Thursday, 5 April 2018

Early spring birding in southwestern Ontario

With Laura flying home to Nova Scotia for Easter Weekend, I decided to make the long, familiar drive down the 401 for a weekend of birding at one of my favorite locations - Point Pelee National Park. The previous few weeks had been relatively uneventful for me from a natural history perspective, as work and other items on a to-do list far too long had kept me from being outside. Other than an hour here or an hour there, I hadn't explored much and I feared that my birding skills were a bit rusty.

After finishing up a few last minute items at home in Niagara Falls, I took the morning on Friday to slowly work my way west along the north shore of Lake Erie, while the strong north winds buffeted my car and instilled a chill in the air. The Port Stanley lagoons held my first Blue-winged Teal of the year- a male sporting crisp spring plumage - among the throngs of other duck species in the four large lagoons. This allowed me to declare that spring had arrived even though the air temperature and cold winds disagreed with my assessment. While all of the other migrant ducks will spend the winter in parts of southern Ontario, Blue-winged Teals are almost never found during the winter period in the province. Spotting my first Blue-winged Teal at some point during March is just as good evidence of springs arrival, as is the first Western Chorus Frog singing from a roadside slough, or the first Ambystoma salamander slipping silently under the ice edge of a vernal pool.

The Ridgetown lagoons are always worth a stop whenever I pass through Chatham-Kent. The large lagoons often hold big flocks of geese and Tundra Swans at this time of year, sometimes with other interesting species mixed in. Before I could even reach the lagoons I was distracted by this Red-tailed Hawk, enjoying an opportunistic meal courtesy of a vehicle.

Eager to wolf down as much of the road-killed leporid as quickly as possible, the Red-tailed Hawk tolerated my approach, as I pulled over to the opposite side of the road to take point blank photos.

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Given the time of day the lighting wasn't ideal but it was a great opportunity to study this individual Red-tailed Hawk as it gorged on the free meal.

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario


Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

I was in luck as I picked up a tight flock of six white geese sleeping on the far north bank of the big cell of the Ridgetown lagoons, while four Greater White-fronted Goose were loitering nearby and a few Cackling Geese hung around the edges of a Canada Goose flock standing on the berm. The white geese eventually awoke and went for a swim in the lagoon, showing their identity as Snow Geese. Many of the white geese seen during migration in southwestern Ontario appear to show intermediate traits between Snow and Ross's Geese; these ones all looked to be far enough over on the spectrum to be safely called Snow Geese, despite some slight variation in the bill shape among all six individuals.

Snow Geese - Ridgetown lagoons, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

I was happy to see the Greater White-fronted Geese since they were my first for Chatham-Kent. Much like Snow and Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose has also increased in abundance over the years and now the species is not entirely unexpected when it appears during spring and autumn migration. Over the last half decade or so, Greater White-fronted Goose has become an uncommon but regular spring and autumn migrant in the southwest. Much of this increase can be tied to the size of the North American population, which has multiplied by approximately 173% per decade over the last forty years (as per the IUCN Redlist). It's hard to believe now that Greater White-fronted Goose used to be on the Ontario Bird Record Committee's review list for southern Ontario.

Greater White-fronted Geese - Ridgetown lagoons, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Hillman Marsh was my last stop of the day and it was here where I ran into Rick Mayos and Jeremy Bensette. We enjoyed an awesome couple of hours of waterfowl study, punctuated by great views of a dozen duck species, each perfectly lit by the golden rays of the setting sun. The long-staying Northern Shrike also made an appearance, though I couldn't obtain a decent, non-backlit angle for photos. We joked that if the shrike was taking pictures of us, every single photo would be perfectly lit.

Northern Shrike - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario


A few Sandhill Cranes landed in the shorebird cell and we were pleasantly surprised to discover some of the first Dunlins of spring, still sporting their "basic" winter plumage. After a full day of birding I could definitely feel the rust beginning to work itself free!

Dunlin - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario


Sandhill Cranes - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

Jeremy and I birded together all day on Saturday, beginning with a few hours of watching ducks at the Tip. Hoards of Greater Scaup could be seen in all directions, often with several small groups in the air at any given time to complement the flocks on the water. I went to work studying the differences between Lesser and Greater Scaup, something I hadn't done in a while. With all of the birds present, it was easy to obtain great looks at both species from all angles, both in flight and on the water.

What remains of the Tip - Point Pelee National Park, Essex County, Ontario

Quite a few other species were mixed in including White-winged and Surf Scoter, Redheads, and even some Long-tailed Ducks. Occasionally we would spot dabbling ducks fly past as well including Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, American Wigeon, Wood Duck and Gadwall, while the first good flight of Common Loon and Horned Grebe for the year was also occurring. Of greater interest however were our first Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows of the season! Small groups of Tree Swallows flew south off the west side of the tip all morning into the strong southwest winds, causing us to question if they were all different birds or the same small group(s) doing laps. An Eastern Phoebe also appeared to be doing laps, flying out from the very tip and circling back, landing back in the forested areas of the tip.

Greater Scaup near the Tip Point Pelee National Park, Essex County, Ontario  (photo taken on April 15, 2013)

Few songbirds appeared to be in, other than a few small groups of Golden-crowned Kinglets along with the aforementioned Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows, so we kept looking for waterbirds. From the tower near the Marsh Boardwalk, the visibility was quite good and we tallied thousands of ducks, most being Lesser Scaup. We also noticed a few Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shovelers, Wood Ducks, Northern Harriers and an American Coot, further evidence that spring was slowly progressing. A flock of around 80 Turkey Vultures flew in off to the lake from the southwest, continuing northeast past us, and towards Hillman Marsh.

Dabbling ducks - Mersea Rd 21 fields, Essex County, Ontario


Jeremy and I explored the Onion Fields and Hillman Marsh for the better part of the afternoon as a front moved through the area, bringing with it lots of rain. While grabbing lunch in Leamington, Jeremy told me to look up - three Great Egrets cruised over together in formation. Ah, spring.

Hillman Marsh can be quite dynamic this time of year and you never know what will drop in. While we did not find anything spectacular, we did have fun scanning through the hundreds of Green-winged Teals, searching unsuccessfully for the Common Teal which Jeremy had found on March 22. The driving rain made conditions difficult at times, and it was not easy to avoid it even when we placed ourselves in the viewing shelter by the Shorebird Cell. One of the highlights from our time at Hillman was flushing a Wilson's Snipe from alongside the main path on our walk back to the parking lot.

The Mersea Road 21 fields, those famous fields which hosted the Smith's Longspurs in the spring of 2014, often hold standing water and the subsequent waterfowl that this attracts. It was no exception this time, and hundreds of teal, pintails and wigeons were in the fields on every most of my visits over the weekend. While Jeremy and I couldn't dig out the Common Teal, I was surprised to spot a "storm" wigeon, which is a plumage anomaly of American Wigeon in which the individual exhibits a white face. This was only the third one I've ever seen so I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to study it. The winds were approaching gale-force so taking photos through my scope was a little challenging!

"storm wigeon" morph of American Wigeon - Mersea Rd. 21 fields, Leamington, Essex County, Ontario

In the Onion Fields we discovered a Snowy Owl just south of Hillman Marsh, a Ring-necked Pheasant in the "usual" field on Mersea Rd 12 (Jeremy indicated that this was his first in the Onion Fields in months), and a few ducks scattered here and there.

Blue-winged Teals - Leamington Onion Fields, Essex County, Ontario 

We finished the day by scoping the thousands of ducks at the tip, our eyes straining through our scopes until well past sunset. I picked out a female Black Scoter in flight, which was surprisingly my first of the year, and Jeremy photographed the dynamic scene unfolded in front of us, as brightly lit flocks of scaup passed by at a close distance, contrasted against the angry dark gray sky in the background. I had unfortunately neglected to bring my camera, citing potential rain as my excuse at the time. While driving out of the park we heard a few American Woodcocks "peent"ing near a section of savanna habitat, another first of the year for me.  It had been a great day!

I entered the park on my own on the Sunday morning and drove down to the tip where I ran into Blake Mann. Together we scoped the waters off of the west side of the tip as a moderate southwest wind blew in off the lake. While the birding was a bit slower than the previous day and Tree Swallows were nowhere to be found, the waterfowl show was pretty great. Among the highlights were more Long-tailed Ducks, a smattering of dabbling ducks, and several Bonaparte's Gulls, Horned Grebes and Common Loons. Following a few months with limited migration, it was good to soak up the visible migration of loons, grebes, ducks and gulls.

Eventually I met up with Jeremy and we birded for a bit, but by late morning we went our separate ways as I needed to be in Cambridge by dinner time, and he had a family function in Windsor. Just outside of the park I noticed this Snowy Owl in a field along Mersea Road D. The heat haze coming off the field was causing problems, making photography extremely difficult.

Snowy Owl - Leamington Onion Fields, Essex County, Ontario 

Before leaving for good, I birded Hillman Marsh and the Mersea Rd 21 fields one more time, in case the Common Teal was in. Again, I was out of luck, but I did spot an intergrade teal (Common x Green-winged Teal) which Jeremy later indicated had been around for the last week. While finishing up at the shorebird cell I noticed another first of the year - three Greater Yellowlegs! One obliged me by flying around and calling with its two friends before settling back in among the ducks in the shallows.

Greater Yellowlegs - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

Several Northern Leopard Frogs were tentatively calling from the shallows of the shorebird cell, yet another harbinger of spring. Hopefully the weather warms up soon, as we are nearly into the most wonderful time of the year!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Borneo - Part 16 (Day 2 in the Danum Valley)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 16, 2017

After the excitement with the Dog-toothed Cat Snake the night before I cancelled early morning birding plans, choosing to sleep in all the way until 6:30 AM. As soon as our guide Ben arrived at the main lodge I took him aside and brought him back to my room to see the snake. We decided we would then take it back to the main lodge to show our group, as they would be arriving shortly for breakfast. Judging by the reactions I am sure that I made a strong impression on the lodge staff. They probably do not get too many people bringing 7-foot snakes with them to breakfast! Fortunately the snake was very mild-mannered and for around 20 minutes I showed the snake to my group as well as some of the other travelers staying at the lodge.


Ben with the Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynodon)

Ben and I released the snake where I had found it the previous night (taking care not to step on this huge moth on the boardwalk), wolfed down our breakfast and then prepared for our morning hike.



The plan for the morning was to hike on a trail through forest up to a scenic lookout. From here it would be possible to look down on the lodge, surrounded by endless unspoiled forest.

The walk up was relatively slow sightings-wise, though we did spot a Blue-banded Kingfisher while crossing a creek and I heard my first Violet Cuckoo from somewhere in the canopy. Later we came across a few birds including a heard only Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, a species I really was hoping to see on this trip. Next time!


It was a hot, sweaty walk along the trail but we made progress. I paused for a minute and caught this Borneo Forest Dragon to show the group.

Borneo Forest Dragon (Gonocephalus bornensis) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

We enjoyed a few minutes at the "summit", where a very slight breeze was most welcome following the long walk uphill in the high temperatures and humidity. The viewpoint over the lodge was pretty interesting as well.

While most of the Danum Valley was relatively untouched by humans prior to becoming a protected area, there were originally some native peoples in the areas. The lodge was built alongside the Danum River, in a clearing that was the site of a former native village.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The walk down was a little less strenuous, though the temperatures were another degree or two higher. From a wildlife perspective the walk back was somewhat uneventful as well, though we did encounter another troupe of Red Langurs and a mixed flock of babblers that contained my first Rufous-winged Philentoma and Dark-necked Tailorbird.


Asian Brown Flycatcher - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Red Langur - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

With a few hours to kill in the afternoon I took a short siesta and also explored the grounds for an hour or so.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia


For part of that time I hung out along the banks of the Danum River, hoping to luck into a Straw-headed Bulbul. This species has become extremely scarce in southeast Asia, mostly due to being captured for the cagebird trade. As this species is closely tied to riverine habitats, and rivers are the main highways of travel in the remaining forests, it is very easy for people to access the habitat used by a high percentage of individuals in the population. It is only in protected areas, like the Danum Valley, where Straw-headed Bulbuls remain fairly common.

One bulbul responded to playback, providing brief looks from an island in the river. My first Lesser Fish-Eagle cruised past, a pair of Stork-billed Kingfishers hunted and a few Water Monitors lounged on a gravel bank.
Stork-billed Kingfisher - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Asian Water Monitor - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Unfortunately the wind picked up as the afternoon turned to evening, while a light rain began to fall. Our crepuscular hike was a little bit slow (especially compared to the awesome night-hike the previous night), and we were unable to turn up any Western Tarsiers, our main target. We did see a huge Bearded Pig, some Sambar Deer, and a calling Brown Wood Owl that flushed as soon as we found it in our binoculars.

That evening we enjoyed our last dinner at the Borneo Nature Lodge, taking advantage of the amazing food for the final time. The following morning would be an early start since we had about a 5.5 hour drive to the airport in Tawau.


From Tawau, we would fly to Bali in Indonesia for a few days where we explored the island and learned about some of the culture. While our time in Bali was interesting there were not a lot of wildlife highlights and I did not take a single photo with my camera, so I'll end the trip report here. Borneo was awesome and I can't wait to head back in October, 2018 for another tour!


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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Borneo - Part 15 (Night Hiking in the Danum Valley)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 15, 2017 (continued)

The air was still and the clouds had retreated by the time we left for our evening nightwalk, though the warm temperatures and high humidity had of course remained. 

Due to the long day we had already experienced, the night walk would be for only an hour and a half or so. But even in the short time that we were out we had a bevy of great sightings, including various insects, herps, birds and mammals. 

Borneo Forest Dragons (Gonocephalus bornensis) (E) proved to be common and we spotted a three or four, sleeping on thin branches and often at eye level.

Borneo Forest Dragon (Gonocephalus bornensis- Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Borneo Forest Dragon (Gonocephalus bornensis- Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

We came across a single Long-nosed Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta) (E) among some trailside leaf litter. As large as a fully grown Bullfrog, this was an impressive Anuran to say the least!

Long-nosed Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia


We approached a small man-made pond located adjacent to the main entrance road, and as expected the amphibian life was more frequent here. File-eared Treefrogs (Polypedates otilophus) (E) were the dominant species as they use this particular pool to breed. Females will create a foam nest on the underside of a broad leaf overhanging the pool. After hatching, the tadpoles will wriggle free from the nest and drop into the water to continue their life cycle.

File-eared Treefrog (Polypedates otilophus) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

metamorph File-eared Treefrog (Polypedates otilophus- Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

While outnumbered by the File-eared Treefrogs, several Harlequin Treefrogs (Rhacophorus pardalis) were also noted on the vegetation surrounding the pool. I was particularly happy to see this species since it was my first ever "flying frog". Harlequin Treefrogs are a canopy dweller, where they use the excessive skin between their toes to help glide from one branch to the other on occasion. They are not quite as adept at gliding as their much larger and more famous cousin, the Wallace's Flying Frog, which also has excessive membranes along its sides in addition to the toepads.

Harlequin Treefrog  (Rhacophorus pardalis) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Of course with all the amphibious life around the margins of the pond it was not too surprising to find a few snakes trying to take advantage of the situation, looking for a meal. We found two Triangle Keelbacks (Xenochrophis trianguligerus), both probably only a year or two old and reminding me very much of our Nerodia watersnakes from back home in North America. 

Triangle Keelback (Xenochrophis trianguligerus) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Finishing up at the pool, we began heading back down the entrance road to the lodge since the minutes were ticking by. Some rustling in the leaf litter drew our attention to a Greater Mousedeer which hung around long enough for a few distant photos.

Greater Mousedeer - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

By the staff accommodations, we found a Buffy Fish-Owl perched on one of the goalposts of the football pitch.

Buffy Fish-Owl - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia


While walking back to the lodge I caught some eye-shine in my headlamp and seconds later was staring at a Slow Loris only a few dozen meters away. For the next ten minutes we watched the unusual primate as it climbed along a rusty cable passing through the a patch of forest towards the lodge.

Slow Loris - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Slow Loris are unusual among primates in that they have a brachial gland (located on the inside of the elbow) that secretes a clear liquid which the Slow Loris licks and spreads over its fur. This fluid repels ticks and leeches, while there is evidence that it also helps to prevent depredation from Sun Bears. This liquid becomes "activated" by the saliva, turning into a powerful poison that can cause severe reactions in humans, even occasionally causing death.

Slow Loris - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Slow Lorises are nocturnal and often climb slowly and deliberately through the forest. They generally exhibit fairly low densities of less than 5 individuals / km so I was pretty happy that we were able to spot one!

Slow Loris - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

That evening I stayed up at the main lodge for an extra hour or so, taking advantage of the wifi there to call home while sipping on a beer. It was relatively late when I got up to walk back to my cabin, and in the dim moonlight I thought I saw a serpentine shape on the railing of the boardwalk which I was walking on. I turned on my flashlight and felt my heart beat with excitement as a heavily marked snake approximately 7 feet in length appeared before me and slowly slithered off the railing into a nearby tree.

Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynadon) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The snake appeared to be a Boiga, but I did not have any references on me and so was not sure of the species at the time. After taking a few photos to ID later, I did what any reasonable herper would do - I very carefully caught the snake by grabbing the end of its tail (the only part I could reach) and slowly reeling it back in. It appeared to have strong jaws and big teeth based off of its side profile and I did not want to risk a nasty bite. Luckily the snake cooperated and a minute later I was admiring it from up close!

Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynadon) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynadon) - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

I knew my group would be interested in seeing such an impressive snake, so I may or may not have used one of the freshly washed pillowcases off my bed in which to temporarily store the snake overnight. I was really hoping that it would not defecate in the pillowcase because then I might have some explaining to do to the cleaning staff! Fortunately the snake was calm through the ordeal and no messes were made through the night.


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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

Friday, 16 March 2018

A Barnacle Goose in my (former) local patch

Since returning from Guyana in mid February I have not been doing much birding. The cold, windy and often snowy weather has persisted into mid-March, allowing me to take the time to try and complete some projects I have on the go such as finishing the Borneo blog posts, OBRC voting, Guyana/Tobago photo editing and a few other things. The last week or so especially I have spent many hours on iNaturalist, which as far as I am concerned is the best thing to happen since eBird! Birds have been far from my mind lately as I have been fully immersed in trying to figure out my reptile and amphibian life lists, working on identifications of Bolitoglossa salamanders and Pristimantis frogs, and slowly but surely imputing my herp records onto iNaturalist. It has been a lot of fun and I think I am up to 8 or 10 herp species that are first records for iNaturalist. It is a lot more enjoyable reminiscing about tropical trips and figuring out difficult frog IDs, then it is braving the cold and wind during the cold-ish snap we have been experiencing!

But, sometimes birds too take center stage. A week or two ago I drove down to Point Pelee to twitch the Townsend's Solitaire that Kory Renaud found back in February. Of course, prior to my visit it had been seen for many days in a row, but it was a no-show during my attempt. A Northern Shrike (new Pelee bird!) was a nice consolation, but I did not bother making a blog post given the lack of solitaire. And I have managed to bird a little bit here and there; Laura and I spent an enjoyable afternoon last weekend checking out an Eastern Screech-Owl and a Great Horned Owl on a nest, while also doing some hiking at local conservation areas. I have also spent a bit of time with the Eurasian Wigeon that Marcie Jacklin found only about 20 minutes from where I live, though my photos were heavily cropped with poor lighting, and I couldn't convince myself to write a blog post about it. But after a few months without any Ontario content, the streak has been broken!

Barnacle Goose - Schomberg lagoons, York Region


Two days ago a birder by the name of Donald Gorham discovered a Barnacle Goose at the Schomberg lagoons and submitted his sighting (and photo) to eBird. In the past, most Barnacle Goose records in Ontario were treated with a heavy dose of skepticism. This was due to several factors, including the species' rarity in North America, the supposed frequency that Barnacle Geese are kept in captivity, and the fact that some of the Ontario records did not seem to fit the expected pattern for Barnacle Geese in North America.

In recent years however, Barnacle Geese have become much more common on the east coast of North America - presumably in direct correlation to the increase of the population breeding in eastern Greenland and wintering in Scotland/Ireland. It is thought that Barnacle Geese get caught up with migrant Canada Geese on the breeding/summering grounds and fly across the Atlantic with them. Dozens are now reported each autumn, winter and spring in the mid-Atlantic states and elsewhere on the east coast, along with the less frequent but still regular Pink-footed Goose. An interesting article by Mike Burrell (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321758520_The_case_for_accepting_Ontario_reports_of_Barnacle_Goose) suggests that a paradigm shift should occur in how we treat Barnacle Goose records in Ontario, since many of the records for the province fit the expected pattern for a bird wintering with Canada Geese on the mid-Atlantic. I would encourage anyone with interest in vagrant geese to read his enlightening article.

As I had some field work only an hour away from Schomberg yesterday, I made the drive up to look for the goose. An Ontbirds message came through not long before I arrived, stating that it had flown back to the lagoons and was now resting on the ice. Excellent.

Upon arrival the goose was very easy to notice as I scanned from inside my car, so I got out and set up my scope beside a few other birders including Luke Berg who had made the drive as well. For the next hour or so I studied the bird in the scope, while secretly hoping it would fly towards us and over our heads so we could all get flight shots. Several other birders arrived, and it was good to chat with Andrew Keaveney, Taylor Brown, Bonnie Kinder and Kevin Shackleton among others while we watched the goose.

Barnacle Goose - Schomberg lagoons, York Region

Ontario only has two accepted records of Barnacle Goose - one specimen banded in Scotland that was shot on 20 November 2005, and recently a pair that were present in Ottawa from 3-4 May 2015. The latter record was accepted after the Ontario Bird Records Committee was shown a draft of Mike's article. Presumably more of the records in future years will be considered "good" if they follow a logical pattern, and maybe some of the previous records will be re-reviewed. With regards to the Schomberg bird, most Ontario birders are of the opinion that it is likely wild. Of course we will likely never be sure, but it does seem to tick all the boxes: spurs intact and no bands on its legs, traveling with a large flock of migrant Canada Goose, appears wary, time of year, etc. Interestingly, a big storm over the northeast may have also had an impact, as waterfowl are known to travel large distances to circumvent a weather system. It seems plausible that birds wintering in the mid-Atlantic and traveling north would divert to the west around the storm, conveniently ending up in south-central Ontario. Who knows, but it is interesting to think about!

Barnacle Goose - Schomberg, York Region


It was pretty cool to see such a rare bird only a few minutes from where I used to live. I actually drove past my former house in Pottageville on the way to the lagoons. Prior to the Barnacle Goose, the best bird I had seen at the Schomberg lagoons was a Red Knot that I found on June 7, 2013. The Barnacle Goose easily trumps that!

Unless there is any evidence to the contrary, it appears that most people are satisfied calling this Barnacle Goose a wild bird, an assessment I 90% agree with, given the evidence. If accepted by the OBRC, it will be only the third accepted record for the province, and the first for York Region and Simcoe County. Good luck to anyone else who looks for this bird; it is still present at the time of this writing!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Borneo - Part 14 (Day 1 at the Danum Valley)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley


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October 15, 2017

I awoke well before dawn and listened to the light rain falling gently on the roof of my cabin as I waited for the morning to come alive. The rain did not last long; in fact it had completely stopped by the time our group assembled at 6:30 to begin our first walk of the day, though a light fog lingered in the air.

view from the Borneo Rainforest Lodge - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Our guide, Ben, snapped this photo of a Bearded Pig that was hanging out on the lawn near his accommodations early in the morning.

Bearded Pig - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia (photo by Ben Duncan)

Eager to see what the morning had in store, we headed off down the entrance road, where the clearing created by the road provided visual access to the many layers of foliage surrounding us, making birding a bit easier at that early hour. Walking in the mist, while being flanked by giant Koompassia and Shorea trees was a pretty cool experience. Even apart from any wildlife sightings, just being surrounded by the trees was reason enough to enjoy the walk.

Walking the entrance road to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Of course, we had some success with wildlife as well. Our guide Azmil was an exellent birder, picking up on nearly every vocalization and identifying them with ease. As I was still getting used to the sounds of the lowlands it was pretty helpful to have him around to help figure out identifications. There's only so many different babbler songs my brain can learn in one day.  Speaking of babblers, we had three new species on the walk - Ferruginous, Chestnut-rumped and Rufous-crowned - along with our first Maroon-breasted Philentoma and a stunning Diard's Trogon.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge guide Azmil

Here's Ben admiring one of the many millipedes that adorned the roadside.


Diard's Trogon - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The resonating calls of a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills reverberated down from somewhere beyond the canopy, and two of the gigantic birds soared in to land at the top of a roadside tree. Even in heavy fog, the species is unmistakable due to the distinctive casque on its head.

Rhinoceros Hornbill - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Eventually we arrived at the start of the canopy walkway to begin our ascent.

Canopy walkway - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

While not as sturdy as the galvanized steel structure at Sepilok, this walkway was arguably more impressive due to its height and length as it stretched a greater distance through the canopy.

Exploring the canopy walkway - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Canopy walkway - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Canopy walkway - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

While we were resting at one of the viewing platforms hugging a giant tree, some movement drew our attention to a distinctive black bird with a short crest - a Bornean Black Magpie (E). Azmil informed us that sometimes the magpies follow Bornean Bristleheads (E) around and suggested that we be on the lookout for the highly sought after endemic.  It was not two minutes after he mentioned this that I got on a bristlehead, followed by several more.

Bornean Bristlehead - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

We spent around 15 minutes watching the small group of Bristleheads as they moved in the canopy. We even were treated to some of their vocalizations, while some of the closer individuals provided scope views. I was pretty thrilled with our luck!

Bornean Bristleheads - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Have I mentioned yet how impressive the forests of Borneo are? The views from on the canopy walkway were awe-inspiring to say the least. It was difficult to properly photograph the trees to convey the same sense of wonder; this poorly-spliced panorama is perhaps my best attempt.

View from the canopy walkway - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Eventually we reached the end of the walkway and were soon back on level ground. The mist had partially burned off during our hour in the canopy, making visibility of the distant tree tops a little improved.

Up to this point we had observed five out of the eight hornbill species found in Borneo, but were missing arguably the most impressive - Helmeted Hornbill. Not for long however, as the fruiting Ficus where we had seen the Rhinoceros Hornbills earlier, now was occupied by a Helmeted Hornbill!

Helmeted Hornbill - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Not only did this impressive bird provide great scope views, but we heard a different, nearby individual perform the incredible song which this species is quite well known for. Starting with single hoot notes that very slowly accelerate over the course of several minutes, the song climaxes with maniacal laughter that echoes through the forest. To hear this song in the wilds of Borneo was pretty awesome!

Helmeted Hornbill - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The fruiting Ficus was not just being occupied by the hornbills, as a male Bornean Orangutan was also feeding on the abundant food source. He was a little obscured by branches but appeared to be a flanged male as well. We all enjoyed excellent scope views as he slowly fed in the canopy - our fourth Bornean Orangutan in three days.

Along the way back we finally observed a stunning Black-crowned Pitta (E), and heard our first Blue-headed Pitta (E).

My cabin at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

It was approaching 9:00 AM when we returned to the lodge for breakfast. Even meal times at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge are rarely without wildlife, a testament that proved true again as a group of Long-tailed Macaques fed on some fruiting shrubs beside the lodge.

Long-tailed Macaque - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Long-tailed Macaque - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Long-tailed Macaque - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

After breakfast we headed out to explore a side trail deeper in the forest in an attempt to see Red Langurs, a species that had eluded our group so far. Anyone who has explored the lowlands of Borneo is surely aware of the terrestrial leaches that can be positively abundant in the right habitat. These species can be more than a nuisance for people and animals in Bornean rainforests due to their blood-sucking tendencies. The Brown Leech (Haemadipsa zeylanica) and the Tiger Leech (Haemadipsa picta) pictured below are the two culprits, and the reason why it is highly recommended that you wear leech socks on a trip to the lowlands of Borneo. Most of us picked numerous leaches off of our clothes, and rarely our skin, during the hike. I somehow avoided involuntary blood donation, despite being the only member in our group without leech socks.
  
Tiger Leech - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The hike was enjoyable though wildlife sightings were not too numerous. We passed some fresh Clouded Leopard tracks; a reminder that the species is relatively common, though rarely seen in these forests.

Eventually we reached an area where the Red Langurs are often seen and sure enough, about half a dozen individuals were feeding in the mid-canopy. The harsh lighting and and distance to the langurs limited the photographic potential, a common theme in thick jungle.

Red Langur - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

We returned to the lodge after our successful foray into the forest, though we did pause once more at the fruiting Ficus along the road to watch the hornbill and orangutan show. The fog had burned off a little more, making it that much easier to see finer details in the scope.  On the way back we heard our first Dusky Broadbill, but even with playback we were unable to call it in for the group. Can't get them all!

Despite feeling famished prior to lunch, the meal itself was not even the main highlight. In fact it was a certain dinner guest that joined us.

Paradise Tree Snake - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

This Paradise Tree Snake was basking quietly along the edge of the balcony extending out from under the roof of the main lodge where we were sitting. I took the opportunity to catch the beautiful snake to show the rest of my group.

Paradise Tree Snake - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

I was pretty thrilled to have crossed paths with this species. Ever since I was a little kid I had wanted to see a Paradise Tree Snake - a.k.a. Paradise Flying Snake - a species whose image was burned into my brain after watching documentaries about the species. How cool is it that we were looking at a flying snake!

Paradise Tree Snake - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Of course the species does not fly, but is yet another member of the gliding guild in Borneo that also contains colugos, squirrels, lizards and frogs. The Paradise Tree Snake is able to spread its ribs out to become ribbon-like, which enables it to glide a significant distance from one tree to another. There is some evidence that the species is able to control its trajectory by undulating its body as it travels through the air. I encourage you to check out video online of the species gliding as it really is incredible.

Paradise Tree Snake - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

The snake was quite calm throughout the ordeal and eventually, once everyone had had a good look, I released it back onto the balcony where it sat for the next few minutes. While we did not see it "fly" it was a pretty awesome experience with one of the prettiest Bornean snakes.

Paradise Tree Snake - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

After lunch we took a three hour break during the heat of the day. I napped for half an hour or so and spent the rest of the time birding around the grounds and along the banks of the nearby Danum River. Given the time of day things were a little slow, but I did come across my first Spotted Fantail and Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, while also watching the antics of several large Asian Water Monitors. Returning to my cabin for a few minutes, I paused to photograph this Striped Tree Skink (E) (Dasia vittata) hanging out on a neighbouring cabin.

Striped Tree Skink (Dasia vittata- Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Whiskered Treeswift is one of the more distinctive bird species found in Sabah, and I was eager to cross paths with them in the Danum Valley. While I did not come away with the photographs that I hoped, at least the views were great! This individual was sallying out from a dead snag located right beside the main lodge.

Whiskered Treeswift - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

By 4:00 PM we had all assembled for our afternoon walk. The cloud cover had persisted all day, though the rain had held off, but it meant that the conditions would be gloomier than normal for our afternoon hike. We decided that we would stick to the main entrance road due to the improved visibility here compared to the dark understorey of the forest. This ended up being a worthwhile decision as we enjoyed several great sightings. The flanged male Bornean Orangutan was still in the same Ficus tree feeding away on the abundant fruits. There were some tense moments as we watching him climb to the very end of the smallest branches to reach for the furthest fruits. But I guess it was not his first rodeo and he did not fall!

Bornean Orangutan - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

At one point I stopped because I heard another Black-crowned Pitta (E). This one was a little more cooperative than the one from the morning and with a little encouragement he popped up onto a log to sing back to us. Everyone had decent views in the scope as well, giving us a full appreciation of his bright colours.

Black-crowned Pitta - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

While returning to the lodge after our walk a pair of Bornean Crested Firebacks (E) appeared on the open lawn, only a few meters from my cabin, actually. Yet another endemic seen - this time, a pheasant with a cool hairdo.

Bornean Crested Fireback - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Bornean Crested Fireback - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

We enjoyed a delicious dinner as dusk turned to night, after yet another amazing day in Borneo. That evening we went on a night walk, but I'll leave that until my next post as this one is getting a little long already. 

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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley