March became hotter and more dusty as the area became dryer. Being Spring, some birds were seen carrying nesting material. Mornings were often heralded with a call and response from a pair of Koels. In trying to preserve a sense of sanity, the occasional bir d walk was essential. Living on a board while it was hauled out on land is called “being on the hard”. Well, yes it’s hard on the hard. Noise, smells, grit, sanding dust, painting chemicals, soldering sparks, needle guns chiseling rust out of steel hulls, people shouting instructions over the noise… Serenity, now!!
Exploring the area near the PSS compound included slightly wooded agricultural plots near the river in Che Bilang and visiting both the neighbouring mangroves around the shipyard and Tammalang Pier (indeed boardwalks with shelters were provided which made access through that area easy). Mangroves throughout Satun, are extensive along much of the province’s western coastline. Apparently those mangroves protected it from the worst of the effects of the tsunami in 2004/5.
Woven between various subsidence crops and wild grasses were small rubber tree plantations and the ever-present palms for palm oil.
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Pale-rumped (Germain’s) Swiftlet
Malaysian Pied Fantail
Common Tailorbird (ssp Maculicollis)
Oriental Magpie Robin
Asian Brown Flycatcher
flock of unidentified Bee-eaters hawking at dawn
Thailand, Satun province.
Only 2km from the Malaysian border, Thale Ban N. P. shared many birds and wildlife with Malaysia. A valley running through the mountainous border area hosted a lake possibly created by an earthquake which ultimately dammed the streams. This provided a marshland area for secretive birds like the Yellow Bittern. The valley was reported also to be part of the migratory pathway for thousands of raptors flying south in October and north in March. However that did not occur while I visited for days in early March.
Home to the Glandular Frog, the watery habitat resounded with their call similar to yapping puppies. One local actually referred to the frogs as “water dogs”. Gibbons sang from thick forests higher up the steep slopes while quiet Grey Leaf Monkeys moved around tree top branches closer to the lodges. Macaques regularly descended to the ground but usually preferred to pluck berries from palms or trees.
Bird watching trains one to be constantly vigilant for movement. Casting one’s eye both over the ground as well as around tree canopy and open blue skies. Admittedly not every movement was a bird; insects, butterflies and falling leaves often trick us. (Once upon a time I would joke with Maxwell Smart imitation:”Ah, the old leaf bird trick” but since there are indeed lovely green species of Asian birds called the Leafbird, I can’t make that same joke, in South-east Asia. ) While scanning high branches, I saw the local squirrels and tiny chaps called .Kratae which may or may not be a tree shrew. Their piping squeak sounded almost bird-like however they manner by which they could grip the bark of a trunk and eat with their forefeet was truly acrobatic.
Conversely, thinking I was seeing a tiny rodent scampering along a branch, I focused my binoculars on what resulted in…..a pair of birds hopping along and down the tree trunk like a dark coloured Sitella. It was my first Nuthatch, a pair of beautiful Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (I think). Alas, no photo as it was poor light.
Whilst the lake area had several boardwalks and viewing shelters, a trail ventured further into the forest. It was definitely a nature trail since there was no real graded track, only tree roots and buttresses to assist the steep inclines. Typically, the thicker the forest, the fewer the number of seen birds. Nevertheless, it was pretty with mosses and ferns, fungi and various plant species. However, while much was similar to Australian rainforest the lawyer cane was ferocious.
With dusk approaching it was a surprise to hear the call of a Nightjar, though not a single owl hooted during my visit.
Pond Heron Chinese
Nightjar Long-tailed (H)
Buzzard Oriental Honey
Bulbul Yellow vented
Flycatcher Brown streaked
Swift Asian Palm
Woodswallow White- breasted
Grey Leaf Monkeys
Gibbons singing (H)
Little creature in photo Thai “Kratae”
Glandular Frogs “water dog”
Draco leaping lizard
Although the archipelago of Langkawi had about 100 islands, the main island called Palau Langkawi was the largest. With habitats varying from mangrove swamps, and rice paddy wetlands to mountainous peaks, there was enough food sources to support over 200 species of birdlife. Development, as usual played havoc with the environment however we had a very successful morning on Gunung Raya, thanks to bird guide extraordinaire, Wendy Chin.
It was the highest peak in Langkawi with an altitude of 881 meters and was covered with various species of tree and plant life. Weather sculptured limestone formations made rugged profiles against the very clear blue sky. Fortunately, the high winds affecting much of the coastal shores were apparent only along the summit ridges. The dense rainforest remained green due to the occasional water seepage points descending Gunung Raya Reserve Forest. Home to creatures like the Dusky Leaf Monkeys, Macaques, Giant Black Squirrels and leaping lizards which Wendy readily indicated. (Fortunately, we did not see any Cobra Snakes which were mentioned!) Occasionally, a break between the peaks afforded a view towards the Andaman Sea however the haze affected the panoramic photo. Although there was a large structure on the summit, D’Coconut Hill Resort, we didn’t venture that high. Our interest was for all things feathered.
The main target was seeing all three Hornbills. (Any other birds were a bonus)
Nothing was guaranteed, we could only hope. Wendy had tried to prepare us for a disappointment as the previous day hadn’t been very successful due to the wind…
When first hearing those very Great Hornbills, it was the sound of their wing beat as they approached that had us craning our necks upward. Since their wingspan could be as wide as 175cm it was little wonder that we heard the whooshing in the core of our chests. The yellow band of colour running between their black and white wings caught the light brilliantly. We were especially luck to have a mating pair land in a tall tree long enough to really observe their features as they cleaned and preened. Wendy had her spotting-scope quickly mounted, focused and zoomed onto the pair. Wow ! what detail. The most recognizable feature of Hornbills was the casque, which is a hollow structure located on top of the very large curved bill. Wendy told us that the colour will change with maturity. Also the mandibles will become more serrated as they age due to wear. Whilst we have seen Oriental Pied Hornbills eating fruit and mostly figs, Great Hornbills were more omnivorous especially during breeding season. Wendy informed us that they have been known to eat lizards and small mammals. I, personally love all the extra information to fully appreciate these magnificent creatures.
The noticeable difference between the sexes: males have larger beaks and casques and a red eye which looked actually black due to the dark eye-ring. The female eyes were light with a red eye-ring.
To view the Wreathed Hornbill, we had to continue higher and higher up the mountain side. It was actually as we were waiting for a then unidentified raptor to reappear that Hans whilst gazing at the panorama had a hornbill flash through his field of vision. Simultaneously, Wendy was shouting and re-positioning her scope. She already knew it was a Wreathed Hornbill. This time, the distance was a challenge for my camera but the most important features for identification were clear. Using Wendy’s scope was a bonus.
Although a large bird it was smaller than the Great Hornbill. Noticeably different was the colour of its wings, all black and the tail was completely white. The Hornbill’s name comes from its striped casque, which bears a flattened wrinkled band, or wreath, at the base of the bill. (More than one ridge on the wreath may form in a year, and some front ridges may even drop off. Up to nine ridges may be present at any time.) Ours was a male with a creamy head and reddish plume from the nape. The yellow gular pouch with a distinct black stripe is also distinctive. Females are distinguished by a black head and neck and blue gular pouch. They apparently collect fruit in their neck pouch and hide them in caches.
The Oriental Pied Hornbill was heard and fleetingly seen. Considering I had fabulous views of them on Pankor and Rebak Islands, I wasn’t particularly concerned.
The following bird list was compiled by Wendy on 17 Feb 2017. They are in order of sighting and only include birds I personally saw. Wendy could identify the calls of many species that were around us, but I prefer not to include them.
Bird Walks Palau Rebak
Pond Heron Chinese
Egret Reef dark morph
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Hornbill Oriental Pied
Sunbird Red-throated Male and female in nest over pool
Flycatcher Asian Brown
Flowerpecker Scarlet-backed only 8.5cm male
Munia Scaly breasted (looks like our Nutmeg Mannikins)
Magpie -Robin Oriental
Birding the Penang foreshore
Dec 31, 2016
I took a bike ride from Jeti Jabatan Laut where we were berthed towards Georgetown, Penang. There’s a reasonably good bike track and it was an ebbing tide when I started. Overcast with a light shower of rain.
Little (Striated) Heron (24 on one small patch)
White-bellied Sea Eagles (2 regularly circle this area)
Eurasian Tree Sparrows
Nutmeg Mannikans not sure what they are called in Malaysia?
Baya Weavers (female and male)
Marsh Sandpiper (but I’m waiting confirmation at that)
Asian Glossy Starlings
I booked a half day guided tour with Choy Wai Mun, after reading a blog written by Greg Roberts who visited Penang, last year. I consider paying a guide who is a local and frequent birder to the area, a good investment. Not only could Mr Mun confirm some of my earlier sightings, he taught me what to expect in certain habitats, the migratory movements and his knowledge of the bird calls was remarkable. I only hope I can apply this new found information for future bird outings in the area.
We left the island of Penang before sunrise and crossed the Penang Bridge for mainland Penang. Before wending our way into Air Hitam Dalam Education Reserve, Mun drove through some well vegetated laneways where the beautiful Great Coucal was trying to warm itself on a tree-top. Chinese Pond Herons skulked irrigation channels and Yellow–vented Bulbuls called and flittered from scrubs. Spotting big birds flying over, Mun said they were Openbills (not actually called storks).
Hutan Pelajaran Air Hitam Dalam (Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest)
The park was on mainland Penang not too far from Butterworth. Managed by the Penang State Forestry Department, it has an area of about 10 hectares. Much of its concrete “boardwalks” are intact, with paths also along embankments.( A very large tree has fallen during a past storm taking lots of canopy and breaking one of the pathways.) The riverbanks and swamp area were mainly covered with nipa palms. This habitat hosted a myriad of wildlife such as crab-eating macaques, squirrels, monitor lizards and of course, different species of birds. Mun had us quickly onto a Lineated Barbet after just getting out of the car. He recognized the call and therefore knew to look up to the top story of the tree.
Being new to Malaysian birding, pretty much everything was new. The calls were unknown to me. Any call I thought I might relate to was incorrect. Kingfishers in Malaysia do not sound anything like Austrlain. Only the Plaintive Cuckoo was the same and the Koel, being migratory. The Oriel was similar to our northern species.
For me the highlight was hearing and seeing a woodpecker. I have only heard one, once, in Europe and that was before I became truly interested in birdwatching. We saw both the male and female Common Flameback Woodpecker, which I located and Mun identified. Then Mun hunted down a well hidden Streak-breasted Woodpecker that was hammering away at a hollow branch. Loved it!!
Tracking the very fast moving Ashy Tailorbird was rewarding as it has a red head (male). But the regular crowd pleaser were Mr and Mrs Mangrove Blue Flycatcher who sat and posed for an inordinate amount of time. Thank you.
Thereafter, Mr. Mun took us to some nearby paddyfields. Along the way standing in a palm, I spotted a heron. The immature Purple Heron, identified by Mun was also a delight.
He was at first disappointed that the rice had grown so high. Then wending his way through various patches Mun found some muddy wet fields where more birds were collecting. Stints and Wood Sandpipers worked the mud. I was delighted to have a Common Snipe pointed out to me. Later another flushed that I managed to recognize, myself. And then there were all the Grey-headed Lapwings which were winter visitors to the region….
Bird lists in order of sightings:
Chinese Pond Heron
White throated Kingfisher
Asian Glossy Starling (fly over)
Yellow vented Bulbul (H)
Spotted Turtle Dove
Pink necked Pigeon
Air Hitam Dalam
Striped Tit Babbler (H)
Stork bill Kingfisher
Plaintive Cuckoo (H)
Common Iora (H)
Little (Striated) Heron
Ashy Tailorbird (H)
Asian Koel (H)
Asian Glossy Starling
Photo by Choy Wai Mun
Green billed Malkoha
Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (male and female)
Streak breasted Woodpecker (female but heard male call)
Asian Glossy Starlings (in tree with full sun on them)
Asian Openbill (Stork)small flock flying over
Gold Whiskered Barbet (H)
Pacific Swallows (not to be overlooked thinking they are Welcome Swallows)
Purple Heron (2)
Black wing Stilt
Wood Sandpiper (several)
Little ringed Plover (several, one with full mating colours)
Grey Headed Lapwing (several)
Common Snipe (2)
Barn Swallow (breeding plumge)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Not all the Sparrows, Egrets and crows were written for each location.