Friday 26 May 2017

Nothing like a new spot...

I was again drawn to the wilds of Pedu Lake in Kedah state. A locality that has so much potential but unfortunately, does not deliver consistently. By right, at this time of the year the forest should be alive with bird activities but my last visit and Dave’s were proving otherwise. Anyway, my guest and I embarked on the slightly more than 2-hour journey from Penang well before dawn and was greeted by the usual misty conditions of the rural roads. It is forest birding after all and one can never truly predict the outcome of any trip. My wishful thinking for a better excursion did not materialize and we spent most of our time trawling the lush landscape for any sign of (bird) life. Just as we were about to give up hope, the penetrating whistle of a Dark-throated Oriole caught our immediate attention. It sounded really close and we had the bird in sight shortly after. A male Dark-throated Oriole is a striking bird and a confiding one like this individual, can turn any frustratingly slow day around.

I could not recall any Dark-throated Orioles that I have encountered before being so tame and friendly. I took a good look around just to make sure nothing was amiss – almost too good to be true. I guess he was just comfortable in our presence today. He sang, rested, preened and even hunted during the encounter. This species is not rare but most of my encounters were mostly brief or distant observations. The lighting at the time was less than desirable and this handsome fellow had a tendency to perch where the strong backlight causes the most negative impacts on our efforts to obtain his images.

He did briefly alighted in a better lighted area occasionally and we made the best out of them in terms of photography. The Dark-throated Oriole, like so many of our beautiful forest birds, do not usually provide such prolonged tantalizing views. When it does happen, it actually justifies why birders are willing to put themselves through harsh conditions when birding in the forest knowing fully well that it could amount to nothing in the end. Luckily, our trip to Pedu did not end up in vain.

When the silence (and the heat) finally got unbearable, we decided it was time to seek out greener pastures. It has come to my attention that the mangrove belt at Sungai Merbok here in Kedah is becoming the latest birding hotspot up north. It is always exciting to bird in a new place. I am not sure what to fully expect and the gripping anxiety of the unknown is giving the birding excursion today a much-needed boost. There is one particular species that has been performing well at this locality and it is the Mangrove Pitta. My last encounter with the species was also in this mangrove belt a few years back and a pitta, regardless of species or status, will always do it for me. It did not take long for the star bird to giveaway its presence. Its call which is almost similar to that of the commoner Blue-winged Pitta could be heard within the mangroves. With a little effort and luck, we were enjoying a splendid adult Mangrove Pitta in all its glory.

Having this close and intimate encounter brought back memories of the Mangrove Pittas that used to occur at my local patch – the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang. The pitta provided a flawless performance. All my senses were on overdrive. This little 8-inch bird was pushing all the right buttons and brought me to my knees literally for some eye level shots. There was no doubt. I was savouring every minute.

When I could finally pull my attention away from the pitta, I began to take notice of the other species present at the locality. The Abbott’s Babbler is one babbler that regularly occurs in a habitat of this nature. It is a drably coloured bird but it does have a certain charm that will have my attention most of the time.

The last bird of the day is another species bearing the word Mangrove in its name – the Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher. Like all other birders and bird photographers here up north, we tend to take this species for granted due to its high number and obliging nature at, again, Air Hitam Dalam. For me, it is always nice to encounter this beautiful flycatcher outside that particular birding spot. One pair was recorded during my visit to this new birding location and were accommodating enough to have their images taken. This mangrove belt is under-observed as with most of the other birding sites found here in this state. However judging from today’s experience, this locality can expect a certain birder from Penang to be back more often in the days to come.

Thursday 4 May 2017

Take the good with the bad

The drive to the pristine forest surrounding Pedu Lake in Kedah takes more than two hours from my home state of Penang. If it is foggy along the way, you can expect a delay. And it was certainly foggy today. My companion this time, Choo Eng, had his driving skills tested and we reached our destination slightly later than usual but in one piece. Once there, all the fog has evaporated and was replaced by a bright sunny day. A swarm of winged termites will usually attract a horde of insectivorous birds but unfortunately, not today. Quite a number of birds did pass through the area but most were simply too high above to warrant any photographic attempts. A pair of Buff-rumped Woodpeckers finally gave me a reason to lift up my camera as they wandered slightly lower than the rest. This small woodpecker is strikingly plumaged but the plumage also acts an effective camouflage. From this angle, where the bird is most vulnerable to predators, the little drummer almost blends into its surroundings completely.

The unmistakeable call of the Scarlet-rumped Trogon momentarily diverted our gaze from the tall trees and towards the middle storey of the forest. We managed to trace the call back to its source and it was a handsome male. Resting on an exposed perch and showing off his namesake, this turned out to be the best photo of the trip.

The Oriental Pied Hornbill can be quite confiding in certain areas of its distribution in Malaysia. The population in this Pedu Lake area does not fall into that category. Good views are surprisingly hard to obtain despite audio contacts on every visit. I guess I can consider myself lucky to see this male bird perched on the topmost part of the canopy. This species lacks the majesty of its bigger relatives but it is a hornbill nevertheless. And there was no shortage of respect and admiration from me during the encounter.

The Sooty Barbet is peculiar among barbets for not having a single speck of green on its plumage and instead of calling like a barbet, it sounds more like a mouse. And to top it all off it is no where as sluggish as any barbet and moves about actively in a flock. The Sooty Barbet definitely does not give in to conformity. A flock was having a little midmorning siesta on a huge dead tree when I chance upon them. Knowing fully well that the distance was too great for me to be a threat, they totally disregarded my presence and my frantic movements to try and make the best out of the situation.

That pretty much sums up today’s trip. The birds were certainly up and about – with emphasis on up. They were way too high up in the canopy for me to make anything out of most of the encounters. I have been wanting to obtain a decent photograph of the Banded Broadbill for as long as I can remember. I came across a male bird today and he was quite obliging. I only had one little issue – I have yet to master the skill levitation and this the best that I could muster.

At the end of the access road we frequent lies the now abandoned Mutiara Pedu Lake and Golf Resort. Today, the vicinity provided a daytime sighting of an owl. Regardless of species, it is always exciting to encounter these nocturnal predators in broad daylight – even if it is just a Buffy Fish-owl. Needless to say it was way up in the canopy as well. Compounded by strong backlight, there was nothing much to be obtained here except for a momentarily exhilarating visual record.

With most spring migrants having undertaken their journey back north, this lone Asian Brown Flycatcher is probably one of the last few still here in their tropical winter homes. At the end of the day, the visit here to Pedu Lake did not quite satisfy my often insatiable appetite for birding. Perhaps of the great run I have been enjoying these past weeks have almost made me forgotten the feeling of having a slow and frustrating day. Well, today certainly jolted my memory but that is birding and I suppose, life as well. You take the good with the bad and carry on.