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Exploratory trips, 2006


During 2006 we regularly update this page with sightings and photographs from our exploratory birding from around Southeast Asia.

Philippines

In February Rob visited the Zamboanga Peninsular of Mindanao Island. The primary target bird here is the Zamboanga Bulbul, which replaces the widespread Philippine Bulbul in this restricted area of the archipelago. Fortunately the Bulbul is relatively common and good views were had daily, along with two other species difficult to see elsewhere; White-eared Tailorbird, whose range lies almost entirely in high-risk areas of Mindanao, and the universally scarce Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher.
The Zamboanga Watershed protects some of the finest remaining lowland rainforest in Mindanao and the bird-life is very rich, and even on this relatively short visit, birds recorded including the following; Short-crested Monarch, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Philippine Needletail, Striated Ground Babbler, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird, Mindanao Tarictic & Writhed Hornbills.
A visit to the Zamboanga Area is planned for our ‘Remote Philippines’ tour in 2008.

In March a visit to the less-visited south side of Mount Kanlaon on Negros proved interesting. The highlight here was a calling Negros Bleeding-heart, heard on two consecutive days which came in close on one occasion after playback and gave good brief views – owing to the almost complete clearance of forest within its altitude range this is now a very rare bird on Negros, with Panay now probably the stronghold for the species. There is less forest at lower altitudes than on the Mambucal side of the mountain so both Visayan Flowerpecker and White-winged Cuckoo-shrikes were scarce with just 2 sightings of each and just one encounter with the endemic race of Philippine Scops Owl. The spectacular Flame-templed Babbler was commoner with small groups regularly encountered and it was fantastic to encounter a single Visayan Hornbill, another rare endemic. Other species seen during the visit included Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Philippine Boobook, White-browed Shortwing and Blue-headed Fantail.

The relatively under-explored island of Tablas is likely to become a popular destination in coming years with several endemic sub-species there likely to be elevated to full-species status. In late-March our first visit to the remaining forest in the north-east of the island was very productive with sightings of all of these potential splits; the menagei Hair-crested Drongo with its huge deeply forked tail, cinereiceps Streak-breasted Bulbul, spilonataPhilippine Boobook and sauli Blue-headed Fantail. Other highlights included Mantanani Scops Owl, Rufous-lored KIngfisher, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail and Red-bellied Pitta.

Cambodia

In March James visited Bokor National Park in prepartion for the 2007 Birdtour Asia/OBC Cambodia tour. This park still has some excellent forest intact below this derelict hill station,Chestnut-headed Partridge was seen once, with several additional pairs vocalising. Other highlights of the area included Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Indochinese Green Magpie, Swinhoe's Minivet and Great Hornbill.

A visit to Mondulkiri, a seldom visited province in Eastern Cambodia was next on the agenda. The Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area is a large tract of low-mid altitude rainforest previously owned by a logging concession that has been taken over by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The birding highlight of the trip was a Masked Finfoot, present for two consecutive days, allowing a mini-twitch for the conservation team! Another surprise was discovering at least 4 pairs of Orange-necked Partridge close to the camp, though they largely remained unseen thanks to a local dog, vocalisations recorded proved that they were this species. Notably Pale-headed Woodpecker, Golden-crested Myna and Germain's Peacock Pheasant were particulary common and vocal while the stunning Bar-bellied Pitta, Indochinese Green Magpie, Red-vented Barbet, Pompadour Green Pigeon and Grey-faced Tit-babbler were also noted on more than one occasion. The forest still contains healthy populations of several large mammals and it was great to see Black-shanked Douc Langursin numbers and a surprise encounter with 2 Gaur feeding just 5 metres away in the understory.

After a prolonged visit to Tmat Boey to help teach and train the Khmer guides James made a brief excursion east to Dom Phlatt. Though a 'vulture restaurant' to study these endangered birds had recently finished the trip still produced small numbers of adult Red-headed, critially endangered White-rumped and single Slender-billed Vultures. A spendid pair of Black-necked Stork put in an appearance while Giant Ibis duetted in the distance along with several close Indian Nightjar among the more numerous Large-tailed at dawn.

Indonesia

During April and early May James returned to western Indonesia in preparation for our 2006 Sumatra and West Java tour. After a brief side-trip to Bali Barat National Park on Bali, producing the critically endangered Bali Myna, and several sightings of both endangeredBlack-winged Starling and Java Sparrow. A week across West Java produced much the same as previous years, though a visit to the coastal lowlands of Carita came up trumps with a host of Javan endemics; 4 Javan Frogmouth, Javan Owlet, Black-banded Barbet, Grey-cheeked Tit-babbler and White-chested Babbler. 
Way Kambas in southern Sumatra was typically rewarding with the specialty night-birds performing; highlights included some fantastic views of Oriental Bay Owl and Reddish Scops Owl, along with the rarely encountered Bonaparte’s Nightjar and brief Sunda and Large Frogmouths. Diurnal birding was also productive, the swamp forest held White-winged Duck,Storm’s Stork, Cinammon-headed Pigeon and a surprise Malayan Tapir. A large fruiting tree was host to over 30 Large Green Pigeons and a Binturong, while other birds in the vicinity included several sightings of Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Banded Pitta, 3 species of Trogon, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Bat Hawk.
The Barisan mountain range holds nearly all of Sumatra’s endemic species, and visiting jjust 2 sites enabled sightings of nearly all of these species within 10 days. The famous Gunung Kerinci provided excellent birding. Several sightings of the enigmatic Schneider’s Pitta were the main diurnal highlights but other endemics encountered included the increasingly rareSalvadori’s Pheasant and Sumatran Peacock-pheasant, Rusty-breasted Wren-babbler,Sumatran Trogon and both endemic Whistling-thrushes among a host of other montane species. Nocturnal sorties gave up another 2 endemics, with quite marvellous views of severalSumatran Frogmouths and a surprise Rajah Scops Owl. Dusky Woodcock, Barred Eagle Owl and the vocally distinct vandewateri Mountain Scops Owl and Collared Owlet also showed up once. The lower slopes of nearby Bukit Tapan have some fine intact roadside forest with a large variety of species, the endemic and usually difficult to locate Graceful Pitta soon gave itself away by the roadside, as did both endemic Bulbuls; Cream-striped & Spot-necked along with endemic Sumatran Trogon, Sumatran Drongo, Sumatran Treepie and the beautiful Blue-masked Leafbird, completing the endemic haul.

Indonesia

In September-October Frank and Rob made an extended exploratory trip to the little visited islands of Seram and Buru in the south Moluccan islands of Indonesia.

Starting on Buru we spent 3 days heading inland by jeep, canoe and long treks –many of the island endemics and specialities are widespread and these days gave several sightings of Buru Friarbird, Buru Oriole, White-bibbed and Superb Fruit-Doves, Spectacled Imperial Pigeons, Moluccan Red Lory, Moluccan King Parrot, Moluccan Swiftlet, Moustached Treeswift, Pale Cicadabird, Buru Golden Bulbul, Streak-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher, Buru Leaf-Warbler, Flame-breasted Flowerpecker and Buru White-eye.
The aim was to reach higher altitude forests in the heart of the island to the east of Danau (Lake) Rana, this worked well with an excellent ridge trail giving access to superb forests from 750 to over 2,000 m. The area produced most the missing higher altitude specialities withCinnamon-chested Flycatcher, White-naped and Black-tipped Monarch, and Tawny-backed Fantail all common. We also found our first Buru Mountain-Pigeons, Buru Racquet-tails, elusive Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots, a distinctive sub (?) species of Variable Dwarf-kingfisher, Buru Cuckooshrike, Chestnut-backed Bush-Warbler, Wakolo Myzomela, Buru Honeyeater, Blue-faced Parrotfinch and the south Moluccan form of Moluccan Boobook with distinctive vocalizations confirming that it  should be treated as a separate species. 
Undoubted highlights here were several excellent sightings of the recently split Buru Thrushand best of all, excellent views of Rufous-throated Dark-eye in the uppermost mossy forests – a little-known species previously known from just 3 records.
Heading back into the lowlands produced several more sightings of Buru Racquet-tail andBuru Cuckooshrike amongst the commoner endemics but sadly the endemic Blue-fronted Lorikeet and Buru Green-Pigeon remained absent.

Our brief visit to Ambon was sufficient to produce the endemic Ambon White-eye along with Slaty Flycatcher, Ashy Flowerpecker, good numbers of beautiful Claret-breasted Fruit-Doves and smaller numbers of White-bibbed and Superb Fruit-Doves.

Moving to Seram much of our time was spent on a long trek through the remote Manusela National Park taking in the magnificent montane forests of Gunung Binaya and returning to the north coast via the scenic Kobipoto Ridge. Once again we found many of the specialities widespread and our trekking into the foothills at Kanike produced our first sightings of the spectacular Salmon-crested Cockatoo, Red-flanked Lorikeets, an impressive flock of Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots, Seram Friarbird, Seram Oriole, Seram Golden Bulbul, Streak-breasted Fantail, Seram White-eye and Rufescent Dark-eye.
In the Kanike area we found our only Purple-naped Lory – a species highly threatened by capture for the cage-bird trade, daytime views of Moluccan Scops Owl and our first views of the fascinating Drab Myzomela. 
From Kanike we made a 3-day trek into the wonderful montane forests of Gunung Binaya, the best place on the island to find the high altitude specialities – noisy flocks of Blue-eared Lory were a common site at high altitudes, Seram Honeyeaters became very abundant close to the tree-line and the distinctive white-headed endemic race of Island Thrush showed well. Grey-hooded Dark-eye and Seram Mountain-Pigeon were both new here and we had our first Seram sightings of Chestnut-backed Bush-Warbler, Wakolo Myzomela and Moluccan Hawk-Owl with excellent views of Great Cuckoo-Dove in the mid-montane forests whilst trekking to and from the summit.
Our trek back to the coast via the Kobipoto ridge didn’t produce the hoped-for Seram Thrush – the islands most difficult endemic, but did give some of the best birding of the trip with many of the endemics found at higher densities here than elsewhere and we found our first Moluccan Cuckooshrike and White-throated Pigeon. Heading back to the north coast through the lowlands finally produced our first endemic Long-crested Mynas and it was fantastic to see large numbers of Blyth’s Hornbills and parrots remaining here, with many sightings of pink-hued Salmon-crested Cockatoos.
Our final few days on the north coast found 2 separate Asian Dowitchers (the first records for Seram), Rajah Shelduck, Australian Ibis, and excellent views of Great Cuckoo Dove, Moluccan Boobook and Common Paradise Kingfisher in coastal forest. A trip out to a small offshore island gave impressive numbers of Olive Honeyeater – a true small-island specialist, while the larger Island of Sawai had both Moluccan and the endemic Forsten’s Scrubfowl.

Seram and Buru are two of the most remote and little-known destinations in Indonesia but for birders with a spirit of adventure they hold some of the rarest and most exciting birds in Asia. Please click here for details on our 2009 Moluku and Tanimbars tour.

Philippines

In late October Rob and Tim Fisher made an expedition into the Central Panay Mountain Range which holds the largest remaining tracts of lowland forest in the West Visayas and is the last stronghold of the critically endangered Walden’s Hornbill. The areas visited required some tough hiking but are nevertheless the most accessible areas to see the hornbill. The expedition was a great success with several sightings of Walden’s Hornbill involving a minimum of 9 individuals, a new bird for both Rob and Tim. Other interesting sightings included several endangered Visayan Hornbills, Flame-templed Babbler, Visayan Flowerpecker, Visayan Shama, Visayan Balicassiao and White-vented Whistler, White-winged Cuckoo-shrike and Blue-crowned Racquet-tail.

The Central Panay Mountains will feature in our 2008 ‘Remote Philippines’ tour and can be incorporated into future Philippines Custom tours, contact us for further details.

In November Rob visited a logging concession in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao. Unfortunately military operation in the area prevent exploration of the most promising forested areas but the secondary forest and primary forest patches in the accessible areas showed much potential – several sightings of Celestial and Short-crested Monarchs were particularly welcome and an excellent selection of lowland specialities included Azure-breasted Pitta, Yellowish Bulbul, Streaked Ground-Babbler, Mindanao Pygmy Babbler, Rusty-crowned Babbler, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail, Mindanao Tarictic, Rufous and Writhed Hornbills.
A day-trip to the nearby Agusan marshes recorded a variety of wetland species with Philippine Duck and good numbers of Silvery Kingfishers the highlights.

Indonesia

In early December James accompanied Nick Brickle to visit Jambi Province, Sumatra for a brief search of the Sumatran Ground-cuckoo which was camera-trapped earlier in the year. Unfortunately the arduous hike just to reach the edge of the forest took up most of the journey so time was limited in the forest and there was no signs in the general area of the bird, though good numbers of Sundaic species were encountered, including several Malaysian Rail-babbler, hornbills, including Helmeted and large numbers of bulbuls including the recently split Ruby-throated. The trek back produced footprints of at least 3 separate Sumatran Tigers, including mother and cub, a welcome sign for the area.