The recent sighting of a Zappey’s Flycatcher (a recent split from Blue-And-White Flycatcher) and a Black-headed Gull, both of which I have seen only once before in the past but without any successful photographic attempts, at the northern parts of mainland Penang helped me to decide for this week's birding excursion. My first destination was the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam for a scarce but stunning migratory flycatcher.
After a thorough sweep of the area, I had to come to terms that the Zappey’s Flycatcher may not be around anymore. Another blue flycatcher that was certainly around was the resident Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. Along a more secluded part of the elevated boardwalk, I came across at least 3 individuals. This was the first male that crossed my path.
This confiding fellow was the second male sporting a more typical extended range of orange underparts.
A lone female that has been following the males could be the mate of one of them…
A possible third male was seen among the undergrowth about a few feet away from where I observed the first batch of flycatchers earlier on.
A small fruiting tree just outside the Management Office provided one of the highlights of the trip. Surprisingly, the fruits only attracted two species and apart from a few Olive-winged Bulbuls, there were Lineated Barbets. This barbet is more of a scrubland and mangrove species rather than a true forest dweller and this locality, is one of its strongholds. I have longed to photograph this barbet for quite some time now but without much success as it prefers the canopy levels. But today, the tempting fruits got the better of its security senses and I was presented with the opportunity for a most rewarding photo session.
In the absence of other species at the fruiting tree, it became the star bird and that held my undivided attention for a good half an hour. And just like that, every bird suddenly took off and it was only me and the fruiting tree left. Thank goodness I have obtained more than enough photos of the barbet before its abrupt departure.
The Green-billed Malkoha is the largest Malkoha in Malaysia and should be named the Long-tailed Malkoha instead. Like any other malkoha, it does not make an easy subject for photography. Despite its size, it is extremely agile and active. It scurries about the canopy levels like a giant squirrel. I almost lost it when all my efforts so far to capture a few shots were futile as it was always and somehow blocked by the vegetation. Even when it was stationery, it made sure I had something to curse about by resting in a partially hidden position.
But like the words immortalized by Guns N' Roses in their song, Patience - "...take it slow. It’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience..." And finally, the Green-billed Malkoha decided to hop onto an open perch for more than 30 seconds with the lighting just about right. I can still recall the first time I saw this species. There was a pair of them and they flew right across the path of a teenage birder on one of his very first MNS organized field trips. Those gravity-defying tails certainly made an impact on his retinal receptors then.
The swamp forest here is a haven for winter visitors and passage migrants alike. This season itself a few rarer migrants have found their way to this locality and today, I came across a confiding juvenile Crow-billed Drongo. Not really rare but I have yet to obtain any good images until today that is.
It was following a pair of foraging Plaintain Squirrels - much like the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo's obsession with foraging Long-tailed Macaques. The principles are the same - the foraging mammals will unintentionally flush out prey for the Drongo. And supposedly, the Drongo will keep a lookout for harm in return. However, it seemed quite oblivious to my presence. Or perhaps it knew that this human with the telephoto lens pose no threat to either of them.
At the mudflats of Bagan Belat, my next destination, a flock of Brown-headed Gulls resting reasonably close to shore was exactly what I was wishing for. Sure enough, I picked out a smaller individual from the lot through my bins. Hor Kee's Black-headed Gull was still around. Unfortunately, the gulls suddenly took flight and alighted on the far end of the mudflats. I am not sure if it was because of my over-zealousness to get closer for a shot or something else but the celebrity gull was now well beyond the reach of my gear. Worse of all, I could not picked it out from the crowd again.
While contemplating of a way to get to the gulls, a passing military helicopter spooked everything present into flight. Well, almost everything. The gulls remained where they were - as expected.
A flock of Pacific Golden Plovers showing their displeasure towards the big iron bird's intruding and inconsiderate presence. Not that I blame them - the plovers, that is...
A reptile slithering along the exposed mud at a far distance got me all excited. Will this finally be my first wild crocodile? Nah, it was just a monitor lizard doing its best impersonation of a crocodile. I guess spending too much time under the hot sun will eventually get to you. I took this as my cue to leave - before I start seeing Pied Avocets (a dream Peninsula Malaysia's first record for yours truly) foraging at a distance.
My final destination of the trip was the paddy fields at Kubang Semang. One of the best ways to go round the vast networks of gravel trails is by bike and I was on my faithful iron steed today. She does not only help me weave through the horrendous traffic of Penang Island with ease but takes me places where four wheels simply cannot. Well, you know it was a slow day at the paddy fields when I had the time to photograph my ride instead of birds.