The general plan was to check out whatever remains of the peat swamp forest at Pondok Tanjung in northern Perak state. This locality used to be one my favourite forest sites but that was a long time ago before all the deforestation and road works crept in. I often tell myself there is no point holding on to the past because most of the time, what has been done towards Mother Nature cannot be undone in this lifetime nor the next. So instead of exploring this wilderness through a network of idyllic forest trails, it is now reduced to walking along the busy access road next to the forest.
There is another reason that could well be the true objective of the visit. Hor Kee recently recorded some different sounding Cream-vented Bulbuls with pale orangey irises at this location and we hope to further document these bulbuls. The Cream-eyed Bulbul is a species new to science that was discovered in Borneo a few years back. And Hor Kee, hoping to repeat the success he had with the Olive Bulbul (which was a new country record) by accumulating enough supporting evidence to show that the Cream-eyed Bulbul may not only be restricted to Borneo. A careful sweep of the area where the bulbuls were last recorded eventually produced the results we seek.
We also found a pair that was attending to a juvenile indicating that for now, these bulbuls still find sanctuary in the peat swamp forest of Pondok Tanjung.
I have recorded Cream-vented Bulbuls with darker iris before and going through my images, I found a few that I have taken at Sungai Sedim in the state of Kedah back in 2015 and 2010 respectively.
When it comes to birding, I like to keep things simple and trying to separate two almost identical brown bulbuls is anything but simple. Just to be clear, there is nothing conclusive in this post. These “Cream-vented” Bulbuls do call differently and have subtle physical differences from the typical. And for the time being, I will leave it at that.
A lone Buff-vented Bulbul momentarily distracted me from our objective a one point. It is undeniable all these brownish bulbuls look quite similar at a glance. Upon further scrutiny one can usually determine their identifications unlike some other family of birds like for example the dreaded leaf-warblers.
Once we were done with the bulbuls, we started to pay attention to the other species that were obviously present. In fact, we found ourselves surrounded by an array of bird calls since dawn and one family of birds stood out from the rest – the babblers. As we are all well aware, babblers usually offer nothing more than glimpses as they move about in the cover of the forest. Sometimes, we can be fortunate enough to experience a little more than that and a pair of Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers mesmerized us with their charisma on this occasion. This species is known to be confiding at times and this is certainly one of those times.
The forest undergrowth may save you the agony of straining your neck looking upwards but your patience will be tested as you wait for photographic opportunities that may never come. I was almost outdone by this sneaky little Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler but a gap among the vegetation caught the babbler off-guard and frustration instantly became exhilaration for me. Gotcha!
The haunting territorial call of the Sooty-capped Babbler has always been a prominent feature here. I do not get to see this skulker as often as I would like and on this beautiful Saturday morning, the prolonged visual encounter obtained was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
The Sooty-capped Babbler is not that striking a bird but the obliging nature of this individual overwhelmed my senses. I frequently lament about the frustrations of forest birding but when everything comes together perfectly, it is utter bliss. And all those hours spent wandering aimlessly will make sense to you again.
Often obscured from view by the dense foliage of the canopy, the Green Iora is one of the many denizens that call the forest home. The soft but persistent song is usually the only indication of its presence and once learnt, you will find that the Green Iora is not that uncommon at all. The male is exceptionally striking and our good fortune today continued with cracking views of an individual that wandered much lower down than usual. The late morning sun was unforgivingly harsh but there was no undermining the beauty of this species especially from such a close proximity.
Unlike the Iora, the Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds were shy and uncooperative today. It is another attractive resident of this locality but prefers the lower levels of the forest rather than the canopy. A brief view enabled me to squeeze the shutter a few times but the distance and lighting conditions were just a little too much for my photographic gear.
As we were making our way out, a troop of Pig-tailed Macaques loitering about the roadside halted our journey. The monkeys here are accustomed to human handouts and have grown exceedingly bold as a result. The alpha male is seriously intimidating and this brute of an animal provided the perfect ending for our visit here.
Before calling it a day, we made one last stop at the ponds next to the landfill of Pulau Burung. As expected only the resident species and overwhelming stench were present. But one species of water fowl in particular had our full attention. It has been quite a while since I last recorded such a big number of Lesser Whistling-Ducks. This location is a known stronghold for them and all two hundred strong were relatively unperturbed by the sudden presence of two human observers.
Hindered by the glaring midday lighting, the confiding nature of some of ducks enjoying their siesta could not produce the type of images I was hoping for. Regardless, I am still delighted to be greeted by this small spectacle at a locality that has also lost much of its lustre in recent years.