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.