Monday 23 May 2011

21/05/2011: Bukit Wang (Kedah)

Upon our arrival at this locality, the trio of us – James, Choo Eng and yours truly, were greeted by a tropical downpour. The forests here are not called tropical rainforest for no apparent reason and getting wet is all part of birding in the tropics. One thing that one can always look forward to after is the fact that most birds will be out foraging or simply drying themselves out. In our case, we had stunning views of the resident pair of Wallace’s Hawk-eagles greeting the first few rays of the morning sun on a slightly exposed perch.
Our presence, at such a distance, provided the perfect opportunity for a prolonged observation of the pair preening and preparing themselves for the day ahead. There is a recognizable difference between the two as one of them has a more rufous colour on the sides of the head. As the size difference was quite insignificant, I can only guess that it is the male bird.

When things got a little “hot”, the pair decided to give each other some breathing space and moved apart.

We found these beautiful eagles nesting during our maiden trip to this locality back in December 2009. Here are a few images taken during that time of the nest and one of the eagles. Being rather scarce, the discovery of the nest was quite an exciting find and had a fairytale ending when a couple of months later, the pair successfully raised another of its kind into the world.

The Wreathed Hornbill gave me another teasing performance when it flew overhead. My window of opportunities, literally, is when this magnificent bird passes gaps along the forest canopy. In between the cursing and swearing, I did manage to capture a few shots.

These short bushes with these reddish berries (I really need to brush up on my knowledge of plants) are quite fancied by birds - especially Flowerpeckers. The Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is by no means uncommon but all my past attempts to capture a decent image ended in vain. But today, this handsome male decided to give me a break by staying put long enough on a slightly exposed perch while enjoying his breakfast.

Of all the “laws”, official or otherwise, Murphy’s Law is the one I can really relate to ever since I took up bird photography. When in the presence of a striking male and a drab female, like in this case a pair of Crimson-breasted Flowerpeckers, more often than not the striking one will be camera-shy and the drab one is not.

A family of Checker-throated Woodpeckers foraging along the mid level of the forest immediately captured my undivided attention. Unfortunately, the dim lighting and active nature of the birds prevented me from obtaining any really good shots despite the close distance.

While observing the Woodpeckers, I was distracted momentarily by the presence of another forest dweller. You know it had to be something equally, if not more captivating to have stolen the limelight from the former and it certainly was - a cracking male Dark-throated Oriole. Initially, he was quite hidden by the dense foliage.

However, this encounter turned out to be one of the few occasions where my subject actually heard my pleas and obliges by shifting to a more exposed perch. It would have made my day if not for that bleeding twig that was in the way. Well there you go, Murphy’s Law at work again…

Wednesday 18 May 2011

10/05/2011: Sea off Tanjung Dawai (Kedah) - Part Two

We all know that the sea is the last frontier to be fully explored by man and with many treasures and mysteries yet to be uncovered. So, it was no surprise when the sea off this locality provided me with 5 lifers from a single visit and that to me is as good as discovering any hidden treasure. Seabird watching took off here only about a few years back and since then, we have been encountering more pelagic species than ever before. This was my fourth pelagic trip and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my birding life. And what better way to start off a most memorable trip than with a lifer that I have always wanted to see a in the wild ever since I came to know that of its existence – the Brown Booby. Sadly, the population of this beautiful resident seabird is greatly reduced due to poaching of its young and eggs. I guess that is the price you have to pay for sharing the planet with man.

My next lifer was a Sooty Tern and despite our efforts to search for an adult bird, this young bird was the only one present in the vicinity.

The shape and jizz of the Sooty Tern makes it quite recognizable even in the presence of the smaller, similar looking Bridled Terns.

The Pomarine Jaeger, the biggest of the 3 species that occur in our waters, was the third species to make it into my life list. The presence of the spoon-shaped tail streamers eased our task of concluding the identification of this striking adult bird.

It provided a glimpse of the pirate-like behaviour that all Jaegers are infamous for by virtually landing on top of a few resting Short-tailed Shearwaters at a far distance. It then proceeded to chase them over the water surface with some swimming, some flapping and a whole lot of intimidation. Being beautiful and aggressive, this predatory seabird instantly earned a special place in my heart.

When a slightly smaller Jaeger alighted near the earlier Pomarine, I knew I was looking at my second Jaeger species and my fourth lifer but the question was, which species was it? Jaegers are certainly not one of the easiest of seabirds to tell apart at times and as soon it landed on the water, we realized that resting Jaegers are even more confusing.

Luckily, we did manage to capture a few flight shots and by reviewing the images later, we saw what we needed to see to solve the dilemma. It was a Parasitic Jaeger.

We made history by being the first to see all the 3 species of Jaegers in Malaysia on the same day when a Long-tailed Jaeger flew into view. However, I had to wait for my man Dave’s confirmation of its identity the following day before I could put down my fifth lifer for the trip and it was certainly a wait worth waiting for. The Jaeger turned out to be most probably a first-winter bird and I did not even get a shot of it. Choo Eng again had my back and it was his shots that provided us a second chance to identify the Jaeger. Unfortunately, none of the Jaegers came close enough for us to obtain any really good images. The birder in me was of course more than satisfied but the photographer in me was left yearning for more. Well, until the next time…

PS. I had to re-post this entry because it was simply not showing up in my other blogger friends' blog roll. My apologies to Terrence and Dave for indirectly removing your comments. Thanks for your opinions and compliments.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

10/05/2011: Sea off Tanjung Dawai (Kedah) - Part One

With some fantastic records coming in recently from this locality, it was only a matter of time before I finally managed to arrange a day off from work and together with Choo Eng, headed into the deep blue yonder for our maritime adventure. However, the rough sea conditions and drizzle threatened to cut short our much-anticipated excursion. Suddenly out of nowhere, hope came blazing through the gloom in the form of a Short-tailed Shearwater.

Coincidentally or divine intervention, the arrival of the Shearwater marked a significant change in the weather. As the conditions improved, more and more Short-tailed Shearwaters started to glide into view and follow the fishing vessels.

Pretty soon our vessel was surrounded by Short-tailed Shearwaters – all 13 of them. Back in the days if anyone was to report a double-digit figure of any Shearwater on Malaysian waters, I would be very skeptical. I might not even take the report seriously. But now, here I am, observing this occurrence in the flesh. This is a sight that is certainly very foreign to me and will take some getting used to.

The Shearwaters hunt by floating on the water surface and dipping their head under the surface to catch unwary fishes.

Their movement can get quite vigorously when excitement builds up and prey is aplenty.
Sometimes, they do dive completely underwater and can remain under for almost half a minute.

It is unbelievable just how tame these pelagic birds are and they will come extremely close to the fishing nets and the vessels. In the past, the fishermen could literally swim up to them and capture them for the cooking pot. Dave and Choo Eng have been educating the fishermen about conservation and this practice is now a thing of the past. Anyway, the confiding nature of the Shearwaters provided some great close-up images.

This is probably the closest I will ever get to seeing Penguins in our waters…

Most of the migratory Terns would have made their way back north by now and the sight of thousands of Common Terns following the fishing vessels was sorely missed. Only about a hundred of them were recorded during this trip.

There were a couple of the migratory White-winged Terns in the vicinity as well and they were sporting their striking breeding plumages. Unfortunately, good photographic opportunities were far and few.

With far less “distractions” flying about, I had plenty of time and opportunity to observe and photograph one of our resident terns – the Bridled Tern.

Sometimes, the Terns will rest on the fishing net’s buoys and this image shows an adult in the background with an immature in the foreground.

I’m saving the best of the trip for my next post because it certainly deserves a post of its own!