Monday, 30 August 2010

28/08/2010: Bukit Palong (Kedah)

I was rather excited when Choo Eng suggested that we should bird at this locality as it is a new site to me and Choo Eng himself has only been there once so far. There is always the possibility that a new location can turn out to be a real hotspot. The last new locality that we went to which was Bukit Wang, was a real goldmine. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will hit the jackpot again with this new site located within the wild areas of Baling, Kedah. The access road that leads up to the summit which is about 900 meters above sea level looks very promising upon our arrival. After passing through some agricultural land, it becomes quite isolated as the only people that use this road from here regularly are the Telekom personnel manning the station at the summit.
So, the environment is favourable but what about the birds? A male Orange-breasted Trogon was very quick to answer my question with his signature 4-note call. Although he was calling from a distance and was a little too far for my camera, the exposed perch provided me with excellent views.
When we came across a fruiting tree that was bustling with birds, we just took up position and enjoyed the show. Actually, that was pretty much all we can do as most of the species that came to the tree were the small and extremely active ones like this Everett’s White-eye.
A total of three species of sunbirds were present, the Plain Sunbird being the dullest in terms of colours.
The Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds were being their usual difficult selves and I only managed one measly shot of the female.
The male Scarlet Sunbird is certainly one if the most stunning of birds that occur in the Malaysian rainforest and I was pretty disappointed with myself for not getting a better shot of it.
Slightly bigger birds also visited this particular fruiting tree, like this Hairy-backed Bulbul.
A stunning male Verditer Flycatcher also came to the tree and was after the insects attracted by the fruits rather than the fruits themselves.

Later in the morning, the diagnostic wing beats of hornbills caught my attention. I could see them flying towards my direction but the small between the foliage provided me with only a small window of opportunity to photograph them. So when, a trio of Wreathed Hornbills flew pass that window, I did my best to capture these amazing birds.
About a minute later, I could hear the locomotive-like wing beats again. As I was photographing the second group of three birds again, I took them as part of the same flock of the earlier. However when I examined my shots after, I was stunned to find that the second group was of another species altogether. The Plain-pouched Hornbills looked remarkably similar to the commoner Wreathed Hornbills and as the name suggests, it lacks the black line across the yellow gular pouch. This species is known to travel in flocks numbering up to about a thousand at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, I still do not have the good fortune to witness this spectacle of nature.
The broadbills are well represented in this trip. It is never easy to pick out a bird from the dense foliage of the canopy and if the bird is completely green like this female Green Broadbill, then efforts must be doubled.
The Black-and-yellow Broadbill is another species that can be easily overlooked despite its brilliant colours and distinctive call. However when you do find one, this species is certainly a sight for sore eyes.
A group of inquisitive Dusky Broadbills was the highlight for the trip. I have been trying for years to capture reasonable images of this species and today, my prayers were answered.
One particular bird even willingly posed for our camera. Thanks, buddy!
Friend or foe? I reckon friend as both the Whiskered Treeswift and the flying lizard pose no threat to each other.
This maiden trip produced more than fifty species for me and that is quite a notable total. I’m pretty sure I will be back along this forested hilly road again. There were times when things got a little slow but I took advantage of the lull to capture other wildlife that this place has to observe like this gibbon…
A pair of Orb Spiders certainly makes an odd couple. The small reddish male looks more like an infant when compared to his mate. Female spiders as a whole tend to consume their much smaller mates after mating. That is the life of male spiders. I guess they give new meaning to the phrase a love that is to die for.
There was one tree that attracting quite a number of butterflies but unfortunately, its flowers are located right at the very top of its canopy.
The flowers of wild ginger in bloom can be quite a pleasing sight as well…

Thursday, 26 August 2010

23/08/2010: Permatang Nibong (Penang)

I decided to swing by this locality again hoping to obtain more images of the Asian Openbills. I arrived just after dawn and much to my delight, the level of bird activity had already started to build up. The Cinnamon Bitterns were still around but unfortunately, I did not manage to get as close to them as my last visit.

The Zitting Cisticolas were also in high numbers but unlike the bitterns, they were just as confiding as the last trip. I could not resist taking a few shots before making my way to the storks’ favourite resting area. I made a mental note to come back this way for more “zitting” actions on my way out.
All five of the Asian Openbills were on the exact same tree that I last saw them and from the looks of things, the storks have only started to stir and stretch after a night’s rest.
I immediately, but carefully, got myself into a good position with the sun gradually rising from my back and patiently waited for the beautiful golden light of morning to work its magic over my intended subjects. I was truly disheartened when I missed out on the first single specimen that was recorded in Malaysia about a few years back in Perlis. At that time, I never expected this rarity to turn up in one of my usual birding spots. But here they are and now, this locality is the best place in the country to see them.The wait proved to be most rewarding as I managed to capture some of my best images of these storks to date.
I took a breather from shooting in order to really cherish the experience. Right in front of me, a flock of one of the rarest migratory waterbirds, in all their glory, is basking in the soothing rays of the early morning sun. Now if that is not an inspiration moment, then I sincerely do not know what is.
The flock was rather at ease despite my presence and started to preen and prepare themselves for the new day ahead.
I guess one of the reasons why the Asian Openbills are wintering here is the availability of food in the form of snails – Golden Apple Snails to more precise. This snail is one of the paddy farmer’s worst enemies and these storks are actually doing the farmers a big favour. I hope the farmers know this too and start to appreciate the presence of these natural pest controllers. Anyway this is the tell-tale sign of their presence, the brightly coloured eggs.
I left the storks as they were and made my way back to the “cisticola patch”. Along the way, I simply had to stop for a White-browed Crake that was moving along the top part of the paddy stalks.
The number of egrets is noticeably higher today and there was quite a concentration of these graceful waterbirds on a recently harvested area of the paddy field.
In fact, all four species that is known to occur in freshwater habitats are around and the smallest of them all are the Cattle Egrets.
Little Egrets are a regular sight in this locality and their numbers have significantly increased since my last visit.
The Intermediate Egrets, on the other hand, were still in small numbers.
There was only a single lone Great Egret today but I’m sure more will come in the following weeks.
My earlier gut feeling about the Zitting Cisticolas turned out to be quite true as the birds provided yet another memorable performance and wrapped things up for this short but most rewarding excursion.