Thursday, 26 April 2018

Don't count your pittas...


In view of the recent spike of bird activities at my beloved Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang, I decided to start off the day with my Swedish guest here. He has little birding experience in this part of the world and imagine, the first bird to greet us was a Great Eared-Nightjar. This goliath of a nightjar almost swept him off his feet with its massive size. And I could not have ask for a better way to start off a tour. Once it got bright, the dawn chorus commenced. And one of the most persistent calls came from the grassy patch at the edge of the reserve. With a little perseverance, we managed to locate the source. The Yellow-bellied Prinia may be a common bird. But when seen well and in full song, can be quite a sight especially for a foreign visitor.


When the lighting improved, so did our images. The Yellow-bellied Prinia was very obliging today and that certainly aided our photographic attempts.


A Blue-winged Pitta sneaked into view at one point but vanished before we had a very good look. I did not know then but it was a sign of things to come for this terrestrial birds today. A total of three birds were recorded today from two different locations and this is the only photo I have to show. To make matters worse, my usual saviour, the Mangrove Pitta of Sungai Batu, was missing today and I was hoping for it to help make up for the frustrating encounters with the Blue-winged Pitta. It was disappointing to say the least but lucky for me, Keith seemed to handle the disappointment better than me.


The resident Spotted Wood-Owl roosted slightly lower than usual and best of all, no irritating branches in the way this time. Daytime sightings of owls are almost if not just as good as pitta sightings. Although the lighting was not ideal, it was a good encounter for the both of us.


Foraging nosily among the undergrowth was a pair of Abbott’s Babblers. We decided to follow the movement of the skulking pair and one of them rewarded our efforts by wandering out into the open for a substantial amount of time.


One of the commonest birds at Air Hitam Dalam, is the Olive-winged Bulbul. Here, it outnumbers even the usually abundant Yellow-vented Bulbul. These bulbuls can be confiding at times and this individual wandered quite close to our position when we were taking a breather at the car park area.


The Clouded Monitor is still thriving in suitable habitats throughout the country and the swamp forest here is one of them. Adult lizards grow to impressive lengths and can be a little intimidating at times. A resting youngster was exceptionally confiding today and from the elevated boardwalk, the tree hole where it rested was just about eye level.


A full breeding plumaged Cattle Egret was foraging next to the river as we were making our way out. It may be the smallest egret here but when sporting its full breeding plumage, the Cattle Egret is undoubtedly the best looking one.


The mudflats of Bagan Belat was the next destination of the day. However, there was nothing much of interest present except for a lone Indian Pond-Herons. Pond-Herons in breeding plumage was one of the targets of my guest and I was delighted to show him the rarest of them here in Malaysia.


The scrub and secondary growth next to the coast outshined the mudflats this time and provided a number of exciting encounters. Like I mentioned earlier, the Blue-winged Pittas here were just as elusive and brief glimpses were all that was offered. While hunting the pittas, we accidentally flushed a young Large-tailed Nightjar from its daytime roost. The buoyant flight of the nightjar as it weaved past the vegetation had a dream-like effect. Just like owls, nightjars are enigmatic creatures of the night and daytime sightings are always an exciting affair.


The best image from this site is of a striking Green-billed Malkoha resting at the canopy level for a prolonged period of time. This species like all malkohas tend to be restless and are constantly on the move making photography a challenge. This long tail never cease to amaze and is one of the reasons why I adore this non-parasitic cuckoo.


The mangroves of Sungai Batu is a reliable spot that forms part of my birding circuit for my foreign guests. However, the celebrity bird was absent this time and it was a devastating blow to my plans. Pittas are a much sought after species and the Mangrove Pitta here has rarely disappointed me and I guess today is one of those days. Nothing in birding is ever a sure thing and this is proof to that statement. On a brighter note, the resident pair of Mangrove Blue-Flycatchers are showing well again. Though not quite on the same scale as the Mangrove Pitta, the flycatchers are still lovely birds and much adored by most of my foreign guests.



I was a little surprise to see the Forest Wagtail as it has not been seen for quite a period of time. I initially thought it has undergone the journey back north to breed. I guess I was wrong. Strikingly marked and with a habitual and adorable sway, this species is always a good addition to any birding excursion.


The last destination of the day were the paddy fields of mainland Penang. Here, my guest completed his quest to photograph all three species of pond-herons in their respective breeding plumages. The Chinese Pond-Herons were the most numerous as expected. However, only a single Javan was seen in comparison to two Indian Pond-Herons. To see three Indian Pond-Herons in a single day is not something that happens regularly and this year, has been a good season for me.


Of all the open country egrets that occur here in Malaysia, the Intermediate Egret is the one that is usually missing from my foreign guests’ life list. I have seen enough Intermediate Egrets to tell them from the Great Egrets just by the jizz alone. And once my guests have learned the subtle differences, the Intermediate Egret is a distinct bird. This individual that was hunting in a recently planted patch was showing traces of its breeding plumes was the final bird to be photographed for the day. Although the pittas were a disappointment today, the other species that we managed to record did a fine job trying to fill the huge gap left by the former.


The checklist of birds recorded: 
1. Air Hitam Dalam
2. Bagan Belat
3. Sungai Batu
4. Permatang Pauh

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