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Exploratory trips, 2005

During 2005 we regularly updated this page with sightings and photographs from our latest birding tour around Southeast Asia. This trip is a combination of preparation for our 2006 tour schedule and exploratory birding in areas where we plan to run future tours.

Philippines January – March 2005

We began with an early morning visit to the reclamation area on the outskirts of Manila which produced our first Philippine endemics with excellent views of a small group of Philippine Duck. A short drive then took us to the forested slopes of Mount Makiling where just one full day of birding produced no less than four different Ashy Thrushes along with a host of excellent birds including Philippine Trogon, Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Red-bellied Pitta and wintering Forest Wagtails while both Philippine Hawk and Scops Owls were spot-lighted.
We then headed north into the central Cordillera Mountains where the highlight of a five-day trek into Mount Pulog National Park were several sightings of the rarely seen Luzon Jungle Flycatcher. Other endemics in the extensive remaining cloud forest here included Long-tailed Bush Warbler, Green-backed Whistler, Mountain Shrike and Luzon Montane Racquet-tail while interesting migrants included Siberian Rubythroat and both Eye-browed and Brown-headed Thrushes.
Heading north again highlights at Mount Data included several probable Whiteheads Swiftlets amoung large flocks of Philippine Swiftlets and a silent Woodcock at dusk which was probably the recently described Bukidnon Woodcock. A brief stop at Bay-yo Village near Bontoc produced the regular Luzon Water Redstarts which gave excellent views. Our next stop was near Masipi on the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Northern Luzon. Although this area is dominated by secondary growth and scrub we saw some fantastic birds including a small group of Green-faced Parrotfinches in flowering bamboo, Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Rufous Hornbill and most surprisingly a stunningWhiskered Pitta.

Heading back south to Manila, a short flight saw us on the beautiful island of Palawan. We began with a trek into the Mantalingajan Mountains in the south of the island where we saw several small groups of our target Palawan Striped Babbler together with the more widespread island endemics and several migrants including both Mugimaki and Blue-and-white Flycatchers.
Making our way back to Puerto Princessa, early morning roadside birding produced excellent views of our targets – Palawan Flycatcher and Melodious Babbler together with our first views of Blue-naped Parrot, Ashy-headed Babbler and Blue Paradise Flycatcher.
Continuing north the picturesque St. Pauls National Park produced all the remaining Palawan endemics including no less than three stunning male Palawan Peacock Pheasants, delightful Falcated Ground Babblers, and Fantastic close views of Palawan Frogmouth.

Our next destination was the relatively under explored island of Samar and our visit started well with a Black-tailed Gull in Calbayog harbour and Philippine Gallinule on the drive south from there. Some of Samar’s best birding sites are currently inaccessible for safety reasons but the extensive lowland forest close to our base in Eastern Samar proved very productive and highlights included several excellent views ofMindanao Bleeding-heart together with Visayan Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted Pitta, Philippine Frogmouth, Silvery Kingfisher and a surprise Japanese Night Heron.

Moving south to the island of Mindanao, a long day trip by motorbike to Mount Pasean produced excellent views of the highly range-restricted Lina’s Sunbird and the vocally distinct Shortwings, which require further study but seem likely to represent an undescribed species.
Continuing on to the nearby PICOP concession our short visit aimed at locating the best current birding areas ahead of our 2006 Philippines Tour proved extremely successful. Highlights from a great selection of birds included Mindanao Wattled Broadbill, Celestial and Short-crested Monarchs, Little Slaty Flycatcher, Azure-breasted Pitta, Silvery Kingfisher, Rufous-lored Kingfisher and Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher. Philippine Frogmouth was the night-birding highlight although both Giant Scops andspilocephala Philippine Hawk Owls were heard.
Continuing on to Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon province, three days of fine weather helped us to connect with almost all of the available Mindanao montane endemics and specialties. Both Giant and Mindanao Scops Owls gave great prolonged views, at least four individual Bukidnon Woodcocks included a bird feeding on the main trail in the early hours, the elusive Bagobo Babbler was unusually cooperative and a pair of Philippine Eagles performed very well. Other highlights here were Mindanao Lorikeet, Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Apo Myna, Apo Sunbird, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, Red-eared Parrotfinch, Philippine Frogmouth and Philippine Nightjar.
Moving on to the southern side of Mount Kitanglad we spent three nights camping in the pristine mossy forest above Sitio Bol-ugan. Highlights were at least three different individuals of the rarely seenGoodfellow’s Jungle-Flycatcher, an immature Giant Scops Owl which gave superb views each evening around our camp while excellent views of Sunda Thrush was an unexpected bonus. Other specialities were much the same as those recorded above the Del Monte lodge and included Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, White-cheeked Bullfinch, Mindanao Lorikeet, Apo Myna and Apo Sunbird.

Next on the itinerary was our long anticipated expedition to Calayan Island off the north coast of Luzon. Rough seas gave us a day of gull and wader watching around Aparri town which produced only the second Philippines record of Slaty-backed Gull (subject to PRRC acceptance). We were the first birders to attempt to see the Calayan Rail since they were discovered last year and despite inclement weather they performed well together with excellent views of Chestnut-eared Bulbul, Whistling Green Pigeon, Ryukyu Scops Owl and Northern Boobook. A further few days stranded on the island by the bad weather produced some good migrants including vagrant Blyth’s Pipit and Red-billed Starlings (subject to PRRC acceptance), while the return boat trip, when we did finally make it off the island, produced both Tahiti Petrel and Pomarine Skua.
Our final morning was spent studying an excellent selection of shorebirds in North Manila Bay where small numbers of Far Eastern Curlew and 2 Chinese Egrets were the highlights.

Thailand March 2005

A full day at Pak Thale and a half day visit to Samut Sakhon gave fine views of 30 species of shorebird, at the former these included a group of 7 Spoon-billed Sandpipers and 4 Avocet while highlights at the latter included 3 Asiatic and a vagrant Long-billed Dowitcher together with over a hundred Great Knot.
As usual Keang Krachen produced great birding including several Grey Peacock Pheasants, both Blue and Giant Pitta, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Ratchet-tailed Treepie and excellent views of both White-fronted Scops Owl and Javan Frogmouth during night-birding sessions.

Cambodia March - April 2005

We began our Cambodia recce by visiting several grassland areas around Kompong Thom, these produced some fantastic birding with displaying Bengal Floricans, Oriental Plovers and Manchurian Reed Warblers amoung the highlights together with good numbers of passerine migrants including Yellow-breasted Buntings, Siberian Rubythroat, Lanceolated and Rusty-rumped Warblers.
Moving north into Preah Vihear province, three days spent searching the trapeangs in the area produced excellent views of both Giant and White-shouldered Ibis, including a nest of the latter. Other exciting species during this time included Pale-capped Pigeon, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Black-headed Woodpecker and Collared Falconet.

Undoubtedly the most exciting section of our Cambodia trip was our visit to Mount Aural, the highest peak in Cambodia lying on the edge of the Cardomom Mountains. The birding here was excellent with Cambodian Laughingthrush found to be common and several sightings of Chestnut-headed Partridge. Other specialities seen during our visit included Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Green Cochoa, Blue and Blue-rumped Pittas, Collared Falconet and Oriental Bay Owl.
Next we headed for Kratie on the banks of the mighty Mekong River where a pleasant boat trip onto the river north of the town produced excellent views of Mekong Wagtails and entertaining Irrawady River Dolphins.

Thailand April 2005

A brief visit to Mae Wong National Park in west Thailand was unfortunately marred by the almost complete destruction of the natural forest within the park. Nevertheless we saw some intereting birds includingCoral-billed Scimiter Babbler, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Bar-backed Partridge and Silver Pheasant. 
Moving on to the more pleasant surroundings of Khao Yai National Park, where Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Blue and Eared Pittas and Siamese Fireback stood out among the bird highlights, although close encounters with a bull Asian Elephant and two large Pythons were equally exciting.

Taiwan April 2005

Our next destination was the beautiful island of Taiwan, home to a fascinating and diverse avifauna.
Within hours of our arrival, Taipei Botaincal Gardens produced fantastic close views of three confidingMalayan Night Heron together with the first of many Muller's Barbets seen during the trip, and a single wintering Pale Thrush.
Heading into the mountains, several days in the mid - high altitude forests above Wushe produced all but three of Taiwans currently recognised endemics. Several Swinhoe's and a single male Mikado Pheasant were seen, while the often elusive Taiwan Partidge gave excellent close views. Other endemics here included Collared Bush Robin, Taiwan Shortwing, Taiwan Wren Babbler, Yellow Tit, Taiwan Bush Warbler, Flamecrest, Taiwan Yuhina, Taiwan Barwing, White-eared Sibia, White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Steere's Liocichla. 
Other speicalities included White-backed Woodpecker, Ashy Woodpigeon, Nutcracker, Vivid Niltava, Vinous-throated and Golden Parrotbills and more Pale Thrushes, together with visits to the high altitude road pass at Huhuanshan produced excellent views of confiding Alpine Accentor and Vinaceous Rosefinch. Several distinctive endemic subspecies, some of which are surely deserving of specific status, in particular yamadea (nivicola) Tawny Owl, sonorwox Chinese Bamboo Partidge, robustipes Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, poecilorhynchus Rusty Laughingthrush and formosana Streak-throated Fulvetta.
Dropping elevation to the foothills at Huisun Forest Reserve produced some new species including the stunning endemic Taiwan Blue Magpie and the localised Varied Tit, together with more Taiwan Partridge, White-bellied Green Pigeon, the distinctive erythrocnemis race of Spot-breasted Scimiter Babbler and another confiding Malayan Night Heron. Nightbirding here produced excellent views of the vocal distinct endemic totogo race of Northern Boobook. 
Moving down the west coast our next destination was the Tsengwen Estuary and other wetland areas north of Tainan. Some of the wintering Black-faced Spoonbills usually linger into May and we had excellent views of 26 birds. Other highlights among a fantastic selection of shorebirds included several groups of Little Curlew, 2 Far Eastern Curlew and small numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

Continuing around the south of the island to Taitung produced the first of many Styans Bulbuls, a species restricted to lowlands in the south and east of the island, which although still common in many areas, is severly threatened by habitat loss and hybridisation with released Chinese Bulbuls.
From Taitung a short flight bought us to the beautiful tropical island of Lanyu. Here we quickly connected with all our target species; Several Japanese Paradise Flycatchers were located along well vegetated stream beds, and Whistling Green Pigeons gave excellent scope views, together with several Brown Cuckoo Doves, the umbiquitous Chestnut-eared Bulbul and an interesting Zosterops species which appears to be closely related to the Lowland White-eye of the Philippines. After dusk several Elegant Scops Owls were heard and we were able to enjoy fantastic close views of at least four of these enchanting birds.
Continuing north, many more Styans Bulbuls were noted before we turned west up the famous Taroko Gorge. Unsurprisingly we made numerous stops as we made our way up the scenically spectacular gorge and these produced our final Taiwanese endemic of the trip - Taiwan Whistling Thrush together with entertaining Little Forktails. Continuing over Huhuanshan pass we made our way again into the mountains, this time to Anmashan. Birding here produced many of the birds seen previously near Wushe including both Mikado and Swinhoe's Pheasants, Taiwan Partridge and most of the other island endemics, but we were also pleased to finally connect with two more distinct island forms; niveiceps Island Thrush and ruficepsWhite-throated Laughingthrush.
With inclement weather closing in, we headed south again to the lowlands around Huben Village, an important breeding area for the endangered Fairy Pitta. The birds arrive in late April and we easily heard at least four calling birds, and we were treated to stunning close range views of this exquisite Pitta.Other birds in the area included at least four different Malayan Night Herons and further sightings of the endemics forms of Chinese Bamboo Partridge and both Streak & Spot -breasted Scimiter Babblers.
Nearby an area of grassland close to Jigi produced our final target species, the taewanus form of Hwamei, and we enjoyed excellent views of this fine songster.

China May 2005

With just over 2 weeks available in China we opted for a return to Sichuan in search of some of the more difficult specialities of the area.
We began very successfully at Laojunshan Forest Reserve in south Sichuan where our three target species, the endemic Sichuan Hill Partridge and Gold-fronted Fulvetta together with the rareStreaked Barwing, all performed brilliantly. Other specialities during our stay at this superb site included displaying male Temminck's Tragopan, Rusty, White-throated and Spotted Laughingthrushes, Golden Bush Robin, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Golden Parrotbill and Oriental Scops Owl.

The remainder of our stay was spent in the scenically spectacular Juizhaigou Panda Reserve in North Sichuan on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Unfortunately we again failed to locate the rare Rusty-throated Parrotbill, a species not seen here for several years now. Fortunately the other birds provided more than ample compensation - Rufous-headed Robins freshly arrived back on their breeding grounds showed extremely well, together with stunning Blue-eared Pheasants, Severtov's Grouse, Three-banded Rosefinch, Crimson-browed Finch, Prezvalski's Nutatch and the recently described Sichuan Treecreeper. Night birding gave good views of nivicola 'Chinese' Tawny Owl but sadly calling Pere Davids and Eurasian Eagle Owls remained out of sight.
Finally a visit to Du Fu's Cottage Gardens in Chengdu produced many Chinese Grosbeak, both White-cheeked and Red-billed Starlings, several Hwamei (of dubious origin?) and excellent views of confiding Vinous-throated Parrotbills.

Indonesia May - July 2005

We began our exploratory trip to Nusa Tenggara with a flight to Kupang, West Timor, where we were greeted on the airfield by numerous Australasian Pratincoles, an early indication of the Australasian influence to the islands avifauna. We headed first to Camplong where we soon caught up with most of the commoner endemics, together with stunning Orange-banded Thrushes and Black-banded Flycatcher, Buff-banded Bushbird, Timor Stubtail, Wallacean Drongo, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher and Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. Night birding here produced good views of a pair of duetting fusca Southern Boobooks.
Heading next into the highlands at Gunung Mutis, despite the rather inclement weather, we connected with our main target, the montane Timor Imperial Pigeon and good numbers of Metallic Pigeons and Black-backed Fruit Doves. Small numbers of Iris Lorikeets were seen amongst larger numbers of Olive-headed Lorikeets and several Olive-shouldered Parrots. Other highlights included our first Chestnut-backed Thrushes, daytime views of Southern Boobooks and an interesting vocally-distinct form of Pygmy Wren Babbler.
Our final destination on Timor was the remnant lowland forest at Bipolo, which despite being badly degraded still produced some excellent birding; with Olive-shouldered & Red-cheeked Parrots, Rose-crowned & Black-backed Fruit Doves, Cinnamon-banded Kingfishers, Pacific Baza and Broad-billed Flycatcher. The nearby fishponds and paddyfields produced a number of interesting species. SeveralTimor Sparrows were amongst the large flocks of munias which included Five-coloured and Pale-headed Munias. Far Eastern Curlews were a surprise find together with a group of 8 Royal Spoonbills and several Red-capped Plovers; typically Australasian species only occassionally recorded in Wallacea.

A short flight took us to Sumba where we based ourselves in the pleasant surroundings of Lewa village. We birded three different forest areas locally which produced all the hoped for endemics. These included several close views of up to ten Sumba Hornbills, often feeding in a fruiting tree alongside at least fourty Sumba Green Pigeons. Other highlights included excellent views of Elegant Pitta and Chestnut-backed Thrush – both common here, stunning Red-naped Fruit-Doves, Sumba Myzomela, Apricot-breasted Sunbird and a trio of endemic Flycatchers –Sumba, Sumba Brown and Sumba Jungle-Flycatchers. We were pleasantly surprised to find large numbers of Psittadae remaining in the area with many Rainbow Lorikeets, Great-billed, Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots seen along with 2 sightings of the endangeredYellow-crested Cockatoo.
Nightbirding was very successful with several excellent views of both endemic owls – Sumba Boobookand Little Sumba Boobook, together with the recently described Mees’ Nightjar (formally considered a subspecies of Large-tailed Nightjar). Our final day on the island was spent around the dry grasslands at Yumbu where we found our final endemic – Sumba Buttonquail together with Red-backed Buttonquail and Brown Quail.

We began on Flores with a visit to the popular tourist attraction of Keli Mutu where a spectacular sunrise over the coloured crater lakes was followed by our first views our several widespread Flores endemics including Flores Minivet, Flores Leaf Warbler, Russet-capped Tesia, a trio of Dark-eyes- Yellow-browed, Thick-billed and Crested, and the bizarre Bare-throated Whistler – a truly amazing songster!
Our next destination was Mausambi on the little visited north coast of Flores where we were pleased to find our target – the rare Flores Green Pigeon, a species often difficult to see on Flores, although not for us we were later to discover.....….other highlights during our brief stay included Great-billed Heron, Brown Quail and two new endemic Flowerpeckers – Golden-rumped and Black-breasted.
Moving on to Kisol we spent several days exploring the excellent lowland forest remaining around the lower slopes of Gunung Pacandeki. Numerous highlights during this time included the recently describedFlores Hawk Eagle (the only one we were to see during our time on Flores), Flores Green Pigeon (again), stunning White-rumped Kingfishers and Elegant Pittas were both found to be common as was the bizarre Flores Crow, while two Chestnut-capped Thrushes are a rare sight outside of cages nowadays.
Night-birding produced further Mees’ Nightjars and excellent views of both Moluccan and Wallace’s Scops Owls.
Based in Ruteng we next covered several sites in the mountainous spine of Flores which slowly yielded all of the islands montane endemics.
The highlight at Golo Lusang was undoubtedly the spectacular early morning chorus of Bare-throated Whistlers, but we were glad to find large numbers of Columbidae with Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon, Black-backed Fruit Dove and Metallic Pigeon all common and these were to become a regular feature in the Ruteng area.
A day visit to lower elevation forest patches north of Ruteng did not produce the hoped for Hanging Parrot but we found compensation in the form of yet more Flores Green Pigeons, this time a good-sized flock of this rarely recorded species. Other highlights included excellent views of Bonelli’s Eagle, White-rumped Kingfisher and Chestnut-backed Thrush.
Several visits to Gunung Ranaka and nearby Lake Ranamese eventually yielded its specialties. On the lake itself the throng of Pacific Back Ducks contained a single Coot, a vagrant to Nusa Tenggara. In the surrounding forests we found Flores Jungle Flycatcher, White-rumped Kingfisher, Green Junglefowl, Chestnut-backed Thrush, a vocally distinct form of White-browed Shortwing and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch.
Undoubtedly the highlight here after a number of sleepless nights were sightings of a pair of Flores Scops Owls, only the second ever field observations of this rare species, together with sound recordings of the previously undescribed vocalizations. 
A Bonelli’s Eagle over Ruteng Town bed us farewell as we moved on to our final base, the relaxed fishing town of Labuanbajo on the Flores west coast where birding close to the town produced Elegant Pitta and both Mees’ Nightjar and Moluccan Scops Owl at dusk.
A visit to nearby Puarlodo produced several stunning Flores Monarchs and further sightings of Elegant Pitta while the remaining lower elevation forest en-route to Potowangka produced Flores Crow, Great-billed Parrot and at long last our final Flores endemic in the form of an entertaining group of Wallace’s Hanging Parrots feeding in fruiting trees close to the road.
Our long-anticipated visit to Pulau Komodo did not disappoint, the Komodo Dragons for which the islands are justly famous for were superb while a supporting cast of birds included numerous Yellow-crested Cockatoos, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Green Junglefowl and a bonus Shining Bronze Cuckoo.

With two week left on our Indonesian Visa, we opted for a return to Java and South Sumatra. Our first site was the little-studied Ijen Plateau in East Java, primarily for the range-restricted White-faced Hill Partridge. We eventually obtained excellent, close views of this beautifully marked Arborophila, among a host of other exciting Javan and Indonesian endemics on the forested eastern slope on the mountain. Highlights included large numbers of Pink-headed Fruit Doves, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons, Sunda Minivets and White-bellied Fantails. Other forest inhabitants included Black-banded & Orange-fronted Barbets, Javan Hawk Eagle, Yellow-throated Hanging-parrot, Crescent-chested & White-bibbed Babblers and Bar-winged Prinia. While on the higher, grassy slopes Javan Bush Warbler, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch and horsfieldi Scaly Thrush all put in appearances along with numerous Orange-spotted Bulbuls.
Making our way westwards, our next destination was the well-known Gunung Gede - Pangranggo National Park. This ornithologically outstanding area once again did not disappoint, with a host of Javan endemics encountered. On the lower slopes much hoped for species such as Javan Cochoa, Spotted Crocia, Sunda Thrush, Javan Owlet, Sunda Forktail, Javan Hawk Eagle, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch, Javan Tesia and Dusky Woodcock all put in multiple appearances, while Salvadori's Nightjar and Giant Swiftlets were also observed. One day was spent reaching the crater of Gunung Gede to see the highly restricted Volcano Swiftlet, a species only found in the volcanic craters of West Java. The mossy forests of the higher reaches also produced Chestnut-bellied Partridge, javanicus Island Thrush, horsfieldi Scaly Thrush, Javan Frogmouth and Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon.
A short visit to Gunung Halimun, situated to the west of Gunung Gede and set at a slightly lower altitude, produced yet another great set of birds. Roaming feeding flocks included endemic White-chested Babblers, White-bellied Fantails and Spotted Crocias along with Rufous Piculet and yet more Tawny-breasted Parrotfinches. In the quieter corners superbly coloured Javan Trogons put in several appearances, along with mechanical sounding Crested Jays, diminutive Eye-browed Wren Babblers and Javan Frogmouths. Above the forest a Javan Hawk Eagle put on a great show, in full display overhead.
The tiny wetland of Maura Angke, on Java’s north coast, is home to one of Java’s most endangered endemics, Javan Coucal, and fortunately we were still able to locate one bird among the more numerous Lesser Coucals. A family of Javan Plover was a nice sight, yet another endemic in severe decline. Though the surrounding area is in heavy construction, this reserve was full of birds; many herons, egrets and Oriental Darters were feeding and circling overhead.

Fortunately our itinerary allowed sufficient time for another visit to the superb Way Kambas National Park in South Sumatra. The birding began well with excellent views of a family party of White-winged Wood Ducks in the marshes on only our first morning. Subsequent sightings of note included Cinnamon-headed and Large Green Pigeons, Large-billed Blue Flycatcher, Moustached Hawk Cuckoo, Red-bearded Bee-Eater, Black Magpie, Jerdons Baza and several stunning Banded Pittas.
Way Kambas is undoubtedly one of the most exciting night-birding destinations in south-east Asia and much of our time was spent walking the access track and forest trails at night. Although many of the night-birds were fairly un-vocal during this visit, with persistence we managed superb views of 3 species ofFrogmouth- Large, Goulds and Sunda, close and prolonged views of both Reddish Scops and Oriental Bay Owl, while the rare Bonaparte’s Nightjar performed exceptional well on several occasions.
Arguably the highlight of these sessions was however not a bird but a beautiful Clouded Leopard, casually strolling along the road one night apparently unconcerned by our presence close by!

Malaysia July 2005

In Late July we visited the magnificent Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia. After several previous visits we finally caught up with Crestless Fireback here and were fortunate to find many other Malayan lowland specialties; in particular Malaysian Rail Babblers and Garnet Pittas were vocal and both gave excellent views. Other records included two sightings of Red-legged Crake, Banded and Blue-winged Pitta (and Giant Pitta heard), Rufous-collared and Rufous-backed Kingfishers, Red-bearded Bee-Eater, Malaysian Peacock Pheasant, Crested Partridge, White-crowned Hornbill, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, Chestnut-naped Forktail, Little Bronze Cuckoo and Moustached Hawk Cuckoo. Mammals seen during our stay included several excellent views of Malayan Tapir visiting a remote salt-lick at night.