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Exploratory trips, 2007

During 2007 we regularly update this page with sightings and photographs from our exploratory birding from around Southeast Asia.

Philippines - March

After our 5-week 2007 Philippines tour, Rob made a visit to the island of Camiguin of the just off the northeast coast of Mindanao from where a new species to Science, theCamiguin Hanging-Parrot had been described the previous year. The island hosts a fascinating avifauna which includes a race of the Yellowish Bulbul which is dramatically divergent from those on Mindanao and Sulu and surely deserves full-species status. Also present are two Philippine small-island specialists, again differing from extralimital forms and likely to be split – Variable Dwarf Kingfisher and Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. Red-bellied Pitta was common and gave great views as did a single Slaty-legged Crake and the first confirmed island records of Rufous-lored Kingfisher.
Unfortunately none of the areas visited produced any records of the hanging-parrot but a return visit in April met with more success. A newly discovered site on the west side of the island gave easy access to the species favoured montane forest at around 1000m and here the birds seemed not uncommon although they are typically elusive and only flight views of the birds were obtained despite considerable effort. It was interesting to note the distinctive habitat differences and unique vocalizations which suggest that the splitting of this species from Colasisi on morphological grounds was justified. 
In addition to the above mentioned ‘Camiguin’ Bulbul, other species of interest during this second visit included an impressive flock of Writhed Hornbills and several White-throated Pigeons. This island will be visited on our 
2008 Remote Philippines tour.

North-east India - March - April

In March-April James and Frank made an exploratory visit to the northeast Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Assam. To see our 2008 North-east India tour click here
Beginning with a short visit to Meghalaya produced stunning views of Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler and hundreds of screaming Dark-rumped Swifts at one of their few known nesting cliffs. Other interesting species here included the newly-split Assam Laughingthrush, khasiana Black-throated Prinia - a likely split, and Rufous-necked Laughingthrush.
Our long-awaited trip to Eaglesnest Wildlife Sanctuary did not disappoint, over 250 species were recorded in just 9 days including a notebook full of mouth-watering near-mythical species; Ward’s Trogon, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Beautiful Nuthatch, flocks of Himalayan Cutia, Long-billed, Rufous-throated, Spotted and Bar-winged Wren-babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Long-billed Thrush, Scarlet & Crimson-browed Finches, a flock of Fire-tailed Myzornis buzzing around us at close range and most excitingly, several fine views of at least 5 Bugun Liocichla, a species totally new to science when discovered just last year.
Birding at the scenically spectacular Sela Pass, at 4500m asl, produced succulent views of Himalayan Monals, both perched gloriously on a ridge top and flying below us with the sun glistening on their iridescent plumes. Other species recorded here were Blood Pheasant, Himalayan White-browed & Dark-rumped Rosefinches, Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin and a stunning flock of over 100 impossibly coloured Grandala. Lower down, further views of Fire-tailed Myzornis, Long-billed Plover, Solitary & Wood Snipe and Bhutan Laughingthrush only enhanced the areas reputation.

Unfortunately our tour of the Kaziranga wilderness was cut short by a 3-day storm, making it impossible to enter the better areas of the reserve. However, we were still treated to views of a male Bengal Florican, a number of Black-breasted Weaver and a briefly co-operative Blue-naped Pitta. Mammals featured heavily in this area, and we were especially pleased to obtain such close views of Indian Rhino, Hog & Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo. Another low-lying site visited along the banks of the Brahmaputra was Dibru-Saikhowa, one of the few remaining sites in Assam with large stands of elephant grass and home to a handful of increasingly rare species in particular Black-breasted Parrotbill of which a pair showed stunningly well, circling us for 30 minutes, listening to them crunching through the elephant grass with their huge yellow bill was particularly memorable! Equally as important was the pair of Marsh & Jerdon’s Babbler that performed equally well and the mouse-like Swamp Prinia that gave us the run-around, literally! A few wintering species were lingering, these included Smoky Warbler, Spotted & Chinese Bush-Warbler. The remaining pocket of lowland forest at Digboi Oilfields produced the much hoped for Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush, a fine songster, and several Collared Treepie, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush and another Blue-naped Pitta.
Moving into the realms of the relative unknown we ventured deep into the heart of Nagaland, a state desperate for independence. Spending just 1 full-day here was obviously not sufficient, as this day alone produced wonderful views of Blyth’s Tragopanalthough ‘only’ 2 females, 3 Cachar Wedge-billed Babblers, the recently split Naga Wren-Babbler, Streak-throated Barwing, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Striped & Blue-winged Laughingthrushes and innumerable Mountain Bamboo-Partridges in this hunting-free area.
Moving back into Arunachal Pradesh, this time to the eastern side of the Brahmaputra, brought a noticeably different avifauna to Eaglesnest. The main highlight here were theSclater’s Monals we encountered following a lengthy trek along a ridge-top. The recently rediscovered Mishmi Wren-babbler was found to be common and an array of sought-after species from elsewhere proved relatively abundant included several fine views of Blue-fronted Robin, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Purple & Green Cochoas, Yellow-vented Warbler, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler and Golden-naped Finch.

South Moluku and Tanimbars - Sept - Oct

Following a return to Europe for the British Birdwatching Fair and the Vogelfestival, Rob completed the preparations for our 2009 Maluku tour by spending a further month in the region, concentrating on the Kai and Tanimbar archipelagoes.
The exploration began on the Kai Islands where the smaller Kai Kecil is noticeable flat with some truly stunning white beaches. This island is largely deforested but the remaining fragments easily produced the all important island endemics; Little Kai White-eye, White-tailed Monarch, Kai Coucal, Kai Cicadabird and Kai Figbird. In addition we found Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot at its only outpost in Wallacea, Moluccan Red Lory, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Yellow-eyed Imperial-Pigeon, Rose-crowned and White-bibbed Fruit-Doves, Island Monarch, Red-bellied Pitta, Tanimbar Friarbird, Tanimbar Corella and distinctive keiense Mistletoebird – which along with fulgidum subspecies from Tanimbarisanother likely split from Australian birds. Australian Pelican and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike added an Australasian feel as did a vagrant Hardhead.
Closer to the town, the airfield was host to large numbers of Little Curlew, 58 Oriental Plover, Australian Pratincole, Pied Heron and Masked Lapwing.
The nearby island of Kai Besar is more mountainous and still retains excellent tracts of forest. Here we again recorded White-tailed Monarch and Kai Coucal, and by hiking up into the mountains we saw not only the single-island endemic Great Kai White-eye but also the endemic keyensis Brown Cuckoo-Dove and ‘Kai Leaf Warbler’ Phylloscopus (poliocephalus) avicola – a distinctive future split from the Island Leaf Warbler complex.
Returning by ship to Ambon we found a few Masked Boobies among the numerous Brown Boobies, Streaked Shearwater, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrel, Pomarine & Arctic Skua, Sooty & Bridled Terns and White-tailed Tropicbird. In the calmer waters of Ambon Bay we found large flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes and at least one wintering Aleutian Tern.
The island of Yamdena - largest island in the Tanimbar Island group - was next, and a long stay here found the best areas of accessible forest and stake outs for the endemics and specialties.
Old logging tracks provide easy access to tall secondary and remnant primary forest and are home to most of the important birds. The two endemic Zoothera thrushes are among the most desired birds and we enjoyed great views of arboreal Slaty-backed Thrushesand ground-dwelling Fawn-breasted Thrushes. We also found endemic Tanimbar Scrubfowl, Wallace’s Fruit-Dove, Blue-streaked Lory, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Tanimbar Triller, Tanimbar Starling, Cinnamon-tailed & Long-tailed Fantail, Tanimbar Oriole andriedeli Rufous-chested Flycatcher which has recently been shown to be a full species – ‘Tanimbar Flycatcher’. Tanimbar Bush Warbler which was discovered as recently as 1985 is quite common once its song is learnt.
Near Endemics shared with just a few other islands in the eastern Lesser Sundas are Black-bibbed Monarch, Loetoe Monarch, Banda Myzomela, Wallacean Whistler, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Tanimbar Friarbird, Scaly-breasted Honeyeater, Tricoloured Parrotfinch and Rufous-sided Gerygone which is parasitized by the common but difficult to find Pied Bronze Cuckoo.
Nightbirding gave several looks at the recently split Tanimbar Boobook, and after many hours of stumbling around in the dark, delightful views of a Lesser Masked Owl – one of only a handful of sightings of this elusive Tyto.

The Kai islands and Tanimbars 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.

East Kalimantan - November

Following operating a training session with local guides and some birding in Cambodia James visited East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, as part of a survey of Gunung Menyapa with The Nature Conservancy. During the 4-days of birding he recorded a number of Bornean montane endemics rarely recorded in Kalimantan due to the difficultly in reaching such elevations, and significantly extended the known range of a number of these species. The obvious highlight was a group of the rarely-seen Bulwer’s Pheasant, as 3 birds crossed a forested track in the early morning. Other notable species included Jambu Fruit Dove, Garnet Pitta, Ferruginous Partridge, Mountain Serpent Eagle, Pygmy Ibon and a probable heard-only Bornean Frogmouth. Of greatest conservation news was the continued presence of a potentially sizeable population of Straw-headed Bulbul, a species on the verge of extinction in Indonesia, now only known from interior Kalimantan and a small part of Aceh, Sumatra.