The predawn drizzle again washed away any plans for a big day out. This came as no surprise because Peninsula Malaysia is now facing a flood crisis. I had no intentions to let a birding day go to waste so I decided to visit the marshlands at Pulau Burung in southern mainland Penang. Waterbirds may be my only consolation in this weather. When the dawn chorus started to fill the locality, the drizzle eased. By the time it got light, the rain surprisingly stopped altogether and the ever-present Jungle Mynas rejoiced at the sight of a rising sun. Open country mynas are much ignored due to their abundance. I admit that I am also guilty of this at times. But on those occasions when I do shower them with attention, I find them to be full of character.
The marshlands here showed no signs of recovery as I and every local birder had hoped for. The 'beautification' process by the local authorities has all but destroyed what I used to consider as one of the best birding localities in Malaysia. A handful of Lesser Whistling Ducks instead of the usual high numbers loitered around what is left of their wetland home. Just in case you are wondering, the slight blurred effect on the image is because I now have to shoot through perimeter fencing - not like the good old days. What is the point of beautifying the lake and putting up cement walkways if you are not going to keep people out, right?
Reflections of wings and inspiration…
The migratory Whiskered Terns, on the other hand, were almost in their usual numbers. With the sun now as bright as it could ever be, getting the right exposure for generally white birds can be a challenge.
It has been a long time since I had a Wood Sandpiper put on a good performance for me at this locality and this image brought back fond memories of a time when shots like these are just part of an ordinary day's birding here.
Even by using my car as a hide, this female Watercock (positive identification of the sex and age of this species in non-breeding plumage is not easy and I stand to be corrected) had me waiting for a long time before she finally revealed herself - at the other side of the canal.
Purple Herons are usually just as shy but I guess this adult bird has been denied the soothing rays of the sun for too long to be bothered by my presence. Now, a Purple Heron in full view at this distance does not usually happen to me and it tempted me to believe that the magic of Pulau Burung lives on.
The heron was not the only one enjoying its spot in the sun. This Crested Serpent-eagle looked like it could really use the sun's warmth…
A female Common Kingfisher hoping to catch a hearty breakfast from her shaded perch. I left her to her hunt and made my way to the next locality - the neighbouring forest of Bukit Panchor State Park.
I seldom visit this locality nowadays because for some reason the birdlife has diminished tremendously through the years and I have a hunch it is human-related. The habitat still looks intact though. It is the sort where you can expect to see, let's say a Giant Pitta hopping across the access trail (and never to be seen again). This mythical bird is the only reason why I do not stop visiting this locality altogether.
Apart from a flying Violet Cuckoo signaling its arrival and departure above the canopy of the forest with its persistent calls, this confiding Gold-Whiskered Barbet was the only notable encounter during my short visit.
My next stop was the scrublands of Juru in central mainland Penang and here, I recorded my second Crested Serpent-eagle for the day. This species is doing very well for itself throughout the country and its tolerance towards human is probably one of the factors behind its success.
This light-morphed Changeable Hawk-eagle circled menacingly above the scrublands in search of a meal. This is another raptor that is fairing quite well and the keyword again is tolerance - especially towards a species called man and all his characteristics.
The paddy fields of Kubang Semang were where I spent the next hour or so. I felt lucky the Black-winged Stilts decided to grace the day with their presence. I have always had a soft spot for these elegant waders and with nothing much about, taking the time to appreciate their beauty required no second thoughts.
The fifth and last locality for this trip was the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam at the northern tip of mainland Penang. I have birded across the entire span of the state since dawn and covered a few different habitat types. Penang is not a big state. It is the second smallest state after Perlis. But it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog. Penang has always been my home and has provided all I could ever ask for and more in birding and life as well. After all these years, it still has got what it takes to keep me amazed. For example, my third Crested Serpent-eagle for the day! Apart from the blind eye, it looks perfectly healthy to me.
This Buffy Fish-owl was enjoying an afternoon siesta before being surprised by a stumbling birder.
A shift of position instead of the usual disappearance act provided me with another chance to make things right. Going on all fours on a swampy terrain may not appeal to everyone but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. The owl, probably enjoyed a good laugh at my expense, decided to tolerate my presence this time. And the decision to take the hard way this time was the right one.
The Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was being his usual confiding self. That's a good boy...
No visit to this locality will ever be complete without the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher...
This will probably be my last birding excursion for the year. I am certainly looking forward to what 2015 has in store for the Penang Birder and hopefully, a few lifers along the way if it is not too much to ask. Happy New Year, everyone!