I decided to visit the now-famous bamboo garden at the Penang Botanic Gardens again after settling some loose ends at the office. Apparently the relaxing island life here has gotten the better of the Asian Emerald Cuckoos and they now rarely make an appearance in the first half of the morning. As expected there was a crowd waiting and I saw some familiar faces whose companionship helped with the wait. The occurrence of these Asian Emerald Cuckoos was made known to all within the birding community and everyone has an equal chance to get this lifer or simply to bask in the presence of these spectacular birds. No secret handshake required...
There are some flowering plants next to the bamboo garden and a few sunbirds found the tantalizing nectar on offer irresistible. And the birder in me in turn, found the sunbirds dancing among the flowers, irresistible. One species in particular had my utmost attention and it was the stunning male Crimson Sunbird.
Blessed with a plumage rivalled by few, the intensity of the colours especially the red was just incredible. It is a regular here in the gardens but I am not a big fan of birding at a tourist destination like this. Since I am here on this sunny Saturday morning and with no sign of my main target yet, I decided to make the best out of the encounter.
The sunbird provided ample opportunities to admire and ogle at his aesthetic appeal. However when he wanders into the shade, some of his lustre is lost. All this while I kept tab on the bamboo garden the best I could to make sure I do not miss out on the cuckoo.
When the Crimson Sunbird finally retreated from the area for good, I joined back my companions and resumed the wait. It was a much longer wait today and has started to take its toll on my perseverance. A Crested Myna decided to drop by to have a good look at the things we sometimes do in the name of birding and I bet our actions appeared bewildering to it.
Common Kingfishers are regular winter visitors to the Penang Botanic Gardens. This season, at least two individuals often frequent the stream that cuts through this bamboo garden. During my hunts for the Asian Emerald Cuckoos, I do see this adorable kingfisher darting about. On one occasion, I decided to give it the admiration it surely deserves and took the effort to obtain some images. It turned out to be a male bird and he was a handsome specimen indeed.
I was quite surprise at how accommodating this individual was. It could be that he is used to human presence as this garden is a popular tourist and recreation destination. Despite the close proximity, I faced the arch nemesis of all photographers – undesirable lighting conditions. But the confiding nature of the Common Kingfisher almost overshadowed the issue.
The Little Egret is the only egret that has adapted to survive here in the gardens. As the stream is also the hunting ground for this water bird, it was seen on every visit. During the hottest part of the day, it will sometimes take refuge among the trees. Temperatures nowadays are on the rise and a shaded spot is a priced commodity for both man and bird.
Apart from the Asian Emerald Cuckoos, there are a few other cuckoo species that are attracted to the bamboo clumps. One of them is the Plaintive Cuckoo. This common species is well-known for its loud and persistent vocalization. Its occurrence in built-up areas makes it an infamous disturber of peace to ordinary folks just like the Asian Koel but I find the powerful call to be quite mesmerizing. The male is a stunning bird and I usually pay more attention to him whenever our paths crossed. This time however, my mind and soul was preoccupied with another cuckoo.
A confiding female Pink-necked Pigeon, despite lacking the colours of the male bird, received a momentary stream of attention from all present as she gorged on the fruits as well.
Kanda Kumar, my old friend and mentor came over for chat while I waited for the cuckoo. Apparently this fruiting tree was planted by him years back and here I am, enjoying the fruits of his labour in the form of this pigeon. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the man because my first actual birding trip was led by him during one of the Malaysian Nature Society monthly birding trips. I can still partly recall the trip. How can I ever forget the sight of a pair of Green-billed Malkohas gliding in front of us with their long tails trailing and all? I was also amazed by how he was able to shoot off the name of every bird we came across. I wanted to be like him. Up to today, I still could not achieve that goal. He shares the wonders of the avian world with others out of love and passion for the birds. I, on the other hand, do it for money most of the time.
The fairer sex seemed to outshine the males today and this female Common Iora exhibited very little fear as she went about hunting caterpillars.
This species is relatively common in parks and built-up areas. It possesses an array of calls and its tendency to be vocal makes it a conspicuous bird. Today is probably one of the most prolonged encounters I have ever had with the Common Iora.
There was a pair of them but the male bird was restless and provided fewer good photographic opportunities.
I should have guessed that the display of girl power was a sign of things to come. When the star bird finally made an appearance, it was the female bird. Although I would have preferred the resplendent male, I am truly grateful the 4-hour wait yielded some results.
One of the main reasons behind this cuckoo phenomenon here in Penang Island is this caterpillar. Found in good numbers among the clumps of bamboo here, the Asian Emerald Cuckoos appears to have taste for these hairy snacks. Enough to have them returning each day to the same spot for weeks now. The exceptionally cold winter in north Thailand may also have an influence on the influx of Asian Emerald Cuckoos to Peninsular Malaysia.
As it was mid-afternoon now, the harsh lighting was a major hindrance for photography. The clear blue sky provided some compensation and I know I should always be grateful for what I have been given. But I am human after all. It is in my nature to want more.
The Asian Emerald Cuckoo has a tendency to remain still for periods of time which was a welcomed trait. A little prayer then will occasionally help with her choices of perch. And those choices certainly make a big difference.
For most, the best angle for which to capture an Asian Emerald Cuckoo is from the back. That is where one can truly marvel at the spectacular upperparts which this species is renowned for. Unfortunately, the dense foliage and less than ideal lighting condition hindered my efforts. But from a birder’s point of view, the female Asian Emerald Cuckoo comes close to the male’s scintillating appeal and she certainly heightened my senses. When she finally departed from the location, I also called it a day. It was a long wait and the weather was not exactly pleasant. Hopefully, this encounter will finally help me get over the spell cast by this scarce and beautiful migrant.