My latest birding excursion could not have kicked off any worse. It was a predawn trip and I was greeted by cold night breeze and persistent drizzle as I made my way to my parked vehicle. Chilled to the bone and anxious, I had to put on my game face as I picked up my Sabahan guest from his hotel. The drive to Pedu took longer than usual due to the weather condition. It had stop raining by the time of our arrival. For a moment there, I thought things were finally starting to turn round. Unfortunately for all our sweat and blood (courtesy of the resident leeches), we only managed to hear a Gould’s Frogmouth. The only consolation for this nocturnal affair was the exceptionally mesmerizing view of the Milky Way and this is coming from someone who is not really into stargazing.
As daybreak approaches, there was only one thought in my mind and that is hopefully the diurnal birds will perform better than their nocturnal counterparts. Unfortunately, it was nothing other than wishful thinking as the skies opened again and we had to seek shelter from the downpour. This cold and miserable weather returned intermittently throughout the morning and we had to make do with what was provided by Mother Nature. I was still wallowing in disappointment when I should have been more focus and inevitably, it was my guest who spotted the first bird of the trip. It was a handsome male Red-bearded Bee-eater resting on an exposed perch along the forest canopy. Lighting may not have been ideal but it was a great species to get the ball rolling.
We followed the movements of a pair of Chestnut-breasted Malkohas as they hunted for food. As expected, the pair moved at a rapid pace and the dense vegetation was no ally to us. Our perseverance paid off when the female alighted on an exposed perch long enough for her photograph to be taken. The angle of the shot may not compliment her true beauty but it was the best that I could managed.
The forest surrounding Pedu Lake is a known stronghold for malkohas. Three species on a single trip is a slightly modest number. The Raffles’s Malkoha proved to be impossible to photograph today. The Black-bellied Malkoha, on the other hand, provided some excitement by resting partly concealed at the topmost part of the canopy.
Flowers are not exactly my cup of tea but birding was undeniably slow today due to the weather condition. And the vibrant colours of this wild ginger flower momentarily distracted my attention from birding.
There was a brief moment when the rays of the sun broke through the rain clouds to reach Earth. I should have took it for a sign from above because what was to follow was nothing less than divine intervention. A clump of small trees were fruiting and that will usually yield some birds. True enough, a pair of Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds were having a feast. The male is an exquisite bird with a combination of colour that is simply remarkable. I do not consider this species to be an easy subject to photograph but today, it proved me wrong. The male alighted on an eye level perch and was extremely confiding. I was elated and so was my guest.
When he hopped off the perch, I thought that the performance was over. Unbelievably he alighted on an even closer perch and I, was in shock. Thankfully, I managed to snap myself out of it and fired a series of continuous shots. Four hours of struggle and frustration with the weather, the birds and so forth. And along comes this resplendent creature to lift our spirits and rejuvenate our souls. People often ask me what it is about me and birds. This is exactly what it is about me and birds. What an encounter. What an experience of a lifetime.
When he shifted for the second time, I thought this must be it and he will return back to the cover of the canopy. He proved me wrong after by alighting on the next adjacent branch. However, he was getting restless and that was apparent in my slightly soft images. Not that it matters because this male Ruby-cheeked Sunbird had already made my day. Even the returning drizzle could not dampened my spirits.
The female was less obliging. Perhaps I was too captivated by her mate to notice her. Anyway, I am most grateful Sod’s Law had no part in this encounter which is not usually the case. And it was the drabber one that shunned away from my camera.
And a few Plain Sunbirds that were also patronizing behaved more typical of the forest sunbirds I know and good photographic opportunities were totally absent...
When the weather turned again for the worse, we took our leave. We arrive at the mangroves of Sungai Batu only to find the gloom had follow us all the way here. Feeling invincible after the episode with the sunbird, we pushed on. The first bird to greet us was the Mangrove Pitta – the star bird of this muddy domain. It appeared that the recent breeding season had taken its toll and the pitta was not exactly at its finest. The head region was again in moult and the colours somewhat subdued – just like the previous season. But it was a lifer for my guest and any lifer in the form of a pitta is magical. Even if the bird is in moult.
The resident pair of Mangrove Blue-Flycatchers braved the testing weather to help spice up our visit here. Unlike the pitta, the flycatchers were in prime conditions. The male looking very smart indeed as he rested at the edge of the swamp in between foraging sessions.
The female still maintained poise and elegance despite getting down and dirty on the muddy forest floor.
As the raindrops grew in intensity, we prepared to call it a day. But not before a pair of Abbott’s Babbler had played their role in salvaging the day from a total disappointment. Despite all the challenges faced, the day ended better than I had anticipated – much to my relief. And I owe it all to the stellar performance of a tiny but electrifying male sunbird that left even a seasoned birder like me in disbelief.