crassa by white spots on tips of its wing covert feathers.
 Endemic Blue-banded Pitta Pitta arquata, one of the most sought-after pittas, my only other lifer for the trip,  an elusive slope specialist, saw it once and photographed under very dark forest cover.
 Red-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis amictus, resident near Lucia Camp.
 Endemic Bonean Spiderhunter Arachnothera everetti, another resident near Lucia Camp.
 Cinereous Bulbul Hemixos cinereus, feeding on trees next to the Helipad above Lucia Camp.
 Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus, most probably the only place to see this sub-montane and montane bird in Tawau is here in Lucia and Magdelena.
 Spotted Fantail Rhipidura perlata, occurs from lowland to montane forests, my second encounter in Tawau Hills Park.
 Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica above 900 m, a common northern winter migrant to Borneo, from my observation, it is commoner than Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica.
 Orange-breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios, a mainly sub-montnae species, quite a number of birds were heard above the Lucia Camp approaching the Summit, but not easy to take good photograph.
 A young Moustached Babbler Malacopteron magnirostre , feeding next to the Helipad above Lucia Camp, around 1,000 m.
 An evidently nesting Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher Rhinomyias umbrantilis, between Lucia Camp and Summit, around 1,000 m, contrary to 500 m as stated  in Myers.
An endemic female Bornean Banded Pitta Pitta schwaneri,  it had been calling from its road side perch, I mistook its call for something else, as it sounded coarser than those on record.

Other birds heard or seen but not photographed are:-
Brown Fulvetta (heard almost along the entire journey,  to well over 1,000 m).
Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker (the only Flowerpecker seen, feeding infront of the Lucia Camp).
Great Argus (heard and seen a pair crossing the trail).
Spectacled Bulbul (seen feeding above Lucia Camp).
Brown Barbet (seen feeding above Lucia Camp).
Asian Paradise Flycatcher (seen feeding near Lucia Camp).
Verditor Flycatcher (seen feeding near Lucia Camp).
Bold-striped Tit Babbler (seen feeding near Lucia Camp).

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.