I have a few consecutive free days to kill for the rest of my Chinese New Year break. Thus began my festive birding spree. For my first day, I decided to go somewhere closer to home and it was none other than the forest at Sungai Sedim. The rationale behind this decision was to check on the status of the fruiting trees there. Victor, my old schoolmate, is back in Penang for the celebrations and joined me for this time’s excursion. It is good to know he is still very much into birding since the last time we met one year ago. While waiting him to arrive, I spent some time with the Whiskered and Grey-rumped Treeswifts at their usual morning hangout. The distance and lighting made it difficult for photography and the gathering of the treeswifts of Sungai Sedim will always be a spectacle best enjoyed through my binos.
Two of the locality’s regular fruiting trees have started to bear fruits but it will take a while for the fruits to ripe. My birding network has alerted me a few days back of an active fruiting tree along the Gunung Bintang trail and that was where were heading to. But mid way up the trail, we had to make a stop. A male Scarlet-rumped Trogon was calling from the forest edge and the bright red underparts stood out from the dimly lighted canopy level like a beacon in the night. It may be the commonest trogon but I do not think it is even legal to ignore such a stunning bird.
Red is an auspicious colour for the Chinese New Year and the presence of the trogon certainly brought good fortune to our excursion because we came across our second trogon species a short while later and it was a Diard’s Trogon. A pair was heard calling but despite a careful search, we only managed to locate the female. Although she was quite confiding, the dense vegetation prevented us from obtaining any better images. Don’t you just love shooting in the forest...
We almost had a third trogon species for the trip but the calling Red-naped Trogon just did not want to be seen today. Instead, we settled for a second male Scarlet-rumped Trogon. Not wanting to be outdone by its compatriot, it put on a good performance as well.
When we finally made it to the fruiting tree, Nelson was already busy shooting at the patrons of the tree. Three was not a crowd in this case and we made ourselves comfortable in our respective positions because from the look of things, we will be there for some time. The tree was aflutter with mostly bulbuls and flowerpeckers. The Red-eyed Bulbul is the commonest bulbul here and there will usually be a few at every suitable fruiting tree. Needless to say, they were gorging on the fruits here.
I am quite sure whoever named the Cream-vented Bulbul probably had his or her reason but the white iris is the distinguishing feature of the species and White-eyed Bulbul is an apt name in my humble opinion.
I have no qualms with the common name of the Spectacled Bulbul. It has a distinct yellow eye ring after all. However, it was exceptional shy today and kept to the furthest branches throughout our observation. It was a stark difference from their usual behaviour at fruiting trees. I guess birds, like people, have their mood swings too.
Ashy Bulbuls are generally shy and it came as no surprise when they kept their distance when feasting on the banquet.
The Buff-vented Bulbuls were one of the boldest today – coming right down to the lowest branches to gorge and completely disregarding the presence of the humans.
When it comes to bulbuls, the Scaly-breasted Bulbul is in a class of its own. The colour combination on the plumage of this bird can only be the work of divine powers and this beautiful representative of the bulbul family is worshipped by countless birders including yours truly.
But today, the divine Scaly-breasted Bulbuls were overshadowed by another colourful member of the bulbul family – the Grey-bellied Bulbul. It is a matter of personal preference but I feel the latter is just marginally behind the former in the looks department. It was their exceptionally confiding nature today that won me over. This time, they stole the limelight and even the Scaly-breasted Bulbuls had to concede defeat.
Quite a number of flowerpecker species were also gorging themselves on the fruits but the one that I was really hoping to see did not turn up – the gorgeous male Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker. In its absence, the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker took center stage. Almost equally as attractive (personal preference at work here again), there were three males present today and at times, I could not decide which one to focus on.
The male Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is another handsome devil and needless to say, had his fair share of attention today. Fruiting trees provide the best photographic opportunities to capture images of this little but striking bird. It applies to the rest of the flowerpeckers as well.
Not all flowerpeckers are brilliantly coloured but they still receive my undivided attention because some of the duller species are rare to say the least. Unfortunately, none of the rarer species made appearance but the common ones like the Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker certainly kept us busy.
The fourth species present at the tree today were the Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers. Although this species lacks the colours of some of the flowerpeckers, its strikingly marked underparts give it a certain appeal that is almost impossible to resist.
The distinct ringing call of the Everett’s White-eye filled the vicinity when a flock of these adorable birds descend upon the fruiting tree. The temptation of food can pull in all sorts of birds – even those that spend most of lives at the topmost canopy levels of the forest. That is one of the reasons I have so few images of this species. That, and the fact that it rarely stays still.
It is always exciting to find something other than the usual bulbuls and flowerpeckers at a fruiting tree here. Now, leafbirds do patronize fruiting trees but never with such consistency. The Lesser Green Leafbird is probably one of the rarer leafbirds here in Sungai Sedim but the excitement a pair brought to the tree was short lived as the male refuse to go anywhere near a slightly exposed branch. But his mate was a real sweetheart and provided plenty of good images.
I noticed last year of a male Green-backed Flycatcher that frequented fruiting trees here and since fruits are not part of his diet, it is the insects attracted to the fruits that he is after. When I saw male Green-backed Flycatcher flitting about the canopy level of the fruiting, it could very well be the same individual.
Not even an active fruiting tree can drown out what the locomotive wingbeats of hornbills does to me. Acting out on instinct more than anything else, my gaze and attention shifted to the sky above and just in time to capture a pair of Wreathed Hornbills passing through. A quick look at my camera’s playback was required to make sure it was not a pair of the rarer and similar-looking Plain-pouched Hornbills.
On the way back home, I could not stop thinking about the Orange-headed Thrush at the Penang Botanic Gardens. Against my better judgement, I made a detour to the gardens and as expected found the tourist hotspot crowded. There was no sign of the thrush when I arrived at the spot I was it a few days back. I waited for about an hour but to no avail. A troop of Dusky Leaf Monkeys probably had a good laugh at my expense and seemed to be in no hurry to move on from the nearby trees. Well since it is the Year of the Monkey, I think they make a fitting end to another memorable birding excursion.