Tuesday 28 August 2018

Autumn Approaching

I haven't been out birding too much since my return from the epic trip to West Java, mainly because of work and also the continuously unpredictable weather. I did snuck out one morning earlier in the month for a female Common Pochard that had been spotted at San Tin. It took little effort to locate this diving duck in amongst the Little Grebes. Being a scarce winter visitor, this Common Pochard was rather lost, but it seemed to be quite healthy, why it decided to turn up in Hong Kong in August is a bit of a mystery.

Common Pochard - female

I didn't really put much effort into locating other birds, but a Common Kingfisher was present. Black-winged Stilts were quite noisy and seemed a bit agitated by my presence around the fish ponds, it's quite possible that they have a nest or chicks nearby.

Common Kingfisher

Black-winged Stilt

As summer is coming to a close, it is also a good time to look for other critters that is making the most out of the remaining warm weather, especially amphibians and reptiles. Bee, Kenneth, Hoiling and I visited Tai Mo Shan at night last week, Hoiling stayed with the moth trap while the three of us went to look for herps...Our evening began with a few common Hong Kong Cascade Frogs, one of which perched right on an exposed rock in the middle of the rapids, providing a great opportunity for an environment shot. We spotted a Slender Forest Skink, which is normally a diurnal species.

Hong Kong Cascade Frog - looking comfortable in it's natural setting...

Slender Forest Skink

Kenneth managed to spot a Giant Spiny Frog resting on a rock in the stream. I have not seen one of these for a long time and was very happy to finally get a photo. This is the largest frog species in Hong Kong, measuring at 14cm from snout to vent. This species have a very restricted range in Hong Kong, only found at higher elevations on Tai Mo Shan. We also found plenty of Lesser Spiny Frogs which are far more common and widespread, but both species are now listed as Vulnerable, as they are heavily collected for food throughout their range in Southern China.

Giant Spiny Frog - those thick arms were quite impressive to look at

Lesser Spiny Frog

We met our first snake soon after, as I was overlooking a gully I realised a Many-banded Krait was right beneath me! It was quite a large one and I estimate it to be well over a metre long. Although highly venomous, they are relatively tame and rarely bite except when caught. It soon dropped down into the gully and disappeared. Our second snake however was certainly our highlight of the night, as we walked further up I checked a gully, only to notice a small thin snake slithering along the damp wall, a closer look revealed it to be a beautiful Coral Snake! A species that I've dreamed of seeing ever since I laid my eyes on a photo in the Hong Kong reptile book. They belong to the same family as the Krait and is also highly venomous, but they are also very docile and quite timid in nature, although I was not quite ready to risk picking it up...but it's certainly my favourite snake in Hong Kong.

Many-banded Krait

Coral Snake - an absolute beauty...

Throughout the night we spotted quite a lot of spiders as well, a few of which were new to me, including the impressive looking Heteropoda onoi and the tiny but beautiful Thwaitesia glabicauda.

Heteropoda onoi

Thwaitesia glabicauda

Leucauge tessellata were quite common up here, while two species of Argiope spiders were spotted, including the Argiope aetheroides and Argiope perforata, both very beautiful.

Leucauge tessellata

Argiope aetheroides

Argiope perforata

I spotted a few Neriene nigripectoris in amongst their three-dimensional webs. Two Cyclosa species were observed including Cyclosa argenteoalba and Cyclosa ginnaga.

Neriene nigripectoris

Cyclosa argenteoalba

Cyclosa ginnaga

I didn't spent much time at Hoiling's moth trap, but the most impressive moth that night by far was the Chinese Moon Moth (Actias ningpoana), although they are quite common it's still a joy to see them every time, especially those that are still in relatively good conditions like this one (I've seen much worst...).

Chinese Moon Moth - Actias ningpoana

Blogs posts should resume to more about birds soon as autumn migration begins...Although I will be visiting Fraser's Hill with Hoiling for the mothing workshop hold by Dr. Roger Kendrick in a few days time. Not sure how much birding I will be able to fit into our schedule but I suppose some birds will be seen for sure!

Sunday 12 August 2018

West Java - August 2018 : Part 3

Day 5 - 5th August 2018:

For our final day in Java, Boas had organised to take us out to Jakarta Bay to look for Frigatebirds. Our flight was in the afternoon, so we plan to get to Jakarta early as to avoid the Sunday traffic pouring into Gunung Gede! We woke up at 4am (Henry woke Captain and Boas up thinking it was already 4am, but it was ACTUALLY 4am HK time...) and half an hour later we were already on our way towards Jakarta, it was still dark but the road was clear. What took us over three hours on our first day only took us less than an hour and a half!

We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast, at the car park we heard calls of the Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker. It soon got brighter and traffic became heavier, our cars continued further north towards the coast. It was 8:30am by the time we reached our destination. We added Pink-necked Green Pigeon onto our trip list and boarded one of the small boat and off we went!

Pink-necked Green Pigeon - female

Our boat went past many fishing huts made out of bamboo. Large flocks of Little Black Cormorants were seen along the way, they were by far the most common species in the bay.

Bamboo fishing huts

Flocks of Little Black Cormorants

A few small swifts zipped past us, they were certainly not Cave Swiftlets, but most likely to be Edible-nest Swiftlets. While a Greater crested Tern drifted past our boat.

Edible-nest Swiftlet

Greater Crested Tern

It didn't take long before our boat arrived at the Frigatebird roost. Little Black Cormorants were abundant here as well, drying their wings on the bamboo structures. While Little Egrets also fish in the area.

The frigatebirds and cormorants roost

Little Black Cormorant

Little Egret

It took us a while to sort out the species, as three species of Frigatebirds are found here at Jakarta Bay. The main focus was Christmas Frigatebirds, which were the most common one in the bay but actually globally the rarest, due to it's restricted breeding range on Christmas Island and have a small population, they are listed as critically endangered. We had at least 50 birds at the roost, which gave us a good chance to figure out some key diagnostic features. Christmas Frigatebirds length are measured at between 90 - 100cm, they are amongst the larger Frigatebirds in the region. They have very strong bills, and I noticed most of them had a bulky 'hunched shoulder' look to them when at rest, probably because their wings are so long that when they are folded which gives them that look.

Christmas Frigatebird - male

Christmas Frigatebird - female

Christmas Frigatebird - juvenile

Lesser Frigatebirds were amongst the second most abundant species at the roost. Males are fairly straight forward to pick out even amongst the Christmas Frigatebirds, as they do not have pale patch on their marginal coverts, making them look all black. Females are pink billed and pattern look similar to Christmas Frigatebirds when at rest, although they are more delicate looking with shorter and thinner bill, eye-rings are also a brighter red. Juvenile birds are smaller and slimmer than Christmas Frigatebirds of similar age, their bills are bluish instead of pinkish.

Lesser Frigatebird - male

Lesser Frigatebird - female

Lesser Frigatebird - juvenile

We only saw a single male Great Frigatebird, to tell apart a male Great with a male Christmas while at roost is no easy matter, this individual certainly does not look as robust as the Christmas, primary projection also look shorter in comparison, although this could but an individual variation...my sample size is too small to make this conclusion. Everything became clear once it flaps its wings or take to the air, it is nearly all black.

Great Frigatebird - male, with all black underside and no axillary spurs

In comparison, white belly patch is very obvious for male Christmas Frigatebird during flight, with no axillary spurs, shoulder patch on marginal coverts also very apparent.

Christmas Frigatebird - male, with white lower belly and no axillary spurs

Lesser Frigatebird male have dark bellies and white axillary spurs, their smaller size also make them quite obvious, marginal coverts also lack any pale feathers, therefore making them look darker than other frigatebirds in the field.

Lesser Frigatebird - male, with black belly and white axillary spurs

Female Christmas Frigatebirds during flight looks very white on the underside, the collar, breast, belly to vent are all white, wtih obvious axillary spurs. The collar can be clearly seen when seen from above. Bill is very pink.

Christmas Frigatebird - female, with white collar, belly, vent and axillary spurs

I didn't manage a lot of photos of Lesser Frigatebirds female inflight, this was the only decent shot I took, note the lower belly is black and bright patch on the marginal coverts are not as pale when compared with Christmas Frigatebirds.

Lesser Frigatebird - female, white collar, white breast and axillary spurs, black belly

Here are a comparison of what I believe to be two 2nd year birds (Could be wrong, I have very little field experiences with Frigatebirds!), first a Christmas Frigatebird the second a Lesser Frigatebird. Christmas Island certainly have much broader wings, completely white breast, belly to vent and white axillary spurs. While the Lesser Frigate have mottled breast and white belly with obvious axillary spurs.

Christmas Frigatebird - presume 2nd year bird, much the same pattern as female but mottled patterns on head

Lesser Frigatebird - presume 2nd year bird, black breast band, white belly and axillary spurs, buffish head with bluish bill

And here's a comparison between the axillary spurs of male adult Lesser Frigatebird to the same 2nd year bird, note that bill changes colours quite drastically!

Lesser Frigatebird - male

Lesser Frigatebird - 2nd year bird

And this one I believe is a 4th year male Christmas Frigatebird, very mottled breast and axillary spurs, bill also quite dark.

Christmas Frigatebird - 4th year male

All that 'ageing' and identification aside, I was really there just to enjoy the sight of these magnificent looking creatures. It was simply fun to watch these pirates of seabirds bickering, fighting and chasing each other around. The Christmas Frigatebirds were obviously the boss around here, and they made sure to use their size to their advantage against the smaller Lesser Frigatebirds. After over an hour enjoying fabulous views of the Frigatebirds we were ready to head back to shore.

Christmas Frigatebird & Lesser Frigatebird - size does matter in a fight!

A young Christmas Frigatebird terrorising it's neighbours...

Male Christmas Frigatebird fighting for perches

And some closeup shots...

Before we head back to the airport, Boas promised me one last endemic, the Javan Plover. This is another species endemic to Indonesia, although quite widespread within the country it is believed to have quite a small population size, hence it's been listed as near threatened. Our cars went past a few fishponds and we slowed down to scan the area, quite soon we saw a pair inflight, while further ahead we got good views of a single adult along the shore of the fishpond. It resembles a Kentish Plover but with lighter colour legs and legs are in general longer.

Javan Plover - adult

A few Javan Plover chicks were found further on, they were still cute and fluffy, and what could be better to end our trip to West Java with this endemic! We headed to the airport with time to spare, before that we even spent time writing in Boas's guestbook. We were back in Hong Kong by 8pm.

Javan Plover - chick

Yuen filling out the guestbook (photo credit to Henry Lui)

Overall, I would say my experiences in West Java had exceeded all my expectations, huge thanks to Boas and his team for their expert guidance and help along the way, without them we would not have been able to camp out at Gunung Gede and get around with such ease, nor would we be able to locate so many great birds! We totalled 94 species with 38 endemics, of the 94 species 46 were lifers! 

Although our experiences were excellent, I could not but help to feel a slight sad note leaving the country, to think of all the potential it has to be an even better ecotourism location than it is now. The current trend of things does not look well for wild birds or wildlife of Indonesia, and Java being one of the most populated island is of course no exception. We went past bird shops with literally EVERYTHING for sale, including Long-tailed Shrikes and Tree Sparrows, needless to say all the rare endemic species as well...The wild birds we encountered at Gunung Gede were not particularly afraid of people, while this is good news for birders I have slightly mixed feelings about this, they are such easy target for bird trappers! And I didn't notice any actions taken by the authorities. In fact, it's probably up to people like Boas and his team to stop any bird trapping in action if they do see them, and they told us stories of them chasing poachers away when they see them...

Compare to a place of similar habitat such as Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, while the bird species count was no less, the total individual bird count was way below average. There were far fewer birds in general, in the city and urban areas the affects were even more apparent. While we saw tons of Javan Mynas in Sabah where it had been introduced, I personally saw none during my whole trip on Java where they were originally from.

Although reality seems grim, I do believe with better public education things can improve, and local naturalists like Boas can be key to introduce these unique natural wonders that belongs to Indonesians, and not in cages, but in the wild. I truly hope that in ten or twenty years time when I might return again to Gunung Gede that these amazing birds can still be around for all to see.

Trip List:

1Chestnut-bellied Partridge (E)03/08/2018G. Gede, Camp 1 & 2Seen well at both camp sites
2Milky Stork05/08/2018JakartaSingle bird seen in flight along motorway
3Lesser Frigatebird05/08/2018Jakarta BayA few at Jakarta Bay roost
4Great Frigatebird05/08/2018Jakarta Bayup to 50 at Jakarta Bay roost
5Christmas Island Frigatebird05/08/2018Jakarta BayOne male at Jakarta Bay roost
6Little Black Cormorant05/08/2018Jakarta BayCommon around Jakarta Bay
7Purple Heron05/08/2018JakartaOne observed by Captain
8Little Egret05/08/2018Jakarta BayCommon around Jakarta Bay
9Cattle Egret05/08/2018JakartaA few observed near airport
10Javan Pond Heron05/08/2018JakartaOne observed near airport by Yuen
11Black-crowned Night Heron05/08/2018JakartaOne observed near airport
12Crested Honey-Buzzard (ptilorhynchus)02/08/2018G. Gede, Waterfall TrailOne bird circled above forest
13Crested Serpent Eagle (bido)02/08/2018G. Gede, Waterfall TrailA few birds observed, calls different to race in Hong Kong, much shorter
14Javan Plover (E)05/08/2018JakartaA few observed at fish ponds near Jakarta, up to three chicks
15Javan Woodcock (E)03/08/2018G. Gede, before Camp 2One bird observed early morning below camp 2
16Great Crested Tern05/08/2018Jakarta BayA few observed at Jakarta Bay
17Rock Dove01/08/2018Jakarta
18Spotted Dove01/08/2018Jakarta, Cibodas Botanical Garden
19Zebra Dove01/08/2018Jakarta
20Pink-necked Green Pigeon05/08/2018Jakarta
21Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenOne bird at Cibodas Botanical Garden
22Pink-headed Fruit-Dove (E)02/08/2018G. GedeEndemic to Indonesia, a few along trail, male seen well
23Chestnut-breasted Malkoha02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenRegularly seen at lower elevation, one seen well at Cibodas Botanical Garden
24Rusty-breasted Cuckoo02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommonly heard at lower elevation, pair seen well at botanical garden
25Sunda Cuckoo02/08/2018G. GedeOne single bird observed at Gede
26Javan Scops Owl (E)02/08/2018Camp 1Heard at night
27Javan Frogmouth (E)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenMany heard at botanical garden, but could not locate
28Salvadori's Nightjar (E)03/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenOne seen circling above
29Waterfall (Giant) Swiftlet03/08/2018WaterfallA few at waterfall
30Cave Swiftlet01/08/2018Widespread
31Edible-nest Swiftlet05/08/2018Jakarta BayOne observed while out at Jakarta Bay
32Javan Trogon (E)02/08/2018G. GedeOne male observed below camp 1, seen very well
33Javan Kingfisher (E)03/08/2018Cibodas Golf CourseOne at golf course, two at hotel
34Collared Kingfisher03/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenHeard at Cibodas Botanical Garden
35Fire-tufted Barbet02/08/2018G. GedeRegularly heard and seen along trail
36Flame-fronted Barbet (E)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommonly heard, seen well along trail and at botanical garden
37Brown-throated Barbet (E)02/08/2018G. GedeOne obscured view along trail
38Crimson-winged Woodpecker03/08/2018G. GedeOne in mixed flock
39Javan Yellownape (E)03/08/2018G. GedeA pair seen well
40Spotted Kestrel (microbalius)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenOne seen drifting past
41Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot (E)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenA few observed at fruiting ficus tree
42Banded Broadbill02/08/2018G. GedeOne seen well, a few heard
43Javan Banded Pitta (E)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenOne seen well, another heard in the same area
44Golden-bellied Gerygone05/08/2018Jakartaheard
45Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical Garden
46White-breasted Woodswallow05/08/2018Jakarta AirportA few observed at gate
47Sunda Minivet (E)02/08/2018G. GedeLarge flocks of up to 40 - 50 birds
48Javan Cuckooshrike (E)02/08/2018G. GedePairs observed in mixed flock
49Lesser Cuckooshrike02/08/2018G. Gedeone bird seen briefly
50Pied Shrike-Babbler (E)02/08/2018G. GedeRegularly in mixed flock
51Trilling Shrike-Babbler (E)02/08/2018G. GedeRegularly in mixed flock
52Ashy Drongo02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenA few in mixed flock along trail and a few in botanical garden
53Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo02/08/2018G. GedeRegularly in mixed flock
54Rufous-tailed Fantail (E)02/08/2018G. GedeRegularly in mixed flock
55Pacific Swallow01/08/2018Widespread
56Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher03/08/2018G. GedeA few observed lower down
57Cinerous Tit03/08/2018Cibodas Botanical Garden
58Pygmy Tit (E)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenFew flocks observed
59Blue Nuthatch (nigriventer)02/08/2018G. GedeQuite common in mixed flocks
60Sooty-headed Bulbul05/08/2018Jakarta AirportA few at gate
61Orange-spotted Bulbul (E)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommon in open areas
62Pygmy Wren-Babbler (rufa)02/08/2018G. GedeHeard and seen regularly along trail
63Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler02/08/2018G. GedeA few observed at waterfall trail
64Javan Tesia (E)02/08/2018G. GedeHeard and seen regularly along trail
65Mountain Tailorbird02/08/2018G. Gede
66Sunda Bush Warbler03/08/2018G. Gede, Camp 2One bird observed at Camp 2
67Mountain Leaf Warbler02/08/2018G. GedeHeard and seen regularly along trail
68Sunda Warbler (E)02/08/2018G. GedeHeard and seen regularly along trail
69Olive-backed Tailorbird (E)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Golf CourseOne bird heard at Gede, another seen at Cibodas Golf Course
70Javan Grey-throated White-eye (E)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommon in mixed flock
71Oriental White-eye (buxtoni)02/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenCommon at lower elevation
72Crescent-chested Babbler (E)02/08/2018G. GedeA few observed in mixed flocks, also heard
73Horsfield's Babbler02/08/2018G. GedeHeard regularly
74Javan Fulvetta (E)02/08/2018G. GedeCommon in mixed flock
75Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush (E)02/08/2018G. GedeHeard once along trail, but far
76Spotted Crocias (E)03/08/2018G. GedeHeard a few times, seen once below camp 1
77Indigo Flycatcher02/08/2018G. Gede
78Lesser Shortwing02/08/2018G. GedeHeard and seen regularly along trail
79Javan Shortwing (E)02/08/2018G. GedeCommon at higher elevation, from camp 1 onwards
80Javan Whistling Thrush (E)02/08/2018G. GedeCommon along trail
81White-crowned Forktail04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenPair observed at botanical garden
82Sunda Forktail (E)02/08/2018Zuri hotelSingle bird seen early morning at hotel
83Snowy-browed Flycatcher (vulcani)02/08/2018G. GedeCommon along trail
84Little Pied Flycatcher (hasselti)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommon
85Horsfield's Thrush (E)03/08/2018G. Gede, Camp 2A few seen around Camp 2
86Javan Cochoa (E)03/08/2018G. Gede, Camp 2A pair seen at Camp 2, good views
87Blood-breasted Flowerpecker (E)04/08/2018Cibodas Botanical GardenA few seen at Cibodas Botanical Garden
88Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker (E)05/08/2018JakartaHeard around Jakarta, seen by Yuen
89White-flanked Sunbird (E)03/08/2018G. GedeCommon along trail
90Grey Wagtail03/08/2018WaterfallOne observed at waterfall
91Eurasian Tree Sparrow01/08/2018Widespread
92Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch03/08/2018G. Gede, Camp 2One observed foraging at Camp 2
93Javan Munia (E)02/08/2018G. Gede, Cibodas Botanical GardenCommon
94Scaly-breasted Munia04/08/2018Cibodas Golf Course