I was up well before dawn despite it being a long day of birding yesterday. Sleep did not come easy. The glowing plumage of the Ferruginous Partridge filled my night with lucid dreams. There is no doubt I have caught the ‘Ferruginous Fever’ and the cure, is to get the birds in the flesh. I know that I will not be alone in this quest. It is a Sunday morning after all and the pandemic has swept through the entire length of the country all way to neighbouring Singapore. A crowd is inevitable. But I have traveled too far for this partridge to develop a sudden case of agoraphobia. Like a man on a mission, I was determined to get my main target of the trip. A hide is a requirement and together with a dozen other birders and photographers, we prepped our gear and ourselves for the morning to come and God willing, Ferruginous Partridges in all their glory.
The first couple of hours was quite uneventful with only the commoner species to keep us company. A sense of worry started to take a hold of me. To miss out on the partridges two mornings in a row would certainly have dire consequences on my state of mind and overall wellbeing. My uncomfortable seating position in the hide was taking its toll on me also. But persistency as well as patience is a virtue in the world of birding. Time passed a little easier whenever the Ochraceous Bulbul decides to show itself. Just like yesterday, it can be confiding at times.
The family of Oriental Magpie-robins are regulars to this locality and the chick was still banking on its parents’ maternal instincts for a quick meal.
Whenever I see a Treeshrew now, I am instantly reminded of Scrat (the character from the Ice Age movie franchise). I guess I have Scrat to thank for keeping me occupied with its antics as I waited for the Ferruginous Partridges.
Another hour has passed and still no partridge. I was about to lose it when two male Mountain Peacock-pheasants decided to inject some life into this slow but beautiful morning. And I do not need any invites to start capturing this handsome endemic. It was probably the same two males from yesterday morning but I am not complaining. They still do it for me.
Not long after the males retreated back into the forest, a female pheasant show herself. For me, this is the first time I have seen a female here. And she was even more confiding than the males. That’s a good girl...
Right about then something orange moving about the undergrowth caught my eye. I held my breath. I knew what it was. And it was slowly edging closer. For the first in my life, I have a Ferruginous Partridge in full view and it was unimaginably striking. I will not attempt to describe the partridge. Just like illustrations and photos, it will not do the partridge any justice. Nothing beats seeing a species in the wild. The long drive, unsuccessful first attempt, crowded birding spaces, cramped sitting positions – all those do not matter anymore. All that mattered was here I am, enjoying one of the best looking partridges in Malaysia and loving every second it.
A second partridge revealed itself soon after. And then a third. Now, I was faced with a dilemma – which one to shoot first? The partridges were mostly on the move and that certainly did not help the situation. On this rare occasion, less could very well be more as I do not have to frantically capture as many shots as possible of all three birds.
At one time, I just put my camera down and soak in the view. Three beautiful Ferruginous Partridges were foraging in front of me and as far as I can tell, all of them were young adults. Naturally, I would have preferred adult birds with complete plumage but in life, we cannot always get what we want. I could have just as easily missed them like I did the day before. Nothing is a sure thing when it comes to observing and shooting wildlife. Come to think of it, nothing is a sure thing in life as well. So, be grateful what you have been given and cherish what you have.
And just like that, they vanished into the forest again. I thought the performance was over and so did everyone else. I could not have been more wrong. The partridges came back again and they appeared to be more confiding during the second session and came even closer to our hides. I guess my images also improved as I have gained back most of my composure and breath. My back and legs still ache but that is of no significant importance.
If a year ago someone would have told me that I will be able to capture these two remarkable birds in one frame and I would have asked that someone to have his head checked. Unbelievable as it may seem, it is happening now and many have been given the privilege to experience it.
This photo brought back memories of my one and only sighting this partridge prior to this encounter. I had to struggle and wait for years to be able to finally have a glimpse of the bird. I could not even muster a single shot then. I was elated just the same to be able see it and include it into my life list despite having to trek uphill for a few kilometers followed by strenuous stalking of my quarry along a forest trail.
Now, it is parading right out in the open and in good light. Life does not get any better than this. My birding adventure to central Peninsular Malaysia definitely ended on a high note. Pahang, with its vast expense of forest, still provides sanctuary to some truly fascinating birds. I still have dreams of the Ferruginous Partridge after the incredible encounter at Bukit Tinggi. Then I realized this fever is not something I recently contracted nor is it caused by the partridges. It is something that I have with me for the past two decades or so and it is the ‘birding bug’ for which there is, hopefully no cure.