We haven’t been able to keep up with the blog as often as we would have liked, partly because our internet situation is a lot worse than we expected it would be, but also because we’ve been very busy out in the field literally from dawn to dusk. So much time in the field has been leading to some amazing experiences. Here are some things that have been going on:
-Four pitta species!
Black-and-crimson Pitta (Pitta ussheri) is actually fairly common and not too hard to find once you get used to the fact that they can throw their voices. When two people hear the bird and one person thinks it’s coming from the left and the other thinks it’s coming from the right, it usually means the bird is directly overhead!
We’ve succeeded in catching one Black-and-crimson Pitta so far – quite a feat, given that pittas seem to be able to see and avoid mist nets. The only reason we caught the pitta at all was that Justin happened to see the pitta standing next to the net and dove at it, losing his boots to the mud in the process. He was able to pin the bird against the net. It was amazing to see a pitta in the hand and admire its colorful, velvety plumage. We banded it and put a radio tag on it to find out if it had a nest.
A couple of Hooded Pittas (Pitta sordida) have also been hanging around. Hoodeds are nomadic, so we’re not sure if they have territories or not, but we hear them pretty regularly. So far the only person to see them is Justin, who is also the only person in our group who has seen all four of our pitta species!
A few days ago, Dan and I were sitting lazily on a log up on one of the ridges in the park, waiting for something cool to fly by so that we could photo it, and we heard the quiet song of the Blue-headed Pitta (Pitta baudii). We were able to find it but it’s a shy and elusive bird and is very hard to locate! We tried to photo and video it on a few different occasions, but every time we lug the heavy 500mm camera lens up the ridge, the pittas (and all the other neat birds) seem to retreat. We’re starting to think that the 500 might be cursed.
The most recent addition to our pitta list is the amazing Blue-banded Pitta, another rare and very beautiful bird. Discovered by McKenna and Clare (who’s with us from LSU), we’ve just started a plan to catch the bird by putting mist nets in various places all around its territory. Justin has gotten quite good at herding pittas (apparently he has a lot of practice herding geese at Stewart Park) and we may be able to guide the bird into a net so that we can radio tag it and find out if it has a nest!
-Aerial mist netting
This slightly more exciting version of regular mist netting involves stringing nets high into trees to catch the types of birds that stay high in the canopy. Our best success yet has come in the form of three Dusky Broadbills (Corydon sumatranus), an uncommon species that we thought would be impossible to catch. Early on, we discovered a family of Duskies building a nest, but unfortunately they left the area after only a day. However, they still seem to be in the area and now a few of them have radio tags, so if they build another nest we have a chance at finding it . . .
Except for one day of amazing aerial netting, in which we caught many birds including a scimitar-babbler and a trogon in the space of a few hours, our mist netting attempts have been fairly disappointing. A few of our nets have gone for days without catching more than a babbler or two. But we’ve also discovered that using playback can be a very effective way of luring birds into our nets, and we may be able to catch some of the many Black-and-Yellow Broadbills (Eurylaimus ochromalus) that live in the park.
We’ve put tags on about 7 birds so far, with mixed success. The pitta we radio tagged lost its tag, but not before we had determined that it did not have a nest, and that pittas sleep fluffed up into a feathery ball (that involved going out to search for it at about 3:00am). A babbler we tagged also managed to remove the tag, and although we’ve been able to track some of our birds, recently many of them seemed to have disappeared. We know they aren’t dead – if they had died, the tag would still transmit from the ground – but where could they be?
Other neat bird and animal sightings include six species of hornbills, Green Broadbills, Asian Paradise Flycatchers, a Red-bearded Bee Eater, tiny colorful kingfishers, pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques, several unidentified large snakes, and a slow loris.
Some of our exciting upcoming activities include tree climbing (to look for broadbill nests and get a better vantage point for radio tracking) exploring (including a trip up to Mount Magdalena to look for montane species) and nest watching (we have a Malacopteron babbler nest being built and yesterday Justin found a trogon nest – quite a rare find!)
A typical day for us here consists of getting up at 4:30am, when it’s still dark out, and trekking out to our field sites as the birds and gibbons start waking up and calling. We usually split into several groups – a group for mist netting, a group for pitta herding, a group for radio tracking, etc. – and spend the morning working on our various projects. We head back to our house which is right on a pond behind the park headquarters, for lunch (and sometimes a nap) and then head out again in the afternoon as long as it’s not raining. When we get back in the evening, covered in mud (and often leeches!) we go up to the park kitchen to pick up our dinner which is always some variation of rice and meat or vegetables, and then do a nightly list of all of the birds we saw. On our best day so far we had about 71 species. The list is followed by a nightly meeting to plan out the next day’s activities, and then we head to bed by 9 or 10.
In the future we’ll try to keep up with the blog more often, and hopefully we’ll have enough internet to add some more pictures soon!