Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A good start to the Year of the Goat (21/02/2015)

This year my Chinese New Year celebrations are a little more extensive than usual. Lucky for me I still had a free morning for birding but with the time constraint, I could not afford to travel far and it was down to my usual haunts again. Seeing that Dave had a very exciting excursion at Sungai Sedim in Kedah recently (check out his blog posting here), I decided to try my luck there as well. Who knows, maybe the Year of the Goat will bring some good fortune to this Penang birder. It seemed quite appropriate that the first bird to catch my attention during this Chinese New Year excursion was a male Chinese Blue Flycatcher. It is an uncommon migrant to forested areas in Peninsula Malaysia and a great way to get things rolling. However, his preference for the gloomy lower levels of the forest made photography difficult.

The Ang Pow (red packet) I received from Sungai Sedim this year was when I came across a fruiting tree teeming with birds. Bulbuls formed the majority of the patrons and curiously the usually common Black-headed Bulbuls were no where to be seen this time. The equally common Red-eyed Bulbuls, on the other hand, did not even bother to conceal themselves at all in my presence.

The Cream-vented Bulbul is another commonly recorded species here and its pale iris is what usually distinguishes it from the Red-eyed Bulbul.

Gradually, the rest of the birds accepted me being there and returned to take advantage of this heaven-sent food supply. Looks like I am not the only gaining a few extra pounds during this festive season. The usually elegant-looking Ashy Bulbul may not be anymore by the time they are done judging from the way they were gorging on the fruits.

Sungai Sedim is one of the few strongholds of the uncommon Finsch's Bulbul and being extremely vocal, their loud nasal calls announce their arrival each time they return to the feast like a welcoming band.

I recorded a total of 12 different species of bulbuls on this fruiting tree but not all were tolerant of my presence and some even avoided my photographic attempts. The Buff-vented Bulbuls were certainly not one of them and provided me with some of my best images of this common species to date.

It is undeniable that most bulbul species look quite similar to each other in the field and sometimes you have to pay a little more attention to the finer details to get the identities right. For the Grey-bellied Bulbul, I do not think it is necessary at all.

Being one of the most striking of all our bulbuls, it stood out from all the shades of brown and grey that were present. Naturally, I was smitten by its beauty and paid more attention to it. I am only human after all.

But there is another whose beauty equals or even surpasses that of the Grey-bellied Bulbul and it is the Scaly-breasted Bulbul. Usually found in the canopy level, good photographic opportunities are hard to come by. The feast was a little too much for it to resist and I finally managed to obtain really good shots of this forest denizen from almost eye level.

The intricate patterns of the underparts as well as the contrasting colours of the upperparts make this bulbul one of the most beautiful birds of the tropical rainforest.

The Streaked Bulbul dropped in for a short while only but luckily I managed to capture one shot before its abrupt departure. Perhaps the tree was a little too crowded for its liking.

Foraging among the shadows was a small flock of Hairy-backed Bulbuls. I was certainly spoilt for choice this time round and waiting for these skulking bulbuls to come to more open areas simply did not cross my mind. There were just too many distractions around.

The adorable flowerpeckers were also in good numbers at the fruiting tree and a total of 5 different species were present. The Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker is commonly found in the forest here and it comes as no surprise to find one gorging on the fruits.

The similar-looking Yellow-vented Flowerpecker is not often encountered and the presence of a single bird did not go unappreciated.

There is always a sense of anticipation whenever you come across a fruiting tree because you never know what might show up next. Deep inside, you always keep your fingers crossed for a rarity to come along and today, one did. It was a gorgeous male Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker and I have only seen this species once before at Maxwell Hill in Perak. It has been so long that I almost forgot the whirlwind of emotions that swept through me when I saw this species for the very first time. But when I saw the piercing red breast again today, it all came back to me and what a rush it was! Unfortunately, he was very shy and took flight as soon as I pointed my camera at him. And that was the last I saw of him.

My failure to obtain even a single shot of the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker was a very bitter pill to swallow. Luckily, a rather confiding male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker was there to help ease my disappointment.

Almost just as striking as his rarer cousin, he certainly did not mind my presence as he helped himself to the fruits. I guess some are more easily seduced by food than others.

A pair of Dark-throated Orioles was also wary of my presence despite my best attempt to keep myself inconspicuous throughout my observation at the fruiting tree. The pulling power of the tantalizing fruits got the better of the male bird and he did come for a quick bite before returning back to the cover of the canopy levels.

I have recorded the Plaintive Cuckoo from this location before but only from the adjacent fruit orchards. When a small cuckoo alighted nearby the fruiting tree, I was certainly not expecting a Plaintive Cuckoo. Did word got round of this Chinese New Year banquet and has it even reached beyond the borders of the forest?

The Plaintive Cuckoo may be a little out of place in the dense forest but the migratory Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo is right at home here. I could have easily walked past it when I made my way out of the forest if not for a pair of Little Spiderhunters that mistook the cuckoo for a real raptor and were mobbing it. Their persistent calls made me stop to look and only then did I realize the presence of the cuckoo. I may not be aware of its presence initially but it was certainly aware of mine.

A little bit of stalking got me slightly closer and I managed to take a few more shots before the cuckoo glided out of sight. Although I did not get to meet up with some old friends like the Malaysian Honeyguide and the Wallace's Hawk-eagle, it was still a great way to spend a Chinese New Year morning - among other feathered friends that have always been an important part of my life. 


Russell Jenkins said...

Amazing collection of bird pictures, Choy. The 'eyes' are so clear and bright in every pic. Very difficult to do but you are a whiz. It certainly is a good start to the new year!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thanks, Russell! The reason why they are all so well-behaved is because of the fruits and that made my task of photographing them a lot easier.

Thaibirder said...

Great images!

John Holmes said...

"Kung Hei Fat Choi" as we say here in south China !

A great display of all those bulbuls... a fine start to the Year of the Goat.

mike kan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mike kan said...

Aisay man your photos are damn sharp Did you change gear my frien

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thanks, Peter and John!

Thanks, Mike. I recently change my body to Nikon D3200. Still using my old Sigma 150-500mm.

Jack Leong said...

I don't think I can find any other better photos and with such interesting descriptions of the trip anywhere else, except from you. Great and excellent work. Thumbs up.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Jack.