Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chumphon Raptor Watch, 22-27 October 2014

We had heard about the autumn Raptor Watch at Khao Dinsor, but had never planned a trip as the journey there seemed quite involved. Then in September when Jacky told us he was going in the later part of October to help with the count  we thought it was our opportunity to make the trip.
Khao Dinsor Entrance

After returning from Perth, we took off a week later to meet up with him in Chumphon.
On Wed 22nd we flew to Bangkok to connect Nok Air to Chumphon.  On our arrival in Chumphon it was already 8.30 pm and after checking into the Albatross Hotel at Thung Wua Laen and meeting up with Jacky, we quickly called Fame Tour who operated the shuttle bus from the airport for a rental car.  They offered us a van for 1000 Baht a day which we arranged to collect the next morning.  This
Kettle of Black Bazas
done, we settled down to a good night’s sleep as in the morning it was an early rise at 5am.  We were told most of the people staying at the Albatross go out around 5.45 am firstly to the Saphli market to get breakfast as well as buy packed lunch and water as there is no food available at Khao Dinsor.

Khao Dinsor is 6 km from Thung Wua Laen and the coordinates at the entrance road is 10° 38" 000' North and 99° 17' 193" East.   Vehicles can park at a lower car park that has toilet facilities or higher up at the Chumphon Raptor Research and Education Center which was only completed in late summer  of 2012.  Here there is limited parking space but most visitors would gather at the Center to watch the raptors flying over-head and coming up across the coast.
Japanese Sparrowhawk
This was where we spent our next 3 days meeting and making friends with other raptor watchers.  While exchanging stories of how we arrived, we found other visitors had taken various routes to this raptor watch.  Some drove from Bangkok while others had driven 18 hours from Kuala Lumpur.  Some flew to Surat Thani and took a 2 hour taxi ride.   Once in Chumphon the daily transport to Khao Dinsor would have been a challenge if one cannot hitch a ride, hence the need to rent the van.
Oriental Honey-buzzard

On the first morning after breakfast and getting food from the market we were at the Center at 7 am. While Jacky walked up the hill each morning to the platforms to help with the count, we stayed at the Center where some chairs were available.  At around 2pm we walked up the narrow trail that leads up to the viewing platforms. It took us almost an hour taking a short rest at the 1st platform before ascending to the 2nd platform where Jacky was based. The views from the top platform were almost unblocked and you could see some raptors from above.
Crested Serpent Eagle

On Friday, we stayed the whole day at the Center and saw many “kettles” of Black Baza thermal soaring  and accipiters flashing past.   There were quite a lot of local visitors, especially on Saturday and Sunday, when groups of school children came to participate in activities organized by the Thai Raptor groups. 
Grey-faced Buzzard

While we were at the hill every morning, we took some time on Saturday to drive to Nong Yai the King’s Project with a group we had met.

On Sunday we left Khao Dinsor at 10am to explore the villages around Saphli and drove to Chumphon town visiting some of the rice fields near the coast.
Black Baza

Our evenings were spent relaxing and enjoying the tasty local Thai cuisine at Thung Wua Laen Beach.

It was an interesting visit seeing the sheer numbers of raptors thermal soaring each morning, from the forest and the coast, ascending higher and higher. Flying on to their destination that is still a mystery.
This was our first trip, but many of the people we met have made up to 5 yearly visits.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Perth and South Western Australia, 8-16 October 2014

After birding in Cairns’s Atherton Tableland our interest was piqued to see more of Australia’s bird species many of which are endemic to the continent.  With an offer on Singapore Airlines special fare of $610 return to Perth it was a quick decision to do second driving trip from Perth and southward to Albany for the South-west specialties.

We gathered information from others who had done bird trips from the internet and made our itinerary to visit the various nature reserve/national parks from Perth.  We then checked for hotels/motels near to the areas we would visit.

Bookings for our car was done through Europcar which we had used in the Cairns trip and accommodations were either directly with the establishments or through
Musk Duck

We arrived early in the morning of Wed 9th October and collected our Camry at Perth airport.  Using the GPS we arrived at Murray Hotel which was conveniently located for our first birding spot the King’s Park and Botanic Gardens.  There was also the free city bus just outside Murray hotel that we took for shopping later in the day.   The first bird we saw at King’s Park was the Red Wattle Bird which was a lifer but we found it almost everywhere we went and noticed it can be aggressive as it often mobs the bigger Torresian  Crow.

Hoary-headed Grebe 
Driving out of Perth to the lakes Monger, Herdsman and Perry we found we need more time to explore the walking paths and trails near the water.  Ducks and cormorants can be observed at closer range than we experienced in Cairns.  These lakes and nature reserves are just 20 minutes away from the city center, well worth visiting on any future trip to Perth.

On Friday we left Perth for Wungong  Dam and the vicinity for some forest birding.  We found Bungedore  Park interesting where we saw our first Scarlet Robin.

Rainbow Lorikeet

While on our way to Narrogin we had to detour due to a serious accident on the highway; we drove back to Armadale and took a longer route to Albert Facey Motel.  On arrival, there was a wild life tour bus at the car park and we found a group of UK visitors were also staying there.   Just across from the motel the Foxes Liar produced a nice surprise of another Robin, the Red-capped Robin. The next morning we drove to the Dryandra Woodlands where we saw tree-creepers, robins and more species of parrots/cockatoos in the forest.

On Sunday we left for Stirling Range Retreat and this would take us further into the highlands.  We did not full appreciate the remoteness of the area and on the way and did not stock up on food that we were advised to bring to the retreat. 
New Holland Honeyeater
On arrival we were told the nearest “town” would be where we came from or 2 hours drive to Albany.   We bought some frozen food packs from the retreat and checked into our chalet.  We explored the compound of the retreat and were pleasantly surprised to see many birds with 3 nests  very closed to the chalets.

Next morning we drove to Albany as there were a couple of sites that we could visit and on the way back we would get some supplies for our 3 nights stay at Stirling Range Retreat.

On Tue 14th October after preparing our packed lunch we explored Mt Trio, the  Mabinup Nature Reserve, Camel Lake, Salt River.  Later drove to Cranbrook, a quiet town with only a cafĂ© open.  The off-roads were hot and dry with no traffic, except the occasional farm vehicles.  We saw at least 6 road-kills of mainly kangaroos among other wildlife along these unpaved roads.
We visited a bigger town Mt Barker, on the way for a break, before driving to Popongorup National Park in the late afternoon. 
Australian Golden Whistler
This site was promising but we only had time to walk along the road, outside the park, where we saw a lot of birds and  a family of  kangaroos.

Wed 15th October we checked out of Stirling Range Retreat for a long drive back to Perth.  We selected a B&B at Gooseberry Hill which is 15 minutes to the airport. At Grandview B&B we had a grand view of the city from the deck, a perfect culmination to our 9 day trip to Perth, where we saw 57 lifers out of a total of 82 bird species.

Shingleback Skink

Gould's Monitor

Red-capped Robin
Willie Wagtail

Common Bronzewing
Scarlet Robin
Carnaby's Black Cockatoo
Rainbow Lorikeet 

Rufous Treecreeper 
Western Spinebill

Sunset from Gooseberry Hill

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cairns and Darwin - August 2014

Silver Gull
Sometime in June Gerard asked if we were interested in making up a group of 4 to Cairns.  He has already done his homework on birds, accommodation and guide so we decided to join him and Jimmy.  The trip was finalised for 3 to 15 August.  While G and J wanted to do some snorkeling we opted not to so we left 2 days later for them to get their water sport before we started our birding.  We booked our flights on Jetstar flying via Darwin with a car rental on arrival at Cairns.     

Australian Pelican and
Little Pied Commorant
Gull-billed Tern

Southern Cassowary
We left on 4th August night for our 4.5 hours flight and arrived Darwin early morning of 5th.  There was a 3.5 hours wait so we checked out some birds outside the airport terminal.  The first bird in the early morning was the Blue-faced Honeyeater which intrigued us with its call and its appearance.  Then we saw a pair of Figbirds with the male’s red-eye patch and the female looking so different were feeding on the fig tree just across the car park.  We were to see many times these 2 species in Cairns. 

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Brown Booby 

Sooty Tern

Arriving Cairns at 2 pm we met up with G & J at the Europe Car counter and took delivery of a 7- seater Kia Carnival, our vehicle for our next 8 days, it was roomy and served us well even when we had to load our luggage when we moved between hotels.  The first stop was the Cairns Esplande for the shore birds that came very close, then to the Botanical Gardens where G & J had visited and were shown the Papuan Frogmouth by some local birders they had met.  With at least a dozen lifers in the first few hours of touch-down, we drove to the Palms at Trinity Beach our apartment for 3 nights.   
Australasian Figbird-F

Common Noddy
Australian King Parrot-F

Bar-shouldered Dove

Black-shouldered Kite
Rainbow Lorikeet

Next morning we drove to the highlands, the Atherton Tableland stopping at the Cassowary House and were fortunate to be allowed into the grounds where the Cassowary had shown up.  Some guests were taking photographs and this huge flightless bird which was at ease with the people taking numerous shots with their cameras and i-phones.  We left the Cassowary and birded along Black Mountain Road, Kuranda area and had lunch at the Skyline village when it started to drizzle.
Helmeted Friarbird
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater

Pale-yellow Robin
Australian Wood Duck
Rainbow Bee-eater 
After lunch we continued to Tinaroo Creek and stopping whenever we see birds perched on bushes, trees or in the fields.  Our last stop near evening was at Hasties Swamp where we found a cooperative Kingfisher perched near the hide.  It was our second day and a haul of 40+ species.
Pacific Black Duck

Eastern Spinebill
Eastern Spinebill
Tooth-billed Bowerbird

White-eared Monarch 
Spectacled Monarch

On Thursday 7th, we woke early for our Great Barrier Reef cruise on Seastar which was moored at Marlin Pier just in front of the Shangri-la Hotel.  It was a 3-hour ride in rough choppy sea.  When we arrived at the Michaelmas Cay a tiny outcrop it was an incredible sight seeing so many jostling, noisy sea-birds closed-up.   There were Noddys, Gulls and Terns on the sand and lots were flying overhead.  A small boat took us over to the island while others prepare for their snorkeling around the Seastar.  The birds were not too disturbed with our presence on the small stretch of beach that visitors are permitted to stay. 

Great Bowerbird 

White-throated Treecreeper
Red-winged Parrot 

Bush Stone-curlew
Australasian Figbird
Lewin's honeyeater
 It was hot and windy but after half an hour, the crew came to caution us to return to the Seastar due to imminent rain.  Back on the vessel, we could see Frigate birds swooping overhead and there was lunch served.  After lunch we went to Hastings Reef but the tide was too high and not safe to land so it was back to Michaelmas Cay for more snorkeling and looking at corals from their glass-bottom boat.  The rain came and the return trip to shore was bumpy in the rough sea.  We got back to shore at 5pm and drove back to the hotel to clean up and then a walk to a nice dinner at the Lime Tree nearby.

Pale-headed Rosella

Spotted Catbird
Macleay's Honeyeater

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Friday 8th, we checked out of Palms and with our luggage in the back we drove up to the Atherton Tableland with an early stop at Yungaburra to look for the Platypus which we found swimming in the creek below the bridge.  We drove to a few lakes in the area and had lunch at Lake Barrine tea house when the rain came.  The tea house was built in the 1930’s and still owned by the descendants of the same family  

Yellow Honeyeater 
Northern Fantail
Shining Bronze Cuckoo

Yellow-breasted Boatbill
Scarlet Honeyeater

Australian Brushturkey
In the late afternoon we drove towards the Kingfisher’s Park at Mt Kooyong Rd, our accommodation for the next 4 nights where the only restaurant was the Highlander, where we had most of our dinners.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Red-backed Fairywren
Australian Bustard 
Tawny Frogmouth 

Saturday, 9th and Sunday 10th were spent birding in the Julatten area with our guide, Carol ttps:// who took us to various sites in Julatten as well as up a trail in Mount Lewis where she had found a Bower stand of the Golden Bowerbird. Downhill we had good view of a Great Bowerbird at a school ground and a Bush Stone Curlew sitting in one of the garden patches.   We saw many honeyeaters and finches at home gardens that Carol took us to but missed the Squatter Pigeon at Betty’s ranch where we visited twice.  At Mt Molloy we found a little bake shop that sells fresh bread and delicious pies that we bought for next day's breakfast. 

Blue-winged Kookaburra
Pied Currawong

Spectacled Monarch

Double-barred Finch
Rufous Whistler

Monday, 11th we continued to bird at sites in the area with a visit to the Mareeba Wetlands where a group of Emus were walking around the entrance of the ranger station .  Later in the afternoon we returned to  Mt Lewis to look for the Fernwren and the Chowchilla which was still not showing.
Red-backed Fairywren
Australian Golden Whistler
Yellow-throated Scrubwren

Crested Pigeon
Shining Flycatcher
Little Black Cormorant

Tuesday, 12th was a very early start with checking-out and loading our luggage into the car for our drive to Daintree to catch a 6.45 am river cruise with Murray Hunt we decided to hire the boat for $345 for 2.5 hours and it was a good decision as we were able to get close shots of a pair of Shinning Flycatchers and a pair of Azure Kingfishers in courting behaviour.   There was also a pair of Papuan Frogmouth closed to the river edge and a nest-building Large-billed Gerygone on a tree.  After the cruise we took our coffee break at the village restaurant and did some birding on the hill where the water-tank is located and got a female Victoria’s Riflebird.
Comb-crested Jacana
Great-billed Heron
Double-eyed Fig Parrot

Azure Kingfisher
Large-billed Gerygone
Wompoo Fruit Dove

This bird of paradise was one of the target birds of J’s but we were not able to see the jet-black male which looks so different from the female that is fairly barred and brown.  On the way back to Cairns we took the coastal route and stopped at Newell beach and found the Beach Stone Curlew and arrived late into Cairns when we checked into the Heritage Hotel for our last night before flying back to Darwin.
Nankeen Kestrel

Papuan Frogmouth
Beach Stone-curlew 

Little Shrikethrush

Wednesday, 13th was another early morning to airport to return the car and for our 2-hour flight to Darwin where we picked up a smaller car since it was only a half day for G & J before they leave the next morning for Singapore.   We drove to drop off our luggage at the Leprechaun on Stuart Highway then went to East Point to look for the pitta but it was hot and dry and very quiet except for the roar of the jet planes taking off and landing at the nearby Air Force station. We then drove to Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve 1.5 hours from Darwin city, on the highway towards Kakadu National Park.   The shore-birds were feeding closer than we had seen at other lakes and parks and there were forest species near the car park.   We stayed till dusk and drove back to the city for dinner before checking-in late into our rooms at Leprechaun.
Whistling Kite

Shining Flycatcher
Rufous Fantail 

Thursday, 14th 4.30am we drove G & J to the airport.
Later in the morning we drove to Fogg Dam again and walked 2 of the forest trails and left at lunch time and it was a relaxed afternoon at the small shopping mall at Palmerston, dinner at the city, an early night for our 4.30am drive to Darwin airport to return the car and flight home.  90% of the 166 species comprising forest, shore birds seen are lifers for us.   A tiring but birdful 10 days.