Wednesday 29 September 2010

26-27/09/2010: Cameron Highlands (Pahang)

My wife and I took a much-needed break from our working schedule and headed towards the cool and misty hill resort of Cameron Highlands. She has a sweet spot for this locality due to the availability of strawberries and other agricultural products. I was more than glad to agree on this destination because I knew I could do a little bit of birding over there at the same time.

We stayed at the Lutheron Bungalow and most of my birding this time was done in the compound itself and the nearby vicinity. Small bird-waves will occasionally travel past the compound and I made the most of whatever time I had to enjoy the birds. Blue-winged Minlas are quite common here but they usually don’t stay put for very long.

The Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush is always a welcome sight.

This Asian Brown Flycatcher will likely to spend the winter here and was seen on both days.

I was rather disappointed when I missed out on a pair of foraging Green Magpies. The birds were simply too wary of my presence and dodged every attempt I made to photograph them. However, I got over the magpies when a beautiful Fire-tufted Barbet alighted right in front of me.

I have not seen the Black-and-crimson Oriole for quite a while now but this male perched just a little too far for my camera and there was no way to reduce the distance between us.

A flock of about 20 Large-billed Crows were seen flying at a distance. I observe the flock just to be sure that the crows were not harassing a raptor or something. When crows congregate and fly about the same vicinity, they are usually up to no good. Anyway, I think they are just heading back to roost for the evening this time.

My wife was really excited to see her first wild owl when a handsome Brown Wood-owl decided to hunt from the poles of the clothes line in the garden shortly after dark. For me, it was a slight compensation for missing out on photographing a Mountain Scops-owl earlier on. However without the aid of my external flash, obtaining good images was simply impossible.

We did make a visit to Gunung Brinchang, the highest point by car in Malaysia, to visit the Mossy Forest habitat and the stunning views. It was not very fruitful in terms of birding but we had a rather close encounter with a couple of Golden-throated Barbets. However, it was much easier for my wife to photograph me trying my best to photograph the birds than me successfully photographing the birds.

Apart from that, we also made a visit to Sungai Palas tea estate as my wife was looking forward to having some tea at the new lounge-like terrace. And from the look of things, she was not the only one as the place was packed with visitors upon our arrival.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

18/09/2010: Bukit Palong (Kedah)

Choo Eng and I decided to re-visit this locality after a very promising maiden trip. Despite another a good haul in terms of birding, photography opportunities were far and few. Last trip’s encounter with the Dusky Broadbills left a lasting impression on us and this time, the Black-and-yellow Broadbill provided the only highlight for the trip. A pair of these adorable little birds took very little notice of our presence and provided a much needed boost to the trip.

Although this species is quite striking, it tends to keep to the canopy level, taking full advantage of the cover provided by the foliage. I was truly elated when they decided to move to a lower perch and willingly posed for my camera.

Quite a number of migrating Fork-tailed Swifts were seen riding on the hot air thermals as they gradually make their way south for the winter.

As the migratory season is about to reached its climax, it is no surprise we found this migratory Tiger Shrike resting in the mid level of the forest.

With the birds being rather camera-shy today, I diverted my attention towards other wildlife that was present like this Giant Millipede.

The Gibbons were rather wary this trip unlike our previous encounter with them.

We also came across a Vine Snake on the prowl. Naturally, we took the time and effort to capture some images of this beautiful and graceful specimen.

Saturday 4 September 2010

31/08 - 01/09/2010: Genting Highlands

I am very grateful to Choo Eng for inviting me along for a 2-day birding trip to Genting Highlands, the most popular hill resort in the country. It is quite unusual to see traffic as well as human congestion on a hill resort but for this place, it is quite the opposite.
The thrill and excitement of the casinos as well as the theme parks of the resort up at the summit is a little too tempting for many to resist. Our trip happens to fall on our independence day and that brought even more visitors piling up the winding mountain road.
However for the two of us, it is on the more deserted areas that we seek our true vice. Although development is quite extensive, there are still some wild areas left intact. I have been to this hill resort before in the past but this is actually my first pure birding trip.
One of the three areas we frequented during our visit was the Awana Pumphouse Road. This isolated access road is located several kilometers from the summit and is well-known for its bird life. The bird that started the ball rolling for the trip was a stunning male Orange-bellied Leafbird. When we first spotted him, he was feasting on a plant stem in the lower levels of the forest and he was so indulged in the activity that he particularly ignored us.
Once he was done, instead of darting off into the canopy, he stayed around and gave us a little song.
This is by far the most confiding Orange-bellied Leafbird that I have ever come across and we photographed him to our heart’s content. The slightly dim lighting did not really matter much to me as the experience of being so close to such a tame and beautiful wild bird was exhilarating enough.
It took him quite a while to realize that maybe it was inappropriate for him to behave this way and flew up into the higher reaches of the forest canopy. Now, this is more like the behaviour of the leafbirds that I usually encounter in the forest.
Long-tailed Sibias are quite common in this locality but unfortunately, being numerous does not always mean great images are ensured as well.
Streaked Spiderhunters are a common sight in hill resorts everywhere and it is no different here. However, none of them seemed to be quite interested to be my model.
The same to be said for the commoner bulbuls like the Black-crested Bulbul
And the Stripe-throated Bulbuls.
The Ochraceous Bulbul is not as common as the other two and I was rather please with the images I managed to capture of a hunting party combing through the lower levels of the forest.
A raptor resting on a distance perch captured our attention instantaneously and upon further scrutiny, turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon – my favourite raptor. It is relatively smaller than the much larger eagles but who needs to be big when you can execute deadly aerial stoops with speeds of over 200 km/h to knock intended prey out in mid flight.
This male Large Woodshrike was quite wary of my presence and kept himself quite hidden as the flock made their way through the forest in front of me.
However, the female was simply a darling as she gave me a rather prolonged period to photograph her on an exposed perch.
An immature flycatcher alighted on a low branch quite close to where I was standing and typical of young birds, showed very little fear.
I was not completely sure it was an immature Little Pied Flycather until ‘daddy’ came along and he was indeed a sight to behold.
Honestly, I did try to capture the image of the female as well but when one has to make a choice between photographing a colourful male or his dull-looking mate, I guess the choice is quite obvious.
Wild orchids seem to favour this road and can be quite commonly encountered. The colours of the wild orchids are not as striking as the cultivated varieties but it is still very pleasing to the eyes.
I know I should not be spending time photographing a common bird that I can easily encounter back home but this flock of Scaly-breasted Munias was quite obliging and the lighting was good as well. Perhaps I am still rather new at bird photography as I only started shooting a few of years back but it is hard for me to resist a good photographic opportunity no matter how common the bird may be. I can still remember the time I was photographing the humble House Crow in a housing area and a puzzled passerby took the effort to stop and asked me if I am actually photographing a crow because the species is widely regarded as a pest. Well, I guess to each his own.
Birders have a tendency to visit the least appealing spots in the places they visit. The other location we visited was a rather isolated road near the summit that leads to a rubbish dump of enormous proportions. All the waste and refuse from the resort has to so somewhere. Anyway, this area provided the highlight of the trip.
Among the passerines in Malaysia, there is only one bird that possesses a single-word name and this bird looks just as exotic of its name. With its bold colourations, chubby appearance and scarce distribution, the Cutia is one of the most sought-after of the montane birds. I am no stranger to montane birding but this is only the second time that I have ever seen this species in my life. Initially, I thought it was going to be another one of those encounters where the bird can be seen but with no good photographs to show.
I was utterly delighted when my subject decided to proof me wrong and gave us a few good opportunities to truly the capture its enchanting beauty.
The Mountain Bulbuls are quite common along this road, especially in the vicinity of the fruiting tree that the Cutia visited earlier.
This particular tree also attracted other species as well like this brilliant male Large Niltava…
The ever-common Long-tailed Sibias…
And the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush.
The Barred Cuckoo-doves also came in for the fruits but they kept themselves to the far end of the tree furthest away from the access road. These montane doves are notoriously shy and will usually take flight at the slightest sign of danger.
The Fire-tufted Barbet is one of the birds that I am really trying very hard to obtain good images but I guess it will not be in this trip.

Warblers generally do not make good photography subjects due to their diminutive size and extreme active nature. When a flock of Mountain Leaf-warblers decided to alight on a nearby bush and started foraging, I just held on to the shutter for continuous shooting and hoped for the best. A couple of the images turned out rather decent in the end.
A lone male Little Pied Flycatcher was seen resting momentarily in the lower level of the forest and although he was quite confiding, my shot was flawed by the presence of a small twig.
The Telekom road at the summit was the third location we visited during our stay and the area does look quite promising. However in terms of photography, it was a flock of foraging Javan Cuckoo-shrikes that prevented us from ending up empty-handed here.
As things were quite slow, I see no harm in photographing another common resident, the Oriental Magpie Robin. The population of this famed songster is affected by the bird trade and its presence is sorely missed in areas where trapping and poaching is rampant. Anyway, this cocky male bird wrapped things up for another rewarding birding trip and that seems to be the results of my trips nowadays.