I took Tom out on two birding excursions last year and the birds must have made quite an impression on him because I receive an email from this American birder again enquiring about a third trip. There is only one problem. He is a very experienced birder with several trips to this region including the ones to Penang. It will be quite a task to keep his third visit interesting and the torrential rain forecasted for that day did not help lessen my burden one bit. He has a preference for forest birds and naturally, we found ourselves at the best forest site you can find around Penang at the break of dawn – the Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest in Kedah. The first bird to greet us was a male Grey-rumped Treeswift getting ready for the day ahead together with dozens of his compatriots at the ‘Treeswift Tree’.
As we were making our way up the Gunung Bintang access trail, the warm rays of the sun slipped through the rain-drenched foliage of the forest. A sunny morning is a rare sight this week and it was a much welcomed change. The cheerful call of the Grey-headed Babblers echoed through the forest undergrowth followed by a brief appearance. And my guest celebrated his first lifer of the trip.
Despite the good weather, things were rather slow at Sungai Sedim. The overnight downpour could be the reason behind this. However, a second lifer for my guest flew into view and it was a juvenile Red-naped Trogon. There was not much opportunities for photography during the encounter but at least we managed to obtain a record shot. It was more than I can say about a handsome adult male that decided to show himself later. Looks like Murphy is back in town again…
A change of location might change our fortune just like what it did for my last excursion. It was certainly worth a try. At the car park just before we reach our vehicle, a Malayan Birdwing floating about a flowering plant prolonged our stay at this recreational forest. It was an impressive male, told by the yellow marking on his upperparts, and he did not take much notice of our presence. Just in case you are wondering, you can find out just about everything nowadays as long as you ask Goggle nicely and I still know squat about moths and butterflies. I guess the absence of feathers makes a whole lot of difference for me. But species like the Malayan Birdwing when seen up close, the intensity of the colours and intricacy of the patterns can be mesmerizing.
We made our way to the paddy planting district of mainland Penang as open country birds and waterfowls do not shun away during the hottest time of the day and that made it the best location to visit. There were quite a number of recently ploughed areas. The combination of shallow water and mud is like a magnet for water birds and birders alike. The Grey-headed Lapwing is new to neither of us but this attractive wader still received its due admiration. About 50 birds were present throughout the vicinity but are difficult to approach as always - even by car.
Apparently, the Wood Sandpiper is a rarity in America which is definitely not the case here in Malaysia. It is probably the commonest wader in freshwater habitats and paddy fields like these are its preferred wintering ground. I guess it was a little puzzled as to why these birders are showing it so much love...
This young female Brown Shrike was exceptionally confiding and could well be a recent arrival. The steel post that she chose to be her vantage point may not compliment the photo much but that is how it is sometimes. Anyway, she was too busy hunting for food to be bothered by our presence and we decided to spend a little more time with this common migrant.
Eventually, something on the ground caught her eye and it was a grasshopper. The kill was quick and deadly. My gear could not keep up with the action. By the time I finally muster a shot, the prey was well within her digestive system.
From the paddy fields, we headed towards Air Hitam Dalam which was to be the final destination of the day. The ambassadors of the site, the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, gave a warm welcome to my American guest. He remembered this species well from his previous trip with me. The flycatchers here have a tendency for that.
Mother Nature’s version of the Thinker. A Long-tailed Macaque in deep thought...
Call me paranoid but there is always a cause of concern when I see something like this spring at one of my favourite birding haunts. If it is one of those build and then left to rot facilities, so be it. But if they are planning to upgrade the place or something else, then I will be very concern. But I do sincerely hope that for once, they do not fuck things up and kill off another great birding location.
A big flock of 30 Black Kites circling the sky above the swamp forest was quite a sight and naturally caught our attention. These migratory raptors are just back from their wintering grounds up north and are enjoying the commencement of their annual tropical holiday. Little did they know that their fun in the sun was about to come to an abrupt stop and the threat came from an unlikely source – a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle. You can see the eagle at the bottom left of the photo, stalking the flock. I was not expecting anything from it initially and from the looks of it, neither did the kites.
I have always considered the majestic White-bellied Sea-eagle to be a gentle giant that is often harrassed by smaller birds. Well, there is nothing gentle about the intentions of this juvenile. It was almost sinister. The black and white colouration and predatory movements somehow reminded me of the deadly Orca closing in on a school of dolphins. I was transfixed on the big raptor and eagerly waited for the spectacle to unfold. One thing is for sure, I will never see the White-bellied Sea-eagle in the same light again.
It was bright and sunny and that was good thing. In this condition, I managed to capture some of the action shots reasonably well. The kites were too agile for the eagle to do any real harm to them. It appeared like the presence of this big flock of kites did not go down well with the eagle and the latter was just venting out its anger. The eagle chased after several individual. It would twist and turn after the kites but was unable to make any physical contact throughout the entire episode. The Black Kites winter here annually in big numbers and the White-bellied Sea-eagle, a permanent resident. These two species have crossed paths many times before. I just cannot figure out what triggered this violent behaviour from the eagle. Well whatever the reason may be, it was a memorable experience.
When the eagle has had enough, it flew off to a nearby tree to rest. Feathers were ruffled but peace was finally restored. And the graceful kites flew about in leisure once again but in smaller numbers. I guess the eagle somewhat got its way in the end.
Being the smallest raptor in the world does not come without its bad points and frame filling shots of the Black-thighed Falconet remains a privilege most bird photographers have yet to enjoy.
On the way out of Air Hitam Dalam, we came across a flock of resting Asian Openbills on some isolated trees in the middle of the paddy fields. Although I have seen them in bigger flocks, the numbers here were sufficient to capture the interest of my guest. It was a relief to see these storks frequenting back at their usual spots and this encounter was a great way to end another rewarding birding excursion in this part of Peninsular Malaysia.