Taman Negara is an odd name for a national park because it basically means national park in Malay and there are a few national parks throughout Peninsular Malaysia. But none even comes close to Taman Negara. Initial I thought someone did not have his thinking cap on when naming the place. But I see the logic now. Years in a creative agency has taught me to pick up stuff like this. Apparently, Taman Negara is the one and only national park in the country to the person who named it and I could not agree more. It is a true natural paradise and worthy of a name of such arrogance. Before this post sounds too much like an ad to promote the place (which is entirely unnecessary as it is awesome and needs no promotion), I better get ask the ad copywriter in me to take a breather. During a two and a half day tour here with Ben, my Singaporean guest, we spent a substantial amount of time in hides. But Ben’s maiden to visit to the Sungai Relau side of Taman Negara would not have been complete if we did not explore the iconic access road that cuts through the forest. And that is what will be covered in this third and final post of the tour.
Along this access road, one species was heard and seen more often than the rest during our visit – the Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Surprisingly, based on calls it numbered even the commoner Dark-necked Tailorbird. It may sound contradicting but I only managed one shot of this adorable little guy. It is because I simply do not have time for it and it is certainly not the easiest of subjects to photograph. This is, after all, Taman Negara and I had bigger fish to fry - so to speak.
I encounter the Finsch’s Bulbul quite often because it is not uncommon in the forests of Kedah where I usually bird. But to Ben, this was his best photographic opportunity thus far. We came across parent birds attending to a juvenile. Maternal instinct set in and the parents tolerated our presence as they frantically search for more food to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the youngster.
The month of July is within the breeding season for most of our forest birds and that made it a good time to be birding in Peninsular Malaysia’s premier forest site. The Maroon-breasted Philentoma is certainly not a common bird – not to me anyway. So when we came across a female bird foraging along the middle level of the forest, I was just as excited as Ben. Unfortunately, she was not much in the mood to be photographed and I only managed to take one reasonably good shot. The images we took were good enough for a positive identification. And I was actually happy with this image and thought that was the end of it.
The next day, unbelievably, we saw a male bird at almost the spot. And he was a stunner! Unlike the female, he was confiding and tame. The blue upperparts is satin-like which only enhances the appeal of the bird. The maroon on the breast comes alive only in good light and since the encounter took place just next to the access road, we had plenty of opportunity to admire the bird’s namesake. For the life of me, I could not recall this species ever being so well behaved in the past and I guessed it was either the magic of Taman Negara or something else at work.
We found out later that afternoon that my gut feeling about the philentoma was right. He turned out to be a daddy and was attending to a newly-fledged chick. From a safe distance, we observed the chick being fed by the male bird. Unlike most ravenous fledglings, this one appeared very well-mannered and waited patiently for his dad to ‘prepare’ the meal at hand.
After the feeding, Ben lamented that he forgot to capture it on video. I, on the other, could not even remember I can actually shoot video with my current setup. Some birding moments are just more mesmerizing than others. This episode with the Maroon-breasted Philentomas was certainly one of them.
The male provided good photographic opportunities while performing his maternal duties and I felt bad taking advantage of the situation. Who am I kidding? This is the closest and longest encounter I have ever enjoyed with this sultry species and I relished every second of it. This is why Taman Negara is my favourite forest birding site. I first stepped into Taman Negara about 3 decades ago and it was love at first sight. The birding was remarkable then and it is still remarkable now.
If not for the presence of the adult male, I would have had my work cut out for me trying to identify the fledgling. Like most fledglings, it was constantly hungry and the parent birds had their work cut out for them too. Gradually, the youngster move deeper into the forest until the only indication of its presence was the constant chirping.
During one of our walks along the access road, we chance upon a female Trogon that was surprisingly confiding. Upon further scrutiny, she turned out to be a Red-naped Trogon. The presence of a male bird nearby further strengthened my hunch that they were another pair of breeding birds. I could be not be certain at what stage of breeding they were in but it is good to see forest denizens like this trogon continue to thrive under the protection of this national park.
The Rufous Woodpecker may lack the bright colours of some of the other species but there is beauty in simplicity. Uniform rufous brown combined with black barring throughout, will certainly help to blend the bird into its surroundings. And also its somewhat shy nature has prevented me from obtaining reasonably good images although it occurs in my home state of Penang. This male felt it was high time to rectify all my previous frustrations with his fellow kind and gave me one minute of my best photographic opportunity with the species. I could not have asked for more...
Another conservatively coloured woodpecker that I managed to photograph on this trip was the Buff-necked Woodpecker. Although it forages along the middle and lower storey of the forest, its preferences for dimly lighted areas has always being a stumbling block when it comes to photography. My modest gear does not perform well in low light and the fact that I usually shoot handheld only compounds the difficulty. I expected a better image this time due to the close proximity of the bird but yet again, the elements of forest photography got the better of me.
At times, you do not even have to walk far to enjoy the birding here at Taman Negara Sungai Relau. Since the day we arrived, I could not help but noticed a Spectacled Spiderhunter that hangs around the park headquarters. However due to time constraints (you will never have enough time here as there is so much to see), I was able to photograph it on only one occasion. It alighted on a tree in front of me and I do not need any invites to start shooting. It was just after dawn and the lighting condition was a disappointment. But it was way better than my past attempts of shooting at it at the top most part of the forest canopy.
During my last visit here years ago, I had a lifer in the form of a Jerdon’s Baza. This small raptor is reasonably scarce in Peninsular Malaysia and I was overjoyed to be able to add it into my life list. Since then I have encountered this species a couple of times in the forests of Kedah state. When a lone bird was seen soaring high above the forest next to the headquarters, I was slightly overwhelmed by the feeling of nostalgia. All the great memories of my past visits started running through my mind and there were certainly loads of them. The Jerdon’s Baza is a fitting end to another wonderful excursion to good old Taman Negara – the one and only true national park of Peninsula Malaysia.