Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The beginning of the end?

It is that time of the year again for my annual excursions up north to the great grasslands of Chuping. The past few birding trips were excruciating slow for me due to bad luck and weather. I always tell myself bad days will only make you appreciate the good ones even more and that usually makes it a little easier on the soul. Anyway, Hor Kee and James were my companions for my first visit to Chuping this season and the landscapes here are breath taking as usual and weather today was very promising.

However, sceneries are never first priority. Feathered splendours like a male Red Collared-Dove is. Although this species is gradually spreading south, Chuping remains to be the main stronghold for these doves and their numbers here can be overwhelming at times. A small flock was foraging on a recently ploughed field just next to the access road and was given its due attention. One male in particular got the ball rolling for what was to be another rewarding day of birding at the northern tip of Peninsular Malaysia.

This is the best site in Malaysia to observe the Bronze-winged Jacana and paying homage to this beautiful and rare water bird is mandatory for every visit. Luck was on our side as one of them was foraging close to where we had positioned ourselves. The heat wave was a major hindrance to my photography efforts but the images obtained were much to my satisfactory in the end.

Revealing the deep chestnut colouration often concealed by the bronze wings...

Belting out a round of territorial calls to complete the performance.

Little Cormorants are a regular sight here but today, I only managed a shot of a flying bird.
Another regular is the graceful Black Drongo. This common winter visitor can also be found in good numbers throughout the locality. This species thrives in open country habitat and there is certainly plenty of that in Chuping.

Chuping is renowned for wintering raptors. However, the numbers recorded today was not up to expectations. It could be still too early in the season or due to some other reasons. I am keeping my fingers crossed it is the former. A female Pied Harrier resting out in the field was the only raptor photograph worth sharing this time.

Fortunately, the void left by the mighty raptors was filled by other smaller species that also seek refuge here. A simple stop to shoot a pair of Zebra Doves led to a memorable encounter - for me anyways. Call it good luck or divine intervention but had we not stop for these common doves (which we usually do not), we would have miss out on an adult and juvenile Little Bronze Cuckoo foraging among some low bushes. I have not seen this species for a number of years and my images of it are from my modest Digiscoping years. This time, I had them close and in good light and they appeared to be completely at ease with the presence of our vehicle. It will take some time for the youngster to obtain the striking markings of adulthood.

The adult male was a true stunner and naturally, received most of my undivided attention. The glossy upperparts glittered under the morning sun and the boldly marked underparts complemented his looks well. And I was relishing every second of this chance encounter.

We stopped at the spot again later in the morning and much to my delight, the adult was still there. I took a few more shots for good measure.

Any Eastern Yellow Wagtail encountered in Chuping deserves a second look as the Citrine Yellow is very similar looking. This will be my third season looking for the scarce and elusive winter visitor. I guess one can always hope for a miracle...

The same applies to Paddyfield Pipits. Dipping out on the Blyth’s Pipit last season continues to haunt my thoughts. Hopefully, I will have better luck and put that ghost to rest this season.

Although not uncommon in suitable habitats throughout the country, it is much easier to see the migratory Siberian Stonechat here in Chuping. Like most female birds, the Siberian Stonechat has drably coloured females. However, to ignore a confiding individual like she is just wrong.

The males are much more attractive and at times, can be a little of an exhibitionist. Today, one male outdid himself and provided me with one my best encounters with this species to date. Floating from perch to perch and occasionally wandered very close to our stationary vehicle.

My only qualm was the harsh lighting. But better hot and sunny than gloomy and wet.

Cattle Egrets have pretty much conquered all suitable habitats in Malaysia and it comes as no surprise to see their numbers booming here in the vast grasslands.

It was bad enough when they decided to replace most of the sugarcane plots with rubber estates a few years back. It was a devastating move to both birds and birder. In time, both have recovered slightly from the blow and life goes on. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, they have now started to build a small industrial park. This could very well spell the beginning of the end for this birding paradise. I do not know the full extent of this development project and I do not even dare to find out. For the past decade or so, Chuping has provided numerous first records for the country and countless remarkable birding excursions for birders far and wide. I just wish that for once a birding hotspot is left the fuck alone. Is that too much to ask?

We made a short visit to the adjacent limestone hills of Bukit Keteri for another attempt at Dusky Crag-Martins. I have been scanning limestone outcrops for as long as I could remember in the hopes to bag this scarce resident. I am no spring chicken in terms of birding years and today, I finally broke the duck. In fact, it was a lifer for the entire group. Among the dozens of House Swifts and a handful of Barn Swallows, a lone Dusky Crag-Martin was making rounds along the twin hills at breakneck speed. Mass hallucination is not unheard of in birding especially in the presence of a would-be lifer but the martin gave us ample opportunities to be sure that we were not hallucinating. My companions tried to capture the moment but I did not even bother. My gear stood no chance whatsoever in this situation. No, the Dusky Crag-Martin was a lifer I had to enjoy through my trusted bins only.

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