The access road up the Air Itam Dam in Penang Island was recently reopened after a major landslide. Although I do not expect anything out of the ordinary here, I still decided to pay the locality a visit when I found myself with a few hours to kill on a Saturday morning. As my iron steed took me up the ascending windy road, I was greeted by huge concrete retaining walls where once were patches of secondary forest. Thankfully, the repair works were confined to the lower reaches of the hill. The access trail up Bukit Penara looked almost like how I remembered it and I started my trek up with rejuvenated spirit.
The frantic call of the Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo is rather distinct and it stopped me in my tracks when I heard it calling from the ravine below. A brief view was all it offered this time and as I was still recovering from the disappointment, another distinct call gained my undivided attention. It took some effort as the Green Broadbill is small and blends in well with its surroundings. But as soon as I spotted the female, her mate started to call from the adjacent tree. The morning just got a lot more interesting.
The Green Broadbill is the last remaining broadbill species to occur on the island and that makes it a distinguished species for me. Unfortunately, the male was reluctant to show himself well and all my efforts were in vain. The drabber female, on the other hand, was quite showy.
There are many amazing songsters in the avian world and the White-rumped Shama is undoubtedly one of them. Cursed with both good looks and voice, it is heavily trapped for the bird trade and the population here in Penang is dwindling. This pair was checking a dead tree trunk for a nest site and hopefully, they will find a more suitable one that is not so exposed.
Babblers are not that well represented on the island. The one species that stands out for me here is the Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler. For today, this stunning species turned out to be the main highlight. There is nothing not to be liked about this babbler except for its preference for the dense undergrowth which can be a major hindrance to observation and photography. But it is a visit to a local patch on my own and time was not a restriction. I patiently followed the babbler and took whatever photographic opportunity that was provided.
The saying good things come to those who wait could not have made any more sense than in this moment. The Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler is a loud, adorable and striking species and I am truly grateful it has managed to endure living here in Penang Island despite all the looming threats.
When vocalizing, the blue skin on the neck was quite obvious and together with its body movements made it quite a performance indeed. In fact, the entire encounter was incredible. Looks like the Pearl of the Orient has not lost all its glitter just yet.
The next day, I had a half-day excursion with a Singaporean guest and our first destination was the mangroves of Sungai Batu in Kedah state. It has been weeks since my last visit to the locality and it warms my heart to be greeted by the territorial call of the Mangrove Pitta upon our arrival. It did not take long for the star bird to reveal itself and my guest could not have asked for a better way to start off the tour than with a Pitta as a lifer.
The inquisitive Abbott’s Babblers further improved the quality of the visit with their adorable presence.
For most, the Crested Serpent-Eagle is a common raptor that is usually taken for granted. But when seen well, it is still a beautiful and majestic bird of prey. A lone individual was perched in good light at the edge of the mangroves and since it was confiding, the raptor was given its due attention.
At the freshwater swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam, it was disappointingly quiet despite the favourable weather. The only encounter worth mentioning from this site was a Crested Serpent-Eagle looking fluffy and adorable as unbelievable as it may sound. Anyway, this sighting helped prove my earlier statement of it being a common raptor.
The last destination of the day was the paddy fields of mainland Penang. With the breeding season almost in full swing for most of the water birds, some of the egrets were looking gorgeous in breeding plumages like these Cattle Egrets.
This is the only species that sports some colouration on its plumage and that makes this smallest of the egrets truly stand out from the crowd.
A full breeding plumaged Intermediate Egret will sport blood red eyes. I guess this individual is still considered to be in partial breeding plumage despite the presence of the body plumes.
The final bird of the day is another water bird but is far more enigmatic than any egret. The Asian Openbill is a common sight nowadays around mainland Penang but my fascination for this peculiar stork is far from over. A couple of birds resting on a bund was confiding enough this time to allow our vehicle to make a close approach. For my guest, it was a much-anticipated lifer. As for me, the Asian Openbill was a great way to finish off this short excursion around my usual birding haunts.