Thursday, 16 February 2017

A feast for the eyes

Most babblers are notoriously difficult to observe let alone photograph. The forest of Sungai Sedim in Kedah state is home to at least a dozen species of them. They will let you hear them from time to time just to let you know that they are doing fine. On this beautiful Saturday morning, a Grey-headed Babbler unexpectedly perched right out in the open long enough for me to point it out to my American guest, Bob, and to even take a few shots. This species is not common anywhere but in this locality, it has been recorded frequently. Grey-headed Babblers usually do not provide good views and this encounter was exceptional – to me anyway. And I could not have asked for a better way to start off our 2-day excursion.

During my last visit here a few weeks back, a fruiting tree along the Gunung Bintang access trail was coming into season. Upon our arrival today, some of my fellow birders were enjoying the spectacle of nature that had unfolded at the fruiting tree. The fruits are now ready to be consumed and the birds do not need an invitation to join in the feast. The first patron to catch our attention was a male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker. In terms of aesthetic appeal, he is right up there among the best. Naturally, my guest was mesmerized by his beauty. And so was I...

The Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker is the commonest of all the flowerpeckers here. But it is only at fruiting trees like this, one can truly appreciate this little forest denizen.

For a brief moment, a Yellow-vented Flowerpecker discarded its sanctuary among the dense canopy of the forest and descended on the fruiting tree to fill its appetite. Gluttony is a deadly sin that few can resist and that includes captivating birds like the Yellow-vented Flowerpecker.

Apart from the Lesser Green Leafbird and Brown Fulvetta, the other patrons consisted of bulbuls. No less than 8 species were recorded and that is courtesy of one fruiting tree. Bulbuls are able to coexist because of the slightly different niche each species occupies. However, they will all come together at this natural phenomenon and provide a breath-taking sight. The most conspicuous and numerous species today was the Buff-vented Bulbul.

Some bulbul species can be an identification nightmare especially for a foreign birder. The white iris of the Cream-vented Bulbul best distinguishes it from all the other plain bulbuls found here. That is why I dubbed it the “White-eyed Bulbul” to all my foreign guests.

On the other of the scale is the Grey-bellied Bulbul. With such striking and contrasting colour, a glimpse is all it takes to nail its identity. A few were gorging on the fruits quite low down and indirectly provided stunning views to all that were present. It was an amazing experience even for a local like me.

We left the forest for the paddy fields in mainland Penang and along the way, we made a detour to the lair of the Barred Eagle-owls just outside the boundaries of Kulim Hi-Tech Park. Although the owl was roosting on a slightly lower perch, there was no way to obtain an unobstructed image. But an owl is an owl and every daytime encounter with these nocturnal predators tends to leave one absolutely enchanted.

Grey-headed Lapwings are one of the many attractions found along the paddy planting district of Permatang Pauh. Most parts of the fields are almost ready to be harvested and that makes any body of water within the area a prized commodity. One particular patch had a good concentration of waterbirds including the Grey-headed Lapwings and these lanky waders provided a good ending to a productive and memorable first day of birding around Penang.

The grasslands of Chuping in Perlis was the destination for the second day. Normally, it would be the picturesque sunrise over these lands that grab my attention but not this time. It was a “morning full moon”...

This birding site is the best place to observe and enjoy a number of northern specialities like the Plain-backed Sparrow. Much of its range has been reduced through the years and that is most unfortunate for the males are just exquisite. This confiding male was foraging on the tarmac next to our stationery vehicle and I bet my guest could easily detected the excitement in the tone of my voice.

Chuping is also famed for raptors and we did manage to record a fair number of them. However, good photographic opportunities were few. This Oriental Honey-buzzard was one of the few that did not slip past my camera.

When it comes to grace and beauty, very few raptors can surpass the male Pied Harrier. It is not a rare species but undoubtedly, one of the star birds of this birding haven. A male quartering the grasslands in search of prey has a hypnotic effect on you and you just cannot pry your eyes off him. We came across a hunting male twice on this trip and that alone made this trip worth the while for my guest.

The presence of a high number of Eastern Yellow Wagtails at a recently ploughed patch certainly got my attention as there is always a chance for the rare Citrine Wagtail. But I cannot be scrutinizing each and every single of the former just so I could increase my life list. Certainly not when I have a guest with me.

On the way back from Chuping, we made a detour to the virgin jungle of Bukit Wang in Kedah. Unfortunately, not much was about but a female Wreathed Hornbill did taunt us from among the foliage of the forest canopy. Each time she briefly revealed herself, my heart skipped a beat. I cannot help myself as hornbills are such fascinating birds. Bob, my guest from USA, has seen most of the hornbills species here in Malaysia but like me, this teasing female of a common hornbill species still got us all excited. Bob is an old-school birder and birds have been a lifelong passion for him. Although the number of photos obtained during the two days was nothing exceptional, the experiences provided by some of the encounters were. 


Andrew Bailey said...

Fantastic stuff!

kezonline said...

Another brilliant birding trip and variety if birds seen and photographed. All those miles from Perlis to Penang state sure was worth it!! Looking forward to the next episode already!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Andrew and Keiron.