Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Where raptors roam (Part I)

The grasslands of Chuping in the tiny state of Perlis have garnered interest and fascination from birders throughout Malaysia and beyond. My latest clients are from Singapore and these three avid birders had only one thing on their minds - to experience the magic of Chuping. And it was to be a three-day trip. I picked up Jerry, CP and Martin from the airport and we made a quick stop at Air Hitam Dalam before heading north to Perlis. By the time we broke loose from the weekday traffic snarl of Penang Island and finally made to the site, it was rather late in the morning. Most of the birds had gone into hiding because of the blistering heat. But Air Hitam Dalam usually does not let you leave empty handed.

We did manage to see some birds and the highlight at this site for me was this Dark-sided Flycatcher. It was a juvenile and young ones can sometimes be a lot bolder than you expect.

It was mid-afternoon when we entered the grassy domain of Chuping. The limestone hills set against the clear blue sky is a view I can never get tired of. However, the overwhelming heat is a small price to pay as this is, after all, the hottest region in Peninsular Malaysia. 

The Indian Roller stirred my senses again just like my last excursion. At this locality, it is quite regularly encountered. We saw about four rollers this afternoon and this one performed admirably as it devoured a huge grasshopper in front of four gawking birders.

Despite being an open country specialist, the sleek and graceful Black Drongo is usually wary of human presence. A little persistency eventually got us reasonably close to one of the dozens present in the vicinity today. Chuping is one of its main wintering grounds in Malaysia and at the right time, exceptionally high numbers can be recorded.

Our main target birds for this trip were raptors. The open grassland of Chuping is home and winter refuge for numerous species of raptors. This is where raptors reign supreme. So, we were definitely at the right place. But was it the right time? This dark morphed Booted Eagle thinks so as it glided above our stationery vehicle.

It did not take long for us to come across the next raptor and this time, it was a Greater Spotted Eagle. This majestic raptor was soaring a little too high for my gear to capture any good images but its presence certainly raised the level of excitement within my group.

This lone female Pied Harrier was seen taking a breather among the long grass under the hot afternoon sun. The grassland here is one of the wintering strongholds for harriers and several were seen throughout the afternoon.

It is always a pleasure to observe the graceful and buoyant flight of the harriers. Photography-wise I did not fare so well and these are my best efforts of a male Eastern Marsh-Harrier and his much darker mate coming in to roost for the day.

The Asian Pied Starlings were performing well today. I find it hard not to take notice of them. Just look at it. The colours and character jumps out right at you.

This pair was having a lovers' squabble and although the sexes are identical, I have a strong feeling the dominant one is not the male...

As the day drew to an end, we saw at least 100 Red Collared-Doves gradually making their way to their roosting ground among the rubber trees. These handsome doves wrapped things up for the day and it was an early night for us at the home stay accommodation in Changlun town because tomorrow is going to a full day of birding which I will cover in the second part of my post. 


digdeep said...

To me the starling doing the screaming is pretty obviously the female, while I recognise the sheepish expression of the lower one as the male after a late night out! ;-)

Nice photos and account as usual!

Choy Wai Mun said...

My thoughts exactly. Thanks, Dave.

Jack Leong said...

Exciting adventure and good rewards with beautiful photos. Good trip.

Russell Jenkins said...

Some wonderful scenery and birds, Choy. I especially like the Dark-sided Flycatcher. Brilliant portraits of him.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Jack and Russell for your comments and compliments.