Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pheasant-tailed Jacana on Christmas Eve

Every year, there are thousands of migratory birds visit Pulau Burung, it is also known as the Mecca of migratory birds in Penang. The area has very unique bio diversified environment, it has a huge fresh water pond, river, mangrove coastal forest and peat swamp forest, which provides a wonderful and suitable living environment for the wild birds.

I visited Pulau Burung on Christmas eve, and spotted the Pheasant-tailed Jacana, a handsome Black-capped Kingfisher and many waders and waterbirds. Pheasant-tailed Jacana is my lifer, and I was lucky to spot this rare migrant there.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana, or simply Jacana, is one of the rare migratory waterbird in Malaysia, and this is the first sighted record of this species in Penang. It was first sighted by a young but experienced Penang birder, Terance Ang on 20th December 2009 in Pulau Burung, a great Christmas gift to birders and nature lovers of Penang state.

This picture shows the actual size of the bird as compared to the Little Grebe, it is slightly bigger than the grebe. If you know the size of the grebe, you will be able to estimate how big is the bird.
Let's take a look of the bird, especially that fascinating pheasant tail, but where is the pheasant tail?.
Actually, this visiting Jacana is a non-breeding adult. The long blackish pheasant tail is only appeared in the breeding adult, and can only be seen in Indo-china, South-west China, Taiwan and India. One of the best place to see this breeding adult plumage is in Guantian Jacana Conservation Area in Tainan county, Taiwan.

Look at the leg of the Jacana, it has huge and long toes to help the bird to balance itself when walking on the big leaf in the pond, especially the lily pond. Its nickname is a leaf-walker.

visit this LINK to learn more about Jacana (in Chinese only), or visit this LINK to find out more about Pheasant-tailed Jacana in Taiwan

Another fascinating bird I spotted was the Black-capped Kingfisher, it is one of my favorite Kingfisher, I managed to digiscope it for the first time, it is a handsome Kingfisher:

Other waterbirds that I digiscoped include a pair of Lesser Whistling Duck, juvenile common Moorhen and Black-winged Stilt. Glad to see the new generation of the Common Moorhen are living happily and healthy in Pulau Burung.

After visited Pulau Burung in the morning, I proceeded to Air Hitam Dalam Recreation Park in the afternoon.

Paddy field in Air Hitam Dalam:
Here are what I saw in Air Hitam Dalam. My old avian friend Mangrove Blue Flycatcher:

Green-billed Malkoha shows its enchating tail:

and on the way back, I saw this Black-shouldered Kite, my lifer:

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Birding in Singapore

You won't think that Singapore, home to the world class Changi airport, beautiful Marina Bay and water front with Singapore Flyer, the shopping paradise of Orchard Road and the world class recreation, entertainment resort of Sentosa Island and Formula One night race, that is also a good stop for bird watching.

This is due to the geographical location of Singapore in the East Asian-Australasian bird migration flyway and that is truly a very green garden city. Every year, during the Christmas season, thousands of migratory birds will visit or stop-by Singapore, some even spend their whole winter in the nature reserves, gardens and parks.

I visited Singapore during the Christmas season (8-14 Dec) not only for the world class entertainment, shopping, night life and museums. During the day, I bird watched in the following places and see what had I discovered:

Singapore Botanic Gardens. This garden is a Green Jewel of Singapore city, a must visit Botanic Gardens in South East Asia. The garden is just a walking distance from Orchard road. Check out this LINK to find out more about the garden.

I saw my four lifers in the garden, the Hooded Pitta (no picture), Orange-headed Thrush, Banded Woodpecker, and Green-naped Lorikeet (introduced species).
In fact, Singapore is one of the best place in this region to watch those introduced species of parots, parakeets and lorikeets.
I also have a very close distance view of Oriental Pied Hornbill (female),migratory Common Kingfisher,
A Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, I learned that this bird is a vanishing species in Singapore:
Common Flameback,
Hill Myna,Javan Myna,

Pink-necked Green Pigeon and etc.
You can see that resident, introduced and migratory birds are living together in harmony in Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, It is a treasure of Singapore and a must visit place for migratory and wetland birds, a wetland reserve well managed with good facillities. It is one of the important area recognized for the East Asian-Australasia Flyway and a good place to learn more about waders.

I saw many waders and egrets there, and also managed to digiscope Pacific Golden Plover and White-collared Kingfisher, they are really beautiful and easily spotted.
A newly published book by NPark's Publication entitles "Migratory Birds of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve", it is a good guide book for those who are interested to visit this wetland reserve and to learn more about migratory birds in Singapore. Thanks to Meng Meng for given me the book, it is my best Christmas gift. Check out this LINK to find out more about the wetland reserve and the book.

Bukit Timah and Central Nature Reserve and Parks, it is located at the central catchment of Singapore, and is an important area for water catchment. The parks include the nature parks around the Central Catchment, Bukit Timah Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park, and do not miss the HSBC Tree top Walk. Check out this LINK to find out more about the nature reserves.

This whole area is a good for spotting lowland rainforest and garden birds. I had my lifer of Straw-Headed Bulbul at the Hindedhe Nature Park, they are very melodious birds.Besides that, I also saw Crimson Sunbird, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Dollarbirds, Blue-tailed Bee eaters, Emerald Dove, bluish Asian Glossy Starling, Greater Raquet-tail drongo, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Hill Mynah, Javan Myna, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Olive-backed Bulbul and Common Flameback Woodpecker, etc.
Pulau Ubin, the offshore island off the northeast coast of Singapore, this island is a good place for spotting wetland, shore and sea birds. I didn't visit this island but have seen it from the Changi Park, it is really a beautiful green offshore islands, and it is also known as the Island of Hornbill. I will visit the island in my next visit to Singapore. Check out this LINK to find out more about the island.

Guides to Birding in Singapore
Here are the recommended guide books about birding places in Singapore:
1. Birds, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, by M. Strange and A. Jeyarajasingam, was published in 1993, but still a good reference to find out birding places in Singapore.
2. An illustrated field guide of "Birds of South-East Asia", by Craig Robson.

Visit this LINK to find out more about birding in Singapore.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Taiwan's Malayan Night Herons

Malayan Night Heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) is a non-endemic lifer for me during my birding trip in Taiwan. This bird is easy to see in Taiwan, it can easily be found in the gardens or parks in Taipei city. Before viewing their pictures, let's study this beautiful bird closer.

Let's start with the head, it has a pair of beautiful eyes, strong bill, and crest.

now look at the crest, a stylish hair style, anyone is interested to have this cutting?

Let's see the wing, wow.. marvelous pattern, I wish I could have that pair of wings and fly away to Taiwan again, perhaps.

now, let's take a look of the front, wow.. luxury coat...

and with a pair of sexy legs...
Enough, cannot show any further, that will be private.

Now, let's take a look at the beautiful pictures of Malayan Night Heron that I sighted in Taiwan. Places where I spotted and digiscoped the Malayan Night Heron are shown as follows:

Buddhist temple, Puli, Nantou county, 11-Nov-2009 :

Taipei Botanic Gardens, Taipei city, 14-Nov-2009:

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park, Taipei city, 14-Nov-2009:

Yangmingshan Park, Taipei county, 16-Nov-2009. It was dark at 5pm local time, and higher ISO 400 was used:

Da'an Park in Taipei city, 23-Nov-2009:

This picture is to show the feeding behavior of the Malayan Night Heron. It is a secretive and nocturnal or crepuscular bird, it likes foraging food during dusk and dawn, usually in the dark or shady areas in the parks, gardens or open field. Its main diets are ground worm, insects, small reptiles and amphibians.

I noticed that it has a pair of sharp eyes or a very sensitive bill for sensing the ground worm, the catch was very sharp and accurate. This picture was taken at Yangmingshan Park at 5pm local time. It was dark but with the dim light from the street lamp, was digiscoped with ISO 400 and lower shutter speed. The bird can still sense and see the big ground worm, and managed to pull it out from the ground and consumed it. Amazing!

I wonder why this species is also known as Malaysian Night Heron, even though it is a rare migrant and also not an endemic species of Malaysia.

Do you think it should be renamed as Taiwanese Night Heron, or simply Malayan Night Heron? names that are more appropriate than Malaysian Night Heron, otherwise it is very misleading.

Let me know what is your thought about the naming of this species? please comment.

What is Night Heron?
There are two generas of Night Heron: the Gorsachius and Nycticorax. In Chinese, they are named differently, the Gorsachius as Yan 鳽 or Malu 麻鹭, and Nycticorax as Yelu 夜鹭The Malayan Night Heron is grouped in the genus Gorsachius, together with the Japanese Night Heron and White-eared Night Heron (or Hainanese Night Heron). The Malayan Night Heron is known as Heiguan Yan 黑冠鳽 in China and as Heiguan Malu 黑冠麻鹭 in Taiwan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Birding in Taiwan

When I mentioned, "I went to Taiwan".

The questions I received were usually "did you see any celebrity, pop singer?", "did you visit Taipei101", "did you see any pretty Alishan girl?", influenced by the Taiwanese folk song : <.. Alishan's girls.. as pretty as the water..>, "did you visit sun-moon lake? or Penghu?", "took any Taiwan pictures?" et cetera.

My usual answer to above questions was simple: "No, I went to Taiwan for bird watching, and I have only bird pictures", and the replies were: "what! watching birds?", "you visited bird park? zoo?". The best reply I received was "great, you must have seen a lot of lifers"

Taiwan is an island nation located at the west Pacific Ocean and off the southeastern edge of the Asian mainland. It has the highest peak in East Asia, the Yushan Mountain. It straddles the Tropic of Cancer with a tropical south and sub-tropical north.

Due to the suitable geographical condition and isolation, Taiwan is one of the countries in the world with a high rate of endeminism of avifuana. Taiwan is also located at the East Asian-Australasian bird migration flyway, therefore many migratory birds from the North Asia and Siberia visit Taiwan during the autumn and winter months.

I spend 18 days in Taiwan (9-26 Nov.), and mainly traveled in the northern part of the islands. At the beginning, I followed the five days bird tour guided by the Taipei Wild Bird Society, places visited include Taipei city, Yilan, Taroko, Hehuanshan, Puli, Tashyueshan, Hsinchu, Wulai.

After the bird tour, I stayed in Taipei for couple of days to attend the microelectronics conference. After the conference, I visited Yangmingshan, Guandu nature park, parks and gardens in the Taipei city. Later, I proceeded to Alishan and Tataka with the hope of spotting the Mikado Pheasant or Swinhoe's Pheasant.

Unfortunately, I didn't spot the Mikado Pheasant or Swinhoe's Pheasant, but a replica of Mikado Pheasant at the visitor center of Tataka National Park, as a consolation token for the "never give up" spirit (haha..). I then ended my Taiwan birding trip in Taipei city and county on the last three days.

In this birding trip, I saw 12 endemic species and all were lifers. Most birds in Taiwan are easy to see and photograph. Strangely, I didn't see any photographer in Taiwan using flash for photographing the wild birds, but it is very common practice in Malaysia and Singapore.

The digiscoped bird photos of my Taiwan trip are shown in the list as follows:

Taiwan endemic species: According to Taipei Wild Bird Society, Taiwan has 17 endemic species, and I spotted 12 and digiscoped 9 of them. They are Taiwan Bulbul, Taiwan Whistling Thrush, Taiwan Laughingthrush, Collarred Bush-robin, Steere's Liocichla, Taiwan Barwing, Flamecrest, Taiwan Blue Magpie, Taiwan Barbet, Yellow Tit (no picture), Taiwan Sibia (no picture), Taiwan Yuhina (no picture).

I missed the Mikado Pheasant, Swinhoe's Pheasant, Taiwan Hill Patridge, Taiwan Hwamei and Taiwan Bush Warbler. I wonder where are these birds? are they blown away by the fearsome Morokot typhoon?.
Check out this LINK to view more pictures of Taiwan endemic species.

Taiwan endemic subspecies: I spotted more than 20 endemic subspecies. They are Slaty-breasted Rail, Crested Goshawk, Crested Serpent Eagle, Eastern Turtle Dove, Spotted-necked Dove, Japanese Green Pigeon, Chinese Bulbul (including hybrid Taiwan/Chinese Bulbul), Grey-cheeked Fulvelta, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Black Bulbul, Winter Wren, White-browed Bush Robin, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Coal Tit, Green-backed Tit, Varied Tit, Vinaceous Rosefinch, Black Drongo, Bronzed Drongo, Grey Tree Pie, Spotted Nutcracker, Long-tailed Shrike, and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.

Check out this LINK to view more pictures of Taiwan endemic subspecies.

Malayan Night Heron: This bird is easy to see in Taiwan, it can easily be found in the gardens or parks in Taipei city. I have seen this bird in Buddhist temple in Puli, Taipei Botanic Gardens, Da'an Park in Taipei, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park and Public Park in Yangmingshan. It is a non-endemic lifer for me.

Check out this LINK to view more pictures of Taiwan's Malayan Night Heron.

Non-endemic Lifers :
Besides the endemic species and subspecies, there are also some non-endemic bird lifers that I saw in Taiwan. The non-endemic lifers I spotted included Black-faced Spoonbill, Oriental Iblis, Spot-billed Duck, Nortern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Common Teal, Common Coot, Fork-tailed Swift, Japanese White-eye, Eurasian Nuthatch, Daurian Redstart, Blue and White Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail, Brown Dipper, Dusky Thrush, Bambling, and Black-collared Starling.

The most memorable non-endemic lifer that I saw was the Black-faced Spoonbill, I saw it in Yilan, Taiwan.
Check out here to view my non-endemic lifers in Taiwan. coming soon

Water Birds in Taiwan
Water sources and wetlands are important areas for most of the waterbirds in Taiwan, you can find many resident and migratory water bird species in these areas. One of my best digiscoped water bird picture is shown as follows:

Guide to Birding in Taiwan:
I strongly recommend and encourage one to carry an illustrated field book, because I do not know how the author took the bird photographs in most of the photographic bird books. Visit this LINK to read the review about Taiwan's field guide and birding guide books by Birdingnerd.

Personally, I would recommend Field Guide to the Wild Birds of Taiwan (台灣野鳥圖鑑) by Wu Sen-hsiang et al and illustrated by Takashi Taniguchi (谷口高司). It is jointly published by the Taiwan Wild Bird Society and the Wild Bird Society of Japan, written mainly in Traditional Chinese with English species common name, but some of the English bird names are not updated.

For the updated English species common name, MacKinnon and Phillip’s Field Guide to the Birds of China is recommended, and this book is very useful if you visit China for birding. I bought the simplified Chinese edition, which is much cheaper and light compared to the English edition.

Another recommended guide book is Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil, this book covers Taiwan, Japan, Korean, East and North East China, and Far-east Russia, it is thick and expensive, not easy to carry to the field but is good as a reference. Probably the most updated book on Taiwan endemic species.

Birdwatching in Taiwan by Rui-De Shi is a must have book if you are going there without any guide. You can purchase all these books from the Taipei Wild Bird Society, you can also contact them for more information about birding in Taiwan.

Taiwan is a tourist friendly nation, you can get most of the information online or at the Taoyuan airport, MRT or their high-speed train station. Mandarin, Hokkien and Hakka are widely used in Taiwan, English and Japanese are also spoken in the cities and tourist areas.

Taiwan, one of the countries in the world with a high rate of endeminism of avifuana, a highly recommended birding place in Asia.

** This blog is specially dedicated to Meng Meng, and pray that he will get well soon.

Taiwan Endemic Species

According to Taipei Wild Bird Society, Taiwan has 17 endemic species. I spotted 12 and digiscoped 9 of them. I missed the Mikado Pheasant, Swinhoe's Pheasant, Taiwan Hill Patridge, Taiwan Hwamei and Taiwan Bush Warbler.

The digiscoped photos of Taiwan's endemic species are shown as follows:

Taiwan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea) is a very fascinating and beautiful bird in Taiwan, it has all three colors of Taiwan's national flag, red, blue and white. It can be seen in Wulai and Yangmingshan.

Taiwan Barbet (Megalaima nuchalis) it is a beautiful bird with the most colorful face, known as 5-color bird in Chinese. I spotted it in Wulai.

Taiwan Whistling Thrush (Myophonus insularis) produces very sharp whistling call, easily heard the call in Wulai. I saw and digiscoped it in Taroko Youth Actvities Center.

Taiwan Whistling Thrush is the second species of whistling thrush that I had seen, the first species I saw was the Malaysia' Blue Whistling Trush at Cameron Highlands and Kek Lok Toong in Malaysia.

Steere's Liocichla (Liocichla steerii) is a must see bird in Taiwan, because it is a monotypic endemic species, and very beautiful birds. I spotted it in Hehuanshan and Alishan.

Taiwan Laughingthrush (Garrulax morrisonianus) is an endemic to upper montane forest of Taiwan, very colorful and beautiful birds, I saw it in Tashyueshan, Hehuanshan and Tataka National park.

Collared Bush-robin (Luscinia johnstoniae), is a monotypic species in Taiwan. It is very easy to see in Alishan, usually near to the stream or river.

Flamecrest (Regulus goodfellowi) is monotypic and restricted to the central mountains, I saw it in Tashyuenshan and Alishan. It is very hard to digiscope, because the bird is as small as the sunbird, very agile and hop very fast from one branch to another of the coniferous trees.

Taiwan Barwing (Actinodura morrisoniana), it is monotypic and endemic to montane forests of Taiwan, their feeding behaviour is exactly like the woodpecker or nuthacth, climbing up and down the tree trunk to search for food. I digiscoped it at Alishan, but only the back view of the bird.

Taiwan Bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus) is closely resemble the Chinese Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis) but has unbroken black cap to nape, it produces very sweet bird song. This bird species is declining mainly due to hybridization with Chinese Bulbul in natural overlap zone. I saw it in Taroko Youth Activities Center.

I also spotted a hybrid species of Taiwan/Chinese Bulbul, it looks like a Chinese Bulbul but with an orange spot on its bill base.

Seems like Hybrid Taiwan/Chinese Bulbul is the best bird icon to signify the unification of Taiwan and China. Bird also know how to live peacefully, why can't human with rich civilization?

Other endemic species which are not shown in this blog are the Yellow Tit, Taiwan Sibia, Taiwan Yuhina, Mikado Pheasant, Swinhoe's Pheasant, Taiwan Hill Patridge, Taiwan Hwamei and Taiwan Bush Warbler. I wish I could see and digiscope them in the future trip to Taiwan.

Ilha Formosa, Taiwan touches my heart!

** For your knowledge, based on Mark Brazil's bird guide, Taiwan has 24 endemic species. instead of 17. They are:
1. Taiwan Hill Patridge (Arborophila crudigularis)
2. Swinhoe's Pheasant (Lophura swinhoii)
3. Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus soemmerringii)
4. Taiwan Barbet (Megalaima nuchalis)
5. Taiwan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea)
6. Yellow Tit (Parus holsti)
7. Taiwan Bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus)
8. Taiwan Bush Warbler (Bradypterus alishanensis)
9. Black-Necklaced Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis)
10. Taiwan Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus musicus)
11. Taiwan Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga formosana)
12. Rufous-Crowned Laughingthrush (Garrulax ruficeps)
13. Rusty Laughingthrush (Garrulax poecilorhynchus)
14. Taiwan Hwamei (Garrulax taewanus)
15. White-whikered Laughingthrush (Garrulax morrisonianus)
16. Steere's Liocichla (Liocichla steerii)
17. Taiwan Barwing (Actinodura morrisoniana)
18. Taiwan Fulveta (Alcippe formosana)
19. Taiwan Sibia (Heterophasia auricularis)
20. Taiwan Yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps)
21. Flamecrest (Regulus goodfellowi)
22. Taiwan Whistling Thrush (Myophonus insularis)
23. Taiwan Shortwing (Brachypteryx goodfellowi)
24. Collared Bush Robin (Lucinia johnstoniae)