Birders here in Penang are blessed to have Air Hitam Dalam. I have been birding at this site since the first day it opened its door to the public which was more than two decades ago. Although there is a drop in bird species and the size of this small reserve has been much reduced, it still remains as one of the best. Where else in Penang or even Malaysia can one regularly encounter and observed nocturnal species in broad daylight like this Brown Boobook showing off its mystical beauty on an exposed perch like this.
The Boobook was not only out in the open but it was confiding as well. This is certainly not my first encounter with this species but there is just something about it that I find so fascinating. Maybe it is because it is the first owl that I saw in the wild many moons back when I was still a teenager. I do not know. But all I do know is that all owls are truly special and I will always be fascinated by them.
It is kind of ironic I had to worry about the direction of the sun when photographing a night bird - not that I am complaining though.
The Olive-winged Bulbuls were also showing well today. It is now peak breeding season and the bulbuls are lot more confiding than usual. This individual perched on the rope barrier of the elevated boardwalk lacks most of the olive colouration on its wings but does not appear to be a young bird.
This man made structure is a favourite perch for a pair of these bulbuls. All I had to do was to be still and wait for them to come round again. The lighting and distance was favourable but the only slight letdown was the artificial perch. Well, you cannot have your cake and eat it all the time.
Of late, I have been seeing a lot more of the Laced Woodpecker here than the usual Streak-breasted Woodpecker. There are only very subtle differences between the two species and positive identification can be quite a challenge if the birds are not seen well. Anyway, this male Laced Woodpecker provided excellent views but the strong backlight made photography difficult.
The Asian Openbill is no longer a regular at my usual birding spots in Penang. Here at Air Hitam Dalam, they used to roost in huge numbers. I was lucky to have a few juveniles flying over this morning and the lighting was quite ideal for shooting these unique storks in flight.
There is no way to mistake a Forest Wagtail for anything else due its striking plumage. However, it tends to keep close to cover which makes it a challenging subject to photograph. The constant movement of the bird does not help the situation either.
The Malaysian Pied-Fantail is usually not a good subject for photography either - much like the Forest Wagtail. This individual managed to catch a dragonfly for breakfast and I was hoping this substantial prey will weigh down my subject long enough for me to capture a few images. At the end, of the stream of images that I shot, only one turned out good enough to be shared.
Just last week there were records of some splendid birds coming from the vicinity of the rear car park. The Ruddy Kingfisher, Black-And-Red Broadbill and the migratory race of the Asian Paradise-Flycatcher just to name a few. Unfortunately, none of them were recorded this trip. The migratory Blue-winged Pitta was also heard calling from the nearby vicinity but stayed well out of sight. But I did get one species that I was hoping to see - the male the Korean Flycatcher in breeding plumage.
The throat and upper breast region now has an orange tinge and it is a sign that he is ready to fly back north to breed. You handsome devil!
The new checklist by Clements replaced the old name of Yellow-rumped Flycather with Korean Flycatcher. I am no scientist but I still prefer the old name because it describes the bird perfectly and I am sure it is not the only flycatcher in Korea. Here you can see him backing up my opinion.
The Mangrove Blue Flycatchers are residents and will breed within the boundaries of this reserve. The superstars of this hotspot, you are almost guaranteed to see one on every visit.
The car park is usually the center of bird activity at this birding hotspot. It is just a small area and can only accommodate about 10 vehicles and the passengers with all their gear comfortably at one time. All you need to do is wait for the birds to come. You will even get to enjoy skulkers like the Abbott's Babbler.
Birds are not the only animals present at the car park. The Common Sun Skink is regularly recorded and like the birds, has grown accustomed to human presence. In good lighting, the iridescent colours make this reptile an appealing subject as well.
Air Hitam Dalam is also a great place to catch up with birding friends. It is very popular with the local birders including yours truly and on any given weekend you are bound to bump into another bird person. For this trip, I met no less than 5 different groups of birders. Hor Kee, James Neoh and Zo Cozy were among them. If that is not enough, this site is almost next door to the coastline of the Teluk Ayer Tawar IBA. I did sneak off for about an hour to the IBA when the tide was right but there was nothing noteworthy about except for a Brown-headed Gull in breeding plumage. The distance was too great for any good shots but I did take a record shot before I returned to the car park of Air Hitam Dalam for a couple of hours of pleasant birding before I finally called it a day.