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2011-02-03

South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 1  -  Categories: Africa, Sri Lanka  -  @ 05:43:18 pm

Colombo to Hunas Falls, Sri Lanka - December 2010

This December we again considered Thailand for our Christmas vacation, unfortunately there are no direct flights to Bangkok from Kuwait and as a result flight prices had literally doubled from last year.

So, after more research and good reviews from friends who had visited, we chose Sri Lanka for our December holiday destination.

Whilst my wife researched hotels, I trolled bird forums and trip reports to get whet the appetite as this was our first time to Sri Lanka. On a number of reports, Amila Salgado’s of Birdwing Nature Holidays name popped up as the guide, so I made contact with Amila (amila@birdwingnature.com) and after understanding our requirements put together an itinerary for parts of our trip which he called Elephants, Endemics and Temples Tour. This gave the right mix of excursions and destinations for my family and I, including some dedicated birding time for me.

We flew Sri Lanka via Dubai to Colombo and had a really great time in this now peaceful country that is abundantly green (at least in the SW), has a temperate climate at this time of year, considering its equatorial position – even in the defined Wet Zone (it is said that it is always the right season somewhere on the island), friendly people and good service wherever we went and an acceptable infrastructure which accounts for slow travel between different locations due to traffic pressure (but that is to be expected).

The continental island of Sri Lanka forms part of the wider Indian Subcontinent and is shaped like a teardrop falling from the southern end of India. Only 437 x 225km it has habitat diversity from coastal areas to mountains with elevations ranging from 900 – 2440m and is considered on the most bio-diverse areas in South Asia with some impressive avifauna and 33 endemic birds amongst the 430 recorded on the island. Amila suggested Hunas Falls (just 1-hour north of Kandy) for the first 4-nights and after we had moved to our second hotel in Wadduwa to include a visit to Galle and a full day for me in Sinharaja Forest – one of my birding highlights of the trip. Amila made all the travel arrangements which included a driver and vehicle, so no stress for us and I can really recommend this option for the travelling family – as it eliminates the logistics stress, especially in a new country.

Amila has an encyclopedia of knowledge for Sri Lanka’s wildlife and that certainly adds interest to the trip, especially for those non-birding members of the family and I would recommend Amila for hardcore birding and more leisurely nature type excursions for families that have a general wildlife interest. He is also pretty competitive when it comes to Scrabble when outings are interrupted by rain…

And so, the first part our trip from Colombo to Jetwing Hunas Falls (http://www.jetwinghotels.com/jetwinghunasfalls/) just north of Kandy started. After an early morning pickup from the airport by Amila, we stopped to call up Indian Scops Owl to get into the spirit of the trip as we headed to Pinnawa Elephant Orphanage and onward to Hunas Falls. Images by Mike Pope


Whilst watching almost 60 elephants splashing about and drinking in the river, a Flying Fox came lumbering by overhead - an impressive beast, especially if you have never seen one before

Flying Fox

The Hunas Falls Hotel is situated in the cool high country with manicured gardens surrounded by forested covered mountains. During our stay we had a mix of sunshine, mist and light rain – a welcome relief from Kuwait, in addition to the abundant greenery. There is always an air of excitement when travelling in a new country and so it was as I walked the gardens on the first day in dim light testing my flash setup (required for low light forest photography). Oriental Magpie Robins were pretty common around the manicured gardens

Oriental Magpie Robin

Plain Prinias were obliging as they foraged on the lawn and between plants

Plain Prinia

Jungle Crows were seen most mornings on the hotel roof

Jungle Crow

On other excursions around the gardens with ponds and flowers, I picked up Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

Spotted Dove on the garden paths

Spotted Dove

A male Loten's Sunbird with it's deeply decurved bill

Loten's Sunbird

together with the smaller, but much more striking male Purple-rumped Sunbird

Purple-rumped Sunbird

and his drabber partner

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Whilst enjoying early breakfasts on the balcony overlooking the dam and waterfall, we saw a Brahminy Kite surveying its domain

Brahminy Kite

and a Little Cormorant fishing from its rock in the dam

Little Cormorant

a flash of irredescent blue across the water alerted us to this Common Kingfisher, who used the rock as its high ground for hunting

Common Kingfisher

during breakfast, we were also entertained with a Great Tit

Great Tit

feeding together with the comical Palm Squirrels

Palm Squirrel

a morning stroll around the lake, gave us Stork-billed Kingfisher with it's impressive beak

Stork-billed Kingfisher

as well as the very active Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

a late afternoon walk around the mini golf course away from the manicured garden gave Yellow-fronted Barbet

Yellow-fronted Barbet

some Hill Swallows on the overhead lines

Hill Swallow

along with some of the larger Sri Lanka Swallows

Sri Lanka Swallow

a couple of noisy Lesser Hill Myna's were seen in the fading light

Lesser Hill Myna

On my first morning walk with Amila, we headed up on a small road toward the radio tower on the summit of one of the hills. The comical Yellow-billed Babblers were seen just as we left the hotel

Yellow-billed Babbler

a small butterfly that Amila will identify for me, was seen on the road

Butterfly

at a soggy cricket pitch near the staff village, we found Indian Robin

Indian Robin

some Oriental White-eyes were seen on the fringes of the cricket field

Oriental White-eye

as well as a small group of the fantastic looking Plum-headed Parakeets

Plum-headed Parakeet

further along the road in some dense scrub, we finally got fleeting views of a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers that were moving swiftly through the undergrowth

Tawny-bellied Babbler

a little higher in elevation, the call of a Lesser Yellownape finally got us onto this common, but smart woodpecker

Lesser Yellonape

in the same area we were fortunate to get close views of a noisy flock of Layard's Parakeet - here an adult

Layard's Parakeet

and a juvenile

Layard's Parakeet

at the summit we found White-browed Fantail

White-browed Fantail

we dipped on the Dull Blue Flycatcher, but were rewarded with a few raptors at 1000m ASL. A Crested Hawk Eagle came by pretty low

Crested Hawk Eagle

and higher overhead, two variations of Oriental Honey Buzzard, this the lighter phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

and a darker phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

on our 2nd early morning walk, we started around the lake before proceeeding to the summit of Shaheen peak. In the pre-dawn, he heard and then finally saw the endemic Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

shortly followed by Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

and finally Indian Blue Robin, which turned out to be the most obliging for photographs

Indian Blue Robin

Indian Blue Robin

a small troop of the endemic Toque Macaque strolled by quite unperturbed by these two birders

Toque Macaque

Toque Macaque

as we gained elevation the habitat thinned out, but we had a fleeting glimpse of the massive Giant Squirrel

Giant Squirrel

on the grassy plains before the summit Scaly-breasted Munia's were feeding on grass seedheads

Scaly-breasted Munia

together with the more striking White-rumped Munia's

White-rumped Munia

Ealier on the walk, Amila had scoped the local race of Peregrine Falcon, called the Shaheen Falcon at the summit of the peak named after it. So, once we reached the summit at 1000m we searched for and finally found this striking looking race of Peregrine, which also treated us to a fly by

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

It is always fantastic to see a Falcon at eye level, so after saturated views we made our way back down to the hotel for brunch and were very fortunate in picking up a Kashmir Flycatcher on the way

Kashmir Flycatcher

Kashmir Flycatcher

Our last afternoon walk was with my family and this time we descended down from the hotel, but around the hotel we found a male Orange Minivet

Orange Minivet

together with a just as striking female

Orange Minivet

Near the Herb Garden, Amila picked up some Leaf Birds, which are really cryptic in the dense foilage - here a Golden-fronted Leafbird (if you can see it)

Golden-fronted Leafbird

Golden-fronted Leafbird image now cropped, so it is semi-visible

Golden-fronted Leafbird

a single Jerdon's Leafbird created a lot more excitement

Jerdon's Leafbird

I picked up two really smart looking Velvet-fronted Nuthatch's foraging at pace through the wooded driveway leading to the hotel

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

White-bellied Drongo's were prevalent this morning

White-bellied Drongo

We could hear Common Hawk-Cuckoo calling and after a long search it finally revealed itself

Common Hawk-Cuckoo

My wife put us onto a Crested Hawk Eagle that flew into the forest below with a small prey item and we spent some time watching it have breakfast during some light drizzle

Crested Hawk Eagle

After 4-days at this charming hotel (which reminded us a lot of the Hotels in the Drakensberg, South Africa) it was time to head to our next destination - The Reef Hotel in Wadduwa. While we were driving out, it almost seemed fitting to add an Emerald Dove to our Hunas Falls list

Emerald Dove

2010-10-21

South Africa (ZA)   Birding without the Birder  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 02:27:33 pm

Timeshare at Ngwenya Lodge, Southern Kruger National Park, Mpumulanga, South Africa - August 2010

After I had returned to Kuwait, my wife Gill, son Jaden and father-in-law Graham spent a few days at Ngwenya Lodge. This is our timeshare located on the banks of the Crocodile River on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. Images by Mike Pope


When I returned to Kuwait I brought all my camera kit with me, but left my Canon G9 point and shoot and Sony video for Gill to capture more African images. I was very proud, that Gill was able to firstly identify this as a Barred Owl (not easy for a non-birder) and secondly push the G9 to its zoom limits with both optical and digital zoom at their max.

Barred Owl

Finding and photographing an African Buffalo with the G9 didnt raise a sweat after the camouflaged owl

African Buffalo

Paying attention to all elements of life in the bush, Gill then photographed a Tortoise 'rushing' to cross the road. It's my job to now identify it.

Tortoise


2010-10-20

South Africa (ZA)   Safari at Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 03:19:11 pm

Return to Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve, Mpumulanga, South Africa - July 2010

After a hectic half year at work, my family and I retreated to the African bush for 4-days of solitude and peace. It wasnt a difficult decision to return back to Kirkmans Kamp during the South African winter. One of the prime reasons for choosing Kirkmans was that they also allow children under 12, so my son Jaden was ecstatic. Images by Mike Pope


Winter in the lowveld is very pleasant with brisk evenings and early mornings, but very comfortable temperatures during the day. In between the morning and afternoon safari's, we relaxed around the pool and patio of the main house enjoying the solitude and watching birds and game passing by in the gardens and the Sand River below our bungalows - really stressful. Although no migrants are present during winter, the resident birds in the gardens and on the game drives kept us entertained. In the garden around the main lodge we had a flowering exotic tree, which attracted a variety of birds. The male Scarlet-chested Sunbird really stood out from the white flowers, but was most uncoperative for photographs

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The female Scarlet-chested Sunbird is a little more cryptic

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

A Spotted Flycatcher, which is a migrant, must have jumped on a earlier flight to get to South Africa ahead of the others

Spotted Flycatcher

A single Crombec was seen in the maze of branches, this is a bird with character - it has to be since it is almost tailess

Crombec

Grey Loeries (Turaco) were also seen feeding on the flowers

Grey Loerie

It wasnt just this exotic tree that attracted birds, the indigenous trees in the main garden held their own with Ashy Flycatchers

Ashy Flycatcher

Black-eyed Bulbuls

Black-eyed Bulbul

Brown-hooded Kingfishers

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

A very vocal female Chinspot Batis, why should we be surprised!

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Drongo's were seen having success hunting from perches above the grassed lawn

Drongo

During the warmth of the day, we relaxed around the pool and birds came to us. A Black-collared Barbet in the tree above our loungers

Black-collared Barbet

A couple of birds took advantage to drink water from the pool; Yellow-eyed Canaries were quite bold

Yellow-eyed Canary

Greater Blue-eared Starlings are quite magnificent

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Above the pool we had some Wire-tailed Swallows that stopped to rest in the shade of the change rooms

Wire-tailed Swallow

A group of Palm Swifts appeared to be collecting nesting material on the wing

Palm Swift

A pair of Lesser-striped Swallows (intra African migrants) arrived on our last day at Kirkmans

Lesser-striped Swallow

The lodge lawns also had some birds of interest. Every afternoon a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl would come trooping across and took flight if spooked by an overhead raptor

Helmeted Guineafowl

The largest Starling species, Burchells Glossy Starling were seen bathing in the sprinkler spray and feeding on the ground

Burchells Glossy Starling

Both Yellow-billed Hornbill

Yellow-billed Hornbill

and the slightly smaller Red-billed Hornbills were seen

Red-billed Hornbill

Exploring the fringes of the bush at the edge of the property had to be done with care, as the lodge is not fenced. Here the striking Groundscraper Thrush was seen

Groundscraper Thrush

A Tawny-flanked Prinia was seen in a thicket on the ground

Tawny-flanked Prinia

together with a Neddicky

Neddicky

A Southern Tchagra flushed from where it was feeding on the ground

Tchagra

Not many raptors were seen around the lodge, but a African Hawk Eagle high on a thermal did catch my attention

African Hawk Eagle

An adult Bateleur is a sight to behold and also features on the logo for Kirkmans Kamp

Bateleur

Bateleur

Out on the morning and afternoon game drives, we encountered birds not seen around the lodge. An early morning stop on the river gave a fly by of African Harrier Hawk

African Harrier Hawk

Followed by a Hamerkop, a bird that many locals are superstitious of.

Hamerkop

As we crossed the river, we saw the large Goliath Heron hunting quietly against the reeds

Goliath Heron

Another Hamerkop was seen hunting on the causeway

Hamerkop

Also seen in the early mornings are Green Pigeons preening out in the open before they disappear into the depths of the trees to feed and roost for the day

Green Pigeon

Whilst watching a lion at a waterhole, we saw Crested Francolin feeding apparently oblivious to the lion

Crested Francolin

Also seen was a female Cardinal Woodpecker high up in a dead tree

Female Cardinal Woodpecker

On the opposite side of the waterhole, a flock of White-backed Vultures had roosted for the night

White-backed Vulture

A little later in the morning, once the thermals were rising, the Vultures departed and slowly spiralled upwards

White-backed Vulture

On the game drive, we also saw a Lizzard Buzzard fly into the tree with a small prey item clutched in its talons

Lizzard Buzzard

Yellow-billed Hornbills strike me as the equivalent of the birding clowns of the bush

Yellow-billed Hornbill

The Lilac-breasted Roller is probably the most photographed bird in the Kruger National Park and with colours like this, you can understand why

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

On the way to our sundowner stop an Emerald-spotted Dove was heard before it was seen

Emerald-spotted Dove

During our sundowner, I saw a small group of Little Bee-eaters hawking in the fading light

Little Bee-eater

Saddle-billed Stork is one of the Big 5 of birds - the other 4 are: Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Ground Hornbill and Kori Bustard

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed Stork

However, the majority of visitors to Sabi Sand Reserve and lodges like Kirkmans Kamp are here for the big game and sadly birds feature quite low on most agenda's. To me the mammals and birds are symbiotic and I get a kick out of everything we encounter on safari. It is almost a priviledge to be able have this kind of exclusivity to enjoy game at close range with your personal guide and ranger. Walking around the camp looking at birds, also provides opportunity to see some of the lodge animals. The shy Bushbuck feeds along the fringes of the riverine bush

Bushbuck

A male Warthog was more bold and grazed on the lodge lawns

Warthog

Vervet Monkeys were daring during lunch when they would steal food off your table if you werent vigilant enough

Vervet Monkey

Out on safari, there are many other mammals to distract whilst looking for the Big 5 and our ranger and tracker together with the guests were able to find some of the smaller antelope like, Duiker

Duiker

and Klipspringer, a specialist of rocky outcrops and extremely agile across the rocks and boulders

Klipspringer

Among the larger antelope, the Waterbuck is still one of my favourites from a photograhic perspective

Waterbuck

However, most people consider the Kudu to be the most regal

Kudu

Two Giraffe grazing in the African bush

Giraffe

We saw these Dwarf Mongoose as the sprinted across the track in front of us

Dwarf Mongoose

As the sun sets, the nocturnal mammals start appearing. This Spotted Hyaena has just seen a Leopard lying off his track and was unsure what to do next. He didnt have to wait long, as the young male Leopard chased him back from where he had come

Spotted Hyaena

The White-tailed Mongoose is always a good sighting on a night drive

White-tailed Mongoose

We almost bumped into this grazing Hippo on one of the early morning drives

Hippo

As mentioned earlier, most guests main quest at these private lodges is to get up close and personal to the Big 5, well Kirkmans Kamp didnt disappoint. We were really close to a family group of 4 White Rhino's - here a male looking a little apprehensive. It is such a shame that they are being mercilessly poached and slaughtered again in South Africa and the source/demand needs to be stopped

White Rhino

We watched this pregnant Elephant as she systematically shredded the bark off this branch by pulling and rotating it through her mouth with her trunk

Elephant

A junior Elephant did his best to 'scare' us, but realise we were much bigger than him and beat a hasty retreat

Elephant

Kirkmans Kamp is one of the places in Sabi Sands for Leopard and the rangers/trackers delivered the goods. We had superb sightings on almost all of our drives - both morning and afternoon. Here a young male sleeping in the afternoon

Leopard

Yawning after his sleep

Leopard

One of the males walking his territory

Leopard

Up in a tree looking over the bush

Leopard

A portrait in the early morning light

Leopard

While enjoying the Rhino's, we noted a pride of Lion within 10m of the Rhino's who hadnt noticed them. The Lions were quiet too, as they had cubs

Lion Cub

Lion Cub

We tracked this magnificent male Lion as it made its way to a nearby waterhole

Lion

There was a dead Waterbuck in the middle of the small pan, here the Lion trying to work out how to take advantage of this 'free' meal

Lion

After assessing the situation and the real possibility of a large Crocodile in the pan, the Lion eventually decided to try and retrieve the Waterbuck. It tentativly walked into the water and discovered that it got deeper as it got closer to the buck. Then either its movement in the water or one of the feeding Terrapins bumped into it - well, he tried to walk on water in his haste to get back to dry land

Lion

Lion

Lion

Lion

He tried this move 3 times without success and then gave up and went to mark his territory around the dead Waterbuck. As a note, we visited the pan the following morning and discovered that he did persevere and finally pulled the buck onto the bank - but didnt eat much of it, probably because it had been dead too long

Lion

2010-09-30

South Africa (ZA)   Winter in South Africa  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 05:42:02 pm

Winter birds, Gauteng, South Africa

I escaped the oppresive heat of Kuwait at the end of July and joined by family in South Africa for a well deserved 10-day break in the highveld winter. Images by Mike Pope


In between catching up with family and friends there was little to no time for any local birding. However, one morning and in between taking action shots of my son during his tennis coaching I managed to capture a few local birds in our park inside Kyalami Estates in Midrand. Fiscal Shrike are common all year round and are opportunistic predators

Fiscal Shrike

Grey Loeries have adapted to urban environments where they were not quite as common 10-years back

Grey Loerie

Indian Myna's are found all over South Africa - unfortunately. They can be quite aggressive with other garden birds, often chasing them out of their garden patches

Grey Loerie

The Hadeda Ibis or more affectionately known as the Goliath Sunbird, as it has also habituated urban environments

Hadeda Ibis

A Streaky-headed Seedeater or Canary, dong just as it's name suggests

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Mallards are classified as invasive species and are creating havoc by interbreeding with our indeginous ducks. I believe it is legal to cull them

Mallard

We spent a morning at the Monte Casino Bird Garden in Fourways and enjoyed the bird show. The show is predominantly designed to create awareness about pollution, protection and conservation of our biodiversity and specifically birds. Local and other birds are used to substantiate the objectives of the show. This juvenile Ground Hornbill is one of the Big 5 birds

Ground Hornbill

One of the more powerful Buzzard species, Jackal Buzzard

Jackal Buzzard

Spotted Eagle Owls can be found in gardens with big trees and palms

Spotted Eagle Owl

The Barn Owl was used to raise some cash for the bird show with children having their pictures taken with the Owl

Jackal Buzzard

This comical Toucan didnt always co-operate

Toucan

One of the many Scarlet Ibis in the one of the large outdoor avairies

Scarlet Ibis

2010-01-21

South Africa (ZA)   Phuket, Thailand  -  Categories: Asia, Thailand  -  @ 04:55:22 pm

Christmas and New Year December 2010, JW Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket

A 10-day Christmas break was exactly what we needed after the year that 2009 was. We couldnt have chosen a better country to relax, chill and re-charge and it was with heavy hearts when left to return to Kuwait after New Year. All we can say, is that we will be back. Also heartening was the fact that this is one of the first destinations where I have stepped off the plane and seen an indigenous bird first and not some introduced exotic which is always the case. Images by Mike Pope


A new country creates a buzz for any birder, as most birds seen would be lifers and Phuket was no exception. As I have done on other family holidays, I was up before breakfast every morning to walk the hotel grounds which is a mix of exotic/introduced and indigenous habitat, secure our loungers at the pool and then rouse the family for the sumptious buffet breakfasts. Our room was right next to a small lake with water lillies and good habitat and was good for a number of normally secretive birds. The most common was Chinese Pond Heron, but the challenge I had was getting up early meant low light and challenging photographic conditions, so I had to expirement with flash on a few occassions - with mixed results, this one was particulary successful.

Chinese Pond Heron

The amount of white in the wings is always surprsing when these herons take flight

Chinese Pond Heron

I managed to catch this one in the soft afternoon light and we can use it to compare to Squacco and Indian Pond Heron which occur in Kuwait

Chinese Pond Heron

On my second morning I flushed a Cinammon Bittern that was a little too far for the reach of the flash, but no question on the identification

Cinammon Bittern

An added bonus was also finding Yellow Bittern at the same lake

Yellow Bittern

I was really fortunate on one morning when I caught both Cinammon and Yellow Bittern in the same thicket, with the Cinammon trying to devour a rather large fish with a bemused Yellow Bittern looking on

Yellow and Cinammon Bittern

White breasted Waterhens were seen feeding across the Lilly pads

White breasted Waterhen

When the Waterhens and Pond Herons took flight, it was normally because of a cruising Brahminy Kite - this taken with flash in the pre-dawn light

Brahminy Kite

Normally more skulking (at this hotel anyway), this Oriental Magpie Robin stopped on the bridge before disappearing into the thickets on the side of the lake

Oriental Magpie Robin

The most common birds around the pool area, as expected are introduced species, like this Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove

The bigger Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Not to forget the Common Myna which you seem to find everywhere

Common Myna

Eurasian Tree Sparrows were numerous around the breakfast buffet each morning, boldly stealing food with the Mynas

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

After dinner one night, my son found this frog near the pool which we still have to identify

Frog

Walking through the quieter parts of the garden and the casarina trees along the beach produced other species, the Black naped Oriole's call every morning started becoming quite familiar

Black naped Oriole

Toward the end of our stay, large numbers of Black Drongos were seen in the casarina trees, this one illuminated with flash in the backlit high trees

Black Drongo

Common Tailorbirds were not easy to get onto where they were heard calling from the undergrowth

Common Tailorbird

On one occassion I came across a first winter Brown Shrike. I now have a reference image to check for this species occuring as a vagrant in Kuwait

Brown Shrike

Brown Shrike

Hawking around the top of the tall casarina trees were Asian Palm Swifts

Asian Palm Swift

with the odd Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Interspersed with Pacific Swallows

Pacific Swallow

Yellow vented Bulbul was the only bulbul seen in and around the hotel, a good looking Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Venturing out of the hotel and finding some more natural bush gave species not seen in the hotel, Large billed Crows were seen patrolling over on of th entrance roads

Large billed Crow

Little Cormorants were normally seen early morning on their way from their roosting site

Little Cormorant

A Black Baza was seen on 2 mornings from the same spot at the same time

Black Baza

I saw a Dusky Crag Martin only on one occassion, hawking over the hotel entrance

Dusky Crag Martin

Indian or if split Burmese(?) Roller was seen most mornings

Indian/Burmese Roller

Dollarbirds used the overhead power lines to hunt from

Dollarbird

The Olive backed Sunbird was not at all obliging

Olive backed Sunbird

The larger Brown throated Sunbird was a little more obliging, this is male

Brown throated Sunbird

and the drabber female

Brown throated Sunbird

I had a large influx of Paddyfield Pipits on my last day out

Paddyfield Pipit

On my day trip to Phang Nga I saw Scarlet backed Flowerpecker, but was not able to photograph it - at the hotel I was more fortunate

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

Showing why it is so named

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

One of the many new butterflies also seen, this is a Chocolate Pansy

Butterfly

I arranged a day's guided birding through Dave Williams of Paddle Asia (paddler@paddleasia.com) who specializes in Birding Tours in Phuket. I had a 5:30 pickup with my excellent guides for the day - Games Phetsri and Ian Dugdale. Ian is a special guest who accompanies Games on most guided tours. We headed out in the dark to our first location of the day - Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary for some really good forest and canopy birding as the sun peeped over the mountains. After too much time in the deserts, I had forgotten the challenges of canopy birding as well as the associated neck and eye strain of canopy birding. This didnt deter my enthusiasm as we picked up one new bird after another, often with just fleeting and tantilising glimpses.The other challenge in the low light conditions was photographing with flash, I persevered with mixed results. So, the following images is to give a flavour of what can be found on a guided day out. One of the first birds seen up in the canopy was a Grey breasted Spiderhunter, it reminded me of a sunbird on steroids

Grey breasted Spiderhunter

As the sun started hitting the tops of the canopy, the forest slowly wakened and birds slowly became active, many enjoying the warmth of a new day before feeding. A few Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrikes were seen

Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike

A poor image of the brilliant looking Blue winged Leafbird

Blue-winged Leafbird

The fantastic colour of a Verditer Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

and the wonderful looking Black crested Bulbul

Butterfly

In the mid-stratum, birds also started appearing - but these were way more difficult to get onto for any length of time. This Common Tailorbird caught with flash foraging for breakfast

Common Tailorbird

The Buff-vented Bulbul is quite a skulker

Buff-vented Bulbul

Buff-vented Bulbul

As was the Hairy-backed Bulbul

Hairy-backed Bulbul

A large bird moving quickly through the undergrowth turned out to be a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. Again I marvelled at the colours of this forest dweller

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

A dimunitive Blue-throated Flycatcher was seen gleening through the canopy

Blue-throated Flycatcher

Followed shortly by a Mugimaki Flycatcher which created a lot of excitement from Ian

Mugimaki Flycatcher

The brightly coloured male Orange-breasted Flowerpecker was caught by flash, busy gathering food for its young

Orange-breasted Flowerpecker

A Spectacled Bulbul was briefly seen

Spectacled Bulbul

Scanning the treetops we found the amazing and cool looking Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Flying overhead we also had the larger Grey-rumped Treeswift

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Also causing some excitement a Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

The only raptors seen soaring high overhead were Oriental Honey Buzzard

Oriental Honey Buzzard

And Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle

Sadly we had time constraints to ensure we got to the other locations, before leaving saw this Forest Crested Lizarad in the leaf litter, the expression on its face reminding me of some animated character from a Disney movie

Lizard

We tried another location on route to lunch and not too many new birds added. At lunch next to the water, watched a few fish patrol below us and saw a Striated Heron

Fish

After an enjoyable local lunch, we stopped in the Mangroves near Phang Nga town, it was too early for Mangrove Pitta - but we did pick up Arctic Warbler, another taken with flash

Arctic Warbler

Some movement alerted me to the odd Gliding Lizard that literally jumps and glides from one tree to another

Gliding Lizard

The mangroves hosted a few interesting butterflies, this is a Clipper

Butterfly

and a Spotted Black Crow

Butterfly

On the way back to our van, we found 3 White-rumped Munias feeding on seeds on the roadside verge

White-rumped Munia

Ian stopped at one of the main intersections in Phang Nga town where there is a breeding population of Black Nest Swiftlets - not easy to photograph from the busy sidewalk and overhead telephone lines

Black Nest Swiftlet

We then had a long drive to Thai Muang which used to be golf course and is no longer used as one, resulting in the re-growth of natural vegetation. This is also a superb site and holds a lot of promise if we had no pressure of time. It was best to walk the old fairways and explore the water holes. First bird up was Black Drongo

Black Drongo

We flushed a flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Germain's Swift is the common swift in Phuket

Germain's Swift

At one of the waterholes we flushed Yellow and Cinammon Bittern and this Watercock getting away

Watercock

At another, a few Paddyfield Pipits and Pacific Golden Plovers

Pacific Golden Plover

and a pair of River Lapwings that departed as soon as they saw us - but a satisfying sighting, not so with the photograph. Perhaps the new 7D would have handled this picture very differently

River Lapwing

After the departure of the Lapwings a small Plaintive Cuckoo landed nearby

Plaintive Cuckoo

On the fringes of the course, we picked up a flock of Myna's and Rosy Starlings, the Starlings a good sighting for Phuket

Rosy Starling

More elusive were the Chestnut-streaked Starlings high up in a casarina tree

Chestnut-streaked Starling

By now, the sun had started to touch the horizon and we were fortunate to have a flock of Orange breasted Green Pigeons fly in to roost for the night.

Orange breasted Green Pigeon

As we were about to leave, I saw two birds fly in and land behind a mound, I suspected Grey headed Lapwing and crept up behind the mound and managed this image before they fly further away in the fading light. A great bird to end what was a fantastic day out with Games and Ian

Grey-headed Lapwing

During our stay on Phuket, we arranged an excursion to James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay which is North East of Phuket. Not many birds at all seen on this day trip. We had Pacific Swallows on the pier of the harbour before we departed

Pacific Swallow

After James Bond, we explored some islands on canoe's through caves in the limestone walls. On one of the inner lagoons our paddler pointed out a pair of Hornbills which turned out to be Oriental Pied.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

In the same lagoon, the primarily arboreal Crab eating Macaques watched us with curiosity as we did them

Crab eating Macaques

On the last day of 2009, we arranged a days snorkelling excursion to the spectacular Similan Islands where the water is as blue as swimming pools in the South African summer. Again, not many birds seen on the 2-hour speedboat ride to the islands. I did get Pacific Reef Egret and White bellied Sea Eagle. We stopped at Island # 4 for lunch and saw huge numbers of roosting Flying Foxes in the canopy above us

Flying Foxes

However, the avian highlight of Island # 4 is the rastafarian looking Nicobar Pigeon. Unfortunatley at luch time they are all roosting after having finished their foraging in the early morning. The large number of people also kept them in the trees. After some intensive searching in the short window of time that I had, I eventually located a lone roosting Nicobar Pigeon - not an ideal view, but I was elated

Nicobar Pigeon

Our last snorkel provided another highlight when we had the privelege of swimming with a Turtle, what a magnificent creature and my son Jaden was so excited even though he was in 15m of water. Whilst everybody dozed off on the 2-hour trip back to the hotel, I took up a personal challenge in trying to photograph a Flying Fish while standing at the back of the speedboat with three 200HP V6 Yamaha's flat out across the Andaman Sea. I am personally thrilled with the result of what was a difficult and challenging personal photographic assignment

Flying Fish

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