Thursday, 10 August 2017

Birding Marathon (Part I)

I decided to start off my central Peninsular Malaysia 3-day birding marathon at the famed forest of Lanchang in Pahang state. Unfortunately, my intention to reconnect with the Malaysian Rail-babbler that I enjoyed here last year did not materialized. The enigmatic forest dweller proved to be elusive again. The stakeout was still a centre of bird activity and I cannot help but notice an increase of bulbul species. The Yellow-bellied Bulbul was still the most prominent species just like my last visit here.

A few Hairy-backed Bulbuls provided some entertainment as they foraged about the locality in search of sumptuous morsels. This bulbul is comfortable both on the ground and vegetation but the overcast condition made it difficult for my photographic gear.

A third species of bulbul did not go unnoticed due to its size and confiding nature. The Grey-cheeked Bulbul is not as common as the two other species present and it will usually earn my attention whenever our paths crossed.

The avian world has many accomplished songsters. Here in Malaysia, the White-rumped Shama is undoubtedly one of them. The male bird, endowed with his amazing long tail has the looks to match his remarkable vocal abilities making him a treat to both your sense of sight and hearing.  

However, the morning at Lanchang belonged to the babblers. It was a bitter pill to swallow for missing out on the Rail-babbler and to add salt to my injury, it started to make appearances again a few days after my visit. The Black-throated Babbler is probably the next babbler in line for me here but it did not provide much good photographic opportunities.

The Ferruginous Babbler is as sleek as always. A few individuals was all it took to brightened up the locality with their bright colouration and grace.

When it comes to character, very few can outdo the Short-tailed Babbler. There were hardly any dull moments when they came into the picture. These adorable babblers outdid the others today and provided my best images for this visit.

I had the companionship of my former schoolmate, Victor, for this trip. In the afternoon, we drove back to Selangor and visited one of his regular haunts – Sungai Congkak. The heavens was unforgiving and threatened to drown out my anticipation of the birding to come. The rain started to ease soon after our arrival and I took as a good omen. With rejuvenated spirits, we made ourselves comfortable at the photography stakeout of the location. It did not take long for the first subject to arrive and it was a juvenile Tickell’s Blue-flycatcher. Although the youngster was beautiful in its own right, I still prefer the plumage colouration of the adult male. This juvenile eventually matured into handsome male Pale Blue Flycatcher and I have to take back my words as it is now almost as significant a record as the Rufous-chested Flycatcher.

I did not drive 4 hours just to see a Tickell’s Blue-flycatcher which is a species one can easily see in Penang Island. The Rufous-chested Flycatcher, on the other hand, is certainly worthy. The lighting condition was challenging and the bird itself, small and active. But I have only seen this species just a couple of times before and this encounter was the first one to make the long drive down from Penang worth the while.

The striking colouration of the male bird is not often revealed as this species spends most of its time in the cover of the gloomy lower storey of the forest. Its minute size also helps to keep it inconspicuous. But today, we enjoyed great views of this elusive forest denizen.

I have a tendency to ignore duller females in cases where both sexes are present but I made it a point to shower the female Rufous-chested Flycatcher with some affection whenever possible which was not very often.

Incredible as it may seem, the Rufous-chested Flycatcher was not my main target for this location. I was after something commoner. The Rufous-backed Kingfisher is a tiny but striking forest kingfisher that occurs throughout Malaysia. I even come across it in some of my local patches back home in Penang. Birding has not finally gotten to me and I am not starting to lose my sanity. I have been birding for more than half my life but I have yet to obtain one single image of this species despite numerous encounters. Most of the time, all I could muster is a burning vision of a small red speck flying away from me. Photography stakeouts like this is often the only time when one is able to photograph and truly admire the beauty of this forest gem and not to mention, other shy forest species as well.

Under normal circumstances, a Blue-eared Kingfisher would have been able to hog the limelight but today is no ordinary day. The Rufous-backed Kingfisher will not be dethroned. Small and timid it may be but stunning and adorable it definitely is.

The rain made the birding condition less than desirable. Lighting was bad, the ground muddy and slippery and my clothes drenched but I finally managed to experience an intimate encounter with the dwarf Rufous-backed Kingfisher and with the photos to show for it and that is all that really matters.

We made a little detour to a park in the suburbs before calling it a day. The Van Hasselt’s Sunbird is a small but resplendent bird that sadly, is declining from my home state of Penang. A few of them are attracted to the flowering trees here and have been regularly recorded of late. The trees were densely foliaged and that made photography challenging. The active nature of the sunbirds only made it worse. Eventually, I managed to obtain a couple of reasonable shots and this little suburban denizen was a great way to wrap things up for a long but rewarding day of birding in central Peninsular Malaysia.


Wilma said...

Fantastic birds!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Yes, Wilma. They certainly are.