It may not be the most advisable thing to do owling on the first night of the Hungry Ghost Month but we have been planning and delaying this trip to Pedu in the wild interiors of Kedah state for weeks. The drive from Penang takes about 3 hours and in order to reach our destination in time for some pre-dawn owling, we had to leave the comforts of our bed at around one in the morning! As we were driving along the access road at near the shoreline of Pedu Lake in search of our nocturnal quarries, we noticed strange sounds coming out from the engine of my car. We birders sometimes get so carried away with our birding that we even lose perspective of things. So, we just pushed on as the thrill of the hunt was at its climax.
When we heard the call of not one but two Blyth's Frogmouths, any vehicular concerns momentarily vanished. Of the 3 species of frogmouths that occur here in Peninsular Malaysia, the Blyth's Frogmouth is the easiest to see. Or so they say. In all my years of birding, I have heard it on several occasions but not once did it show itself to me. My companions, Choo Eng and Hor Kee on the other hand, have seen this species before. So, I find it quite appropriate that this species finally decided to show itself to me tonight, of all nights, because the call of this nocturnal creature is best described to be not unlike the wailing of a banshee.
It was a memorable encounter. This lifer was perched on an exposed perch and gave us prolonged views. The distance hampered any efforts of a really good photo but who cares. He was a handsome specimen and the long wait for this moment only compounded my excitement and joy. His mate decided to join him and alighted on a perch behind him. We only had a brief view of her before she disappeared into the darkness with her mate. Our target nightbirds for this trip included the Large Frogmouth as well but if there was any sense of disappointment about missing the latter, it was fully compensated by the former's noteworthy performance.
When morning came, it was time to look for another set of target birds. Pedu area used to have three resorts along the edge of the lake but are no longer in operation. The whole area is now rather isolated with the main access road devoid of vehicles most of time and that makes it very ideal for birding.
The Chestnut-necklaced Partridge provided a very good reason for a return trip to this locality as the closest we ever came to locating this elusive game bird was a Red Junglefowl flushed from its night time roost. At the time of writing, Dave managed to see and photograph the partridges exactly where we were searching for them a few days after our trip. I think envy is the word I should use right now. As expected, not even a peep from the near-mythical Giant Pitta although we managed to record both the Hooded and Blue-winged Pitta this time.
The wet and gloomy weather made photography rather challenging. But I had to try my best to obtain at least one photo that looked slightly like the Thick-billed Spiderhunter that was foraging at the canopy levels. This was my third ever sighting of this the rarest of all the spiderhunters in Peninsular Malaysia and not even the persistent light drizzle and horrid lighting could dampen our spirits.
We decided to venture out to more open areas along the main road that cuts through some pristine rainforest do to some birding by car due to the less than desirable weather. Some of the views from here are simply spectacular.
Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to destroy all things beautiful and spectacular that Mother Nature has to offer. And to make things worse, this is a failed or abandoned agricultural project. It takes like forever for a forest to become a forest but it only takes one moronic decision to destroy it and sometimes, even for no reason at all.
However, the presence of hornbills meant that there is still enough unspoiled wilderness in the vicinity for them to roam and flourish. We had an amazing haul of hornbills today and recorded the Oriental Pied, Black, Great and Rhinoceros Hornbills. The best hornbill encounter was undoubtedly a pair of Plain-pouched Hornbills that was flying relatively low over the forest canopy. This nomadic species is rarely encountered anywhere else in the country except for the western and central northern regions of the peninsular at this time of the year.
I have not had the privilege or the good fortune to witness this but the Plain-pouched Hornbills often travel in huge flocks and flocks numbering up to the thousands is not unknown. This natural phenomenon will cease to occur if moronic decisions persist to occur.
This young Collared Kingfisher is looking somewhat out of place so far inland. Although the coastal areas are its preferred habitat choice, there will be those that prefer a life less ordinary - just like people.
Grey Wagtails are usually one of the first to arrive at their wintering grounds in the tropics. Quite a few were encountered along the main road and were not particularly pleased with our presence.
With the noon hour approaching, we finally decided to seriously find the source of the strange sounds coming out of my car at low speed. To our horror, Choo Eng found that the engine oil almost depleted. While trying to figure it out what happen, we came to few possibilities ranging from leakage to theft.
Anyway, to make a long story short, we managed to safely make our way to the nearest town and topped up the engine oil. We cut the trip short as we do not want to take any chances of my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. We did make a short stop along the way back at Lata Mengkaung. We discovered a fruiting Macaranga Tree (thanks to Hor Kee for the identification of the tree) at the car park area with a couple of bird species patronising the tree. The highlight of the visit would be the lone Cream-coloured Giant-Squirrel that was gorging on the fruits as well. It was so preoccupied with the feast that it forgone its usual elusive and shy nature and allowed a prolonged and close observation.
'Food drunk' as Choo Eng so eloquently put it...
A quick check on my car's engine oil level at the car park revealed that the level did go down. Not even one bit. We then decided to head to the empty plot of land in Kulim Hi-Tech Park for another go at the elusive Small Buttonquail. We managed a few short glimpses of the Buttonquail, much to Hor Kee's delight, but without any images to show - again. During our search, we did come across a few roosting Savanna Nightjars and I cannot help but to be amazed at how similar a roosting nightjar looks like a rock when seen without any optical aid.
We Chinese believe that we should avoid offending the visitors from the supernatural realm that are set free in our world during the Hungry Ghost Month. And to be extra cautious as bad things tend to happen in this period of time also. My birding endeavours often take me to the most isolated and wildest areas and that is why my better half is not too thrill whenever I go birding during this "month". Did our intrusion into the forest in the dead of night offended something from the other side thus resulting in my car's mysteriously malfunction? I guess some things are better left unanswered...