We flew Bangkok to Auckland, then to Christchurch where we rented a car. Thankfully my wife was up for driving while in NZ – she had taken some driving classes here in Thailand a few months ago in order to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road.
The weather was generally awful – windy and rainy on the drive up to Kaikoura.
On our first morning in Kaikoura we did a four-hour, vomit-filled pelagic trip. There were six of us including the captain. One fellow had his head in a bucket pretty much the entire time, except for some occasions when he would look up and call out a distant storm-petrel that we couldn’t see.
For a pelagic trip that never got far from land, it was really good: four albatross species, plus Westland, White-chinned, Northern Giant, Grey-faced, and Cape Petrels, as well as Fairy Prions, a few shearwaters and one Little Penguin.
The following day we worked the rocky shoreline, which is quite beautiful and teeming with bird and mammal life.
Our final day of the GBWY was a rainy Christmas, which we spent in Picton, and also on a ferry through Cook’s Straight and then in Wellington. Not so many seabirds in the straight; mostly Fluttering Shearwaters.
In Wellington we picked up a few passerines including the lovely Tui. The following day, which no longer counted towards the Big Year, gave us a few hours o explore the Zealandia sanctuary, which was spectacular, even in a downpour. Stitchbird, Kaka, Takahe, New Zealand Robin and Scaup, and Red-crowned Parakeets were all easy to find.
So that is a wrap. I’ll write up a general summary of this year overall and put it in the blog later. I made it only to 70% of this aggressive goal. Will have to try this again at some point.
From Dec 26 through Jan 4, we birded in Sydney, as well as throughout the South Island of New Zealand and around Auckland. Random pictures follow…
Week 51 Dec 11- Dec 17, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 18
Total species to date: 1736
69.4% of goal, 98.1% of year used
Sites visited: Doi Inthanon National Park
Every time we come to Thailand, a trip to Doi Inthanon is mandatory. Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are very frequent, cheap, and take an hour. From there, the lower parts of park are just an hour and half away.
Although the park is not quite as packed as Khao Yai, it is still very popular, and it was quite crowded. On Saturday night we stayed at some bungalows inside the park (not sure what this place is called) where we always stay.
Unlike previous trips, this time the adjacent campsites were full of loud drunks that managed to stay rowdy all night. Even at 04:00 they were able to keep whooping and hollering despite all the alchohol they consummed. I saw the scattered bottles the next morning. It was pretty impressive, in a way.
Other than that, it was a pleasant, and often pleasantly chilly, excursion. There are plenty of good food options in the park as well as vendors selling cheap outerwear, in case you were thinking it never gets cold in Thailand.
We managed to get a split-second peek at a Slaty-bellied Tesia as well as Clicking-Shrike Babblers. Proably spent 10% of the birding time just trying to see these two species.
It seemed that everywhere we stopped here was birdy. Drongo-led mixed flocks were easy to find, usually with plenty of Leaf Warblers (Blythe’s, Yellow-Browed, Ashy-Throated), Yellow-cheeked Tits, and Blue-Winged Minlas. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were surprisingly cooperative as was a Hume’s Treecreeper.
Next week: New Zealand
Week 50 Dec 4 – Dec 10, Bangalore, India and UAE
Working Days: 2
New species identified: 63
Total species to date: 1718
68.7% of goal, 96.1% of year used
Sites visited: Bangalore: Nandi Hills, Hoskote Lake, Bannerghatta National Park / UAE: Lulu Island, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Masafi wadis, Dibba al Fujairah, Al Quadra lake, Umm al Quwain
Finally an extended weekend, good numbers of new birds, and some damn fine lifers. Wednesday December 5 was a Thai holiday; so on Tuesday night we took an Air Asia flight direct to Bangalore. Our guide Bopanna took us north to the Nandi Hills area, where it was very birdy.
Yellow-throated Bulbul is a specialty of the area, and it took much effort to find one.
Many birds that escaped us up in Delhi, such as Indian Robin and White-browed Wagtail, were numerous here. Brahminy Starling was a nice add too.
Even nicer was an utterly unexpected, cooperative pair of Nilgiri Wood-Pigeons.
Our second day brought us south of the city, to Bannerghatta, where we got targets such as Blue-faced Malkoha and Tawny-bellied Babbler. Another complete surprise was a Grey-bellied Cuckoo:
On Thursday night we flew up to Dubai, for two days birding around the UAE with our favorite guide on the planet, Mark Smiles. This was our fourth outing with him over the past few years, and as always, he got us cracking good birds.
We started by heading out early to Lulu Island, just offshore from Abu Dhabi. This requires a boat, and we almost didn’t make it due to road closures for a marathon blocking access to the marina. While we waited for the boatman to find a new access point, we got a long-time Nemesis Bird taken care of at a city park – the dreaded Alexandrine Parakeet.
Once out on the island, we needed about an hour to find a good-sized flock of Hypocolius, cahtting with their wigeon-like voices.
During the rest of our time there, we criss-crossed the country, heading east in order to climb through wadis for various wheatears and warblers.
Another tough bird that Mark was willing to chase after for us was the Greater Hoopoe-Lark. This bird reminded me of some of our North American desert thrashers, but luckily it is not a skulky. The challenge is just seeing it on the sand. We did finally manage it….
Our final target on the second afternnon required pateintly waiting for the tide to go out, and then driving around the Umm al Quwain area until we finally found some distant groups of Crab-Plover. This was a great relief for all of us – we’d looked for them here in February of 2017 but they’d already moved off shore by then.
Sadly, Mark is done guiding in UAE as he is moving back to the UK, so if we get out here again, I’ve no idea who we would go birding with. It is one of our favorite birding destinations and has never disappointed us.
Next weekend: Doi Inthanon, Thailand
Week 49 Nov 27 – Dec 3, Luzon, Philippines
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 16
Total species to date: 1655
66.2% of goal, 94.2% of year used
Another weekend when the weather had a negative impact for us. After getting in to Manila after midnight, we started at 4:30, heading up into the mountains to the east with our fantastic guide Irene. It was very windy and the birds required extra work to see.
We had some fantastic looks at specialties including Philippine Fairy-bluebird, Scale-feathered Malkoha, Flaming Sunbird and Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove.
I am also happy to report that Irene got us our longest-running nemesis bird from Asia, the widespread Oriental Honey-buzzard, which we have managed to miss through all of time in Asia in the last three years.
Even better was seeing a Philippine Eagle-owl keeping watch near its nest – complete with freshly-hatched owlet.
Sunday brought rain and birding was quite slow aside from the occasional mixed flock moving through, usually made up of Yellowish White-eyes and Elegant Tits.
Luckily for us, Irene was tireless in her efforts to produce our target birds, including this pair of pygmies.
Next up: Long weekend due to Thai holiday on Dec 5: Bangalore and Dubai
Tmatboey is a protected, dry dipterocarp forest in northern Cambodia, about a three hour drive from Siem Reap. Taking an afternoon flight, we arrived there around 20:00 on Friday and went straight to bed, as the guide wanted to start before 04:00 Saturday morning.
There is a small eco-lodge within the sanctuary and it is extremely basic. The location is perfect, though, because the roosts for both Giant and White-shouldered Ibis are not far off.
Finding, and being at, the Giant Ibis roosts before dawn is what requires the 04:00 start – it was not far to drive from the camp, but we spent and hour in the dark walking through the tall grasses while the guides somehow checked the trees for them. We finally heard some before sunrise and managed to see four in flight and then briefly perched – and that was it. A few White-shouldered Ibis obliged us later in the morning.
Two local birding companies here have a program to encourage the locals in Tmatboey to assist with the conservation efforts for the Giant Ibis. For every occasion when visiting birders get a sighting of the bird, they donate $40 to the community.
The dry, savannah-like habitat here was a welcome break from the dark rainforests, and birds were fairly plentiful. Small minivets everywhere. It is a paradise for woodpeckers, including Great Slaty, Black-headed, Rufous-bellied, White-bellied, and Grey-capped Pygmy.
Night birding yielded Oriental Scops Owl and Savannah Nightjar. The grasses here are full of Chinese Francolin, and at twilight their rooster-like croaks can be heard everywhere. Never saw one.
The drive back to Siem Reap provided good looks at these two small falcons, the falconet being referred to by local guide as the Panda Bird.
As with our previous trip to Cambodia, we worked with Cambodia Bird Guide Association. They did a splendid job again, and the work that they do to keep track of the ibis is really impressive.
Next weekend: Return to Manila
Looking through my notes I found that I somehow managed to not include one of the best birds from Ecuador, the Black-faced Ibis. I had not even entered it into eBird. How dumb is that? I wonder how many other times I have done this.
Week 47: Nov 13 – Nov 19, Beijing, China
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 15
Total species to date: 1622
64.9% of goal, 90.3% of year used
Sites visited: Yeyahu Wetland Park
We were looking forward to a break from the heat of Southeast Asia – and we got much more than what we wished for in Beijing. Temperatures in the morning were below freezing and the wind was punishing.
We had a list of waterbirds to find at the extensive Yeya Lake park northwest of the city. This is a lovely, well-kept park with lots of boardwalks and observing platforms. The long grasses hold plenty of Vinous-throated Parrotbill and a few buntings.
We were happy to pick up Falcated Duck, Baer’s Pochard, Smew, Common Crane, and Bearded Reedling, among other new species for the year. The ducks were distant and few birds were interested in posing for pictures.
Finally… care to help on this one? I am taking this for a Willow Tit. The bird showed a lot of light edging in the wing panel as well as what seems like a shabby black bib and a non-glossy cap. However the more I read about Marsh vs. Willow, the less sure I am. Being from the US, I have no experience with these fellows… (It is a Willow, thanks to all that helped with the ID!)
Another bad picture that perhaps shows the white at the base of the bill indicative of Marsh?
Next week: Tmatboey, Cambodia
Week 46: Nov 6 – Nov 12, Vietnam
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 10
Total species to date: 1607
64.8% of goal, 88.5% of year used
Sites visited: Cuc Phuong, Van Long Nature Reserve
Cuc Phuong is a national park that is a two or three hour drive south of Hanoi. It is a very basic place – they have some bungalows inside the park, along with a restaurant. Electricity is available in this area only from 18:00 to 20:00.
Cuc Phuong was pretty quiet and, unsurprisingly, the skittish denizens were hard to see in the very dark forest. Saturday morning was drizzy and the afternoon was a total washout.
The only birds we saw well were some of the visitors to our guide’s feeding stations. But even some of those birds were fleeting – a White-tailed Flycatcher would only swoop in for just enough time to nab a mealworm and then hid somewhere.
All told just ten new species. Great place for butterflies – if they had been our goal, this might have been the best trip of the year. Even more vaiety and activity than what we found in Kaeng Krachan, Thailand.
On Sunday we went to the Van Long Nature Reserve, where we took a boat out on the wetlands for several hours.
This is the only place to see the endemic, critically endangered Delacour’s Langur. Our guide told us there are only some 300 of these leaf-eating primates – all of which live in these limestone hills.
So a bit of a mixed bag all in all. One of the approaches our guide used, which is quite common, was the playback of an owl or owlet in order to attract sundry passerines. There are various reasons to be ambivalent about this practice, but what struck me this weekend was that the birds are sometimes so animated and flitty that they are all but impossible for me to get in my bins. Even my wife, with her normal-to-good eyesight and thirty years of birding experience, couldn’t see most of them; sunbirds, yuhinas, fulvettas, and the dreaded Phylloscopus warblers, of course, all in a blur and a tizzy.
Next weekend: Winter birding around Beijing
Week 45: Oct 30 – Nov 5, Thailand
Working Days: 5
New species identified: 6
Total species to date: 1597
63.9% of goal, 86.5% of year used
Sites visited: Bang Pu, Khao Yai National Park, Wat Phra Phuttabath Koi
Our first location to visit this week was the nearby Bang Pu Recreation Center, which we had visited earlier this summer for shorebirds. We had high tides, so no shorebirding along the pier was possible – but we mostly came for the gulls, anyway. In October the Brown-headed Gulls arrive in massive numebrs and it is a popular pastime with the locals here to feed them.
Recent eBird reports indicated that at least one Black-headed Gull was in the mix, so we looked for it, but with no luck. The majority of these birds were constantly wheeling about and in constant flux; making the Black-headed something like a needle in a stack of needles in a hurricane.
One obvious oddball did stand out; a young Lesser Black-backed Gull. He was new for the year, as was the Brown-headed.
Our second site was Khao Yai, where we picked up four more targets; none seen well except the Two-barred Warbler.
It was a very lovely weekend in terms of weather, so the park was quite busy. The trogons didn’t seem to mind the crowds – a pair sat about ten meters off a busy trail and watched patiently.
On Sunday we decided to leave early and go to Wat Phra Phuttabath Koi, which is a temple that sits at the base of some rocky hills, about an hour drive west of Khao Yai.
As the temple sits among the rocky outcroppings, it is a reportedly good spot for Limestone Wren-babbler. We spent several hours there but could not locate any. Our friend Khanittha was birding with us and acted as translator with one of the monks that resides there – he was familiar with these birds and where they are sometimes found, but even with his help we struck out. If nothing else, it was a novel experience to be out birding with a Buddhist monk.
The babblers will be high on our target list next weekend in Vietnam, as we will be at Cuc Phuong, near Hanoi, where they are also regularly found.
39 Oman Citrine Wagtail – Motacilla citreola
39 Oman Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
39 Oman Crested Lark – Galerida cristata
39 Oman Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto
39 Oman Eurasian Marsh-Harrier – Circus aeruginosus
39 Oman Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
39 Oman Graceful Prinia – Prinia gracilis
39 Oman Gray Francolin – Francolinus pondicerianus
39 Oman Greater Flamingo – Phoenicopterus roseus
39 Oman Green Sandpiper – Tringa ochropus
39 Oman Indian Pond-Heron – Ardeola grayii
39 Oman Indian Silverbill – Euodice malabarica
39 Oman Lesser Crested Tern – Thalasseus bengalensis
39 Oman Northern Shoveler – Spatula clypeata
39 Oman Pin-tailed Snipe – Gallinago stenura
39 Oman Purple Sunbird – Cinnyris asiaticus
39 Oman Red-tailed Shrike – Lanius phoenicuroides
39 Oman Sanderling – Calidris alba
39 Oman Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis
39 Oman Sooty Gull – Ichthyaetus hemprichii
39 Oman Spotted Flycatcher – Muscicapa striata
39 Oman Temminck’s Stint – Calidris temminckii
39 Oman Western Reef-Heron – Egretta gularis
39 Oman White-cheeked Tern – Sterna repressa
39 Oman White-eared Bulbul – Pycnonotus leucotis
39 Oman White-spectacled Bulbul – Pycnonotus xanthopygos
40 Hong Kong Black-faced Spoonbill – Platalea minor
40 Hong Kong Broad-billed Sandpiper – Calidris falcinellus
40 Hong Kong Chestnut Bulbul – Hemixos castanonotus
40 Hong Kong Collared Crow – Corvus torquatus
40 Hong Kong Common Pochard – Aythya ferina
40 Hong Kong Dunlin – Calidris alpina
40 Hong Kong Fork-tailed Sunbird – Aethopyga christinae
40 Hong Kong Gray-headed Lapwing – Vanellus cinereus
40 Hong Kong Huet’s Fulvetta – Alcippe hueti
40 Hong Kong Masked Laughingthrush – Garrulax perspicillatus
40 Hong Kong Pied Avocet – Recurvirostra avosetta
40 Hong Kong Red-necked Phalarope – Phalaropus lobatus
40 Hong Kong White-shouldered Starling – Sturnia sinensis
40 Hong Kong Yellow-billed Grosbeak – Eophona migratoria
41 India Eurasian Spoonbill – Platalea leucorodia
41 India Indian Gray Hornbill – Ocyceros birostris
41 India Indian Peafowl – Pavo cristatus
41 India Indian Spot-billed Duck – Anas poecilorhyncha
41 India Jungle Babbler – Turdoides striata
41 India Large Gray Babbler – Turdoides malcolmi
41 India Northern Pintail – Anas acuta
41 India Red-naped Ibis – Pseudibis papillosa
41 India Ruddy Shelduck – Tadorna ferruginea
41 India Rufous Treepie – Dendrocitta vagabunda
41 India Yellow-eyed Babbler – Chrysomma sinense
41 India Yellow-footed Pigeon – Treron phoenicopterus
42 Sulawesi Ashy Woodpecker – Mulleripicus fulvus
42 Sulawesi Azure-rumped Parrot – Tanygnathus sumatranus
42 Sulawesi Barred Rail – Gallirallus torquatus
42 Sulawesi Bay Coucal – Centropus celebensis
42 Sulawesi Black Sunbird – Leptocoma sericea
42 Sulawesi Black-billed Koel – Eudynamys melanorhynchus
42 Sulawesi Black-crowned White-eye – Zosterops atrifrons
42 Sulawesi Finch-billed Myna – Scissirostrum dubium
42 Sulawesi Glossy Swiftlet – Collocalia esculenta
42 Sulawesi Gray-sided Flowerpecker – Dicaeum celebicum
42 Sulawesi Great-billed Kingfisher – Pelargopsis melanorhyncha
42 Sulawesi Green-backed Kingfisher – Actenoides monachus
42 Sulawesi Isabelline Bush-hen – Amaurornis isabellina
42 Sulawesi Ivory-backed Woodswallow – Artamus monachus
42 Sulawesi Knobbed Hornbill – Rhyticeros cassidix
42 Sulawesi Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher – Cittura cyanotis
42 Sulawesi Ochre-bellied Boobook – Ninox ochracea
42 Sulawesi Ornate Lorikeet – Trichoglossus ornatus
42 Sulawesi Pale-blue Monarch – Hypothymis puella
42 Sulawesi Pied Cuckooshrike – Coracina bicolor
42 Sulawesi Purple-winged Roller – Coracias temminckii
42 Sulawesi Ruddy Kingfisher – Halcyon coromanda
42 Sulawesi Rusty-backed Thrush – Geokichla erythronota
42 Sulawesi Silver-tipped Imperial-Pigeon – Ducula luctuosa
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Babbler – Pellorneum celebense
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Cicadabird – Edolisoma morio
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Dwarf-Kingfisher – Ceyx fallax
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle – Nisaetus lanceolatus
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Hornbill – Rhabdotorrhinus exarhatus
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Nightjar – Caprimulgus celebensis
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Scops-Owl – Otus manadensis
42 Sulawesi Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle – Spilornis rufipectus
42 Sulawesi Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove – Macropygia doreya
42 Sulawesi Tabon Scrubfowl – Megapodius cumingii
42 Sulawesi White-faced Cuckoo-Dove – Turacoena manadensis
42 Sulawesi White-rumped Cuckooshrike – Coracina leucopygia
42 Sulawesi Yellow-billed Malkoha – Rhamphococcyx calyorhynchus
42 Sulawesi Yellow-breasted Racquet-tail – Prioniturus flavicans
43 China Blue-and-white Flycatcher – Cyanoptila cyanomelana
43 China Gray-backed Thrush – Turdus hortulorum
43 China Rufous-tailed Robin – Larvivora sibilans