Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bulbul Central

As soon as my alarm woke me from my slumber well before the break of dawn, I was greeted by a male Asian Koel testing the limits of his vocal chords and the patience of all the light sleepers in the neighbourhood. Breeding season is in full swing for this parasitic cuckoo and male birds will make sure their persistent territorial calls can be heard throughout the season. For this time’s birding excursion, I headed to the forest of Sungai Sedim to pay homage to one particular fruiting tree. This is no ordinary fruiting tree. It is the very tree that lured the elusive Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker out of hiding for the only time ever so far 2 years ago. But like the previous season, there was no sign of the celebrity bird this time as well. Anyway, together with my godfather and Chng, we reached the spot just as it got light. Judging from the cloudless blue sky, it was going to be a beautiful but hot day.

Deep inside I was hoping for the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker to magically show up. Thus, every flowerpecker present was scrutinized. That itself was no easy task as 4 different species were patronizing this fruiting tree and at times, 10 birds can seen together. The Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker were in good numbers today. However, the male birds are quite aggressive and God have mercy on any other male flowerpecker regardless of species that forage too close to him. In the absence of the Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker is undoubtedly the best looking flowerpecker around. The attitude and looks of the latter naturally made him the centre of attention quite often.

The male Orange-bellied Flowerpecker added even more colours and beauty to the fruiting tree. It was sorely missed from the other active fruiting tree a few weeks back and I made sure I gave him the attention and admiration he surely deserves.

Most female flowerpeckers are duller than their male counterparts and the female Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is no exception. This female alighted on an exposed perch to gorge for a long period of time. Her contented look and ample appearance says it all. For the time being, the birds here are certainly enjoying the good life. And so are the birders who derived pleasure from the birds’ confiding behaviour.

The Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker was another species that took full advantage of this natural offering…

Bulbuls again proved to be the majority of the birds feeding on a fruiting here in Sungai Sedim. A total of 11 species were recorded. Some like the Scaly-breasted Bulbuls stopped by for such a brief moment that I did not even manage to take a shot. But some, like the Grey-bellied Bulbuls, basically made the fruiting tree their temporary home. Unlike the former, they provided a truly memorable performance. Chng, who is relatively new to birding, was overwhelmed. Not only by the Grey-bellied Bulbuls but the sheer number of bird species present on a single tree.

Black-headed Bulbuls are not regular patrons to fruiting trees here and a short visit of a single bird did not go unnoticed. It is one of the commoner bulbuls in Malaysia and one of the more colourful ones as well.

The forest here is one of the strongholds of Finsch’s Bulbul in Malaysia. Before I discovered this birding site, I have had a few brief encounters with this species. The puffy yellow throat has always been the diagnostic feature of this forest dweller and nowadays, I have certainly grown very accustomed to this bearded bulbul.

Ashy Bulbuls are not as abundant as some of the other species of bulbuls found here. It has a sleek appearance and the black eye mask only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the bird. Today, it did not linger long at the fruiting tree but I am glad it made an appearance.

One of the most peculiar bulbuls around is the Hairy-backed Bulbul. This bulbul is just as happy to forage for food like a babbler as it is to feast on a fruiting tree. It usually shuns bright open areas but gluttony is one deadly sin that can get the better of all of us at times.

Brown bulbuls can be difficult to identify especially if you are not familiar with them. I usually have a hard time trying to describe a Buff-vented Bulbul. Hardly any part of this bulbul’s anatomy truly stands out. So, undeservingly, I usually describe it as the plain one and amplify what the Buff-vented Bulbul lacks rather than has.

For instance, it does not have red eyes surrounded by a yellow eye-ring. That would be the main field characteristic of the Spectacled Bulbul...

A thin yellow eye ring is almost all that differentiates the Spectacled Bulbul from the Red-eyed Bulbul. The latter was one of the most conspicuous bulbul species today at the fruiting tree. A small flock returned back to the tree several times throughout the morning and provided plenty of photographic opportunities. It may not be much of a looker but the flock was incredibly tame this morning and that made them utterly attractive to me. And the piercing red eyes have a way to captivate your attention as well.

The repeated visits of leafbirds broke the monotony of the browner bulbuls with their vivid colouration and melodious calls. And those traits are their downfall as well. Illegal trapping of leafbirds has left an impact of the local population found here. At the fruiting, at least one of pair of Greater Green Leafbirds was constantly present. One female Lesser Green Leafbird did make a brief appearance as well. Two species of leafbirds present at a single location here gives hope that these gorgeous songbirds are still able to survive in this testing environment. The female Greater Green Leafbird is extremely trusting despite all our evil ways. Unlike most passerines with sexual dimorphism, the female of this species is easier to identify than her mate because of her distinct facial markings.

The shy nature of this particular male Greater Green Leafbird did not help with the identification task at all…

As the sun gradually crept up overhead, we decided to try out the Gunung Bintang access trail. There, the foliage of the forest will be able provide momentarily relief from the blistering heat. Despite the less than desirable conditions, we managed to enjoy a relatively good session here as well. We were lucky enough to crossed paths with a handful of birdwaves. I am usually reluctant to hold up my camera when it comes to birdwaves. The movement of the birds are just to fast to follow most of the time. With some many species coming together, you are bound to miss out on a few species if you focus too much or long on a single bird. But the Spotted Fantail is not a bird I see very often and this individual remained still just long enough for me to capture one single image. 

During one of the waves, a family of Rufous-winged Philentomas decided to join in and reap the rewards of this natural phenomenon. Only the young one was obliging enough to let its photo be taken. It will take a little time for it for obtain the full splendour of adult plumage and become one of the many forest denizens that call the Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest home. This uncommon flycatcher wrapped things up for this trip and it was another memorable excursion courtesy of an active fruiting tree.


kezonline said...

A Bulbul special and why not, such a variety of them and indeed it needs a resident expert to I.D them all, well done maestro Wai Mun! Great photos as usual, man and his gear in harmony.

Choy Wai Mun said...

What a compliment, Keiron. Much appreciated!