Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Greenish before work...

A text from IF got me moving towards St Mary's this morning - a greenish warbler was showing intermittently near the dipping pool. No photographs in my brief sortie, but  some good banter with the lads was had. News of barred warbler near the rifle butts had a few trekking north, but a text just received is negative. With the Bonaparte's gull seemingly settled at Whitburn Steele it looks like the pace is quickening...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Concluding Pangkor Laut

Final selection of images from Pangkor Laut, Malaysia.

This white-bellied sea-eagle is fitting, given the remarkable Farne Islands record of a near-relative yesterday! There were at least five wbses' on the island - two pairs and one immature. Unlike the white-tails at home in the UK, their presence was not fraught with mobbing birds, they seemed to be tolerated.

With up to eight brahimny kite in the air as well, looking skywards was always interesting. This photograph is one of a sequence taken of a pair hunting off the islands jetty. There were plenty of fish out there, and the eagle were often seen carrying prey into the jungle.

Olive-winged bulbul were also numerous on the island, feeding along with white-rumped shama, common tailorbird and oriental magpie robin in the gardens.

Flying fox sp. - occasionally seen in flight during the day, commuting between roost sites. In the evenings it was great to grab a glimpse of one or two feeding above the restaurants. Other smaller species of bat were present too.

Pacific swallow were abundant too - the bird above was taking a rest on the tennis courts netting, while the bird below was sat on cables next to a communication tower on the road to Emerald Bay. Pacific swallow are very short tailed compared to our more familiar barn swallow (which are also present in Malaysia)

Chestnut-headed bee-eater - a few were present on the island, but when not feeding chose to perch a bit to high up for the 100-400mm lens to "reach".

Chbe was pretty much the last bird to be seen when leaving the island by our speed boat back to the mainland.

So thats' the lot - hopefully I'll be able to concentrate efforts on a bit UK birding for a bit!

Asia is great for birding - I can't wait to go back...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Buceros bicornis (ii)

The male great hornbill was a huge bird, most impressive. For such a large bird they could be easily overlooked as they most often chose to sit within the tree canopy. The image above was taken in palms surrounding the resort pool (as those with the females from the previous post).

I was not sure if they held their giant beaks open to keep cool... or was the reason more sinister?

Mrs Birdingsometimes very quickly went from loving these giants to despising them! As seen here (above and below), the great hornbill had another agenda for the poolside visits. Flying fox that roosted above the pool area were systematically removed from their "hang-outs" by the hornbill, often letting out very loud squeals as they were literally yanked of their roost. Some fox would spread their wings to threaten the hornbill... but there was only ever one winner!

On other occasions pairs or small parties would be discovered in less volatile situations - the image below depicts a male feeding near Emerald Bay on the west of Pangkor Laut. A most amusing pose as they scrape the bark off the thick branches! We actually "found" our first great hornbill on our first morning on the island - not by looking up, but finding masses of wood shavings on the track. Looking up a pair were demolishing a branch!

Impressive when in trees and equally so in flight - as reported from the island, the swishing of their feathers could clearly be heard as they few above - their wingspan is approx five and a half foot!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Buceros bicornis (i)

Great hornbill proved to be a popular attraction for birder and tourist alike. Up to five birds frequented the pool area of the resort, arriving from the jungle fringed shores mid-afternoon.

The photographs featured here are of a female - the white iris is the give away. The males (to feature in a seperate post) are larger have deep red iris and slightly different colouration on the bill / casque.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Timid, elusive, wary... all words not to be associated with the entertaining oriental pied hornbill found on Pangkor Laut.

I'd fond memories of this species from my first trip to Malaysia in 2001 - time then was spent on Langkawi and oriental pied hornbill, though present on the hotel grounds,were rather less approachable.

Spending most of the time in the jungle areas of the island there was a definate mid afternoon peak of numbers around the pool area of the resort ~ it didn't take me too long to discover that the bar staff were feeding these delightful birds, and were quite brave with inquisitive holiday-makers. It was tricky not to get an image with a bird eating "hornbill standard fare" - onion rings etc (can't say that the Robson guide mentions that in their dietry info!).

For me, the most amusing thing was their quiet "pondering" of their surroundings - maybe it's accentuated by their huge bill, or maybe it's their staring eyes (complete with huge eyelashes!)... but their ability to crane and arch their necks into weird positions was highly amusing...

Oriental pied hornbill were the most confident of the two species found on the island, their larger relatives kept to the high trees. More on them in another posting.

Click the images for sharper presentation.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Little Heron

The jetty at Pangkor Laut held a couple of little heron. Attempts to photograph them on the granite boulders that are found on the Malaysian shores were unsucessful as the birds spooked easily. It was only on the jetty, where perhaps the little heron were more tolerant of humans, that close approach was possible.

Click the images for sharper presentation...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Spots, whiskers, wits & shanks

Started the birding day at Shibton Pond in Gateshead -  arrived not long after 08:00 to a full hide and plenty of birds to look at.

The spotted crake was feeding on the far shore - my second at the site - the last one I saw here was in 1989. For convenient comparison three water rail were also out feeding - they highlight that spotted crake are really very small, with the crake dwarfed!

Fellow north-east bloggers need not worry about missed crake photo opportunities at Shibton either - the image posted here is for illustration purposes only - this fine and ringed fellow was photographed at Marazion Marsh (Cornwall) in October 2007.

Two little egret remain at the pond and I note that another was noted on the River Tyne a little later after we had left. 1 greenshank was also noted.

We met John B and James at Saltholme just after nine, and it wasn't long before we were watching the immature whiskered tern (now approaching a months residence). A tick for Phil, albeit distant in the middle of the west pool. Frustratingly that's where it remained throughout our two watches from the roadside, even when fly-catching it remained faithful to the central part of the pool - never in contention for a photograph.

Wader species were well represented, with dunlin, ruff, ringed plover, greenshank, redshank, spotted redshank, black-tailed godwit and lapwing present and at least twelve little egret. Coot were very well represented on the east pool and a single black-necked grebe consorted with little and great-crested relatives. Yellow wagtail are still present on the reserve.

So no images from today but a nice few hours out catching up with the lads, with a few decent birds to boot.

Highlight for all was the "9 item" breakfast at the visitor centre...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Asian Fairy Bluebird

Asian Fairy Bluebird

First image from a very relaxing stay at Pangkor Laut: few bird species but all fairly accomodating for the 100-400mm lens.

This female asian fairy bluebird was photographed on one of my many wanders away from the pool - the resort is built on a 298 acre island dominated by jungle habitat. Photography within the jungle meant that use of flash was compulsory. As I was only using the 100-400mm (and the birds came quite close) I did not need to use the flash extender at all.

It was nice to finally be able to take some decent images as the highland birding only really permitted record shots.

Blog-wise I expect an intermission to the Malaysia images tomorrow, with a trip planned to Salthome Pools. The Malaysia images should finish of over the next week, with galleries of oriental pied hornbill, great hornbill and miscellaneous others set to feature.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Gunung Brinchang: Part 2

Our decent of Gunung Brinchang took several hours and the walk back to the hotel was nigh on ten miles. I guess it would have been quicker for a non-birder ~ Mrs Birdingsometimes is very patient.

The final species noted from the upper slopes was little pied fycatcher - we encountered a dapper pair in a gully. The male is strikingly plumaged (like all back and white flycatchers), while the female (below) is a surprisingly grey-blue, a feature of the westermanni sub-species found in Malaysia/South Thailand

As we left the moss forest and jungle we entered tea plantation territory - fascinating landscape and a lovely aroma of fresh tea! I know a certain North East birder who would like that - a lot...!

Hard labour working the steep slopes of the tea plantation - I guess it keeps you fit.

In the tea plantation area we added a few more species - glossy swiftlet darted along the ridges, paddyfield pipit worked the tracks between the tea plants and fire-breasted flowerpecker kept to the tree tops. Mountain bulbul continued to be numerous and we bumped into another flock of mountain fulvetta.

While trying to photograph more white-throated fantail a single drab female black-throated sunbird gave close views - how I wish this could have been a bright coloured male! Nonetheless, a good photo opportunity - unlike the fantails which simply teased.

We arrived back at our hotel in the late afternoon, picking up some boiled sweetcorn cobs and fresh strawberries from hawker stands in one of the villages. Tired but satisfied.

A very high flying flock of presumed mountain imperial pigeons flew over and we picked up large billed spiderhunter during the last few hundred meters. 

We had one more day in the Highlands - this was spent on track 4, as previously posted. No photographs that day... not quick enough for the slaty-backed forktail and the blue nuthatches were seen on a shopping trip to collect provisions before our final destination: Pangkor Laut - a small island to the west of Lumat / Pangkor Island - few species but better images to follow.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Gunung Brinchang: Part 1

Our second day in the Cameron Highlands was spend descending Gunung Brinchang, a peak of to the west of our hotel that conveniently permitted taxi access to the top via a windy single track road. We opted to take the road route back as jungle track 1 was steep, muddy and very dark looking.

At the peak there is a radio mast station - a walk around the perimeter was successful with large niltava, a big flycatcher, being picked up immediately. The male (above) is a striking blue bird, while the female (below) is more subtle. Not sure what I'd done camera-wise, but |I messed up big time with exposure for most of these shots - the male image clearly shows a shutter speed too low, as the movement of the bird has not been frozen. No worries, it a record at least.

Another species was prominent at the top - white-throated fantail. A very curious species, dropping in front of us to check us out - after a quick spread of the tail they dart back into the darkness of the jungle cover.

The views from the top were beautiful - the dense jungle forms a green carpet over the peaks - it's a habitat that fascinates me, but also frustrates as the birding, without local knowledge, is daunting. Frequently were heard the passage of bird-wave: mixed flocks working the canopy: for the life of me I could not see anything!

White-tailed robin were also numerous and inquisitive to the human visitors. Flash was again priceless in the dark shade of the roadside. The bird below is a juvenile.

As we descended the habitat changed - jungle / rain forest then moss forest and lower down, tea plantations  - all very pretty. As we neared the tea plantations the species mix change somewhat - most abundant were mountain bulbul - with their vibrant olive toned wings and tail. This was the only mountain bulbul of the trip that I was able to get level with, all the others were up high.

More on the other species at lower elevations, plus some nice tea plantation pictures in the next installment...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Our destination after K.L. was the Cameron Highlands, residing at a very nice hotel 1500m above sea level - a chance to enjoy the Malaysia sunshine without the high humidity. It was odd to be so far from home and to be surrounded by colonial style buildings.

Birds were conspicious around the hotel but proved tricky to photograph. All the best viewing was done "camera-less!"

Still, it was very enjoyable as most of the birds were new to me and often attractivley plumaged. Two species predominated in the hotel vicinity, both of which are modestly presented here.

Black-throated sunbird (above) were tiny, very active and amazingly plumaged! I really wish that I'd spent some more time trying to get better images ~ however time was a premium so we had to keep moving to make the most of the stay.

Silver-eared mesia (above) were great! Roaming the scrub behind the hotel and dropping into the trees to feed these were very pleasing to view but again, frustatingly tricky to get a good pic - the group image presented here is the only image where the "whole" plumage can be see - check out the colours - lush!

After settling in to the hotel we made plans to do one of the many hill walks available in the area - more on that in the next posting...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Crested Goshawk, K.L.

After a jet lagged & frustrating morning trying to capture a decent image of the Syke's Warbler its a return to holiday photo processing today. Far more satisfying than trying to salvage poor hand-held warbler pictures!

First up is an obliging crested goshawk, photographed in Bukit Namas - a small patch of jungle under the Kuala Lumpur tower.

We bumped into this bird as it sat motionless on the path side. Allowing close approach, this bird was clearly focused on something else ~ a snake as it transpired! Given the birds capture it was time to leave and return to the air-conditioned shopping malls ~ Mrs Birdingsometimes was a little un-nerved!

Photographed in near darkness flash proved invalulable during this trip. As I was only using the 100-400mm a flash extender was not required. ISO was set to 800 and flash synchronisation was used to achieve an exposure of 1/125 second.

This crested goshawk was pretty much the only species I photographed in KL! Birds and scenary from the Cameron Highlands will be posted next...

More Sykes

Alternative sykes images from the northern isles ~ http://burravoebirding.blogspot.com/

Nice comparison, albeit a more accommodating bird.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Hadston Hippo

Record shots from this mornings trip to Hadston to see the reported Sykes Warbler... Left the tripod in the car as it had been very elusive earlier on in the morning ~ all shots hand held, 500mm, ISO 1250 ~ it was very dull and cold! cropped images below are at 100% size, hopefully can contribute to the correct id of the species... booted / sykes are incredibly hard to separate & I'm not in any position to judge!!

I hear that it has showed better now that the sun is out ~ expect to see much better images to appear from others on other websites etc...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Back to reality

Arrived back home after a "reasonably ok" 27 hour  boat, road and air trek from Pangkor Laut - KL - Heathrow - Newcastle.  

Hornbills have now been replaced by wood pigeons...

Malaysia was great!

En-route we even managed to "tick" BBC sport pundit Alan Hanson in Heathrow...

I've had a quick review of the Malaysia images and hope to start preparing a few for the blog over the next few days. First images should be posted on Monday.

Meanwhile, work beckons.

Friday, 13 August 2010

More from the 'Laut

Lazy days continue here on Pangkor Laut.

Quiet potters about the island are still enlivened by new discoveries - granted they are insignificant, but at least it's more species for the holiday list. Recent additions include scarlet backed flowerpecker, chestnut-headed bee-eater, and more familiar to UK birders - common sandpiper!

The great hornbills have numbered 5 birds - a gang that has taken a great dislike to the fruit bats and flying foxes that roost near to the pool. Yesterday all 5 were ganging up on the bats & foxes - stalking them in the palms and unceremoniously grasping their wings with their huge beaks and yanking them off! I'm not aware if they've ever killed a fox/bat but they come awfully close judging by the squeals.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pangkor Laut

A quick update from our current residence - Pangkor Laut, a 300 acre island on the West coast of Malaysia - a true heaven on earth. The accommodation is wonderful and the staff are very attentive. Knowing that I was a birder, they've even supplied a field guidebook this morning - albeit from 1950! (The birds of the Malay Peninsula by A.G Glenister)

It's beautiful here, though quiet bird wise.

Keeping me entertained are bold oriental pied hornbill - very tame as they get fed outside the bar! Less tame but mighty impressive are great hornbill - absolutely huge (book states a body length bill - tail of 120cm!). Amazing how they can hide themselves in the tall trees. In flight you can hear their wings - described in a book that the hotel has given me as sounding like a steam train! I'm looking forward to working on some of the hornbill photographs upon our return to the UK.

There are a minimum of 5 white-bellied sea eagle in out bay and at least 4 brahminy kite. Black-naped tern feed off-shore.

I'm still seeing new birds which is good, highlight yesterday was a male asian fairy bluebird in the dense jungle.

In the bay there are otter and monitor lizard, while very cheeky long tailed macaque monkey try their best to open the villa doors to steal fresh fruit!

No watches, no mobile phone to carrry - life is good here...

Saturday, 7 August 2010


A quick update for the last week.

Arrived early Tuesday morning to a very warm and humid Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia after a long but reasonably comfortable flight with Malaysia Airlines. MA provided the most generous red wine serving that I've had to "force" myself to drink in recent flights - it was a good start!

Birding KL was limited to a morning in Bukit Namas (a small wooded area below the KL tower). It was  good visit with crippling views of a hunting crested goshawk - eventually it caught a rather large snake near to where we were standing!

Other birds in the urban areas included black shouldered kite, black-naped oriole, asian glossy starling and numerous common and white vented myna.

On the motorway north to the Cameron Highlands (approx 3.5 hours north of KL) we saw numerous white-throated kingfisher (all perched on telegraph wires on the roadside, quite unlike "our" kingfisher in the UK!), several small flocks of little egret and many swiftlet sp.

Our hotel in the Cameron Highlands is conveniently located near to several of the jungle trails - great birding opportunities are on offer, but it's hard work. Glossy swiftlet are bundant outside the hotel and both silver-eared mesia and black-throated sunbird feed on the slope behing our room

Our first full day saw us ascend Gunung Brinchang - a colossal 6'666 ft mountain covered in jungle, moss forest and tea plantations. Birding at the top gave us encounters with large nitava, white-throated fantailgolden-throated barbet while further down fire-breasted flowerpecker, little pied flycatcher and mountain fulvetta entertained.

Today has seen me hike "track 4", taking in Parfit waterfall and some jungle near to the hotel. The first walk through was very limited birdwise, but we saw some great plant-life as pointed out by the hotels resident guide.

Towards the end of the walk the guide made comment about the birds that he saw on the stream that looked like oriental magpie robin and suggested I took a look later in the day: I did that and was pleased to see that his odd omr's were in fact slaty-backed forktail. Result!!

Birding out here is great but hard work (especially when you are not sure of the bird calls and song...) However it is full of surprises - even this evening on our walk into the nearby town to get some bottled water - four gorgeous blue nuthatch in a roadside tree - stunning...

We move back to the coast tomorrow - hopefully I'll be able to provide an update from there too.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Quick Post

A new month has started with a quick look at the patch, West Hartford. Not really too much to report: the water on the flash has evaporated somewhat despite the glorious August weather (see above!)...

On the flash / mud was a single curlew, one oystercatcher, a frustrated mallard, several black-headed, herring and lesser black-backed gull and a juv shelduck. Med gull could be a real possibility (there has been one here before, a few years back though) as numbers at Newbiggin have swelled significantly this last week or so.

Overhead barn swallows continue to show in good numbers and there are still plenty of wood pigeon kicking about.


Speaking to birdingsometimes parents earlier this afternoon revealed a possible red kite sighting over the Whitelea area of Cramlington earlier this week, mobbed by corvids - one to look out for.


I'll be out and about over the next few days - expect some updates...