After an incredible trip to Taman Negara, it will take something out of the ordinary to get my adrenalin pumping again. Together with Hor Kee, we set out to the forest that surrounds the mighty Sedim River in Kedah state. This recreational forest is probably the best forest birding site close to home and if there is anywhere that has what it takes to get me excited again, this would be it. Reason being this is one of the few places that I frequent which still has hornbills flying free in the skies above and broadbills deafening the forest with their persistent vocals.
Babblers are certainly well represented in this locality. This family of birds is the main reason why birders have such a colourful vocabulary of swears and curses. Babblers tend to frequent dense vegetation, strongly believe that death will bestow them if they stay still and get a kick out of frustrating their human observers. The one thing that betrays their presence is their call. Most birders have had plenty of practice at recognizing babbler calls because you hear them more often you see them. The Scaly-crowned Babbler is a tree babbler and that makes it a little easier to spot. A pair was rather confiding this time round but the dim lighting and constant movement (what did I just tell you?) proved to be too much for an ordinary mortal like me to obtain any better shots.
This species does have a pleasant whistle and it echoed through the vicinity during the encounter. The scaly crown is not a very prominent feature and caution has to be taken to distinguish it from the similar Rufous-crowned Babbler which we did hear calling later in the morning.
An inquisitive young male Green Broadbill swooped in to have a better look at a couple of birders that were combing through his territory looking for forest denizens like himself. A regularly encountered species here, the Green Broadbill is a mesmerizing bird that can get me all excited even when it is perched almost directly overhead and with the light coming from behind.
Having a good sense of hearing is very advantageous when birding in the forest. No doubt many forest species have amazing plumage colourations and yet they can still easily blend into the vegetation and shadows. Forest kingfishers possess a certain aura of mystery and intrigue that their open country relatives lack. The Dwarf Kingfishers may be adorable and all that but it is the bigger species that truly tickle my fancy. I have been encountering Rufous-collared Kingfishers here since my first visit more than a decade ago. Their mournful whistle is very much a part of the natural chorus that greets every visitor who enters this domain. However, I have come to a stage in my life that I have almost given all hope of photographing this kingfisher. I left Hor Kee to try and locate the kingfisher by himself while I scouted around for other species.
My companion apparently does not share my fate when it comes to this beautiful kingfisher and triumphantly signalled me over. It was a handsome bird and he was not too far from the forest edge either. I cautiously crept closer. When I was within shooting range, sweat started running down from my bare crown, stung my eyes and tried to cloud my vision. But I was a man on a mission. No amount of sweat and leeches will get in my way. I was in an awkward standing position thanks to dense undergrowth and my arms strained as I stabilized my camera for the moment of truth. Lighting was not on my side and a twig slightly blocked my subject but I took the shots. I had a gut feeling if I took one more to the right for an unobstructed view, my subject will inevitably fly and disappear from sight. At times I give in too easily to my desire for better shots. I am not proud of it but I took that step. From the single shot of the kingfisher posted, you can pretty much guess the outcome.
Trogons are another good reason to explore the forest here. A male Diard’s Trogon taunted us from the cover of the canopy level and despite all our efforts, managed to elude our cameras. Our persistent almost paid off when a trogon suddenly alighted on an exposed branch but much to our bewilderment, it was a male Orange-breasted Trogon. The male Diard’s Trogon went on with his vocal performance at the same and that answered a lot of questions regarding our sanity and birding abilities - much to my relief. Anyway, the male Orange-breasted Trogon may not be as visually stunning as the male Diard’s Trogon and the perch was not exactly within my photographic gear’s comfort zone but he provided a good ending to our excursion. Sungai Sedim may not be in the same league as Taman Negara but it is still a birding hotspot in its own right. And it is close to home.