Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Bunting hunting...

With a number of first records popping up in the neighbouring country of Singapore, I cannot help but to feel a little envious. If there any birding site here in Malaysia where you have a fighting chance for first records (or just really rare ones), it would be the grasslands of Chuping in Perlis state. And there is where I went with Hor Kee for my latest birding excursion. The anticipation of a good haul got the better of the two of us and we arrived at the location much earlier than expected. There was not much do at this hour except to admire the full moon floating above the sweeping grasslands...

The mist started to lift when the sun finally crept up the horizon. And the reed bed suddenly came to life with the chirping of birds. It is a known roosting site for weavers and munias and this is where we sought out our first target of the trip – buntings.

When it finally got bright enough, we began our tedious search. Scanning through hundreds of Baya Weavers and munias for something different at this light was no easy task. Every stalk of reed probably had its own weaver swaying to and fro according to the wind direction. And when parts of this massive congregation took flight, it was a one big bundle of feathers.

We gave up the search for buntings about an hour later and I took the time to admire this little spectacle of nature. This is by far the biggest concentration of Baya Weavers I have ever come across in my life. When one of them wandered close to our position, the photography opportunity that was provided did not go unappreciated. It may not be a breeding male but it still an attractive bird.

The reed bed did not only hold finches. Reed-Warblers find sanctuary here as well. However, these little brown jobs are notoriously difficult to see let alone photograph. Their calls are usually the only sign of their presence and the scarce Manchurian Reed-Warbler was certainly present. Our moment came when one of the warblers alighted on a pylon within the reeds and it turned out to be a Thick-billed Warbler – another uncommon species.

The tiny state of Perlis is the only place where this winter visitor is more regularly recorded. I have only seen it a few times and today’s encounter was the longest one for me so far. Obtaining an unobstructed image was difficult but I am happy with the results today.

From the dense reed beds, we wandered to open ploughed fields for our other target of the day – skylarks. However, the closest we came to anything resembling a lark were the ever abundant Paddyfield Pipits.

There was a fair number of wagtails present today as well. Judging from our luck today, I did not have much hope for getting my first Citrine Wagtail among the flocks of Yellow Wagtail. But there was no harm trying and we scrutinized every one of the wagtails. The temperature has soared to a blistering level by then but it was nothing compared to the consecutive disappointments we had to endure. My would-be lifer of a Citrine Wagtail will just have to wait another day.

It was good to see the commoner waterfowls back at the ponds. There has been a steady increase in recent months and I hope views like a Common Moorhen lazily paddling along the deep blue waters will become a regular feature again.

Chuping did not really live up to its reputation as a raptor's haven today. The raptors were around but there was no encounters that left a lasting impression except for this female Common Kestrel resting on a rubber sampling. The heat wave was apparent and the distance was a little too far for any chance of a good photo. But it has been a while since I last encountered this graceful raptor at rest and it was the only raptor moment for this trip.

It could be too early to pass judgement but it seems like the number of Asian Pied Starlings present nowadays are on the decrease. Although it is not officially in the Malaysian checklist, this beautiful starling is full of character and could always brightened up any excursion – especially a slow trip like this one.

The Red Collared-Dove on the other hand is doing very well and flocks of up to 100 birds are getting to be a common sight.

Another species that is doing well not only here in Chuping but throughout the country is the Cattle Egret. This species outnumbers all the other big water birds and flocks of these highly adaptable species can be seen moving from plot to plot in search of food. Recently ploughed fields is its favourite along with other variety of birds due to the easy access to their food source.

By lunch the heat was almost unbearable and we seek greener (and cooler) pastures elsewhere. Bukit Wang was the closest locality and we drove along the newly paved access road for the first time. From what we can see, the level of destruction from the ongoing construction work was not too severe and hopefully it stays that way. As for the birds, not much was about as the heat here offered little relieve as well. It may not have been the most rewarding of trips to the northern frontier but that is birding. Sometimes you win and sometime you lose. And once in a blue moon, if you are lucky enough, you might hit the jackpot.

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