Wednesday 30 July 2014

Win some, lose some (26/07/2014)

I have probably birded in the forest of Kedah's Sungai Sedim more often than any other forest birding site. The main reason is its close distance from Penang Island and of course the most obvious one, birding is good there most of the time. It started out relatively slow this morning with most of the birds sticking to the cover of the canopy. Pin-tailed Parrotfinches, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Rhinoceros Hornbills were among the teasers today. 

Things started to turn around when I bumped into Hor Kee, James Neoh and a few others near the Tree Top Walk. Hor Kee pointed out a rather obliging Striped Tit-Babbler and two of us were quite impressed with its fine performance.

This species is relatively common in suitable habitats throughout the country. Due to its active nature and preference for dense undergrowth and middle storey, prolonged good views are somewhat of a luxury but apparently, not today. 

A confiding Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker was next in turn to keep us entertained. Another common resident of the forest here which I have not being able to capture good shots - until today that is. 

Even from day one, I found that this site houses quite a rich variety of babblers - ranging from terrestrial babblers like the Black-capped Babbler; to mid-storey babblers like the White-necked Babbler; to canopy-loving babblers like the Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler. However, most babblers are better enjoyed through one's binos than camera. It is a real challenge to capture reasonable images and sometimes, it is downright impossible. They are either too fast, stay too hidden, shun well-lighted areas or just enjoy frustrating birders. A Moustached Babbler doing what a babbler does best…

The Grey-headed Babbler is not common anywhere in Malaysia but they are regularly recorded here in Sungai Sedim. I am posting this awful image just to prove my point about babblers...

The Finsch's Bulbul seems to be commoner here in northern Peninsular Malaysia. Or maybe it is because I spend more time birding in the north. Anyway, it looks like the local population is doing just fine. 

This juvenile looks almost like an adult bird and I guess pretty soon it will not be receiving anymore handouts from the parents. But for now, life is still easy and beautiful for the youngster. Enjoy it while it lasts, bud…

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Up close and personal (19/07/2014)

As soon as I got down from my bike, I was greeted by one of the best good mornings I could have asked for - a Blue-winged Pitta foraging in full view. Pittas are usually secretive birds but here at Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest in northern mainland Penang, this pair of Blue-winged Pittas has become rather accustomed to human presence and bold. However, the lighting was still a little dim at that time and good shots were hard to come by.

Reluctantly I left the car park, and the pittas, and made my way to the boardwalk that cuts through this swamp forest in search of better prospects.

It was here along the boardwalk that I heard faint but distinct calls of the Brown Hawk-owl. Although it was not calling as frequently as my last encounter with this species here, I still managed to trace the call back to the source. The reason for the less persistent calling is because the bird was getting ready to roost.

The angle was a little steeper this time but it was still a delightful and memorable experience. The owl was just as confiding as the last time but with its feathers all puffed up for 'the day', it certainly looked much more adorable. Sweet dreams, bud...

The Jungle Mynas nest in holes among the trees and this year looks set to be another successful season. This juvenile bird is proof of that.

The mynas are not the only ones that are increasing the local population here. The Mangrove Blue Flycatchers are also doing very well. This young male gave me a model-like pose from the shadow of the under storey. The photo came out reasonably well despite the lighting condition.

While I was been distracted by the performing flycatcher, a curious Plaintain Squirrel came quite close to investigate what was going on. This species is also doing very well at the locality and on every visit you are bound to bump into one or two of them.

The second most common bulbul in Malaysia is the Olive-winged Bulbul. Although it sometimes overlaps with the commoner Yellow-vented Bulbul, it thrives in more rural and "greener" habitats. Despite the abundance of this species, I do not have many images of it in my database. I was pretty excited to manage a few good shots today and it does not really matter if it was perched on a man-made structure.

It was great to be able to shoot Greater Coucals that are not trying to get the hell away from you for a change. This pair sunbathing in the open was quite accommodating at first. But then one of them gradually felt uncomfortable with my presence and disappeared into the undergrowth.

As I was about to stand upright, the other coucal decided to put on a performance and I for one is not about to turn down an offer from this large but shy cuckoo. So, I got back down into my crouching position and enjoyed the show.

When you gotta go, you gotta go...

I went back to the car park area at noon and not surprisingly, the pitta was there to greet me again. As it is much brighter now, I was able to capture much better images of it as well.

The pitta was not alone. Moments later a juvenile Mangrove Blue Flycatcher came into view. I could see from what I assumed are the parent birds among the nearby vegetation, trying to keep the youngster in check but to no avail.

Being young and rebellious, it came ridiculously close a few times.

I was about to chow down lunch when I caught sight of an unfamiliar bird foraging near the under storey of the swamp forest. A quick glance through my binos revealed that it was a stunning Red-whiskered Bulbul. And this is the first record for me at this site. It is possible for it to be a feral bird because this species is a very popular song bird. It behaved very much like a wild bird to me. It sure the heck was not feeding from the palm of my hand. It was rather wary of my presence and difficult to approach. Anyway, it was a good bird to wrapped things up for another fine trip at this birding hotspot.

Thursday 10 July 2014

A sign from above (05/07/2014)

I have to admit I am not much of a football fan but when it is my favourite team, Brazil, playing Columbia in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, it was something not to be missed. The game kicked off at 4 in the morning here and by the time I saw Brazil got through to the semis, it was almost time for my Saturday birding. Unfortunately it had also started to rain and I have no choice but to brood at home until the weather improves.

As I was contemplating about calling off my birding excursion, I heard the characteristic song of the White-rumped Shama. As it was not coming from the direction of any of the neighbouring units, I decided to peer over my balcony and investigate. A male White-rumped Shama is rather unmistakable and there was one, flitting about the line of trees within my apartment compound. I am certain he is an escapee and although this may not be his habitat of choice, it is sure the hell better than his prison cage. I wanted to capture him enjoying his new found freedom but he was gone before I could set up my camera. Stay safe and stay free, bud...

I took this as a good omen and packed up for my birding trip as planned - this and the fact that it has finally stopped raining. I decided to visit the nearest local patch to my home for a couple of hours as I left the house later than usual. Bukit Gambir is a mixture of scrub, secondary forest and fruit orchards and it has been years since my last visit. 

Yellow-vented Bulbuls are one of the commonest species to be found here and it did not take me long to find one among the scrub vegetation next to the access road. Due to their ability to adapt and thrive near and within human settlements, this species can be found in nearly all habitat man has ventured into and left his trail of destruction. It used to be survival of the fittest but survival of the most adaptable seems to make more sense nowadays. 

The growl-like calls of the Pink-necked Pigeon coming from the canopy level is good enough a reason for me to stop and search. These pigeons are not the most nimble of birds and they soon gave away their presence. Pink-necks are the commonest of the three Green-pigeons that occur in Penang Island and again, it is because they are adapting well to life alongside man. The more colourful male was a little wary of my presence but his mate treated me just like an old friend and posed for my camera. That's my girl!

I never had much luck in capturing images of the Black-naped Oriole despite the fact that it is a common bird. Its musical call and bright colours make it rather conspicuous even to normal folks. I remember seeing this yellow bird long before I started birding and the population in Malaysia seems to be maintaining itself quite successfully. This male alighted on one of the trees next to the pair of Pink-necked Pigeon and I managed to take a couple of shots before he moved on. 

There were plenty of banana trees scattered all over the fruit orchard and a number of them were flowering. A good chance to catch a Little Spiderhunter I thought to myself. And whoosh, something flew overhead and alighted on a banana flower in front of me. It was not a Spiderhunter as hoped, but a male Plain-throated Sunbird. Close enough I guess...

One of the reasons that I am still drawn to this local patch after all these years is because it is home to the Asian Paradise-flycatcher. I have yet to obtain images of the male bird that I can be proud of and I was hoping that my good fortune will see my wish fulfilled today. Imagine my excitement when I did manage to come across this species - a pair foraging along the middle storey of the forest. But I guess my luck has finally run out because I came agonizingly close to capturing the brown-morphed male bird only to be defeated by his energetic pace and the dense surrounding vegetation. The female, on the other hand, did stay still long enough for me to take a few record shots.

A fruiting scrub helped to ease my earlier disappointment with the flycatcher. The little blue berries are quite nice to look at and all but it was what that was gorging on them that got my undivided attention - Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers. Against all odds, it was the more attractive male bird that came close to me this time. Absolutely striking and adorable, this little bundle of feathers and colours still evokes my senses every time. 

I almost forgot. Here's the duller female...

The nest of the Baya Weaver is an architectural feat that unfortunately has drawn too much attention from the wrong crowd. I just cannot understand why humans need to decorate their homes with the homes of others. I do not blame the nest collectors because it is simply a way to make a little extra. If there are no demands for the nests, it would be pointless for the collectors to carry on. Bukit Gambier used to have colonies of nesting Baya Weavers. Sadly, that is a thing of the past. Like today, I only came across one nest and it was still a "bachelor’s pad". At this stage, this unfinished nest is where the male will sing, dance and beg for a willing female to accept as him as a mate. Once that is accomplished, he will finish up the nest and start a family.

I was a little anxious about how the bird life was fairing at this locality because development projects are starting to creep into its boundaries. The good news is this local patch still provides sanctuary for the birds and I still have a place close to home that can satisfy my addiction for birding. The bad news is, for how long?