Thursday, 3 March 2016

No such thing as a sure thing in birding (27/02/2016)

Whenever I take guests out birding there will always be a sense of anxiety at the back of my mind. The birds that we so passionately seek are wild and free. How could anyone accurately predict the outcome of any birding trip? However if there is an active fruiting tree, you have got it made – most of the time anyway. My latest guest is from Australia and like me, is also an ad man by profession. After showing Tony the Treeswift Tree of Sungai Sedim, I took him straight to the fruiting tree that was a centre of attention the last time it came into season. I have to admit I was excited too because word has reached my ears that the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker was back to feed on the fruits. This little but rare forest denizen rocked the birding community back then when at least 2 pairs patronized the fruiting tree on daily basis till the fruits were depleted. Judging from the number of birders present here this morning, I was not the only one that received the news.

Unfortunately, the star bird did not make an appearance but the other species that did come for the fruits helped ease the disappointment. To my guest, the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker is just as stunning a bird and status does not mean much to an overseas birder. Appearance and character does. And the Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker certainly have those.

The Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, despite its lack of colours can brightened up any birding day. After all it is not that commonly encountered here when there is no fruiting tree about.

When the Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker joined in the feast, I knew that it was going to be a great day. There was a fourth species present but the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker did not stay long enough for me to capture its images.

Both the Greater Green and Lesser Green Leafbirds were also present at the fruiting tree. It is not common to see both these species feeding on the same tree and I felt truly privileged. Even the absence of the splendid adult males or my unsuccessful attempts at photographing the Greater Green Leafbird could not change that fact.

Bulbuls are expected patrons at any fruiting tree and the Grey-bellied Bulbuls led the way this time with their contrasting colours. It was the only colourful bulbul present and naturally had our attention whenever it appeared on the tree.

The distribution of the Finsch’s Bulbul throughout Peninsular Malaysia is somewhat erratic but in the forests of the north western region like Sungai Sedim, it is regularly encountered.

If not for the thin yellow eye ring, the Spectacled Bulbul would be a truly nondescript species. But a confiding forest bird, no matter how plainly coloured, deserves some attention. Forest birds can exceptionally difficult to photograph at times and I for one certainly do not take them for granted.

Apart from the fruiting tree, Sungai Sedim was surprisingly quiet. My usual Gunung Bintang trail provided very little opportunity to stop and utilize our birding gear. Not wanting to fight a losing battle, we decided it was time for a change of scenery. As we were making our way out of the Kulim district, a little detour to check on the roosting Barred Eagle-owls proved to be a most rewarding decision. I may be slightly used to the confiding nature of this incredible nocturnal hunter but for a first timer, difficulties in breathing and uncontrollable quivering are the usual reactions. Then only do awe and admiration kick in.

Since luck seemed to on our side, I decided to venture onto a nearby empty industrial plot to look for another creature of the night. A nightjar is not as impressive as an owl but it still has a lot of compelling qualities that make it simply quite amazing. Having said that, I was elated when we found a Savanna Nightjar roosting at one of its regular roosting spots.

Its cryptic plumage blends in perfectly to the concrete embankment and could have been easily overlooked if it was not known to roost there. It has eluded me during my past few visits and this surprisingly confiding individual certainly made up for all the misses. It seemed totally at ease in our presence and continued its afternoon siesta without a care in the world.

A visit to the paddy fields of mainland Penang yielded nothing much except for a huge flock of roosting Asian Openbills at the same spot where I last saw them. Instead of resting at the flooded patch, the storks perched on a nearby tree. With no way of reducing the distance, we left the flock after obtaining some environment shots.

In order to end my trips on a high note, a visit to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam is usually what it takes. However, the Mangrove Blue Flycatchers that usually welcome my arrival were no where to be seen. In fact, I did not manage to even see one throughout the visit. Life, as I know it, almost came to a halt. My ‘guaranteed ’showstoppers have left me high and dry this time and I was utterly devastated. In fact my guest said I appeared to be more disappointed than him. It was relatively quiet at Air Hitam Dalam and the only photo I took was of an Indian Cuckoo lurking around the edge of the access road as we were making our way out of the locality.

An attempt to seek out some kingfishers eventually led us to the mangroves of Juru. However, things did not pick up at all and it was another disappointing visit. We did stop to observe a troop of Silver Leaf Monkeys and judging from their confiding nature, are quite accustomed to human presence.

A mother and her adorable baby was quite a delightful sight. Unlike the other members of her troop, she was a little reserved towards our presence and the reason was very obvious. And we did not push any further to obtain better images. The trip started extremely well but last bit was a little disappointing. But this is birding. You can never be sure of what you are going to encounter or miss. 


John Holmes said...

Feel free to post a shot of the Barred Eagle Owl every time you see it - I'll never tire of it either..

Great bunch of bulbuls and flowerpeckers in the fruiting tree, too. I imagine lower light is the challenge there when the birds are bouncing in the branches.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, John. Yes, this owl is one of my favourites too.

David Gascoigne said...

Wow, I would have loved to have been with for the day's birding! You are absolutely correct when you indicate how key it is to identify suitable habitat and intermittent feeding opportunities. A fruiting tree is a magnet to be sure.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thanks, David. Fruiting trees are heaven-sent...

Russell Jenkins said...

Some stunning pictures, Choy. That fruiting tree is just magnificent and shows how important a single tree can be. I am still quivering at the intensity of that impressive owl too. I'm sure your visitors are still thinking about it all.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Russell!