Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wow it's a Blog Update!

Weellllll, it's been a while since I've updated. To the regular readers I apologize! I'll still try and get some more Borneo pics up at some point as there are still some good stories to convey. A little hard to get motivated this far removed. Oh well. Since then I returned to Canada, led a birding tour to Ontario, worked in Revelstoke and the North Rockies all summer, spent time with my lovely lady Lisa, and came out with a new BOOK!

In September I moved to Nanaimo where I have embarked on a different kind of journey--my quest to become a high-school teacher (at Vancouver Island University--formerly Malaspina College). So far Island--life has been great, with some fun new birding areas to patrol, decent weather, and a fantastic cohort of fellow wannabe-teachers. My practicum is in Port Alberni--a place I have only ever "passed through." I see this as a wonderful chance to explore yet another corner of BC and experience a host of challenges that might face a new teacher in a new town.

There is only one other person from my cohort that is assigned to the high-school in Port Alberni--Gerry Budda, an awesome dude originally from the Island but has lived in East Asia for the last ~10 years. Nice to have someone to share the ups and downs of lesson-planning, classroom management, and all that stuff with! Thanks to the kindness of a fellow classmate (Jen Fink), we have been set-up with a billet-type situation at her parents place on the shores of Sproat Lake--about a 15 minutes drive east of Port Alberni. On our second day, Jen's father Hardy offered to take us out on the lake for a cruise in his boat. Below are a few highlights:

The Hawaii Mars (front), and Phillipine Mars (Blue in rear)--Only 7 of these were built for the transport of goods during the WWII era. They were the largest float-planes every built by the allies. In 1959 the Mars planes were scrapped but a Canadian Forestry company bought these two and converted them to waterbombers. The scoops on these babies can take on 30 tons of water in 22 seconds. Today, only the Hawaii Mars sees active duty but probably not for much longer. The Phillipine Mars is set to be sold to an American Aviation museum and as you can see it has been re-painted in it's original "NAVY Blue." For most of their waterbombing career, they have been stationed here at Sproat Lake--right across from Hardy & Cynthia's place--where we're staying! 
Our trusty skipper out on Sproat Lake--Hardy is the former coach of the Canadian National Gymnastics Team. He still coached internationally and the day before this photo was taken he was "on business" in Antwerp.
Gerry Budda (Mr. Budda is a fantastic teacher name!) taking in the top-notch weather on a lazy afternoon.
Here's where we're staying--the Fink residence. Not bad!
More posts to come--hopefully in less than a couple months this time!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Borneo Blog: Sepilok

And here's a brief telling of my time in Sepilok; a remnant tract of primary forest surrounded by thousands of hectares of palm-oil plantations. Indeed, as you drive east from KK, there is little else but palm-oil. Malaysia produces most of the world's palm-oil, and Sabah produces much of Malaysia's stock (and this is growing everyday, as many residents tell me the government's figures are huge underestimates). While economic development in this part of the world, is encouraging, it is extremely sad to see Borneo's famous jungles devastated and fragmented in this manner. It does seem that local and national bodies have realized the potential negative impact this can have on tourism (which is largely of the ECO variety here in Borneo), as well as the dangers of planting a monoculture. The oil-palm is an African species, and grows well in SE Asia because of the lack of natural pests etc. One day however, if an outbreak of disease occurred, it could potentially lay waste to the entire industry, much like the pine beetle in BC.

SO anyway, Sepilok is a small village on the main highway, but it's one of the easiest ways to access some of the remaining native forest in Sabah, plus it's the most famous place in the world to see Orangutans!

And here's one now. The Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary is home to many "rescued" animals, that had to be rehabilitated for life in the wild. Apparently there are truly wild apes in the area as well, and this could be one (according to one of the interpreters).
As you cans see however, these places can be a bit of a zoo (of people), and I must admit that the experience was not very enjoyable. Luckily I was able to marvel at one of the ginger-haired apes earlier in the morning, before the crowds, as it casually swung from tree to tree, like a lazy Tarzan.
I didn't realize that my camera was all fogged up from the humidity. Anyway, here we see one of the park rangers feeding some of the resident Orangs (or "Mias") some bananas.
Pig-tailed Macaques also like to join in. This guy was taking a break on one of the climbing ropes.
On our first visit to Sepilok, we stayed in some hostel rooms in a jungle resort. Since our room lacked A/C, we pretty much hung by the pool all day. In the mornings I went birding. The roads are lined with plenty of mistletoe-infested trees so I added several flowerpeckers to the lifelist, some sunbirds, and my first spiderhunters! If you're wondering why I took a picture of a hole in the ground, that's because this is a HOODED PITTA nest! (4 nestlings).
Not too far from the orangutan reserve is the "Rainforest Discovery Centre." As a relatively newbie to rainforest canopy walkways, I was definitely in birder-heaven. I sneaked in early in the morning and saw loads of lifers including several Malkoha species (colourful cuckoos), a few new bulbuls, and my first piculet (mini-woodpecker)--a Rufous Piculet. The stand-out highlight for me was just one of those AMAZING birding moments: There I was, admiring a pair of BORNEAN BRISTLEHEADS (why didn't I have my camera)... these birds are rare and crazy-looking in their own right. The fact that I was watching them at eye-level (from a canopy tower) was special enough. But then I heard a loud scream and squawk, that echoed through the forest, and from behind my head flew 3 RHINOCEROS HORNBILLS in all their glory. Double-lifer action and epic birds at that!!! Cherry on top was a RACKET-TAILED DRONGO that thought he'd add to the splendor of the situation by dive-bombing the male hornbill. 3 of the world's coolest birds at one time!
Here's Jess with a large tree.
And here's Jess with a giant isopod. Everything's big in Borneo!
The ever-curious Pig-tailed Macaque
That's right; another brilliant bird photo from RC. This is a cool bird though--my first RED-BEARDED BEE-EATERS!
Thanks to the canopy walkway, I get to look DOWN on this male DIARD'S TROGON
This was a nice one to find, as they can be tough to see in Borneo. This is the RUFOUS-COLLARED KINGFISHER. A forest-specialist that mostly feeds on lizards. 
After missing them in Australia, it was also neat to be in a place where LARGE-TAILED NIGHTJARS are extremely abundant to the point where they keep you up at night... TOK-TOK-TOK-TOK-TOK! It never stops!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Borneo Blog: Mount Kinabalu

Okay, major apologies for taking this long to post. In fact it's been so long that I can't muster the energy to do this trip justice. In an earlier post I introduced my journey to Borneo. Well the following couple slabs will give you a slight taste of what I did there (Feb/Mar 2013). The rest you'll have to hear anecdotally over the next few decades!
After meeting up with my friends in Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Malaysian Borneo's northern state of Sabah), our first priority was to head over to the island's most famous peak--Mt Kinabalu! At just over 4,000m, this is the 20th-highest mountain in the world. To climb it you usually have to book well in advance plus shell out some serious $ (for a poor person like me), so we were happy to spend out time hiking around the bottom. At this time of year there is a lot of rain, so I was lucky to catch the mountain on a clear morning before the clouds rolled in. Birding here can be frustrating due to the low-light conditions in the forest and my lack of song/call knowledge of Asian species. Still, I was able to rack up a lot of nice birds including a variety of Asian flycatchers such as Mugimaki, Pygmy Blue, Little Pied, and the possibly locally rare find--Ferruginous. Also bagged a few endemics here like Whitehead's Trogon, Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Whistling-Thrush, Bornean Flowerpecker... etc etc. Saw my first wagtail ever--a rather yellow "Grey Wagtail," plus a variety of other Asian things I had always drooled over in the fieldguide and now finally got to see.
Borneo has a lot more that birds to see. At first you might not notice any living things in this photo... but there are actually two! A moth that looks like a leaf... and.
This guy--some sort of awesome gecko, with lichen-styled skin.
Yet another crazy-awesome leaf-mimicking moth (all these were on the side of our hostel)
Big ol' butterfly that looks kinda moth-ish
The Swede soaks in the Bornean rainforest, while a couple leeches soak up something else in his socks (Tip: Don't stand in tropical creeks for too long)

Friday, May 31, 2013


Team: “Penticton Perambulating Pigeon Patrol

Members: Russell Cannings(me), Tanya Luszcz, Ryan Tomlinson, Logan Lolande, Jeff Joy, Timmy Joy, Juliette Rhodes, Emily Hillier, Michelle Hamilton, Grant Halm.

Well as you can see, this year’s Big Day team was a big one! After several years of “Shuttleworth Shuffling” the core group of Michelle, Grant, and I decided to do try a 100% green walk around Penticton. 100% green in that we started and finished in the same place. Long-time rival Tanya joined us this year, plus a whole lot of ringers (listed above) including two 12-year-old future starts in Logan and Timmy.

The future of BC birding is bright, with young guns like Logan (left) and Timmy.
The day started off at 4:30am, at my parents’ house on the West Bench above Penticton. As usual, American Robins were the first songsters to start up pre-dawn, joined soon after by Western Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, House Wren, and a surprisingly chipper Bullock’s Oriole. Better yet, was the resident pair of Great Horned Owls (usually uncooperative on count days), who decided to hoot away for about 30min, and one even came in for a close look.

As we descended the hill toward the Locatee conservation area along the river channel, we started to nab our first nice riparian species such as Nashville Warbler, Gray Catbird, and Veery (the first of the year for all present). Ring-necked Pheasants are still abundant in this area, as the males “bok! Bok!” rang out throughout the day.

The sun finally arrived after 5am some time, and more birds were added to our list. Migration seemed a little slow, but it was nice to hear the first MacGillivray’s Warbler of the year, along with several Warbling Vireos, a newly-arrived Eastern Kingbird, and a ‘heard-only’ Yellow-breasted Chat.

Embarrassingly, this is the only photo I have capturing most of the group--taking an early morning break at Starbucks!  The pleasures of an urban route! At least they're pretending to look for birds...
Next we turned north, and followed the river to its source near the S.S. Sicamous on Okanagan Lake. Not very many birds here other than a lone American Coot, the final remainder of the ~600 that winter here each year. Here we bumped into my Dad’s cycling team. They said there wasn’t much on the lake but obviously they didn’t go east enough! While it’s true there weren’t mind-boggling waterfowl numbers in the SE corner of the lake, we picked up several key birds that are tough this late in the spring (and a couple of these my Dad missed despite covering 50x the distance). These included a group of 3 Common Loons at the Lakeside Resort, a lone female Northern Pintail at the mouth of Penticton Creek, and a pair of Greater Scaup (Lesser is much more common in May) near the yacht club.

Although the Esplenade trails at the yacht club were relatively quiet, a lone Yellow-headed Blackbird was a pleasant surprise—one that is tough anywhere in the Penticton area. Next we returned to the Okanagan River Channel via Westminster Ave—passersby stared at us quizzically; at 10 people with binoculars, long-lenses, and scopes, walking purposefully through downtown Penticton on a Sunday morning. As our name suggests, we saw lots of pigeons today. This was actually a huge relief, and a great bonus of birding near a city. You see, the “Shuttleworth Shufflers” won distinction last year in missing Rock Pigeon entirely (earning a “Sour Grapes Award” nod), and we nearly missed it the year prior if not for Michael Force’s last-minute triumphant scoping. This year, we made sure to tick them off as soon as possible!

Once back on the river channel, we walked south aaaall the way to Skaha Lake. Not a lot to add along the way other than single Redhead and Northern Shoveler. Once we got to Skaha Beach, we were treated to a lone Least Sandpiper, then in the NW corner of the lake we found a resting ‘mixed flock’ of Western Grebes and Ruddy Ducks.

Birding along the backroad behind the airport. 
From there we took the backroad past Skaha Meadows Golf Course, behind the airport, then on to Green Mountain Rd, where we returned to the river channel, walked north to the old KVR trail, then took that back to West Bench. Phew! Along that walk the big highlight was hear a singing Clay-coloured Sparrow near the airport (a known location for the species but never reliable). Up on the rock bluffs we noted White-throated Swifts, and some heard a distant Rock Wren. When we reached the main Band settlement, Ryan spotted our only Western Bluebird of the day, then, just after we got onto the KVR trail, we had wonderful looks at several male Black-chinned Hummingbirds. The next find was a Willow Flycatcher that popped up into view—the first sighting for the Okanagan this year!

After a short rest at my parents place on the West Bench, we headed up the hill to the west—bound for Max Lake! It was a bit windy in the small valley near Max Lake but a few new birds were added in the falling light such as Sora, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Dusky Flycatcher.

As we waited for darkness to come, we bumped into several coastal birders, who were up here for the same reason we were—Flams and poorwills!

Well it didn’t take long for the first poorwill to call, then we ended up seeing around 10 on the road as we walked back in the dark. The Flammulated Owls were a lot tougher. Only 2 were heard calling, both of which seemed a great distance away. Oh well, a great end to a great day! 102 species seen on foot, and around 32km walked!

Big thank you to all the people who pledged! Proceeds will be going to the Baillie Bird Fund, the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, and the En’owkin Centre in Penticton.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Last Foray into the Great Western Woodlands

Apologies to those anticipating the next chapter in the Borneo series. You'll just have to wait a liiiittle longer as I amass the appropriate photos etc. Here instead is a more up-to-date account on my recent working field trip into the arid scrublands, sandplains, and woodlands about 500km East/NE of Perth (North of Southern Cross). Some of you may recall my rained-out adventure back in late November. Well I finally got to go back, and it didn't rain! I was the "bird guy" on a team of environmental consultants, aiming to survey the fauna of the area to the best of our abilities, concentrating on threatened/endangered species, and "SREs" (Short Range Endemics-- eg. scorpions, spiders, millipedes, isopods, etc.), that might be impacted by the proposed iron-ore operations in the area.
Most of this area is decidedly flat, but it's these iron-rich hills that the mining companies are interested in.
Outside of birding, the rest of the vertebrate team monitored these traps. A pipe or bucket  (pit-trap) dug in at the center, with directional fences on each side, and funnel-traps at each end. This is mainly for reptiles like skinks, geckos, and snakes. We also had a few Elliot/Sherman traps and live-cage traps set up for mammals.
Below are a few of the critters we saw out there.
Jordan holding a Common Scaly Foot (Pygopus Lepidopodus). This is a legless lizard that I've  posted a few pics of in previous posts. This one was different though in that it dropped it's tail (despite being handled correctly), and click HERE to see what happened next! Usually when a reptile drops it's tail, the lost appendage flops around for 5-10 seconds, but this was something else! Not only did it carry on for close to 5 minutes, but it actually was able to move through the leaf-litter like a live snake, and when I picked it up, (the tail) wrapped around my fingers and started wiggling frantically.
Diplodactylus pulcher
Southern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis semifasciatus). These guys are burrowing snakes so it was a bit surprising that all four of our captures came from rocky areas. Probably seeking out reptile eggs in the leaf-litter etc at the base of eucalyptus trees.
I forgot to get a snap of the only Rosen's Snake of the trip (Suta fasciata), so I  nabbed one off Google (note credit in bottom right--thanks Steve!). The tiger-like striping on ours was much blacker, but you can still see that it is a cool-looking snake. Tip: Do not get bitten by one of these.
This was definitely the herp highlight of the trip for me. Having fancied their photos in fieldguides and on the internet, I finally found this guy by chance as I walked back to the truck from a bird-survey. This is a Pebble Dragon (Tympanocryptis cephalus), which I would NOT have found if it didn't move.
Find the Pebble Dragon! Other than the fact that I've placed it right in the centre, the best way of picking them out is by their tail... which kind of looks like a euc twig.
More "Pebbling"--the next generation of planking/owling.
Monk Snake (Parasuta monachus) beside a funnel-trap
Bynoe's Gecko (Heteronotia binoei)
Ctenotus uber (Subspecies unknown--could be new? Don't ask me)
Burton's Snake-Lizard (Lialis burtonis)
My first Black-headed Monitor (Varanus tristis), and by far the smallest Goanna/monitor I've ever seen.
Cute wittle baby.
For the sake of variety, here is a mammal! No pygmy possum this time I'm afraid. This is an Ash-grey Mouse.
And yes I did see a few birds, although overall it was a very quiet survey. One exception were the Gilbert's Whistlers (pictured), who were quite vocal and provided me with some nice looks at this uncommon mallee specialist.
Australian Owlet-Nightjar hiding in a hollow branch. This guy was actually found roosting in one of our pipe pitfalls, and only reluctantly moved to this more natural setting.
Another big highlight of the trip was searching for "SRE" invertebrates--especially the scorpions and trapdoor spiders.  Because of the dirty work involved and extra weight, I usually didn't have a camera with me so I don't actually have any photos of the numerous scorps and spiders, but here's a shot of one of the awesome trapdoors built by a (probably undescribed) spider. Not the size, and the intricate leaf/stick arrangement around the base.
Closer look. Some of these spiders can live to be over twenty years of age!
Another trapdoor, this one using grass fronds. Unfortunately this was likely abandoned  due to  disturbance from  vehicles and heavy machinery.
On our second last evening, Jordan and I headed up the hill to stake out a small waterhole. Bird activity was slow, but there were some very cool aquatic inverts lurking in the pools as well as a few frogs. We also got destroyed by mozzies and flies! As night fell we put in an hour or so of spot-lighting but only managed a few geckos etc.
At least one was a lifer for me--a 4cm-long Clawless Gecko (Crenadactylus ocellatus)
Looking down upon the massive expanse of dry eucalyptus woodland. Whiles this might seem like a large area of native habitat, it is dwarfed by the surrounding "Wheat Belt" of SW Western Aus, and even this patch is threatened by increasing mining pressures.
The sun sets on the Great Western Woodlands, where my adventures in "W.A." began in the first place.  Big thank you to BirdLife Australia, DEC, and Ecologia, for bringing me out into these little visited areas. There ain't a single tourist in history that's seen this tree! ;)
And finally--we also got another THORNY DEVIL! I didn't grab photos of this one, so lets take a nostalgic (VIDEO) look back at the one Liz Fox and I found back in November.

Coming Up Next on the RUSS BLOG: Final thoughts on Australia, and a continuation of my Bornean adventures. Back in Canada in less than a week!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Borneo Blog: Kota Kinabalu

With the exception of the Shanghai airport at night, I've never been to Asia, and with no pending fieldwork coming up in the hot Australian summer, I figured "Hey, why not go up to Asia somewhere... I hear it's cheap." Coaxed on by another top-notch suggestion from Nigel, I decided that Borneo would be a good place to start. Filled with a great mixture of wintering birds from the Asian continent and a plethora of unique creatures and plants; it is a jungle world of extremes: Boasting the World's smallest deer, and largest squirrels; the smallest elephants and rhinoceros, and the largest walking-sticks, leaf-insects, cicadas...practically every cool insect that your imagination can create, lives somewhere in Borneo.

But the large island of Borneo is no longer the mystic and impenetrable rainforest of the early colonial days. Much of the coastline and major rivers are now lined with rapid urban and agricultural development. While la few decent swaths of pristine forest still remain in some of the highlands and remote river basins, the majority of accessible native habitat is quite fragmented, often surrounded by thousands of hectares of Palm Oil Plantations. These valuable trees, native to Africa, grow fantastically in Malaysian Borneo (the small northern state of Sabah alone produces around 20% of the World's palm oil... and this figure is growing each year) and are now the principle driver of Malaysian Borneo's economy, and the main reason many lowland plants animals are in serious threat of being wiped out.

But the tide seems to be turning, as local politicians realize the impact primary habitat loss has on tourism, not too mention the ecological and cultural integrity of the country. So there is still hope, and still plenty to see--especially for someone like me who hadn't even seen a wagtail yet!

I flew in on January 31st, and ended up staying for 1.5 months. Here's the first chapter...

As with most people, my Bornean Adventure began in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah (in northern Malaysian Borneo). I think the population is around 450,000 but compared to North American cities of the same size, it seems relatively small. I guess everyone is just packed in! This is a view of the downtown area from "Signal Hill" where I got good views of one of Borneo's most abundant and omnipresent birds, the GLOSSY SWIFTLET. "KK" is a relatively modern city, with massive shopping malls, a good variety of cuisines, and a vibrant business district. It used to be called Jesselton (a former British port), but has been renamed to sound more Malaysian, and as a tribute to the famous mountain of the same name (about 1.5 hour drive from the city).
I had arranged to meet up with some Canadian friends, on February 4th, so I had a few days to explore the city on my own. Malaysia is quite culturally diverse, with large numbers of both Muslims and Christians, as well as Hindus and others... all represented by a stunning array of ethnic groups (Mainly Malays from the mainland, Chinses, Indians/Pakistanis, and the descendants of Bornean native tribes). Sabah is a little different from the rest of Malaysia from an ethic/religious standpoint because of its proximity to the Philippines. Sabah used to be a part of the Filipino-based Sulu Empire, and in recent decades, disgruntled Muslim Filipino refugees have been settling the Saban coast in large numbers. This religious and ethnic connection with the problematic situation in southern Philippines, has predictably led to some serious issues for Malaysia. This came to a head while I was in the country, when over 100 armed Filipino men landed on the east coast. A drawn-out conflict with local police followed, and many of the Filipinos were killed, along with members of the Saban police. To complicate the incident, other Filipino illegals already in the country, as well as sympathetic Muslim Malays rose up against the police... and the situation continued. This effectively shut down the east coast--famous for World-class scuba-diving and much more--to tourism, but luckily my friends and I had already been and gone, by the time things got heavy. We did however have to endure constant securtiy checkpoint by machine gun-toting police (at the time we had no idea why they kept stopping us; they were looking for Filipino insurgents).

Okay anyway, back to Kota Kinabalu. As you can see, it has a couple beautiful Mosques, and it was lovely waking up to the morning prayers, and hearing them after dusk as I tucked into a lamb curry.
While, KK is very modern in many respects, there are still many remnants of the old ways, such as these fishermen at Likas Lagoon. Ruining the tranquility, is that this lagoon is filled with garbage (mostly KFC---by far the most popular 'thing' in Borneo after Angry Birds and Gangnam Style). And if I was to take a more wide-angled shot, you would notice an army of 9 weed-whacking city employees, and 3 men armed with leaf-blowers, cutting the grass and removing leaves from an area that only poor fishermen and desperate birders would ever visit. In fact every city in Malaysia seems to employ large numbers of these grass-cutters and leaf-blowers, while the piles of coke cans and junk-food bags pile up. It was depressingly ironic to see the guys with leaf-blowers work around the garbage to get at the leaves. Plus the fact that one man with a lawn-mower could have done the trick (if keeping the highway fringes trimmed to a goal-green is totally necessary), but there were always many of these people out there! Maybe a few bucks to garbage cleanup is in order?
Nearby this fisherman set up in Likas Bay, under the watchful eye of a rather friendly GREAT EGRET.

On my first full day in KK, I walked over to a local mangrove reserve. The rain bucketed down most of the time but since this was my first day birding Asia, I scored lots of lifers including WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, MANGROVE BLUE FLYCATCHER, a single MALAYSIAN HONEYGUIDE (possibly a rare find for this location?), and a bunch of PURPLE HERONS (whose colony is located in the background of this photo--not easily visible).
I've hinted already that KK is a city of contrasts. This tin-roofed slum village, built overtop of a tidal mudflat, is located directly beside a massive Five-Star Resort & Golf Course.
Not the greatest photo but a cool bird. This is a PINK-NECKED GREEN PIGEON.
Should have seen these in Queensland but somehow didn't. This is a "Mudskipper"--a fish that can walk on land!  Common in mangroves around this part of the world.
On my last full day alone in KK, I took a water-taxi out to Manukan Island--part of a small national park that protects the pristine archipelago just off from the city. At around 1.5km long, Manukan is the second-largest in the group, and has a few birds that are difficult or impossible on the mainland. There are a few jungle tracks on the island, none of which seemed to be used by anybody except spiders, so I had most of the forest to myself. The reason no one was in the woods was because everyone was here, at the beach (it got a lot more packed after I took this photo early in the morning). It looks like a fairly tame island beach but the snorkeling is actually fantastic, and I reckon I saw more tropical fish species here than in a whole day on the Great Barrier Reef! Out of about 1,000 beach-goers that day, I may have been the only one not wearing a life-jacket. Not sure if that's because Korean tourists can't swim, or 5 feet is just too deep to take the risk? 
A peek at the ocean from the jungle trail, where I got rather sweaty, lost my hat, but saw lots of neat things including MAGROVE WHISTLERS, OLIVE-WINGED BULBUL, ARCTIC WARBLER, and some very spiky vines.
The main target for most birders on Manukan are these guys--TABON SCRUBFOWL (a Filipino  member of the Megapode family), which can only be found on a handful of islands off the coast of northern Borneo. They are apparently quite skittish, so I was happy to find two different pairs.
The other main island in this archipelago is Palau Gaya. This picture was taken a few weeks later when my friend Jessica and I visited for a hike/swim adventure. Here Jess is posing in an oldgrowth mangrove swamp. Bagged a few more lifers on Gaya including the endemic WHITE-CROWNED SHAMA.
On February 4th, my close friend Jessica (from Vancouver) flew in, joined by another friend (Alex) from Vancouver, and two Swedes (Erik and Ida). Here we're about to munch on some fresh fish and squid at Tanjung Aru Beach just south of KK. Some great fresh juice on the table too--watermelon and lime.
"Build it, and they will come".
After building my first sand-castle in many years, I left briefly to try some Durian  ice-cream. When I returned the castle had been taken over by a family of locals. They weren't playing as much as just sitting. Maybe there's a comfort in human-made structures.
Even at the beach, I'm birding. This is a good one. Before this feral population established itself near KK, the BLUE-NAPED PARROT was endemic to the Philippines. Due to habitat loss, this awesome bird is in serious danger of extinction in the next decade! It is very possible that this KK population may be the last outpost. I saw 4, including one at a roost/nest hole.
My first ever hornbill! This is an ORIENTAL PIED-HORNBILL, just chillin' above us while we ate dinner at the busy beach-side market.
Sun sets over the South China Sea, as the "Year of the Snake" begins. Was really cool to be in an "Oriental" city for the New Years celebrations--non-stop parades, street markets, dancing, singing, fireworks... the works.