Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Hooded Pitta Visited Langkawi

Being an island detached from the Peninsula, Langkawi currently have two species of Pitta belonging to Pittidae and can be seen especially on their breeding season. These two species are the Blue-Winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis and Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha. The first one can be both a migrant breeder and resident. While the latter is the island's resident bird.  Click here for my story on Blue-Winged Pitta's newly fledged.

There is another species of Pitta that have yet to be properly recorded or photographed which is the Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida. I have yet to come across any documentation of its confirmed sighting on Langkawi. There were a couple of sources that I have received claiming on the sighting and hearing the call of Hooded Pitta but these have not been confirmed or properly recorded. Hooded Pitta is like the Blue-Winged Pitta, which is both resident and migrant breeder.

Earlier this year, an occupant of a residence at Kedawang area, Ms Neoh send me this image taken from a hard copy photograph found in a file. 
Langkawi birdwatching bird guide
Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida - I want this pitta!!
Upon receiving this image, I thought it was a joke and at the same time, I was stupefied especially when this source came from a non-birder. After Ms Neoh explained how this bird was photographed then only I am convinced with the visitation of this pitta. Though Ms Neoh is not a birder, she was interested to know the species of bird and she got a bird book too! A general nature lover, Ms Neoh often videoed and photographed some of the spiders around the property and shared them with me. 

This pitta caught the attention of the owner of this property back in 2008 or 2009 while they were having a drink at sundown. Madeleine managed to photograph before this pitta took off. Pittas are usually skittish especially if they have not been tamed through feeding. Some areas on the mainland, the Blue-winged Pittas are often baited for the bird photography tours. From the look of this picture, this pitta looks lost and unfazed with the presence of the people nearby. Could it have flown in and hit the glass window without causing much damage to the bird? According to Ms Neoh, it flew away after that. Meaning, it must have survived. 

As at now, this sighting is considered as confirmed and vagrant as per my record. I will be keeping a lookout for this pitta and will be my lifer soon.

I sincerely thank Ms Neoh for being interested and sharing this image with me for Langkawi's record.

Reference:
1. Yeap, CA (2005), Report on Birds of Langkawi Archipelago. Malayan Nature Journal 2005, 57(1), 124
2. Robson, C (2011), A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. UK: New Holland

Monday, 24 September 2018

Disposable Plastic Ponchos

Disposable plastic ponchos are great! They seem weightless, compact, easy to slip into the pocket of a bag and most of all, they are so cheap! It is the most ideal rain protection item to travel with. If you have forgotten to bring them with you from your home country, not to worry as they can be easily purchased from most of the shops here in Langkawi. 
Disposable plastic ponchos
Once used, these disposable plastic ponchos can be easily dumped into the trash bin. Why bother carrying a wet plastic poncho back into your hotel room, right? And so, where do they go from there? The landfill, obviously! What about those that didn't end up in the landfill?

These disposable plastic ponchos are mostly used during the rainy season. This post is to highlight the usage of these plastic ponchos on tours such as mangrove boat cruises, island hopping or rainforest walk in Langkawi and to encourage visitors and locals here to reduce the usage. Quite often when it pours, some visitors expect ponchos to be given to them which is entirely understandable as it is not comfortable to remain on the boat tour in a drenched condition. Before I proceed further, please don't get me wrong here. I am not cursing and going against these disposable plastic ponchos. No doubt that they can be evil to the environment if they are not disposed wisely. When it comes to emergency, these disposable stuffs will come in really handy. Being drenched in the wind on a rainy day in Langkawi could stand a chance of mild hypothermia. And so having some form of poncho is essential.
This fun video was taken when I was onboard Langkawi Dolphin Research boat last year with awesome skipper, Eddie. We were hit by heavy rain and wind at sea. Look at all of them huddling in cold and especially Jol Ern (in yellow reusable rain jacket). When the rain comes, it can come down hard on our sunny Langkawi! Having a poncho at that time was helpful!

Even though disposable plastic ponchos are not entirely bad, they can also create an impact to the environment especially to a small island like Langkawi. When they ended up in the landfill, they will be buried together with tonnes of other trash. And sadly, some will end up in the mangroves or even at sea because the users simply let them fly into the air and not pick them up after.
An attractive yellow plastic poncho wrapped around the roots of a Rhizophora tree in the mangrove.  Plastics trapped on the roots are not easily pluck off as they get wrapped a few rounds the root as the current turns them over and over. One can see them a lot in Kilim mangroves area.

Another one close by. Mangroves are fantastic ecosystem that trap rubbish brought in by the current from the sea.
kayaking tour
Plastic ponchos together with other trash collected while kayaking with my guest, Paul Bell from the UK
So far as I came to know that there is one sundry shop in Kuah town who is willing to collect these disposable plastic ponchos for charity purposes. Unfortunately, most of these plastic ponchos ended up in the landfill for life!

So, the question is, should operators continue to hand these out to their customers? I am also part of the guilt for issuing these ponchos. Unwillingly, I will issue them out upon request only after I have told them to use these ponchos when it is necessary and explain the reason why it is best to avoid. I used to collect them after they have used and would reuse them as my car seat liner.
Posted from my social media earlier
Ever since I have not been freelancing for some of the tour operators, I hardly issue these disposable plastic ponchos these days. Yay! 

While the operators will continue to issue them, the shops will continue to sell them, how can one traveller help to reduce the consumption and keeping the impact low?

It is always nice to see some of my guests travelled with their own reusable rain jacket or poncho. Even though Langkawi may have more sunny days than rainy days, the rain can come unexpectedly even during the dry season. Reusable rain jackets can be purchased from the big supermarkets in town. The cost varies from RM15-RM30.

Lazy or not too bothered to carry home after using them? You can always leave them to any locals who need them. I am sure some of the hotel gardeners would be happy to have them.

I do hope this message can get across to all visitors planning their holidays to Langkawi. And locals as well. Let's help keep Langkawi sustainable and clean.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Which Cyrtodactylus?

My day today was filled with looking at genus Cyrtodactylus from the Gekkonidae family. On our fun night out for critter spotting with Kim and Mark Pennell, we stumbled upon two beautiful geckos that I have yet to identify. Flipping through pages of Indraneil's Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia (2010 publication), Beautiful Bent-Toed Gecko Cyrtodactylus pulchellus looks kinda fit my images at a glance. 
Langkawi nature gecko
Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus - maybe?
A month ago, I saw a display of an image of a gecko which looks similar to my gecko photo and it was labelled as Cyrtodactylus langkawiensis. I was excited! Wow! Did we actually see an endemic species of gecko? 

Wait a minute! Just to be sure, my first step was to check my only resource book and this langkawiensis is not listed. Next step was to ask Ms Google and I came upon images that led to a flickr album and to this website:
https://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/lizards/langkawi-island-bent-toed-gecko.htm

Then I realise that they look the same but something tells me that they have differences. To my untrained eyes looking at geckos, the best thing to do is to ask. I contacted someone who is into Herpetology and he has kind to give me the possible species name which is  macrotuberculatus with its common name given as Gunung Raya Bent-Toed Gecko (Grismer & Ahmad, 2008). However, that book didn't have any illustration. But he said that it is only a possibility though it stands a high chance of a macrotuberculatus rather than the langkawiensis based on the dorsal. I was very much hoping it was the latter.  
Langkawi nature gecko
Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus - Not sure!
It is not easy to identify a species from the photos. Geckos are more challenging than birds! Actually, waders are also challenging. After reading the descriptions of these two species of geckos I have found through online searches, the differences can only be seen by picking it up and doing detailed examination of its length, colouration of the dorsum, granular scales, size of tubercles, amount of ventral scales and more confusing stuffs! Its habitat is also taken into account too. As the saying goes, "Same same but different".

The conclusion is that I am convinced that the gecko we saw and photographed that night was not a Cyrtodactylus langkawiensis, which is endemic to Langkawi. And neither is a Cyrtodactylus pulchellus. According to the Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia (Das, I. 2010), Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus is endemic to the west coast of northern Peninsular Malaysia (Pulau Langkawi), however, recent findings of this species apparently have been recorded on the mainland too.

Thank you to the Herp guy for his time!

Mark and Kim Pennell, my return guests since 2015
References:
1. Das, I. (2010). A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers (UK), England. pp. 369
2. Grismer & Ahmad, 2008, Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus, Retrieved from 
https://www.mybis.gov.my/sp/53743

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Migration Check 2018-2019: Red-Necked Stint

I felt like someone out there has robbed me the hours that I should have for one day. It doesn't feel like twenty four hours in a day anymore. The last birds migration for Langkawi ended towards the end of April 2018, felt like days ago. Time rocketed too quickly and it is scary. I have yet to complete the summary for the last migration and the new season has started. Just barely three months have past, our migrants, a Barn Swallow and a Grey Wagtail were spotted on 15th July 2018 on my birdwatching tour. Then later towards the third week of July was a Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper in the first week of August. Early arrival?

Our rainy season is now and it didn't feel like our ordinary rainy season. The weather for the past three weeks was sunny, hot, humid and occasionally hazy. Thankful in a way, otherwise our nature tours will be cancelled. After three weeks of hot and humid, a storm came with a big gust on Sunday 19th August 2018 afternoon. This had helped to cool the temperature down. And as well as an opportunity to check out any birds on migration may be possible blown off course during the storm out at sea.

I headed out to my favourite swampy field and reeds to look for any migrants which have checked in. This vast area is a reclaimed land near the airport runway and I would say it is the final habitat in Langkawi for waterbirds. A shelter and feeding ground and as well as hunting ground for the poachers. 

It was back to hot and humid yesterday and a short walkabout had two Brown-Winged Kingfishers calling from a distance. 
Can you spot it?
Birdwatching Langkawi
Yeah! It finally revealed!


One was seen after coming out from its hideout and the other was calling somewhere. This would be my first time encountering two Brown-Winged Kingfishers in this area at the same time. Good news?
Birds of Langkawi
A Little Heron attempting to camouflage itself by posing like a stick!
As I walked further towards the sea, I startled a huge raptor. I only managed to capture record shots of it flying away. It came back and settled amongst the trees. 
Oriental Honey Buzzard took off
Bye! 
Flew into the trees to take shelter
An early record of this Oriental Honey Buzzard has arrived. According to Lim Aun Tiah, our senior birdwatcher with vast knowledge and experience on Malaysian raptors, it is very early for this Oriental Honey Buzzard to fly in at this time of the year. It is a good record for Langkawi indeed. Did this buzzard got blown off course during the storm?

I arrived at the patch of swampland and expected my Lesser Sand Plovers to be there. They were there! Not many though, about eight of them scattered around the swampy patch. Do bear in mind that Langkawi is extremely poor with waders life as compared to the mainland.
Plovers and sandpipers parading
Bird watching Langkawi
Lesser Sand-Plover
Lesser Sand-Plover


Other waders were Little Ringed Plovers, Wood Sandpipers and Common Sandpipers scattered around the area too.
Little Ringed-Plover
Wood Sandpiper


Suddenly, something big flew in. Guess who has checked in?
Grey Heron in flight
It was close to 10am and already starting to get very hot. Twenty minutes after the Grey Heron has flew past above me, I spotted our local raptor, White-Bellied Sea-Eagle drying its wings. 
White-Bellied Sea-Eagle sunning itself after yesterday's heavy rain
While on the last scan of the area, I spotted something else that looked like new to this neighbourhood. From where I was standing while looking at it with my binoculars, I couldn't work out what it was. It was walking in and out of the grass where a Wood Sandpiper was. I gave it a couple of record shots. And then after, I lost it!

A heavily  cropped photo showed a stint-like. I am not familiar with stints and the only stint I have seen here would be the Long-Toed Stint. As this stint was near to a Wood Sandpiper and just to be sure that I am not photographing another Wood Sandpiper, I asked for help from other birders on the mainland who have done a lot more wadering than me. Dave Bakewell, our wader sifu, responded and threw me couple of questions leaving me to figure out. What did I come out with? A Red-Necked Stint! Woohoo!! My lifer and possibly a new record for Langkawi! Thank you for the id confirmation, Dave. Check out Dave's blogs here and then you will know why he is a wader sifu to me.   
Langkawi Bird guide
A Red-Necked Stint, possibly a new record for Langkawi. 
I probably lost that stint after this big raptor came flying in and distracted me. Ahh...it was just another White-Bellied Sea-Eagle - with a fish in its talons!

White-Bellied Sea-Eagle juvenile with a fish in its talons.



It turned around!

This juvenile White-Bellied Sea-Eagle did a circle above me before it decided to fly past over me.

Looked like it was about to dive!
Then it was pursued by the other White-Bellied Sea-Eagle which was sunning itself earlier. I was ecstatic as my first thought was, it is a courtship? Then I realised it was going for the fish instead. The attacker looked like it is turning to the sub-adult plumage.




Langkawi Birdwatching


The juvenile managed to evade the attacker
This juvenile did not give up easily



Still chasing...
What a stunning performance by these Sea-Eagles before I left the swampy area. And like magic, the Red-Necked Stint disappeared. 
Weather on that morning
A fruitful morning indeed and here is my list from that area:
1. Red-Wattled Lapwing  Vanellus indicus
2. Yellow-Vented Bulbul  Pycnonotus goiavier
3. Lesser-Whistling Duck  Dendrocygna javanica
4. Black-Naped Oriole  Oriolus chinensis
5. Paddyfield Pipit  Anthus rufulus
6. Little Heron  Butorides striata
7. Brown-Winged Kingfisher  Pelargopsis amauroptera
8. Collared Kingfisher  Todiramphus chloris
9. White-Throated Kingfisher  Halcyon smyrnensis
10. White-Bellied Sea-Eagle  Haliaeetus leucogaster
11. Oriental Honey Buzzard  Pernis sp.
12. Wood Sandpiper  Tringa glareola
13. Lesser Sand-Plover  Charadrius mongolus
14. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
15. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 
16. White-Headed Munia  Lonchura maja
17. Cattle Egret  Bubulcus ibis
18. Little Egret  Egretta garzetta
19. Barn Swallow  Hirundo rustica
20. Spotted Dove  Spilopelia chinensis
21. Pied Fantail  Rhipidura javanica
22. Brahminy Kite  Haliastur indus
23. Common Myna  Acridotheres tristis
24. Greater Coucal  Centropus sinensis
25. Grey-Headed Swamphen  Porphyrio poliocephalus
26. Purple Heron  Ardea purpurea 
27. Red-Necked Stint  Calidris ruficollis
28. Snipe sp  Gallinago sp.

Looking forward to more interesting migrants this season!


Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Langkawi Birdwatching: Recent Highlights Part 3 From Taiwan

Mr and Mrs Minter Yang, my first Taiwanese guests for our Bird Photography tour in the early April 2018. For a banana like me, I am very grateful that both of them can write and communicate with me in English. They have worked and lived in Malaysia for many years and have birded on Peninsular Malaysia a few times. This is their second visit to Langkawi and their first time here for the purpose of birding. Both of them had two and half days of Bird Photography tour with me.

This time, the Brown-Winged Kingfisher presented some difficult challenges for me. We went back and forth a few times to a couple of locations and it was playing hard to catch. No Brown-Winged wanted to come close to their cameras for a decent shot until the very last moment on the evening of their second day before the rain came pouring down hard on us. Alas! It was a moment of triumph for me to see it perched quietly as we drove snail pace into the mangrove.  They had some shots before we were washed out of the area!

While moving between locations, I was very delighted to see a Javan Pond-Heron Ardeola speciosa and two Grey-Headed Lapwings Vanellus cinereus feeding on the same field. This two species will be my first sighting for this season. The Javan Pond Heron was in breeding plumage which made it easier for us to identify.

Langkawi bird
Javan Pond-Heron Ardeola speciosa
Langkawi bird watching tour
Javan Pond-Heron in breeding with white head-plumes
langkawi birdwatching
Guess the bird behind this Grey Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
langkawi birdwatching
Grey Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
Langkawi bird tour
A beautiful Blue Budgie came along very close for a pose while we were looking for the Brown-Winged Kingfisher at Kilim. An escapee from the nearby zoo.
Mr and Mrs Yang are my also my first guests to photograph a pair of Orange-Breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios. The only species of trogon in Langkawi, this resident bird is considered as an uncommon and elusive. Their calls can be heard echoing through the dense of our forest and not often can be seen. Thank you trogons for being so obliging! 
Bird guide langkawi
Orange-Breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios female
langkawi bird watching guide
Orange-Breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios male
Another nice bird while we were up on Gunung Raya was a pair of Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki.
birds of langkawi
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki female
langkawi birdwatching guide
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki male which was constantly flitting about
Amongst the locations I have shown to them, I would say that their favourite bird photography location would be the pond inside Bon Ton resort. Mrs Yang was overly excited when I pointed out the Watercock. I vividly remember her eyes were wide open while she slowly uttered the word, "Tung chi" to her husband. "Tung chi" refers to Watercock in Mandarin.
birds langkawi guide tour
Watercock Gallicrex cinerea or Burung Ayam-Ayam in Malay is unfortunately one of the species of waterfowls in Langkawi often being poached to be eaten
According to them, Watercock is rare and extremely difficult to be seen in Taiwan. They had lunch meals two times at the Bon Ton, simply to photograph birds. Grace and Lindsay did the same thing too like Mr & Mrs Yang!
Mrs and Mr Yang shooting in the comfort of this posh hut
langkawi birdwatching
A must visit posh hut for birdwatchers at the Bon Ton 
They still had the energy to bird before catching their flight home. While having their lunch at the Bon Ton before leaving to the airport, Mr Yang let me had a go with his light-weight 300mm prime lens attached to Olympus mirrorless camera body. Here's what I got:
An overexposed image of Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis
langkawi birdwatching guide
A Black-Backed Swamphen Porphyrio indicus having a splash
Mr and Mrs Yang have proven their love for our Malaysian food. They dearly miss our good old Roti Canai and I gladly took them to my favourite Mamak stall in Kuah town where we had Roti Canai meals twice.

Before I end this blog post, the last highlight for me is photographing a Ochraceous Bulbul Alophoixus ochraceus on a birdwatching tour with Richard Heaver. Noisy type of bulbul that don't seem to perch for long and with their annoying calls, they are definitely not fit to be caged birds. 
Ochraceous Bulbul Alophoixus ochraceus
Good for them unlike the other poor species of bulbuls like Striped-Throated Bulbul and Red-Whiskered Bulbul which often a target for bird poachers. 

I would also like to document here that in the month of April, there were three fig trees close to the road fruiting at the same time. Despite that, it was difficult to see a big flock of Great Hornbills on Gunung Raya. I am wondering if the poachers were around as I have seen a suspicious motorbike parked beside the road and heard a human mimicking the sound of a Wreathed Hornbill. Only a suspicion.

Thank you Mr & Mrs Yang for choosing a banana like me, your meals and they were kind company to be with. My experience with them for those three days have given me some positive perspective on birdwatchers or photographers from the East Asia.

Their birds list:
1. Collared Kingfisher
2. Brahminy Kite
3. Red-Wattled Lapwing
4. Grey-Headed Lapwing
5. Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo
6. Common Myna
7. Yellow-Vented Bulbul
8. Oriental Pied Hornbill
9. Pied Fantail
10. Dark-Sided Flycatcher
11. White-Breasted Waterhen
12. Javan Pond-Heron
13. Common Sandpiper
14. Brown Shrike
15. Little Heron
16. Pin-Striped Tit Babbler
17. White-Throated Kingfisher
18. Brown-Throated Sunbird
19. Black-Headed Bulbul
20. Red-Eyed Bulbul
21. Asian-Brown Flycatcher
22. Wreathed Hornbill
23. Great Hornbill
24. Wood Sandpiper
25. Pacific Golden Plover
26. Purple Heron
27. Black-Backed Swamphen
28. Common Kingfisher
29. Watercock
30. Chestnut-Headed Beeeater
31. Blue-Throated Beeeater
32. Cinnamon Bittern
33. Yellow Bittern
34. Baya Weaver
35. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
36. Asian Glossy Starling
37. Scaly-Breasted Munia
38. White-Headed Munia
39. Great Egret
40. Little Egret
41. Intermediate Egret
42. Rock Pigeon
43. White-Bellied Sea-Eagle
44. Copper-Throated Sunbird
45. Brown-Winged Kingfisher
46. Laced Woodpecker
47. Zebra Dove
48. Spotted Dove
49. Ruddy Kingfisher
50. Common Tailorbird
51. Greater Coucal
52. Ashy Drongo
53. Mugimaki Flycatcher
54. Crested Goshawk
55. Pink-Necked Green-Pigeon
56. Ochraceous Bulbul
57. Asian Fairy Bluebird
58. Orange-Breasted Trogon
59. Forest Wagtail
60. Yellow-Rumped Flycatcher
61. Orange-Breasted Trogon
62. Black-Headed Bulbul
63. Crimson Sunbird
64. Oriental Reeds-Warbler
65. House Swallow

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