Saturday, May 31, 2014

A snap shot of caged birds in Balikpapan, Indonesian Borneo

I was in Sungai Wain, Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesian Borneo in the last week of March 2014 hoping to photograph the Borneo Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron schleiermacheri, which eventually proved to be too elusive. However, the trip was a thought-provoking eye-opener in another aspect of Bornean birds.

On the way to the airport on our way back, we stopped at two places where cage birds were openly on sale, one was housed in a building while the other was made up of a few stalls with birds in cages piled on top of each other on mobile carts.

Here are some images I managed to take of these two places. It is sad to note that I saw a few "lifers" there, being birds that I have yet to photograph in the wild but seen here inside cages.
 This is the shop, there is a Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach in one of the hanging cages in the fore ground.  

 Bold-striped Tit-babbler Macronous bornensis .
A cage of Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier and Sooty-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus aurigaster. The wild population of the latter in pockets in Kalimantan must have originated from cage birds.

 There are many caged White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus , that's why it is so hard to see one in the wild there.

Mobile stalls, the building in the background is also in this trade as the cages are visible in this picture.
Mobile stalls from another angle.
Chestnut-cheeked Starlings Sturnus philippensis that will not be returning to their home, sandwiched by cages of various doves and pigeons.
Cages and cages on top of each other.
Chestnut-capped Thrush Zoothera interpres, I have yet to photograph one in the wild.
 There are a lot of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings.
Yellow-vented Bulbuls.
 Large Green-pigeon Treron capellei, I have yet to photograph one in the wild.

 This is a Pied Starling Gracupica contra, a bird not in the Bornean Checklist.

 Chectnut-backed Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus mantanus, which is not an easy bird to see in the wild.
 This is definitely a non-Bornean species, I suspect it is from Java but have no resources to check what it is.

 Surprisingly, Large-billed Blue Flycatcher Cyornis caerulatus also can be caged.
This is Yellowed Bellied White-eye or Lemon-bellied White-eye Zosterops chloris, mentioned in both Phillipps and Myers as only found in Karitmata, Matasirih and Marabatuan, which are islands off the coast of south and west of Borneo. Here they are, quite a few of them in cages for sale. 

I even saw a fire-tufted Barbet Psilopogon pyrolophus, which is not in the Bornean checklist,  for sale.

On casual conversation with the traders, we were told that some of the birds were imported from Java,  which explained the origin of those non-Bornean birds on sale. 

Considering the deep-rooted tradition of trapping and caging birds in this part of the world, I believe this is a negligible and immaterial part of the huge cage bird trade in Kalimantan. I can't help but keep thinking about the number of birds species not in our traditional checklist imported to the island of Borneo which managed to escaped and gone feral in the whole of Kalimantan over these years, bear in mind that Kalimantan occupies the largest part of the island covering 72.57% of the land area. 

A major revision to the Bornean Checklist might be required if we have adequate data from that part of Borneo.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Whitehead's Spiderhunter Fiesta

Bird photographers and visiting birders in Sabah were all excited since the beginning of December,  as happening somewhere in Sabah, the most elusive of the three Whitehead's, Whitehead's Spiderhunter Arachnothera juliae, could be guaranteed seen and photographed in good light from less than 15 meters away.

At Rafflesia Forest Reserve, along Tambunan Penampang highway, a small tree, less than 10 meters tall, was in bloom with pink flowers at its canopy, and Whitehead's Spiderhunter could be seen feeding on nectar among the flower clusters at regular intervals throughout the day. For each visit, it would  stay and feed on average for a few minutes, hopping merrily from twig to twig prodding its long bill and extending its hair like tongue into the longish bell-shaped flowers, oblivious both to the people watching and to the noisy heavy traffic passing underneath.

The maximum number of bird seen feeding at any one time was three, I was lucky to witness two feeding at the same time. Interestingly, Whitehead's Spiderhunter seemed to be the only bird species feeding there, the Sunbirds and Flowerpeckers busy feeding on the opposite side of the highway were not interested in this flower at all. No other bird was seen feeding on this tree during the intervals when the spiderhunter was away.

Whitehead's Spiderhunter is one of the most sought-after Whitehead's in Borneo, as one could have tried for years before being rewarded with a view of it far away on the canopy of a flowering tree. You can imagine the amount of hoo-ha it generates among the interested people as it can be assured of feeding daily at that tree, occasionally up to three birds at the same time.

The flowering tree is just across the highway from the gate of Rafflesia Information Centre, observers and photographers would set up opposite near the gate which is slightly over 12 meters across the highway from the tree, considering the two-laned highway of approximately 9 to 10 meters wide.

Mr Kong Ket Leong and I drove from Tawau on 14th December (in the third week after first discovery of the feeding), as the pressure was mounting  after being told that the flowers might not last longer than another week, and only God knew when it would bloom again. 

I do not know the name of the tree. I have also not heard nor read about this feeding before as anything of this nature involving a Whitehead's would be big news to people who are interested.

Does the tree flower yearly? I do not know, as I have not heard of this feeding frenzy last year nor the year before. Sabah has been quite active in the birding scene for at least the past six or seven years, so I opine that anything of this nature in this relatively short history of bird watching/photography would have been hotly circulated as it does now, thus I think this has not happened before. The tree just might flower irregularly and erratically, may be once in an unknown number of years or on certain unknown trigger.

On the other hand, as the flowering tree is less than 10 meters tall and its girth not bigger than a power line pole, it might very well be flowering for the first time and hence the lack of any previous observation.

If the tree is indeed flowering for the first time and if it blooms annually, we can have a yearly Whitehead's Spiderhunter Festival there for birders and photographers. We will only know about that next year, and at the meantime we do what good birders do, we wait.

(Note: this is the unedited version submitted for publication in December 2013 issue of Suara Enggang. The flower is subsequently identified to be Wightia borneensis.)

Happy birding.

Photodocument of Wild Birds of Borneo

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