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.


Wilma said...

Wonderful. The cutia is definitely a bird to go to great lengths to see, but I really like the scaly-breasted munia too. The pattern of its breast feathers is just lovely. You saw and photographed so many delightful birds on this trip.

Wong Tsu Shi said...

Nice catch of the cute Cutia!

Ari said...

Looks like a very productive trip for you! Great catch and lovely photos...

wondersf said...

It must be at least 5 years that no report of the Cutia being sighted here! Very lucky of you both. Understand that Mike was also there.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thanks all for youe compliments

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yen said...

Wai Mun, I love the Cutia and by the time I was there, those fruit on the tree were all eaten up ...