Monday, 22 June 2009

17&18/06/2009: Air Hitam Dalam (Penang)

I finally found the time to visit the nesting Pittas after a lapse of almost a week. There were only 2 chicks left from the brood of three.

Both the parents were busy feeding the chicks as usual...

On a few occasions, the parents foraged for food quite nearby the nest and that provided me with a few shots of this fascinating species in its natural environment.

Here's a flying shot (after numerous attempts) of the adult bird in flight. Here, it is disposing a fecal sac from the nest.
I returned to the nest the next day and the Pittas were still carrying on their usual routine.

The call of a Ruddy Kingfisher from the boardwalk was too much of a temptation to resist. The short walk to the boardwalk was most fruitful as I managed to capture a few decent shots of this striking kingfisher. As the lighting was rather dim, I was forced to use my external flash.
A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo alighted momentarily near the boardwalk in front of me and I managed to take a shot before it flew back up into the canopy.

A Pied Fantail was pretty confiding today as well...

When I came back to the nest, I saw the chicks moving about the base of the nest. So, I quickly got back into my car to avoid stressing the chicks and took quite a number of shots of these youngsters experiencing life outside the nest for the first time. I found out later that the chicks were already out and about the evening before.

Gradually the both of them moved further into the swamp forest and it did not take the parent birds long to figure out their babies have finally grown up and left the nest. They then proceeded to feed the chicks within the forest. I walked onto the boardwalk to see if I can still locate the chicks and I managed to see one of them among the short grass at the edge of the forest.

As I was heading back to my car, the other chick alighted on the boardwalk right in front of me. I can still remember a juvenile pitta doing exactly the same thing to me at this very location more than 10 years ago. Anyway, I slowly got down as low as possible and took a few shots before it dived down into the undergrowth again.

This whole pitta episode was supposed to be one of the highlights of my birding life. And I guess it still is but there are a number of external factors that made it more memorable. There are several controversies surrounding these nesting pittas among the birding community and I am one of them.

I made a mistake of posting the nesting pittas a bit too early to an email group and I received pretty harsh and strong comments for that. I thought that most, if not all, birders knew about the nest and there was no harm in sharing the locality of the nest. Since, the discovery of the nest, this place was filled with birders and bird photographers from all over. Did my mistake deserve the hostile comments from the other members of the group? Does a minor traffic offender deserve the death sentence? I don't think so. I really regret my mistake and I guess I have to carry this mistake with me for the rest of my life.

I was kept away from the birding scene from mid 2005 to early 2008 due to my work and other personal commitments. When I returned back into the scene, I noticed a significant change - there are now a lot more birders, or should I say bird photographers in the field. I was also made aware that there is now a rift between certain groups in the birding community - especially in regards to nesting birds. I had no idea how deep the rift was until it happened to me. I can really feel the anger and hatred in their comments. I don't blame they for the comments they hurled at me. Perhaps in the past, they themselves were subjected to such treatment.

All I know is that birding is now a far cry from how it was back in the good old days. I took up this hobby because I was fascinated by birds and I love the feeling of escaping from the harsh realities of the real world whenever I'm out birding. I guess reality has managed to crawl its way into the birding world as well. And that's real sad. Birding is supposed to be enjoyed by all. You are supposed to derive pleasure from birding and not grief. I'm taking all that has happened one step at a time. I know it will certainly not damper my spirit or my love for birding. That much I know. It has always been about the birds for me and it always will. I have more than enough of my share of ill-feelings and confrontations in the working world. I really wish that I do not have to face any of those in the birding world as well. But in life we don't always get everything we wish for.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Mangrove Pittas!

Back in early May of this year, a pair of Mangrove Pittas decided to build their nest just next to the car park of Air Hitam Dalam Recreational Forest in Penang. The nest is located at the bottom of a clump of Nibung Palms right at the edge of the swamp forest.

Initially, there was only handful of us that knew about the nest but the word of the nest soon got out and birders from as far as Singapore flocked to this locality for a chance to observe and capture images of this enigmatic species. It so happened that I am quite caught up with work at that time that I only made short visits to the nest on week days before I start my working day. I heard that on weekends, you have to practically queue up for a chance to observe or photograph the birds as the car park is just crawling with birders!

Anyway, both parents shared the responsibility of building the nest. The birds are quite tolerant of human presence and even more so if you remain in your vehicle. Using my car as a mobile hide, the birds will come rather close to my vehicle as they as they move about collecting nesting materials.

By the end of May, there was 3 eggs in the nest...

About a week later, the parents started to bring food back to the nest. Again, it is a shared responsibility. Luckily despite all the commotion and the presence of countless birders, the birds are successful in bringing up the family. It has been more than a week since I first noticed the feeding and the chicks are growing up just fine.

Observing this wonderful bird at such a close distance was an awesome experience. In fact, it may be one of my best birding experience so far. This confiding pair provided amazing shots like these...

I have had great observations and photographs of this species at this locality before but this past 2 months, has been truly magical. Never have I ever imagine that I will have a Mangrove Pitta hopping less than 10 feet away from my vehicle. In fact, I never thought I will be able to see a Mangrove Pitta from my vehicle let alone taking photographs. And it is all because of this loving couple. Thanks guys...

During my regular visits to the nest, I have been keeping an eye (and an ear) out for another dazzling resident, the Ruddy Kingfisher. I came close to capturing its image on a couple of occasions but somehow, it managed to slip past my camera. My frustrations were finally over on one of my visits when it alighted on branch long enough for me to capture a few shots.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

01/06/2009: Kek Loke Tong Temple (Perak)

On my way back from an assignment in KL, I decided to make a detour to Ipoh and do some birding in one of the limestone cave temples. This particular temple is noted for its rich bird life apart from its impressive appearance. Well, I'm not much of a temple-going person but I think I can make an exception here.

Although I did not get to observe most of the species I hoped to encounter here but I did received a wonderful reception from the resident Blue Rock-thrushes. It is that time of the year where the birds are busy breeding or tending to their chicks. The parent birds have a handful trying to satisfy the ever-hungry juveniles. The male bird is quite distinctive with their stunning blue plumage.
The plumage of the female birds can be quite varied. They range from being brownish...

To almost as blue as the male birds themselves...

And the noisy and tame individuals all over the temple are the juveniles...

In fact the whole population here is rather accustomed to human presence. These birds can be seen at the car park of the temple, foraging among the stationery vehicles.

I even saw a male bird picking up scrap left by visitors and they don't even bother to wait for the visitors to leave before they dived in and feed.

They are not called Rock-thrushes for nothing. Here is a juvenile in its typical habitat and it is among the limestone crevices that these fascinating birds make their nests.

The highlight for the trip is this exceptionally tame male bird that foraged towards me when I was crouched down on the lawn capturing shots of him. He came so close to me at one time that my telescoping lens could not even focus on him. I swear I can even pat him on the head if I reached out my hand.

I have been putting off a visit to this temple for quite a period of time as I prefer to visit birding localities with a lot less people around. But if I can obtain wonderful images and experiences like this, I don't think this will be the last visit I will pay to these Temple Thrushes.