I was back at the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam in Penang because for the time being, this is the place to be. And I am not the only one feeling this way as the car park was a little crowded even at the break of dawn. I then decided to make my way to the other side of the reserve and left the others at the car park area which is by the way, one of the main birding spots for this locality. I do not think of myself as an anti-social but birding alongside groups of total strangers is not exactly my cup of tea.
There were quite a number of egrets still present in the vicinity. They are either over-wintering birds or have started to breed somewhere in Penang state as well. This is a relatively big group of Great Egrets taking a breather overlooking the commercial fish ponds.
It was certainly a sight to behold when the Asian Openbills came back to rest in the hundreds from their morning fiesta at the adjacent paddy fields. I counted at least 350 birds this time.
An inquisitive male Ashy Tailorbird stopped me at my tracks when he suddenly alighted on some overhanging branches right in front of me at eye level. I took any many shots as I could before he dived back into the undergrowth.
The Crested Serpent-eagle is the largest raptor that is regularly seen here. Although it may not be as fierce as some of the other eagles in Malaysia, it still strikes an imposing figure.
While trying my best to capture some images of a foraging White-chested Babbler, in which I failed miserably, this skink crept into full view and just enjoyed its spot in the sun. Anyway, it made my cursing ceased and I took a moment to soak in the beauty of this rather under-appreciated reptile.
The mischievous Long-tailed Macaques are regulars to this swamp forest. Well, as long as they do not create too much of a nuisance, we get along just fine. Save it, bud. We both know that's only for show.
When you hear a pitta, the adrenalin in you body starts pumping. When you hear more than one calling simultaneously, then you start developing breathing difficulties and if you do not take immediate action, you may even lose consciousness. So, when I heard the diagnostic "too-few, too-few" calls from at least two Blue-winged Pittas from the direction of the car park, I immediately made a mad dash to the vicinity before I suffer the consequences. True enough, at least two pittas were present and I will never pass up an opportunity to observe and photograph pittas - even if it means birding along side strangers.
Most of the star birds that occur in this locality, including this pitta, will get to live the good life. Those with an eye for detail will comprehend what I am trying to say here from the images below. Anyway, these are my best of the species to date and it would have been a near-impossible achievement under any other circumstances.
The two of them does not appear to be a breeding pair as they were not too friendly towards each other. The Blue-winged Pitta is vocal even when on passage and the persistent calls do not necessary mean that they are here to stay. Now, if these Blue-winged Pittas start to breed at this locality, what will the impact be on the small population of Mangrove Pittas that reside here? I have not seen or heard the Mangrove Pitta for quite a long while now and I cannot be sure if it has got anything to do with the presence of these Blue-winged Pittas.
A few other species are also attracted to the area and took centre stage in between the performances by the pittas. A lone Abbott's Babbler found it hard to resist the temptations on a couple of occasions. Being a skulker by nature, it did not stay out in the open for long. I guess it will take some time for it to get accustomed to this new lifestyle.
This Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, which was present in the vicinity, was not given its due admiration from my other compatriots. But I have learned never to take things for granted. What that is common today may not be so in the near future. Anyhow, I will always have a soft spot for the species. It was one of the first birds that converted me to a life of birding at a tender age. How could a young boy not be intrigued by those racket tails and I still am – intrigued that is.