I got back from Borneo only to find out that the fruits on the ‘Hornbill Tree’ at Sungai Sedim in Kedah are finally bringing in the birds. Naturally, I was at the base of the tree just after dawn the following Saturday intently listening for the locomotive-like wing flaps of approaching hornbills. After all, hornbills are one of my all-time favourites. It took them a while but they did show up eventually and it was a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills - a mother and her son. However, instead of gorging on the fruits, the pair rested for long periods among the foliage.
With hardly any action at the ‘Hornbill Tree’, I diverted my attention to the 'Bulbul Tree' which was just on the other end of the car park area. My companions for the trip, Choo Eng, Nelson and Hor Kee, had already proceeded to that tree earlier on. The 'Bulbul Tree' has been feasted on by a countless number of birds for the past few weeks and surprisingly, the fruits are not completely depleted yet. The availability of food has made the Hairy-backed Bulbuls forgo their natural instinct and foraged right out in the open.
I had my gear on a tripod for a change because I did not expect much walking for this trip if everything goes according to plans.
As the tree is not as "crowded" as it was a couple of weeks back, I finally had the time to give the nondescript Spectacled Bulbul its due attention. It has been a regular patron to this fruiting tree since day one and will probably continue until do so until not even one fruit is left.
Contrary to popular belief, not all bulbuls are dull-looking birds. A few species are as striking as any bird could possibly be. Take the Grey-bellied Bulbul for instance. The slaty grey head and underparts contrasting sharply with bright mustard upperparts are a combination of colours that only divine powers are capable of conjuring up. And a true delight for any birder to experience.
Being slightly more confiding than usual on this slightly hazy morning, it provided one of the highlights of trip as I managed to obtain some of my best Grey-bellied Bulbul images to date.
The Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is not uncommon here in Peninsular Malaysia. In fact, it is one of the most widespread species ranging from forests to built-up areas. The male is a cracking bird and I have been trying to obtain good images of him for quite some time now.
Fruiting trees are probably the only time when you can photograph flowerpeckers including this species, at a close distant and without any swearing. Beautiful as these birds may be, they can truly frustrate photographers with their preference for the canopy levels and their canning ability of moving away just as you press the shutter but not at a fruiting tree. Here, you can shoot to your heart’s content.
This male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker was not so tempted by the fruits and made a brief appearance only.
When Hor Kee spotted a flock of five White-crowned Hornbills perched on a distant tree, our morning just got a whole lot better. Birds have excellent eye sight and this flock had theirs fixed on the fruits of the 'Hornbill Tree'. The only problem was there were Rhinoceros Hornbills on the fruiting tree and the latter are certainly not the sharing type.
So, it was down to strength in numbers against strength in size. Trouble was brewing at this little patch of birding paradise and we were caught smack right in the middle of it. We waited anxiously for the White-crowned Hornbills' next move. Unexpectedly, it was a female that broke the deadlock as she gliding into a nearby tree. Instinctively, the rest of the flock followed. However, size does matter in this case and the smaller White-crowned Hornbills abandoned their cause and retreated back into the forest moments later.
The presence of the White-crowned Hornbills did not go unnoticed by the Rhinoceros Hornbills. We should actually thank the former because as soon as they left, the latter finally started to feed. Rhinoceros Hornbills may be one the commonest hornbills in Peninsular Malaysia but they are majestic, beautiful and impressive. And that horn of a casque from which its name is derived, does it for me every single time.
Again, it is the female that seemed to be bolder than the male. With disregards to our presence, she occasionally foraged quite low on the tree. This is probably the closest I have ever been to this remarkable creature. The last time this tree bore fruits was five years ago and back then, I only managed to observe and photograph the White-crowned Hornbills (not that I am complaining). This time, it was the Rhinoceros Hornbills to shine and boy, did they shine...
Or should I say she, because the young male was quite reluctant to forage down low or in the open for a long time. Once they had their fill, they retreated back to the foliage of the tree crown to rest. Humans are not the only ones guilty of committing the seven deadly sins. Greed and gluttony are certainly present in this pair as they guarded the tree from any other would-be patrons.
We had one last look at the 'Bulbul Tree' before calling a day and Sungai Sedim was kind enough to present to us a nice farewell gift in the shape of a Gold-whiskered Barbet. This barbet is common throughout the country in suitable habitats. Being a typical canopy level dweller, I do not have many decent images of it despite of its status. It is no hornbill but the encounter was still one that contributed to the success of this trip.
An inquisitive Rufescent Prinia peered at us from its grassy domain as we made our way out and wrapped things up for this time. We headed for a much-anticipated late lunch and unlike the Rhinoceros Hornbills, we graciously left the eatery after having our fill...