I picked up Ben, one of my regular guests from Singapore, from the hotel much earlier than usual. It is because we were heading to the forest of Pedu before proceeding to the open grasslands of Chuping. This 2-day tour spanning over the two northern states promises a memorable trip for us. The slightly more than 2 hours’ drive to our first locality did not seem to take as long due to the feeling of anticipation and excitement that was building up inside me. Pedu is home to numerous forest denizens but most of the rarer species, including the Giant Pitta, were exceptional elusive this trip. The commoner species, on the other hand, kept us busy for the entire morning.
A canopy dweller by nature, the beautiful Raffles's Malkoha usually stays clear of terrestrial dangers and birders alike as they forage along the upper levels of the forest. Like all malkohas, they are quite active and fast, moving about like squirrels rather than birds. This female was enjoying a little sunbathing from the top of a tree. She was still far but by being stationery, she gave us a chance to try and capture her true beauty.
Ever since the discovery of wintering Rosy and Swinhoe's Minivets to Peninsular Malaysia, I have been paying extra attention to flocks of the much commoner Ashy Minivets. Flitting about the canopy, these graceful and extremely active birds are hard to observe and photograph. After much scrutiny, this flock turned out to be nothing more than Ashy Minivets. The males with their distinct colouration did not pose much hassle in terms of identification.
It is the paler females that I had to pay more attention to…
There is no shortage of striking birds that seek refuge in the forest here. The male Ruby-cheeked Sunbird is certainly one of them. Sunbirds are small and active birds. A good amount of perseverance (and strong neck muscles) is required in order to obtain good views. He did take a breather at one time but unfortunately, it was in the shade. In this dim lighting, the resplendent colour of the male bird was never fully revealed.
The Grey-bellied Bulbul is one of nature's finest creations and deserves all the admiration and attention it usually receives from birders - even when the lighting does not complement his vivid colours well.
The strong sunlight and dense foliage hindered our efforts to capture this Black-crested Bulbul while it foraged in the lower level of the forest canopy. I always find myself drawn to this common species and I bet the wicked crest has got a lot to do with it.
An Oriental Honey-Buzzard circling low above the forest canopy was one of the highlights of the visit here. It may be one of the commonest of the wintering raptors but it is also the most varied in plumage and the source of most raptor misidentifications.
A second look is inevitable just to make sure it is not something else…
As we were making our way out of Pedu, we came across two more Oriental Honey-Buzzards separately. Our primary target for this trip was the raptors at Chuping. This multiple Honey-Buzzard sightings were a sign of things to come. I just did not know it at that time.
It was blazing hot when we finally got round to venturing out on the open grassland of Chuping. Flocks of mynas and starlings were taking advantage of whatever pools of water to cool down. A thorough scan along the electrical lines where these birds have gathered to bathe produced something that I was really wishing from among a flock of Asian Pied Starlings. However, I have to make a mental note that whenever I wish for something from the Big Guy upstairs, I should be more specific. So, instead of just wishing to see the juvenile Brahminy Starling that was recorded by my buddies earlier this month, I should also mention that preferably in mint condition and not like it has just been dragged through a washer. However, after putting up this post, Dave corrected the identification of the starling and it is a subadult Rosy Starling instead.
As I was still contemplating if this was indeed the juvenile Brahminy Starling (drenched birds are a little tricky to identify), an Indian Roller swooped down from one of the electrical poles and alighted on a low stake right next to our stationery vehicle. We are used to seeing the Indian Roller at this locality but to see one on a natural perch is somewhat of a privilege due to this beautiful bird's fetish for steel and cable perches.
We came here for the raptors and it did not take too long for us to record the first one of the trip and it was a dark morphed Booted Eagle. A rare winter visitor to our shores, Chuping is the only place where it regularly recorded. It is unfortunate that all my encounters with this species so far are distant observations and once again, I only managed record shots.
The harriers were also up and about but the only one that came relatively close was this juvenile Pied Harrier. By then, the weather had unexpectedly turned for the worse and rain clouds started to form just beyond the limestone hills. With the availability of light now being restricted, shooting raptors in flight was no longer a walk in the park.
Regardless of the weather condition, the ever-abundant Eastern Yellow Wagtails went about their business as usual. This is a typical winter plumage bird...
And this is the pimped up version. At least two leucistic individuals have been recorded here this season and this is my first encounter with one. The odd colouration does give it an exquisite appearance but it also makes it stand out like a sore thumb and that makes it vulnerable to predators. The first raindrops brought our excursion to an early end but from the look of things, tomorrow looks set to a great day and that will be covered in my next post.