Tuesday 27 October 2009

27/10/2009: Kubang Semang (Penang)

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a huge flock of foraging Black-winged Stilts. Being one of my all-time favourites, they naturally caught my immediate attention - all 117 of them. I find these birds to be most graceful when they go about their daily routines. That's why I have nicknamed them the Marshland Ballerinas.

These handsome fellows are the males...

These lovely ladies the females...

And together they make an attractive couple...

I managed to pick out a lone Grey-headed Lapwing foraging among the stilts. I guess the rest of its companions have not arrive at their winter destination yet.

The lighting conditions were quite favourable this morning. The "golden light" effect on this resting Little Ringed Plover provided a great photographic opportunity.

Another pleasant find this morning was this flock of Curlew Sandpipers. It is so much easier to photograph these waders in freshwater habitat than in coastal mudflats. The close distance is one of the major factors.

The Wood Sandpipers are back in their usual numbers.

And so have the Common Sandpipers. This fellow is enjoying some time in the sun when I came across it and it was kind enough to let me take a couple of shots.

The Pond-herons are in their indistinguishable winter plumages. I have to wait till March before I can start scouting for all the 3 species - again. It seems like an annual routine for me but these birds really are striking when they sport their summer plumages.

Just a handful of Cattle Egrets were seen today. The rest are most probably foraging at other sections of this vast expanse of paddy fields.

The Little Egrets were rather confiding this time around and were not really bothered by my presence.

Little Egrets are also very graceful when foraging and are strong contenders for the title of Marshland Ballerinas.

Killing 2 birds with 1 stone. Personally, I don't really fancy this old phrase...

The House Crows are too busy feeding to bother the other birds in the vicinity - for the time being anyway.

The White-throated Kingfisher may not be a constant menace to other birds but it will take small and young birds as prey occasionally.

The Brown Shrike may be a bold hunter but it is certainly quite shy of human approach. Here are some the distance shots I managed to capture of this little predator...

I rest my case...

On the other hand, the peaceful Paddyfield Pipit is rather tolerant to human approach.

Monday 19 October 2009

17-18/10/2009: Perlis State Park (Perlis)

A small group of us decided to take advantage of the long Deepavali weekend to visit this park that is located at the northern tip of Peninsula Malaysia. It has been 6 years since my last visit where I took part in a MNS raptor count. The park appeared to be exactly the way it was except for a bigger sign at the entrance.

After we collected the key to our chalet, we came across a rather confiding immature male Green-backed Flycatcher in the vicinity of the visitors' car park which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. This migratory species is not common at all here in Malaysia and we took full advantage of the situation to obtain as many shots as possible.

The park has a network of good access roads and jungle trails that cut through the pristine virgin tropical rainforest. A real birders' paradise but unfortunately for us, the birds were far and few this time round.

As we were making our way to unpack our gear in the chalet, we made a short detour to photograph a Spiny Hill Turtle that was spotted by Hor Kee and his friend while they were waiting for us to check-in. The turtle was just next to the jungle trail nearby the main access road.

My birding companions for this trip, James, Hor Kee and Choo Eng, giving the turtle its due attention.

The 2-bedroom chalet was quite comfortable but the best thing is that the back verandah is just next a small stream. I usually do not have issues with any accommodation during bird trips as long as there are birds in the vicinity. You can give me an old shed but if the vicinity is teeming birds, I will be most grateful and thankful. Anyway, this chalet is certainly not a shed. It comes equipped with air-conditioning, fridge, heater and so forth.

I spend quite some time along the stream next to the chalet especially during rest time. The stream is home to the Blue-banded Kingfisher and that explains why I am so intrigued by it. Anyway, the Kingfisher only offered me a passing glimpse once throughout my stay. And that also explains why I have so many shots of the stream in my memory card.

The Prince of Denmark Trail is home to the mythical forest jewel called the Banded Pitta. Despite all our efforts and patience, this spectacular species still remains mythical to my growing database of bird images.

I guess Choo Eng was just as disappointed as I was. A Pitta is not really a Pitta if it is easily seen. Pretty much is depended on your luck. Sorry, not pretty much but lots of it.

As the birds were not really up and about, bird photography was not as good as I hoped it to be. This female Banded Kingfisher on a high perch was one of the few memorable occasions in terms of bird photography for this trip. But the lighting conditions was a little too dim for any clear shots.

A striking male Rufous-collared Kingfisher forced us to work really hard to obtain a decent shot. Although he was not particularly shy, he remained partly hidden most of the time. An all too familiar situation when it comes to this forest Kingfisher.

But when he alighted on a fairly open perch, we were elated at being finally given a chance to photograph the bird. Although the images are not as sharp as I wanted them them to be, I can't really complain. Here's to looking at you, handsome...

A pair of foraging Moustached Babblers was a real nightmare to photograph. They were active, the lighting was bad and the foliage, dense. That' s forest bird photography in a nutshell. But when you chance upon that one reasonably clear shot, the sense of satisfaction can be quite overwhelming.

This is certainly not a very good sign if you are carrying heavy birding and photography gear...

Come on fellows...gimme a break and show yourselves. I can't be shooting signs during a birding trip...

Neither can I be shooting at mushrooms...

Some of the other birds I managed to capture included this Black-and-Yellow Broadbill. A pair of these adorable little birds was foraging high up in the canopy and they certainly brought some excitement and colours to the situation here.
A foraging Olive-winged Bulbul...

and Asian Brown Flycatcher wrapped things up for the birds during our stay in the park.

The other wildlife found here provided a little compensation for the lack of birds. This attractive juvenile Triangle Keelback was without doubt one of them. This rear-fanged snake was rather tame and we had a great photo session with it.

Being a semi-aquatic species, it feels right at home in water as well...

The Horned Tree Lizard is not something you come across everyday in the forest. This beautiful species with the elaborate spines on its back was truly quite a sight. Anyway, this male must be pretty contempt with life because...

he has not one but two beautiful females by his side.

You can't help but to be impressed with the camouflage of this Orange-bearded Gliding-lizard. It virtually "disappears" into the bark this tree.

The Sun Skink is a common species but it does not pose for the camera all too often - for mine anyway. But this particular individual seems to enjoy the attention it was getting from a couple of birder including yours truly.

This splendid little bug was seen resting just outside our chalet. The colours were very vibrant indeed. Maybe I should indulge in insect photography more often. At least they are more tolerant to human approach than birds. But then again, I doubt I will ever be standing in the middle of a swamp, feeding the leaches in order to observe and photograph a rare insect.

A Giant Millipede making its way across the access road without a worry in the world. Life in the slow lane...

Our owling excursion produced a pair of Javan Frogmouths. However, the birds remained out of sight although the calls were coming from very close by. If you think birding in the forest during the day is difficult, try it in the cover of darkness with only a few torch lights as your only help. Anyway, it was a great experience as the birds continued to call for quite a while. We even heard the call of the mysterious White-fronted Scops-owl. It may be the largest Scops-owl in Malaysia but it is certainly the rarest and the least documented.

On the other hand, the other nocturnal residents of the park gave us quite a show. This impressive Giant Forest Gecko was hunting on the outside wall of the chalet.

We also came across a couple of frogs like these common Four-lined Tree-frogs...

And this fellow which is one of the Chorus Frogs species. So named because they have a habit of congregating before they start to perform their nocturnal orchestra.

We also managed to locate 2 Hillstream Softshell Turtles in the stream next to our chalet. These ambush hunters will bury themselves in the sand while fully submerged in the water, leaving only their heads and part of their necks exposed. Any unsuspecting prey that swims within their reach will meet an unfortunate end. Once those powerful jaws catch hold of the prey, it is almost impossible to break free.

The small fishes that share this domain with the turtles have to be always on the alert. But I guess that's life. Unfortunately for the fishes, the law of the jungle applies strongly here.

However, it is not only the turtles that they have to worry about. Danger lurks in other forms as well and one of them is the Forest Snakehead - a predatory fish that will make short work of any small fish that comes its way.

On the way out of the park and back to Penang, we made a quick stop at the paddy fields in Mata Ayer. Nothing much was about. Even the images I took of the resident Rufous-bellied Swallow was a let-down because there was condensation in my lens at that time.

The Chuping Sugarcane fields is located a short driving distance from the park. A couple of seasons ago, it played host to 2 first records for Malaysia - the Long-legged Buzzard and the Asian Openbill. But there was nothing much to boast about upon our arrival at the locality.