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?


John Holmes said...

A site like Bukit Gambir (like some of our birding sites in Hong Kong) provides a reminder that we must enjoy such places while we can.

Phil Slade said...

You saw and photographed a number of colourful and beautiful species Choy. You hit some light sweet spots despite the heavy vegetation, I’m thinking of the Bulbul, the Oriole and the not so plain Plain-throated Sunbird. The Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker is absolutely superb and wonderful that the male is the star of the show.

Shame about those Baya Weaver nests and the development. Will man never learn?

Choy Wai Mun said...

I couldn't agree with you more, John.

Thanks, Phil. Man learn? Very rarely and even when they do, it is usually too late.