Air Hitam Dalam is a just little patch of forest in northern mainland Penang that happens to be the best birding site closest to home. The migratory season usually brings some goodies to this local patch of mine but this season, it has been exceptional so far. Unfortunately, I neither had the time nor the good fortune to enjoy the bounty. Black-backed Kingfisher, Violet Cuckoo and Zappey’s Flycatcher managed to elude me during my visits here. These birds are not lifers and they are not rare. However, they are uncommon enough to get me visiting a forest site during the hottest part of the day – twice (including this trip). Of the three birds, missing the exquisite male Violet Cuckoo (just to rub in the salt, others have seen the whole damn family on several occasions) pained me the most. On this visit, I went to where he was more likely to show and waited.
Naturally, he gave me the slip again. But I faired slightly better today. I got the juvenile Violet Cuckoo momentarily at the top most part of the canopy miles away. Better than nothing I guess...
While waiting for the Violet Cuckoo, another cuckoo did come my way and it was an impressive Green-billed Malkoha. I must have made myself unobtrusive enough to have this usually shy bird forage so close to my position. If not for the lighting and vegetation, this would have been a very nice capture.
A mix troop of Silver and Spectacled Langurs kept my mind off the cuckoo momentarily. The Silver Langurs were a bit shyer but it was still interesting to observe this inter-species behaviour between two mammals. This Spectacled Langur, on the other hand, was certainly living a carefree life here.
I decided to move from the spot before I was totally overwhelmed by boredom and took a slow walk next to the river. Not much was about due to the time of the day except for a foraging male Common Flameback. It may be the commonest woodpecker in the vicinity but an adult male like this one deserves some attention.
The rising temperature does bring out a family of birds from hiding and they are the raptors. A handful of species were recorded today but only one provided any real chance of capturing a decent photo and it was the migratory Black Kite. This site plays host to these northern migrants again this season and will continue to do so if there are no drastic changes to the surrounding environment.
I was not the only one who took noticed of the raptors. The presence of predatory birds certainly did not go down well with the resident Large-billed Crows and they went on a mobbing spree until most of the raptors were beyond their air space.
I casually wandered back to the Violet Cuckoo hoping for a miracle which did not come my way. Frustrated and fatigued, I was about to call it a day when a Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo alighted just in front of me. It was not the cuckoo I was hoping for but things being the way they are, this was a much welcomed encounter.
This common migrant is often bold and confiding. When it shifted position, it flew towards me and not the other way round. I was taken a back and once I regained my composure, I took a few more shots despite the strong back light hampering my efforts.
The Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo lingered in the vicinity for quite a long period of time. Another trait this species has shown to me before.
Since there was nothing else about, I decided to follow the movement of the cuckoo. It was relatively easy as it was foraging at a leisurely pace. Then a second bird came into view and for a moment, I thought I was seeing double. If it was any other day, this would have gotten me all excited. However, the Violet Cuckoo has given me quite a bitter pill to swallow and it would take more than this to remedy my situation.
A brownish bird was flitting about the nearby understorey and my fascination with the cuckoos came to an abrupt stop. It turned out to be a Paradise-Flycatcher and with all the recent splits, identification is no longer straightforward. Even worse when the bird is a juvenile or female like this one in front of me. Upon further scrutiny, I felt that this Paradise-Flycatcher is somehow different from the usual Blyth’s and Amur Paradise-Flycatcher. A quick check with my mates through our group chat (the wonders of modern technology) revealed that it was indeed a Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher.
I have only a couple of encounters with this scarce migrant and this juvenile naturally had my undivided attention. It certainly lacks the resplendent of the adult male and God willing, one day I will have the privilege to observe him in the flesh. Until that day comes, I just have to be contented with this youngster who was performing well indeed.
There was an Asian Brown-Flycatcher foraging nearby but it did not possess enough finesse to divert my attention for long.
The Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher remained in the vicinity long enough for Hor Kee to make a beeline to this locality from home (and at the time of writing, so did Dave). Together with a couple of other birders, we enjoyed the companionship of this no doubt latest attraction to this modest birding locality. Being much rarer than the Violet Cuckoo, this young Japanese certainly made this ad-hoc trip a memorable one in the end.