Luck plays a major part in birding and it is not only luck with the birds but the other factors as well like the weather. Just last week we had the worse haze pollution ever. Well, clear blue skies are finally back in my beloved homeland and Andy, my latest guest from the United Kingdom, could not have been any luckier. He got to experience birding here for the first time in such beautiful weather. The first location that we visited was the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam.
The Mangrove Blue Flycatcher lived up to its reputation as the ambassador of this site and provided a warm reception upon our arrival. Good morning, bud..
Bird waves hardly ever occur at this birding site but when you have luck on your side, anything is possible. This bird wave that took place next to the elevated boardwalk that cuts through the swamp forest did not have a lot of species in it. But less does not necessary mean dull. Golden-bellied Gerygones formed the majority and at less half a dozen of them took part in the wave. More often heard than seen, this little bird with the big voice grabbed the attention of my guest (and mine) by devouring a green caterpillar at eye level!
The Arctic Warbler is undoubtedly the commonest of all the wintering leaf warblers. However, good views are hard to obtain due to their active nature and preference for the canopy levels. Either it was luck again or the intensity of the bird wave altered the behaviour of this individual. It foraged very close to our positions - sometimes at a mere arm's length. This bold approach by the warbler was so unlike all the Arctic Warblers I have observed before that I took extra precaution to make sure I got the identification right. This photo here is my best effort from the encounter and it is unlikely I will ever get to enjoy another photographic opportunity like this again.
When the bird wave subsided, we continued to explore the rest of the site. It was then that a Buffy Fish-Owl flew across our path. I guess we unintentionally spooked it from its roost. It alighted on the far side of the river and the distance was simply too far for any good photos but the open perch did provide superb views for Andy. I should have taken a record shot of this owl because at the end of the day, we had three species of owls in broad daylight on this trip. That is something that does not happened all that often. The Brown Boobook was the second species. It was seen on its usual roost site and unlike the much larger Buffy Fish-Owl, it is not that easily spooked. In fact it was giving us the stare.
The third and final owl was the Spotted Wood-Owl. I have not seen this species here for quite a long time now. And I had Andy to thank because it was him that spotted it first. This species is by no means uncommon but a daytime sighting like this still does it for me.
The last species to thrill us before we proceeded to our next birding destination was the Stork-billed Kingfisher. Three birds were present and they filled the vicinity with their loud and raucous calls as they were having a territorial dispute. Needless to say, this striking kingfisher received its due admiration.
From the swamp forest we traveled to the paddy fields of Permatang Pauh. There is one particular spot that has been hosting a number of scarce migratory waders for the past week or so. After being forced off-course a few times due to maintenance works along the access trail that cuts through the fields, we finally reached our destination. The Grey-headed Lapwings, being the largest of the waders present, were naturally the first that we took notice of.
There were several stints foraging actively on the exposed mud. Upon further scrutiny, there were a few Red-necked Stints and Long-toed Stints. But the one I was really looking was the Temminck's Stint and we found at least two of them in the vicinity. It may be a dull looking wader but you will never find me ignoring this little peep due to its scarcity here in Malaysia.
There is absolutely no wader that even comes close the elaborate and stunning breeding plumage of the Ruff. Unfortunately, we will never get to see them sporting their breeding plumage here in their wintering grounds in Southeast Asia. This species winters in small numbers here in Peninsula Malaysia and the pair that we managed to locate today, put on quite a good performance.
With the haze gone and the migrants back in full force, it looks like this migratory season is finally in full swing. Uncommon migrants like the Ruff, hopefully, will be keeping me occupied for the months to come.
A mixed flock resting terns wrapped things up for this trip. Terns in winter plumage are not the easiest of birds to identify. However, this flock was quite confiding. We took our time to positively identify them from the comfort of our car and Andy added three more ticks to his list of Malaysian birds and they were Whiskered, White-winged and Little Tern (not in photo).