Friday, February 08, 2019

Langkawi

Malaysia. We'd arrived the previous day by train to the provincial city of Alor Setar. There's very little I can say about our one night here other than I did see my first Jungle Myna and it has a large distinctive tower. Malaysia proved a bit of a culture shock being much more developed and westernised than Thailand. At the border we got off an old third class Thai train with open windows onto a air conditioned rapid transit type train on the Malay side.

We were bound for the large, rather independent island of Langkawi. The ferry port was a short taxi ride away and the crossing about an hour and a half. Another taxi took about an hour to get across to our chosen accommodation in a quiet location in the west of the island near Kampung Bukit Lembu.


Our stay at The Box Chalet was wonderful. The relatively cool garden environment and proximity to some pretty sumptuous and accessible jungle suited us so well we just kept extending our stay. They also lent us bicycles for free, which was handy as the nearest shops, etc. were too far to walk. We had to move once to a place on the coast as it was fully booked but just came back again for more.

Met lots of other travellers here and one couple who nearly had us heading off to Sumatra due to incredible tales of their time with a tribe way off the tourist map. Maybe for another trip.
Most of the birding here was during morning walks or cycles up a mountain road into forest with secondary growth, older sections and some abandoned rubber plantations. We also took rides across the rice paddies to nearby villages.

Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella
Highlights included a stunning Banded Kingfisher glimpsed by chance deep in a section of overgrown old rubber plantation sitting perfectly still allowing a decent photo. Every evening Large-tailed Nightjars would display next to the place and come to feed on moths attracted to the lights along the road. Spectacled Langurs were around but never came very close.

Returning across the rice fields one evening I picked out a few crakes in the reedy ditches including a Ruddy-breasted Crake and my first Slaty-breasted Rail. However it was the Black Giant Squirrels that stole the show with a couple showing particularly well feeding on the abundant kapok pods in a small village.

White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis
Our couple of nights by the coast at Kuala Periang were also good and provided a chance to get to see some coastal wildlife. An estimated 400 Pacific Golden Plovers using the extensive mudflats was spectacular and a Black Giant Squirrel joined the Long-tailed Macaques in the tree by the guesthouse.



While there we visited the nearby Seven Wells waterfall complex and liked it so much went back again the second day. Perhaps that was something to do with the magnificent sight of a pair of Great Hornbills flying over and a fair selection of other good birds.


The birding on the island was excellent but did throw up a few challenges. A raptor over the top of the cable car route seen from Seven Wells looked very like a Black Eagle (a very scarce species on the island). It was too distant to photograph and despite extended distant views I failed to note it soaring on raised wings so it remained unconfirmed.

I saw several snipe around the rice fields. With three extremely similar species wintering in the area (Common, Swinhoe's and Pin-tailed) these were largely left unidentified but one flushed close to a road was different. After crouching for a short while, it flew off strongly and gave a soft 'queesht' call, very different to Common Snipe. I'm not that familiar with the calls of Swinhoe's (although saw a displaying bird in Finland some years ago) but they tend to rise weakly (like Jack Snipe?) and are normally silent, plus maybe rather scarce here. I considered this most likely to be Pin-tailed Snipe but a local recorder who assessed the eBird record reckoned they were not separable on call and behaviour so remains unidentified.
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phaenicophaeus curvirostris

Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus

Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus

Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus

Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo Surniculus lugubris

Thick-billed Green-pigeon Treron curvirostra

Blue Marsh Hawk Orthetrum glaucum
Skink sp.

Many-lined Sun Skink Eutropis multifasciata

Asian Common Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus


Black Giant Squirrel Ratufa bicolor
Blue Pansy Junonia orithya

True Bug (prob Coreidae)

Mudskipper Oxudercidae and Fiddler Crab Ocypodidae


I'll split the systematic lists into four areas. The first covers the Box Chalet accommodation and forest road heading up into the hills behind. The second the rice fields between there and Kampung Kedawang to the SW. The third covers the coastal area at Kuala Periang and the fourth the Seven Wells area. A total of 79 species seen during our week stay.

Box Chalet area
Spotted Dove
Asian Emerald Dove
Thick-billed Green-Pigeon
Greater Coucal
* Chestnut-breasted Malkoha
Asian Koel
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo
* Large-tailed Nightjar (several displaying every evening close to Box Chalet)
Germain's Swiftlet
Crested Honey-buzzard
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
* Oriental Pied-Hornbill (2 regular around the Box Chalet and nearby forest)
* Banded Kingfisher (1 in old rubber plantation)
White-throated Kingfisher
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Dollarbird
* Laced Woodpecker (male and female seen along the forest road)
Ashy Minivet
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Rufous-bellied Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
* Red-eyed Bulbul
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Common Hill Myna
Common Myna
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Brown-throated Sunbird
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia
Forest Wagtail

Rice Fields
Spotted Dove
Greater Coucal
Asian Koel
Germain's Swiftlet
* Slaty-breasted Rail
White-breasted Waterhen
Ruddy-breasted Crake
Red-wattled Lapwing
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe's Snipe
Wood Sandpiper
Yellow Bittern
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Dollarbird
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Brown Shrike
House Crow
Barn Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Common Myna
Brown-throated Sunbird
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia
* White-headed Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Seaside Guesthouse
Rock Dove
Asian Koel
Pacific Golden Plover
Common Sandpiper
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Pacific Reef-Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Striated Heron
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Asian Glossy Starling
Common Myna
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail

Seven Wells
Asian Palm-Swift
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
* Great Hornbill (a pair seen flying over mid-late morning on both visits)
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Dollarbird
Peregrine Falcon
White-bellied Erpornis
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Pacific Swallow
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Grey Wagtail


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Phatthalung and Khao Ok Thaw

After three days at Pak Meng Beach it was time to continue our journey south towards Malaysia. The regular tourist route from here to Langkawi would be via the islands; several hours on speedboats via the tiny border post of Ko Lipe. A much cheaper option though was to take our old favourite, the train, across the land border and make the crossing to Langkawi from the mainland. The railway south takes a more easterly route so we first had to cross the peninsular by the dreaded minivan via the regional centre, Trang, to Phatthalung province.

Two cramped van journeys awaited us so we allowed all day, booking an overnight stay on the east side of Phatthalung town. A good decision as it turned out. The journey to Trang bus station was straightforward enough but when we got to Phatthalung bus station we hit a snag.

Bus stations in SE Asia are almost always out of town on a major highway somewhere. Some towns even have more than one making it necessary to take a tuktuk or similar even if only changing buses. This is not a problem as there are always fleets of tuktuks and songthaews touting for your trade (at elevated rates as you generally have little choice). In this case however there were none. Something we've never seen before or since. All the locals on the van hopped onto scooters or got lifts. We were left asking around for options.

Phatthalung is not on the regular tourist routes so not of a lot of english was spoken but this is Thailand and everyone was extremely helpful. Phone calls were made in an attempt to find transport but in the end our only real option was two motorbike taxis. Now we don't have loads of stuff but we don't travel really light either, so each bike ended up with one of us riding pillion wearing a rucksack and a case wedged precariously wherever they could find. No helmets of course!

The journey started off ok on fairly quiet roads but this soon changed as we hit the highway and then dived into the town traffic. It was with a sense of relief, a silent prayer to an unknown entity and a vow never to let that happen again that we arrived at the Mountain View Guesthouse. And what a mountain view!


Khao Ok Thaw is typical of the heavily vegetated karst outcrops common across much of the region and our place nestled right at the base. Being right on the edge of town it is festooned with cave shrines, temples and a monastery. For us it proved a wonderful base for exploring the wildlife and was close enough to town to sample some of the day to day way of life away from the tourist traps.


Although this is mainly a wildlife blog I think a few words about Phatthalung town wouldn't be out of place. Most of our travels have inevitably been on fairly well-worn backpacker routes but this was well off the beaten track. We didn't see another westerner during our stay. Every evening a night market popped up next to the railway station and we would wander down to get something to eat. Fair to say we were something of a novelty with many people wanting to practice their English and ask where we were from. We met some fascinating people and the food was utterly brilliant.

Hooded (Chestnut-crowned) Pitta Pitta sordida cucullata
So on to the wildlife. Although a fairly small oasis of steep jungle among the urban and agricultural surroundings the mountain held a good selection of birdlife and other animals. Best had to be the Hooded Pitta (of the chestnut-crowned northern race) I found skulking away along one of the lower concrete paths leading up to the temples, etc. The only photo is, ah, pittaful but at least shows the colours. I didn't get any photos of the Orange-headed Thrush I found deep in very dark cover a little further up.

Emma Gray's Forest Lizard Calotes emma
Among the abundant non-avian fauna here was this rather splendid Emma Gray's Forest Lizard (Calotes emma), one of two lizards named after Maria Emma Gary (the other being Calotes maria). She was an English naturalist studying molluscs and algae and was also an accomplished illustrator.

Sadly our Thai visa was due to expire very soon so we had to leave after a couple of nights. I would have loved to stay longer. The train to Hat Yai from here cost less than £1 for both of us and from there it was on to Malaysia



Asian Common Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus

Banded Bullfrog Kaloula pulchra

Chalky Percher Diplacodes trivialis

Slender Skimmer Orthetrum sabina

Malay Cruiser Vindula dejone

Mantis

Millipede Orthomorpha sp

Red-spot Marquis Euthalia monilis

Yellow-striped Flutterer Rhyothemis phyllis
Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus
Full bird list, including those seen in and around the town (* = lifers)

Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
malkoha sp.
Asian Koel
* Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1
Germain's Swiftlet
Asian Palm-Swift
Black-winged Stilt (many distantly on flooded paddies)
Asian Openbill
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
kingfisher sp. (small bird flew along the river in town)
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet (heard only)
Lineated Barbet (heard only)
Peregrine Falcon
* Hooded Pitta (1 of the Chestnut-headed race)
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Malaysian Pied-Fantail
Black Drongo
Brown Shrike
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Rufous-bellied Swallow
Stripe-throated Bulbul (2 near summit, 1 lower down)
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler 1
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
* Abbott's Babbler 4
Asian Glossy Starling
Common Myna
Great Myna
* Orange-headed Thrush 1
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher (2 singing birds high on the trail to the summit cave)
Blue Rock Thrush (1 at summit cave)
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Olive-backed Sunbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pak Meng Beach

It's a sad fact that travelling on an extremely tight budget forces you to forgo certain places. So it was as we arrived for the first time in southern peninsular Thailand after a very pleasant sleeper train south from Hua Hin. To our west lay a tempting array of beautiful tropical islands but we found that the ferry fares were at holiday-maker prices and would be impossible on the money we had allowed ourselves. So when we got to Trang we took a local bus to the west coast and stayed at Pak Meng Beach on the mainland.




This was my first time on the Andaman Coast and my first real taste of Sundaic fauna. Many potential lifers lay among the resident and wintering birds as we moved further south. More would have been possible by pushing into the mangroves and reserves to the north and south but this list was just from a couple of days spent in the accommodation garden, the beach area backed by extensive casuarina trees and the road running north just inland.

The swiftlets were particularly interesting here as they fed very low along the beach and detailed comparison between the species was possible.

Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus

Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus

Greater Sandplover Charadrius leschenaultii

Grey-capped Woodpecker Yungipicus canicapillus

Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma

Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica

Feral Pigeon
Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
Green-billed Malkoha
Asian Koel
Great Eared-Nightjar
Seen overhead when nearly dark, calling. Call sounded very like Malaysian Nightjar but calls quite similar and assumed to be this species on range.
* Black-nest Swiftlet
Definitely present alongside Germain's. Good views as they hawked low over the beach. Dark rump and structural differences clear.
Germain's Swiftlet
* Grey-rumped Treeswift
Greater Sand Plover
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover
Whimbrel 4
Common Sandpiper 4
Pacific Reef-Heron 2
Crested Honey-buzzard 2
Brahminy Kite
Brown Boobook
Eurasian Hoopoe 1
White-throated Kingfisher 1
Indochinese Roller 3
* Dollarbird 1
Coppersmith Barbet
Lineated Barbet
* Grey-capped Woodpecker 1
Ashy Minivet
Common Iora
Ashy Drongo - many in casuarina trees along beach
Large-billed Crow
Common Tailorbird - only in the garden of the accommodation
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
* Rufous-bellied Swallow 2
Streak-eared Bulbul
* Asian Glossy Starling 1
Common Myna
Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
* Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 1 - in garden
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Olive-backed Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
* Forest Wagtail - In woodland along inland road running parallel to beach towards the pier.