This trip to the northern state of Perlis with Dave was spontaneous to say the least. I was still contemplating on where to go the next day when Dave's proposition came in. The birding days to follow after the remarkable trips to Sungai Sedim for the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers look a little bleak to me indeed. And a trip to Perlis to help search rarities for Dave's big year could be exactly what I needed to get over the flowerpeckers. We arrived at the Timah Tasoh scrublands just in time to witness the breaking of dawn over the lake.
I made it a point to open up my senses to other things and not only the birds. So, only after soaking in the view did I start with the birds. The lake and its surroundings are being cleared for some unknown reason and like all great things in life especially birding sites, enjoy them while they last. Although the Stork-billed Kingfisher is common in most waterways, it is still a striking bird. With such an impressive bill, it is hard to overlook or ignore it.
This individual was exceptionally confiding and allowed a very close approach. I cannot recall if I have ever photographed any kingfisher on foot so close before and I did not even have to crawl my way. The trip certainly started off on a high note.
There were three target birds for this locality. The closest we came to the Orange-breastedPigeon was a lone bird that looked very much like one but flew away too fast for a positive identification. I have seen the Racket-tailed Treepie only but once in my life. When two of them were seen moving among the canopy level, I was elated. But the feeling did not last long because the Treepie rejected my photographic proposal and I was left without a single image from the encounter again. I did manage to photograph our third target but it was far from satisfactory. The Thick-billed Warbler only allowed distanced obscured shots - just like my last encounter with this rare migrant.
There was a Shrike that was hunting at the edge of the scrubs which appeared slightly odd. We just had an interesting shrike also in the state of Perlis last month that turned out to be most possibly a hybrid Red-backed Shrike. Not wanting to take anything for granted, we scrutinized the shrike until we were sure that it was a Brown Shrike in moult and nothing else. Another thing that struck me as odd about this shrike was its confiding nature. It seemed to be quite comfortable despite being stalked by two birders.
Earlier on I mentioned that there are other things in life than just only birds. Well, I should have took it more seriously because I found out when I got back home that I missed out on photographing what is possibly Malaysia's first record of the Variable Squirrel. To make matters worse, there were at least five of them on this particular tree. Although they were active (and extremely noisy too), they remained on that tree for a long time. I gave up after my first shot was nothing more than a blurred photo of a brownish furry creature on a tree. Luckily, Dave managed to obtain a few better shots. By the way, he was the one who realized our discovery and we are now waiting for confirmation. This is not the type of first record that I yearn for but it is exciting nevertheless.
From the scrublands of Timah Tasoh, we headed to the limestone outcrops of Kaki Bukit in search of the Dusky Crag-Martin but it ended in vain. Once again, I dipped out on this would be lifer. This resident Peregrine Falcon could have been able to lift my spirit if only it was flying much lower than this.
We ventured into the nearby forest of the Perlis State Park to see if anything was about. There were some birds present but none really got me truly excited except for this lone Dusky Broadbill foraging among the canopy of the forest. Although it lacks the vivid colours of the other broadbills, it is the largest and I think the rarest of them all. That makes it a priority to me whenever I come across it in the field.
It was mid day when we reached the grasslands of Chuping. The heat and the dust were relentless and a shy Green Sandpiper certainly did not help improve the situation. Dave thought it was best to check out the small pockets of trees and scrub scattered sparingly over the grasslands. There were no objections from me as shade is a rare commodity out here. As soon as we stepped into our first copse, we were greeted by an adult Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo. The cuckoo’s abrupt disappearance got the ball rolling and we started to pick up a lot of bird activity within the copse. But the one that had our immediate attention was a female Grey-capped Woodpecker.
I have not seen this species for years and possibly the population here in northern Peninsula Malaysia could be on the decline. That is a shame because this species is absolutely adorable much like the commoner Sunda Woodpecker. In fact, the two species are superficially similar and habitat is one of the best ways to tell them apart as the latter is confined to the coast and mangroves.
While being entertained by the antics of the Grey-capped Woodpecker, a couple of the commoner species did come into view like this inquisitive male Olive-backed Sunbird.
The Golden-bellied Gerygone is a small bird with a big voice and its characteristic song is a regular sound in habitats like this. To actually see the bird, it usually takes some effort. If by chance one decides to alight in the open and reasonably close, you better make the best of it.
Malaysia recently released the second edition of its official checklist. This latest revision follows the Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. There are a substantial number of splits and lumps that will take some getting used to. One such split involves the Blue-And-White Flycatcher. The race where the male has no black on the face, throat and breast region is now a species of its own and is called the Zappey's Flycatcher. A bird will need a huge dose of panache to live up to a name like that. And the Zappey's Flycatcher has no shortage of that. This adult male that was foraging in the copse had the both of us eating from the primaries of his wing. He is truly a gorgeous bird and the immature male I saw a few years back does not even come close.
By the way, only the males are distinguishable in the field. With only three confirmed records of the White-and-Blue Flycatcher in Malaysia to date, chances are the immature I saw, which was my first record, was also a Zappey's Flycatcher. The flycatcher is Dave's 400th bird for his Big Year and he was a very happy man. Rightfully so I might add.
The last destination for our rarity hunt was the paddy fields of Pendang in Kedah state. What made this location so interesting are the surrounding scrublands and reed beds. In fact, one particular reed bed eventually became the stage for one last string of performances before we headed back home.
It was apparent that quite a number of reed-warblers and as well as grasshopper-warblers were present within this reed bed. We could hear them and once in a while, catch a fleeting glimpse as they move about. We saw a handful of Oriental Reed-warblers. Dave identified a few Pallas’s Grasshopper-Warbler by call which I did not even bother to try locating. More than a dozen Black-browed Reed-Warblers were counted and with such high density, chances of getting a clear shot were favourable. But I should have known better…
Another species that shared this reed bed with the warblers were Yellow Bitterns and they certainly make better photography subjects. The only thing that hindered my efforts was the fading light but I am quite happy with the results. The bittern concludes what has been a long but rewarding day. The drive back was marred by traffic congestion as the school-holidays are drawing to a close and families are rushing back from holidays to prepare the children for school. However, the two hour journey was still bearable as my thoughts constantly drifted back to a particular copse in Chuping where a handsome Zappey’s Flycatcher flitted among the rays of sunlight from the sanctuary of the canopy.