A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a British birder enquiring about birding around Penang. One thing led to another and soon, I found myself with a mother and son team of British birders at my local patch - the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang on a beautiful Sunday morning.
This small area of birding delight has yet to disappoint any of my guests so far and it provided yet another memorable outing. The resident pair of Brown Hawk-owls had a lot do with the outcome. They were at their usual roosting tree and by now, are quite accustomed to human presence. Daytime observations of roosting owls are not a common thing but this locality is probably where you stand a better chance of experiencing them.
The Forest Wagtail is a common migrant to Peninsula Malaysia. However, I do not have much luck with obtaining their images but that was before this individual unexpectedly walked up to where we were standing and just stood there posing. Well, are you going to photograph me or not?
Unfortunately, a lot of the images that I took had some blurred motion because the wagtail did not remain still for long. And I simply did not have the time to adjust my camera's settings. Either that or I was too excited. This was the best encounter I ever had with a Forest Wagtail and the bold markings that we normally take for granted, were simply mesmerizing at this close distance.
At noon, we were about to call it a day as this was only a half-day tour. However, Air Hitam Dalam had one last surprise for our group. From the car park, I could make out some all-too-familiar silhouettes circling in the sky above and it is a sight I have not come across for the past four months. The Asian Openbills have returned and all my worries about them moving on to another place for good can be put to rest. Although it is only a small flock of about 50-strong, it was still a breathtaking sight.
For the second day of their tour, the Vickers found themselves surrounded by the captivating sights and sounds of the tropical rain forest as we visited the Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest in Kedah. As it is their first time birding in such a habitat, it was a little overwhelming for them especially during the birdwaves. Thankfully for them, and me, some of the participants of the waves did remain still long enough for us to enjoy some good and prolonged views. This male Green Iora that was preoccupied with the meal at hand was certainly one of them. It is one of the many canopy-loving denizens of the rainforest here and close views are hard to come by. So, this encounter had both foreign and local birders quivering with excitement.
During a wave, you can easily overlook some of the birds. Several species frantically foraging for food can be very distracting and confuses their enemies and the birders alike. And if the bird is drably-coloured than the chances of it being overlooked is even higher. But there was no way in the world I could have overlooked this unfamiliar flycatcher that alighted momentarily on an exposed perch in front of us. It took a second for its identity to kick in but it was a female Green-backed Flycatcher - a scarce migrant that I have only seen once before. No wonder she looked unfamiliar!
On the way back from Sungai Sedim, I took my guests to a location that hardly seemed relevant for a birding tour - a motocross track. But to the local birders, this relatively unknown locality in Penanti in mainland Penang is one of the best places to observe bee-eaters. At this time of year, the Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters will be on hand to perform for any visiting birders.
It is a mystery why the birds choose this location to call home as they could have easily found similar habitats in adjacent areas. Whatever it is, they appeared to have found their little piece of heaven and so have the birders.
The Red-wattled Lapwing is not a bird you can easily miss. Being loud and colourful, it is one of the most conspicuous waders of the open country and a good bird to wrap things for this time.