The last time I participated in a bird race was the annual Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race (FHIBR) back in 1995 and we got a commendable third place then. For the benefit of those not familiar with the term Bird Race, it is basically a competition to see who records the most number of bird species within a certain locality in a given time frame. In the case of the FHIBR, each team is given 24 hours to record to do it within the borders of this renowned hill resort – renowned for its rich birdlife that is. The criteria are simple – at least 2 members of a team must see and agree on the identification of the bird in order to put it down. Birds that were heard do not count. The arbitrators, race officials and checkpoints play an important role in maintaining a certain standard and order to the competition but as with all bird races, a lot is dependent on the integrity of the participants.
When Choo Eng invited me to join him for this year’s FHIBR, I obliged as it has been quite a while since my last one. The third member of our team was none other than James Ooi – one of the members of my team during the ’95 race. Siew Thye came along as a non-participating member (each team is restricted to 3 members only) and it was a rather good experience for him. We decided to call ourselves team Penang Aquilas in honour of these magnificent raptors’ recent regularity of wintering in our home state of Penang. Besides, it was an intimidating name as well.
As expected I did not have much time for bird photography. Heck, we didn’t even have much time to eat and bathe! Jokes aside, a bird race is like birding on overdrive and it can be rather tiring at times. But it is definitely not short on excitement and drama. Anyway, one of the birds that I did manage to photograph was this common resident – the Oriental Magpie-robin.
Come to think of it, the commoner birds were the majority that I photographed this time. The Mountain Bulbul is almost a certainty here at Fraser’s Hill but I remembered well that we missed out on this species during the ’95 race. I guess luck plays an important – as usual.
The Large Niltava is a rather attractive flycatcher of the montane forest and can usually be seen hawking for insects along the access roads and bungalow compounds. The male bird possesses a brilliant blue plumage that can only be truly appreciated when he is seen in good light. The female, on the other hand, has the brilliant blue colouration reduce to the collar and head region only.
Another common flycatcher of this hill resort is the Rufous-browed Flycatcher. Occasionally overlooked due to its smaller size and duller colouration and as well as its preference for hunting among the shadows of the forest under storey. Its sweet but soft whistling notes are usually one of the indicators of its presence.
The highlight of the trip in terms of bird photography is courtesy of a bird species so strikingly-coloured and attractive, it leaves you no choice but to believe in the existence of a greater being. Only He with his divine power is capable of creating such a heavenly work of art in a form of a bird. A bird called the Sultan Tit. Bright yellow colouration contrasting beautifully with the remaining black plumage and a wicked crest. Enough said.
Here’s a photo of my team mates in the thick of action…
Other than the birds, we also managed to photograph a rather curious Small-toothed Palm Civet that was checking us out from the safety of the overhead electrical cabel…
And a confiding Keelback Snake momentarily distracted us from the race.
I bet you’re wondering how we faired in the race. Well, we managed to record 68 species altogether and it was good enough to make the Penang Aquilas champions for the 26th FHIBR! The weather was rather dry and hot during the entire race and the birding was not as good as usual. We had to really dig deep to come up with the result but it was certainly worth all the effort. Other than the bragging rights of being the winners this year, we also received trophies, binoculars, fieldguides and cash prizes. Not bad for 24 hours of intense birding!