Friday, 13 April 2018

Good day, mate - Part 2

We finally arrived at one of the best birding sites in Malaysia which is the montane forest of Fraser’s Hill in Pahang State. The town centre has not changed much through the years with the iconic clock tower still standing proud and greeting every guest as they make their way past the winding road up from the Gap.

However, I did not drive 4 hours from Penang just to admire colonial architectures. As soon as we settled our accommodations at this rustic hill resort, we were off in pursuit of feathered denizens that find sanctuary here. The first spot that we went to is where the endemic Malaysian Partridges are regularly seen. It took a long while for the partridges to show. Lucky for us, we had the commoner species to keep us company. The Oriental Magpie-Robin is still doing well in this cool mountainous environment and an adult male looks just as good as he sings.

It did not take long for the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush to show and soon, we were surrounded by these vocal and inquisitive birds. I may be getting immune to the birds’ colourful presence but to a first timer like my Australian guests, the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush is one hell of a bird.

Overshadowed by its more conspicuous relatives, the Malayan Laughingthrush prefers to take a more discreet entrance. However being the rarer of the two, it naturally had our attention too.

I find the Common Emerald Dove to be a difficult bird to observe as it is wary of human intrusion. However, the doves here are accustomed to human presence and intimate encounters with this striking ground dweller is possible for a change.

The wait for the Malaysian Partridge was a long one – just like my last attempt here almost a year ago. Time came to a standstill when the first of the partridges appeared. Followed closely by another and another. Then came the one of the main highlights of the trip. Four fluffy and adorable chicks hopped out from the shadowy world of the forest understorey.

The chicks stuck to the adults like magnet to steel. Needless to say it was for their survival and wellbeing.

It is good to see these elusive gamebirds thriving. The sight of the next generation of Malaysian Partridges melted my heart away. It was not expected and that made the encounter all the sweeter.

This is what the chicks will eventually transform into – a striking adult perfectly adapted to life among the leaf litter and undergrowth.

The undergrowth is home to a number of exquisite bird species and one such bird is the White-tailed Robin. Due to its preference for dark gullies and ravines, this secretive bird does not often reveal its true beauty especially the male. The two white tail streaks from which its name is derived is probably all you see as the robin makes its getaway. Thus, to have a handsome male White-tailed Robin out in the open is an encounter can drop a seasoned birder to his knees. In which I did – in order to obtain more intimate images of this beauty of a bird.

It would be difficult for the White-tailed Robin to be overshadowed but it was in the hands, or should I say wings, of a male Orange-headed Thrush. With a colour combination of bright orange head and underparts contrasting sharply against greyish blue upperparts, this uncommon migrant is a true visual feast.

I have only a handful of encounters with this thrush but this is the best one by far. Our first day at this birding haven is drawing to a close and I am absolutely delighted to have this species wrapped things up.

The next morning, we were on a quest to see one of the most striking birds of this hill resort. The great thing about this bird is that it is not too difficult to locate here. Time yourself right at a particular stretch of road and you will have a very good chance to catch the gorgeous Red-headed Trogon hunting for breakfast at the forest edge. The male, naturally, has more vivid colouration and today Lady Luck was on our side. Not only did we have a male bird in all his glory but there was hardly any mist which is the norm at this hour.

The lighting may not be ideal but it could rob the trogon of his splendour. Throughout our observation, he moved about leisurely along the forest edge. From overhead electric cables to the foliage of trees; no matter where he alighted he graced the vicinity with his presence and it was a mesmerizing affair.

One of the biggest of our flycatchers, the Large Niltava is another common species here in Fraser’s Hill. For someone who does not spend enough time birding in the mountains, the male Large Niltava will always have my admiration even if he is ringed for I suppose scientific purposes. Why else would some human want to spoil the natural beauty of this bird by placing gaudy coloured rings on its legs, right?

The living mascot of Fraser’s Hill is the Silver-eared Mesia. And deservingly so I might add. Common, confiding, colourful and cheerful; this montane babbler is always a delight to encounter. This post is now getting a bit too lengthy for my liking and I will continue my write up of this amazing place in my next post.

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