Monday, 21 April 2014

Rules are meant to be broken (19/04/2014)

Owls are creatures of the night. During the day, they roost inconspicuously away from sight. When night falls, they begin stir and that is when their day truly starts. Or so it seems. Air Hitam Dalam, a small patch of freshwater swamp forest at the northern end of Penang state, is where owls do not adhere to the rules. It is not unusual to see these nocturnal predators up and about in broad daylight. My latest encounter really left me amazed and bewildered at the same time. It was an extremely confiding Brown Hawk-owl calling non-stop right out in the open. 

Eventually it did come to its senses, slightly anyway, and retreated to a shadier perch where it continued with its persistent calling. This went on throughout the morning and it finally sizzled down to a stop at noon. 

During my observation, it did shift about a few perches and totally ignored human presence - birders, photographers, day-trippers, anglers, workers alike. The Brown Hawk-owl is not uncommon in Malaysia. It even occurs within human settlements. I have many past encounters with this species but never one so prolonged. Never so close. This individual was so tame that I initially thought it was an escapee. 

In the end, it provided me with one of my best and most memorable owl encounters. Owls have always been one of my favourite groups of birds. They are beautiful, mysterious, elusive and deadly. What is there not to like?

Although the trip belonged to the owl, the other birds present also performed well. The Asian Openbills are now sporting their smart breeding colours. 

The Spotted Wood-owl is also regularly seen here in the daytime. If it was any other day, I would be a little excited to find one. But today is certainly not any other day and the performance by the smaller hawk-owl will be extremely difficult to beat.

Air Hitam Dalam is the best place in the world if I should be so bold, to see Mangrove Blue Flycatchers. But don't just take my word for it – take his…

Now, there are flycatchers and there are paradise-flycatchers. To me, the latter is just simply out of this world. Divine is probably a better word to describe the white-phased males with their elongated tail feathers and all. I guess observing one dancing about the sunlight in the canopy level is the closest I will ever get to seeing angels. Unfortunately, even my best attempt this morning does not do any justice to this stunning creation of God and it is not due to lack of trying - just lack of luck. 

The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo also possesses elaborate tail feathers but it is no angel. Tenacious by nature, God have mercy on anything that incurs its wrath during the breeding season which is about now and that includes even large raptors.

A Crested Serpent-eagle not taking any chances and keeping well clear of the drongo…

This locality also happens to be the best place in Malaysia to see the Streak-breasted Woodpecker. One of the resident pairs did make a brief appearance and was given its due admiration and respect. 

The Common Flameback may not be as rare as the former but it is nevertheless another striking denizen of this swamp forest. 

Most of the migratory passerines would have undergone their spring passage back north. So, I was quite delighted to see this handsome breeding plumage Tiger Shrike still present at the locale. 

Due to the presence of quite a number of sought-after species here of late, it can get a little crowded at times. Baiting is a common practice for photographers looking for the perfect shots and the Tiger Shrike certainly did not pass on a chance for an easy meal. I do not have anything against baiting as long as the birds are not put in harm’s way. From what I see, the birds get fed and the photographers get their shots. I am no ornithologist and this is just my point of view. In the case of this Tiger Shrike, he looks like he could use some extra ounces before he partakes on his tedious journey back north. 

A Greater Coucal foraging out in the open is not a common sight and it was a fitting end to a great trip.