Thursday, 14 January 2016

Crazy for crests

The grasslands of Chuping in Perlis beckoned again and this time, my regular guests, brothers Nigel and Jimmy, soaked in the picturesque sunrise before scanning the horizon for any signs of bird life. However, we did not need to look long or far. Caught in the golden light of the morning sun was a flock of Great Mynas. The origin of the birds found here is debateable but this season, there is a significant increase in numbers and today was the highest count for me – about 20 birds. Native or otherwise, this myna is absolutely alluring. I just cannot get over the wicked crest and that body anatomy alone could have won me over. It is most not found in my home state of Penang and we spent quite some time with them despite the strong pull of whatever that could be waiting for us further in the grasslands.

We eventually found our way to the jacana pond and since the Bronze-winged Jacana is a lifer to my guests, we patiently waited for the celebrity waterfowl to show themselves. I did not even dare to think that I might obtain some improvement shots of these shy birds in order to reduce the chance of being disappointed again. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, I guess I do not need to describe how I felt with yet another record shot.

Unlike my earlier visits, it was now dry and dusty. The dry season has commenced and the poor show of bird life is the unfortunate result. My guests are here for the raptors. Not being able to show even one to them for half a morning does not reflect very well on me – even if they are very understanding about it. By late morning, the heat was at a blistering state. For the life of me, I simply cannot comprehend why some of the birds do not attempt to even find some shade to rest in. This Zebra Dove appeared to be most comfortable resting under the sun on the concrete pole of the perimeter fence.

Maybe there is something about these poles that give the birds a sense of calm in this unbearable heat for the dove was not alone. A Paddyfield Pipit also chose to rest here. And like the dove, it was just as confiding.

The Zitting Cisticola is small in size but big in character. Just check out this pose…

The heat did not seem to be bothering the Black Drongos much as they continued to hunt around the sewage pond area. The heatwave is quite apparent in the photo and despite the close distance; all the images did not turn out as good as I anticipated.

A few Yellow Wagtails were also foraging around the sewage pond and one of them did come relatively close to our stationery vehicle. Out there in the grasslands, not many wagtails were seen and it is most probably because of the weather condition. Naturally, I dipped out on Malaysia’s second Citrine Wagtail which was recorded here a few weeks back.

In the afternoon, it became more like the Chuping that I have come to know and love. A female Eurasian Kestrel provided the first raptor photographic opportunity. The kestrel is also one of the few raptors here that you can regularly see perched on a tree. And she got the ball rolling. That’s my girl!

A female Eastern Marsh Harrier was the first harrier of trip and I thank God for that. After all the amazing harrier encounters prior to this trip, it was downright disheartening that I had to search for more than half a day to actually see one. Anyway, the harrier was soaring high above the grassland but the good lighting provided something to cheer about in regards to photography.

I have had only brief and distant observations of the striking male Siberian Stonechat at this locality so far. But today, he was a very different bird. I cannot recall why we stopped our vehicle but it does not matter. He decided to alight on a low branch just next to us. He may not be in full breeding plumage but he was a handsome devil indeed. And the clicking of our shutter filled the vicinity...

The encounter even got better because he started to hunt. Several times he dropped to the ground but without success. The best thing was, he always came back to the same branch and we were lucky enough to be in a very good position to observe his endeavours – unsuccessful as they might be. Or maybe he was just showing off.

The highlight of the day was a magnificent Short-toed Eagle that flew reasonably close and despite the harsh lighting, it provided a few captured moments that I am quite please with. This season I have probably seen the Short-toed Eagle more times than all the previous seasons. But this beautiful raptor has not cease to excite and intrigue.

As evening drew near, a few harriers started to come in to roost among the taller rubber trees. Although the numbers are nowhere near the former known harrier roost, it was still exciting. A juvenile Pied Harrier landed on a surprisingly open area and it was a photographic invitation not to be turned down. The first day of our tour concluded on high note and the slightly disappointing morning was nothing more than a hiccup. Just for the record, we recorded a total of 11 raptors during the tour and that is a good haul by any standard.

The next day, we left the grasslands for some pristine tropical rainforest. At the car park of Bukit Wang Forest Reserve in Kedah, a pair of Wreathed Hornbills flew across just as it got light. It is always great to encounter hornbills in the field but it was too dark for any photographic attempts. In fact, that was the story for the whole morning. In terms of birding, it was terrific. We got birds like Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Violet Cuckoo, Banded Kingfisher, White-bellied Woodpecker and other forest denizens. In terms of photography, we were not so lucky. The highlight of trip was when Jimmy spotted a raptor on a tall dead tree and upon further scrutiny turned out to be a Crested Goshawk. This raptor is renowned for its agility and efficiency as a bird of prey. These traits will naturally garner my respect and affection as raptors are one of my favourite group of birds. I do not have any good shots of this species yet and today, despite it being so obliging, the distance was just a little too far for my gear. But it was still a memorable encounter.

The Common Snipes took advantage of whatever shade they could find to escape the relentless tropical sun. Shaded locations are such a prized commodity that they were more tolerant than usual. At such proximity, these cryptic waders would usually perform their vanishing act.

The final destination of this 2-day tour was Air Hitam Dalam and upon arrival, the weather turned unexpectedly. Rain clouds started to form and darken the skies. Just an hour ago it was too much sun and now, it is too little. Welcome to birding in the tropics. A big troop of Long-tailed Macaques was stomping through the swamp forest for their evening siesta. One individual was too indulged with the meal at hand to even take notice of our approach. I am not particularly fond of Long-tailed Macaques because of their nasty nature. But on this occasion, I did take the time and effort to capture this photo.

Where there are macaques, there will be Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. Perched above the marauding troop, the drongo was patiently waiting for any prey flushed by its mammalian companions’ movements.

My Singaporean guests were hoping to experience the Mangrove Blue Flycatchers again – just like their last visit to this locality. It would be a great way to end the tour for them. And this flycatcher rarely disappoints. I know that I have posted photos of this species quite often. But I have learned, through years of residing in this ‘beloved’ country of mine that nothing is to be taken for granted. Like I always say, enjoy it while it last. And enjoy, we did.


Phil Slade said...

What a great set of pictures, many that I can easily relate to. I especially liked your pictures of the sibe Stonechat which clearly show the ID marks. The mynah bird is very striking and I can see why anyone would like to become familiar with the species.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Phil.

kezonline said...

Another brilliant episode on your birding travels. I don't have your brilliant camera gear for such photos, just my bins, so I love to read your blog for the great pics of our feathered friends. Hey it's already 14 days since your last one, can't wait for the next !!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you for your comment and compliment. The next post is work in progress.