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Exploratory trips, 2010

During 2010 (and late 2009!) we regularly update this page with sightings and photographs from our exploratory birding from around south-east Asia and beyond.

Lao PDR    December 2009

Over Christmas James visited Lao PDR, primarily in search of Lao Langur in his quest to see all of Asia's primates. It was very satisfying to connect on the first afternoon as a single langur soaked in the last rays of sunlight on top of a limestone pinnacle in the scenically spectacular Annamite mountain range. The following day he also had fine views of another limestone karst specialist, the recently described Bare-faced Bulbul. Also in the area were the recently described Limestone Leaf Warbler (a species we saw back in 2004 in Vietnam and on several recent tours), flocks of Nepal House Martin and good numbers of Sooty Babbler, another regional endemic.
Though much of Lao has been surveyed the infrastructure for tours is still in its infancy. Hopefully within a few years much more of the annamite mountain range will be  easily accessible and some of those little-known laughingthrushes will become available.

 Sarawak, Borneo      December 2009 – January 2010

James spent the New Year birding the forested mountains that surround Ba'kelalan village, deep in the heart of Borneo. Over the course of four days birding several endemics were encountered including impressive numbers of Pygmy Ibon, a hard-to-come-by endemic in Sabah, Mountain Serpent Eagle (including 5 adults soaring together) and Ruddy Cuckoo Dove were notably common. Unfortunately no Black Oriole were located, seemingly replaced by Black-and-Crimson Oriole here but the highlight was prolonged, close views ofBornean Frogmouth on one evening, though frustratingly Dulit Frogmouth was only heard distantly on the final morning.

Indonesia – January 2010

James started the year with another exploratory visit to Borneo, this time to the Indonesian portion, Kalimantan. A visit to Sungai Wain Forest Reserve on the east coast provided him with stunning views of one of Borneo’s most difficult but beautiful endemics;Bornean Peacock Pheasant. After two brief views over three, very rainy, bedbug ridden days it wasn’t until an hour before he left when a male quietly circled him three times through the dense thickets. A pair of Bornean Ground Cuckoo, once as mythical as the pheasant, gave themselves up rather easily (within 5 minutes of looking for them!). Other highlights included a confiding Grey-breasted Babbler, a rare bird of peat-swamp forest and White-fronted Langur – an endemic primate restricted to east Kalimantan.  

James stayed in Indonesia for another week to explore the island of Peleng, part of the Banggai archipelago off east Sulawesi. Peleng made the headlines recently with the rediscovery of the critically endangered Banggai Crow, previously only known from 2 specimens dated 1884- 1885. Once in the required habitat the crow proved straight forward with up to 9 seen daily! Endemics shared with the Sula archipelago included quirky Helmeted Myna flying around in small groups, Slaty Cuckooshrike was seen twice, Sula Hanging Parrot was amazingly common (literally everywhere!),  Henne-tailed Jungle Flycatcher was common by voice though took some time getting nice views, and ‘Sula’ Pitta, a debateable split from Red-bellied Pitta was very common, and Banggai Scops Owl was easy enough.  A visit to another site provided excellent views of Sula Scrubfowl using interesting local searching methods as it peered down at us from a safe vantage point. Finally, saving the best till last, a pair of Red-and-black Thrush put in a performance, circlingfor 30 minutes – perhaps the most striking of Asia’s zoothera’s – they really are that good! On top of that Peleng Tarsier and Peleng Cuscus added to the fauna of the island.

A visit to Peleng will be part of our Remote Sulawesi tour coming up in 2012 that will also include Sangihe, Togian and Taliabu Islands. Keep checking the website for details.

Sarawak, Borneo - March 2010

James returned to Sarawak in March to search again for some of Borneo’s least-known endemics. A short visit to Meludam National Park, where the largest area of remaining peat-swamp forest in Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah resulted in sightings of the rare Hook-billed Bulbul. Other highlights included Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, groups of Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon, Red-crowned Barbet and Von Schrenk’s Bittern though a return visit is in the pipeline to see the Red Banded Langur, a critically endangered primate restricted to this park.
Venturing back into the Kelabit Highlands, this time to Long Lellang resulted in a long bird list. Species recorded included Hose’s Broadbill, several White-necked Babbler, Blue-banded and Bornean Banded Pittas, Bornean Blue and Large-billed Blue Flycatchers but frustratingly a Dulit Frogmouth called only once near to camp before the rain set in for the remainder of the night and the following day.

China - May 2010

Before James’s Sichuan tour he spent two weeks researching new areas. The first was a visit to Shaanxi province. From just 7 individuals in 1981 there are now as many as 600Crested Ibis surviving in the wild at Yang Xian and over 20 of these spectacularly-plumed birds were enjoyed as they fed along roadside streams and battled it out with each other in a huge arboreal heronry. Not far away, in a remote area of Foping Nature Reserve, far away from any roads he became one of the few foreigners to actually see and photographGiant Panda in the wild, on 3 separate occasions, including hour-long views at just 10 metres distance.

Other mammalian highlights here included Takin, and Red-and-white and Complex-toothed Flying Squirrels. Birding opportunities were limited but Golden Pheasant, Moustached Laughingthrush, Ibisbill and Spectacled Parrotbill all made appearances.

Having visited Yunnan with Rob in 2004 there was little else new here though since our visit Biet’s Laughingthrush had been rediscovered close to Lijiang and it didn’t take long before a pair of these beautifully marked birds were circling at close range. Also here was the near-endemic Yunnan Nuthatch, Moupinia and Black-browed Tit. A drive north towards the Tibetan border, followed by a tough three-day trek through the pine forests and snow-capped mountains of Baima Snow Mountain NNR enabled James the unique opportunity to be the first-ever ‘tourist’ to see a huge troop of Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey in the wild, an endangered primate restricted to a tiny area of Yunnan and Tibet, there numbers ever-dwindling to perhaps under 1000 now.

Tibet - June

Rob joined James after his Sichuan tour for a week of birding and scouting Tibet. Starting in the tropical, humid valleys of eastern-most Tibet we eventually had outstanding views of a flock of the increasing rare, range-restricted Lord Derby’s Parakeet as they fed in roadside trees. A long drive west to Lhasa was to follow and over the next 3 days we enjoyed confiding Tibetan Eared Pheasant, family groups of Giant BabaxPrince Henri’s Laughingthrush and hulking Tibetan Blackbird. Birds were numerous and largely confiding in this area and in the rocky bushland we also enjoyed numerous rosefinches including Spotted Great and Streaked, White-browed Tit, Severtzov’s Tit Warbler, Brown Accentors and Tibetan Partridge while the alpine meadows hosted numerous Blandford’s, Black-winged, Rufous-necked, Adam’s and White-rumped Snowfinches, Hume’s Short-toed Lark and Saker.

Aceh, Indonesia - December

Despite the 2004 post-tsunami ceasefire, Aceh province in northernmost Sumatra is still one of the least-known, provinces in all of Indonesia. With a Remote Sumatra tour in mind, James headed to Aceh over Christmas to see if it was feasible for the tour. Visiting part of the huge, densely-forested Gunung Leuser National Park he managed to find three of the main targets despite the almost continual afternoon and nightly heavy rain. Firstly two parties of Sumatran Laughingthrush were found, though they did require a camping trip, along with a brief ‘Sumatran’ Woodpecker – surely not the Grey-faced Woodpecker it is currently lumped with considering its preference for montane forest, and its dark red and grey plumage. Roll’s Hill Partridge was seen twice, at two separate localities but once again, only briefly. Other highlights here included Sumatran Peacock-Pheasant, Graceful Pitta, Blue-masked Leafbird (one of a number of more well-known endemics seen), and a Sumatran Babbler in the rain. Sumatran Orang-utan put on quite a performance and the beautiful Thomas’s Leaf Monkey, a near-Aceh endemic, was plentiful.

The next destination was Simeulue Island, located 140km off the Aceh west coast. The endemic Simeulue Scops Owl was easy to find, despite only having two night-birding sessions available due to the rain! The biggest surprise was the first confirmed, undisputed record of Silvery Wood Pigeon since 1931. One bird was found early on Christmas Day with 3 two days later at the same locality. Simeulue has many endemic subspecies, all of which were seen, though of most interest was the ‘Simeulue Serpent Eagle’, already split in Raptors of the World. Simeulue Macaque, a certain split from Long-tailed Macaque was also seen several times.