My trip to the Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary in Perak with Choo Eng and Hor Kee could not have started off any worse. The pre-dawn sky truly opened up and the torrential rain and strong winds made visibility relatively poor on the highway. The weather started to ease when we reached our destination but it was still gloomy, cold and wet. So much so that even a waterbird like this Common Redshank did not want to get its feet wet and rested on an elevated perch.
Fortunately for us, the sun managed to find the strength to rise above the rain clouds and everything came to life like this Crested Serpent-eagle drying off on an exposed branch before the commencement of the morning hunt.
This Common Iora is also feeling a little sluggish after the rain. It is not often that I come across one that is so stationery and I took advantage of its accommodating mood.
This birding hotspot is basically a vast area of pristine mangrove forest and it provides sanctuary not only to the birds that occur along this mangrove belt but also the water birds along the coastline as well.
My last visit was a couple of years back and the locality has changed substantially since then. Some parts of the mangroves are now being killed to make way for aquaculture. I guess their definition of a bird sanctuary bears a completely different meaning from mine.
For now, the magic still lives on and a pair of confiding Sunda Woodpeckers was one of the main highlights of the trip. These miniature woodpeckers are only found in mangroves and coastal areas here in Peninsular Malaysia. They are not uncommon and are occasionally overlooked due to their small size and brownish plumage but not today. Today, they certainly wanted to be seen and photographed…
I find the population here in somewhat more confiding than elsewhere. I have had quite a number of good photographic opportunities in the past but today’s encounter was the best.
The male bird differs slightly from his mate by having a small red patch below his crown. This red patch is often obscured from view and his active nature does not help on this matter at all.
Another mangrove specialist that we encountered today was the Great Tit. This bird is widespread and common throughout most of Europe and Asia. Here in Malaysia, it has a limited range and is confined to the mangroves. Being adorable and a delight to observe, this species is highly sought after by many birders including yours truly.
The mangroves are also home to the Golden-bellied Gerygone. Its prolonged whistle is a very much a part of the sights and sounds of any mangrove forest. Due to its minute size, it is more often heard than seen. That is most unfortunate because it is a rather attractive little bird and these inquisitive individuals gladly helped in supporting my claim.
Brahminy Kites are undoubtedly the commonest raptor at this locality. No less than half a dozen were seen during this trip alone. The population here is quite accustomed to human presence and at times, they will fly quite low and close.
We found the resident Ashy Drongos to be more skittish than usual. Throughout the morning, they were flying away at the first sign of our presence. I guess one must have felt a little embarrassed at being such awful hosts that it eventually posed for the visiting birders.
Honeybees are usually not dangerous unless they feel that their hive is threatened. Well, this is one big hive and that is I the reason why I am shooting this from a distance – a very safe distance.
The presence of a brownish flycatcher was another adrenalin-inducing moment of this trip. It was rather well-behaved and allowed reasonably close approach. We took quite a number of shots and after much scrutiny the flycatcher, with confirmation from Dave back home, was a Brown-streaked Flycatcher.
Much overlooked due to its similarities with the commoner Asian Brown Flycatcher, this species occurs as both resident and migrant here in Peninsular Malaysia. Based on the locality and date, this individual is most probably a migrant.
A pair of White-breasted Woodswallows ignited excitement again within our group or maybe just me. It used to occur only in the Selangor state but gradually, the population is spreading up north along the west coast. Photographing a black and white bird under the noon sun is a challenge. Anyway, I tried my best because I have had only a handful of encounters prior to this and there is no way I will turn down an opportunity like this.
I always have a soft spot for water birds and if they are also large and rare, then true fascination and admiration kicks in. Three species of storks, which meet the criteria perfectly, occur within the borders of this bird sanctuary. We managed to see 2 species today. The first was a couple of Lesser Adjutants that appeared to be rather wary of human presence even when they are flying at a distance.
This locality is probably the last stronghold in Malaysia for the globally endangered Milky Stork – our second stork species of the trip. A flock of 21 birds were seen circling above the Wildlife Department HQ and that is the highest number ever for me. Seeing this stork in such big numbers soaring gracefully was worth the trip alone. The majority of this flock is part of the re-introduction program that started back in 2007. A few could very well be second generation birds and that is a very good sign indeed.
After a much anticipated seafood lunch, we decided to make a little detour before heading back to Penang. There is a Chinese Temple just outside the sanctuary where a Collared Scops- owl has been roosting for the past couple of years. The temple itself is decorated with the "mascot" of the sanctuary - the Milky Stork. However, to locate a small owl that is perfectly suited to blend into the environment among a dense bamboo clump is nothing short of a miracle. And, there were more than one clump. Despite the miss, it was still another rewarding excursion to one of the best birding areas in Peninsular Malaysia.