Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Forest Creatures

The forests of Malaysia are all cut up and turned into Oil Palm Plantations. Miles and miles of palm trees that produce these fruits that are turned into oil for cooking and cleaning products. Have you ever used Palmolive soap? Palm-ol-ive is made from this. The forests that remain are the homes to the many animals that once roamed all over Asia including Elephants and Tigers. We didn't see either of these but we did see giant Elephant poop along the road which indicates that they are around. We did see some interesting animals including this Asian Bearded Pig. She's a real lady - you can tell by the high heels.

Mrs. Asian Bearded Pig
The most common animals that we saw were monkeys. We saw 5 species of monkeys throughout the trip. The first were Short-tailed Macaques - a whole troop of them crossing the dirt road including this Mom and youngster.

Short-tailed Macaques
The most common monkey was the Long-tailed Macaque. We saw lots of them along the road and also in Singapore. These photos were taken on Palau Ubin which is a future post but you get to see the difference in tail length if I show the comparison here. Look at the length of that tail - not to mention the size of those testicles. Geez!

Long-tailed Macaque
We heard other monkeys in the forest and were fortunate enough to get a close view of one species of Leaf Monkey. This guy reminds me of Michael Jackson in his later years. This is a big monkey but not as scary looking as the Macaques.

Leaf Monkey
The star of the monkey show had to be the White-handed Gibbons. You could hear them from a mile away howling.  We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw this guy hanging out by the road.

White-handed Gibbon
His howling gave him away. He continued for 5 minutes while we sat in the car staring back at him.

Di took this video on my iPhone while I was snapping the photos above. You can hear him howling and see him swinging through the treetops just like a monkey!

That was a special encounter for sure. We found a bat cave too. The local people build shrines in the woods. This one is built to thank whatever god for winning lottery numbers (not kidding). There are winning lottery numbers written on the cave.

Bat Cave
 There are also bats in this cave. Lesser Sheath-tailed Bats to be specific.

Lesser Sheath-tailed Bats
Butterflies abound in Malaysia too. This is some type of Wood Nymph that floated effortlessly.

And another common butterfly that was pretty colorful.

And sadly, this giant moth that we found dead in the woods.

More about our adventures in Singapore coming soon. Its nice to have a working computer again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Overdue Overseas Report

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted. My old computer finally gave up the ghost and I just got a fancy new Asus laptop delivered yesterday. I couldn't process photos on the old machine and I know that most of the readers of this blog read it for the pictures rather than the text. Anyway, here goes. . .

I started to tell you about our birding experience in Malaysia but got sidetracked with the leech story. We did see birds - 80+ species in 2 days. Some of those were "heard only" birds. This is deep forest birding where it is impossible to see birds that are more than 10 yards away from the road. Our guide helped us identify the sounds and also helped to call the birds out to the road so that we could see some of them. There are a few categories of birds that are very common in this area. Flowerpeckers fill up a page in the field guide. The first real bird that we saw was Orange-breasted Flowerpecker. This bird is a)great looking, and b)easy to see because it likes feed in low bushes on the roadside.

Orange-breasted Flowerpecker
The next Flowerpecker was this Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker. Same as above, pretty and easy (sounds like a few of my high school friends). 

Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker
The next group of birds takes up 3 pages in the field guide - the Babblers. Babblers are much harder to see. They skulk in the low, dark, bushy areas of the forest. Mostly, we heard these birds and saw fleeting glimpses of them as they darted through the underbrush. This fellow popped out for a few seconds - Short-tailed Babbler that really has a short tail.

Short-tailed Babbler
The third category of birds that dominates all sightings are the Bulbuls. Bulbuls come in all shapes and sizes, but are mainly drab and boring like this Buff-vented Bulbul ("vent" means ass or rectum) which on this bird is buffy. We saw many of these and many other species of Bulbul on the trip.

Buff-vented Bulbul
There are other birds in the forest that are much easier to spot. They are big and loud and easy (much like other friends of mine). One category of big birds are the Malkoas. We saw a few species of these including this Black-bellied Malkoa which is the hardest to find.

Black-bellied Malkoa
And this Chestnut-bellied Malkoa. I love the schnoz on this bird. Reminds me of Jimmy Durante. Ha-cha-cha-cha.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoa
Another easy bird to spot is this fancifully colored woodpecker. It is a large bird with crimson wings, crimson crown and yellow mowhawk (like some of my friends from the 80's). How can you not love this bird?
Crimson-winged Woodpecker
We basically drove up and down the same dirt roads in the forest and stopped where ever we heard bird activity or saw a bird or other animal along the road. Our guide, Con knew the place inside and out. He would stop at places along the road where he knew a particular bird frequented or nested. He was able to help us find a few Broadbills which are pretty cool looking birds. There are 4 species of Broadbills in this area. We were able to see 3 of them including these 2. First is Dusky Broadbill. This is a juvenile bird that was begging food from Mom and Dad. He looks like a dope.

Dusky Broadbill
This is the only bird that I can think of that is purple. The photo doesn't do it justice. You can only see the purple around the head and the light blue beak. Not sure why it is called Banded Broadbill and not Purple Broadbill. Stunning in real life. We watched this bird going in and out of its nest.
Banded Broadbill
Another very colorful bird is this Pale-blue Flycatcher. It also has a pretty song unlike most flycatchers in the US. The pale blue really shows up in the green forest. 

Asia doesn't have any hummingbirds but they have a category of bird called Bee-eaters. Bee-eaters are very colorful birds that remind me of hummers. This photo is terrible but you can kind of see the blue throat that gives this bird its name - Blue-throated Bee-eater.

Blue-throated Bee-eater
There were many other animals in the forest. I'll post about those tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ever Have One of Those Days or Two?

You know the kind where you are all set to fly to Singapore for business but when you show up to the airport, they don't let you board the plane?  Yup. How does that even happen? This trip has been planned for a few months. I was asked to give a presentation to nonprofits in Singapore. I roped Di and Barbara into going along to see Southeast Asia. When will we ever get that chance again?

We showed up to the airport on time for our flight. Di and Barbara scanned their passports in the machine and printed their tickets. I scanned my passport in the machine and got a message to see the attendant. I was informed that I was not allowed to board the plane because my passport expired in September - less than 6 months away. What? It's still valid, I'll be back in a week, but I can't go?

Long story even longer - Di and Barbara checked my big suitcase and went to Singapore while I took a taxi to New York city's federal building to get a rush job passport. I spent the entire day in the cold, rainy city standing in lines and looking for warm, dry places to kill time like some homeless person. People were looking at me funny with no coat, no umbrella, carrying bags around. . . It cost me $95 for the cab, $170 for the passport, $150 for a hotel and 24 hours of waiting for the next plane to Singapore. Ayyy.

I can't say enough nice things about the United Airlines staff. They pointed me in the right direction and rebooked me on the next available flight. Tada - I made it.

I got to the hotel at 12:30 AM Sunday morning. Things got significantly better the next day when we headed to Malaysia with our bird guide "Con" at 5 AM despite the lack of sleep.

Singapore is a country, a city, and an island all in one. It is pretty small area but it is totally covered by a very large city with millions of residents and virtually no open space. Very modern buildings all around. Check out this amazing building that has a boat on top of it. Di and Barbara went to the top while I was still dealing with the passport thing.

Boat Building
It has very few places to go birding so we decided to go across the channel to Malaysia for 2 days.Going to Malaysia from Singapore is like going to from Philly to Cherry Hill except that you have to bring your passport. We were going out of the city on Monday morning while hundreds of Malaysian people were inbound on their way to work. Can you imagine walking across the Ben Franklin Bridge every day with a passport to work?

Crossing the bridge

So, off we went to the Panti Forest (yes, the pun was not lost on us). The Panti Forest is like a jungle with a gravel road through it. We birded from the road most of the time but we occasionally walked into the forest on a path. Guess what I found? Leeches.

Eeww, Gross
Di found one too. She was so freaked out by the thought of getting one that she didn't follow us into the forest a few times. But like other creepy things, once you get one, they aren't as bad as you imagined.

The two of us are like leech magnets. One of those little buggers made it all the way up my leg and lodged itself behind my knee. The weird thing about leeches is that they don't carry disease which makes getting one a little easier to handle. The other thing is that if you pull them off, the wound bleeds forever.

Bleeding Wound
I'll get to the birds next.