Friday 29 October 2010

28/10/2010: Juru (Penang)

When news broke out of an Indian Roller returning to this locality for the second time, I felt like I was given a second chance after missing out on it the first time round. This species is a locally common resident in the north-eastern region of Peninsula Malaysia but elsewhere, it is quite a rare migrant. I have seen this species only once before and better images of this gorgeous bird will be a much welcomed addition to my collection of bird images.
My search came to a sudden halt when I spotted a roller-like bird alighting on a tall dead tree not too far from me. Unfortunately, I got all excited over a false alarm as it turned out to be the closely related Asian Dollarbird – the second and much commoner roller that occurs in Malaysia. This is a real classic case of so close and yet, so far.

Crested Mynas have recently started to colonize mainland Penang as well and they seemed to have settled in very well at this locality.

Here are a few good reasons why it is best to bird from your car at this locality. Although these Water Buffaloes are domesticated animals, I still find them rather intimating and rather not chance encountering them on foot.

A Lineated Barbet momentarily distracted me from my "hunt" when it alighted right out in the open.

Any thoughts of dipping out on the reason I am here in the first place vanished when I caught flashes of turquoise and purple from the corner of my eye. True enough, it was an Indian Roller utilizing a coconut tree stump as a vantage point to hunt. From my previous encounter, I know that this species is rather tame and I confidently but slowly, made my way closer using my car as a mobile hide.

The colouration of this open country species is simply vibrant and outstanding but can only be truly appreciated in good light. I was in luck as the coconut stump and electrical poles that it frequently alighted upon after every hunting attempt were easily accessible from all sides. For once, the direction of the sun was not an issue.
Occasionally, it alighted on the lower hanging electrical cables and this provided me with the best photographic opportunities of the day. It was totally comfortable with my presence and went about its satisfying its appetite. And for me, I was totally mesmerized by its presence and enjoying every minute of it.

I really admire the skills of this efficient hunter as it made quite a number of successful attempts at catching insect prey from the ground during my observation. However, I could not capture the actual hunt as it was a little too quick for me. As soon as it catches the prey, it will fly back to one of its regular perches to feed.

This is by far my easiest photography session with a rarity and it continued to stay in the same area even after I have made way back. Here’s a close-up shot to wrap things up for the day. Thanks for the wonderful performance and welcome back to Penang.

Monday 25 October 2010

25/10/2010: A successful twitch

Choo Eng’s discovery of a pair of Japanese Paradise-flycatchers at Bagan Belat in mainland Penang yesterday constantly dominated my thoughts throughout the entire day as I have yet to confirm this rather uncommon winter visitor to my life list. Luckily for me, I had a meeting in the mainland the next morning and a visit to the locality was inevitable. I made a quick detour to the locality and much to my delight, the male bird showed enough of himself for me to comfortably include this stunning species in my life list. However, I did not manage to photograph the bird and time constraint prevented me from waiting for a photographic opportunity to arise.
After my meeting, on my way back I made a short visit to the paddy fields at Permatang Nibong to try my luck with another uncommon migrant, the Ruff. Although I had to do a fair bit of searching, I finally saw the waders – all six of them as reported recently. A group this size is a quite rare occurrence in Malaysia. Although the waders were foraging at a distance, I made an effort to photograph them anyway as I do have any images from my previous encounters.

Most waders undergo a plumage change during the breeding season and some of the changes can be pretty extreme. However, no other wader can even come close to the Ruff as a male in full breeding plumage is quite a phenomenon and certainly a sight to behold. Sadly, we only get to see them in non-breeding plumage here in Malaysia.

Another characteristic that sets this wader apart is the notable size difference between the sexes. The males certainly tower over the much smaller females.

The group was rather skittish as well and took flight when a worker wandered into their comfort zone. This indirectly provided me with a chance to capture the birds in flight and reminded me that I have to get back myself back to the office soon.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

18/10/2010: Bandar PERDA (Penang)

I took a short visit to the paddy fields before work this morning and only the usual species were there to greet me. The number of Pond-herons is increasing rapidly as the migratory season is now in full swing.

This female Brown Shrike was quite tolerant to my presence and provided a few good images. I really fancy shrikes as a whole and it is certainly not because of their manners and grace. A bad attitude and predatory nature certainly goes a long way in my book.

I came across an immature Purple Heron standing right out in the open and that is something you don’t usually see the adults doing. Anyway, the green paddy stalks provided the prefect backdrop to show off this beautiful but shy water bird that will usually keep itself well hidden among the vegetation.

The White-throated Kingfisher is undoubtedly the commonest kingfisher around and very often, its brilliant colouration is taken for granted. Well, I can always count on it to brighten up a slow day at the paddy fields.

Yellow Bitterns are rather elusive by nature and I was delighted when I spotted a male bird on a slightly exposed perch. However, I was overwhelmed by a whole different feeling when I realized it had a broken wing. Before I could react, it moved deeper into the reeds and disappeared from sight. The law of the jungle applies to all living creatures and survival is always for the fittest. A bird with such any injury has a gloomy future and I was a little disheartened that I could not do anything for him.

Monday 18 October 2010

16/10/2010: Bukit Wang (Kedah)

Choo Eng and I arrived at the locality slightly after dawn and were greeted by the diagnostic calls of the resident Bat Hawks. These enigmatic raptors do their hunting mostly in the dark and it was no surprise to see them preening and resting at this hour as they probably had a pre-dawn feast earlier on.

A Tiger Shrike foraging along the lower levels of the forest caught our attention and upon further scrutiny, turned out to be a juvenile bird. I have noticed from past experiences that juveniles of this species are rather tolerant to human presence and will allow reasonably close approach. This is something that is quite impossible to achieve with the closely-relative Brown Shrike. Anyway, with a little perseverance and coaxing, the youngster made itself available for me to capture quite a few goods images despite the dim lighting conditions.

Thick-billed Green-pigeons used to be reasonably common in my home state of Penang but sadly, its number has decline drastically of late. This species is rather wary of human presence everywhere and I think it has got a lot to do with the fact that it is prosecuted as a game bird. Although we came across this same flock a couple of times, they certainly took the effort to keep themselves as far away as possible from us.

The Brown Barbet is a unique representative of this family of birds as it is the only one without any green colouration at all and it also does not possess the repetitive drumming calls typical of the family. Although it not an uncommon species, it tends to keep the canopy levels of the forest which makes photography rather challenging. However, one of them made my day by alighting on a much lower perch and remained there for a few minutes.

The Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel may be duller looking than the Black Giant Squirrel but it is certainly the rarer of the two and I have had only a couple of encounters with it in the past. This is the first time that I actually managed to capture a few of its images before it disappeared into the canopy levels.

A fruiting tree near the edge of the recreational area of the forest reserve attracted quite a number of bulbuls. A flock of Hairy-backed Bulbuls provided quite a number of good images as the fed on the fruits without much concern of our presence.

Spectacled Bulbuls also had their share of the fruits.

Besides the bulbuls, flowerpeckers were also pulled in by the fruits like this Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker.

The Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker is a very handsome bird but my efforts to capture its images do no justice to its true beauty at all.

The Raffles’s Malkoha is another attractive species that we came across but this male bird did not come close enough for any good shots.

It is a known fact that most bird species have beautifully-coloured males while the females are much duller in comparison. That makes identifying a male bird in the field generally much easier than a female or a juvenile. That is so true when it comes to Violet Cuckoos. There is no way that you can misidentify the stunning male bird but I had to wait till I got home and looked over the rather miserable photographs I took to confirm the identity of this juvenile bird.

On the way back to Penang, we took a detour to Bedong which is near the southern border of Kedah state to check on the migrating raptors that will pass over this area as they make their way south. Although the raptors were far and few this time round, we did managed to capture quite some good shots of an Oriental Honey-buzzard which was circling quite low overhead.

Sunday 3 October 2010

02/10/2010: Mainland Penang

My last visit to the marshlands of Pulau Burung was six months ago and now that the migratory waterbirds now starting to come back again, I felt it was time to pick up where I left off last season. The habitat has recovered partially since the last maintenance works – putting my worries to rest. Since the migratory season has yet to reach its pinnacle, the slightly low number of birds present was not unexpected. One of the good things about waterbirds is that you can still enjoy their companionship even in gloomy weather. This lone Little Ringed Plover continued to forage despite the irritating drizzle.
The Lesser Whistling Ducks however, decided to wait it out…

The Wood Sandpipers, as usual, provided great images due to their confiding nature.

However, they were overshadowed by the Common Sandpipers today as they were all too willing to pose for me throughout the morning.

The Little Grebes were quite numerous today but most of them kept their distance. The absence of vegetation and cover near the edge of the access road is a major factor in regards to this matter.

This male Yellow Wagtail has yet to moult into his duller winter plumage.

This first winter bird will obtain the splendour of the former next spring if it is a male bird.

The Blue-tailed Bee-eaters that provided numerous close encounters in the past was unusually wary. I certainly hope that this is not a sign of things to come.

I did not have much luck with the kingfishers either except a pair of Collared Kingfishers resting quite deep within the mangrove forest.

The presence of Black-winged Stilts was sorely miss as was not even a single individual was seen. The Red-wattled Lapwings were reduced to only a pair as well.

My next destination on this rather wet Saturday morning was the paddy fields of Permatang Nibong. Unfortunately, things are not so much different here as well. There was not much bird activity and the Asian Openbills were no where to b seen as well. When the going is slow, even a resting House Crow will receive my undivided attention.

The egrets are almost back in full force but only the Cattle Egret provided reasonable photography opportunities.

A female Brown Shrike provided some excitement to the trip…

A flock of White-rumped Munias wrapped this up for the day. I’m keeping my finger crossed that the coming weeks will bring in more migrants to my usual birding locations.