It has been a while since my last visit to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam in northern mainland Penang. Upon my arrival, the first thing that caught my attention was the amount of water that has covered the forest floor. It is no Amazon basin but to me, it is still a little piece of natural paradise not too far from home.
The rise in water level did not have much effect on the birds as the rear car park is still quite a centre of activity. I spent more time than usual at the car park today because of a small but striking migrant that performed well here last week for a few privileged birders - the Black-backed Kingfisher. But it was a no show by this dwarf kingfisher today. Abbott's Babblers are usually secretive birds that tend to keep to the cover of the forest undergrowth. The only indication of their presence is their tri-syllabic call. Well, try telling that to this one...
Are birds capable of daydreaming? It looked like this female Ashy Tailorbird was and she remained stationery for quite a long period of time considering she is one of the most active species found here.
This Lineated Barbet was feeling a little smug as it almost got the better of me. It was on an exposed perch in front of me but I was too preoccupied with a Green-billed Malkoha that was moving about nearby to notice it. Then, James Neoh came along and casually made a remark of what a nice perch the Lineated Barbet was posing on. Thanks, bro...
Common as this barbet may be at this locality but its preference for the canopy levels often prevents good photographic opportunities. One on an exposed perch not too steep in angle is definitely worth a second shot.
The deafening calls of the Hill Myna are not often heard at this locality. Seeing that it is a local rarity, I did my best to locate the bird and I did. However, the only slightly unobstructed view was a distant one and yet again, I could only obtain record shots of this the largest of the mynas. Its ability to mimic human speech makes it a much sought-after cage bird and being kept in a cage is no way for this remarkable bird to live. That did not come out right. Being kept in a cage is no way for any bird to live.
I always have a soft spot for the Black-thighed Falconet. Not only is it adorable but its mannerism is also captivating at times. It does occur in small family groups and allo preening is a common practice among these tiny raptors.
This show of public affection is a relished activity. The expression of the bird on the receiving end says it all. One good turn...
Air Hitam Dalam is one of the main roosting areas for the migratory Black Kites. Only a handful was seen today and they are probably the early arrivals. In the weeks to come, their numbers will increase significantly and dozens will call this place home for the winter months.
By mid-day, another yearning drew me from the swamp forest to the nearby coastal mudflats. The migratory waders are back and it is time once again to scan the coastlines for this fascinating group of birds. I made myself comfortable on the rocky outcrop of Bagan Belat and patiently waited for the rising tide to push my subjects closer to me.
The Common Redshanks were the first to come within reasonable shooting range but the harsh afternoon sun and shimmering heat wave made photography difficult. And thanks to a considerate neighbouring country, I now also have to deal with the haze as well.
Despite the abundance of food, Common Redshanks have a tendency to squabble and snatch each other's catch.
The Eurasian Curlews, on the other hand, behaved like the regal creatures that they are and there will always be an air of elegance and majesty about them.
Even their massive size could not withstand the rising waters and gradually, they moved closer to shore. Their occasional short burst of flight gave me a chance to capture them in flight.
A flock of lanky waders also made its way closer to shore and upon further scrutiny, turned out to be Black-tailed Godwits. Although it is not uncommon throughout its wintering range here in Malaysia, it is not often encountered at this range here in Penang. Naturally, they had my undivided attention.
In flight, it is easy to see why they are called Black-tailed Godwits...
This lone Terek Sandpiper came reasonably close to my position and stroll past my field of view a few times. It was only after the godwits left the scene did I started to pay it some attention. No hard feelings, ya?
We often come across common names of birds that do not truly reflect their appearance or character. Then there are those common names that really hit the nail on the head like the Common Sandpiper. It is undoubtedly the commonest of our waders. It may not occur in very big numbers at a single locality like some of the other waders but it occurs everywhere. And I mean everywhere. With that, I concluded my first visit to the mudflats for the season and it is good to be back.