The forests of Peninsula Malaysia house some of the most extraordinary bird species. The elusive and enigmatic Malaysian Rail-babbler is certainly one of them. In all my years of birding, I have only seen it twice and on both occasions, they were fleeting views. The chicken-like gait and the long, slim body shape make the Malaysian Rail-babbler rather unmistakeable. Recently, a Malaysian Rail-babbler has been performing well for birders and photographers near and far at a location in Pahang. It kind of contradicts my earlier statement of it being elusive. And some, God forbid, have almost forgotten how hard it used to be to obtain decent views of this particular bird.
A life well-lived is a life filled with moments. Moments that inspire. Moments that awe. And moments that change lives. A recent excursion into the forest of Kedah state with James Neoh certainly had such moments for me. The day started off quite well and later in the morning, some bird activities at a fruiting tree naturally gained our full attention. While scanning through the patrons of the fruiting tree, a prolonged whistle penetrated through the forest vegetation before reaching our ear drums. A second whistle proved that it was indeed a real bird and not my imagination at work. I am no stranger to this locality but this is the first time the Malaysian Rail-babbler has revealed itself to me. It is not totally unexpected but it is certainly exciting as hell. We cautiously inched closer to the source and that led us to the edge of the forest and beyond that, a ravine. The ravine was too deep and the vegetation too dense for any attempts to locate our quarry.
We followed the forest edge until we came to an opening and it appeared to be an abandoned trail. We set up our hides at a strategic location, got our gear ready and left our fate in the hands of Mother Nature. Suddenly, it started to drizzle and that was certainly not a good sign. But we held on. It will take a whole lot more to forgo an opportunity to capture a Malaysian Rail-babbler. I am not sure what my companion was doing but I was on knees in prayer. The 10-minute wait felt longer than it truly was. Anxiety had pretty much taken hold of me by then. In the faintest of whispers James uttered, it’s here. And there it was – strutting in front of our hides. I was utterly overwhelmed and I have not even squeeze my shutter yet. Just to be able to this amazing bird so clearly would have been enough for me. Anything else is a bonus.
The encounter lasted only minutes and for most of time, it was partly hidden by the vegetation. But this is the Malaysian Rail-babbler. I, a mere mortal, should count my blessings for whatever I have been given by this divine creature. The babbler was emitting its territorial call at one time and I could even make out the blue throat patch (invisible when the bird is silent) with my limited field of view. A life-changing moment? Absolutely...
Just before the babbler wandered deeper back into its domain among the undergrowth of the tropical rain forest, it provided a few seconds of unobstructed views and I made the best I could out of the situation. No doubt it was walking down a mound and the angle was less than desirable but it was in good lighting and I obtained my best image of this treasured encounter. We continued to wait for about 2 hours but to no avail. That was all that Mother Nature intended us to witness today. But it will certainly do.