The yearning for another opportunity to observe and photograph the Barred Eagle-owls that we came across near the Kulim district in Kedah 2 days ago was so overwhelming that it brought me back to the locality again. However, the owls were no where to be found despite a careful sweep of the surrounding area. So hesitantly, I decided to make my way to another birding spot where owls are frequently encountered - the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest in mainland Penang.
Unfortunately, no owls were recorded today but the other residents certainly did their part to keep me entertained for the rest of the morning. Firecrackers, although banned in Malaysia, is still very much a part of the Chinese New Year celebrations here. But there is yet another deafening sound around this time of the year and it is the persistent and remarkably loud territorial call of the Asian Koel. The breeding season of this parasitic cuckoo usually coincides with the Chinese New Year and their ability to survive near humans makes it one of the most recognizable (and dreaded) calls of any bird. This species is more often heard than seen and I have yet to obtain good images that I can be proud of.
The Mangrove Blue Flycatcher is one of the star birds of this locality. They have adapted well to the attention they have been receiving just like true celebrities and are now totally at ease in the presence of birders and photographers alike. This female was calling from an exposed perch just next to the elevated walkway when our paths crossed. The only thing that prevented me from getting better shots was the dim lighting.
As I was bewitched by the charms of the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, the melodious call of the White-chested Babbler burst through from under the walkway. Soon, I picked out a pair foraging just beneath my feet and I could not resist the temptation of taking a few shots although I know fully well that trying to obtain good shots of these active little birds in the dark undergrowth will be a lost cause.
The Streak-breasted Woodpecker is a northern specialty and looks superficially like the commoner and more widespread Laced Woodpecker. In fact, apart from the streaks along the throat and upper-breast of the former, the two species are almost identical. Although this splendid male Streak-breasted Woodpecker was foraging actively along the edge of the swamp forest, I eventually managed to obtain my best images of this species to date.
Later in the morning, the explosive single note calls of the Streak-breasted Woodpecker caught my immediate attention as the calls sounded a little more vigorous than usual. I managed to trace the calling bird to a sparsely foliaged tree and to my delight, found a male bird courting a female. It did not take long for her to give in to his advances and the pair consummated their passionate endeavour from their lofty perch. This locality is the only place in Peninsular Malaysia where the Streak-breasted Woodpecker is regularly recorded. And from the look of things, it's going to stay that way for the time being.
It is amazing that this small patch of freshwater swamp forest is still home to several fascinating species and some of them are even considered rare elsewhere. I will not attempt to figure out why but instead just make it a point to enjoy it while it last.