There is usually a sense of excitement as you make your way to a birding site. The further the site is from home, you more excited you tend to be. That is only natural. But today's journey to the forest of Sungai Sedim evokes no such emotions. Instead there was concern and resentment. The haze that has engulfed my country of late did not show any signs of clearing up. And the beautiful scenery that usually welcomes my arrival to this site is now stained by the foul air. And for the first time in all my years of birding, I had to wear a surgical face mask to indulge in this favourite pastime of mine. What is this world coming to...
The forest was exceptionally quiet today. Even the persistent calls of the resident barbets and broadbills did not echo across the vicinity as usual. It seemed as if the gloomy sky and intoxicating haze were chocking the life out of the forest. The rays of the morning sun could not find a way here and a dimly-lit forest will utterly test your sanity and ability as a bird photographer. A confiding juvenile Rufous-winged Philentoma came extremely close while it foraged for breakfast. By right, this should have provided a collection of good images. But not today.
A territorial dispute had a resident pair of Yellow-bellied Bulbuls chasing off an intruder through the lower level of the forest. When the chase was finally over, the intruder had unknowingly alighted on a nearby branch to catch its breath and I tried to make the best of out of the encounter.
When a juvenile Crow-billed Drongo led a bird wave across my path, for a brief moment birding was back to how it is supposed to be. A dozen species of birds held my attention as I determined their identification and observed their behaviour. When the wave finally passed through, deafening silence took over again and the bird activity died down to almost a complete halt. After a while, I gave up and retreated back towards the car park while thinking up a contingency plan.
In Penang, there is one particular site that will usually have something about no matter the time or condition. Air Hitam Dalam has rarely let me down in the past and I found myself back at the swamp forest for the second consecutive Saturday. The annual southerly passage of migrating raptors is well underway but the current air quality kept me back from our usual raptor count site at Bedong. I was quite pleased to see a flock of thirty Black Kites riding the thermals above the car park area. Migrating raptors is truly a spectacle of nature. This particular individual flew lower than the rest which made photography still possible in this shooting condition.
This striking male Korean Flycatcher is gradually getting accustomed to the hospitality here. Seeing him foraging among the canopy level jolted me back to last season. Back then we had a couple of friendly males that provided countless memorable encounters.
The Green-billed Malkoha proved to be a difficult subject again as it move from tree to tree in search of food.
To wrap things up for this hazy day is one of the star birds of this birding site - the Streak-breasted Woodpecker. Its limited range in Peninsular Malaysia is the reason behind its celebrity status and a performing male bird will never be taken for granted.