Thursday, 19 July 2018

Testing times...

Birding is full of surprises. Some are good and others are not. My two most recent tours fall short of expectations and it was even possible to combine them into a single blog posting. I always remind myself that I am dealing with completely wild and free subjects that do not necessary bend to the will of Man. It offers some relief but it is still disheartening not to be able provide a complete birding experience for my foreign guests. My first outing took me and my Singaporean guest to the mangroves of Sungai Batu in Kedah state. It started off well enough with another mesmerising performance by the resident Mangrove Pitta. It was a new species for my guest and naturally, the encounter was memorable.

The inquisitive Abbott’s Babblers were the supporting cast at this swampy domain as they went about their daily routine cheerfully. In fact if I am not mistaken, one of the field guides even describes the call of this non-descript babbler as “three-cheers-for-you”.

A few other regulars of this birding site helped to make the visit enjoyable and exciting. We then decided to try our luck elsewhere and that was when this half-day excursion began to slide downhill. Strong winds days before again caused havoc to the Air Hitam Educational Forest uprooting trees. It is unbelievably quiet today and the birds that were present were just simply being difficult. A Olive-winged Bulbul foraging at the car park area was given full attention as it was one of the few birds that managed to find its way into my memory card.

The only other species worth mentioning was the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. A parent bird was showing an immature bird the ropes and their confiding nature was certainly the highlight of the visit here.

There were only subtle differences between the adult and the youngster. The latter’s present signified another successful season for this species here. Soon, it will attain its adult plumage and hopefully, live a fruitful life at this swampy domain. It was also the last bird of the trip. Air Hitam Dalam seldom disappoints but today it did.

For my second outing, I found myself and my Australian guests in the pristine forest surrounding Pedu Lake in Kedah. The weather was ideal and the lush landscape was as enchanting as always. However, the birds were far and few. Common but beautiful species that regular greet my visiting guests were no where to be seen. White-bellied Munias and Crested Jays could have lifted the trip had they been a little more obliging. My saviour of the visit here did not come from the trees above but from the undergrowth. A Black-capped Babbler strolling next to a forest trail provided the only photographic opportunity for me at this site. A far from perfect shot but it captured the true essence of this terrestrial skulker.

It is always good to have a contingency plan and the feathered denizens of Sungai Batu mangroves have always had my back. But to my dismay, the star bird was absent today. The return of the Puff-throated Babblers, which were not present during my last few visits, could not fully compensate my failure to locate the Mangrove Pitta. Today has been one of the toughest tours I have to conduct. Not so much physically but emotionally. This past two days has been truly testing times but it is something that comes with the job.

The resident pair of Mangrove Blue-Flycatchers provided much-needed colours to our visit here despite the male looking far from his best.

Our last destination of the trip was the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam. Owls happened to be a favourite with my guests and my efforts to locate the roosting Spotted Wood-owls of this birding spot fell flat – inevitably. A confiding Black-and-red Broadbill helped save the trip from being a total let down and whatever pride I had left. Vivid colouration and looking absolutely lovable, this beautiful bird will always be a big hit among my guests.

While making our way back to the car, we were intercepted by a flock of Pin-striped Tit-babblers. Arboreal babblers are usually a nightmare for photography and just to follow the movement of these little birds was a challenge. Perhaps sensing our dismay, one individual decided to remained put long enough for us to capture a couple of reasonable photos before it went back into hyper mode. Considering our luck today, I was grateful for the little guy’s contribution.

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