We took up the task to guide a big group of Taiwanese birders that were interested in doing a morning's birding at Sungai Sedim in Kedah but had a few hours to spare in the morning before the group's arrival. To kill time, we did some scouting around to prepare for the group’s tour later. At the main car park, our intentions to have a better look at a male Blue-banded Kingfisher led us to a fruiting tree by the river. Two weeks ago, I came so painfully close to photographing a male Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker and in birding, you rarely get second chances especially when it comes to rarities. But when you do, you better make sure to make the best of it - even if the lighting was less than desirable!
Unbelievably, there were three males and one female feasting this tree. I was not aware there so many males around initially. I guess I was just lost in the moment. After all this Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker is one of the most beautiful and rarest of our forest birds. It is one of those birds that I have wanted to shoot since the day I took up photography and only after more than decade, I finally got the opportunity. But the long wait made this moment all the sweeter. As the lighting condition improved so did my images.
The plumage of the male is just gorgeous. The red breast patch is so vivid that sometimes all you see is a spot of red moving about the foliages. And the red patch was so mesmerizing that I could hardly focus on the drabber female and all the other birds that were feeding on the fruiting tree.
In between shooting the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers, I had to force myself to pay some attention to the other birds. My fascination with this species had already cost me a Thick-billed Flowerpecker. Not quite as rare as the former and certainly not as aesthetically appealing but it is still a species that I have no images of to date. Anyway, the latter made a brief appearance was not seen again for the rest of the morning. I did manage to capture a few shots of the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker and he was another stunning representative of this family of birds.
The Yellow-vented Flowerpecker was lost among the sea of colours that were present on the fruiting tree.
The variety of Bulbuls was just as rich as the other fruiting tree I was observing at this locality a couple of weeks back. Due to the time constraint and the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker phenomenon, I neglected them longer than I really should. The stunning Grey-bellied Bulbul was among the dozen or so bulbul species present.
I did not notice this Finsch's Bulbul until it was literally at my face. Sorry, bud. You know I still love you, right?
Our guests were scheduled to arrive mid morning and we waited for them at the open space of the 'bus park'. The Grey-rumped Treeswifts were present in good numbers here but they tend to perch and rest much higher up and good photographic opportunities are rare. This lone female rested on a slightly lower perch than the others and I showered her with the admiration that she so truly deserves.
When we could see the bus coming down the road, a pair of a Crested Goshawks decided to put on an aerial display. This goshawk is not uncommon but I have been struggling to obtain reasonable good images of it. I quickly took a few shots before we greeted our Taiwanese guests. And what better way to be greeted than having the first words said to you as you get down from the bus were "Crested Goshawk".
Chin Hock was the tour leader for this group. Dave, Hor Kee and I were assisting him for the group's visit to this birding site. The reason why this site was chosen was because it was along the way to Royal Belum in northern Perak where a few days of delightful birding will be waiting for the convoy. They could not have chosen a better site because having Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers at such close proximity is nothing short of a miracle at the time for me.
Apart from this, we also managed to find another fruiting tree that had barbets and pigeons for the group's birding pleasure. Quite a number of the other denizens of this recreational forest including male Asian Emerald and Violet Cuckoos did their part to welcome all 36 of our Taiwanese guests. There was also a flock of possible Swinhoe's Minivets, a recent addition to the Malaysian checklist, but since we are on tour, we could not spend too much time chasing rarities.
This male Orange-backed Woodpecker was foraging a little beyond the range of my photography setup and was not performing well but he certainly got our foreign guests all excited. I guess it is only natural for local birders to sometimes take the local birds for granted - even if is something as splendid as a male Orange-backed Woodpecker.
The tour ended on a high note, naturally. After a heavy lunch we bid them farewell and all the best at Belum. The three of us then decided to make a little detour to look for roosting Barred Eagle-owls on the way back to Penang and were not disappointed. The resident pair was roosting on a huge Rain Tree just outside the perimeter fencing of a power station.
It was most unfortunate that the afternoon sun was in front of us and our gear was pushed to the limit in order to obtain some slightly reasonable shots. The owls were giving us the evil throughout the encounter and we kept it to a minimum.
We made one last stop before Penang and it was the small area of wetlands within the Kulim Hi-Tech Park that played host to a wintering Green Sandpiper two seasons ago. The sandpiper was no where to be seen but during the search, we came across a female Greater Painted-snipe. Unlike most other bird species, the female is the one that has the looks.
There must be some leftover luck from last week's "Red-backed Shrike" encounter as the resident Long-tailed Shrike that terrorizes small wildlife of the wetlands here was a lot more confiding than usual. So far, this year has been an absolute blast and my only worry is whatever that goes up must come down. But I sincerely hope it will not be someday soon.