With the Chinese New Year just a couple of days away, those celebrating this festive season were busy preparing to usher in the Year of the Dragon. I, on the other hand, had the morning to spare and decided to do some birding at the Bukit Penara Forest Reserve on Penang Island itself. The thought of getting caught in the human migration along the North-South Highway and the Penang Bridge kept me from birding at my usual spots on the mainland side. The mass exodus of people coming back to their hometown from the capital and other cities to celebrate the New Year with family and friends is a yearly phenomenon and is as much a part of this festive season as everything else. At this time of the year, the access road leading up to the forest reserve is decorated with traditional lanterns as one will pass the famed Kek Lok Si Temple before reaching this birding site.
The access road that cuts through the reserve is quite isolated and is a favourable foraging ground for the beautiful Emerald Doves. This species is regularly seen here but good photographic opportunities are seldom presented. The Doves can be quite shy at times and they prefer to forage where there is some cover among the vegetation.
The Tiger Shrike is the forest equivalent of the commoner Brown Shrike. Only thing is that being a forest bird, it tends to be more wary of human presence. Just before the spring migration is a good time to catch the males in their striking breeding plumages and obtaining good images will be one of my objectives this year.
Penang Island is certainly not a paradise for forest birds but surprisingly, it is one of the best places for one to observe Grey-throated Babblers. This species is strictly a montane species further south but here in the northern region, it occurs even almost at sea level. Common it certainly is. Photogenic it certainly is not. With a preference for dense vegetation and dim lighting, this active species requires a whole lot of effort and luck in order to obtain reasonable images. This is the only shot from the whole lot that I took during the encounter that at least had most of the bird in the frame.
There are three communication towers at the summit of this forest reserve. In fact, the personnel of this telecommunication station are usually the only ones using this access road. Now, the resident Peregrine Falcon sometimes rest on these towers and I was elated to be able to see one this morning. It is rather unfortunate that the distance was well beyond my gear but nevertheless, it was still a good record. My first record of the Falcon here was back in the late 80’s and this species is known to live up to 15-20 years in the wild. So, it is very unlikely to be the same individual and the Falcons must be breeding at this locality.
The Thick-billed Pigeon shuns human developments unlike its commoner cousin, the Pink-necked Pigeon. Penang Island still houses a healthy population of this stunning pigeon but I still lack good images of this species. This female bird resting on a reasonably low branch is now my best effort of this species to date.
I took a breather from my trek down to the foothill when I bumped into a rather large troop of Long-Tailed Macaques. This is not because they pose any real threat to me but wherever there are Macaques; there will usually be Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. And true enough, there was pair right among them. These birds will follow the foraging troops and feast on any insects flushed by the Macaques’ movement. A very beneficial adaptation indeed but it is one that only the Drongo has mastered so far.