My encounter with the enigmatic Malaysian Rail-Babbler last year in the wild interiors of Kedah has been regularly haunting my thoughts for the past year or so. I failed to relocate the bird despite numerous trips to the locality ever since that faithful day. The bird has been steadfast to its true self of being an elusive forest denizen. I have been to the site in Pahang state where this species has been performing superbly for all to cherish but nothing beats a bird that is found through your own efforts. I stated in my posting of the Kedah bird that I was grateful for whatever that was given to me during that encounter. However, my heart yearns for more. It yearns to listen to its mournful penetrating whistle and observe its walking gait one more time. And during my last visit to the locality with Hor Kee and James, my heart got what it desired.
Around same area, we heard the unmistakable whistle of the Malaysian Rail-Babbler. Initially, I was a little doubtful. Not a single peep all this time and this locality is even part of my usual guided tour circuit. It just goes to show if a forest bird does not want to be found, it can literally vanish into thin air. We immediately setup our hides as gently as possible along the abandoned forest trail and waited. That was what we did the last time. And it worked like a charm - again.
This particular spot was poorly lighted compared to our previous encounter. My modest photography gear and my sanity was pushed to their limits. My gear constantly could not lock onto the fast movements of the bird. Not a word of profanity escaped my lips on this occasion. It was beyond that. I was almost in tears. It did wander briefly into a spot where the sun managed to squeeze through the dense forest canopy and I was in seventh heaven. This highly-terrestrial bird may not have much colours to boast but it oozes with charisma. Couple that with its elusive nature, the Malaysian Rail-Babbler is one of the most intriguing birds in Malaysia – if not the world.
Despite the drawbacks, this encounter was another life-changing moment. It lasted longer than the previous encounter and this time, the Rail-Babbler called several times in full view. The inflated blue skin on the throat is only visible when the bird is calling. And to be able to see that was itself a privilege in my book. After the encounter, I watched it strolled back into the cover of the undergrowth with a heavy heart. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and I have certainly fallen head over heels over this bird. And if it takes another year to bask in its presence again, so be it. Because very few things in life can overshadow an intimate encounter with a Malaysian Rail-Babbler.