Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best of 2011

One more year has finally come to an end. 2011 has been another fruitful year for birding, although not specifically for Beppu.This year saw me changing my camera body twice. The first time from an old Canon EOS 350D, which I'd been using for over 5 years, to a new EOS 550D in March. This new 550D unfortunately dropped into the mud at Sekinoe in May, and I was left birding without any camera for roughly 4 months before I got another 550D to replace the former one. It was the biggest tragedy that happened for me in 2011. At least it made me become much more conscious about the safety of my equipment.
The highlight of January was the 2 Black-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) that showed up in a small port behind my dorm. Both of them were in their non-breeding plumage with one of the birds having strangely deformed upper mandible. Photos and stories of the first individual can be seen here, and here for the second individual.
I also discovered another great birding place in Oita where over 100 Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) gathered along with a few other species of ducks. It was a quiet curve of Oita River sheltered by large oak trees near Taromaru. Even though I couldn't get close to the birds, it was an absolutely wonderful experience observing them performing courtship display and relaxing in the afternoon light. More photos can be seen here.
The pair of Bean Geese (Anser fabalis) that was staying at Sekinoe since late October 2010 was still presenting well until early March. It was sad that I couldn't observe them until they left because I had to go back to Thailand during the spring vacation starting from February. The above photo was taken on January 15, showing the smaller Tundra Bean Goose (Anser fabalis serrirostris) on the left and the Taiga Bean Goose (Anser fabalis middendorffi) on the right. More photos taken on that day can be seen here.
February kicked in with a great surprise at the top of Mt. Tsurumi. A flock of Asian Rosy Finches (Leucosticte arctoa brunneonucha) was found feeding on the small lawn next to the cable car station. I first found them on February 2, but the weather was not good for photography. I decided to visit the place again on Febrary 3, only one day before I flew back to Thailand, and finally got a great bunch of decent shots of both male and female birds. More photos and stories can be viewed here.
Shortly fter arriving in Thailand, I visited Nam Kham Nature Reserve in Chiang Rai to look for the rare Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler (Cettia major) and the White-tailed Rubythroat (Luscinia pectoralis tschebaiewi), which had been seen visiting the water hole by other birders. The trip was half successful since I only saw the bush-warbler but not the rubythroat. However, it's always a nice experience visiting Nam Kham because you'd get to see many secretive species that normally wouldn't come out into the open. More photos from that visit can be watched here.
I also visited Chiang Dao during mid February to see the tiny but extremely colourful Pin-tailed Parrotfinch (Erythrura prasina). A large flock of these wonderful little birds came to the salt lick every morning to get sodium. I was lucky to get photos of them up close in the morning before they flew back to feed in the forest. Only about a month later, the number of the birds decreased and they became more difficult to see and photograph. More photos of them can be seen here.
I went out birding almost everyday during the time that I was staying at home in Chiang Mai during February and March. I liked to ride my bicycle to my favourite local patches in my neighbourhood. I took too many photos that I became too lazy to do anything with them. The above photo of the Wire-tailed Swallows (Hirundo smithii filifera) was shot near the Taeng River that flows through my hometown. It is my most favourite species of swallow. I took lots of photos of them at close range by using a small mobile hide that I recently bought.
Every winter, starting from January, the brightly coloured flower called the Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma) blooms and attracts lots of nectar-eating birds in the forest behind my house. The one in the photo above is the large and aggressive Hair-crested Drongo (Dicrurus hottentottus). If you look carefully, you can see its long hair-like feathers growing on its forehead. I had a great fun taking photos of them and a few other species of birds that visited the flowering tree. I plan to post more photos of them in the near future.
As I said, I took lots of photos during my stay in Thailand. Another trip I made in February was a short one-day trip to Fang Hot Spring to see the gorgeous black-and-yellow Spot-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas melanozanthos). A large flock of this colourful bird can be seen visiting the hot spring regularly every morning during the dry season to obtain salt and sulphite. More details about this magnificent bird and its interesting habit can be viewed in this post.
March arrived and I was still carrying on my daily birding around my neighbourhood. I surprisingly discovered a small flock of Crested Buntings (Melophus lathami), an enigmatic species of bunting that migrates to northern Thailand every winter. It has a striking look unlike any other bunting with its contrasting black and chestnut plumage and high spiky crest. Female bird is drabber with blackish plumage replaced with mottled brown, but still with a remarkable crest. After a few days of trying, I could finally get some decent shots of this shy bird. More photos and details will come soon. I promise.
I had my biggest trip of the year in late March. My dad and I, accompanied with 2 other birding friends from Chiang Mai, visited Malaysia for about 10 days. Our trip was extremely successful with the help of our nice friends from Malaysia. We visited two places, which are Fraser's Hill and Merapoh. Trip reports for the first 2 days can be viewed here. To read the whole trip reports just continue clicking on the Newer Post button at the bottom of the page, or select the word tag Malaysia. The bird in the photo above is the brilliant Garnet Pitta (Pitta granatina coccinea) from Merapoh. It is a scarce species, which was a star bird for our trip.
At the very end of March, I arrived back in Beppu waiting for the spring semester to start. I was kindly led by Furuso-san, who has always been generous about sharing information of birds in Beppu, to a place where a pair of Eurasian Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) used as a roosting site. We only found 1 bird on that day. I was lucky enough to photograph it before it disappeared on the next day. More photos of the bird can be watched in this post.
I didn't do much birding in April due to many factors. May saw me resuming my birding. I regularly visited the Mochigahama Beach to photograph a family of Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nihonensis). The chick was extremely cute. It always tried to camouflage when I got close, even when sometimes it's just too obvious like in the photo above. More photos of the plovers, as well as the fist Greater Sand-Plover for Beppu, can be seen here.
After my camera dropped into the mud, I didn't take any photo of birds until the end of July when a friend of mine kindly lent me her Canon 5D Mark II. I've read about a flock of White-bellied Green-Pigeons (Treron sieboldii) coming to drink sea water near Nishi-Oita since the last year. So I decided to make a visit to Shiraki, the place where the birds were seen, and I was so happy to find that there were even more birds than I thought. More photos of the green-pigeons can be watched here.
Just before I returned the wonderful 5D Mark II to my friend, I got the news from Furuso-san about the nesting Red-rumped Swallows (Hirundo daurica japonica) at Asami. I've never got any decent photo of this species of swallow before, so I hurried there and could get some good shots of the birds while they're perching on the electrical wire before flying into the nest. Photos and stories of photographing this swallow can be viewed here.
I went back to Thailand again in August. I actually intended to stay in Japan throughout the whole summer vacation, but I needed to fix my camera, and it's better to just fly back and have it repaired in Thailand, so that I could stay with my family as well. Unfortunately, it couldn't be fixed, so I just had to buy a new one. After getting a new camera, I continued birding in my local patch as usual. August might not be a great month for birding, since it's still rainy season and there are not many migrants, but it's a good month to see many resident birds raising their chicks. The above White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) was seen feeding on the muddy road early in the morning with its mate and chicks. I encountered many waterhen families with young chicks during August. More photos of the waterhen can be seen here.
September came and I was pleased to get many good shots of the rarely seen perching Black Baza (Aviceda leuphotes syama) at Mae Hia. The bird seemed to be a bit exhausted. September is a good month to see migrating raptors. The bird was a female of a migrating race judging from its barring pattern on the underparts. More photos of the same bird preening and sun bathing can be viewed in this post.
I also got my first ever shot of the cute Collared Scops-Owl (Otus lettia) that has been residing in my house area for many years in September. This species is much shyer and more difficult to find than the numerous Asian Barred Owlet, and I haven't even seen it before. In the early morning of September 18, I heard one of this scops-owl calling near my garage, so I tried using playback. The bird responded and showed up in front of me. I only took a few shots before it flew out into the dark. Few more photos of this cute owl can be seen here.
On the same day that I got my first photo of the Collared Scops-Owl, I visited Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. At the highest summit, I had a great fun taking photos of little birds that were flicking around in the bush along the road. The one in the photo above is an Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis), which can be found only at the summit of Doi Inthanon. Normally, it's a really difficult bird to photograph. Surprisingly, I could get many decent shots of it on that day along with a few other small birds. Photos and stories of these little brown jobs can be viewed in this post.
I came back to Beppu again in late September just like the migrating waders. I had a great time photographing many waders up close at Rokushoen after my arrival. The above shot of a Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) is my most favourite shot of the year. I've never seen such a tame Terek Sandpiper before. The bird was really cooperative and I got many satisfying shots of it. More photos of this bird can seen here in this post.
I visited Shiraki again in October to take photos of the White-bellied Green-Pigeons (Treron sieboldii). I almost gave up after hours of waiting since there were only a few birds left and all of them stayed far from the place where I set up my hide. However, fortunately one male bird touched down right in front of the hide. I was very excited since I've never seen one that close before. It was so close that I had to clone the tail of the bird from the other shot, and put it together with the rest of the body to make the above photo. More photos of the green-pigeons can be seen here.
Winter seemed to be much delayed. Even in November, it was still relatively warm. I didn't do much birding since it was so dull everywhere. I tried exploring some new places like the Ueno Cemetery Park in Oita, but I didn't find many interesting birds. At least, I was still lucky to come across a huge Ural Owl (Strix uralensis fuscescens), which was being mobbed by a flock of Brown-eared Bulbuls. More photos and stories of the owl can be viewed here.
A pair of male Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus nihonensis) at Mochigahama Beach kept me entertained throughout the late November. It's interesting to see that one of the birds was so tame that I could get closer than 5m easily without using a hide. I enjoyed taking both pictures and videos of the birds under the warm evening light. The photos and videos can be seen in this post.
Even in December, it is still really dull here in Beppu and Oita. I visited Oita River in Kaku and was surprised to find that there were still not many ducks in the river. The winter of 2011/2012 doesn't seem to be good for birding at all comparing to the last one. At least I've got my best shot of the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis poggei) during my visit to Kaku.
I still don't have the mood to go out birding that much, since it's always been quiet wherever I went. I'll be celebrating the New Year's Eve in Fukuoka looking for the endangered Black-faced Spoonbills. If lucky, I'll be able to share with you some photos of them. Beppu city just had a great firework show for Christmas at the beach next to my dorm and it was just wonderful. Merry Christmas everyone! Thank you for visiting my blog throughout 2011. I wish you all have a great 2012!


Russell said...

Beautiful birds and superb photographs of them, Ayuwat. No one would guess about the disaster with your camera as it looks like a pretty fulfilling birding year to me. I hope you have better luck with your camera in 2012 and continue to post astonishingly beautiful pics to your blog. Happy days.

Stuart Price said...

Lots of grebes have deformed bills and strange growths..........they can look horrifying viewed 100% on the PC.

Great photos, keep it up in 2012.

Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok said...

Thanks a lot Russell and Stu for constantly visiting my blog throughout 2011. Hope 2012 will be a good year for you!

Phil said...

I can certainly relate to the Beans and it's good to see such a good comparative shot of the races, but that Terek is an absoloute stunner.