The virgin jungle of Bukit Wang in Kedah state is home to a number of alluring bird species and I am putting my hopes on a few to reveal themselves for my Singaporean guests. The long drive from Penang was slightly more gruelling than usual and it is probably due to yesterday’s predawn raid to Pedu. As we were about to reach the car park, I spotted a dark object on a tree in a fruit orchard. I stopped for a better look and whatever sleepiness or fatigue vanished into thin air. I was invigorated like no coffee on Earth could for standing on an exposed perch was a Dusky Eagle-Owl. Bukit Wang is one of the few places in Malaysia where this scarce nocturnal predator is known to occur. Lighting was less than favourable and so was the distance but this is the biggest owl in the Malaysia. Just to be able to see it in the wild like this is a privilege to me. It is truly an incredible creature and the encounter, priceless.
We barely got out of the car park area when something big took flight and retreated into the forest. From the jizz, I was quite certain it was another owl. After a careful sweep, I managed to relocate it and it was a Buffy Fish-Owl. Not quite in the same class as the Dusky Eagle-Owl but this common owl is still an impressive bird. Any daytime encounter with owls is an amazing experience and to have two simultaneously is beyond words.
The recreational area of this reserve is very scenic. In fact, I think it is one of the most appealing at all the forest sites that I frequent. The rays of the morning sun cast beautiful shadows and a kaleidoscope of light spectrums pierced through the forest like the brush strokes of an artist. My guest took a minute to soak in the views and so did I.
However once we entered the forest proper, things trickled down almost to a standstill. Birds were far and few. A male Tiger Shrike in his handsome breeding plumage offered some redemption. Resting on a well lighted perch, this migrant will soon make its way back north.
It is logical to assume common forest birds would be easy to locate and photograph. It is true for the first part but as to obtaining photographs, common birds can be just as frustrating. The Dark-necked Tailorbird is probably one of the commonest birds here but this striking male kept himself partly hidden throughout our observation.
My guests still in high spirits despite the slightly disappointing session in the forested area of the reserve...
I decided to have a change of scenery and took my guests to the paddy fields of mainland Penang. Only the commoner birds were encountered until we came across a rather pale Pond-Heron. Another quick look and the whole vehicle shook with excitement. An Indian Pond-Heron in full breeding plumage alone is quite a sign and this one, was hunting. This heron adopts the freeze-and-wait technique and we patiently waited with it. The human observers were starting to get restless when the heron finally struck. It managed to catch a sizeable fish and my guests, a satisfying end to a long wait.
Our final destination for this 2-day excursion brought us to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam. The Spotted Wood-Owl made it three owls in a day but it hid itself among the foliage well today. On the contrary, a male Banded Woodpecker rested on an exposed perch for a prolonged period time. Most woodpeckers are spectacular birds and the Banded Woodpecker is no exception. Sporting a combination reds, greens and character; this common species was one of the highlights of trip.
The Yellow-bellied Prinia was at its usual patch of scrub proclaiming its territory. During the breeding season, this grassland warbler will reveal itself more often than usual and this is the best time to obtain its images.
Night birds were not the only ones monopolizing our memories of this trip. The Blue-winged Pitta was the second pitta species in two days and that again, is a significant moment for my guests. It may be the commonest of all our pittas but it has been driving me insane for the past few weeks as I tried my best to show it to several of my foreign guests but to no avail. Finally, my first reasonable images of the Blue-winged Pitta this season.
As we were trying to obtain better images of the pitta, a female Paradise-Flycatcher passed through the vicinity but not before alighting briefly not too far us. This spring migration has seen several species of these exquisite flycatchers on passage at this location and they included Blyth’s, Amur, Japanese and Indian Paradise-Flycatcher (a first for Malaysia). I took a few shots of her but when she gradually moved on, I let her go thinking that she was neither a Japanese nor an Indian Paradise-Flycatcher. It was a decision I will soon regret. Back home, I was not fully convinced of my own conclusion as all the females are remarkably similar and I showed the image to Dave Bakewell and Philip Round. They think it could be a female Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher and although females are not even close to the resplendent of the males, she could have provided me with my first images of the species. However, I can never be certain of this as she was no longer present the next day.
Shortly after the encounter with the geisha, a splendid Black-and-red Broadbill alighted right in front of us and exhilaration again filled the vicinity. As we were shooting this amazing bird, one of my guest decided to shift to no doubt, a better position. I heard a loud crash and turned around to find my guest without his gear. His gear, which cost a small fortune, had fallen unto the ground – and so did my heart. The broadbill would have been one hell of a conclusion to this rewarding day but this unwanted incident snatched that honour. But even so, there was no denying the last 48 hours held some remarkable moments. Night birds and pittas are two of the most fascinating birds for me and we certainly had a fair share of them this time.