27 Mar 2024


Its many years since I seemingly spent halff my working life visiting our offices in Kuala Lupur and Penang. I used to go go over at least four times a year  to support the staff working there and have many happy memories of the delicious food but not so happy memories about the heat and humidity. As with most of my working life travelling to foreign climes I hardly had any chance for sightseeing or birding so when it was suggested we go with my brother and sister in law for a few days holiday in Kuala Lumpur and then onto Pangkor Laut island we enthusiastically agreed.

Our hotel in KL was next to the botanic gardens so the first afternoon was spent exploring and the area around here and re-familiarising myself with some of the commoner birds. After a few days sightseeing we headed off to Pangkor Laut Island - famous for its good numbers of Oriental Pied Hornbill! These regularly visit the resort restaurants to scrounge food and there are around 20 pairs on the island. The resort have their own conservation team based in the conservation centre and chatting to them I learnt that the island is in fact overpopulated with Oriental Pied Hornbills. Nest boxes put up for them to breed in have been removed  - apart form 1 or 2 - to try and persuade them to move back to the main Pangkor Island where many have migrated from.

Hornbills pair up for life and the female blocks herself into the nest chamber until the young are old enough to fend for themselves. She relies solely on the male to provide her with enough food. A natural nest was right next to the beach side restaurant and the females bill can just be seen poking out in the photo below.

The conservation team have photographed indivdual males and identified them by the shape of the black mark on the 'casque'. The one by the beach was called Matt and he was a very attentive mate! He went off forraging and then regurgitated food from his crop for his mate - the photo below shows a large beetle. He also brought back lizards and plenty of chips he'd pinched from unguarded plates!

Above: Male Oriental Pied Hornbill with juvenile Water monitor. His mate rejected it and it was picked up by the resident House Crows below the nest chamber

Hornbills could be seen all over the resort and this was a new species for me. They don't breed every year so it was common to see pairs together (the female doesn't have the large 'horn' or 'casque'. Quite often they'd be pair bonding.

Female Oriental Pied Hornbill

Male (top) and female (bottom Oriental Pied Hornbills

I also learnt there were 8-9 Great Hornbills on the island but these wer more elusive. Even though I went out with the camera specifically looking for them I only had tow sightings  - both times when I didn't bother taking the camera! 

I was privileged to be to be taken behind the scenes at the conservation centre to see 4 young Hawksbill Turtles that hd been rescued entangled in fishing ger. One had to have a flipper amputated as it was deemed beyond saving. With very little money the team are doing a great job. Unfortunately fishing gear isn't the only hazard and the team showed me turtle 'poo' they'd collected full of ingested plastics. Indeed, although the beach looked idyllic the staff were raking up plastic after every high tide.

The beach area was also home to the only two surviving Red Jungle ~fowl on the island. There are plans to re-introduce more but for the moment there are only 2 males left. The others had all been predated by Water Monitors with many of the chicks providing a tasty snack for the Hornbills! 

Our Hill Villa was set in the native jungle covering the island  - a method behind our decision was that it should have been cooler higher up and, surrounded by trees, I'd see more birds from our balcony! Only the latter proved true! 

White-bellied Sea Eagles flew over daily and on an evening sunset cruise around the island we saw a nest with two well grown young.

Olive Bulbuls were the commonest bird seen and fed in the trees around our balcony. The 2nd commonest bird was Common Tailorbird but these were more often heard rather than seen. 

Olive Bulbul

I was also lucky enough to see a family group of Asian Fairy Bluebirds and managed to photograph a stunning male in the morning light. The problem was that after being in an air conditioned bedroom all night both the binoculars and camera steamed up when taken outside so quite often I missed a good photo as I was trying to get rid of the condensation on the lenses.. They couldn't be left out as the resort is home to a number of Long-tailed Macaques who steal anything. Rooms and windows have to be locked during the day to stop the Macaques getting in and trashing everything.

Used to seeing the introduced Indian or Common Myna I was pleased to see the island held a good population of Hill Myna's and a pair frequented one of the large trees a few metres from our room.

A pair of White-rumped Sharma also frequented the area and I soon learnt to recognise their call and song. For such a colourful bird they could be surprisingly elusive.

The jetty and surrounding beach area was also good for wildlife with Pacific Swifts screaming by and Pacific Swallows perching on the railings.Common Sandpiper and Striated Heron were regular on the surrounding rocks.

I was also extremely fortunate one day to see 3 Asian Short-toed Otters and an impressive Water Monitor.

Other wildlife around the resort included a colony of Fruit Bats and Wild Boar. The Fruit Bats could be heard chattering and grunting away during the day flapping their wings to try and keep cold. The boar seemed to haver swum across from the nearby Pangkor Island.

One morning I photographed a species, from our balcony, I was unfamiliar with and it appears to be a Van Hasselt's Sunbird - if correct this would be a new species for Pangkor Laut and the conservation team have asked for the photos to document it. It was only on view for a few seconds and I was looking down on it so unfortunately didn't get any front - on photos.

A great holiday and even though it wasn't a birding trip I ended up with 22 lifers! 

5 Mar 2024

Green-winged teal from the window!

When we bought this house in September 2016 I had no idea there was a pond in the field opposite what ended up being our study window. Its not really visible from the road as the water level drops during the summer and for a few months we can't even see any water from our elevated window position It fills during the winter but its extent varies depending on how wet its been This year has been particularly wet! 

Over the years its attracted a small number of wildfowl with Pink-feet, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck and Mute Swan all being recorded at some time or another. Teal numbers in particular can be impressive with a record count being 80+ birds. These birds don't stay long as this pond is used as a flight pond and there is another much larger pond, surrounded by trees, in a nearby private garden that they all tend to fly to. I keep hoping and looking for something rarer and Garganey, Goldeneye or Green-winged Teal have always been on my birding radar.  Throw in the possibility of a wader or two and its understandable, to me at least,  that the first thing I do every morning before making a brew, is check the pond through the scope. The wader list is equally impressive with Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Woodcock  and Snipe all being on the house list. Add Little Grebe, Mediterranean Gull,  Cattle Egret and Little Egret and the list get even more impressive. See here for some previous sightings.

Recently we've had a small group of Shoveler and Gadwall frequenting the pond on a regular basis. They're occasionally joined by a small number of Teal from the larger pond. Checking the pond Sunday morning there was nothing new but later in the afternoon I noticed a greater number of Teal than usual and checked them and literally the first bird I looked at through the scope was a Green-winged Teal. I hadn't even got my phone with me so dashed downstairs to get it to get the all important digiscoped 'record' shot. The pond is 210 metres from the house so I've found taking short videos is a better way of getting a record than trying to take a photo.

I needn't have worried as the bird showed well for at least an hour before the whole flock flew across the wet field to the main pond where they disappeared. 

Green-winged Teal in flght - just above the Canada geese

Video above and below. Green-winged Teal, Mollington, Cheshire 3rd march 2024

                                       Above: Shoveler and Gadwall, Mollington, Cheshire

An hour later they all waddled out through the hedge and started feeding much closer than they had been
As the birds were a bit closer I got a couple of photos using the DLSR with a 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter that are heavily cropped! 

Aware of the spectre of a hybrid I was able to check out all the relevant features. Apart from the obvious white shoulder stripe, the breast is more mottled than Eurasian Teal with a vineous hue whilst the head pattern is less well defined. Eurasian Teal usually show a buff border, top and bottom, to the green eye stripe whereas this is less well defined in Green-winged Teal with the top border almost missing. Of course there is individual variation but I'm happy this is a pure Green-winged Teal with no hybrid genes. 

It's amazing what even a small wet area can turn up and the anticipation keeps me looking for another new species to add to the already house / garden  impressive list that currently stands at 125 species.

1 Mar 2024

Antarctic Expedition. Part 11. The final days.

Following on from our trip to Carcass Island we headed, after lunch on board, to Sanders Islands w where we'd be going ashore to view breeding Black-browed Albatross and our final penguin species - Southern Rockhopper. What a brilliant place - as well as the Southern Rockhopper and Albatross there were a few pairs of King Penguins (including some with very small young peering out from their 'pouches' above the parents feet), Gentoo's and Magellanics.

Spot the King Penguin chick

King Penguins have a vertical pouch or brood patch above their feet. The egg is incubated in this pouch which is also used to keep the newly hatched young warm and safe until they are old enough to be left unattended. These pouches can be seen in the two birds photographed below.

Many of the Gentoo's were feeding well grown chicks in contrast to the very young King Penguin chicks we saw. It was comical watching young Gentoo's running after their parents trying to get the mto regurgitate more food when clearly the adults crops were empty! 

The main attraction though were the nesting Southern Rockhopper Penguins. Our seventh and final penguin species of the trip. They didn't disappoint and after pending time at the colony we made our way down to the beach where a 'penguin highway' was being used by the Rockhoppers to the colony from the sea.

A quick visit to the museum and gift shop on the island and were were heading back to the Plancius earlier than expected as the bridge had reported the swell was increasing and was getting close to the operating limits of the zodiacs. However next day was promised to be even more exciting as Eduardo and the team gave us the usual evening briefing and a resume of the day before dinner. We were heading for New Island South and the picturesque Coffins Harbour

I was up on the bridge at the slightly later time of 6 am but went back to the lounge to get a hot brew only to find Nicole and Angelica had found a pod of seven Fin Whales whilst I was below! Fantastic views as they worked their way around the ship and out to sea. 

Boarding the zodiacs we made our way ashore and threaded our way up the hill side to one of two viewpoints where we had fantastic views of both nesting Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguins. It was simply stunning and it was hard to take it all in. There were literally birds everywhere. 

The penguins and albatross were in mixed colonies and it was weird seeing Rockhoppers sat on empty albatross nests. The whole place was a cacaphony of noise with he penguins being their usual belligerent selves, the albatross clling and displaying along with Blue-eyed (Imperial) shags grunting and the strident call of Dolphin Gulls looking for an easy meal.

One aboard the Plancius we realised, with lots of sadness that our time on board was coming to an end. or the next two days we were at sea again before arriving in Ushuaia and disembarking. The journey to the Falklands didn't bring any new species of bird or cetacean but I was lucky enough to get some good photos of breaching Peal's Dolphin alongside the boat.

I also found my 1st juvenile Black-browed Albatross of the trip - a bird that threw me for a few seconds as I hadn't seen one in that plumage before and Great Shearwater were common on this final leg of our voyage.
juv Black-browed Albatross

We arrived in Ushuaia on a beautiful sunny but cold morning with snow all around us on the surrounding hills. After breakfast it was time to say our goodbyes to other passengers and the crew and guides.  I'd arranged to stay an extra night in Ushuaia and after saying my farewells I dropped my bags off at my hotel and went off birding. The heavy snow seemed to have moved some birds from the higher slopes to the town and I found a small party of five Austral Negrito.

I heard that Andean Condor had recently been seen above the snowy peaks behind the town so I staked it out and was rewarded with five of these huge raptors as well as my best views of Chimanga Caracara.

It had been a fantastic trip and  I ended up with 86 lifers out of 135 species seen in total - this included seven species of penguin and six species of albatross (five lifers), eight species of cetacean and four pinipeds. In total we travelled 5,850 km on the Plancius! Although sad to be leaving I was ready for home so departed for Buenos Aries where, unbelievably, I ended up on the same flight back to the UK as fellow Hilbre Bird Observatory member Mr Alan Conlin who Id last sen in Ushuaia three weeks previously!