Sunday, March 26, 2017

Java in the Rainy Season

Three Days at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park

Java is one of those places I've been half meaning to visit for a while.  It's close to Singapore, where I often end up on business trips, has lots of endemic birds, and has good local guides.  Last year, my Singapore birding friend Lim Kim Chuah had mentioned that he had a birding guide friend in Jakarta and was kind enough to put me in touch with Khaleb Jordan.  Nine months later, when I knew exact dates for my Singapore trip, Khaleb planned an "airport-to-airport" long weekend of birding in Western Javan for me.  The highlight of the trip was three days at the famous Gunung Gede Volcano, a real hotspot for Javan endemic birds.

Thursday, March 16 

A 5am pick-up and the Airport in Jakarta and a long drive to the park.  Once we arrived at the park HQ, we met our local guide and a porter and set off up the "Hot Spring Trail", planning to bird our way up 5 or 6 km to the Hot Springs themselves and then camp overnight.  The trail was relatively well maintained, and the going was actually pretty easy (at least going up) despite the steepness of the trail and the very mixed weather (we stopped and took shelter from heavy rain a couple of times).  The birding, while the guides thought it was slow, gave me a bunch of life birds.

Javan Trogon, perhaps the bird I most wanted on this trip

Javan Cochoa, a high quality endemic lifer
Many of the endemic birds of Java can be found along thus trail and we racked up a fair number of them that day - Javan Trogon, Javan Cochoa, Flame-fronted Barbet, Rufous-tailed Fantail, Javan Tesia, Javan Fulvetta, and Javan Whistling-Thrush were among a slew of life birds that I had that day.  Once we'd set up camp and eaten dinner we also added another with a search for Javan Scops-Owl yielding a calling bird close to camp.  Great day of birding, despite the rain and the steep hike.

The camp sight and the team ,..


Friday, March 17

After a rough and sleepless night on the hard ground in the tent - and being woken twice by a Japanese Ferret-Badger raiding our supplies and clattering around in our pots and pans - dawn came way too early.  In fact, we were up well before dawn, the plan being to hike another hour or so up the trail before first-light in the hopes of seeing a Javan Scops-Owl and perhaps even a Javan Woodcock. We had decided, given the weather, not to do the 4-hour hike to the crater for Volcano Swiftlet, and while I was sad to miss this bird, the prospect of walking 6-hours down the steep trail in the rain was quite daunting and adding another 3 hours to the hike really wasn't at all appealing.

The owls did indeed cooperate, giving good close views in the light, and while the woodcocks remained elusive, we did get a Salvadori's Nightjar for our troubles.

The hike down was 'tough' and by the time we got to dinner at the hotel that evening my knees and ankles were screaming in protest.  We did add some good life birds for me though, including several target birds like Rufous-fronted Laughing-Thrush, Spotted Crocias, Sunda Forktail and Sunda Bush-Warbler but at that point I would have been very happy never to see that trail again.

An endemic Javan Horned-Frog that spent a couple of hours with us during a downpour

Saturday, March 18

While I was reluctant to go back to the "trail of death" after my knee-jarring experience the day before, I manned up and set off up the very same trail again at dawn.  The decision turned out to be a good one with a great crop of birds seen or heard right at dawn including Javan Frogmouth, Sunda Scops-Owl, Barred Eagle-Owl and a Javan Banded-Pitta.

Javan-banded Pitta in the flash on the trail at dawn
The weather didn't really cooperate unfortunately and the rain and fog closed in quickly, pretty much killing our chances of seeing our target Javan Hawk-Eagle and Giant Swiftlet.  We did get some consolation though when a group of Asian Small-clawed Otters crossed the trail ahead of us and could be heard chirping in the marsh (otter species number 2 for the trip).

Speaking of mammals, we did actually see quite a few on the trail.  Ebony and Grizzled Leaf-Monkeys were common and visible, as were three species of squirrel - the Black Giant Squirrel being the most impressive, but the pudgy little Three-striped Ground-Squirrels quickly became a favorite.  We also saw an Asian Palm-Civet on the trail and some Long-tailed Macaques closer to the village.

Orange-spotted Bulbul in the rain, and the view from the boardwalk ...
note the lack of soaring raptors ....

Coming out of the forest at lunch time, we ate a great meal of goat stew and goat saté while we waited for the torrential rain to stop.  And newly fortified, and with the rain stopping mid-afternoon, we headed to the Cibodas Botanical Gardens and enjoyed some decent weather and another crop of life birds.
The restorative powers of a hot meal of goat ... then on to the Botanic Gardens

The biggest target at the gardens was the endemic Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot which we saw after carefully watching a giant fig tree where they were feeding, well hidden in the green leaves.  While we were there we also finally had a fly-over Javan Hawk-Eagle and a moment of excitement when Khaleb found a Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a life bird for both he and I.

Javan Hawk-Eagle finally surrendered.
The endearing Pygmy Tit.
Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a scarce migrant was a life bird for Khaleb, while
Little Pied Flycatchers turned out to be abundant once I learned their call.

So a great haul of birds, a few good mammals, and I was sure that my knees would forgive me eventually.  Dinner that night was at a restaurant in a shopping mall, where a middle-aged local lounge singer treated us to his versions of popular George Michael songs ... not an experience I'll forget in a while, but I won't forget the great wildlife of this beautiful place either.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Asian Urban Birding (Part 5) - Singapore (again)

Another Day Off in the Parks of Singapore

Sunday March 12 - Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens By The Bay

Arrived early morning on a Singapore Airlines flight from Munich.  The hotel room wasn't ready of course so, rather than hang out at the Spa (as the staff at the ParkRoyal Hotel suggested) I dumped my bags and took a cab over to the Botanic Gardens.

First stop was the Rainforest trail, where a few good birds, including an Orange-headed Thrush - a potential lifer for me - had been hanging out this Winter.  The thrush hadn't been reported for a while but I was hopeful and started carefully birding the boardwalk, listening for things rustling in the leaf-litter.  By the time I reached the end of the trail though, I'd seen absolutely nothing, so I turned around to try again and this time moved even more slowly, scanning thoroughly, and was rewarded with close views of a HOODED PITTA (but no thrush).

Hooded Pitta - hard to photograph in the darkness of the forest floor 

Feeling good about the Pitta, I decided to quickly pick up the long-staying Buffy Fish-Owl at it's regular roost.  I knew exactly where it was, but as I've said before, I suck at finding owls so it took my 15 minutes of systematic searching before I finally located it .... pretty much sitting in the open ... right where it was supposed to be.

Buffy Fish-Owl
Next stop was a reported HODGSON'S HAWK-CUCKOO, which would also have been a life bird for me.  I braved the weekend crowds near Swan lake and started circling around in the area where it had been reported but was soon distracted when a photographer told me his friend had just found a roosting Large-tailed Nightjar.  Who isn't up for seeing a roosting nightjar?

The nightjar was relatively easy to find, and not far away I also bumped into a couple of Black Bazas and the cuckoo.  All in all a very productive couple of hours spent in the Botanic Gardens.  Wonderful spot.

Large-tailed Nightjar and Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo

After checking in at the hotel and taking a shower, I decided to go birding again and took a cab over to the Gardens By The Bay, Singapore's newest (and most expensive-looking) park.  The weather wasn't great for birding, with the sun beating down and the birds generally keeping under cover, but I persevered and managed to winkle out a few things.  The big highlight for me though wasn't a bird, but finally bumping into Singapore's famous urban otters.

Gardens By The Bay and one of the famous Indian Smooth-coated Otters


This family group of Indian Smooth-coated Otters are celebrities in Singapore and the city has erected "otter crossing" signs in many parts of the Marina Bay area.  Today the otters were hanging out at the park, eating some tasty-looking fish, and putting on a show for their adoring audience (and one Welsh Paparazzi).  This was actually a new species for me so I lingered for a while, took a lot of photos, and pointed them out to delighted tourists.  Who says urban wildlife is dull?

As the sun started to get a little less intense the birds started to perk up too.  A nice sampling of herons all emerged from the reeds at the 'bittern ponds' (my name for them) and I was able to track down a nice Asian Emerald-Dove nearby.  There were some Changeable Hawk-Eagles overhead and the place was just a lot birdier as the heat dropped and the smaller birds got more active again.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle 
Asian Emerald-Dove 
Striated Heron and the (much rarer) Black Bittern

Not a bad day of birding, and I wrapped up an amazing visit in Singapore with dinner at the fabulous Restaurant André (currently #32 on the World's 50 Best Restaurant List).  Singapore pretty much has everything ... can't wait to come back.

2 of 20 dishes at André

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Keeping Myself Amused with County Listing

A Few County Ticks Near New York City 

Not much to report this last weekend.  It was cold, I was busy, but I did get to sneak out for a while on Saturday.

Last week, I added a couple of new birds to my New York County (basically Manhattan) list.  This county, having been my home (or one of them) for 25 years, should be huge .... but it isn't because basically all of my birding happens in Central Park which has no coastal habitats.  Still, this week I had the opportunity to add Killdeer (#213) and Great Cormorant (#214) to the list.  Probably not the first time I've seen either species, just the first time I put them in eBird.  Slow progress ....

Saturday, March 4 - Suffolk and Nassau Counties

Cold.  Very cold.  So a quick morning of birding that never really hit it's stride.  I added a EURASIAN WIGEON to the year list at Seatuck Creek, then failed to find Rusty Blackbird at Quogue Wildlife Refuge or American Bittern at Dune Road.

At Oak Beach I failed to find a Barrow's Goldeneye -  a classic dip day was clearly unfolding here - but then bumped into Brent Bomkamp and Taylor Sturm who gifted me some good intel.  A few minutes later I added EARED GREBE to my Suffolk County List (#324) and later picked up some early migrants for the year list with Piping Plover, Eastern Phoebe and Tree Swallow all joining the list.  Cold and not really feeling the birds though, I gave in and went home, some days it's best not to fight your karma.

When I got home, I settled in, put a cooking show on Netflix and opened a bottle of wine.  I also logged on to catch up on social media and noticed a photo of a Long-eared Owl posted by Anders Peltomaa on Facebook.  Now Anders pretty much sticks to Central Park where he birds while walking his dog, so I messaged him to see if the sighting was recent, and it turns out he'd found the bird that morning in the Shakespeare Garden ... and very generously shared exact directions.  So what to do ... back in the Winter cloths and over to Central Park where ... the owl was exactly where it was supposed to be.


A year bird, and even though I've seen this species several times in Central Park before, they never get old.  Such a cool creature.

So done for birding for the Winter.  I saw what I saw, and now I'm off to Asia for a bit.  And when I get home, hopefully Spring will have arrived.