Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Feeding Frenzy

The virgin jungle of Bukit Wang beckoned me for a return visit and naturally, I obliged. The Macaranga Tree should still be pulling in the birds and I planned to spend a morning there just to see what turns up. Judging from the results I had with my guest a couple of weeks ago, it should quite interesting. I arrived at the car park just at dawn and as I made my way to the tree, it was still void of birds. I was not particularly worried. Fruits were still aplenty on the tree. It was just a matter of time. The birds will come once it gets brighter. Not many will be able to resist the succulent fruits.

True enough, spiderhunters and bulbuls gradually made their way to the tree. It did not take long for the tree to light up this overcast morning with the sights and sounds of forest birds feasting. However, one call in particular caught my ears. It was not a musical repertoire. In fact, it sounded more like mice squeaking but I knew what it was. Sooty Barbets are canopy dwellers and only at fruiting trees does one have a real chance to observe and appreciate this only non-green coloured barbet in Peninsula Malaysia without the neck aches.

Much to my delight, a male Crimson-winged Woodpecker swooped in from the adjacent forest and immediately went after the fruits. You do not usually get woodpeckers at a fruiting tree. Thus the appearance of this common species was not taken for granted.

As I was still enjoying the male Crimson-winged Woodpecker, another woodpecker swooped in and this darker and larger bird certainly had my undivided attention. When I finally locked my binoculars on this new arrival, there was no mistaking its identity. Birders from Penang tend to take the Streak-breasted Woodpecker for granted because it is a regular at the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang. However outside the boundaries of that small reserve, this northern speciality is rare. If I am not mistaken, this female that has been seduced out of hiding by the fruiting tree is my first ever record outside Penang.

A pair of Buff-necked Woodpeckers was foraging in the vicinity but I guess no amount of fruits can tempt them out into the open...

After the arrival of the woodpeckers, the floodgates opened and the birds flew in from every direction. It was overwhelming to say the least at times. Unlike my visit two weeks ago, spiderhunters no longer monopolized the tree. Even the big bullies, the Spectacled Spiderhunters, only made brief visits and this gave me more opportunities to capture the smaller spiderhunters like the Yellow-eared Spiderhunter.

The Grey-breasted Spiderhunters were having a feeding frenzy and my gear was having difficulties keeping up with their pace in this lighting condition.

Having only recently become a spiderhunter, the Purple-naped Spiderhunter is the smallest one here in Malaysia. There was a male present at the fruiting tree but it was shy and kept himself well hidden most of the time.

Small and active birds are extremely challenging to photograph. This is compounded if they occur in flocks. Throughout the morning flocks of Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Everett’s White-eye patronized the tree in swift and short raids. I suspect it is the same flock of birds going at it time and time again. I tried to photograph the birds but I just could not focus on them. At the end, the White-eyes managed to elude my camera completely but I got a couple of shots of this particular Pin-striped Tit-Babbler that stayed put long enough.

Bulbuls formed the majority of the birds present at the fruiting tree today with the common Red-eyed Bulbuls leading the way.

The almost similar Spectacled Bulbul made only a single short visit for the feast...

A few Cream-vented Bulbuls also joined in the foray...

Occurring usually in flocks, I was surprised to see this Hairy-backed Bulbul feasting on the fruits alone this time.

Exceedingly wary were the flock of Black-headed Bulbuls. Announcing their arrival each time was their characteristic call but the birds normally feed briefly along the branches furthest away from me before disappearing back into the forest. This behaviour was repeated throughout the morning.

Another bulbul that provided splashes of colours among all the brownish bulbuls was the Grey-bellied Bulbul. Unlike the Black-headed Bulbul, it not hesitate in showing off its true splendour while gorging on the fruits.

The level of activity at the fruiting tree gradually dropped as the noon hour approached and I could finally pulled myself away to explore other parts of this forest reserve. My intention to reconnect with the Pin-tailed Parrotfinches at the clump of flowering bamboo was a lost cause when I caught sight of two workers doing some maintenance work nearby. The sound of two grass cutting machines drown out every other sounds in the vicinity including the piercing calls of the Chestnut-naped Forktails. I only realized their presence when one was spooked by my approach and alighted long enough for me to capture one single shot. Photography wise I have had better days at this birding hotspot but as far as active fruiting trees go, this lofty Macaranga Tree provided a healthy mix of bird species to keep me thoroughly entertained. Not a bad way to spend a gloomy Saturday morning.

The complete checklist of the birds recorded at Bukit Wang today can be found here


Andrew Bailey said...

Looks very exciting.

I hadn't heard about the reclassification of Purple-naped Sunbird. Is that accepted by IOC?

Choy Wai Mun said...

It certainly was quite an experience, Andrew. Here in Malaysia we follow Clements and it is a Spiderhunter for quite some time now.