For the second day of his tour, I took Tony to the open grasslands of Chuping in the tiny state of Perlis. Upon arrival, Chuping appeared and felt like a whole different country to him and I could not agree more. The atmosphere at this locality does has its own distinct flavour and the birding, is usually exceptional.
Just as the first rays of the morning swept across the sea of grass, a handsome male Pied Harrier floated into view and caught us by surprise. When we recovered from the initial shock, I did my best to obtain better views and photographic opportunities. My gear struggled in the dim lighting and I felt a little short changed after the encounter. My guest, on the other day, got his shots and one of the best moments of his tour with me. A lone Paddyfield Pipit hopped up onto an exposed stake to bask in the morning sun now that the raptor has left the vicinity but it provided very little compensation for my earlier disappointment.
Blue-tailed Bee-eaters are not exactly what I would naturally look out for in Chuping but I will make an exception for a flock hunting in good light. This spot must be filled be bees as the bee-eaters seemed to be catching them effortlessly. Every sally was short and successful. And every shot I took had bee-eaters with food in the mouth.
On a recently ploughed patch, a pair of Siberian Stonechats was also having a field day. Judging from their constant movement, food was abundant. Although they were quite confiding, the lighting condition was difficult and the distant, less than desirable. The male was almost in breeding plumage and a record shot was the least I could do in appreciation for his performance and beauty.
Our main targets for this visit were the raptors - especially the harriers. Apart from the earlier encounter with the male Pied Harrier, we had very few photographic opportunities for the rest of the morning. A female Pied Harrier provided the only other reasonably good encounter. We followed her hunt momentarily and even managed to get her making short work of a large grasshopper.
The Eastern Marsh-Harriers were far and few. The striking male at this distance can hardly evoke any sense of excitement.
There is one more migratory raptor that is a regular here at Chuping and it provided one of the highlights of this visit. Resting all so elegantly on the barren earth, this female Eurasian Kestrel was more confiding than usual – much to our delight. I drove as close as possible and took a few shots as best as I could. She was not a big bird to begin with and the distance was just slightly beyond my gear’s comfort zone. But it was a good encounter. She allowed us to ogle at her beauty from the comforts of the car and that itself could almost make up for the long drive here.
There were plenty of Oriental Pratincoles around today and most were in breeding plumage. This unique wader is not an uncommon sight but it does make a good subject for photography. It usually has a high tolerance level towards human presence and we managed to obtain quite a number of good images.
By lunch time, the heat was getting a little unbearable and we decided to stop and have a meal before proceeding to the next locality. A striking male Red Collared-dove bade us farewell as we made our way out of the grasslands. The forest of Bukit Wang provided nothing of significance except for a pair of inquisitive but shy Black-and-Yellow Broadbill. Playing hard to get does enhance the encounter but only to a certain degree if you do not show yourself at the end of it all.
A repeat of yesterday’s fate was looming on the horizon. And against my better judgement, I decided to try Air Hitam Dalam again. When we arrive in the car park, it was relatively quiet. And my faith on the locality now hangs by a thread. Then I caught an all-too-familiar jizz of a bird with the corner of my eye. I could finally breathe again. A sigh of relief as a male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher proudly exhibits his splendid plumage to my guest. And my faith, totally restored. Throughout the visit, we managed to see three pairs throughout the vicinity including the complicated pair of Mangrove-Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers. The male was extremely confiding as usual and a wrong setting my in camera (accidentally turn the dial to shutter speed priority again) resulted in a slightly soft image. But I was not too worked out over it as I have plenty of good images from previous encounters. The important thing is the flycatchers are still here and for that, I am truly grateful.