Friday, October 28, 2011

Touchdown in Thailand - 23rd September


female Brown-throated Sunbird

And so to the first day of a long and colourful innings in South-east Asia (which continues as I write, with a month still to go before we move on to India). We spent a couple of days at our friends Neil and Eunice's place in the suburbs of Bangkok, the first of which being suitably wet and therefore birding was confined to their small, shady garden. Still, of about eight species, six were lifers, which isn't such a bad strike rate all things considered.....


Streak-eared Bulbul

We stayed in Bangkok for almost a week, and there was plenty of quality birding to be had; more to follow anon.


Oriental Magpie-robin



Yellow-vented Bulbuls



Peaceful Dove

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guandu nature reserve, Taipei - Sep 2011


And so back to Taipei, for our last couple of days on the island. Having birded pretty much every day we'd been here with expectation-exceeding results (to say the least), we slowed it down a little, enjoyed the city and even finally got around to some essential planning (Thailand suddenly approaching just 48 hours away).


Eastern Cattle Egrets

But not before a final, easy-going session at Guandu, an excellent flagship urban nature reserve, expertly administered by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei. Surrounded on three sides by the the sprawl and industry of the city and on a fourth by the river, Guandu is a rich mosaic of wetland habitats, justifying its IBA status with Birdlife International.


Black-naped Monarch

Habitat management and water level control are obviously priorities, and while the facilities are first-class (a space-age visitor's centre with a airport-style viewing level, two-storey hides, top quality interpretation), it was refreshing to see the birds explicitly coming first. Indeed, the majority of the reserve is off-limits to visitors - selfishly a little frustrating, but an enviably hard-line approach in these times of toothless compromise.


Common Sandpiper

I made two visits to the reserve - on the 13th and the 20th September - the first alone and latter with Amity. On both occasions there was plenty to look at, and on both occasions, there was barely another soul around; essentially perfect circumstances, especially given that the site was a short subway journey away from central Taipei.


Apparently best known for its concentrations of migratory and wintering wildfowl, the timing wasn't good (a month later and it would've been somewhat different); but with plenty of waders, other waterbirds and a good selection of passerines, there was more than enough to wile away several hours on each visit.


Wood Sandpiper

Waders included good numbers of Pacific Golden Plovers, Common Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers, scatterings of Little Ringed Plovers, Long-toed Stints, Black-winged Stilts, Wood, Common and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers; larger waterbirds included hundreds of Egrets (Great White, Little and Eastern Cattle), a Yellow Bittern, and Sacred Ibis numbers into three figures....





.... which constitute an important population of this globally-threatened species. Ironically, this isolated population, originally derived from escapees, is now healthy, self-sustaining and steadily spreading, while on the other side of the world, their 'wilder' brethren are fairing less well.


Passerine highlights included the first Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Black-naped Monarchs and Brown Shrikes of the trip, plenty of mynas and bulbuls to sort through, a good selection of hirundines, four dove species, and sprites including White-eyes and a couple of Phylloscopus warblers (see later post).


Little Ringed Plover


So, our fortnight in Taiwan was finally drawing to a close, and we reluctantly headed south-west, and a few hours over the South China Sea and into SE Asia. We instinctively knew we'd soon miss the place, and reflecting on it here in Malaysia over a month later, it's fair to say we were, and still are, besotted with the island. A place on the Taiwanese coast and an English-teaching position doesn't seem that fanciful after all...


Eastern Yellow Wagtail


Black-winged Stilt


Tree Sparrow messing with security


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A musical interlude



Our new single, although not released until December, can be heard free and exclusively as of today on our bandcamp page - please click here to listen.

Enjoy - and you can find us on Facebook here.



"THE BEST THING TO COME OUT OF HACKNEY SINCE THE WHITE STRIPES RECORDED 'ELEPHANT' THERE" - THE WORD MAGAZINE

"ASTONISHING" - THE INDEPENDENT

Monday, October 24, 2011

Plumbeous Redstarts, Shibi, Taiwan - Sep 2011


Having managed to miss them over previous days, it was a pleasure to catch up with Plumbeous [Water] Redstarts at several suitable places around Shibi. Beautiful birds (the males especially, with a rich, iridescent blue plumage) they frequent wooded rivers and larger streams, often seen as as a red and blue flash disappearing along a watercourse. Sometimes, however, they can be pretty forthcoming, as the male and female pictured here show.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Taiwan Bush Warbler, Shibi - Sep 2011


One of the many island endemics that habitually skulk, and can be nigh-on impossible to get a fix on even when seemingly within arm's length, Taiwanese Bush Warblers were heard at various spots during our stay while only offering the briefest of glimpses.


however, after a little encouragement, this bird broke rank and proceeded to lambast us non-stop for twenty minutes or more, even being so good as to pose almost in full view for a little while.



Friday, October 21, 2011

Shibi, central Taiwan - September 2011


Amur [White] Wagtail

And so to Douliu, a small city in Yunlin County, central Taiwan, just west of the unspoilt mountains which dominate the island from the far north to its southern tip. We'd factored a full day (and two nights) here on account of another gilt-edged birding opportunity, courtesy of the aforementioned wildlife documentary maker, forest bird uber-nerd and Douliu resident Mark (Wilkie).


Snowy-browed Flycatcher - a skulker of the forest understorey

Mark was responsible for hooking us up with and arranging our time at Dasyueshan and beyond with Bruce (his colleague), and kindly gave up a day to accompany us into the forests again, this time some 30km west of the sprawl to an area known as Shibi.


the first section of the trail, through bamboo

We spent much of the day hiking up and down the Shibi South Trail, a winding path through beautiful, lush, mixed forest of subtly differing make-up as we ascended to the ridge. We took our time, stopping whenever activity was noted, as is the (only) way when forest birding (especially outside of the spring and breeding season); as expected, from where one or two initial calls emitted, more participants were soon uncovered.




endemic Formosan Striped Squirrels - thankfully not stripped as the sign says

Despite the weather closing in on us for the second half of the hike (with a thick cloud bank enveloping us for much of the walk from the peak downwards), we had sunshine for the earlier part of the day, and plenty of success - including, pleasingly, still more endemics to add to those already nailed over previous days.


Brown Shrike, showing very pale grey crown and rich underparts - of which subspecies?

Highlights included Johnstone's Robin, Yellow Tit, Taiwan Wren Babbler, Taiwan Shortwing and Taiwan Bush Warbler (all endemics), Brown-flanked [Strong-footed] Bush Warbler (probably soon to attain full specific status), Snowy-browed Flycatchers, Amur Wagtails, Plumbeous Redstarts, and many of the specialist forest species of previous days.


Black Eagle (expertly found by Amity, looking up while we were looking down)

Back-up included Black Eagle, Black-necklaced Scimitar Babblers, both partridges, Ashy Woodpigeons, White-tailed Robins, Taiwan Whistling Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Steere's Liocichlas, Taiwan Sibias, Barbets and Yuhinas, Green-backed Tits, numerous Rufous-faced Warblers, Black-throated Tits and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, and many more besides.


Eurasian Nuthatch of the local ssp. - another candidate for splitting

Another killer day, and we returned to Douliu in the evening tired and very satisfied; back to Taipei the following day, where we'd sadly only a couple of days left in arguably our favourite country on the planet...



Yellow Tit - a brightly coloured endemic, surprisingly hard work, and very shy (as shown...)


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flamecrest


One of many endemics scored in the montane forests, Flamecrests are speedy sprites that rarely pause long enough to focus on, so I was lucky to get a few passable shots of this bird (one of plenty seen, all briefly, and all within multi-species flocks).