Die White-whiskered Laughingthrush moet zich eens scheren wellicht? (er staat nu Moustached Laughingthrush onder).
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December 25th ONE DAY IN TOKYO
Last night I had arrived in Tokyo, Japan. I was excited and a bit afraid of the task at hand. I had to find my way across a city with 14 million inhabitants to my hotel, the Capsule Inn. That's right, I was sleeping in a capsule tonight. You see, booking an overnight stay in downtown Tokyo during the holidays can be terribly expensive, unless you are prepared to sleep in a 2 m2 room. Luckily, using the Tokyo public transportation system proved much easier than expected. All metro and train stations are named in English and everything is color-coded, making Tokyo actually the easiest mega-city to get around! I arrived at the Capsule Inn around 9 PM and after a fantastic Japanese dinner I went to bed. Four hours later I was awake again thanks to my jetlag and lying awake in a capsule for four hours is not the best feeling in the world ...
At 6:30 the alarm went off and my ordeal was over! I had breakfast and took a metro to Yoyogi Station, where I was met by Chris Cook, my guide for today. Together we walked to Yoyogi Park where we started birding. My two main targets were quickly found, the Varied Tit and Japanese Pygmy-woodpecker. Pale and Dusky Thrushes were feeding on the parks open fields and we found a nice flock of wintering Mandarin Ducks on a small pond.
From Yoyogi Station we took the metro to Kasai Rinkai Koen at the other side of Tokyo, which is situated at Tokyo Bay. We found out that we were not the only birders out birding with Christmas. There were literally hundreds of photographers and birders in Kasai Rinkai Park! Great to see that birding is hot and happening in Japan! We did find some great birds here, best of the bunch being the gulls. Kamchatca, Black-tailed, Vega and Slaty-backed Gull were all seen and a real bonus was an adult Saunders's Gull found by Chris. Another unexpected find were two Black-faced Spoonbills. At noon I said goodbye to Chris and finished the day birding till dusk before I took a metro to the airport, where I boarded my flight to Taipei, Taiwan.
Sleeping in a capsule (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Saunders's Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Japanese birdwatching scene (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis fujiyamae (Arjan Dwarshuis)
December 26th THE BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS OF TAIWAN
Last night I had arrived on Taiwan where I was picked up from Taipei Airport by Richard Foster (www.birdingtaiwan.com). Together we drove to the Dasyueshan Forest where we checked in at our hotel for a couple of hours of sleep.
As soon as it was light enough we started birding, initially focusing on the lower part of the mountain range. As always on an island with a good number of endemics, new species kept rolling in during these first couple of hours of birding. Highlights were Yellow Tit, Taiwan Hwamei, Steere's Liocichla and a wintering - and calling - Kamchatka Leaf-warbler, a recent split from the Arctic Warbler-complex.
A little bit higher up the mountain we had no trouble finding the beautiful Swinhoe's Pheasant and Taiwan Whistling-Thrush and Taiwan Wren-babbler where the only ones for the trip.
In the afternoon we drove up a road with one of the best scenery's I encountered this whole year. It is great to see that Taiwan's Mountains are still covered in extensive forest. Another great thing was that we encountered hundreds of local birdwatchers and especially photographers looking for Taiwan's sought after endemic birds. After my experience in Japan it became clear to me that birding and photography is booming in East Asia!
At the highest part of the Dasyueshan road we found the sought after Collared Bush-robin and Flamecrest, but I was especially pleased with Taiwan Fulvetta and Taiwan Rosefinch. Quite interesting were local forms of White-backed Woodpecker, Eurasian Wren and Eurasian Nutcracker. The star bird - Mikado Pheasant - however did not show itself at its usual stakeout.
Swinhoe's Pheasant Lophura swinhoii (Arjan Dwarshuis)
White-whiskered Laughingthrush Garrulax cineraceus (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Taiwanese mountains (Arjan Dwarshuis)
December 27th CHASNG TAIWAN ENDEMICS
We had done pretty well yesterday which meant that today would of course be a little bit more challenging. We started our quest for the remaining Taiwan endemic where we'd left off, in the mountains. Here we quickly found our first target, a covey of Taiwan Partridges. We tried without success for the elusive Rusty Laugingthrush before we headed downhill to look for Taiwan Blue Magpie and Chestnut-bellied Tit in a different valley. During our first stop we found the Magpie and after a bit of searching we managed to get fantastic looks at the tit.
In the late afternoon we went up into the mountains one last time to try for Mikado Pheasant, but again this fantastic species refused to show itself; quite a painful dip as you can imagine.
Taiwan Partridge Arborophila crudigularis (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Taiwan Thrush Turdus poliocephalus niveiceps (Arjan Dwarshuis), a probable future split from Island Thrush T poliocephalus.
Whites Thrush Zoothera aurea (top) and Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma (bottom) (Arjan Dwarshuis)
December 28th STUCK AT TAIPEI AIRPORT
Around 7:30 AM Richard dropped me off at Taipei Airport. I was ready to check in for my flight to Vietnam when I found out that my visa was not in order. It would take at least five hours to fix this, so of course I missed my flight. I had to spend the whole day on Taipei airport before I could finally get on a new flight to Ho Chi Min City, which left at 7 PM. I made a whole lot of extra unnecessary costs and arrived in Vietnam just before midnight. Of course I did not see any new species today. I guess it had to happen at some point, so better all the way at the tail end of my Biggest Year.
December 29th VIETNAM, MY LAST COUNTRY THIS YEAR!
Last night I was picked up from Ho Chi Min Airport by my guide - Phuc Le - for the remaining three days of my Biggest Year in Vietnam. This beautiful country has always been high on my whish list, not just for its impressive list of endemics and other special birds, but also for the great food and the friendly people. Phuc and I drove four hours to Cat Tien National Park where arrived around 2:30 AM. This gave me just enough time for a couple of hours of much needed sleep.
After a quick noodle soup breakfast it was time to start birding. Phuc decided that we would first head off to the grasslands to look for the endangered Green Peafowl which is arguably the most beautiful of all pheasants. During the walk to the grasslands we found Golden-crested Myna's, Grey-faced Tit-babbler and Grey-headed Parakeet. In the grasslands it took a bit of searching, but eventually we found two stunning Green Peafowls. Around midday bird activity stopped so I decided to take a well-deserved afternoon nap.
In the afternoon we went after the two species of Pitta that can be found in the park. We got splendid views of Bar-bellied Pitta, but Blue-rumped Pitta unfortunately was only heard.
Green Peafowl Pavo muticus (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Bar-bellied Pitta Pitta elliotii (Arjan Dwarshuis)
December 30th ONE OF THOSE DAYS WHERE EVERYTHING WORKS
You have some of those days where everything works perfectly, today turned out to be such a day. It already started great with an amazing dawn chorus of a family of Red-cheeked Gibbons. Half an hour later we took a jeep ride to Crocodile Lake. Shortly after our arrival two Germain's Peacock-Pheasants started calling and after some playback of their calls I actually got to see one really well as it crept across the forest floor. 15 Minutes later we were looking at a family of three Dusky Broadbills, but the best sighting of the morning was still to come. Totally unexpected we bumped into a small covey of the rare Orange-necked Partridge, which is probably the hardest specialty to find in the whole park. Great stuff.
After packing our bags we commenced with the 2,5 hour drive to Nui San Pass, a birding site half way between Cat Tien and Dalat.
When we arrived at Nui San Pass it was around 2:30 PM and there was absolutely zero bird activity. That's the beauty of birding, out of the blue things can change dramatically. Suddenly we heard a huge flock of birds approaching through the forest and moments later we were seeing dozens of Black-capped Parrotbills, Black-hooded Laughingthrushes, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler and to top things off several Vietnamese Cutias, Yellow-billed Nuthatches and two Indochinese Green Magpies.
At the top we focused on the rare and notoriously skulking Orange-breasted Laughingthrush and after playing hide-and-seek with this bird for half an hour I had fantastic looks at one.
When it became dark we continued to Dalat. Here we met up for some beers with Tjeerd Burger, André Willem Faber and Jaap Hennevanger. These three Dutch birders would join us tomorrow for the last day of my Biggest Year!
Black-shanked Douc Pygathrix nigripes (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Dusky Broadbill Corydon sumatranus (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Vietnamese Cutia Cutia legalleni (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Black-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus margaritae (Arjan Dwarshuis)
Red-vented Barbet Psilopogon lagrandieri (Arjan Dwarshuis)
December 31th IT'S A WRAP!
Today was a special day, the last one of my Biggest Year that is! Unfortunately it was raining cats-and-dogs when we left Dalat town. I was telling Tjeerd, Jaap and Adre that this was about the worst weather I endured this entire year. ‘What?! THIS is the worst weather you’ve had ALL YEAR?!’ Indeed I have been incredibly lucky this year. Not just with the weather, but also with flights, political situations and my health; I haven’t been sick for a single day! That alone is crazy, normally I get sick at least once or twice a year. I guess being out and about and doing the thing you love all day is generally good for your health. Also it probably helped that I never drank more than one or two beers a day, making sure I was fresh the next day, both physically and mentally.
We had three challenging target birds this last day of the year. The Grey-crowned Crocias, Collared Laughingthrush and Black-crowned Fulvetta. All three are endemic to Vietnam, all three are rare and all three are beautiful. We spent the first three hours of day looking for the laughingthrush, but all we got was wet to the bone. Later in the morning we connected with our first – and my personally most wanted – target, the unique and endangered Grey-crowned Crocias. We found at least two birds moving with a big mixed species flock that also contained Vietnamese Cutias and the Grey-crowned Bush-tit, a likely future split from, Black-throated Bush-tit. Due to the horrendous weather I couldn’t take out my camera all day, so no photos of this beauty unfortunately. Another good bird this morning was the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch, as well as the range-restricted Slender-billed Oriole.
In the afternoon we drove two hours to Bidoup NP, the last birding site for me this year. You could see the effects of the heavy rain. The river had swallowed entire coffee plantations, houses and unfortunately for us, also the trail system in the park. We tried crossing a newly formed stream bare foot, only to find out that there was an even bigger and faster flowing stream two hundred meters ahead. After freeing a Vietnamese family whose car got stuck on the muddy road, we decided it was probably best to focus our energy to the roadside for the last half hour of daylight.
Here that last bit of Biggest Year-magic happened. With only 20 minutes of daylight left I suddenly heard a Collared Laughingthrush responding in the distance. We managed to get closer to the bird and ten minutes later we all got views of this incredibly good looking and endangered Laughingthrush that skulked through the undergrowth. We walked back to the car, having given up on the fulvetta, but Phuc decided to play the song of the bird one last time and behold, we got a response! While it was slowly becoming too dark to bird we had fantastic views of my last possible Vietnamese endemic this year.
After dinner, a quick powernap and a shower, we headed into Dalat town for my first and last day of boozing this whole year! Cheers! It was an incredible year!
I will soon post an epilogue of my Biggest Year.