Thursday, 20 April 2017

There is a first time for everything

I have guided birders and bird photographers of every level around Penang and beyond but my latest guest who hails from England is something else. Coryn’s main passion is recording sounds of wildlife especially birds. There was one issue that was constantly haunting my thoughts when we were making our way to the first location of the day the forest of Sungai Sedim. I know very well how to locate and show the birds but how do I get them to call? Thus like every other guided bird tour, there are bound to be challenges ahead. I always lament the frustrations of observing babblers. That is the bitter truth but babblers are extremely vocal birds and today, that will work to my favour. And Sungai Sedim had plenty of babblers about as usual. And my guest got down to business almost immediate after stepping onto the forest trail with the diagnostic call of the Puff-throated Babbler leading the way.

I did not photograph as often as I usually do during our 2-day excursion. The reason simply being I did not want to risk putting the birds to flight while he was recording their calls. But I did photograph something here at Sungai Sedim in the end but it was not a bird. I seldom indulge in macro photography. That is a different world all together. This unidentified but attractive bee (I tried but I guess Google does not have the answer for everything after all) did catch my attention as we were descending along the Gunung Bintang access trail.

Our next destination for the day was the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam. Here, another array of intriguing wildlife sounds greeted us upon our arrival and my guest was in seventh heaven. With his equipment and all, we were attracting attention from everyone we came across throughout the day. Locals find it hard to comprehend how someone can derive so much pleasure and inspiration just by watching birds let alone someone with a huge parabolic microphone recording bird calls. Even the star bird of the locality, the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, came in for a closer look at what this human was up to. Unfortunately, he did not call at all during the encounter but his good looks certainly did not go unnoticed.

His mate, a female Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher made an appearance as well. It was good to see this complicated couple still doing fine despite the deteriorating conditions of their territory.

While we were making our way along the elevated boardwalk, this male Banded Woodpecker suddenly alighted on an overhead vine and caught me off guard. It is unexpected things like this that help flame my passion for birding. Anyhow, he was so close that I had to reduce my zoom (one of benefits of using telephoto zoom lens) in order to capture the entire bird. And just like that he darted back into the canopy of the forest.

The last bird of the day for me were the migratory Black Kites that yet to commence their journey back north. This individual were among the four left here and was lazily circling its roosting tree which is part of their routine each evening. From what I could tell it was a good day for my guest and the resonating chorus of the frogs in the vicinity, amplified by the impending rain, pulled us back into the swamp forest for one last recording session before calling the day.

On the next day we found ourselves at the car park of Bukit Wang in Kedah just as it got bright. Unlike yesterday, the Black-and-Yellow Broadbills were certainly making their presence felt by being extremely vocal. Considering the nature of our excursion, this is what we are wishing for. And there was more than enough broadbills to go round between the recorder and the photographer. While he had his ‘ears’ on one of the birds, I had my ‘eyes’ on another and far enough as not to interfere with his recording. Life can be beautiful sometimes.

Bukit Wang is supposedly a patch of virgin jungle literally untouched by human activities. The sweeping landscape of lush greenery is a sight to behold. Tall trees reaching for the heavens above make us humans feel insignificant and in awe of their magnificence. Even an old school birder and a diehard bird call recorder have to take a minute to soak in the view.

A duetting pair of Scarlet-rumped Trogons next to the access trail promises another notable session. Although it is the commonest of our trogon, it is still more than capable of holding you spellbound to its beauty and radiance. On this rare occasion, Murphy’s Law had no part in the encounter and the striking male performed just as well as his less flashy mate.

The female remained in the safety of the canopy most of the time but she did perch stationary for a long time on a relatively exposed perch and I suspect is just to check on her mate to make sure her mate was not up to no good.

The relentless territorial calls of the Rufescent Prinia at the boundary of the forest reserve was almost overwhelming. This warbler is common among scrub and grasslands at the edge of forest and orchards throughout the country. We came across one pair and gradually, one of them wandered out in the open much to my delight.

The resident pair of Wreathed Hornbills is encountered on almost every visit recently but good views are near impossible as these majestic birds are shy by nature. Their whooshing wing beats, typical of hornbills, are a common feature and that worked well for today’s visit. The sound of hornbills in flight will evoke feelings of excitement and anticipation without fail. I am always fascinated by these amazing family of birds but encounters with them are on the decrease which is truly disheartening.  Back to the Wreathed Hornbills. During one of their flyovers, the female alighted briefly on a distant tree. I did not have the heart to give this rare photographic opportunity a pass and this pathetic attempt was all I could muster.

An Oriental Garden Lizard soaking in the warm rays of the sun momentarily diverted us from our main mission here. The tail of this lizard is incredibly long and that makes it a captivating creature despite its abundant nature.

As we were making our way back to the car park, a flock of White-bellied Erpornis foraging nosily next to the access trail was worth delaying the journey back. As usual, the birds were extremely active and the lighting conditions did not help with my efforts to obtain good images. I have been encountering this species quite often of late but I am not complaining. I just cannot get enough of its adorable appearance – crest and all. Overall, a great bird to cap off two days of memorable birding or to be more precise, call recording as well.

I will be ending this time’s post with a personal opinion. Stone stacking, rock balancing or whatever you call it is a trend that has found its way to Malaysian shores. All I have to say about this is Mother Nature is perfect just the way she is. Your attempt to beautify her is appreciated but not required. According to some, it may even screw up the ecosystem. It may not be as damaging as some other forms of vandalism but it is still vandalism nevertheless. We have disrupted and damaged the natural world devastatingly in the name of development. I am sure there are other better alternatives for you to channel your overflowing creative and artistic juices into and let Mother Nature be.

The checklist of birds recorded in this post can be found here:

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