Tuesday 27 February 2018

Let the feast begin...

Around this time of the year, Chinese folks will be celebrating their Lunar New Year and feasting is one of main components of the celebration. At the Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest in Kedah, the birds will rejoice in celebrations too. It is not their new year but a time when they will get to feast on a number of fruiting trees. I unexpectedly found myself with some free time the morning after the celebration of the Jade Emperor’s birthday. The birthday celebration ended late as expected but I still managed to crawl out of bed and reach the base of one of the fruiting trees of Sungai Sedim in time to catch the first wave of feathered patrons to this annual banquet.

The weather ought to be bright and sunny typical of the Chinese New Year period here in Malaysia. However with everything we have done to the environment, I guess Mother Nature does not play by the rules anymore. The gloomy weather made it difficult for me to capture the true splendid of the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker.

All dull coloured flowerpeckers were given extra attention to ensure I do not miss out on any surprises. Today, they were all female Crimson-breasted Flowerpeckers.

It was also a struggle to obtain a decent image of the Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker. This individual gorging on the fruits was constantly on the move and the photo I obtained reflected the scene at the fruiting tree quite accurately. It was a true feast for the birds.

A single female Greater Green Leafbird also made an appearance and her present certainly did not go unnoticed. In fact it was hard to miss her as she took no effort at all to conceal her brilliant green plumage.

As always, bulbuls made up the majority of the bird species patronizing the fruiting tree. Today, I recorded only eight species but it was still a good number. The best photo of the day inevitably came from this family of birds. The Spectacled Bulbul is not exactly a striking species but every bird is beautiful in its own way – especially when it alights on an open perch long enough for you to capture numerous images.

The brown jobs are outstanding today. Like the Spectacled Bulbul, the Cream-vented Bulbul is basically a brown bird. Both species are quite similar but one look at the eyes and they become quite distinct from each other.

Another brown bulbul that joined in the feast was the Buff-vented Bulbul. Subtle differences distinguish it from the other two bulbuls and brown was certainly the colour of the day.

Occasionally, flashes of grey and yellow will emerge from the foliage to feed on the succulent fruits and the beautiful Grey-bellied Bulbul is always a welcomed sight. Unfortunately, this species kept to the top most part of tree and rarely provided any close up shots.

It was more than I say about the Grey-cheeked Bulbul. A pair swung by briefly a few times but kept themselves mostly hidden. For some unknown reason, the activity of the fruiting tree died down sooner than usual and by mid morning, the only movement on the tree was the occasional swaying of the leaves in the breeze. Although I had expected more, the trip here was not a total disappointment. The fruits have brought out some species that are usually difficult to observe and photograph. In nature, nothing is ever a sure thing and to continue to wait would yield no better results.

A Crested Serpent-Eagle certainly appreciated the change of weather. It was hot and sunny now and this common but impressive raptor took full advantage of the hot air thermals to survey its territory. The soaring eagle concluded my excursion this time and I hope to make a return trip before the fruiting season concludes.

Friday 16 February 2018

A walk in the park...

I managed to wrap things up early at the office which was itself a miracle to begin with, before the start of the long Chinese New Year break. I took this as a good sign and with a few hours of daylight left, I decided to visit the Penang Botanic Gardens. I shunned the main gardens to avoid the usual horde of visitors to this tourist attraction. This landscape bamboo garden at the fringe of the gardens can be relatively good at times and I decided to try my luck there.

A pair of large raptors riding the thermals caught my immediate attention. The colouration was quite distinct and it was a pair of dark morphed Changeable Hawk-Eagles. The main breeding season has commenced and it is not unusual to see birds pairing up in preparation. Coincidentally, it is also Valentine’s Day and love was certainly in the air.

As I walked along the access trail surrounded by clumps of bamboo whispering in the soft breeze, a feeling of serenity started to develop within me. But it did not last long. A striking male Crimson Sunbird darted across my path hardly an arm’s length away. This is one bird, despite being common in Penang Island that I could do with more images. Much to my delight, he alighted nearby and started to forage among the bamboo shoots.

The lighting was dim, vegetation was dense and the sunbird was constantly on the move. It was both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. This is one of my target birds for my visit to the gardens and it looks like the Lunar New Year came early for me this year with this offering of an auspiciously-coloured feathered gem.

As I was recovering from the encounter with the Crimson Sunbird, a second male bird came into view. At this spot, the lighting was better and this casual visit to one of the closest green areas to home elevated into quite a rewarding one.

I guess there is a reason why he is called a sunbird. When he briefly alighted in direct sunlight, his colouration radiated and almost rivalled the intensity of the sun. My beloved hometown which I often lament is poor in birdlife, left me struggling for air this time as it was truly a breath taking experience. 

Crested Mynas are striving here in the gardens and they outnumber the Jungle Mynas, Hill Mynas and even the Common Mynas. Anyway, the crest and character of this species always do it for me.

One species that does not share the same fate as the Crested Myna is the Oriental Magpie-Robin. It is always good to see one close to built up areas. There was a pair present and hopefully, the coming breeding season will be kind to them and the next generation of these famed songsters will emerge successfully and safe.

A number of water birds were encountered as well with the Striated Herons being one of the most conspicuous species. At least 2 birds were foraging along a small stream that skirts this landscape garden.

The much larger Little Egret also finds sanctuary here although it looked a little out of place. The white plumage does not exactly blend well with the environment but it is a regular winter visitor to this locality.

A family of White-breasted Waterhens was also out and about. The recently fledged chicks keep close to the parent.

Well, most of the time anyway...

Although not as abundant as the marauding Long-tailed Macaques, troops of Dusky Leaf-Monkeys can be seen here on a regular basis. I came across a small troop foraging on the ground which was not their usual practice and they were surprisingly confiding. The morsels found here must be very succulent to be able to entice these canopy dwellers to feed in this manner.

A young one trotted across the access road hoping that the grass is greener on the other side and it was not disappointed. With the evening light rapidly diminishing, I decided to make my way home. This short excursion turned out better than expected and a perfect way to unwind after days of near impossible deadlines at work.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all those celebrating a Happy Chinese New Year.