Starting on Dec 26, 2017, I began a quixotic attempt to identify at least 2,500 species over the course of a year, while working normal full-time hours. I’m calling this a “Global Big Working Year” or GBWY.
As of the end of week 26, I have 1,234 species, not too far from half of the total we are shooting for. The second half of the year is going to be more challenging, though. We are already seeing diminishing returns throughout Southeast Asia – we’ve gotten lots of the ‘easy’ birds, and now we are left with the hard ones.
To make this effort a bit more meaningful, I am donating $5 for every species I find, with the results being split between ecological and blindness-related charities. The first half of the year was in support of the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog. The second half will be in support of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. More details here and here.
Since I started this on a Tuesday, my weekly results will be updated on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Week 36: Aug 28 – Sept 3, Bangkok, Thailand
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 1
Total species to date: 1486
59.4 % of goal, 69.2% of year used
Sites visited: Lat Krabang paddies
We took a break from travel and birded around Bangkok this weekend. Specifically, we hoofed it along some back roads in the agricultural areas out by the airport, near Lat Krabang. We had four targets that would be new for year: Baya Weaver, Black Bittern, Red Avadavat, and Watercock. We only had luck with the weavers.
Not much in the way of migrants are in the area – yet. I expect in the next few weeks we should start seeing some passerines arriving.
Next weekend we head to Sabah, Malaysia, on the northeast corner of Borneo.
Week 35: Aug 21 – Aug 27, Bali, Indonesia
Working Days: 4
New species identified: 38
Total species to date: 1485
59.4 % of goal, 67.3% of year used
Sites visited: Bali Barat, Botanic Gardens, Handara Golf Course
Used a vacation day in order to fly out early Friday morning on a direct flight to Denpasar. There are few places in Indonesia that one can fly direct to from Bangkok; Jakarta, Denpasar, and Medan. (The first two feature lots of flight options and birding in their vicinities. Medan, on Sumatra… not so much. )
From the airport, it is about a four hour drive to Bali Barat National Park, which lies at the extreme west end of the island, just off shore from Java. A big draw here is the endangered Bali Myna. Our guide tells us that there are currently about 140 in the wild on Bali, with additional birds in captivity used for the breeding program.
These Mynas are quite striking. Their precarious status is entirely a result of the pet trade. We also found Black-winged Starlings, which are just as rare.
A side trip to the shore yielded a few of the very distinctive Malaysian Plover along with Kentish Plover. Not a lot in the way of shorebird activity here; no waterbirds to speak of, and the only raptor of the trip was a Black-Thighed Falconet. Total number of species was about 67.
After spending Saturday at Bali Barat, we used our morning birding time on Sunday in the central highlands of the island, finding a few new birds such as Blood-chested Flowerpecker, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, and Lesser Shortwing. In the process of getting audio recordings of a Javan Bush-warbler that would not show itself, we managed to disturb a nest of some very angry wasps (are there any other kind?) – the first one slammed into my face just below by left eye and gave me a hefty dose of very effective venom. I got four stings in all and am still all puffed up. Nice. It felt like I’d been hit in the head with a baseball bat and then had someone put out cigarettes on my skin. Claire didn’t get stung, but our guide was whooping and dancing and screaming in a way that the driver found pretty comical from his safe vantage point n the vehicle. This is the first time that has happened in 25 years of birding, which is pretty surprising in retrospect.
This upcoming weekend has no travel plans; we’ll look for tough birds in Bangkok. In two weeks we will return to Sabah, Borneo, and look for the lowland species we missed in Mt. Kinabalu.
Week 33: Aug 7 – Aug 13, Queensland, Australia
Working Days: 4
New species identified: 52
Total species to date: 1446
57.8 % of goal, 63.5% of year used
Sites visited: Cairns, Port Douglas, Mt. Lewis, Atherton Tablelands
Thanks to it being the Queen’s birthday in Thailand, we had a three-day weekend in Queensland; specifically in the northern, wet tropical area. Our guide, Doug Herrington, was a joy to go birding with. We have never had a birding guide with a better sense of humor, or who went to such a great extent to accommodate my poor eyesight.
Too bad China Southern airlines provided easily the worst flight experience of the year. Bangkok to Cairns required a route that involved changing planes in out-of-the-way Guangzhou; the China Southern online check-in “process” ate up three hours of my life the night before leaving and culminated in not being checked in; and the gate agent in Bangkok almost would not let us fly at all because she decided that we needed to show her Australian visas (you don’t – there are not even such things – they use Electronic Travel Authorizations).
Anyway, nice birds, nice landscapes, and nice mammals, including Tree Kangaroo and Platypus. About 150 birds in all, but as this was the third trip to Oz this year, diminising returns left us with just 52 new ones.
A nice surprise was a breeding pair of Eclectus Parrots in Port Douglas. Thought there was a typo in the field guide at first as regards the sexes, since the male is green and the female is a brilliant red.
Compare with the “normal” dimporhism of Australian King Parrots, which we found in the Atherton Tablelands:
Other pictures in no particular order…
Next weekend we stay in Thailand – we are planning just a single day trip up to Khao Yai to look for some challenging additions to the year list.
Week 32: Aug 1 – Aug 6, Thailand
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 1
Total species to date: 1394
55.8% of goal, 61.5% of year used
Sites visited: Bang Pu Recreation Center
We were fortunate in that a week in which we were both ill occurred when we did not have travel plans outside of Bangkok. On Saturday we spent the afternoon at Bang Pu, which is a sort of park south of the city, on the Gulf of Thailand. There is pier that extends the full distance of the tidal flats, so you can walk out to where the shorebirds are, except at high tide when the water comes up into the mangroves.
We managed to pick up one new bird for the year, the Lesser Sand Plover.
Next weekend: Cairns, Queensland
Week 31: July 24 – July 31, Northern Territory, Australia
Working Days: 2
New species identified: 77
Total species to date: 1393
55.7% of goal, 59.6% of year used
Sites visited: Kakadu, Pine Creek, and Darwin areas
Due to a couple of Thai holidays, we had a four day weekend, which we augmented with some vacation time in order to accommodate travel – there being no direct flights from Bangkok to Darwin. This gave us four full days for birding in the Darwin and Kakadu National Park areas, with our guide being Mike Jarvis of Experience the Wild. Mike is likely the most knowledgeable guide we have worked with yet on this trip; his expertise extends well beyond birds and his routes and itineraries are very well thought-out. Look him up if you are in the Northern Territory.
Day One started with a red-eye arrival from Singapore, and from the airport at 6:00 we immediately headed out to Fogg Dam, picking up a dozen or so lifers in the first five minutes. This is a lovely and productive area to be at for sunrise, with a good observation tower. Some highlights were Wandering and Plumed Whistling-ducks, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Little Shrikethrush and Forest Kingfisher.
We went on towards the area where we would spend the remainder of the day, as well as the following one: Kakadu National Park. Lots of great birds here Helmeted and Silver-crested Friarbird, Australian Pratincole, Forest Kingfisher and some nice mammalian interludes with wallabies and flying foxes.
Part of our second day in Kakadu included a two-hour sunset cruise on the Yellow River. Despite being a trip catering to normal people and crocodiles, it is very good birding. We found Brolga, Sacred Kingfisher, Black-necked Stork, and Comb-crested Jacana among others.
While in Kakadu, a pair of American birders on a different tour bumped into us while we were all scanning a particular tree – then one of them realized what we were doing and remarked to our guide, “Ah, you are a birder- I thought you were a normal person!”
Birders / normal people. Mutually exclusive, I suppose. Actually Mike seemed to be a magnet for ornithological inquiries; both birders and normal people approached him on a number of occasions for information. The normal people of Australia seem to be both quite curious about birds and accommodating and respectful about not interrupting a good viewing.
For Day Three we continued south to the Pine Creek area, a great site for Hooded Parrot. Near the Lazy Lizard hotel where we stayed, there are several sprinklers that get a lot of attention from these parrots as well as from various honeyeaters and friarbirds.
Nearby is an easily viewed bower of a Great Bowerbird – actually he’d constructed two of them side-by-side, with a large pile of white objects including shells, drinking straws, and little plastic cups.
He seemed to welcome our viewing of his work, and even gave us a display of the colorful, normally concealed display feathers, which resembled a spiky, rubbery child’s toy.
Finally on Day Four we spent sunrise at Ferguson Creek, then drove north to Darwin. A variety of sites in the area yielded Rufous and Barking Owls, Torresian Kingfisher, Red-headed Honeyeater, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Bush Stone-Curlew.
This coming weekend we will stay in the Bangkok area; hopefully we can find something new here – we have some targets such as Baya Weaver, Vinous-breasted Starling, and Black Bittern, but I’m pessimistic about our chances. A break from air travel is in order, as the following weekend we will turn right around and trek back down to Oz, this time for three days in Cairns.
I did an unofficial count – since starting on Dec 26 2017 while in the Galapagos, we have been on 67 flights.
Week 30: July 17 – July 23, Sri Lanka
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 42
Total species to date: 1316
52.6 % of goal, 57.7% of year used
Sites visited: Sinharaja Forest Reserve and environs
This was our second trip to Sri Lanka, the first being in May 2016. Just like the last time, we flew in to Colombo Friday night and went to Sinaraja Reserve, about a three hour drive.
This is a great place to go after the Sri Lankan endemics and other specialties of the area, but it is a rough trip up to the prime areas as the road is quite poor.Malabar Trogon was everywhere.
Perhaps the most common and approachable endemic was the Sri Lankan Junglefowl; many of these birds stay near dwellings and seem to be getting handouts as well. The first ones we saw walked down the main trail and the hen literally sat at my feet.
We were expecting lots of rain but we got none, It was actually rather pleasant. Due to the dry conditions, there were not a lot of leeches – we only picked up several. However one of these had managed to find its way into the car and during the ride back to the airport Sunday night, found my shin and had a good meal.
A number of outstanding finds by our guides included Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Serendib Scops Owl.
We have a new champion for Bird Needing Most Time and Effort to Find: and that was the Sri Lankan Thrush. Our guides spent significant time both days listening and looking for these skittish fellows. On Sunday, we clambered through all manner of dense undergrowth and forded a stream and finally found a pair in the leaf litter.
Next week: Four days in Darwin, Australia
Week 29: July 10 – July 16, Malaysia
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 30
Total species to date: 1274
51.0 % of goal, 55.8% of year used
Sites visited: Bukit Tinggi, Krau Forest, Hulu Langat area
I usually use the eBird “Target Species” feature in order to choose sites for these trips – especially now, going forward, as we have diminishing returns to deal with. It is a very useful tool. I’m constantly entering the names of various provinces or states all over Asia so that we can identify where the most productive birding will be. Of course this needs to be done in concert with searches on sites like Expedia to see if we can even get there with enough time to make a weekend trip worth the effort.
The one very accessible region in SE Asia which continually comes up with a high count for targets is Pahang, Malaysia. Although we visited here in February and did really well (63 new species for the year on a weekend, after three good weekends in Thailand), an analysis for July suggested that over 100 species (with greater than 1% frequency) were still there, waiting to be added. I don’t see counts like that anywhere else in this part of the world – at least not in easily-reached areas.
So we returned last weekend and again worked with Weng Chun for the third time. This is the other reason for coming back to the Kuala Lumpur region. I have not done the math but there is a good chance that Weng has found us more species than any other single guide we have worked with anywhere. On this trip we stayed in lower elevations, principally around Krau Wildlife Reserve.
Thanks to a typical AirAsia flight delay of two hours, we got to bed early Saturday in Kuala Lumpur around 1:30, and then were up at 4:30 to head out for Bukit Tinggi where we found Mountain Peacock-pheasant.
Moving on to the Krau Wildlife Reserve area, we did roadside birding and paid a few visits to a photography blind that was teeming with our targets, such as Yellow-bellied, Hairy-backed, and Grey-cheeked Bulbuls, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Short-tailed, Ferruginous, and Black-throated Babblers. There is also a specific (cherry?) tree (right behind the wall with the sign – if you ever see this tree, be sure to check it out) along the road that had given us Yellow-vented, Yellow-breasted, and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers six months ago – this time it provided Orange-bellied ones and a Greater Leafbird.
Finally on Sunday afternoon we birded up the road leading northeast from Hulu Langat in Selangor. I always expect poor results this time of day, but occasionally surprising levels of activity just seem to continue – this was such an occasion. Nice mid-afternoon finds included Yellow-eared and Purple-naped Spiderhunters, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.
Next weekend we head to Sri Lanka for two days at Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Leech socks are packed.
Week 28: July 3 – July 9, Bangkok
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 3
Total species to date: 1244
49.8 % of goal, 53.8% of year used
Sites visited: Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park, Bang Krachao, Subpattana Alley
This was our first weekend in which we did not leave Bangkok. It was a much needed travel break and opportunity to rest up a bit. But no excuse not to go birding. We wanted to find some of the area birds that have eluded us thus far, while also scoping out some new places around the city.
On Saturday we headed north to Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park, which sits on the Chao Phraya River and which is a bit of a pain to reach. Half of this park is manicured and attractive to the other park visitors – and the other half is nice and messy with lots of grassy and marshy spots. Alas, no luck finding the Oriental Pratincoles or Asian Golden Weavers that we came looking for.
We ran across a comical pair of young Plain Prinias – siblings, I assume – that insisted on sitting side-by-side and looking at the world in tandem. They were like two cats watching the same toy.
Sunday morning we left our hotel at 5:30 and headed down to Bang Krachao, the “Green Lung of Bangkok” – not far at all as the crow flies, but only conveniently accessed by ferry – again, crossing the Chao Phraya river. We came here specifically looking for Vinous-breasted Starlings, as we had picked them up here several years ago. No such luck this time. They remain AWOL.
Being oh for two at this point, a more aggressive approach was called for. I’d seen a recent eBird submission from a part of Samut Prakhan, well south of Bangkok proper, that included the pratincoles and weavers we wanted – but which did not seem practical to get to via taxi and the usual language barrier. We tried it anyway, and got to within about a kilometer of where we wanted to be, so we walked the rest of the way. It would be worth the hassle.
We soon found open water and a gravelly bank holding plenty of Oriental Pratincoles; exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find them. Further along, I wanted to capture a typical roadside march scene here, so I snapped the photo below. Claire pointed out at the same time that a crake was sitting there, high in the grass. Indeed it was!
The crake was an unexpected trip bird and lifer to boot. Funny how these non-descript roadside spots, with the need for constant vigilance to avoid being run over, can be so productive. We continued further, hoping to find the weaver, and it did not take long to do so. A very obliging male was waiting for us around the corner.
So just three new birds for the year, but all lifers on a ‘rest’ weekend. Next up: we return to Pahang, Malaysia – an area that has been perhaps the most productive in SE Asia so far, and with our best guide. Back to double digits, I’m thinking.
Week 27: June 26 – July 2, Tokyo
Working Days: 4
New species identified: 7
Total species to date: 1241
49.6 % of goal, 51.9% of year used
Sites visited: Mt. Takao, Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo Port Bird Park
We spent a long weekend in the Tokyo area with our son before he headed back to Minnesota on July 1. On Friday, we went to the Mt. Takao area west of town. This is a very popular spot on weekends, supposedly. There is a main trail that leads up from the train station to the summit, which was rather busy – but there are numerous other, more birdy trails that were empty. We did pretty well here considering it was extremely windy and hearing calls was often impossible.
We were able to pick up Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Bush Warbler, and the most beautiful flycatcher we’ve ever seen, the Narcissus Flycatcher – stunning orange throat with yellow, black, and a splash of white – a bit like our Blackburnian Warbler.
This bird gave me a great look but unfortunately the Nikon Coolpix was not up to the task. I really want to love this camera, and 90% of the time, I do. But in low light conditions with branches in front and behind the bird, the auto-focus simply does not work. And as far as I can tell it cannot be focused manually. The terrible picture above was the least blurry one I got. Not impressive.
Clouds were obscuring the view of Fuji from Takao, so we decided to head to Hakone on Saturday to try to get a better look. From the train, just outside Odawara, we could see the top peaking above the clouds – and that was it. We spent several more hours to go take the ropeway ride over Mt. Hakone, just to see a wall of cloud where Fuji should have been. That’s what we get for coming here in the summer, I guess.
Sunday we visited Kasai Rinkai Park and Tokyo Port Bird Park, both of which sit along the bay and have wonderful nature centers and many blinds. I can imagine how productive these places would be during migration. Still managed to pick up some new birds for the year such as Bull-headed Shrike, Pacific Swift, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. The young lady working at the Bird Park did not speak much English, but we understood each other enough that she helped us to find the Tufted Duck that had been seen in the area.
Next weekend: Staying in Bangkok over the weekend for the first time since we came here in January – will bird the environs here and go after a number of stragglers we have yet to find, such as Vinous-breasted Starling.