Tuesday, 30 January 2018

It's raining rarities

I travelled all the way to the limestone hills of Gunung Keriang once again hoping for a more intimate encounter with the recently discovered Brown Fish-owls. I reached the locality way before day break and together with Hor Kee and Dr. Neoh, waited patiently for the celebrity birds to make an appearance while listening to the calls of other nocturnal birds of this recreational forest – the Barn Owl and Sunda Scops-Owl. Unfortunately, the Brown Fish-Owls reminded me how elusive they can be and offered only fleeting views as they made their way back to roost.

A pair of Streaked Wren-Babblers foraging confidingly at the foot of the limestone hill provided some birding excitement but it was little compensation for the disappointment with owls. This babbler is a resident of the montane forest throughout most of the country. However, a number of montane species are known to occur at sea level here in the north and this babbler is one of them. Dim lighting and the active nature of the babblers was a major hindrance for obtaining better images. But to observe these Streaked Wren-Babblers foraging among the undergrowth at such close proximity was good enough for this time.

As we were about to head to our next location, the tinkling notes of a Leaf-Warbler from the nearby bush was just to tempting to be ignored. While we were trying to ascertain the identity of the Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler, an all-too-familiar call whispered through the undergrowth. I have had enough field experience with the Taiga Flycatcher of late that I would be able to recognise its rattling call anywhere. And there is one calling right in front of us. A stroke of good luck and a small gap in the vegetation enabled me to capture a record shot of this supposedly rare migrant but this is the second individual recorded this season.

It has been months since my last visit to the vast, sweeping landscape of Chuping. It is a unique habitat and the sceneries are often mesmerising like this image of a flock of Cattle Egret gliding low over a patch of aquatic mimosa plants before alighting to forage.

This birding hotspot is renowned for wintering raptors and it did not take us long to come across our first raptor. It was a beautiful female Pied Harrier and she has finishing up a meal next to the access road that cuts through this agricultural land. We observed her from a reasonable distance using our vehicle as a hide but we could not be sure what the prey was.

Whatever the unfortunately victim was, it was a hearty meal for the Pied Harrier. Her obvious extended crop was proof of that as she flew away.

A few other raptors were also recorded but most did not provide good photographic opportunities. This Osprey was seen hunting at a commercial fish pond and it may not be wise to risk incurring the wrath of the fish farmers. However this is not the first time I have seen the fish hawk here and I can only conclude the greater the risks, the greater the rewards.

A Common Buzzard was photographed here recently and although this scarce migrant is not new to me, it has been years since I last saw one. Unfortunately, all the buzzards recorded (there was a number of them I might add) were Oriental Honey-Buzzards and here is the image of the one that came the closest.

Birding along the vast grasslands could have been better and the one of the few birds that managed to find its way into my memory card was this tiny Zitting Cisticola proclaiming its territory from the top of a wooden stake.

We also came across a Brown Shrike making short work of a tiny frog it has just caught. An accomplished hunter with a feisty character, this predatory bird must be terrifying to all small vertebrates that share its wintering ground.

Posing for my camera when it was done feeding. That’s my boy...

However, the magic of Chuping should never be underestimated. A detour to one of the lakes provided the main highlight for this locality.

I twitched for Peninsular Malaysia’s fourth Tufted Duck back in 2013. Since then, there have been no other sightings. And now, we found ourselves ogling over a female paddling leisurely in the company of Little Grebes. That certainly injected excitement into the excursion.

It was a big lake and the lighting was harsh. There was almost no way to reduce the distance. A desperate and muddy attempt did get us slightly closer and we had to be grateful with what that was given and cherish the moment. After all, this girl is a rare record for Peninsular Malaysia and that is a whole lot to cherish.


Russell Jenkins said...

I'm sorry I haven't visited you in a while, Choy. Some wonderful pictures as usual and I especially love the egrets over the the flowers.

Choy Wai Mun said...

No worries, Russell. Good to hear from you again. I too have been busy with tours and all the promotional works (fb page, blog, etc) that I have not browse my blog list for a long time. Thank you for your comment.

kezonline said...

Nice post again. Great pics of raptors and great timing of the brown shrike eating the tiny frog for a hearty meal. I have to agree with Russell, that shot of the cattle egrets over the ground cover is really nice. Looking forward to your next expedition already :-))

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Kieron.

kezonline said...

Gong xi fa cai Wai Mun to you and your family. Put that camera gear away for now and have a great time!! Alor star family get together beckons for us tomorrow.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family too. Yup, all my gear is locked up for the next week or so. Safe journey, Keiron.