Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Easter came early

My latest birding excursion fell on Good Friday but unfortunately, the weather was not in a very cheerful mood. Together with PK, my guest from Singapore, we made our way to the forest of Sungai Sedim. As we trekked up the slopes of Gunung Bintang, the atmosphere was dark and cold courtesy of the southwest monsoon. Despite the gloom, I picked out the all-too-familiar penetrating whistle of the Rufous-winged Philentoma. And just like my last visit, the resident male greeted us with his striking colouration when he momentarily revealed himself from the dim understorey of the forest he calls home. The lighting conditions may have rob us of any real chance to obtain good shots but to have a Rufous-winged Philentoma as your first bird of the day deserves some of recognition.

A small flycatcher hawking for insects next to the trail had our attention next. Upon further scrutiny it turned out to be Iron Boy, a name christened by Singaporean birders for the Ferruginous Flycatcher. I took a liking to the nickname almost immediately as it does suit this adorable little migrant well. I do not come across this flycatcher as often as I like to and this encounter was a pleasant addition to our now rapidly growing checklist for the day. That’s a good boy…

The sweet song of the Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher is a regular feature of the forest here. It tends to keep to the safety of the canopy and that makes observation and photography tedious. Its minute size does not help much to. However, it is a charming bird which often brightens up birding excursions here.

Babblers are well represented here in Sungai Sedim but they do not make good subjects for photography. On those rare occasions when the stars are aligned just right, magic transcends upon your birding excursion and you will get that shot that has eluded you all these years. The Scaly-crowned Babbler is not uncommon here. I have crossed paths with this tree babbler several times in the past but I have very little to show in the end except for the memories. This lone individual changed all that by being, I suppose, as confiding as a babbler could ever get. Resting on an exposed perch at eye level, it was almost too good to be true.

Although I am way too old to believe in the Easter Bunny and all that but this year, Easter came early for me. I stumbled upon an Easter Egg in the form of a Rufous Piculet – both being rounded, colourful and cause a lot of excitement. This female was foraging along the middle storey of the forest when she alighted very close to the access trail. The active nature of the bird and the harsh lighting prevented me from getting much better images from this encounter.

The next destination for the day was the paddy fields at mainland Penang. Remaining flocks of waterbirds working the fields with the tractors were again the centre of attention. Standing out like fresh blossoms on a snow-laden field during the first days of spring were the Cattle Egrets. Sporting their smart breeding plumage, they overshadowed the bigger egrets as the mixed flocks foraged together in tight formations.

At this time of the year, Pond-herons are objects of affection as they adorn their respective breeding plumages. Penang is one of the few states where one stands a chance to see all three species in one area and that we did today. A confiding Javan Pond-heron provided the main highlight for the Pond-heron observations. It was foraging quietly just beside the access road and both guest and guide were visibly excited by the encounter.

Very few raptors hover here in Malaysia and one of them is the striking Back-shouldered Kite. Its hovering action is a delight to watch. Like poetry in motion, the flight agilities of this raptor is remarkable and my images could never capture the true essence of this encounter.

Since it was my guest’s maiden visit to the Pearl of the Orient, a detour to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam was inevitable to pay homage to one of the star birds of the state.

Almost like clockwork, the male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher was seen resting on his favourite tree. PK openly expressed how astonished he was by the beauty of this bird. And I, could not agree with him more.

The migratory Black Kites were still seen loitering this wintering ground but in smaller numbers now. The tall trees across the river provide the ideal refuge and just a little effort is all that is needed to locate one resting among the tallest branches.

PK was staying at his in-laws’ place in Bukit Mertajam. As it was a no-show for my usual Barred Eagle-owl earlier this afternoon, I decided to swing by the recreational park at Bukit DO before calling it a day as it very close to where I was to drop off my guest. The park was crowded as expected. And we were losing daylight rapidly. It took a while but the gamble paid off. A single Barred Eagle-owl was getting for the hunt to come on one of the branches of its usual roosting tree. My guest got one of his most anticipated target lifers - finally. What a bird to wrap things up for another memorable day of birding.

The checklist of the birds recorded during this trip can be found here:
3. Air Hitam Dalam

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