Monday 25 January 2010

23/01/2010: Perlis

Choo Eng and I decided to make a road trip up north to the tiny state of Perlis where there are quite a number of exciting species seen of late. Our first destination was the vast sugarcane plantation in Chuping and it is my first real birding excursion at this northern birding hotspot. It is quite an unfamiliar sight for me with rows sugarcane plants as far as the eye can see.

The distinct silhouette of a hovering kestrel caught our immediate attention. With a little patience and some rally-like driving, we managed to obtain better views of 2 female Common Kestrels that were hunting in the vicinity.

Some of the reasons why we visited this area was to try and confirm the Long-legged Buzzard that was seen here last week by Choo Eng but it was no where to be seen. Our search for the Blyth’s Pipit (a first record for Malaysia) recorded by Dave a few weeks back did not materialized either. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. We did come across quite a number of pipits but they turned out to be the much commoner Paddyfield Pipits. So close and yet, so far…

Our next destination was the nearby Bukit Jernih Forest Reserve. The spectacular limestone hills are an awesome sight.

However, we did not travel all the way here for the view. Despite Dave’s useful and precise information, we dipped out on the Dusky Craig-martin and the Racket-tailed Treepie. All was not lost when we were rewarded with a resident race of the Peregrine Falcon gliding alongside the face of the cliff.

At the entrance to the reserve, we dipped out again on the Pale-legged Warbler that was seen by Dave last week. A rather confiding Streak-eared Bulbul did its part to cheer us up. This species is only common in the northern Malaysia and the southern most limit of its range is near the northern border in my home state of Penang.

A Garden Fence Lizard soaking in the warm rays of the sun provided quite a catch.

From the rocky outcrops of Bukit Jernih, we traveled to the tranquil blue waters at the edge of Timah-Tasoh Lake.

On the northern shores, we searched intensely for the Thick-billed Warbler, another rarity to our shores, with the help of Dave’s direction again. We did find the bush that Dave described but not the bird…

A rather confiding Bronzed Drongo help prevented us from leaving the vicinity empty-handed. Thanks, buddy…

We then decided to try out another section of the lake and all the disappointments so far almost disappeared all together. Not one but two Bronze-winged Jacanas were seen foraging along the lake side vegetation. It was just a month ago that I finally unblocked the Pheasant-tailed Jacana from my life list and now, I got the other only jacana that occurs here in Malaysia. Although the birds were quite a distance away, there is no doubt in its identification. All the images I took were grainy but a lifer will be a lifer.
We decided to settle down at the edge of the lake and took all steps to blend into the environment hopping to get better images of the jacanas. However, they had other thoughts on their minds and maintained the distance.

In birding, there is a theory that when you finally see a lifer that has been eluding you for years and years, you are bound to come across that particular species more often from that faithful day onwards. I have personally experienced this quite a few times throughout my birding years and this time, the presence of 2 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas in the vicinity was the latest one to support this theory.

A juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagle graced the vicinity with its presence...

So did this Intermediate Egret…

The Cattle Egrets live up to their name sakes…

With dusk fast approaching, we went back to the sugarcane plantation to catch the harriers returning to their recently discovered roost. However, our journey was interrupted when a striking male Common Stonechat in almost full breeding plumage alighted invitingly next to the access road of the plantation.

The roost is actually a fenced up cattle pasture which basically prevented any chances of obtaining clear, good shots of the harriers coming in.

Like clock-work, the first few harriers floated in about the same time when Choo Eng was here the last time.

We recorded about 100 harriers in total and they consist of Eastern Marsh-harriers like this juvenile…

And the smaller Pied Harriers which I was lucky enough to capture more images. This female slowly made its way to roost in the middle of the pasture…

The male Pied Harrier is always a sight to behold…

With the light fast disappearing, accurate identification was greatly hampered but I’m pretty sure this is a juvenile Pied Harrier. In the end, the experience was quite a memorable one and the high congregation of these graceful raptors swooping in from all four corners of the plantation was simply breathtaking.

Monday 18 January 2010

16/01/2010: Bukit Wang (Kedah)

My first trip to this locality made quite an impact on me and I was just itching to make a second one. When the opportunity finally presented itself, I hit the road before dawn and reached the car park of the locality about the same time I saw the rare migratory Taiga Flycatcher on my last visit. Much to my delight, the flycatcher was already out and about…

Gradually, it got used to the presence of my vehicle and I got pretty close to the celebrity bird. As the lighting got better, so did my images. It has started to develop its breeding plumage as I could make out traces of light red on the breast region.
I even managed to capture it feeding on some kind of a caterpillar...

This Black-thighed Falconet was perching way beyond the reach of my camera. Although it is not uncommon, I am still waiting for my chance to capture this adorable little raptor from a close distance.

This Pig-tailed Macaque was camera-shy and gradually made a retreat to the forest when I tried to capture its image.
This striking male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker was not much better and kept himself partly hidden from me most of the time.

If only all my targets are as obliging as this one…
My spirits were lifted when I managed to locate a calling Malaysian Honeyguide from the canopy level. Although the angle and distance prevented to obtain great shots but I was quite satisfied with my record shots. This scarce canopy species is rarely documented and ever since my first encounter back in 2003, it has always been high on my wanted list.

A pair of Bushy-crested Hornbills was kind enough for me to capture their image as the pair rested on a far tree. Although I could only obtain record shots due to the distance, I am quite please with how the shots turned out.

In birding, there are lifers and there are MEGA-LIFERS. When an unfamiliar raptor flew quite high over the forest, I took the “shoot first, talk later” approach. Based on past experiences, a photo is certainly worth a thousand words – especially when one is alone and comes across a rare bird. It turned out to be a juvenile Himalayan Griffon and that certainly qualifies as a MEGA-LIFER. Vultures are extremely rare in Malaysia and the Himalayan Griffon has been recorded only as vagrants. Coincidentally, one was seen in Singapore on this very weekend as well. As this is my first encounter with a wild vulture, it was by far one of the most exciting 30 seconds of my life and that was roughly the time I was given to aim, focus and shoot. Although my image was a rather poor one, it was good enough to help me identify the species and for others to help with its identification later on. What a terrific start to the year!

15/01/2010: Gelugor Coastline (Penang)

It started out as a normal day at work until I received a text message from Dave saying “Chinese Egret at the Gelugor coastline now…”. Although this rather scarce migrant is not new to me but it has been years since my last sighting. I immediately wrapped things up at the office as quickly as possible since it was almost end of the day anyway. Once work was out of the way, I rushed home, grabbed my gear, hopped onto my faithful motorcycle, zipped past the busy Friday rush hour traffic and arrived at the vicinity to start my search for the Chinese Egret. Following Dave’s information, I managed to locate it without much difficulty. However, it remained at the water’s edge the whole time I was there and I could only obtain record shots. Egrets as a family is easy to identify but it can be quite tricky when it comes to identifying the individual species - especially a Chinese Egret in non-breeding plumage. Lucky for me, Dave had already nailed its id before I arrived.

While admiring the foraging Chinese Egret, a pair of immature Brahminy Kites were coming back from the sea after the day's hunt.

Monday 11 January 2010

09/01/2010: Jelutong Expressway Coastline (Penang)

On my way back from work, I noticed that the tide along this coastal expressway was just nice to capture some of the water birds found here. However, the lighting was quite harsh as it was just past the noon hour.

The egrets are a prominent sight here even to the layman. It is not difficult to approach them at this locality as they are quite used to humans because of all the fishermen that use this area as a base. However, the images of these Great Egrets are slightly overexposed...

I did the same mistake with my camera settings when shooting the Little Egrets as well...

While observing the egrets, something big cast its shadow over me when it flew overhead. It turned out to be a juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagle.

I have been on a roll with this species of late and this magnificent raptor did not disappoint me once again. It started to ride the thermals - giving me ample opportunity to capture its images.

There were quite a number of waders present near the edge of the water as the rising tide was pushing them ever closer to the shore line. A striking Common Redshank in breeding plumage alighted quite near to where I was sitting - much my delight.

"Excuse me, Mr. Greenshank. Any chance your cousin Nordmann is around also?"
"Dream on, Mr. Birder..."

I decided to try my luck with a foraging Whimbrel that was quite close to the shore line.

Whimbrels are quite shy by nature. I had to literally crawl for about 10 minutes before I got close enough for some decent shots. If I can remember correctly, the very first bird I photographed was also a Whimbrel and also along this coastline. I still have the image with me. So, this is my humble beginning as a bird photographer back in 2003.

This is the type of images I now take thanks to my present equipment and tips and pointers from friends.