Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Good ol' Bukit Larut (25-26/02/2012)

Every trip to this birding hotspot in Taiping, Perak begins and ends with the “adventurous” half-hour jeep ride up and the down this hill resort. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted as there are numerous hairpin corners that the drivers’ have to masterfully maneuver past. Anyway, our group of six made it to our destination in one piece.

I am pretty excited about this trip because it will be my first overnight stay at the Methodist Bungalow (I prefer the old name which is The Nest) and it is located just above Speedy Resthouse – my regular accommodation at this locality. But the latter is nothing but an empty bungalow on most days now. That’s a real shame as it holds many fond and exciting birding memories for me. However, there are plans to convert it into some kind of a biological centre. I am not against such plans as long as it will be fully utilized and well maintained once it is completed.

Like most great birding spots, the accommodation at The Nest is rather basic but it serves its purpose well enough. 

Nevertheless, it does possess a certain charm and ambience of its own and you even have to trek through a short jungle trail to actually reach the bungalow.

The compound itself is frequently visited by birds and that pretty much kept us occupied during meal and supposedly, rest times.

And to top it all off, the caretaker Mr. Lee prepares glorious home-cooked food for all our meals and that is something we do not usually get to enjoy on birding trips.

Being the wettest part of Peninsula Malaysia, rain is a constant threat to birders here but the sky managed to hold back the rain for most parts of our stay. All we had to worry about was getting the perfect lifer or photograph as our group was made up of old-school birders and bird photographers. 

Although we saw very little rain, the engulfing mist occasionally made us lose sight of our targets.

And now, to the important stuff – the birds. This was one of the best trips I’ve had at this locality for a long time. Black-throated Sunbirds can be seen throughout the day as they indulge themselves on the flowering plants just next to the dining area of the bungalow. Really good photographic opportunities were hard to come by as the Sunbirds are hyperactive and usually, there will be branches or vegetation in the way. This is my best effort but the lighting condition was just good enough to bring out some of the resplendent of this common montane resident.

Just beyond the compound of the bungalow, the level of bird activity usually holds us back temporary before we wander further away. Mountain Bulbuls are another species that is very common around here. My best image of this species is still rather embarrassing taking into account the abundance of this species. Well, maybe I didn’t put enough effort into it. But you can’t really blame me because there were so many distractions around.

Distractions like this stunning male White-browed Shrike-babbler gorging on a succulent caterpillar…

A family of Hill Blue Flycatchers residing just outside the boundaries of the bungalow is rather tolerant of human presence. They performed admirably in front of both birders and photographers alike during our stay. Only thing was that the capabilities of my gear prevented me from obtaining sharper images as the Flycatchers tend to keep to dimmer parts of the forest.

Further away from The Nest, this lone Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler came agonizingly close to making my day when it alighted on a nearby bare branch. Unfortunately, I waited in vain for it to change position and provide me with a better pose because it just scurried further up the branch and into the dense canopy.

I paid more attention to flocks of Ashy Minivets nowadays in light of the recent discovery of the almost similar-looking Swinhoe’s Minivets wintering in Malaysia. After much scrutiny there was nothing out of the ordinary with this flock.

Birdwaves may be a birder’s dream come true but it can be a photographer’s nightmare. So many different species traveling together as a giant flock combing through the forest vegetation at a rapid pace overwhelms my decision-making ability on what to shoot at first. And when one is busy focusing on a single bird, there is always a risk of something rare slipping past one’s “radar”. I use my binoculars more often than my camera when it comes to birdwaves. Unless, an individual becomes exceptional bold in the feeding frenzy and comes exceptional close and low like this Ashy Bulbul.

Thanks to the keen sense of sight of Choo Eng and James, I managed to capture a few records shots of this foraging Silver-breasted Broadbill – undoubtedly one of the most adorable of all Malaysian birds.

Everyone is quite accustomed to the term fighting cocks but fighting Fulvettas, that is something new. Watching two Mountain Fulvettas having a rather aggressive dispute with beaks and feet locked in battle was something rather unexpected – to me anyway. And to make the encounter even more interesting was a couple of Golden Babblers that came very close to the jostling pair. Were they just being busybodies, trying to be peace-makers or adding fuel into the flame? Although this was a serious affair, we can’t help but to smile at the antics of the latter.

The Pygmy Wren-babbler looks like a small ball of feathers that forages along the montane forest undergrowth. With its distinct and piercing call, it is more often heard than seen. Well, this cute little fellow was the highlight of the trip. On the first day, it caught us all by surprise when it suddenly alighted on a rock next to where we were taking a breather. I managed to take a few hasty shots before it dived into the cover of the undergrowth. That, however, was only the appetizer.

The next day, I came across another Pygmy Wren-babbler doing a territorial display. It was a commendable performance indeed and one that I shall remember for a long time to come. The routine was quite simple but visually appealing. Turning from side to side while calling its heart out and every once in a while, it will flap its wings once. I was well aware at the time that my gear could not cope with all those fast action shots at such dim lighting. However, I was rather delighted when a few images did turn out better than expected. Bukit Larut delivers yet another outstanding moment in my birding life and all courtesy of a very tiny bird.

The biggest disappointment of the trip was failing to photograph a White-throated Rock Thrush – again. It was only back in December of last year that I managed to record this scarce winter visitor for the first time in my life at Sungai Sedim but she evaded my camera then. And this time it was a striking male bird and he simply did not keep still long enough for me to even press the shutter once. The funny thing about birding is that sometimes when you finally get a lifer that you have been trying for all these years, that species starts to cross your path more often. To add to my misery, I gave owling a pass on that night and my companions came back with a photo of most probably the same bird roosting on a boulder. I have a funny feeling I am destined to only see but not photograph this species. Anyway, Harvey was kind enough to share his image for my post.

Besides the birds, this tiny Reed Snake was just another one of the alluring wildlife that can still be found along the slopes of this hill that I managed to photograph and that wraps things up for my birding adventure this time.

Monday, 13 February 2012

There will be days like this...(11/02/2012)

A morning excursion to the marshlands of Pulau Burung, Penang yielded only the commoner species. Although this locality usually delivers in terms of rewarding birding, there will be always be slow days. In a sense the slow days are good as it helps to remind you not to take things for granted. If every single trip here exceeds my expectations, then I will be very worried. There is no such thing as a perfect birding locality – not here on Earth anyway. So, it was some quality time with the usual birds and I got my Saturday birding remedy to help me get over the hectic working hours of last week. Below are just some of the species that kept me occupied for a few hours on this beautiful sunny morning at a landfill.

Common Moorhen

Little Grebe


Stork-billed Kingfisher

Friday, 3 February 2012

The natural bird magnet (28/01/2012)

Sometimes you can spend hours in a forest and yet, end up without even a single image. The dense vegetation, the difficult shooting conditions, the behaviour of the birds are just some of the factors that make forest photography so damn challenging. However if you happen to chance upon a suitable fruiting tree, it can balance out things in your favour. What started out as a mediocre morning along the access road of Bukit Palong, Kedah turned for the better with the discovery of such a fruiting tree. It was unfortunate that the sun was slightly behind the tree but it was still a rather enjoyable experience. The dense foliage also hampered my chances of obtaining more and better images as well. 

The majority of the birds present at the tree were Bulbuls and in the end, I only managed to photograph the commonest species around – the Red-eyed Bulbul. It was not because I was so fascinated with this species that I ignored the more uncommon and striking species like the Ochraceous and Scaly-breasted Bulbuls. But all of my efforts to obtain some reasonable images of them failed to materialize due to one reason or another. So much for tipping the scale to our favour!

A few Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds were feasting on the lower branches but their active nature made it quite difficult for me. The image of the striking male bird below turned out to be my best effort and there was certainly much room for improvement.

This female was pretty determined to reach for the fruits near the end of the branch and did not mind having to perch awkwardly as long as she can achieve her goal. 

The male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker is another dazzling denizen of the forest. Not really uncommon but again, hard to obtain reasonably good images. So, it comes as no surprise that I got pretty excited when I spotted a lone male gorging on the fruits near the top of the tree’s crown. He was quite confiding but the distance between us was just too great for my current setup to reach.

The best performer of the trip was a pair of Green Broadbills that was resting unobtrusively (after feasting on the fruits no doubt) just beneath the crown of the tree. The female was a real darling and allowed me to photograph her to my heart’s content. That’s a good girl!

Her mate, however, was not too thrilled with my presence and gradually moved deeper in the foliage and eventually, out of sight. As always, the duller one is usually the more confiding one - Murphy’s Law at its best. 

While stalking out at the fruiting tree, a Tiger Shrike came relatively close momentarily. Being a pure predatory bird, the fruits are of no interest to it and it was merely passing through.