Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Oh, what a bill! (16/05/2015)

I woke up to the sound of the alarm on my iPhone and the rhythm of the falling rain on the roof. I was in a solemn mood as I contemplated on the fate of my birding plans for today. By the time I got myself ready, the rain almost dwindled to a stop and the dawn chorus started to fill the surrounding areas of my humble abode. Although the chorus consisted mostly of the bubbly calls of the ever-common Yellow-vented Bulbuls, it was music to my ears and all the motivation I needed to head out the door for my next birding adventure. The hilly forest of Sungai Sedim in Kedah was the choice location this time and it was a beautiful morning there unlike the gloom weather back home in Penang.

A handsome male Rufous-winged Philentoma was busy establishing his territory from the lower storey of the forest with his mournful disyllabic whistle. As confiding as he may be, the poor lighting condition was simply too much for my gear to overcome and I had to settle for these slightly mediocre images.  

Before I started bird photography, I would be absolutely delighted to be able to record three species of Trogons on a single trip. A female Red-naped Trogon provided flitting glimpses as she moved along the canopy level but I did not have the chance to even focus my camera on her. This female Scarlet-rumped Trogon, on the other hand, was sitting still for a prolonged period of time but there was only a narrow gap among the foliage to photograph her.

It was an all-ladies affair for the trogons as the third and final species was also a female. The female Diard's Trogon is one of the most striking of all the female Trogons. She was calling from deep within the forest when our paths crossed. Almost at eye level, it would have been a reasonably good shot if she was just a little closer. None of the trogon images today were good enough by any standard and I cannot help but to feel a little disappointed.

The Orange-backed Woodpecker is probably the largest woodpecker you will get to encounter here at Sungai Sedim. The male of this species is also one of the most vibrantly coloured woodpeckers in Malaysia. Usually vocal by nature, this woodpecker is conspicuous whenever it is present. However, good photographic opportunities are not easy to come by. Take this male for example. He stopped just long enough for me to take a single shot before he disappeared back into the forest.

Apart from game birds, only two other birds actually walk on the forest floor in Malaysia. One is of course the enigmatic Malaysian Rail-babbler and the other, the Black-capped Babbler. The former is on my list of birds that I need to shoot before my time on Earth is done but no such luck today. It was the latter and it is nevertheless, a bird that I would love to shoot as well. I anticipated the path that the bird will take and waited at a slightly more open area of the undergrowth. However, instead of the babbler, this butterfly came along and happily alighted not too far from where I was lying in wait.

One of the most widespread and adaptable birds in Malaysia is the White-rumped Munia. Its habitat ranges from the paddy fields of the lowlands to the primary forests of the mountains. With such an impressive range of habitats, it comes as no surprise that the population of this little seed-eater is doing well. This lone individual was foraging on a small tree as I was making my way back to the car park. It was already midday and I was drenched to the bone in my own sweat and dripping blood from multiple leech bites on my legs. I guessed I had enough of birding along forested trails for the day.

With the weather still holding well, I decided to do some afternoon birding at Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang. This locality is now probably the hottest spot for bird photography. Even at this hour, I was greeted by a few birding friends at the car park area. I did not linger at the car park though. I wanted to see if anything was about from the stretch of elevated boardwalk that cuts through the swamp forest. To come across a confiding Black-and-red Broadbill just beyond the boardwalk was more than I could ever wish for. In birding, sometimes wishes do come true…

Unlike my previous encounter, it seemed like the broadbill was not going anywhere soon. And neither was I, naturally. It foraged, preened and danced among the foliage of a particular group of trees in the vicinity. As for me, I made myself comfortable and soak in the moment. And of course, took as many photos that this amazing and adorable creature would allow me to.

The two-toned bill of this species is really something else. Just look at it. It is turquoise on the top and yellow on the bottom. All the other broadbills have one-toned bills. There is no other bird in Malaysia that has a bill like that. The very first time I saw the Black-and-red Broadbill, it was along the lower slopes of Cameron Highlands. Only part of the head was visible but one good look at the bill and its identity was revealed.

The lighting conditions put my gear and my photo-taking abilities to the test. The dense foliage was another major hindrance as most of the time, the broadbill was slightly obstructed. But an up close and personal encounter like this is somewhat of a novelty to me. So, almost the entire afternoon was dedicated to the broadbill and it was time well-spent indeed.

A male Ashy Tailorbird did wander close to where I was observing the broadbill. By then it has been more than an hour and I could managed to drag myself away from the latter and shower the tailorbird with some attention.

This is a picture of true bliss and contentment. A Collared Kingfisher indulging in a late afternoon sunbath.

A walk along the river trail produced nothing much but this flying shot of the resident Brahminy Kite. This common but striking raptor wrapped things up for this time and it was another rewarding excursion courtesy of a couple hours of sheer birding pleasure with a confiding broadbill at my favourite site in Penang.


mike birder said...

One of these days must join you there.

Bob Kaufman said...

I would be extremely happy with the photos you had at Sungai Sedim. And those of the Black-an-red Broadbill - they're to die for.

Wilma said...

I love it when you feature broadbills in your post. I will probably never be able to see them in person, but your images are the next best thing!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you all for your comments and compliments.

Mike, just let me know the next the you are in town.

Robin Leow said...

Another poetic birdlife journey through the hilly forest of Sungai Sedim, Kedah and Air Hitam Dalam, mainland Penang. Brilliantly crafted!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Robin for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it.

Russell Jenkins said...

Spectacular pictures and wonderful writing, Choy. I feel refreshed having had the tour. Thank you.

Robin Leow said...

Master Choy, you're a poet for the birds. You're created to be so.

You've studied the birds of the Perth's Region. Have you studied birds of Sabah and Sarawak? Zhongying Janetli noted that he and Ooi Beng Yean recorded some 60-70 species in 3 days at Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sandakan. Also, possibly there are montane birds in Mount Kinabalu Park.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Russell for your compliments.

Robin, I have not been to Borneo yet but will do it one day. Thanks again.

Robin Leow said...

Master Choy, maybe one day, we will read the poetry of Borneo birds from you :)

John Holmes said...

ANY trogon is is great trogon, especially for those of us who don't regularly see them.... and your efforts at "working" the broadbill were successful, as usual.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, John!