Monday, May 22, 2017

A Mad Scramble to 'Do' Spring Migration in New York

Three Weeks of Migration Madness

Back from three weeks in Asia at the start of May and checked in to see what I'd missed in New York.  Turns out that migration was well underway and in fact I'd missed a good early push, so much so that when I checked where I was on the "Hot 100" for the year in New York State on eBird ... I wasn't even in the top 100.  So some catching up to do ....

Black-billed Cuckoo
So into a routine.  Up at 5am, neglecting the gym (it's not pretty) and spending a couple if hours in Central Park each morning before work, then occasionally hitting the park, or another, after work for an hour to chase a specific bird.  The weekends I jumped in the car and ran around in the counties just outside the city to add more birds.  Over the course of the first three weeks of May I added 93 species to the year list, all basically in or around New York City (and yes, as of today I'm back in the Top 10 of the "Hot 100" which means I'm basically back in with the pack.

Kentucky Warbler (Photo: Anders Peltomaa, used with permission)
Most of the month was actually pretty flat, with Northerly winds slowing migration to a dribble, but there were a few epic days that even the old-timers had to agree were amazing.  I saw nothing particularly rare, and am in fact missing several species that I could have seen had I been here for the whole migration, but there were some memorable moments.  A Kentucky Warbler in Washington Square Park briefly became a local celebrity with the local drug dealers (just selling loose joints, nothing dramatic) asked us if we were looking for the 'Little Kentucky Bird".  Several Bicknell's Thrushes were reported, and I even chased one but didn't see it (I've never seen one away from breeding territories), although I did have a nice consolation views of singing Gray-cheeked Thrush.  I also had several Summer Tanagers, a Blue Grosbeak, a couple of Olive-sided Flycatchers and 31 species of North American Wood Warbler (which means I'm still missing 3 or 4 possibles).

White-tailed Deer and Cerulean Warbler 


Among the day trips.  A very wet swing through Albany, Schoharie and Otsego Counties provided American and Least Bitterns, Virginia Rail and other marsh birds.  A trip to Rockland and Orange Counties yielded Golden-winged, Cerulean and Mourning Warblers (plus a second Kentucky Warbler) and Acadian Flycatcher.  Ulster County chipped in grass birds like Bobolink and Grasshopper Sparrow while Suffolk County gave me Vesper Sparrow.  Queens County gave me Little Blue Heron and some shorebirds, and I was even able to pick up some county birds like my first Purple Sandpipers for New York County.  The tapestry of a Spring Migration year list slowly coming together.

Bobolink and Grasshopper Sparrow


So after the craziness, back to a more stable routine.  This morning I got up at 5am and went to the gym, ignoring reports of Bicknell's Thrushes (which I never see anyway).  Feeling like I'm pretty much caught up now so I can focus on rarities and travel and don't need to be running around quite so much.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Tarsiers and Endemic Birds in Sulawesi

(Hopefully) The Second of Many Trips to Wallacea


Alfred Russell Wallace  was basically a Welshman, or at least was born in Wales so we are claiming him as ours despite his dodgy English/Scottish ancestry.  He's not all that famous today, but he essentially discovered "Evolution" (for which Charles Darwin pretty much stole the credit) and has a Biogeographic Region (Wallacea) and a "Line" (The Wallace Line) named after him.  The Wallace Line, which he drew, separates an Asian type fauna found in the Oriental Region (Mainland South East Asia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and Bali) from a more Australasian type fauna found in Wallacea (the Lesser Sundas, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, etc.).  One the one side, Apes and Tigers, on the other Cockatoos, Tarsiers, and Cuscuses.  It's not quite that simple, but I grew up utterly fascinated by his writings, travels and the evolutionary and geographical processes that shaped this part of the world, and many others.  He really is the father of Biogeography, and the Patron Saint of Island Biogeography (Read This Book if you haven't, the best book of Island Biogeography ever written) and I've been intrigued by it, and him, since I was a kid.

Only once (twice technically) before have I crossed the Wallace line - in 1996 I crossed from Bali to Lombok (and back) and went on to Sumbawa and Komodo on a Dragon-Quest.

So I've been itching to go back, and with a long weekend free, and already in Singapore, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to get back to Wallacea.  In this case, the magic island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) was the goal, and I had a scant four days there, so I was determined to make the most if it.


Thursday, April 27 - Manado to Batu Putih

Lots of flights from Singapore, via Jakarta to Manado, and when I emerged from the airport into a scrum of predatory taxi drivers .... there was no-one there to meet me ... O ... K...  I wonder sometimes if I'll drop into some remote place, with emailed plans to meet a local guide at some time and place, and not have them show up.  So far it hasn't happened, touch wood, and this time too turned out just fine when after a few minutes of fending-off money hungry-local cabbies, Esli Kakuahe, my local guide, popped up with a sign saying "Mr Anthony".  So off we went to Batu Putih, roughly a two hour drive through an island dominated by coconut palms and churches (this certainly isn't Muslim Java) to the Tangkoko Lodge and my destination, Tangkoko National Park.

Yellow-billed Malkoha and Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon


We actually got to Batu Putih village with time to do some birding that afternoon and, after checking in at the lodge, we birded around town picking up some of my first Sulawesi endemics including Yellow-billed Malkoha, Isabelline Bush-hen, Yellow-sided and Gray-sided Flowerpeckers, and Purple-winged Roller.  We also went to the edge of the National Park, picking up Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, Sulawesi Hanging-Parrot and a couple of White-necked Mynas.  The highlight for me though was a Barred Buttonquail with three tiny black downy young that ran across the road in front of us then crouched in nice close view in the roadside vegetation.  Even though it's not a Sulawesi endemic, and not globally rare, I've always wanted to see a Buttonquail - I grew up with the mythical "Andalusian Hemipode" in my field guide, a mysterious bird, now extinct in Europe - so finally meeting one in the wild as an amazing experience.  I was still savoring it as I ate my fried fish and rice at the lodge, checked out the Sulawesi Scops-Owls that roosted outside the dining room, and tucked in for the night super-excited to bird the Tangkoko forest in the morning.

Sulawesi Scops-Owl
Friday, April 28 - Tangkoko National Park

Up early and off into the forest where we saw lots of very cool endemic birds and got savaged by many hundreds of tiny, ferocious, ankle-biting ants.  The forest itself was very open with not a lot of understory, which made getting around relatively easy (although stepping on the hundreds of two-inch-long fat, gray, millipedes that carpeted the forest floor was a little cringe-worthy, but there was simply no way to avoid squishing the odd one, not matter how carefully you walked), and the birds were relatively easy to find.  In no time at all, we'd racked up a bunch of target Sulawesi endemic birds like Bay Coucal, Black-billed Koel, Sulawesi Babbler, and Pale-blue Monarch.  Birds of prey were also lurking in the canopy, and we tracked down Spot-tailed Goshawk, Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk and a very photogenic immature Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle who posed for us while  calling loudly through the forest, presumably hoping for a parent to drop by with food.

Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle
Sulawesi us also pretty much ground zero for Kingfishers and has a host of endemic species, five of which I hoped to see on this trip, and three of which we did in fact see that morning.  Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher is a beautiful, subtly colored creature that we saw along the entrance trail, while not far away a Green-backed Kingfisher lurked in deep shadows.  Finally, we also saw a Sulawesi Dwarf-Kingfisher after a long search of likely ravines and nesting areas.  All very nice birds, although the darkness of the forest meant that my photos of these gems were largely all terrible.

 The morning also produced two star mammals, the ultra-rare Sulawesi Crested-Macaque and the weirdly adorable SPECTRAL TARSIER.  I have always wanted to see a tarsier, and was shocked when Esli nonchalantly pointed to a gnarled fig tree and said "tarsier' before moving on to look for birds.  My response was a little more excited and I stopped to spend a little time with this crazy primitive little yoda-like primate.  Perhaps the coolest animal I've seen all year, and definitely the highlight of the Sulawesi trip for me.

Tangkoko is pretty much THE place to see the Sulawesi Crested-Macaque which occurs only here and on some nearby islands.  The population on mainland Sulawesi is tiny (3,000?) a result of persecution by farmers protecting their crops and locals hunting for bush-meat.  It is a very charismatic creature, most notably for it's odd black coloring (most macaques are a grayish brown color) and it's distinctive ape-like facial features.  They were also quite tame in the forest - perhaps unusual for a species that's still hunted - but at least here, close to the main trail, they allowed us to walk by them quite closely without paying us much mind.  A very cool primate, and I'm not usually all that fond of primates.....



After a siesta - simply too hot in the early afternoon - we returned to the forest and added yet more endemic birds.  Highlights in the afternoon included the majestic Knobbed Hornbill, Ashy Woodpecker, Sulawesi Mynah, and two 'hard to get' parrots, Azure-rumped Parrot, and Yellow-breasted Racquet-Tail.  Great day in the forest, and they even had beer at the dining room at the lodge!  Sulawesi is definitely not Java.

Knobbed Hornbill and Ashy Woodpecker

Saturday, April 29 - Tangkoko Overlook and Mangroves

Spent the day around the edges of the park picking up new things like the dapper White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, Sulawesi Cicadabird, Pygmy Hanging-Parrot, Golden-mantled Racquet-tail and the spiffy Black-naped Fruit-Dove.  A bit of time invested in the swiftlets overhead led me to conclude that there were three species - Sulawesi, Uniform and Glossy - present, well that was my best guess, I'm not very good at swiftlets.  Then as the day warmed up and thoughts turned to lunch, our target bird soared into view, another classy raptor the Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle.  A nice morning of birding along a road, and not a single ant-bite, although by now may ankles were itching like crazy and did so for the next five days.


White-faced Cuckoo-Dove and Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle

In the afternoon, we drove a little further to a mangroves area at a small river-mouth.  Out target here was another of the endemic kingfishers, the impressive Large-billed Kingfisher and it didn't take us long to find one.  We then basically just killed time, enjoying birds like Great-billed Heron and Rainbow Bee-eater until it got late enough to head back to the overlook to do some owling.

Large-billed Kingfisher
The weather in the evening unfortunately didn't cooperate for the owling, and light rain made it difficult to do very much, but we did manage to pull in a Minahassa Masked Owl.  We saw the owl several times in the lights, mostly flying over us, and we heard it call in response to the tape, but unfortunately the rain pretty much killed the chance of a photograph.  For me it as a bit deal though; after 40+ years of looking at birds, I finally saw a second member of the genus Tyto (yep, I'd only ever seen Barn Owl before that night so I was pretty excited to see a Masked Owl).



Monday, April 30 - Gunung Mahawu

The start of a very long trip home with flights from Manado > Jakarta > Singapore > Hong Kong > New York.  There was still time for a last stop though so we made our way over to Gunung Mahawu, hoping for another of the endemic kingfishers, Scaly-breasted Kingfisher.  We didn't have a lot of time at the reserve and unfortunately we never did find the kingfisher, but we did have a great selection of other endemic birds.  Sulawesi Woodpecker, the stunning Sulawesi Myzomela, Citrine Canary-Flycatcher, Island Flycatcher, and Sulawesi Blue-Flycatcher were all great additions to the list.  We did puzzle for a while over a strange, furtive bird in the leaf-litter which I later worked out was Chestnut-backed Bush-Warbler and we were gifted a visit from a Speckled Boobook that sat in the open and watched us right up until a split second before I got my camera focussed on it.

Island Flycatcher and Citrine Canary-Flycatcher

The stunning Sulawesi Myzomela
Too soon though time ran out and I had to head to the airport.  Sulawesi is a magical place and a short trip was no more than an amuse-bouche, priming me to come back for more.  I will absolutely be back there before too long.

Barred Rail at our pre-Airport lunch

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Weekend in Australia

A Quick Trip to Perth and a Great Weekend of Birding

Saturday, April 22 - Perth

You know you've been flying too much when the idea of going to Australia for the weekend seems reasonable.  True, I was in Singapore, so Perth in Western Australia was only a five-hour flight away, but still, that's an awfully long way to go for a day and a half of birding.  My original plan, knowing that I had only from Friday night to Sunday night free, was to go to Way Kambas in Sumatra.  That plan fell through though and some on-line research revealed that yes, there were direct Friday and Sunday flights to/from Perth.  So all I needed then was a guide (a day and a half in an unfamiliar continent is no time to be "working things out") so when Peter Taylor from Birding SouthWest replied to an email to say he could guide me that weekend, I had a plan.

Singapore Airlines is one of my favorites and everything went like clockwork on Friday night, leaving me exhausted but excited in a hotel in downtown Perth by 1am.  The alarm was set for a very civilized 6am for a 7am pick-up and, at the appointed hour when we met, I was happy to accept Peter's suggestion that we "head for the hills" to start our day.

It's been a very long time since I was in a place where almost all the birds were completely new to me.  What was that thing that sounded like a baby goat?  What about the large black things that flopped along like kites or fruit bats?  Was that a Kookaburra?  Kangaroos!

First stop was Victoria Dam - and poor Peter had to put up with me being a lost kid, with a big goofy smile on my face soaking up the new and unfamiliar.  It was a truly awesome couple of hours wading through the blizzard of new birds, mostly new genera or even families.  The goat sound was Australian Raven.  The floppy fruit bats .... Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos.  Yes, there were Laughing Kookaburras, but apparently they aren't native so not a good thing.  And yes, there were Kangaroos ... two Western Gray Kangaroos hopped casually across the trail in from of us and off into the Eucalyptus woodland.  How Australian was that?  I was thrilled.


Western Spinebill and Gilbert's Honeyeater


We walked down to the dam and then on to the picnic area and new birds came at me fast and thick.  There were Red-capped Parrots and Western Rosellas, Brown, Gilbert's and New Holland Honeyeaters, White-browed Scrubwrens, Western Thornbills, Western Whistlers, Weebills, Red Wattlebirds, Gray Fantails, all sorts of cool unfamiliar things.  We paid special attention to Fairywrens and even though most were in eclipse plumage I was thrilled to see lots of Splendid Fairywrens and a couple of Red-winged Fairywrens.  Australian Robins were also very endearing, with Scarlet Robin and White- breasted Robin at the camp ground along with adorable Red-eared Firetails.    Just a wonderful 2 hours and 7 minutes (from eBird).  A really great way to start my trip and if I had any regrets, it's only that it occurred to me right then that I would never again have a first morning in Australia.

Scarlet and White-breasted Robins

Red-eared Firetail
Next stop was further up into the hills surrounding Perth and as we worked our way into Collins Road in Beverley I got another wave of new birds.  As soon as we got out of the car we had Rufous Treecreepers (not at all like the treecreepers I'm used to), Gray Shrikethrush (neither a shrike nor a thrush), and White-browed Babblers (you guessed it, not a babbler).  Other goodies there included Blue-breasted Fairywren, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Restless Flycatcher, and Western Yellow-Robin.  By the time we stopped for lunch I'd probably had 50 life birds.  Totally overwhelmed, but definitely not complaining.


Rufous Treecreeper and Restless Flycatcher 

Blue-breasted Fairywren
The afternoon was pretty much the same and included a big mixed flock of Carnaby's and Baudin's Black-Cockatoos.  With Long-billed and Little Corellas, Galah, and the three Black-Cockatoos, that made SIX lifer species of cockatoo for the day.  Not bad considering I'd only ever seen one species of cockatoo in my life before.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo
In the heat of the afternoon we switched over towards water birds and had a really great selection of ducks, shorebirds, wading birds and others at Bibra Lake and Alfred Cover Nature Reserve.  By the time Peter dropped my back at the hotel at around 7pm, I was exhausted.  Plans for exploring Perth were replaced by room-service and a hot bath ... hey, I had a lot of life birds to absorb.

Sunday, April 23 - Perth

Up and at 'em again on Sunday morning.  This time starting in sand dunes at Floreat Beach.  The targets here (two more Fairywren species) would not cooperate but there are worse places to dip things than standing on a beautiful coast watching Common Bottlenose Dolphins, Parasitic Jaegers and Australasian Gannets from the beach.

Rufous Night-Heron and Spotless Crake 


The rest of the morning was taken up by the wetlands of Herdsman Lake where we had a huge variety of super tame waterbirds to keep us amused.  Freckled Duck was the star bird rarity-wise for good looks at Spotless Crake, Buff-banded Rail, Rufous Night-Heron and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were all memorable moments for me.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill
After a last stop at King's Park - a wonderful Victorian park with large areas of native vegetation between the ornamental planting and heroic statues - my time had unfortunately come to an end.  Back to the airport and back up to Singapore.  This trip was not nearly long enough but I was faced with a choice ... two days of Australia or no Australia ... and I gather it's possible to get direct flights from Singapore to Darwin .....


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Malaysian Rail-Babbler, Bucket List Bird!

A Day at Bukit Panti in search of one of my most wanted life birds.

Sunday, April 16

Let's just say that the alarm went off much too soon.  A 4am alarm when you've got no more than five hours sleep, after flying for almost 24 hours, is never welcome.  This Easter I left New York on Friday (Good Friday) morning, and flew 15 hours to Hong Kong.  Then I changed planes and dropped down to Singapore (another 4 hours), arriving late evening Saturday and getting into bed at the hotel about 11pm local time.  Five hours later, it was time to go birding!

I was staying at the Fullerton Hotel in downtown Singapore, a sprawling imperial structure (I think it was the Post Office in the old colonial city) now converted into a fancy business hotel.  As usual, I arrived looking something like a business man, but early the next morning, dressed as a bird bum, I waved away the doorman's attempts to get me a taxi and waited for my ride - Lim Kim Chuah, my Singapore birding mentor - who was picking me up for a day-trip to Johor Malaysia and a chance at one of my most wanted birds on earth.

The early start was deliberate because we wanted to be at the Gunung Panti Forest Reserve (a couple of hours North of Singapore in the Malaysian State of Johor) before dawn so that we could try for some night birds.  The drive therefore was mostly in the dark, and once we'd dealt with the border crossing bureaucracy, it was pretty much a straight shot to our first stop, an unpaved forest road, where we started birding about an hour before first light.

Target number one was BLYTHE'S FROGMOUTH, a tiny member of a family that I generally think ought to be bigger (I was raised on Potoos, what can I say?).  We stopped in the dark and soon heard one, then another Frogmouth respond to our tape recording and, when a truck passed us, I even saw one in flight in the lights.  Then a larger bird zipped over our heads, then passed again, this time so close I could hear the rush of wind on it's feathers as it passed within inches of my head.  The third time it came by I ducked, it was that close.  Then finally, it came over higher and we saw the silhouette against the slowly lightening sky ... BAT HAWK!  I'm guessing that we had a cloud of insects around us, and that bats were feeding close to us as a result, the hawk, being bigger, was the only part of this dark-covered food chain that we could see.  So calling Blythe's Frogmouths, a dawn chorus of White-handed Gibbons, and a close Bat Hawk ... it's very rare that I have started my day so perfectly.

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Pale-Blue Flycatcher


As the light came up, we moved further down the road to a sort of camping area which allowed access to the forest, and we spent the next hour or so building a solid list of forest birds.  Our main target here was a Rufous-backed Dwarf Kingfisher that Kim Chuah had seen building a nest in the earth walls of a small man-made pit on a recent visit.  The kingfisher wasn't there when we arrived so we went off birding and circled back a second time, then a third time before finally connecting with it.  In the meantime, we saw plenty of other birds in the area.  Gray-chested Jungle-Flycatchers and Black-and Yellow-Broadbills were busy building nests, while the tops of trees gave us a good range of larger perched birds including Thick-billed and Little Green Pigeons, Black Hornbill, Red-bearded Bee-eater, and Large Woodshrike.  A Pale Blue-Flycatcher played hard to get for a while, calling but remaining well hidden before finally showing itself, and with a little effort, the canopy also gave up Green Iora, Lesser Green Leafbird, and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha among others.

Black-and-Yellow Broadbill starting to make a nest
Back on the main road, the serious work of trying to find me a Malaysian Rail-Babbler got underway, but while we searched for the star, there were plenty of other birds to keep us busy.  Highlights for me included a couple of Wreathed Hornbills, an impressive White-bellied Woodpecker and a couple of super-cute Buff-rumped Woodpeckers.  There were also White-bellied Epornis (an odd Old World vireo), Yellow-breasted Flowerpeckers and a more or less constant volume of calling birds that included Great Argus Pheasants, three Trogon species, a dozen babblers, and a Malaysian Banded-Pitta.

Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker and Blue-winged Leafbird


Mammals were also in evidence.  In addition to the White-handed Gibbons there were Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques, Banded Leaf-Monkeys, and Slender Squirrels.  We saw Asian Elephant tracks (as close as I ever get to this species in the wild) but never could identify a large animal we heard snorting in the undergrowth early in the morning (I voted for "heard only" Malaysian Tapir but Kim Chuah wasn't buying it ... although he has seen tapirs along this road before).

7-inch long Millipede sp.
We also heard Malaysian Rail-Babblers, although at one point when we bumped into another guide with another UK birder/client, we wondered if perhaps we had been hearing each other's tape recordings.  Twice we bushwhacked into the forest to get closer to calling birds but on both occasions they stopped calling as we got closer.

By the afternoon we had ended up on the Old Road (on the advice of young British birder who was hiking the road and had said he'd seen the bird there in the morning).  Plenty of birds there including great views of Whiskered Treeswift and Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo, but the Rail-babblers were not cooperating and, just after the other birder/guide left we reluctantly started to work our way back toward the park entrance.

Then Kim Chuah heard a close bird, and in no time we were out of the car and creeping stealthily towards what sounded like a pair of calling Malaysian Rail-Babblers.  We got closer and played a little tape, and the birds continued to respond.  Finally they seemed very close so we crouched down, stayed very still, and listened.  The birds seemed to be incredibly close, just out of view perhaps thirty feet in front of us behind a small mound.  Then, out of nowhere, we heard  a "chuck" sound, and turning around slowly, saw two Rail-Babblers not thirty feet away from us, but behind us!  We'd been completely fooled by the eerie sounding ventriloquists.

What followed wasn't pretty.  The birds started to walk slowly away from us back into denser cover, while I fumbled with my camera, tried to compensate for the low light in the forest, and didn't get a single in-focus shot.  It was still a magical moment though, and a memory I'll long treasure.  I have always wanted to see this species (as do many, many birders) so finally meeting them, up close and personal, was a true privilege.

My best effort at a Rail-Babbler and a much better shot by Lim Kim Chuah
(used with permission)


Once the birds left, we made our way back to the road, and called it a day .... how could it get any better than that?  We stopped for lunch at the town of Kota Tinggi just as the heavens opened and torrential rain pretty much killed the possibility of more birding that day in any case.  The food was great, although my enthusiasm was slightly dented with the discovery of several very plump leeches who were enjoying their own lunch inside my shirt, and a couple more inside my leech socks!  Once they were removed of course the bite marks bled like crazy for hours (and itched for a week).  For  a while I was a little concerned that the border agents at the Malaysia-Singapore border might have an issue with my blood-soaked shirt, but they seem to take such things in stride.  So back safely in Singapore at the end of the day I had great memories to savor.  A truly wonderful day in the forest.

Whiskered Treeswift






Saturday, April 1, 2017

Asia Urban Birding (Part 6) - Jakarta

Mangroves and Frigatebirds in Jakarta's NorthWestern Suburbs

Sunday, March 19

After the trip to Gunung Gede, I had a spare day in Jakarta and opted to use my Sunday to chase down a few more local specialties and a couple of globally threatened/endangered species.  Jakarta's traffic is legendary but with a  4am start from Ciboda, we managed to skip the worst of it and get to the NorthWest of the city not long after dawn.

Some rare Sunda Teal zipped over in the hazy morning light
First stop was Muara Angke, a patch of mangroves and wetlands totally surrounded by urban development and busy roads.   It was hopping with birds first thing in the morning and before we'd gone too far down the (somewhat rotten and scary - remember I weigh a lot more than the average Indonesian) boardwalk we'd seen SUNDA TEAL, a Black Bittern, and great, although distant views of a perched SUNDA COUCAL.  This last bird was the clear target here, pretty much a Javan Endemic (a few sites on Sumatra) and very limited in terms of the places where you can easily see one.  So the day was starting out well and we were hoping for a few more goodies when a government official (not one of the usual reserve rangers) appeared and told us we had to leave.  Seems we were caught up in some local administrative squabble but arguing wasn't productive so we changed our schedule around and moved on to our next destination.

View from the boat and our major targets. 

Next stop, after a long drive with the dense traffic of Jakarta in the morning - sometimes Jakarta feels like 20 million teenagers just got mopeds and are out trying them out for the first time (which may well be true) - was a chartered boat ride to the fish traps near the island of Palau Rambut.  The poles, and presumably the fish in the traps, attract frigatebirds of several species in season, and it's one of the best and most reliable spots for traveling birders to get CHRISTMAS ISLAND FRIGATEBIRD.

Christmas Island Frigatebirds
 Christmas Island isn't easy to get to.  A small Australian possession closer to Java than to Australia and famous for it's (now threatened) land-crab migrations, it also has a few endemic land-birds and it's own Frigatebird.  Luckily the frigatebirds spend the non-breeding season wandering around, and many of them end up near Jakarta where they can be relatively easily seen.

Add caption
In addition to the 45 Christmas Island Frigatebirds, we also had 10 Lesser Frigatebirds, and apparently it's also possible to see Great Frigatebird here in November.   Definitely one of the best places in the world for frigatebirds.

Lesser Frigatebirds

The area also has another star bird, as Milky Storks are often seen flying over on the way to a breeding colony.  This is another widespread but scarce and threatened bird so I was keen to see one.  In the end I saw 17 as small groups passed high and distant over us on the way out to the islands.

Milky Storks - distant shot, heavily cropped.
So no complaints there, and after weaving our way back through the crazy traffic and and stopping briefly to get JAVAN PLOVER at some fish ponds, it was time for lunch!  With few targets left, we made our way back to where we started the day and stopped for some amazing Indonesian food in a very fancy, Range Rover filled shopping area - Indonesians do seem to love their cars.


The team above - L to R: Boas Emanuel (Jakarta Birder), Me, our driver, and Khaleb Yordan (who organized the whole trip and is very much THE birding guide in Indonesia these days).

Indonesian food is amazing and I'm sorry I didn't have time to try more.  This last lunch consisted of some traditional spare-ribs, an amazing spicy vegetable dish with a peanut sauce, and this fried gourami.  All very good.

After lunch we headed to another relic patch of mangroves at Hutan Lindung, this one surrounded by multi-million dollar homes in a gated community.


Targets here included Small Blue Kingfisher, which we saw quickly, and Black-winged Starling (which we'd missed earlier in the day at Muara Angke).


The highlight here for me though turned out to be an Estuarine Crocodile (Saltwater Crocodile).  As we came in, the rangers told us that there was one about, and as we walked the boardwalk we bumped into a fisherman who was excited to tell us where to see it.  I love seeing these creatures holding on in urban and suburban environments (I saw one last year in Singapore too).  The don't do much usually at least in the day when you see them - just sleep - but it's good to see that they are still around.

Estuarine Crocodile not doing much
While we were there, we got a call from the rangers at Muara Angke saying that whatever this morning's problem was had been resolved and inviting us back.  We headed over in the hope of Black-winged Starling, despite gathering rain clouds, for a last vigil.  The clouds became rain that did indeed force us to stand under a shelter for a while, and the starling did not show itself but we did have a consolation Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and lots of other birds to keep us amused.   Nice place to end the day, and always amazing to see how much life hangs on in these tiny little scraps of habitat left in the giant cities.  Definitely worth seeking them out.

Oriental Darter