Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Good day, mate - Part 1

For me, long birding trips is one of the most fulfilling things in life. I spend a lot of time birding and guiding visitors in Penang and neighbouring states. Thus, when I get a chance to explore birding sites far from home, there is always a sense of excitement. Laurie, an avid Australian birder, contacted me well ahead of his planned birding trip to Peninsular Malaysia with his teenage son. So, I was able to accommodate them to do a 4-day birding excursion including 2 nights at the birding mecca known as Fraser Hill. For the first day, we visited sites that were closer to home starting with the forest of Pedu Lake in Kedah state.

I timed our arrival to reach the locality just before dawn with the hopes of bagging a night bird or two. I am sure there were a few of them vocalising but one particular call had my undivided attention and it belonged to the enigmatic Large Frogmouth. When it comes to nocturnal birds in Peninsular Malaysia, the Large Frogmouth is perhaps one of the most impressive and intriguing species. It took me a while to locate the bird but when I finally did, I had goose bumps all over and quivered with excitement. Perched on an exposed vine overlooking a forest stream, the Large Frogmouth was in its element. The humans, on the other hand, were literally groping in the dark. People often ask me what my favourite bird is. It is a question I will find hard to answer. I may be undecided on my favourite bird but I certainly know my favourite birding moments. And the encounter with this remarkable creature of the night is certainly one of them. My guests could not have ask for a better start to their birding adventure here in Malaysia. Neither could I.

Once the sun rose, the forest then came alive with the calls of diurnal birds. A Scarlet-rumped Trogon was calling from the crown of a small tree and with colours as striking as this, this male bird was a breath taking sight. Forest birding can often be frustrating but it is the only chance to encounter such alluring bird life.

Upon further scrutiny, a blue flycatcher foraging along the edge of the access road turned out to be a male Chinese Blue Flycatcher. It is an uncommon migrant to our shores and despite its similarities to other commoner Blue Flycatchers, the subtle difference in the colouration of the throat region was all it took to turn ordinary into extraordinary.

Whenever the Great Slaty Woodpecker is presence, it is almost impossible for you not to noticed it. Not only is it the biggest woodpecker in Malaysia, it is also one of the noisiest birds here as well. It usually occurs in small flock but I guess this one prefers the solitude of single life. Unfortunately, the only shot I have to show for the encounter was one with the big guy flying away and deeper into the jungle domain.

Along the forest edge, you are likely to come across a vocal little warbler that frequents the long grass area. Sometimes, the Rufescent Prinia will perch conspicuously whilst uttering its territorial call and that is the best time to observe and photograph it.

At the mangroves of Sungai Batu, the Mangrove Pitta put on yet another impeccable performance to have my guests spellbound.

However, I felt that the Puff-throated Babbler deserved some recognition for providing a very intimate encounter. And the volume of its territorial song at this proximity, was overwhelming to say the least.

The Abbott’s Babbler did not go unappreciated as it foraged on the muddy terrain. It would be an uphill task to outdo the charisma of the Puff-throated Babbler but this drably coloured bird has its own appeal.

Although the Malaysian Pied-Fantail is a common bird, it has a tendency to move about at a frantic pace and that makes it difficult to obtain its images. When we came across one that was not quite so hyperactive, it provided a very good photographic opportunity which does not come by all that often.

As we wandering along the paddy fields of mainland Penang, several Chinese Pond-Herons stood out like beacons in the sea of paddy and mud due to their smart breeding plumage. One confiding individual eventually had me focusing my camera on a species that I have been photographing a lot lately.

Just like the previous trip, I only managed to show the Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher when we reached the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest. The female was the only one present this time but it was enough to add another species to my guest’s ever-growing Malaysian life list.

It was good to see the Streak-breasted Woodpecker after a long lapse. Although it was the duller female and a distant observation, the restricted range of this northern speciality made this encounter a significant one for the day.

The last destination of the day yielded one more uncommon species and it was a Javan Pond-Heron. The mudflats of Bagan Belat this season seems to be the preferred foraging ground for this species and quite a big number can be seen on a regular basis. Tomorrow we will be heading up for some cool mountain air and hopefully, lots of memorable birding encounters in Fraser Hill. That will be covered in my next post.

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