My bike trip from Bangkok to Singapore was the last of a number of East Asia bike adventures that have been on my agenda for the twenty years that I have been travelling extensively. My other trips have taken me around Northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and three trips into China. One difference between this trip and the others was my attempt to do a better job of finding and photographing birds. Finding birds requires heading off into habitat that supports birds and this is often tough to do on a bike. The main roads connect population centres, birds are best found in remote area. Photographing birds usually requires carrying much heavier lenses than I would normally carry while on a long bike ride. So those factors were added to the normal challenges I have faced on my bike travels in Asia.
In general I can say I was able to manage the two different aspects of this trip; biking and bird photography fairly well. I would say that bird photography on a bike is certainly not as easy or effective as birding from your own motor transportation. The transport of the heavier equipment, which was possibly my main worry, was not bad. I travelled very light otherwise. No tent, sleeping bag and only very little extra clothing balanced out so my load was almost normal. The real failure of bringing my two objectives together was in the conflict between needing to bird in the morning but also needing to be biking on down the road in the morning. The afternoons were too hot and I was too tired for much of either activity. So basically most days I cycled in the morning and rehydrated/recuperated in the afternoons. The birding was left to about six days on which I did not travel. I did get some good birds while on my bike, enough to know that it works, but only on a few days. 21 of the 31 birds I am showing with this post were on those 6 birding only days.
I could do a birding/biking trip if I was not trying to cover a lot of ground and/or I was able to use more of the day which is possible in different more temperate climates. Or I could possibly bike out from a central location. I would definitely carry my extra photographic load if this type of opportunity arises, or if my imagination takes me there.
That said, I did get some good birds this trip. I have photos of a little over 60 species, of which probably 50 are new to me. Not many of my birds are the real specialty birds for the areas I was in, but I did get some. An advantage of birding in new areas is that all the birds are new so there were very few birds that did not grab my notice.
The first bird I have included is the Common Mynah, which I have seen in other places and was with me the whole trip. It is a very cocky little thing, it roves around in groups, and so was very apparent as it hopped around. New to me were three other mynahs, one being the Crested Mynah.
Crows and Ravens were also quite common but I only saw the Large-billed Crow once. In the same vein I didn’t notice any magpies but the Oriental Magpie-Robin was pretty common. One of the first birds I noticed by its call was the Asian Koel (no photo). A loud “koel…koel…” repeated at increasing frequency. I heard this bird probably everyday all the way. I found out the name of the bird and that it is a large raven sized black bird but I could never pick it out of the dark foliage high up in the canopy no matter how long I tried to pin down its piercing call. Finally on my last day in Singapore by being in a park at dawn I saw one rustling around in the leaves and I got pictures good enough to identify but not to show.
Most tropical regions have tiny long beaked birds that I think of as bee-eaters but that have many different family names. The ones I have included here are the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and the Streaked Spider-hunter.
Flycatchers are everywhere; they are the world’s largest bird family. These are the Blue-throated Flycatcher and the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.
Similar to our warblers but not occurring in our hemisphere is the Black-browed Reed-warbler, which I found in reeds while in a kayak.
Kingfishers are possibly my favourite type of bird to try to find and photograph but sadly we only have one around here, the Belted Kingfisher. East Asia has by far the most types of Kingfisher, Indonesia has about 50 of the almost 100 different types in the world. Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia have possibly 15, and so if I had been really diligent I might have found more than the three that I did. Still, I am very happy about the three that I did get, all seemed to just happen to me and was a treat when it did.
The Black-capped Kingfisher I got right at the beginning while having a road-side drink as I was approaching Baan Maka. I have a few good shots of the White-throated Kingfisher from different places. It is probably the most common in this region but was an infrequent sighting in Turkey and I was unable to find it there. My best views and photos are from about half way along my trip at Panang. I lucked onto the Collared Kingfisher in the same park on my last day of the trip when I found the Koel. The photo is not as good as the other kingfishers but will have to do until I get a better opportunity. I think I have 15 kinds of kingfishers now in my photo directory out of the 100 or so.
Moving onto the shore type birds, the first I will include is the Black-winged Stilt, that initially I confused with the Black-necked Stilt that we have. Look at the length of the legs. The Bronze-winged Jacana is the third type of Jacana that I have seen, the other two in Africa and Colombia. All have big feet so they can walk on lilly-pads. I don’t think I have seen anything like a Crake before.
Both the Chinese Pond-Heron and the Little Heron are smaller than any herons we see.
Owls are always a treat to find. My photos of the Asian Barred Owlets and the Brown Hawk-Owl are not very good but my other raptor photos are even poorer so I have included these. I also like the eyes in both pictures.
I was surprised to only see the Oriental Pied Hornbill out of all the Hornbills in this region. I know the guy on the left is moving his beak, but I kind of like that this time.
Yes the Red Jungle-Fowl is the source of our Chickens. I saw them in a few places and they seem pretty tame as do the Silver Pheasant which probably has also found its way onto dinner plates at times.
The rest of my birds that I include here do not have similar species in Canada. One joy and wonder when birding around the world is how varied the world of birds is. The Long-tailed Sibia travelled in bunches reminding me a bit of the way our wax-wings fly around from berry bush to bush. In this case they were attacking a particular flowering bush. Another lovely long tailed character the White-rumped Shama turned up in a number of places.
There are many bulbuls in Eurasia; the one I have included here is the Black-Crested Bubul . Barbets seem to be very hard to spot even though they often have distinctive calls. This Green Barbet photo is questionable, but it is good enough to show a few features.
You have to think laughingthrushs would be fun birds. Both the Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush and the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush certainly were. The first was an energetic feeder visitor and the latter chased around in groups.
On the other hand, the Puff-throated Babler is a quiet underbrush bird. Similarly the Banded Pitta is a very shy bird that had to be enticed out of the bush with mealy worms. Certainly the most colourful bird of this trip, also a very extroverted guy, was the Silver-eared Mesia.
I hope this very small sample of the birds of Thailand and Malaysia were of interest for you. Even though I don’t get many rare species and I often miss getting the best shots of the birds I do see I enjoy the process. I guess it satisfies the hunting genes that I must still have. All for now…