Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Good day, mate - Part 4

It took a moment to acclimatize to the hot and humid conditions of lowland tropical rain forests after three days in Fraser’s Hill. The short trek to Sungai Congkak Forest Reserve’s stakeout point reminded how good we had it up at the hill resort. My Australian guests were on the final leg of their 4-day tour and this would be their last destination. The distant thunder threatened to cut short this last excursion here in Selangor state. But all worries about the gloomy weather and pesky mosquitoes vanished when the first bird of this birding hotspot made an appearance. The Horsfield’s Babbler is not common anywhere in Malaysia. It has been years since my last sighting of the Horsfield’s Babbler and the confiding nature of this individual got me just as excited as my guests. I finally have images of this scarce but drab-looking forest bird and it felt good.

Lowland babblers are generally difficult to observe due to their active nature and preference for dense vegetation. Stakeouts like this is probably the only place you can enjoy intimate encounters with them. The White-chested Babbler occurs in one of my local patches and it took a lot of effort to obtain the handful of images I have of this species. Here, the bird is much more confiding and will occasionally abandoned its skulking behaviour and wander out into the open.

There are two passerines in Malaysia that walk instead of hop as they move about the forest floor. One is the enigmatic Malaysian Rail-Babbler. And the other, though not so charismatic, is the Black-capped Babbler. Like the former, its distinctive call is usually the only indication of its presence. When seen in good light, the Black-capped Babbler is quite a striking bird and I certainly do not come across this all that often.

The reigning star bird of this locality is the Rufous-backed Kingfisher. Amazing colouration makes it a true jewel of the forest but its minute size makes it difficult to locate. I was smitten by its beauty when I made my maiden visit to the location last year. No longer a first timer, I thought I would be able to control my emotions better this time but I was wrong. I was just spellbound. This little kingfisher is truly something else.

Even without eye contact, this image of the Rufous-backed Kingfisher facing away was still a keeper to me.

There were a few newcomers to the stakeout and one of them was a female Siberian Blue Robin. She was still wary of human presence and kept her distance. That was a real shame because although it is not a rare bird, I still do not have any decent photographs of this migratory robin. By then the weather had turned for the worst. When the rain started to trickle down, we knew better than to stay on. So concluded my tour with the Knights. It was a rewarding trip and I enjoyed it as much as my guests.

I stayed over at Victor’s place for the night with the intention of dragging him along for some birding in the morning before I take the long drive back to Penang. He took me to a wader roost in Jeram along the Selangor coastline and we timed our arrival with the rising tide. We were greeted by a spectacle of nature as hundreds of waders were roosting on the sandy shore. It was their high tide roost and the landscape of the beach allowed us to creep right up to them without giving away our presence.

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers present at such close quarters. One of the reasons animals flock together in big numbers is to evade a predator as there is safety in numbers. Sometimes a predator may become disoriented and unable to single out one quarry to pursue.  It has the same effect on photographers as well. When I finally regain my composure, I found that the majority of the waders present were Lesser Sand-Plovers and some were sporting their smart summer plumage.

Red-necked Stints were in good numbers here as well and like the plovers, some were in breeding plumage. At times, these peeps wandered very close to my position. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed such intimate encounters with roosting waders. Most of the roost sites in Penang have shifted to inaccessible locations. I am glad Victor brought me to this location. It was just like the good old days when wader watching was awesome back in my home state.

Despite a careful sweep, there were no rarities among the flock. I was not disappointed. Birding is not always about rarities and lifers. It is also about losing yourselves among the wonders of nature. It is about finding solitude in your main passion in life. It is about discovering experiences that last a lifetime. Even a common species like the Curlew Sandpiper can awe and inspire – especially if it is in its splendid breeding plumage.

Whenever the roosting flock took flight, it was a whirlwind of wings and feathers. The sight and sound of hundreds of birds taking off and alighting back at the same place was breath taking indeed.

This is how you shoot at this wader roost. Camouflaged attire to blend in. On your knees to break the human form, for better photographic angle and to show gratitude to a greater power for the opportunity to experience this rewarding moment.

The waders gradually disappeared with the receding tide. We then combed the rugged shore line for any other birding highlights to add to the visit here.

Like a scene from the Cretaceous Period, three prehistoric-looking beasts were hunting along the exposed mud. Even at this distance there is no mistaking the Lesser Adjutant.

There are a few ways to describe this endangered stork but I do not feel ugly is one of them. Every bird is beautiful in its own way. This stork is one of my favourite birds and that will tell you how I feel about its appearance. Unfortunately, the Lesser Adjutant is getting scarce in my home state and a sight like this is rare to come by.

I guess habitat destruction and human encroachment is to blame. I am always a sucker for large water birds and the Lesser Adjutant being the biggest here in Malaysia, will always have a special place in my heart.

During my drive back to Penang, I made a quick detour Kek Lok Tong Temple for a break and some birding. This temple is a popular birding location and since it is at the halfway point of my drive home, it is a regular pit stop of mine whenever I travel back from the central region. True to its reputation, I was greeted by a pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls at the entrance to the temple. The origins of the pair is questionable as native birds are restricted to the north of the peninsular. However, there were doubts about their vocal abilities and aesthetic appeal.

The Blue Rock-Thrush is very much a part of this temple cave. Located at one of the many limestone outcrops throughout Ipoh town in Perak, the temple is an ideal refuge for this beautiful dweller of rocky terrains. As usual, the male is more striking than the female and had my initial attention.

The female does not lag very far from the male in the looks department and received a fair share of affection.

There is another avian resident of this temple cave. One that has somehow managed to evade me on every visit here. The Blue Whistling Thrush is somewhat uncommon as I do not come across it often when I am out in the field. This temple is probably one of the best places to observe and photograph the species. But as fate would have it, it was another failed attempt. To take its place was a surprisingly tame female Asian Emerald Dove. This usually shy member of the dove family provided a fitting end to my interstate birding adventure.

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