Birding at a new location is always an exciting affair and the latest one to enter my now relatively stagnant list of birding spots is the Sungkop Forest Reserve. Located just next to the Bedong Raptor Watch Site, it was discovered by Choo Eng and Kanda while they were conducting this season's count. Together with Choo Eng and Hor Kee, we decided to explore more of this forest reserve before we conducted our raptor count on this warm and cloudy Saturday morning. It is only accessible by foot or 4-wheel vehicle, in which we did a little bit of both, through the network of logging trails.
Our exploration came to a halt when we came across the loud bell-like calls of the Black Magpies filling the vicinity. Although they are large and vocal, it took a while before they finally revealed themselves as they foraged among the distant canopy level of the forest. After an insane amount of pleading and persuasion, one of them finally glided across the valley towards us and alighted on one of the trees along the edge of the logging trail.
We only had a couple of hours to spare here before it got hot enough for the raptors to start migrating pass. But Sungkop had one last welcoming gift before we parted for the raptor count - Great Slaty Woodpeckers. It is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world and usually occurs in flocks. This time we are most fortunate to have a flock of five in our midst.
The ruckus that usually accompanies any foraging flock makes the Black Magpies sound like church mice. This flock was not so much foraging but displaying. I really struggled to obtain at least a few images that were sharp and unobstructed. The unforgiving shooting conditions and the constant movement of the woodpeckers are not exactly helping the situation.
It was a good one at the raptor watch site as well in terms of numbers and species. Unfortunately, the raptors were passing through very high up and well beyond the comfort zone of my photography gear. Here is a big flock of Chinese Goshawks circling in the sky above. This species made up the majority of the raptors passing through today.
The highlight of the count this time was a pale morph Booted Eagle - the first for the season. This species used to a rare migrant but in recent years, sightings of this small eagle have increased. It was fortunate that in this morph, the eagle can be easily identified. At that distance, we will be in a whole lot of trouble if it was a rufous or dark morph individual.
An exceptionally pale harrier riding the hot air thermals at the far distance got our undivided attention. The harrier is front of us had all the field markings of a male Hen Harrier - that is until we seek confirmation from Dave and Chaiyan (thank you, guys!) when we got home. The pale areas at the base of the black primaries were all that stood in the way between us and our would-be lifer. It turned out to be a rather pale male Eastern March Harrier. Close, but no cigar...
And to wrap things up for this trip, a lone male Oriental Honey-buzzard that we came across first thing in the morning on the way to the raptor watch site. He was probably waiting for the sun to make the conditions optimum for him to carry on with his amazing journey down south to his wintering ground.
Here are the results of our three and a half hour raptor count:
1) Oriental Honey-buzzard - 222
2) Black Kite - 2
3) Rufous-bellied Eagle - 1
4) Booted Eagle - 1
5) Eastern Marsh Harrier - 3
6) Chinese Goshawk - 345
7) Japanese Sparrowhawk - 44