When news broke out that the fruiting trees at Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest in Kedah state is finally in season, the choice of location for my birding excursion was crystal clear. I arrived at the location high in spirit and full of enthusiasm. But what greeted me at the revered fruiting tree felt like being stabbed in the chest – twice. A family had decided to camp right underneath the tree and they had a little camp fire going no doubt to prepare breakfast.
All the commotion and smoke almost made me end my excursion before it even started. But birders can be a determine lot. Even downright stubborn. And the sweet sound of singing Cream-vented Bulbuls at the tree was all the convincing I needed to carry out my initial plans for the day. The bulbuls were certainly in a joyous mood. In between feedings, they belted out short burst of their pleasant call. I do not blame them. Life is beautiful for frugivorous species like the Cream-vented Bulbul when trees come into season. And not even a bunch of irritating humans can ruin the moment for them.
Of all the bulbuls that occur within the borders of this park, the Finsch’s Bulbul will always be the one that comes to mind first for me. Although my first sighting of the Finsch’s Bulbul is from the pristine forest of Taman Negara, it is here at Sungai Sedim that I enjoyed the most encounters.
Although it is not strikingly coloured, the prominent yellow throat makes the Finsch’s Bulbul rather unmistakeable.
It was a cloudy day here in the interior of Kedah state and the subdued lighting was much appreciated. At times when the sun managed to pierced though the dense clouds, it was too harsh for my liking and there was the issue with shadows. I guess apart from being stubborn, we birders can be demanding as well.
From past experiences, the Buff-vented Bulbuls are usually the most conspicuous species at this fruiting tree. Today, only one came and for a surprisingly brief moment. Even the common Red-eyed Bulbuls were rarely seen and throughout the day, I only managed one single record shot.
An unusual bulbul momentarily diverted my attention from the fruiting tree. At first I did not know what to make of it. I do not mean to toot my horn but this moment of uncertainly rarely happens to me. Not at this location with a bulbul anyway. A better look with my binoculars revealed the truth almost immediately. A Red-eyed Bulbul with some strategically placed shadows almost got the better of me.
The Spectacled Bulbuls were slightly better behaved but most of my photographic efforts were hampered by the harsh lighting and foliage. I could not think of a reason for this shy behaviour from these bulbuls species and even the family of campers should not be able to keep them away.
As for the Yellow-bellied Bulbuls, the present of the campers could be the reason for their hesitance to linger long at the fruiting tree. Past experiences again have shown that it is much less confiding than most other bulbul species at a fruiting tree.
It is difficult to overlook Black-headed Bulbuls not only because of their stunning appearance but their distinct vocalizations. Unfortunately, they were yet another species that was reluctant to join in the feast. I used to think that gluttony was a deadly sin very few could resist but I may change my mind after today.
And Murphy’s Law will certainly make sure that one of the most spectacular bulbuls in the world, the Scaly-breasted Bulbul, shows up just long enough to have you yearning for more long after it has departed from the vicinity.
The elegant Streaked Bulbuls will not be denied of the succulent food available and threw caution into the wind. They descended from the adjacent forest without much hesitation and their presence certainly did not go unappreciated.
The beautiful plumage of the Grey-bellied Bulbuls finally added some colours and splendour to the vicinity. By now the campers have gotten used to my presence and stopped their periodic peering from behind the tents. And I guess the birds in turn have gotten used to the campers as well.
The bulbul of the day was none other than another sleek species. Not as common as some of the other species, their fearless behaviour took my heart away. This is by far the most prolonged encounter I ever had with Cinereous Bulbuls at a fruiting tree. Inevitably, it also provided the most photographs of this species that I can remember.
The Cinereous Bulbul is not exceptionally striking but its beauty lies in subtlety. The ashy plumage, flashing white throat and distinct facial markings all contribute to making this species one of my favourites from this family of birds. And the Cinereous Bulbul made it eleven species of bulbuls recorded today.
Another family of birds that cannot resist the temptation of the fruiting tree here is the flowerpeckers. Minute, adorable and striking; these forest denizens are a delightful bunch to observe. Or so I thought. I noticed something different about their behaviour. Restless and unaccommodating, it was so unlike my previous experiences here. Even the commonest species, the Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, made very brief visits and I could only obtained a single record shot.
I could hear the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker throughout my visit. I saw them darting about too. But like the previous species, they rarely lingered at the tree long enough for me to obtain any reasonable images.
I was about to blame the campers again when the true culprits disclosed themselves. The deadly sin of gluttony brought out the worst from the Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers. I cannot be sure if it was just one individual or a team effort but this species was chasing away any other flowerpeckers that visited the tree. And the chases were not half-hearted attempts. They were out for blood.
I have seen flowerpeckers getting possessive at fruiting trees before but the Yellow-vented Flowerpecker took it to a whole new level today. Since it was so dominant, one would assume I will have ample photographs of this bully but that was not the case. Most of the time, it loitered deep among the foliage in the gloom overwhelmed with a sense of guilt for its unruly behaviour.
Surprisingly, the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpeckers were still able to feast in leisure most of the time.
Perhaps they were equally as aggressive. Or they timed their feedings when the bullies are preoccupied with others. Whatever the reason may be, the Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker is a gorgeous representative of this family of birds – second only to the elusive Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker that appeared at the fruiting tree for one season only.
The inconspicuous Plain Sunbird made a brief visit to the fruiting tree. As the name implies, the male lacks the resplendent colouration that this family of birds is renowned for. A small metallic green patch on his forehead is the only indication of this family trait.
Whether it was coincidental or intentional, a female Ashy Minivet appeared in the vicinity briefly. I did pay attention to her details, as I do to all Ashy Minivets, because of the possibility of overlooking similar but rarer species of minivets. When I was about done at the fruiting tree, the family of campers started to prepare for lunch. I took that as my cue to leave before I subject myself to be shrouded in smoke again.