I'm usually at the pickup points, wherever they may be, well before daybreak. That is unless the guests will be arriving in a cruise ship. This is not the first time for me to be picking up guests at Swettenham Pier but these cruise ships usually dock later than my preferred time to start my tours.
So once Gaetan and Christine got into my car, I had to get this French-Canadian globe-trotting birding couple to the closest birding hotspot and it was none other than Air Hitam Dalam.
With the breeding season just around the corner, the resident pair of Crested Serpent-eagles was making their intentions very clear. A sparse tree overlooking the rear car park appears to be one of their favourite vantage points to survey their kingdom. As common as these raptors may be, they are still regal and impressive.
The migratory Black Kites have a few more months to go before their biological clocks start clicking. For the time being, it is just easy living in a tropical paradise.
Meanwhile, closer down to Earth, this Abbott's Babbler made sure that it had our attention by providing a good performance. This is one of the best places to see this skulking species and at times, it looks a little out of place being away from the dense and dark realm of the undergrowth.
However, it could not outshine the Mangrove Blue-flycatchers (very few birds can at this locality) and this female was certainly one of the highlights of the visit. It was their first lifer of the trip and it certainly made an impression.
The next locality that we visited was the paddy fields of Permatang Pauh. The thing about paddy fields is that every month or so, the landscape changes. Exposed mud and shallow water patches, which are ideal for water fowl, will be overgrown with paddy stalks. It is only a matter time. It took a while for me to find a new 'birdy' patch on this visit and all I had to do was find a spot to park my car where all the motorcyclists could pass and enjoy the show. Grey-headed Lapwings, Ruffs, Common Snipe, Long-toed Stints, Temminck's Stint are among the water birds that made the visit here memorable. However, I was too preoccupied trying to locate more species and did not have too much time to shoot except for this foraging
The open country habitats of Penanti were next line as we searched in vain for Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and Oriental Pratincoles - two species that are in my guests' list of birds to see. A Black-thighed Falconet hunting from an electrical cable provided some comfort for missing out on the target birds. Small in size but big in character, the Falconet is always a delight to observe.
A visit to a couple of open country habitats within the Kulim Hi-Tech Park further north yielded no results for the 2 target birds as well. My guest have been to every continent on Earth and have recorded over 3,600 species of birds and it was good to see them excited when I showed them a roosting Savanna Nightjar even though it was in the shade and partly hidden. Judging from their reaction, I need not have to ask them if it was a lifer.
Our last location for the day was the hilly forest of Sungai Sedim where they managed to tick off another two lifers. The last leg of their tour provided some memorable encounters and some were courtesy of birds that they have seen before during their last trip to Malaysia 5 years ago. A couple of inquisitive Hairy-backed Bulbuls were certainly one of them.
Despite being one of the largest of our forest birds, good views of the Rhinoceros Hornbill are a bit of a novelty. A female that was perched on a distant tree certainly had us mermerised. It does not matter, if it is a close or far observation. If you do not get excited by the sight of this majestic creature, you do not deserve to be called a birder. My guests expected to see 10 lifers on this trip but unfortunately, I could only managed 8. But they were far from disappointed and I guess it had a lot to do with the non-lifers putting on memorable performances as well.