One of the best times of your birding life is at the beginning when you just started. Every bird will be new to you then. And your maiden trips to premium birding sites like Taman Negara and Fraser's Hill will overwhelm your senses with excitement, awe and fascination. I wish I could go back to the beginning. Back to when even the commonest species will ignite a spark but everyone knows that there is no such thing as time traveling. That is why sometimes I envy those who have just started to take up this life-altering hobby. My latest guests, from the neighbouring state of Selangor, just join the birding community in Malaysia a few months back and birding in Penang happens to be their next on their agenda.
I always try my best to make my trips enjoyable and rewarding for my guests but Mother Nature may not be so accommodating all the time. It started to rain upon our arrival at Air Hitam Dalam in Penang. And rain is the one thing I dread on any guiding trip. After a fair amount of waiting, the rain started to ease and the ambassadors of this locality, the Mangrove Blue-Flycatchers, were the first to come out and greet our party. The juvenile was exceptionally confiding today - much to the delight of my guests.
The Ashy Tailorbird is another resident species that is regularly encountered here. However, it is not as confiding as some of the other residents and effort is required to obtain good views and clear shots. This handsome male stayed put just long enough for us to take a few shots but the lighting condition was a bit of a letdown.
We birders have a tendency to take the commoner birds for granted. If you are new to birding, the Common Iora will certainly leave an impression. Its song is melodious and varied and the colour of the male is especially striking. As we were birding along the access road, two pairs were having a territorial dispute. Flashes of colours accompanied by a repertoire of rich whistling notes stopped us at our tracks. When the dispute was over, only a female bird was left in the open for us to admire.
There is only a handful of Babbler species found here at Air Hitam Dalam. The boldest of the lot are the Abbott's Babblers. I bet the fact that they are the biggest and not to mention the loudest of the babblers here play a significant role in shaping their personality. But no matter how bold or big a bird you are, a troop of marauding Long-tailed Macaques is not to be taken lightly and this lone Abbott's Babbler kept a constant watch on the movements of monkeys.
It is always a blessing to see a Streak-breasted Woodpecker. Before its discovery here, I had to hike for a few hours up Bukit Juru in southern mainland Penang to see this northern specialty for the first time. Thanks to the small population here at Air Hitam Dalam, I have had numerous encounters since then and occasionally, I do not even need to break a sweat like this female foraging next to the rear car park. This woodpecker concludes the excursion for this time and despite the less than desirable weather, it was still a good trip.