Sunday, 15 April 2018

Good day, mate - Part 3

One of the reasons that Fraser’s Hill is such a haven for birding is the confiding nature of some of the resident birds. A few of the bungalows are known for the birds’ morning visits and several species can come together to forage on leftovers, handouts and insects attracted by lights during the night.

The Fire-tufted Barbet is huge by barbet standards. Combined with its striking appearance and signatory call, this barbet is certainly one of the star birds of this locality. The fiery lashes are usually hidden from view except when in close proximity. I try not to stare too long as they have a somewhat hypnotic effect – on me anyways.

Moving about in noisy flocks, the Long-tailed Sibia is one of the more conspicuous birds of hill stations like this. What it lacks in colour is made up with character. And a flock in search of breakfast is a delightful encounter.

I have yet to obtain any close shots of the male Black-and-crimson Oriole although I see it during most of my visits to the mountains of Peninsular Malaysia. Having no yellow at all in its plumage already makes this oriole unique and its skittish nature makes it a bird that I always keep a lookout for when I am in its neck of the woods.

There are little brown jobs that call this hill resort home but because of their less radiating appearance, they are usually ignored. The Buff-breasted Babbler is no ordinary brown job to me as it is uncommon where I come from. Even here, it takes some effort to obtain decent shots.

The evening sky brought the rains in and my Australian guests decided to have a little siesta before dinner. Despite the obvious setback, I wandered out on my own and tried my luck at the Malaysian Partridges’ tuft. When the rain trickled to a stop, my quarries strolled into view from the ravine below. I, just sat back and enjoyed the show.

However, there were no signs of the little bundles of joy like yesterday. It is possible that these birds are from a different flock as there is a healthy population of these endemic gamebirds here in Fraser’s Hill.

An explosive series of double note whistle echoed through vicinity from a nearby ravine followed by the calls of a second bird. A heightened sense of exhilaration overtook me. I now have two Rusty-naped Pittas calling persistently in front of me. Experience has taught me this is one of the most difficult and shyest birds to see. But I yearn for my first ever photograph of this terrestrial creature. I crawled my way into the ravine an inch at a time and waited patiently crouched like a rock. Leeches and God knows what else were no longer relevant. One of the pittas was just beyond a line of understorey vegetation. I lost track of time as the pitta proved to be as elusive as ever. Sweat began to trickle down my temple and my legs cramped up from this uncomfortable position. Then a rustling of leaf litter beyond my shoulder propelled the moment to the point of climax but when whatever it was making the noise finally came into view, it turned to be only an inquisitive Malaysian Partridge and not the Rusty-naped Pitta which I had hoped for. I looked down the ravine only to see the Rusty-naped Pitta hopping across and disappeared into the vegetation. Reluctantly, I hauled myself up the ravine a broken man.

The next morning, I was still reeling from the disappointment with the Rusty-naped Pittas. Failing to capture the Mountain Scops-owl and Grey Nightjar before dawn offered no relief at all. But this is Fraser’s Hill. A premier birding site in Malaysia. And you do not stay disappointed for long. The Sultan Tit is a living work of art and a pair was foraging confidingly in our presence. We, the humans were certainly humbled by its divine beauty. Insects attracted by the lights of the bungalow the night before often linger around well into the morning. That in turn attracts insectivores like the Sultan Tit.

It would have been the perfect start to the day if we were better positioned to capture the courtship feeding of this pair of Sultan Tits. But I guess there is a limit to the magic of this birding paradise.

A pair of Mountain Imperial Pigeons resting on a lofty perch slightly shrouded by mist was a picture of blissful serenity...

Swooping in from the adjacent forest, a pair of Common Green Magpies shattered that peace and quiet with their resonant calls. This is another resident that is a true gem of the montane forest. The sheer size of the magpie only amplifies its striking appearance. The availability of food enticed this usually shy bird right out into the open. At such close quarters, the Common Green Magpie is an impressive bird indeed.

With poise and grace, a few Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos hawked for insects in the vicinity. Unfortunately, only one had the long tail streamers. Sod’s Law then came into play and that particular individual somehow managed to evade all my attempts to photograph it.

Fraser’s Hill is not only about birds. It has so much more to offer as well. This trip, I managed to obtain some images of squirrels that roam the forest here. The Pallas's Squirrel is a commonly encountered species. A confiding individual had my attention momentarily and I managed to capture some of the best images to date.

The Himalayan Striped Squirrel moves at hyper speed most of the time. Its diminutive size makes it adorable but it also makes it difficult to photograph. A pair were having a territorial dispute and in between the high speed pursuits around one particular tree trunk, the squirrels will pause for a breather. I took advantage of this repetitive behaviour to finally add this species to my digital collection.

My best moment in Fraser’s Hill this time took place on our last day. I decided to take my guests birding along the road that goes down to the Gap. There is one resident bird of Fraser’s Hill that has eluded me all these years and I have made it a point to mesmerize its call. As we made past a deep ravine, there was no mistake of what was calling down below – the elusive Marbled Wren-Babbler. Excitement soon turned to frustration as the calling bird remained hidden from view. Out of desperation, I descended the ravine and a brief view of my lifer moving deeper into the forest was all that I got in return.  A distant shot of a young Slaty-backed Forktail shortly after was very little compensation for my failure to photograph the Wren-Babbler.

We made one last visit to the stakeout where the White-tailed Robin frequents and were not disappointed. The male bird showed off his subtle yet enchanting colouration for our group to admire and appreciate.

The final bird for the Fraser’s Hill chapter is the Rufous-browed Flycatcher. A small bird that spends a lot time in dimly lighted undergrowth and with its soft high pitched song as the only indication of its presence. The puffy white throat does give the flycatcher some contrast to its plumage. However when seen in good light, it does boost enough appeal to earn some space in my memory card. From here, we headed down to the lowlands of Selangor where a whole different set of birds await. That will be covered in my next post.


Andrew Bailey said...

Wonderful stuff!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Andrew.

digdeep said...

Nice one Mun. Your "Grey-bellied Squirrel" is actually its montane counterpart - Pallas's Squirrel. Check out the deep reddish belly.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you for the correction, Dave.