Legally Blind Birding

Testing the Patience of Birding Guides Around the World

Week 26: June 19 – June 25, Singapore

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 2

Total species to date: 1234

49.4 % of goal, 50% of year used

Sites visited: Dairy Farm Nature Park

We only had about two hours for birding this weekend, so we opted to try the Dairy Farm Nature Park, as it is near a subway stop and opens early. It seemed like a good spot to try for the engangered Straw-headed Bulbul which is perhaps the Singapore specialty (since eBird will not display specific locations of sightings and we didn’t have a guide, we had to take our chances). We went to the old quarry area where there is a lake and found three bulbuls in the environs without too much difficulty. There is actually an interpretive sign right there on the boardwalk describing various common birds in the marsh and trees, and it advertises that the bulbuls are residents in the area. The only other new bird for the year was Pied Imperial Pigeon.

 

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Pied Imperial Pigeon – aka the Stormtrooper Bird

So this is the halfway mark for my year, which started on December 26. I missed the 50% mark by 16 birds, finishing at 1234. I’ll take it. The next six months are going to be far more challeging, however, as we are getting diminishing returns in Southeast Asia, and as we have a few off weeks where the numbers are not going to be high at all. We will not see a big bump in numbers until we head to northern Australia in late July.

Some of the specific areas that we will visit in the next six months include: Darwin and Cairns, Australia; North and South Islands of New Zealand; Bali; Sulawesi; Sri Lanka; Bengalaru, India; Dhubai, Mandalay, Myanmar; Cambodia (north-east from Siem Reap), Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Doi Inthanon, Thailand; Pahang, Malaysia; Luzon, Philippines; and other TDB sites in Thailand or locations that are not too far. A rough analysis using eBird would indicate that there is a path to getting to 2,000 birds on the year. 2,500 is going to be very tough. I’m still going to keep this as the endpoint to which I will track my progress, as I do not want to move the goalposts. I’ve used roughly half of my vacation days, and the remaining ones will be used for the more distant trips.

Next week: Back to Tokyo to see our son off as he returns to the US. Might get a handful of new birds with some luck.

Week 25: June 12 – June 18, Tokyo, Japan

Working Days: 4

New species identified: 9

Total species to date: 1232

49.3 % of goal,  48.1% of year used

Sites visited: Yoyogi Park, Kasai Rinkai Park, Imperial Palace

Not really a birding weekend as we were entertaining our visiting, 18-year-old son. We birded as we could, and got about what we expected. The Pygmy Woodpecker remains elusive, but we are going back in a couple of weeks and hope to find it then.

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Eastern Spot-billed Duck

Last time I was in Tokyo was during November and there was a nice variety of ducks. Not so in the summer. Spot-billed was pretty much all we could find.

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Near Meiji Shrine

Irises

Lots of irises, not many birds

Best birding was had at Kasai Rinkai Park, where we had about two hours. A Skylark singing from up high was an unexpected bonus in addition to the Little Terns and Black-tailed Gulls we came for.

Gull

Herring Gull – with a broken wing?

Next week: Another non-birding-centric weekend, in Singapore.

Week 24: June 5 – June 11, Petchaburi, Thailand

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 9

Total species to date: 1223

48.9 % of goal,  46.1% of year used

Sites visited: Kaeng Krachan National Park, Baan Maka

Just nine additions to the year list, but I’m happy with them. It was a miserable, rainy, windy, even at times cold, weekend down at Kaeng Krachang. It was also Leech-fest 2018. Amazing how those little buggers can get up to your waist level and find a way in. By the end of the day Saturday I looked as if I had been gut-shot. And several members of the birding party picked a bad weekend to forget their birding footwear, too.

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No reason to stop birding

On Saturday we went up to the second visitor center and beyond, and the rain never really relented. There were downed trees all along the roadsides. Sunday had some peeks of sun, but rain-free periods lasted a quarter of an hour before the umbrella was necessary again.

The lodge at Baan Maka has a family of Blue-winged Pittas that frequent an area that you can watch from the open restaurant area. We saw at least one adult and one immature. Probably the easiest pitta viewing imaginable.

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Blue-winged Pittas at Baan Maka

Kaeng Krachang is well-known for butterflies, and on this, our third trip, the dirt roads were just as teeming with them as on other visits. Spangles? Black-and-White Helens? Still not sure what the orange and yellow ones are. Common Cruisers?

Some nice new birds for the year included Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-backed Dwarf-kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and Dusky Broadbill. Up in the higher reaches of the park we found an active Silver-breasted Broadbill nest, right over the road and low enough to be hit by a vehicle should it be far enough off to the side – we dropped a large log underneath it to try to reduce the chances of anyone driving there.

So I knew June would be tough – only a few birds this week, and not much for the next four… we have upcoming weekends in Bangkok, Singapore, and Tokyo that we will spend with our youngest son, who is coming out on the 15th. We’ll bird as we can, but we are not expecting more than a handful of new birds each weekend.

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Dusky Broadbill

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Blue-eared Kingfisher

Next weekend: Tokyo

Week 23: May 30 – June 4, Beijing, China

Working Days: 4

New species identified: 21

Total species to date: 1214

48.6 % of goal,  44.2% of year used

Sites visited: Summer Palace, Baihuashan, Xiaolongmen, Yeya Wetland

A long weekend in Beijing started mid-morning Friday at the Summer Palace grounds in the northwest of the city. This eBird hotspot looks to be one of the better places in town, but with the heat and crowds it was pretty slow birding. The large Lake Kunming in the center of the park was so packed with watercraft that we saw literally not one bird of any kind on it. A flock of Swan Geese flew over, hesitated, and thought better about landing there and kept going.

Our guide picked us up there Friday evening and we drove to the Baihuashan area, about three hours west of central Beijing. The attraction here is the mountain, which can be climbed by a series of stairs. There is mixed conifer-decidous woods on the way up and a meadow at the top.

Baihuashan

Baihuashan

This was a good place for Phylloscopus warblers, and wee picked up Claudia’s Leaf, Chinese Leaf, Hume’s Leaf, Greenish, and Yellow-streaked Warblers. The meadow at the summit has nesting White-bellied Redstarts. The hike involves a distance of about 3,500 meters, so it takes some time.

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Korean Flycatcher

Within a 30 minute drive is the Xiaolongmen research area, which yielded some nice Flycatchers: Korean and Zappey’s.

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Zappey’s Flycatcher

On Sunday we took a northerly route back to Beijing, in order to visit the Beijing Yeya Wetland Park (and to see portions of the Great Wall along the way). On the way we came across Amur Falcons and a very nice surprise, the diurnal Little Owl.

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Little Owl

Being summer, the wetlands were not terribly productive, but a few straggling Eastern Spot-billed Ducks and Northern Lapwing were around, as well as ubiquitous Oriental Reed Warblers raising a constant din.

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Oriental Reed Warbler

Next week: A second trip to Kaeng Krachang National Park, Thailand

Week 22: May 23 – May 29, Sabah, Malaysia

Working Days: 3

New species identified: 42

Total species to date: 1193

47.7 % of goal,  42.3% of year used

Sites visited: Kota Kinabalu, Mt. Kinabalu area

Tuesday, May 29th being a Thai holiday, we took Monday off and used the extra time to deal with the logistics of travel to Sabah, Malaysia, on the northeast corner of Borneo. This was the first trip in Asia that we’ve taken where we have had to change planes – we’ve been spoiled with direct flights. But you cannot fly direct from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu, or anywhere on Borneo, so we had to go through Kuala Lumpur. We got in a total of about three and a half days birding.

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Indigo Flycatcher, another poorly named species

The park which lies at the base of Mt. Kinabalu served as our home for three nights, and we found the area to be strangely non-birdy, overall. We spent a lot of time on the many trails in the dark forest and saw very little. On day three we finally got the highly-sought Whitehead’s Broadbill in the distance.

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Whitehead’s Broadbill

The Whitehead’s Trogon, another specialty of the area, was a no-show, despite much searching. Luckily a Bornean Forktail finally overcame its extreme timidity and gave us a microsecond look. I’ll take it.

One afternoon we went down to the Porong Springs area, which was very crowded and only turned up a few new birds, including Gold-whiskered and Red-throated Barbets.

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“Canopy” walkway? Well, maybe half the distance to the canopy (in Porong Springs). Lots of neck-craning to look at barbets here.

The drive back down to Kota Kinabalu was actucally much more productive than a large part of our time near the mountain, picking up Grey-rumped Treeswifts, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, and White-fronted Falconet.

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Thick-billed Spiderhunter

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Oriental Pied Hornbill

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Black-naped Monarch on nest

Next week: Beijing, China area

Week 21: May 16 – May 22, Sichuan, China

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 24

Total species to date: 1151

46 % of goal,  40.4% of year used

Sites visited: Longcanggou, Chengdu area

This weekend we took our second trip to Sichuan, following up the previous alpine trip with one focused on lower elevations at Longcanggou.

Saturday the weather was fine and we immediately picked up a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant crossing the road during the drive up. A shame not to have a photo opportunity for this one. Actually I’m not sure we got a good look at anything this weekend; the only cooperative birds were some Red-billed Leothrix.

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Red-billed Leothrix

I had spent the week studying the songs of every Phylloscopus (and other Old-World) warbler species possible in the area, and this paid off. As usual, they offered totally unedifying views that never sufficed for a confident ID–but the songs were diagnostic; especially for the many Large-billed Leaf, Bianchi’s Leaf, Claudia’s Leaf, and Emei Leaf warblers, and the more scarce Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler, with its piercing dog-whistle call. Also the Sichuan Bush Warbler, which sounds like a croaking frog to my ears.

Sunday was an absolute bust. We only had a few hours in the morning to work with due to having a mid-afternoon return flight, and we woke to a heavy downpour. It was dry back down in Chengdu, but there isn’t a lot of great birding habitat there. We had to be content with hearing Chinese Bamboo Partridges and seeing a few Ashy-throated Parrottbills as the only birds of the day that we could add to the trip total. Surprising in retrospect that this is the first weekend in which rain significantly affected birding – we’ve been lucky so far. But it is mid-May, and most of SE Asia is about to get a lot rainier soon.

Next weekend: With Tuesday May 28 being a Thai holiday, we will get about three full days of birding time; in Sabah, Malaysia, in the northeast corner of Borneo.

Week 20: May 9 – May 15, Jakarta, Indonesia

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 42

Total species to date: 1127

45.1 % of goal,  38.5% of year used

Sites visited: Mount Gede-Pangrango, Jakarta area

A flight delay Friday night caused our arrival into Jakarta to be rather late; by the time we arrived at our hotel near Mt. Gede, it was after 2:00 AM. The plan was then to get up for breakfast at 3:30AM (!) and start birding early in the dark, in order to get a few nocturnal species.

So that was how Saturday started; we would end up going over four kilometers up the rocky trail in search of endemics; by the time we then turned around and made it back to the car it was about 6:00 PM and getting dark. Long, exhausting day.

But well worth the effort. We got some fabulous birds, such as this Barred Eagle-owl sitting right over the trail.

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Barred Eagle-owl

Being a long weekend in Java, the area was quite busy with hikers.

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Mt. Gede-Pangrango National Park

Best bird of the trip was a lucky find: the uncommon and difficult Javan Woodcock. We found him/her about four kilometers up from our starting point, motionless on a log, deep in shadow.

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Javan Woodcock, formerly Rufous Woodcock

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Javan Trogon

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Snowy-browed Flycatcher

On Sunday we returned early to Jakarta in order to bird around the area before heading to the airport just after lunch. We took a short boat trip out into Jakarta Bay in order to see both Christmas Island and Lesser Frigatebirds.

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Christmas Island Frigatebird

Next weekend: Back to Sichuan, this time to Longcanggou.

Week 19: May 2 – May 8, Sichuan, China

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 36

Total to date: 1084

43.4 % of goal,  36.5% of year used

Sites visited: Mount Balang Pass and Wolong areas

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Big Day morning

Saturday was eBird’s Global Big Day, which we spent around the Mt. Balang Pass area; this included the pass itself at 4500 meters and down to the Lama Monastery. Saturday was foggy, rainy, and snowy, depending on the elevation; Sunday was sunny.

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Almost looks like the fresh snow gave this White-Capped Redstart a bright new hat

The mountains here are just spectacular and the birds, while not numerous, were worth the effort to find. Tibetan Snowcock and Snow Partridge in particular were pleasing additions.

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Tibetan Snowcock

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Snow Partridge

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Below Mt Balang Pass; after the fresh snow fell Saturday

The Lama monastery grounds provided a nice contrast to the alpine environment; the woods here were teeming with the strange song of the Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, which is oddly a bit like that of the Australian Eastern Whipbird.

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Lama monastery; home of many Chinese Babax and Golden Pheasant – heard but not seen

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Female Blood Pheasant

The other happy event from Sunday is that I finally got the bird that I’ve been obsessed with pretty much my entire life. While searching for various alpine gamebirds around the Mt. Balang tunnel area, we heard what I think is the most iconic bird call of all; “CUCK-coo.” My grandparents had a cuckoo clock and I found it endlessly fascinating; one of my earliest memories is anticipating the top of the hour and the appearance of the little wooden bird from behind the door. Despite birding in the Black Forest a few summers ago (home of many cuckoos and the cuckoo clock itself, if I am not mistaken), this fellow had eluded us. China was not where I expected to get it.

Still going through various poor photos and audio recordings of some troublesome Phylloscopus warblers. Hoping to add a couple more species.

Next weekend; Jakarta, Indonesia

Week 18: April 24 – May 1, Sydney, Australia

Working Days: 3

New species identified: 104

Total to date: 1048

41.9 % of goal, 34.6 % of year used

Sites visited: Several small parks in the Sydney area; National Parks including Royal, Ku-ring-gai Chase, and Cattai

 

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Laughing Kookaburra

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Crested Pigeon

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Nice to see these trees where they actually belong!

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Little Corella

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Lunchtime for Australasian Darter nestlings

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Buff-banded Rail

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At Cattai National Park

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Finally found a Superb Fairy-wren that still had his breeding plumage

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Glossy Black-cockatoo

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Golden-headed Cisticola

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Royal National Park

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Australian Magpie

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White-faced Heron

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Azure Kingfisher

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New Holland Honeyeater

Next week: Sichuan, China

Week 17: April 17 – April 23, Cat Tien, Vietnam

Working Days: 5

New species identified: 20

Total to date: 943

37.7 % of goal, 32.7 % of year used

Sites visited: Cat Tien National Park

We almost cancelled this weekend’s trip because we got some lovely food poisoning last week. Hard to say from where; perhaps in Thailand, perhaps Africa. In any case, Vietnam turned out to be a good destination for a low-key weekend: the flight to Saigon is short, and then a three-hour drive to the northeast leads you to Cat Tien.

The National Park here is accessed by a ferry across the river – and accommodations are on site, as is a restaurant. One can easily get to some decent birding spots from their front door. Also, we had a driver for part of the time so we could more easily to to the grassland portions.

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Cat Tien near the park headquarters. Not shown: lots of rooms, a restaurant, and crowds.

We got to the park around 9:00 Saturday morning, giving a couple hours of so-so birding before the heat became a problem. Late afternoon was good, as was the evening (Great Eared Nightjar, Brown Boobook, Collared Scops Owl). Sunday morning was had about four hours and then headed back to the airport. Not much time but some good lifers, including what has been our primary SE Asia Nemesis Bird, the Lesser Coucal.

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Female Bar-bellied Pitta

There are at least four good blinds in the immediate area and they all host a number of visitors, including three pitta species. There must be some regular mist-netting going on here, as the majority of birds we saw were banded.

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Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher – like many of the other birds around the blinds in the park, sporting an anklet

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Saigon and its contradictions: red hammer & sickle banners line the streets where free enterprise seems to be booming

The only drawback to Cat Tien was the large number of visitors – this wasn’t a problem in at 6:00 Sunday, as luckily, most non-birders are not morning people–a fact that I am ever grateful for. Saturday afternoon featured much loud music and rambunctious teenagers. And if you stay in one of the four-plexes on site, be prepared to hear every word your neighbors say through the tissue-paper walls.

Next week: A long weekend in Sydney

 

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