Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Christmas cheers

Chandru is an avid birder from India who is currently based in Singapore. He has a soft spot for raptors and proposing a birding itinerary for him was easy. The two of us were scanning the grasslands of Chuping, realm of the raptors, at first light.

I have been neglecting the Black-shouldered Kite that is fairly numerous here because it is also numerous throughout country. It was my guest's enthusiasm that reminded me what a beautiful and elegant raptor it truly is.

It took the raptors slightly longer than usual today to show up and excite and entertain with their grace, agility and beauty. Well, better late than never and it was the Pied Harriers that got the ball rolling. A juvenile and a female were seen quartering the grasslands together. However, only the female floated close to our position and provided ample photographic opportunities.

The male, being the most sought after, appeared the last - naturally. Hunting low over a field of Kenaf (thanks, Hor Kee for the identity of the crop) in bloom, his striking plumage and graceful flight set against a meadow-like background was a breathtaking sight indeed.

He provided yet another performance that will forever to crave into my memory regardless of the result of my photographic attempts to capture the moment. The performance deserved a standing ovation which I would have given had I been alone. I just could not risk making my guest think that maybe I have been out in the field for too long.

On the adjacent field, a female Common Kestrel was just finishing up a meal on the ground level. Exactly like the last trip, the girl was in no mood for any close up encounters and this was the best image I could obtain.

The Short-toed Eagle is known to hover as it hunts for food. I have yet to witness that behaviour until today. At that distance, there was no point for me to even hope that the images will turn out good.

When it did come closer, the hunt was over and the snake eagle was on normal flight mode again.

In between all the jaw-dropping performances by the raptors, a confiding female Brown Shrike managed to distract our attention for a brief moment.

It would have also been a sin to ignore this Zitting Cisticola that alighted on wooden stake right in front of us. Although it is common at this locality, good views of it are certainly not. 

Chuping had one last surprise in store for us before we proceeded to the next birding location of the day. It is, after all, the week before Christmas. A pale medium-sized raptor was seen perched on a rubber tree sapling and as we were making our way out of the maze of access trails that cut through the grasslands. To my dismay, it took flight as soon as I had my camera on it. My pleas gradually turned to swears as the mystery raptor was adamant on getting as far away as possible in a straight line before disappearing behind a row of tall trees. I was devastated. A quick review on my LCD screen offered no help to the identity of the bird. Perhaps it was my emotional state at the time but my mind drew a blank. Later back home, Dave is quite sure it was a juvenile Oriental Honey Buzzard. And once again, this highly variable buzzard got the better of me.

It was afternoon when we entered the virgin jungle of Bukit Wang in Kedah. Home to numerous exquisite forest dwellers, this birding site has all the potential of making a birding excursion truly memorable. Apart from a pair of Black-and-yellow Broadbill that offered teasing glimpses, nothing much was about. Nothing that is except for a soaring Jerdon's Baza!

Kindly let me elaborate the reason behind the usage of the exclamation mark in my last sentence. The Jerdon's Baza is a small but striking raptor that is rarely recorded in Peninsular Malaysia. This is my second ever sighting and although it was miles away and under the harsh afternoon sun, this encounter alone was worth the journey to this locality.

Our third and final destination for the day was the paddy fields at Kubang Semang in mainland Penang where enjoyed the wonderful companionship of the flocks of Black-winged Stilts and not forgetting a handful of Ruffs and plenty of Grey-headed Lapwings. The day may have come to an end but I still have another morning excursion with Chandru the next day and I decided it would be time to introduce him to my feathered friends at Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang.

The Crested Serpent-eagle is a regular at this birding hotspot and my guest made his intention clear about this raptor when I informed him about it. A good and clear shot and his day will be done. Mission accomplished...

The Abbott's Babblers kept us from exploring other parts of the forest by being so confiding and obliging.

It is frustrating to photograph malkohas as they are always on the move and slightly hidden by the vegetation. You require luck more than anything else to obtain good shots of the Green-billed Malkoha. An obstructed, bad-lighted image is all you get sometimes.

There is one species that is remarkably easy to photograph at this locality and it is none other than the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher like this male resting among the undergrowth. He probably felt he was not doing the best he could and hopped up onto an open perch which was at eye level. That's a good boy...

This female Tickell's Blue Flycatcher has been frolicking with male Mangrove Blue Flycatchers for a few years. I am not sure if it is because of personal preference or the absence of male Tickell's Blue Flycatchers at this site. Even her own identity is in question as she does not fully fit the bill for a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. But whatever it is, she is just as confiding as her companion. This complicated girl wraps things up for another memorable birding weekend. I would also like to take to this opportunity to wish all those celebrating a Merry Christmas.


Jack Leong said...

Great shots and exciting trip. Merry Christmas.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Jack. Merry Christmas!

Wilma said...

Fantastic - again!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Wilma.

John Holmes said...

Pied Harrier is one of my favourites... especially adult males (easy to identify !)

Choy Wai Mun said...

Yes, the males are such stunning birds.