Tuesday 28 June 2016

Best in Penang...(25/06/2016)

After weeks of weekend work, I finally found myself some free time for my usual Saturday birding. Although it was only a half-day affair, the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam once again live up to its reputation as one of the best, if not the best, forest birding site in Penang State currently. The majestic form of the White-bellied Sea-eagle greeted me as soon as I trekked onto the access road after first light. My intention to obtain better images of this raptor was dashed when a couple of morning walkers marched past. I do not have anything against morning walkers and I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation as to why some of them have to clap hands as they walk (apparently there is and Google states the Chinese believe it helps to improve blood circulation). The eagle, as big as it may be, found the hand clapping unbearable and took flight. Google was right. The hand clapping got my blood moving alright and I did not even have to do the clapping myself...

I found a Yellow-bellied Prinia out of its comfort zone as it was belting out its territorial call. I guess the breeding season is the cause of this behaviour. This prinia is common throughout the land but it has a tendency to hide among tall grass and good views do not come along often. It is the call that usually gives away its presence. The call can be easily learned as you will certainly have plenty of opportunities to hear it in the field.

Air Hitam Dalam provides refuge for only one species of Malkoha and the silhouette of one flying overhead could only be that of a Green-billed Malkoha. Many years back, it shares this domain with the Raffles’s Malkoha. Unfortunately, I cannot even remember the last time I heard the latter’s mewing call here.  

This species tends to move for cover as soon it alights but not today. A second Green-billed Malkoha took the same flight path and I can only assume they are a pair. However, instead of hopping into the vegetation, it took a minute to soak in the soothing rays of the morning sun on an exposed perch. And that was all I needed to obtain a shot of this alluring bird in the open. The effects of the golden lighting completed the encounter. This image alone was worth the trip. Any others after this would be added bonuses.

The Crested Serpent-Eagles of Air Hitam Dalam are usually very tolerant to human presence. Unlike the Sea-Eagle, it will take a whole lot more than clapping of hands to get on its nerves. It was taking a breather in a shady part of the canopy when it caught my attention and there it remained for the rest of morning.

Along the river bank, the raucous laughter of the Collared Kingfisher can be heard on almost every visit. The bird itself can be easily seen as well. Being the commonest coastal kingfisher in Malaysia, I often do not give it as much attention as I should.

As the mid-morning temperature started to soar, I retreated to the boardwalks where the canopy of the forest provides much welcome shade. The melodious song of the Mangrove Blue Flycatchers can be heard throughout the forest. The dominant pair that resides near the rear car park will usually provide good photographic opportunities. Here, the male is vocally proclaiming his territory on a broken Nipah frond.

The boardwalk provided another highlight before I called it a day. The trilling call of the Ruddy Kingfisher will evoke excitement even in the most seasoned birder. As for me this time, I hastily abandoned my photo session with the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and cautiously stalked my way towards the direction of the call. With every step I took, my heart beat a little faster. And then I caught sight of my quarry and I have no recollection about the rate of my heartbeat anymore. It was on an exposed perch just next to the boardwalk and the Ruddy Kingfisher once again allowed me to enter its secret little realm and for that I am truly grateful.

The Red King was humble enough to permit my efforts to capture his image from different angles. The encounter lasted about a few minutes but it seemed much longer to me at that time. And just like that, it called one last time before flying deeper into the forest. The silver lining on its back glowed with a torch allowing me to follow its movement. Where it alighted next was partially blocked by the vegetation. But it not matter. The earlier perch was perfect to me and the experience, priceless.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Babbling over babblers (28/05/2016)

Birding in the tropical rain forest can never be short of surprises. You can walk the same forest trail for years and yet, it still has something interesting for you to enjoy. The forest of Sungai Sedim in Kedah is undoubtedly the best forest birding site that is easily accessible from Penang. It is still a healthy ecosystem and the presence of hornbills is proof of that. Although Hor Kee and I did not encounter any of these majestic birds on this trip, some of the smaller residents did keep us entertained for the entire morning. Babblers are well represented in the forest here. Most will have quite distinctive calls and songs which can be heard throughout the vicinity. Locating these active and skulking birds is another matter altogether. Chestnut-winged Babblers are one of the commoner babblers found here. Despite bumping into them a few times during our visit, the sneaky babblers only gave us this brief moment to photograph them.

A small birdwave brought in Brown Fulvettas. There is not much I can elaborate about the Brown Fulvetta apart that it is brown and it is a Fulvetta. But it does have a beautiful song that pierces through the dense vegetation of the forest like the rays of the morning sun.

The forest is not only a kaleidoscope of sounds but colours as well. The Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher is an attractive bird and as the name implies, is an accomplished songster of both lowland and montane forests of Malaysia. We came across an individual that was hawking from a low perch but the lighting condition was a killjoy. My gear struggled in the dim lower storey of the forest and this is one of those rare moments that I question my preference to shoot without a tripod.

The Black-and-Yellow Broadbill is about as colourful as it gets for birds. But the call, although unique, is far from beautiful. It sounds more like an insect than a bird and delivered in a magnitude that almost rivals the deafening call of the cicada. Although it does forage closer to the ground level occasionally, the forest canopy is where it finds refuge and that is where you are most likely to see them. Perched 50 feet above the ground is not what one would consider to be a good photographic opportunity but a record shot is better than none when it comes to broadbills.

As far as peculiar calls go, the Sooty Barbet is one bird that will certainly come to mind. If one is not familiar with this species, you would not imagine a bulky bird like this will have a call that is not unlike the squeaking a tiny shrew. The call once learned will give away the presence of this barbet as it forages along the canopy level. It was the call that diverted my attention to a dead tree stump where 3 birds were exhibiting a very keen interest on a tree hole. Nothing much came out from the encounter except for a photo that managed to have all the birds in a single frame.

On the way back, we took a little detour to check on the resident Barred Eagle-Owl of Kulim Hi-Tech Park. During my last few encounters, the owl was resting on a low perch and that provided some very exciting moments and great images. This time, however, it was resting at the top most branches and even almost gave us the slip. I am happy to see that it is still around and the distance, although disappointing, could not deny me of a good ending to this birding excursion.