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.