Owls, no matter the size or status, will always have a special place in my heart. I am sure I do not speak for myself as these nocturnal birds are both mysterious and beautiful. With traits like these you are bound to garner lots of admirers. Anyway, there is a little recreation park just outside Bukit Mertajam township in mainland Penang called Bukit DO that surprisingly houses not one but two species of large owls. For one reason or another, I never got round to visit the site until now. Both the Barred Eagle-owl and Buffy Fish-owl have been showing well of late and the thought having two of these owls at one locality is just too tempting to resist. I had some time to spare on this particular Saturday and since I was in the area, I might as well give it a try. With some pointers from Hor Kee and James Neoh, I found myself at the base of a huge tree where the Barred Eagle-Owls frequent. This place is a popular recreational venue. It was almost two in the afternoon when I arrived at the locality but there were still a number of walkers present. And when you carry gear like mine and constantly stare upwards, you are bound to attract unwanted attention. Once again, I would like to stress I am not antisocial but I do prefer to do my birding in peace. It is also probably why I have not visited this site till now. Despite a careful sweep of the area, I could not locate the owls. Although this species is not new to me, I cannot help but to feel a little disappointed.
Just down the road the Buffy Fish-owl has apparently taken up refuge. Lucky for me, it did not take long for me to locate it. The lighting was disappointing but I am glad the quick visit here was not a total washout. The Buffy Fish-owl is easily the commonest of our large owls but I have yet to grow tired of being in its presence.
I moved to flank the owl in my effort to obtain a better image and was rewarded. A small gap in the vegetation was my saviour. The owl, now unobstructed and in much better lighting, was an impressive creature to observe and photograph. I was also at a comfortable distance for the owl as it soon lost interest with this cumbersome human trespassing into its territory.
Some movement from a nearby branch turned out to be a second owl that was there the whole time and yet, managed to slip past my radar. I guess I was too preoccupied with the first owl to take notice of it and it was a youngster judging from the paler colouration. My day certainly just got a whole lot better…
Initially, it was suspicious of my presence and peered at me from its slightly hidden perch. I tried to appear to be as harmless as possible and slowly repositioned myself to capture its images.
Gradually, its suspicion grew into curiosity. Much to my surprise, it flew and alighted on an exposed perch in front of me. I took a step back. This may not be a good thing. The parent bird surely must be watching this intently. Owls are very capable of inflicting harm to humans and the unfortunate case of an ornithologist losing an eye to his main passion in life is a grim reminder. A quick glance at the parent bird revealed no such intentions and I continued to soak in this memorable experience. Owls are truly remarkable birds and I am glad to have visited this modest location for its nocturnal inhabitants. The encounter left me feeling hopeful for bird life that has found a way to survive within such close proximity of humans. It may not be their preferred choice but it could well be the only one left for some of them.