Chuping is known for its extensive sugarcane plantation and sugar refinery. It is also a sweet spot for birders as it provided a number of rarities including five first records for Peninsula Malaysia. However, the entire area is gradually being converted into rubber plantation. Once the sugarcane plantations and open grassland habitats disappear, so will the rarities and the rest of the migratory birds that find sanctuary here. It was raining when Hor Kee and I left Penang and in most parts of our car journey through the states of Kedah and Perlis. Chuping being the hottest place in Peninsula Malaysia, managed to keep the rain out but not the rain clouds.
Raptors are one of the star attractions here and luckily, the overcast sky did not stop them from going about their business today. The first raptors to catch our attention were these Oriental Honey-buzzards undertaking their autumn migration south. This raptor is undoubtedly one of the most varied in terms of plumages and I usually rely on its body shape with its characteristic smallish head for identification. I will not even go near sexing and aging the birds. I am a simple man and I like to keep things simple. We counted only 15 birds which is a small number compared to the spectacle of hundreds that migrate over certain areas elsewhere in the peninsula.
Harriers winter here in good numbers which makes Chuping one of the best places to observe these graceful raptors. We were fortunate enough to witness a mid-air squabble between two young Eastern Marsh Harriers. The identification of harriers can be confusing at times and these two were confirmed by Dave and Chaiyan after the trip. The individual being chased was second year subadult male and his pursuer was a first year juvenile.
Unlike most raptors, the difference in the gender of adult harriers is very apparent and the males, I must add, are truly beautiful. This male Eastern Marsh Harrier is a fine example and he performed well for a couple of visiting birders today.
His buoyant flight and strikingly marked plumage set against the limestone outcrops is my definition of poetry in motion. This being the first time I was able to photograph an adult male this close made the encounter even more memorable.
The Little Cormorant is a rare migrant to Peninsula Malaysia but for the past few seasons, it has been recorded more regularly. I have had two previous encounters with this species before but this is the first I managed to photograph it. There were at least five present at this pond today but none of them were close enough for any really good images. But I love cormorants and I guess a detour to this spot on my next visit is inevitable.
An adult Purple Heron eyeing our vehicle suspiciously as we drove past it along the maze-like network of dirt roads that cut through the plantation. Due to the lack of landmarks and the sheer size of the plantation, you can easily lose yourself here. Apart from the occasional plantation worker or birder, this place is virtually deserted. I have to be thankful my companions have a better sense of direction than me. Otherwise, we will be looking for a way out more than looking for vagrants at this birding locality.
There were quite a number of Zitting Cisticolas present this time and I cannot really recall if this grassland species was this abundant here in the past.
Red-wattled Lapwings tend to give away their presence due to their extremely vocal nature. Their loud calls are usually heard before you actually see the bird. This time it was a juvenile giving out the alarm calls.
It has become sort of a ritual to scrutinize every Paddyfield Pipit that one comes across in Chuping for an off-chance that it could turned out to be the much rarer Blyth's or Richard's Pipit. And to be totally honest, I will still most probably overlook the rarities because to me, the three of them look almost identical.
No rare passerines were encountered today. In fact, things nearly came to a stand still once it was midday. This young Brown Shrike provided little compensation for the lack of noteworthy birds.
Is the reign of Chuping as the most exciting birding spot in Peninsula Malaysia coming to an end? Have the rubber plantations caused too much damage to the habitat and driving away the birds? Questions like these pondered our minds as we slowly made our way back home through strong winds and heavy downpour. Hopefully, another visit later in the month will be able to put our worries to rest and produce a couple more first records for Peninsula Malaysia.