Saturday, 20 February 2016

Day 3

Day 3

Our 5:30 breakfast was interrupted by a calling Collared Scops Owl which was quickly tracked down. It was then off to KK and forest birding – could it be better than the previous day?  A large-tailed Nightjar taking off from the road was next onto the trip list before we entered the National Park.

Parking near km19, we piled out –our first target being Great Slaty Woodpecker. Nick quickly located the resident pair but only Mr Bell managed to get a view before they flew off.  That disappointment was soon forgotten as one new bird after another was found, all to the amazing backdrop of singing White-handed Gibbons. 

To our left, Greater and Common Flamebacks, Greater and Blue-winged Leafbirds, to our right, Black-crested Bulbuls, Black-naped Oriole, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Green-eared Barbet, whilst behind us Grey-eyed and Stripe-throated bulbuls. A Black-thighed Falconet flew past and was eventually scoped sitting up on a distant snag.  A walk along the road produced our first Thick-billed Green Pigeon along with better views of the Heart-spotted Woodpecker.  The earlier miss of the Great Slaty Woodpeckers was corrected as the pair were watched flying overhead. 

A drive up to the second stream crossing produced little new except for a cock Red Junglefowl feeding at the roadside.  After parking up we walked up the road. The birding, however, was, at this stage, hard work. That was countered by excellent views of a couple of Gibbons. Birding highlight came in the shape of a Red-throated Bee-eater that was a surprise find this low down in the park. This was soon followed by a pair of Black-and-Yellow Broadbills. 

Making our way back to stream 2, an Orange-bellied Trogon called. Nick soon located the bird and this kick started another manic period as new bird after new bird was found.  A Buff-rumped Woodpecker followed by a Streaked-breasted Woodpecker. These were followed by our second, and third, Broadbill species. A pair of Silver-breasted was soon followed by a Banded Broadbill. The period was capped with an Austin’s Brown Hornbill feeding in the trees above us.

After a quick break to get our breadth back, Nick suggested we ride our luck and try for a Blue Pitta. There was no dissent for that idea and we followed Nick along an elephant track into the forest. A Hainan Blue Flycatcher and a small group of White-bellied Erpornis were noted before a quick blast on the tape produced a response from a Pitta. We gradually made our way to where the bird had called. Another call from the bird showed we were in the right area, but was clearly further back into the tangle of the forest. Nick set of alone to see if he could locate the bird.  Up to this point, as with all Pitta hunting expeditions, we had kept all noise to a minimum. Suddenly Nick, who was about 25 into the forest, shouted out he had the Pitta and we should get to him as fast as possible. The ensuing crashing through the understory must have surely scared off the Pitta. But no. There it was, gradually making its way deeper into the forest but stopping every now and then to check us out. A dazzling gem of bright blue, with a flash of bright orange at the rear of the head. A tidy bird indeed. It was a happy group that made their way back to the road, to pick up Blue-bearded Bee-eaters. And all this before lunch!

We returned to the lower camping site for lunch, bore we were due to head up to the upper reaches of the park for the afternoon. After lunch we met up with the current star of World birding, Arjan Dwarshuis, a Dutch birder currently trying to beat the world year list. He was a really nice guy who was enthusing over the mammals he’d seen in the previous 24hrs – Leopard, 2 species of Porcupine and a Sloth Bear as well as a Bay Owl.  I’m not sure whether he would have been as pleasant if he had found out we’d had a Blue Pitta less than an hour previously as it later transpired he’d spent some 4 hours that morning staking out one without success.

 To reach the upper parts of the park, you need to take a ride up in an 4x4 pick up as the road is rough and very steep in places.  We didn’t go all the way to the upper campsite (leaving that for a couple days) stopping a few km’s short. Almost immediately after disembarking from the pickup we were onto some good birds. White-crested Laughingthrushes were heard and while trying to call them in a Rufous-browed Flycatcher was found low in a roadside tangle. The Laughingthrushes didn’t show but a Grey Peacock-pheasant started to call close by. Whilst Mike managed to get some good views and Rob only managed a brief view of the head, no one else managed to get onto the bird. Frustrating, but typical forest birding. Further proof of how frustrating birding in the forest can be came minutes later when a Banded Kingfisher called almost right above us. Phil and Rob managing to get onto the bird before it flew off.

More luck was had with a mixed warbler flock where Sulphur-bellied and Yellow-browed Warblers were noted by all. One of the key target species at this altitude is the Ratchet-tailed Treepie. This species is often found following Babbler and Laughingthrush flocks, particularly Collared Babblers. So when Collared Babblers were heard working through the forest everyone was on high alert for the Treepie. Unfortunately the flock consisted of Collared Babblers and Black-throated- Laughingthrushes and accompanying Ashy Drongo’s. 

With no Ratchet-tailed Treepie it looked like our luck was running out, and it was a slightly quiet journey back to the lower camp.... until... there on the road before us, the un-mistakable shape of a large cat. LEOPARD! screamed Phil, and it promptly disappeared into the jungle. Our driver, however, knew that it was unlikely to have gone too far so he slowly drove to where it disappeared and there, less than two feet from the vehicle lay the leopard.  For a few moments, there we were looking straight into the eyes of this magnificent beast. Those of us in the open back of the pickup were no more than 4m from the cat and those closest were less than 2m. Then, before we could get the camera’s up, it was gone.  A couple of minutes later it was seen walking up the road and round the corner.

The rest of the journey down was a bit of a blur as we tried to bring ourselves back to earth.  A Red Muntjac crossed our path near the 2nd stream crossing. A stop by km 19, where we started the day, we watched a number of Woodpeckers coming into roost, including a Greater Yellownape. We also managed to spotlight an Asian Barred Owlet but the calling Brown Boobook and Great Eared Nightjars could not be located.

All in, all of the group felt that today proved to be their best day ever birding. Even Nick was of the view that it was a very special day at KK.

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