It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. My better half and I have embarked on a one day culinary expedition to the town of Ipoh in Perak. We were happily soaking in the sights and sounds and of course, experiencing the local cuisines when I received a message from Nelson. A pair of Comb Ducks were spotted by BK at the Pulau Burung marshlands back in Penang. Not only is it a first record for Malaysia but the male has a rather unique bill that reminisces some pterodactyls of ancient times. I had to dig really deep to try and enjoy the rest of our little expedition. Cutting short this trip, which we had plan weeks ago, and dragging her to a what is basically one giant rubbish dump just so I can see a pair of ducks will not end well. The ducks will just have to wait till tomorrow – no matter how rare they may be.
I woke up before my alarm had a chance to ring the next morning. The Comb Duck was the only thing on my mind now. As I walked to my vehicle, it started to rain hard. Against my better judgement, I decided to proceed with my quest to tick off Malaysia’s first Comb Duck. I arrived at the marshland earlier than expected. I parked my vehicle where the ducks were last seen and waited. The rain has started to ease and the soothing rhythm of falling raindrops on the roof of my SUV coupled with the surprisingly pleasant orchestra of frog calls would have been the perfect lullaby on any normal day. But today is no normal today. I looked east and counted the seconds to sunrise. As soon as it got bright enough, I scanned every inch of the marshlands but to no avail and the Comb Duck is not exactly something you can miss easily.
This is one of the most painful dip outs I have ever experience. More out of desperation than anything else, I searched the remaining ponds in the vicinity and all I found was more disappointment. As I gradually came to term that the Comb Ducks have moved on, I paid some attention to the flocks of Black-crowned Night-herons loitering about the vicinity. I have not seen this big numbers here before and their presence lifted my spirit slightly. I have never converted any of my bird images to black and white before but for this time, it reflects the moment (and the excursion) quite accurately – gloomy and cold.
Adult herons are beautiful creatures and it has been a long time since I last got this close to them. It brought back memories of the former heronry in the outskirts of Georgetown where you could almost pat the heron on the head if you try hard enough. That heronry was destroyed (as usual) to make way for a transportation hub that never materialized.
A majority of the herons present were subadults. It is a good indication that the population here is doing very well.
A subadult enjoying the good life next to a landfill...
A few juveniles were also present. Thus giving me an opportunity to capture all stages of this nocturnal waterbird’s plumage.
The only other bird that I took notice of was this male Common Kingfisher. Common by name but not distribution here in Malaysia, I usually give this species its due attention. However, my fixation with the pair of Comb Ducks did not allow it this time.
At the time of writing, another rarity popped up in Penang again. This time it was a Black-tailed Gull discovered by Hor Kee and it is a new record for Peninsular Malaysia. There must some big storm brewing up north and blowing all these rarities our way. It is an unbelievable phenomenon if I get to see the birds eventually that is. My attempt to locate the gull at the Bagan Belat coastline suffered the same fate as the Comb Duck. Lucky for me I did not put too much expectation on locating the gull with my current streak of bad luck. The only bird that I had the heart to shoot was this young White-bellied Sea-eagle that flew low overhead. It was probably the same individual that was seen (by Dave) giving the gull a hostile welcome yesterday. A double dip out within the space of a few days was a damn bitter pill to swallow. But if it was not meant to be, it was not meant to be. Life goes on…
I hate ending my posts on a solemn note and fortunately, I do not have to this time. The Big Guy upstairs finally cut me some slack and provided me with a consolation for my earlier disappointments. I received news from 3 birding buddies of a roosting rufous morph Oriental Scops-owl in the heart of Georgetown city later on the same day I missed out on the Black-tailed Gull. It pays to be nice and humble to fellow birders and bird photographers (thank you, guys). I have seen this scarce migrant only once before and it was a grey morph bird then. Coincidentally, it was also seen in a built-up area. However, this time one thing was different - I had my gear with me. The news came minutes before the end of my working day and I straddled my faithful iron steed and made my way to the locality soon after. It was roosting on, of all things, a narrow ledge above a glass panel. This owl is a migrant and this particular individual was most probably still on passage.
Dozens of normal folks walked past oblivious of the owl. Perhaps they were too distracted by this bald guy holding a telephoto lens in the middle of town. I could not be bothered. I was savouring the moment. The owl was exceptionally confiding and I finally had the opportunity to obtain its images. I stayed with the owl until dusk as I was in no particular hurry to go anywhere. It had also started to stir a little and this enabled me to capture the owl in slightly different poses.
I left the owl when nightfall was upon us. After all the dip outs, I am glad I have a birding excursion that ended on a happy note and it is courtesy of an adorable little migratory owl. Life is beautiful again..