When I first found out about the Hooded Pitta that was performing well at the Shah Alam Agricultural Park in Selangor a few years back, I had to give it a pass. Reasons being it was not a lifer to me, it would be a long drive and most of all, it would be crowded. I mean it is a pitta after all. One of the most sought after bird species in the world. The same applies to when they found the confiding Mountain Peacock-Pheasants at Bukit Tinggi in Pahang. I always stress on the fact that we should never take things for granted and now, after a few years, I finally decided to have a go at both these birds before it is too late. Immediately after work on Friday, I braved the horrendous rush hour traffic along the Penang Bridge to get to the mainland. Four hours later I left my fate at the hands of modern technology to help me maneuver through the residential areas of Petaling Jaya in Selangor to the house of my good friend and ardent reader of the Penang Birder’s blog, SL Foo. He and his wife certainly made me feel right at home and their gracious hospitality is one of the reasons that made this trip so memorable. It was an early night for me because it has been a long drive and at first light tomorrow we will be going after the famous Hooded Pitta of Shah Alam.
During my early birding years, I imagined that pittas are only found in remote natural habitats. That was until I had my very first pitta, a Blue-winged Pitta, at a modest rubber plantation in Perlis. It changed my perspective of these fascinating and spectacular terrestrial birds. We have migratory Blue-winged and Hooded Pittas to Peninsular Malaysia and they sometimes occur in unlikely places. I have had numerous memorable encounters with the Blue-winged Pitta since that eye-opening encounter in Perlis but the Hooded Pitta never quite provided any memorable ones. That explains why I drove 400 kilometres to visit a crowded tourist and recreational locality just beyond the borders of our capital city of Kuala Lumpur on a weekend. After all pittas are one of my favourite birds and for them, I am willing to travel to the ends of the world.
There is a particular spot next to a small stream with isolated clumps of bamboo where the Hooded Pitta has been wintering for the past few seasons. We did not have to wait long for the star bird to appear. Amidst morning walkers, cyclists and some Aerosmith-wannabes screaming their heads off at a nearby event; I finally connected well with this alluring species. The Hooded Pitta may not be a lifer but it certainly had me fooled with all the feelings it managed to conjure up inside of me.
The pitta came back to the spot throughout the morning and was as confiding as any wild bird could ever be. In fact, it was so well behaved, it made me feel overdressed for the occasion. I might as well don Bermuda shorts and shirt because I do not think it will affect the pitta whatsoever. Anyway, we made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed this memorable encounter.
To top it all up, there could be at least three birds present judging from the slight differences of their blue wing patches. All my life I have struggled to obtain good views of single birds. Now, here I am having a few Hooded Pittas take turns to entertain and thrill me. There are very few things in birding that can better that. Come to think of it, there are very few things in life too.
In between the pittas’ performances, two renowned songsters made brief appearances. The Oriental Magpie Robin is still doing well despite all the Illegal trapping and nest raiding.
The White-rumped Shama is not so fortunate. There is now a distinct reduction in its population throughout the country. The male bird was shy this time and I could only obtain images of the duller female.
As we were about to pack up and leave, the Hooded Pitta made a final appearance for us. Perhaps it was its farewell gift to us as it performed for the longest time today. Pittas are such amazing creatures. It does not matter if you encounter them deep in the forest or just next to an open-air concert. Every single encounter is magical.
Here is Foo trying to get me better acquainted with the other feathered residents of this agricultural park...
With my main target for the day in the bag, Foo took me to one of his usual birding haunts in the Klang Valley – the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in Kepong. There is a fruiting tree here that is a centre of bird activity and one of the patrons is the adorable Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot. Nothing beats having a local birder showing you around his local patches and I have Foo this time. You save time and effort trying to locate birdy spots within a locality and most of all, you are up to date with the latest happenings.
On the way to the fruiting tree, we made a short stop to look for a female Green-backed Flycatcher. Although not that rare, she is still uncommon enough to ignite some excitement. We found her foraging at the very spot Foo said we would. Now, that’s local knowledge for you.
The Stripe-throated Bulbul can be found in suitable habitats throughout the country. Unfortunately, I do not have many good encounters with it back in my home state of Penang. There is no denying the attractiveness of this species. The streaks engulfing the face region give you the impression that this bird is adorned with a golden mask. I was a little surprised when this individual alighted below eye level on a fallen tree in front of me and tolerated my efforts to slowly stalk closer for a better a shot. I started to see why this is one of Foo’s regular birding sites.
We settled down in front of the fruiting tree and the first thing that struck me was the size of the tree. It was a small tree as far as forest trees go and the birds will certainly be close when they feast on the fruits. The Lesser Green Leafbirds were the first birds to get my attention and they were certainly close. In fact, they did not show much fear of our presence. The male, as usual, is more colourful and charming.
The female Lesser Green Leafbird may lack of the colours of the male but her green plumage is just as vibrant as any male...
According to Foo, the fruits brought out the worse from the Greater Green Leafbirds. And couldn’t agree with him more. They were noisy, possessive and aggressive. All smaller birds including the Lesser Green Leafbirds were driven away by any means necessary. It is no wonder there were no signs of the parrots. I have never witness such tenacity from this leafbird at fruiting trees in my regular sites. I guess life near the capital city tend to change who you are and it is a true dog-eat-dog world. There were no female Greater Green Leafbird present and the males that were present were not too courteous to each other either.
You could basically walk below them and they will not even flinch. But shooting from directly below your subject will not get you anywhere. The foliage was quite dense and the leaves got in the way of most of my attempts. Luckily the bold nature of the birds provided ample opportunities and I did manage some unobstructed images in the end.
Sneaking in when the leafbirds are distracted was a family of Plain Sunbirds. This species spends most of its time along the canopy level and good views are not that easily obtained. Today, not only did I manage to obtain great views, the sunbirds were also very confiding as well. The male with his signature head patch came really close to my position but the foliage prevented me from obtaining better images than this.
The female, living up to her namesake, is certainly a plain looking bird. I caught her as she was devouring a fruit on an exposed perch. That certainly made my day.
There was some ground activity nearby the fruiting as well. You will not see any Selangor birders paying much attention to the Javan Myna. This myna is an adaptable and highly invasive species. It does not have a very big fan club but until it finally colonizes my home state of Penang, I will still be a fan.
We were about to get into the car and call it a day when the bleating call of the Black-and-red Broadbill seeped through the vegetation. With some effort and a little luck, we managed to locate the bird perched in the crown of a roadside tree. The lighting was terrible and a record shot can never do justice to the real beauty of this forest jewel.
Back at the Foo Residence, I was offered the perfect beverage to cool down and it was also my victory drink to celebrate one heck of a day. The Hooded Pittas certainly made the journey worth the while by performing so admirably for a visiting Penang Birder. And a supporting cast of colours and personalities completed this truly memorable excursion.
Socks, the cat of the house, probably could not comprehend why this day is any different from yesterday. To her, life is a bliss and every day is a great day. It was another early night for me as we prepare for an even earlier day tomorrow. The montane forest of Bukit Tinggi beckons and that birding adventure will be covered in my next post.