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Exploratory trips, 2008

 During 2008 we regularly update this page with sightings and photographs from our exploratory birding from around south-east Asia and beyond.

Philippines - March

In February Rob and Frank made a long awaited trip to the montane forests of South Cotabato province in Mindanao. For several years now this area has been considered high risk due to terrorist activities but with an apparent lull in tensions, some very special, range restricted species again become available. We based ourselves in the small settlement of Sitio Siete near Lake Sebu and spent three full days exploring the nearby forest trails. 
The highlight was repeated sightings of Mindanao Miniature Babbler associating with forest feeding flocks – this diminutive bird is one of the least known Philippine endemics, with just a handful of recent field sightings at just a few localities. Other top highlights were a brace of specialities which are difficult to see elsewhere; Whiskered Flowerpecker, Cryptic Flycatcher, nehrkorni White-fronted Tit, White-eared Tailorbird and Goodfellow’s Jungle Flycatcher. 
Our three day visit recorded no less than 62 Philippine endemics, an exception yield for a short visit to a single montane site, and it is hard to imagine many other places where the likes of Spotted Imperial Pigeon, Philippine Needletail, Rufous-lored Kingfisher and Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher might be considered ‘padder’ birds rather than the stars of the show!

China - May

In May James and Rob spent a week birding 3 important birding localities in south-east China; Dongtan NNR, Wuyuan County and Wuyishan on the Jiangxi/Fujian border in seach of two of China's rarest endemics, Cabot's Tragopan and Courtois's Laughingthrush. We had several superb encounters with both targets and also other mega species such as Oriental Stork, Reed Parrotbill, Japanese Swamp Warbler, Rickett's Hill Partridge and Mandarin Duck. A full report on the trip can be viewed here.

In the latter half of May, Rob headed west to Sichuan province. Unfortunately the devastating earthquake just a few days previously rendered the planned trip to search for Przevalski’s Parrotbills to the north of Chengdu impossible so he headed to the south of the province. First stop was Xining where a full day on the rainy forested ridges above the town produced at least three Silver Orioles sighted at one of their few known breeding sites. Other good birds here included numerous Emei Leaf Warblers, Emei Shan Liocichla and Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler. From here they continued south and a full two days of traveling on mountain roads which were often little more than dirt tracks, bought them to the beautiful mountains north of Muli. It was here that Bjorn Anderson and Nick Dymond et al had re-discovered Biet’s Laughingthrush, after a 19 year void of sightings. The birds were rather more elusive than they had been a few weeks earlier, and it was only after 2 days of intense searching that the birds were seen, and another day before superlative views were finally obtained.

West Papua - July/August

In July and August Rob and Frank began exploration of West Papua in preparation for our first scheduled and custom tours to this exciting destination in 2010. This month was spent between Biak, Baliem Valley and Nimbokrang, thus covering a very diverse range of habitats and birds. We began on Biak island where exploration of the remaining secondary forest patches produced all the hoped-for endemics and specialties; Biak Paradise Kingfisher (pleasingly common), Biak Gerygone, Biak White-eye, a flushed Biak Megapode, a stunning Biak Scops Owl teased in to view during a spot-lighting session and on our finally morning a fantastic family of Biak Monarch’s. Other special species during our stay on Biak included Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove, Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove, Moustached Treeswift, Red-fronted Lory and Geelvink Pygmy-Parrot.
We then flew onwards to Wamena from where we embarked on an eleven day expedition into the Baliem Valley of the surrounding Snow Mountains. Exciting birding began immediately and along the roadside we found our first Papuan Lorikeet and our only Goldie’s Lorikeet and Alpine Robins of the visit. We were fortunate to gain permission to an area hosting Snow Mountain Robin, a bird previously seen by just a handful of birders, and had great views of at least two pairs during our first few days in the mountains. Also in the grasslands and tree line forests surrounding Lake Habbema  we found stunning McGregor’s Bird of Paradise, Mountain Firetail, Snow Mountain Quail, Snow Mountain Munia, Papuan Harrier, Spotless Crake and close range studies of two very desirable night-birds; New Guinea Woodcock and Archbold’s Nightjar. The lake itself gave us excellent views of smart Salvadori’s Teal. Our descent on foot back to Wamena took several days and passed through some truly stunning forests with outstanding birding. Highlights included Wattled Ploughbill, Crested, Loria’s, King-of-Saxony and Splendid Birds of Paradise, Short-tailed Paradigalla, the difficult Archbold’s Bowerbird, Lesser Ground Robin, Lesser Melampitta, Mountain Kingfisher, Tit Berrypecker,  amazing encounters with a pair of rare Greater Ground Robins and great performances from ground-dwelling Chestnut Forest Rails and New Guinea Logrunner.
Returning to Sentani, our final destination was the lowland forests around Nimbokrang at the base of the Cyclops Mountains. The swamp forests here do not make for easy birding but the list of exciting birds is very impressive and our several days produced some great species. The greatest thrill came from the huge Northern Cassowary accompanied by two tawny-coloured juveniles which were skillfully whistled in to view by our local Papuan guide, although the scope views of a mighty Victoria Crowned Pigeon came a very close second!
More spectacular BoP’s came in the guise of Pale-billed Sicklebill, displaying Twelve-wired, King and Lesser Birds of Paradise, bringing our total for this short trip to 13 species from this awe-inspiring family. We had nice views of several other specialties of the area; New Guinea Bronzewing, Blue-black Kingfisher, Brown-headed Crow, Josephine’s Lorikeet, Brown Lory, Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot at its nest, and a brief Brown-collared Brush-Turkey crossing the trail ahead of us.

Scheduled and custom tours to West Papua will begin in summer 2010. E-mail us now to register interest for what will proved an extremely popular destination.