Tuesday 30 April 2013

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, April 2013

Atlanta’s morning dawned dark and late. It is 10 degrees further west than New York and thus the sun takes an extra 40 minutes to reach there. By seven o’clock it was possible to see that this would be a dull, overcast day with leaden, threatening clouds. Piedmont Park is at the east end of 14th St in Atlanta and I wish now that I had taken a few scenic shots to illustrate this post as the birds as uncooperative as the light.
A Cooper’s Hawk greeted me from an obelisk near the park gate at Google Earth ref; 33°47'11.22"N 84°22'40.95"W and a Northern Flicker drummed noisily on an aluminium balustrade on the Swimming Pool Building.

Close to the bridge were some trees harbouring a few warblers. This was what I was hoping that the morning would bring. Mostly they were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were also a few Palm Warblers and a single Blackpoll Warbler.
A bridge crosses the lake and a few more migrants were found in the park beyond. A Great Crested Flycatcher, some Grey Catbirds and a couple of Brown Thrashers were seen towards the top end of the lake.

I was exploring Piedmont Park for the first time and was wandering aimlessly about. By chance, I came across Six Spring Wetland Area which boasts a short boardwalk raised above a stream and an area of weeds. A couple of Northern Waterthrushes were seen here as well as a selection of sparrows and an Indigo Bunting.
The path passes beneath a stone bridge and continues alongside the stream. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was feeding from the flowers in a blossoming tree beside the path and a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows chased insects on the wing.
The park is sited beside the Atlanta Botanical Gardens which has a canopy walkway. I am sure that this would have been a great place to be during migration, but the gardens open late on a Sunday and I had another site that I wanted to explore.
The list below only shows 31 birds, but a total of 60+ was submitted to eBird for the same site on the same morning which indicates that there was much there that I missed.
Birds seen; 31
Canada Goose 20, Mallard 5, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Mourning Dove 5, Chimney Swift 8, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, Northern Flicker 3, Great Crested Flycatcher 1, Blue Jay 2, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4, Carolina Chickadee 2, Carolina Wren 1, American Robin 45, Grey Catbird 6, Northern Mockingbird 3, Brown Thrasher 4, European Starling 25, Cedar Waxwing 40, Northern Waterthrush 2, Blackpoll Warbler 1, Palm Warbler 8, Yellow-rumped Warbler 15, Eastern Towhee 2, Song Sparrow 3, Swamp Sparrow 6, Northern Cardinal 12, Indigo Bunting 1, Red-winged Blackbird 6, Common Grackle 15, House Finch 3, House Sparrow 3.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from Atlanta

Saturday 27 April 2013

Magic Hedge, Chicago, April 2013

How ironic that the boomerang route is lost, but the Chicago has come back! Australia is now to be serviced by our new colleagues while the passengers to and from Chicago will benefit from many, many years of experience as the heritage crews return to the service.

By way of a celebration, I organised a play date with Meredith Matthews, who has recently joined us at 10,000 Birds. We met at 07.00 at Montrose Point and immediately set about looking for warblers at the Magic Hedge (Google Earth ref; 41°57'46.00"N 87°38'4.00"W). Sadly the weather had not been favourable for migrating warblers until this morning and I guess they had a long way to come to reach us. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of birds around with 39 species seen by the end of the morning.

American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds were very common as were the aptly described Common Grackles. A bird that we took to be a young male Red-shouldered Blackbird was singing and displaying. He would have had plenty of competition from adult males in breeding colours, but he was enthusiastic just the same.

A Brown Cowbird flew into the tree above us and looked very cross as he displayed for his accompanying females. Despite the lack of leaves, there was still plenty of activity to indicate that spring was on its way. Grackles and blackbirds were building nests. It pays to be wary here once the nests are occupied as the residents become very protective, Meredith related.

We took a look through the dunes and along the shoreline noting Caspian Tern and a Killdeer. Out on the water a few Red-breasted Merganser were seen. Ring-billed Gulls and a couple of Herring Gulls roosted on the shoreline.

Back at the hedge, we were hoping that a few migrants may have started to arrive, but mostly we found Sparrows and Northern Cardinals. Sparrows were well represented today with 6 species. 8 if you try to jemmy Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco into the family.

Meredith stayed with me for a couple of hours before having to return to work, but I still had a while before I had to start back. I was headed for the Splish Splash bird bathing spring when I came across a squirrel which had found a discarded peanut butter jar. It was determined to lick it clean, but could not quite reach the bottom of the jar.

The spring was well attended by robins, blackbirds and grackles and I caught a few pictures as they sploshed about in the water. I managed to get enough for a 10,000 Birds post, but couldn’t work the lyrics of Sweet Home Chicago into it. Hidehay.

Canada Goose 8, Mallard 10, Red-breasted Merganser 18, Double-crested Cormorant 20, American Coot 1, Killdeer 2, Ring-billed Gull 25, Herring Gull 3, Caspian Tern 2, Mourning Dove 6, Belted Kingfisher 1, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3, Downy Woodpecker 3, Northern Flicker 8, American Crow 15, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2, Purple Martin 14, Tree Swallow 4, Barn Swallow 6, Black-capped Chickadee 6, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3, Hermit Thrush 6, American Robin 40, Brown Thrasher 5, European Starling 15, Yellow-rumped Warbler 5, Eastern Towhee 5, Chipping Sparrow 20, Field Sparrow 8, Savannah Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow 8, Swamp Sparrow 6, White-throated Sparrow 1, Dark-eyed Junco 3, Northern Cardinal 10, Red-winged Blackbird 40, Common Grackle 60, Brown-headed Cowbird 5, House Sparrow 10.
Still trying!

Bus 146 runs along the Miracle Mile, North Michigan Ave. It leaves downtown and heads north along the lakeside on Lake Shore Drive. It does not stop along Lakeshore Drive, until it pulls off onto the parallel N Marine Drive. Jump off at West Montrose Ave and turn right, (east) under Lake Shore Drive. The walk to and from The Hedge can be quite productive. There were plenty of sparrows in the rough, regenerating prairie and I was pleased to see that the Purple Martins had returned to their nesting boxes at the edge of the harbour. Measuring in a straight line from Navy Pier in Downtown Chicago to W. Montrose Drive is 8.7kms about 15 – 20 mins on the bus.

For previous posts from the Magic Hedge, clink on the link below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from Chicago, including Meigs Field.

Monday 22 April 2013

Marloth Park Bird Walk, South Africa, April 2013

Marloth Park is a private residential nature reserve immediately south of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. It is bordered to the north by the Crocodile River which in turn acts as the southern edge of the National Park. Some residences are rented out to visitors who delight in seeing Zebras and Warthogs roaming freely through the acacia scrub that surrounds the properties.

We took a rental for 4 days during the first week of April and found that the Honorary Rangers conduct bird walks on a Saturday morning at the Municipality Offices which can be found at Google Earth ref; 25°22'4.32"S 31°45'28.97"E.

A flyer at the bush centre advised all comers to meet at the car park inside the Henk van Rooyen Park, behind the Municipality Offices where I found that, despite the saturation coverage of the advertising, I was the only punter. 4 Honorary Rangers had shown up to guide the anticipated hordes, but settled for just me. They were watching a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and a Chinspot Batis in the acacias of the drive when I caught up with them.

I was out-voted by 4 to 1 for the pronunciation of Yellow-breasted Apalis. South Africans prefer a-pah-lus, where Brits stress a-puh-liss

The park looks out across the Crocodile River to the Kruger National Park. Egyptian Geese lined the banks in large numbers, as some were undergoing a moult and found the sandbanks a safe place to sit out their flightless period. A few Waterbuck and Impala were seen on the far side and a Hippo flushed from the nearside bank and headed for the water.

We followed the river which flows from north to south along this stretch as it takes a big sweeping bend around Marloth. It is not unusual to see Elephant from here as they come down to the river to drink. A White-breasted Sunbird fed from a flower close to the fence that keeps the larger, dangerous animals out of the residential area.

We moseyed gently along the river, noting Green Pigeons in the far figtrees and trying to identify a distant wader. The chuckling of the Common Bulbuls was a constant presence.

Indigobirds can be identified by combination of bill and foot colour. A Village Indigo bird had fluffed up its feathers concealing its feet so we had to wait to catch a glimpse of the red, red combination.

The rangers were worried that the walk had been quite quiet and had tied to bolster the list by adding in some bat species. Epauletted Bats roost in a small flock at the rear of the offices while Mauritian Tomb Bats were found in the outside overhang of the gentlemen’s facilities.

The list as kept by the organising ranger was approaching 50, so we hung around for a few moments more, trying to reach a nice round number. Eventually a Black-headed Oriole was heard and located in the fruiting trees close to the entrance and a Tawny Eagle flew over to complete the half century. As I look at it now, I think I prefer the juvenile African Hawk-eagle. Votes on a postcard please.

The list below adds a couple of birds seen as I had arrived a bit early, but separates the mammals onto their own list.
Birds seen on walk; 48

White-faced Whistling-Duck 19, Egyptian Goose 100, Helmeted Guineafowl 25, Natal Francolin 1, Great (White-breasted) Cormorant 6, Hamerkop 1, Grey Heron 1, Cattle Egret 12, Striated Heron 1, Hadada Ibis 2, African Fish Eagle 1, Tawny Eagle 1, Water Thick-knee 15, Blacksmith Plover 15, Three-banded Plover 2, Ruff 1, Speckled Pigeon 2, African Green Pigeon 15, Red-faced Mousebird 4, Malachite Kingfisher 2, Pied Kingfisher 3, Brown-hooded Kingfisher 1, White-fronted Bee-eater 2, Green Woodhoopoe 3,Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill 1, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird 2, Black-collared Barbet 4, Cardinal Woodpecker 2, Chinspot Batis 1, Black-backed Puffback 4, Sulpur-breasted Bushshrike 2, African Black-headed Oriole 3, Fork-tailed Drongo 1, Plain Martin 2, Wire-tailed Swallow 2, Common Bulbul 15, Yellow-breasted Apalis 8, Cape White-eye 3, White-browed Robin-chat 2, Kurrichane Thrush 1, Black-eared Starling 2, Viloet-backed Starling 2, White-breasted Sunbird 2, African Pied Wagtail 2, Grosbeak Weaver 1, Blue-breasted Cordonbleu 2, Bronze Mannikin 4, Village Indigobird 1.
Mammals seen on walk; 5

Epauletted Bat 20, Mauritian Tomb Bat 8, Hippopotamus 5, Impala 4, Common Waterbuck 6
Marloth Park is a 5-6 hour drive from JNB Oliver Tambo International Airport. We found that the accommodation quality varies tremendously. We asked to change out of the first cottage and subsequently spent two nights each in two other wildly different houses.

At the Bush Centre, residents can find a small supermarket, laundry, restaurant, bar and security offices. Petrol and internet connection can be found at the station just along the road.

Other birds seen aside from the walk. 22
Comb Duck, Marabou Stork, Black Stork, Bataleur, Spotted Thick-knee, White-headed Lapwing, Ring-necked Dove, Emerald-spotted Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, Grey Go-away Bird, Common Scimitarbill, Bearded Woodpecker, European Bee-eater, White-Helmet-shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Southern Black Tit, Pale Flycatcher, Southern Black Flycatcher, Scarlet-breasted Sunbird, Red-billed Ox-pecker.

Other Mammals seen in Marloth Park;
Zebra, Bushbuck, Grey Duiker, Kudu, Giraffe, Buffalo, Warthog, Elephant, Baboon, Black-faced Vervet Monkey,

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from South Africa, including the Kruger National Park.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Discovery Park, Seattle, April 2013

I was surprised to see that Spring was so advanced in Seattle. Today is Tuesday 16th April and the trees here are full of leaf. Four degrees further south than London seems to make all the difference. I had come to Discovery Park on the promise that the temperature would rise to a clear-skied 10C, but the early morning cloud was keeping the sun from warming the ground.

A Pacific Wren did his level best to help me get a photo, but I couldn’t get it right. I had caught the bus no 24 and entered the park close to the Visitor Centre. My usually trusty sense of direction failed me and I ended up doing a clock-wise tour of the park.

I made my way out into the South Meadow, hoping for a majestic view out across Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains in the far distance. It was still a bit cloudy, but I did catch a glimpse of an Osprey, closely followed by a Bald Eagle as they sped by beneath my lofty viewpoint on the cliff. I don’t think the eagle was pursuing the Osprey, they were just going the same way at the same time. There were some ducks and grebes out on the bay, but they would have to wait until I got a bit closer.

In the meantime, An Orange-crowned Warbler called from the thickets behind me. Steps lead down from the viewpoint to South Beach and the lighthouse at Westpoint.

An American Robin was feeding on the beach, head cocked, appearing to listen for movement in the seaweed. A Savannah Sparrow looked very smart amongst the driftwood, but it dropped down as I reached for my camera.

I had hoped to catch sight of the otter that I have seen here before. I caught up with it in exactly the same spot as before, but it rounded the Westpoint Lighthouse (Google Earth ref; 47°39'43.05"N 122°26'8.38"W) and headed out into the sound. As I was watching it,  a small alcid passed through my field of vision. I hoped that it was a Marbled Murrelet and had to check the book to discount any alternatives before taking a big juicy tick.

A Northern Flicker was feeding on the ground close to the lighthouse. On the northwest facing beach, I flushed a small mixed flock of Dunlins and Sanderlings and at last the temperature began to rise as the sun came out.

Having come down the steps from the viewpoint, it is necessary to go back up again. I walked along the path that skirts the water, noting Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe and Surf Scoter as I went. A mixed flock of gulls, crows and American Wigeon were hauled up on a quiet part of the beach. I found the stairs beyond the treatment plant, going up into Hidden Valley. The stairs are not that difficult assuming that you are not Fat, Fatigued ‘n’ Fifty. At the top, an Anna’s Hummingbird was feeding amongst the green blossoms hanging from a sycamore. It was difficult to focus on it through the rest of the foliage, but the sun managed to break through and light up his head.

Having fed, it repaired to the top of a nearby pine tree and waited, singing his scratchy song. Occasionally he would pop down for another quick feed where I was waiting for him, camera poised.

I was not ready for the Red Crossbills that landed in the tree next door. A flock of 8 flew in as I was reviewing the hummingbird’s latest feed. During my vigil, I also noted a Bushtit carrying what may be spider’s thread. His pendulous nest with the opening at the top was nearby and I am assuming that he was collecting silk for the lining as construction looked pretty much complete.

I continued on to Daybreak Indian Cultural Centre. An observation deck here usually gives a good view out across the sound, but it was taped off and warnings kept people away from the edge. Three Banded Kingfishers squabbled amongst themselves as another Bald Eagle flew over, This time it was the eagle that was harassed by a crow that took offence to his presence. 

Birds seen; 52

Brant 40, Canada Goose 1, American Wigeon 10, Mallard 3, Surf Scoter 40, Bufflehead 20, Common Goldeneye 6, Common Merganser 1,Horned Grebe 12, Red-necked Grebe 1, Double-crested Cormorant 3, Great Blue Heron 3, Osprey 2, Bald Eagle 3, Red-shouldered Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Killdeer 1, Sanderling 5, Dunlin 3, Mew Gull 25, Glaucous-winged Gull 10, Band-tailed Pigeon 2, Eurasian Collared Dove 4, Anna’s Hummingbird 5, Rufous Hummingbird 1, Belted Kingfisher 5, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Northern Flicker 5, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Steller’s JKay 3, American Crow 30, Violet-green Swallow 5, Black-capped Chickadee 8, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 6, Bushtit 3, Pacific Wren 2, Golden-crowned Kinglet 6, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4, American Robin 35, Varied Thrush 2, European Starling 10, Orange-crowned Warbler 3, Yellow-rumped Warbler 3, Spotted Towhee 3, Savannah Sparrow 1, Fox Sparrow 1, Song Sparrow 15, White-crowned Sparrow 15, Dark-eyed Junco 3, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Red Crossbill 9, Pine Siskin 8.
The bus no 33 to Discovery Park leaves from 3rd St and Union, it stops at the North Parking Lot (Google Earth ref;  47°39'52.54"N 122°24'39.46"W) close to the Daybreak Indian Cultural Centre. No 24 also leaves from the same stop, but turns off just before the park entrance.
For previous posts from Discovery Park, follow the links below;
Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from Seattle, including the Waterfront and Montlake Fill

Friday 19 April 2013

Seattle waterfront, April 2013

With just a smidgen of evening light left, I managed to get down to the water’s edge at Seattle. Piers 62 and 63 are accessible as a large open boardwalk overlooking Puget Sound at Google Earth ref; 47°36'30.78"N 122°20'41.20"W.

A small flock of Common Goldeneye was close to the piers.  Are 3 enough to be a flock? The Sun came and went behind the clouds out to the west and a quick shower brought a late evening rainbow over the ferris wheel.

A couple of Pigeon Guillemots were seen a little way out, but they were slowly making their way towards the pier and ended up up passing beneath it allowing very close looks. 

There were Steller’s Sealions about 150 meters out and a Harbour Seal close in. A formation of Double-crested Cormorants flew over.

Birds seen; 6
Common Goldeneye 3, Double-crested Cormorant 10, Mew Gull 8, Glaucous-winged Gull 10, pigeon Guillemot 4, American Crow 4.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

A Taste of Africa, April 2013

The last week was spent with my family on a holiday to South Africa. I will not subject you to a blow by blow account, but will just outline a couple of the highlights.

4 Honorary Rangers took me for a bird walk in Marloth Park, notching up 50 species around the Municipality Offices.

A couple of nights were spent in the Kruger National Park and this Elephant was our first tick on the Big 5 list.

Lake Panic continues to delight. The water surface steamed gently in the early morning and silhouetted an African Anhinga and a Pied Kingfisher.

I will probably try to get three or four posts up, but in the meantime, duty calls and I have to get back to work.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Panti Bird Sanctuary, Malaysia, March 2013

I had set out to follow Mike’s intrepid example and eventually found myself at Panti Bird Sanctuary. The Bunker Trail runs from the main road into the forest towards the mountain. I had made life difficult for myself by trying to make the visit using public transport on Easter Sunday and found that 10 hours of travelling brought 3 hours of birding.

There are some details and logistics below about the journey, but let's forget that for the moment and concentrate on the forest. The Bunker Trail can be found about 20kms beyond Kota Tingii on the Mersing Road (Google Earth ref; 1°52'45.50"N 103°55'18.00"E). Paved for the first part, it quickly becomes a dirt road and leads southwest into thick forest. I stayed on the road, but there were a couple of dark trails leading into the forest.

Thanks to a non-airconditioned taxi, my camera and binoculars had already acclimatised to the heat and humidity, so I was able to hit the ground running. As soon as I stepped from the taxi, I could hear the strident alarm of the Orange-bellied Flower-pecker. My usual thanks go to www.xeno-canto.org

There was a small amount of traffic on the road in the late afternoon. Some trail bikers and families on scooters or in cars were making their way out of the forest. I was the only person on foot and heading into the forest. I had had plenty of time during the journey to do some homework and bulbul revision quickly paid off when a small flock of Cream-vented Bulbuls were seen.

A loud call made me turn to see a large bird fly across the road. In the first moments of the brief sighting, its large size and pied plumage pushed me towards a hornbill, but it had the undulating flight and chisel bill of a woodpecker. It turned out to be a White-bellied Woodpecker. Moments later an Orange-backed Woodpecker crept around the trunk of a dead tree, never to be seen again.

A small area on the right provided a bit of forest edge habitat for some Red-eyed Bulbuls, a Common Tailorbird and an Asian Brown Flycatcher. A short boardwalk here allowed me to walk out across a damp patch and get a close look at some dragonflies, but I preferred to press on rather than spend my precious time here.
As ever in the forest, sightings were brief and in poor light. I missed a few IDs and screwed up plenty of photos. A small party of birds including Chestnut-winged Babbler and Blue-winged Leafbird crossed the road ahead of me. I had packed the camera away as the light had faded so much, but the female leafbird sat well enough to entice me into another go.

A very tall emergent tree was high enough to catch the last of the evening light. Scarlet Minivets and a Long-billed Spiderhunter in the canopy were the last birds that I was able to identify. A hornbill crossed the road on my return walk. Potentially it was a female Wrinkled Hornbill, but the sighting was just not good enough to be sure.
Getting back to Kota Tingii from the trail head proved to be quite tricky. It was already quite late in the evening when I stepped back onto the main road. I had hoped that I might be able to flag down a bus or taxi, but there was no sign of either and it became very dark before a private car eventually stopped to offer me a lift.

I had intended to stay the night in the small town and take in the Firefly spectacle on the river, but by the time we made it back to town, the boat had already left and I had missed my chance so I decided to press on back to Singapore. That was my big mistake as the queues for buses to cross the bridge looked like the lines at Disney World on a Holiday weekend.
This was Easter Sunday and many Singaporeans had crossed into Malaysia for the holiday and were returning for a normal working day on the Monday.
It was very difficult to know which line was queueing for which bus and a very helpful line supervisor pushed me into a line to avoid having to speak English to me. Left to my own devices, I might still be there.
At the Singapore entry post I was called aside again. The caption on the officers screen read "suspect to be detained". This was not as dramatic as it sounded, but it meant another delay as the senior officer completed the secondary interview.
By the time I had completed formalities the trains in Singapore had stopped running. It took me 6 hours to return from the forest to my hotel.
Under different circumstances, with a bit of practice and organisation, I reckon that the time could be whittled down to under 2 and a half hours each way.
Birds seen;

Pink-necked Pigeon 6, White-bellied Woodpecker1, Orange-backed Woodpecker 1, Scarlet Minivet 3, Black-naped Oriole 1, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 1, House Crow 2, Cream-vented Bulbul 5, Red-eyed Bulbul 3, Chestnut-winged Babbler 3, Asian Brown Flycatcher 1, Asian Glossy Starling 6, Blue-winged Leafbird 4, Orange-bellied Flower-pecker 4, Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker 1, Long-billed Spiderhunter1.
Logistics of visiting Panti Bird Sanctuary from Singapore.

The site is in Malaysia, but can be reached from Singapore. A bridge crosses between Woodlands in Singapore to Johor Bahru (JB) in Malaysia. The respective border controls are found at each end of the bridge. You will need your passport.
The easiest way to cross the border is probably by private car.
Buses run from Queen Street Terminal in Singapore to Woodlands and on to Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
Buses also run from Woodlands MRT Station, and Kranji MRT Station
By bus or by taxi, you will leave your vehicle at Singapore border control to complete the required formalities. As a crew member, I did not have an entry stamp in my passport and was taken for an interview with a senior officer (a crew Gen Dec. would be useful here) which delayed me by about 30 minutes. I was worried that the bus would have to wait for me, but my worry turned to indignation when I found that the bus had crossed the bridge without me!

This is the usual procedure as buses are plentiful under normal circumstances and another one will come along shortly. The bus numbers are displayed and travellers queue in their respective lines. Buses are extremely cheap and it would not break the bank to pay another fare and jump on the first one that passes. Otherwise retain your ticket to continue across the bridge on your original bus number.
Taxis are turned back at the border and travellers continue across the bridge on a bus.

Malaysian Border procedures require travellers to step from the bus again and complete formalities for entry. This was much quicker and I was soon on a third bus on my way to the Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru. From here I caught bus number Maju 227 to Kota Tingii. I subsequently found that the bus route goes back past the border control post and I could have saved myself 30 or 40 minutes by catching it from there (City Square).
It takes an hour to get to Kota Tingii and then a taxi ride of a further 20kms takes you to the head of the Bunker Trail. Taxi drivers might be a bit reluctant to make the drive as they are unlikely to find a return fare. Set a price before stepping into a non-metered taxi. I don't recall the agreed fare, but it was very reasonable.

Getting back to Kota Tingii from the trail head proved to be quite tricky. It was already quite late in the evening when I stepped back onto the main road. I had hoped that I might be able to flag down a bus or taxi, but there was no sign of either and it became very dark before a private car eventually stopped to offer me a lift. It may be prudent to arrange a pick up or ask the taxi driver to wait. Arrange the waiting and return fee in advance.
To make an early morning visit to Panti it would probably be best to stay in Kota Tingii the night before.