A planned trip to the peat swamp forest of Pondok Tanjung in northern Perak with Hor Kee had to be put on hold because a swollen knee as a result of a Badminton game a few days back. I guess age is catching up on me. And to be in denial is just futile. Anyway, I opted to visit another swamp forest much closer to home and more relaxing. Birding is relatively easy around Penang and the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest is no exception. But things were not looking all that good upon my arrival as I was greeted by rain despite the sunny conditions. I took shelter in one of the gazebos and started checking my messages and email. The loud calls of the White-chested Babbler suddenly echoed through the vicinity and the smartphone was kept back in my bag where it rightfully should be. The rain had almost trickled to a stop by then. I said a little prayer and waited. Some movements among the base of the Nipah Palms caught my eye and soon after, a White-chested Babbler hopped into view. In Irish mythology at the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold. In this case, my pot of gold is a little brown job with a big voice.
I took a stroll along the river trail but it was relatively quiet except for the raucous calls of the resident pair of Collared Kingfishers. A Changeable Hawk-Eagle on the hunt did not go unnoticed and as the raptor circled over the kingfishers, I managed to capture one of them keeping an eye on the formidable predator.
I have birded at this locality countless times throughout all these years and yet, it still has not cease to amaze. I have recorded the Blue-eared Kingfisher here before but nothing more than a glimpse as it darts through the vicinity. Along the elevated boardwalk that cuts though the swamp, the bright colouration of this small but stunning kingfisher stood out from the vegetation. In fact, it looked a little out of place but that is far from the truth. The kingfisher is in its element here. The small stream augmented by the rising tide was the perfect hunting ground. I got down all my knees despite the discomfort and crept closer. Exhilaration has almost taken over my senses. So much for a relaxing morning of birding at a local patch. I only hope that my intrusion will be tolerated.
It turned out to be a young male and he was unperturbed by my presence. For the second time in two months, species of birds that are normally shy and elusive here at Air Hitam Dalam displayed a degree of tameness that can only be the results of a greater power at work. Both the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and this Blue-eared Kingfisher are beautiful and intriguing birds. I am truly blessed to be given the opportunities to enjoy such intimate encounters.
The lighting conditions was not exactly ideal but the magnitude of this encounter simply overshadowed all other factors including the discomfort that has started to develop in my knee joint.
When the kingfisher finally ventured deeper into the swamp, it was time to haul myself upright again and carry on. One of the reasons I decided to visit this locality was to try and spend more time with the Blue-winged Pitta that has been showing well of late. Unfortunately, it proved to be most difficult to even obtain a decent view of the pitta today. The other species that frequent the stake out of the pitta presented themselves as expected. Most noticeable were the ever inquisitive Abbott’s Babblers.
A few Olive-winged Bulbuls helped to pass the time as I waited for the Blue-winged Pitta. Bulbuls are nowhere close to pittas in terms of colours and charisma but that does not mean they will not have my attention – especially when things are slow.
You know things are really slow when I even have time for the Common Sun Skink...
The Mangrove Blue-Flycatchers provided much needed colours and beauty to the stake out. Today, the female was much more obliging than her mate. Although there is sexual dimorphism in this species, the female is just as stunning as the male.
Air Hitam Dalam is home to a number of woodpeckers and although three species was recorded today, only one provide some opportunities for its images to be taken – a female Common Flameback foraging next to the access road.
When one of the big trees here uprooted last year, the negative effect it had on the bird life was quite apparent. Along the outermost elevated boardwalk next to the river, I came across a sight I truly dread. Another big tree had fallen victim but I am not entirely sure of the cause. This birding location has seen better days and I hope this will not deteriorate the site any further.
A bird’s eye view of the closest piece of heaven to home – the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest.
A stroke of good fortune revealed a pair of roosting Spotted Wood-Owls as the noon hour approaches. They strategically chose the highest and densest tree crown for their siesta. My effort to obtain decent images did not go well down with the owls. A lengthy stare from its lofty perch was enough to convince me to abandon all thoughts of an improvement shot. Anyway, this beautiful night predator wrapped things up for the day. On this rare occasion, I was actually looking forward to concluding the excursion and seek the comforts of home to recuperate my ailing anatomy.