Friday, November 19, 2010

The BIG Cat of Borneo

My recent trip to the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary produce an unexpected encounter with one of Borneo's rarely encountered feline. This is none other than the Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardii). My last personal sighting of this feline in the Kinabatangan was approximately about a year ago and to see it back again - this time with one slightly decent photograph will be something that i will never forget. The extreme rarity of seeing one in the wild makes me shiver with joy every time i recap back on this wonderful moment.

It all started when we spotted two bright orange eyes staring at us through a thick undergrowth foliage - and i knew that we were looking at a feline at that moment. But due to the thick undergrowth we could not see it properly. The feline seem to know that we were there and continued to stay put at its position without moving. At this period of time we still have not identified this cat species until it suddenly moved and we saw a very long tail approximately about a meter long that we knew that it is a Clouded Leopard that we were looking at. The leopard move along the river and suddenly stop at a small opening as if it seems to be inspecting us - and in this split 10 seconds i saw it peering through the only opening of the undergrowth thicket i manage to shoot 7 frames hoping for the best - as never had my hands tremble when pressing the shutter - the feeling of seeing a Clouded Leopard in the wild was just too much at that moment. That 10 seconds went by quickly as the leopard continued moving back into the forest. We waited for another 10 minutes or so but it never came back out. 

This is the only one (i would say) 'decent' photo that i manage to capture and under the circumstances at that moment i will say that this is a success for me.

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardii) - suspected to be a sub-adult (due mainly to size which seems to be slightly smaller than full grown adult). Captured on image along the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (N 05. 53' 84" E 118. 29' 56"). Population estimates in Sabah approximately about 1,500 - 3,200 individuals, with only 275 - 585 of them in large protected reserves. Status : Vulnerable (IUCN 2010)

Photo taken at 8:58 pm on 17 November 2010 with a Nikon D 300 + 70-300mm VR lens at ISO 1600,  f 4.5 built in flash on rear sync mode.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Kingfishers of Borneo

I was going through my external hard drive yesterday and found some old photo collections of Kingfishers that i have kept. A majority of this photos were taken with my previous Nikon D80 and ever trusted 70-300mm VR lens. Location wise - the photos were shot in the Sepilok Forest Reserve and also my favourite 'hunting' ground which is at the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Kingfishers have always attracted me because of thier beautiful plumage's and strikingly bright colours and this is very much evident in species such as the large stork billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis). It is always a great joy to see one flying past by with great speed, only managing to catch sight of a lightning tinge of bright blue or red. Thier shy and elusive behaviors have made them a difficult bird to photograph in the wild, with the best bet of photographing them is to have an intimate knowledge of thier daily movements and the patience to approach them silently. So far, i have only managed to photograph 6 of the 12 kingfishers found in Borneo. Hopefully i will be able to slowly document the rest.

Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis). Largest of all Kingfishers in Borneo. Distinctive large reddish bill with an approximate body size of 35 cm long. Found quite commonly along Borneo's major rivers, mangroves and coastline. Status: Least Concerned (IUCN 2010). Photographed in Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Rufous-collared Kingfisher (Actenoides concretus borneana) - Male. Distinctive sexual dimorphism between Male and Female as seen on this two photos. Body size approximately 23 cm long. Found mainly in dense lowland rainforest and sometimes at secondary forest generally far away from water sources. Status: Near Threatened (IUCN 2010). Photographed in Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Rufous-collared Kingfisher (Actenoides concretus) - Female. 

Ruddy Kingfisher (Halycon coromanda). A medium sized kingfisher reaching approximately 25cm long. Has very large bright red bill with equally red legs. Body generally rufous red but turning violet at the tail end. It is a migratory species of kingfisher - with birds from the Northern Range (South Korea and Japan) migrating southwards to Borneo during the winter. Some might have taken resident in the Northeastern part of Sabah. Rarely found too far away from the sea although they have also been recorded in forested areas. Status: Least Concerned (IUCN 2010). Photographed at Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in October 2008.

Banded Kingfisher (Lacedo pulchella melanops) - Male. Approximately 20 cm long in body size. Disinctive sexual dimorphism between male and females - with females generally brownish with black bands and white chest. Found mainly in forested area - ranging from lowland up to sub montane forest. Status: Least Concerned (IUCN 2010). Photographed in Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Blue-eared Kingfisher (Alcedo meninting). A very small kingfisher with an approximate length of 16 cm. This bird is frequently sighted along Borneo's major rivers, streams and lakes where it perches hunting for small fishes. Status: Least Concerned (IUCN 2010). Photographed in Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Borneo Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca or rufidorsa?) - sub species motleyi. Another very small but bright and colourful kingfisher. Found in lowland rainforest up to 1,500 metres a.s.l. This species was photographed in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. I am very much intrigued but at the same time confused on the exact name of this kingfisher. There is i believe still an on going debate on the exact taxonomy of this species, as based on the new borneo bird field guide - one by Susan Myers and one by Quentin Phillips - both seem to treat the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher quite differently but one recognizing the presence of both species, Black-backed Kingfisher (Cexy erithaca) and Rufous-backed Kingfisher (Ceyx rufidorsa) in Borneo. A debate i read on bird forum ( suggested by James Eaton is that :

erithaca - is an Indochinese breeder which winter down to the Malaysian Peninsula and Sumatra
rufidorsa - is a Sundaic breeder (Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Flores, Kalimantan, Sarawak and Palawan)
ssp motleyi  - found in Sabah only and edging into Sarawak and Labuan

Would like to have more info on this if anyone have an opinion? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My "Consolation"

The 2nd Borneo Bird Festival 2010 has just ended a few days ago, and due to my busy work schedule i was unable to be part of the organizing team - much as i would love to be part of. The only activity that i managed to partake in this year is the Bird Photography Competition. Here, i would like to congratulate all my fellow friends from the Borneo Bird Club, Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Society, Nikon Malaysia and other collaborative organizing committee for working hard to ensure the overall success of this event. You all are superb! Even though i feel bad that i wasn't part of the team but at least i have a consolation. Well, maybe next year then.. or maybe i should say.. See you next year.. and YES i will be there for next year.

Sunbird - Consolation Prize - 2nd Borneo Bird Festival 2010

Taken with a Nikon D 300 + 70 -300 mm VR lens at Sepilok Forest Reserve on 05/10/2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Borneo Bird Photography Competition 2010

The hunt for the best bird photo at the 2nd Borneo Bird Festival 2010 has started since 4 days ago. Avid bird photographers and wildlife enthusiast will hope to 'Nail" thier best wild bird photo shot taken throughout Sabah before the dateline on the 17th of October 2010. With the lucrative prize money that is being offered to the best wild bird photo shot this year,  it will certainly add to the excitement of all that is participating. But, wild bird photography is not easy. In order to get the best shot, a photo with a 'WOW' factor in it - you will have to spend a lot of time and effort on the field and hope that the bird might give you a dose of luck such as at least a pose and also hope that the weather and other factors might play in your hands right as you release the shutter of your camera.

My only hope is that all photographers should respect the birds and not go to the extreme to disturb thier nest or use to much excessive repeated flash just to get the shot that they want. I believe that the right moment will come if we learn to understand the birds behaviour and respect their right of space whenever we are photographing them on the field.

This are the two Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) photos that i submitted for the bird photo competition last year albeit a very last minute entry. The first photo won me a consolation prize. Hopefully- finger crossed, i will fare better this year. Wish me Luck!

The Flight of the Rhinoceros Hornbill on the moment of landing as it approaches a fruiting Fig tree

The Rhinoceros Hornbill perching on a dead stump looking for insects and termites

All photos taken with a Nikon D300 + 70 - 300mm VR lens with iso 500, f 5.6 at 280mm at the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary on the 10 of November 2009. (N 05. 27' 401" E 118. 13' 904")

Monday, October 4, 2010

The 2nd Borneo Bird Festival 2010

The 2nd Borneo Bird Festival will be held once again this year at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok on the 15th - 17th of this month. This annual event is expected to attract not only birders and photographers alike but also all nature enthusiast and the general public. The 1st Borneo Bird Festival last year was such a huge success that it makes this years event the more so to look forward to. Plenty of fun-filled activities such as Bird Camps, Face Paintings, Colouring Competitions and even Bird Tattoos will be conducted to cater for visiting families with children. There will also be exhibitions from various bird clubs and organizations plus interesting talks and workshops conducted by specialist in thier respective fields. The Bird Race and Bird Photography Competition in particular will be the highlight for all birders and nature enthusiast (Like Me!!) with great prizes in store for the lucky ones. With about 300 species of birds already recorded within the Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve, this event is a must visit for all so as to allow each of us to foster a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of bird conservation and its direct link to our fragile ecosystem. See YOU there!

"There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before" (Robert Lynd)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flat-headed Cat

I just came back from an amazing 10 day volunteering trip in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and was lucky to sight a Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) on one of my night excursions on the river. This nocturnal feline was observed hunting (in a sit and wait position) very close to the river edge most likely waiting patiently for either fishes or frogs. Its webbed feet and streamlined head allows for speed of movement in the water - a perfect adaptation for life in the river.

Sightings of this species is generally considered to be rare and this is not surprising as its habitat is slowly diminishing especially the important riverine habitats. According to the IUCN, Flat-headed Cats is an endangered species with only about 2500 of them left within its range. This clearly reinforced the need to continue protecting and expanding current wetland and rainforest area to protect this endangered feline.

I managed to take a couple of photos of this beautiful feline for about less than 60 seconds before it retreated back into the forest. Here, i would like to share with all of you one of my shots. Enjoy!

Photo taken with a Nikon D 300 + 70-300mm VR lens shot at 300mm f 5.6 iso 800 with rear flash. Photo taken on the banks of the Menanggol river on the 12th of September 2010 at 10pm. (N 05 29' 48.4" ,  E 118 14' 53.0")

Friday, September 3, 2010

The 'Snake Bird'

The Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), sometimes called the 'Snake Bird' is a waterbird of tropical South Asia and South East Asia. It is a small family of only four species of cormorant-like birds, one in the Neotropics, one in Africa, one in Australia and one in Asia. The Anhingas chase fish and prawns underwater and spear them with thier beaks before eating them. Unlike the cormorants, the darters have straight dagger shape bill and very long and slender neck which makes them look very snake like. This is particularly very evident when the anhingas 'poke' out thier heads from the water - They have the ability to reduce thier buoyancy really very well so that only the head comes out of the water but because of thier whole body feathers are waterlogged, has difficulty running and flapping over the water to get airborne.. The anhingas have to spend a lot of time on low branches or logs spreading out thier wings to dry because of this.

This Oriental Darter photo is taken in an ox-bow lake along the Lower Kinabatangan River and important feeding and breeding ground for this Near-Threatened species. (IUCN Red List Category 2010)

Photo taken on 23rd of July 2010 using a Nikon D 300 + 70 - 300 mm VR lens at iso 400, f 8 at 300mm.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Forest Dragons of Borneo

The Forest Dragons that i am referring to are reptiles from the beautiful lizard genus of Gonocephalus. The Gonocephalus are a medium-sized genus of a distinctive looking agamids distinguished by thier quite unique head shape, which gives them the scientific and common name of "Angleheads". As with other species from the agamidae family, these lizards have a unique ability to change colour which happens when the lizards mood changes and is also an an adaptation to camouflage from potential predators.

Most Gonocephalus lizards live in forested area from an elavation of 0 - 1600 metres a.s.l. The majority are found fairly high up in the trees, either clinging to vertical tree trunks or sitting on the end of thin branches. They are always found nearby to a source of running water mainly a stream.

Among some key characteristics of this genus are the following - body laterally flattened, has a throat and shoulder fold, a distinctive gular pouch and crest on its naped, fairly visible hearing organ or ear drum (tympanum) always present in both sexes, a rather triangular head, and a strong tail that unfortunately does not regenerate if broken.

This species of forest dragon is the Doria's Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus doriae). This species was found clinging on a tree trunk about 1 metre high from the ground in the rainforest of Kubah National Park in Sarawak along the waterfall trail.

Photo taken with a Nikon D300 + 16 - 85 mm lens on 5th August 2010.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thick-billed Green Pigeon (Treron curvirostra)

The Thick-billed Green Pigeon (Treron curvirostra) is a common bird of Borneo's lowland rainforest and can be found up to an elevation of 1500m above sea level. This species has a wide distribution in around South East Asia stretching all the way to Hong Kong, Bangladesh and also to India. According to the IUCN Red List this species is evaluated as Least Concerned due to thier large range and population.

This species comes from the family of Columbidae, a big family of Pigeons and Doves. They are all mainly frugivorous birds and eat a wide variety of fruits, berries and also seeds. According to Smythies - The Birds of Borneo (1999), two subfamilies are represented in Borneo - The primarily arboreal and frugivorous Treroninae family represented by the green pigeons, fruit doves and imperial pigeons and the remainder in the predominantly terrestrial seed eating family Columbinae.

Sexes of this species differ greatly in where the back, mantle and upper inner wing coverts are maroon in the male but dark green in the female. Both though have a grey crown and a distinctive heavy bill with a red base.

This Thick-billed Green Pigeon "couple" photo is taken in the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

All photos taken with a Nikon D 300 + 70-300mm VR at ISO 400 f5.6

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Long Tail Parrots of Borneo

The well-known parrot family is poorly represented in the island of Borneo with only 4 species found. Those found are the Long Tail Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda longicauda), the Blue-rumped Parrot (Psittitus cyanurus), the Blue-crown Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus), and the Blue-naped Parrot (Tanygnathus lucionensis). In comparison to the other parrot family species such as the Cockatoos, Lori's parrot or the Fig-parrots which are found mainly further east in the New Guinea and Australian region, most of the parrots in Borneo are predominantly green in colour and lack the outstanding bright and rainbow like colours of the other species. Nevertherless these species has to be appreciated in order to conserved it as they are endangered mainly because of its demand as a bird pet.

This Long Tail Parakeet photo was taken in the village of Sukau, Lower Kinabatangan feeding on a ripe flower bud of the Simpoh laki (Dillenia excelsa).

All photos taken with a Nikon D300 + 70 - 300mm VR, ISO 400 at f 5.6.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Maroon Langur (Presbytis rubicunda)

World Cup fever is over and a big big Congratulations to Spain on thier great achievement this year. Looks like its gonna be another 5 years to wait before the next World Cup comes around the corner. The past 1 month of exciting football with a lot of surprising upsets ~ albeit the late nights and early morning start just to see it has really made me needing "extra time" to recuperate. I guess thats the same with all football fans as well. Hopefully you will all stay awake at work and fare better than this sleepy Maroon Langur napping in the afternoon.

5 minutes later...

Maroon Langur or also better known as the Red leaf Monkey. This is a Bornean Endemic primate. Photo taken in Gomantong Caves with a Nikon D80 + 70-300mm VR.

Friday, April 2, 2010

JEWELS of the bornean rainforest floor : The PITTAs

No other bornean rainforest bird will claimed the title of being the JEWELS of the rainforest floor other than the elusive and simply beautiful Pittas. Pittas, from the family Pittidae inhabits mainly the humid tropical rainforest regions of South East Asia and Australasia even though pittas can also be found in both Africa and India. The name pitta is said to have been derived from the Telugu language in Andhra Pradesh of India which generally is used in reference to small birds.

In the rainforest of Borneo, 9 species of pittas can be found and 3 of these species are endemic to this island. The 3 endemic species are the Black-headed Pitta (Pitta usherii), Blue-headed Pitta (Pitta baudii) and the Blue-banded Pitta (Pitta arquata). In the rainforest of Sabah, 8 species of pittas including this 3 endemic species can be found. The other 5 species is the big Giant Pitta (Pitta caerulea), the Banded Pitta (Pitta guajana), the Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) and 2 species of migratory pitta that will normally be visiting Borneo after thier breeding season that is the Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) and the Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis)

To spot one, you must be extremely patient and lucky as most pittas are known to be very secretive and they tend to sulk a lot in the darker areas of the rainforest floor. With thier high pitched and piercing whistles it is most likely that you will be hearing one more often than having a chance of seeing one. Best places in Sabah to see this Jewels are in the rainforest of Sepilok, Kinabatangan, and Danum Valley.

So far, I have only managed to photographed 2 of these beautiful species of pitta. It will be a big challenge and indeed a tough proposition for me to capture images of the remaining species of pitta but nature works in its own wonderful way and who knows i might just see this JEWEL crossing down a forest trail in the first early morning light...

The Beautiful Black-headed Pitta (Pitta Usherii)
Nikon D80 + 70-300mm VR at 300mm F5.6 ISO 800 Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

The Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida)
Nikon D80 + 70-300mm VR at 300mm F5.6 ISO 800 Sepilok Forest Reserve

Global Warming?

It has been awhile since i last updated my blog (thousand apologies on that).. and it has also been awhile since we last had any "REAL" rain in Sabah (not my fault though). This ongoing drought that we have been experiencing since the last 7 weeks have seen changes in our natural landscape in particular our rivers are slowly receding in its water levels, soil surfaces are cracking due to the extreme dryness and minor forest fires are happening here and there cause by the heat and constant humidity. This is a total contrast to when I was at the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in January this year. There, I saw the onset of the northeasterly monsoon, a period of time when the whole of sabah will be lashed by heavy rain and I also saw how fast the water can rise in less than a week of continuous rain. This flood lasted for about 3 weeks and just as it stopped, the dry period we are experiencing right now started. For most of the wildlife in the rainforest, wether it is rain or shine or drought or flood or even la-nina or el-nino the need to survived in such unpredictable weather patterns have allowed them to slowly acclimatize and to also change and at times improvise from thier normal behaviors to adapt to these circumstances. This weird weather pattern that we have been having has led me to believe that this could be the start of the effects of Global Warming. Are we ready to adapt and improvise to such uncertainty in our environment now?

"Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day." [Uncle Vanya, 1897]

Nikon D300 + 70-300 mm VR at 300mm F 5.6 ISO 800, Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

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