Tuesday 23 April 2019

Young blood

It is always heart warming to see young people get involve not only in birding but nature and wildlife as well. My latest guest, who hails from the land down under, is in his twenties and very much an avid birder. Jackson’s enthusiasm and passion for birding is contagious and our half day endeavour was an enjoyable one despite the less than usual number of images obtained. However, this unusually confiding Greater Coucal provided a photographic opportunity that I rarely get to enjoy of this common but shy cuckoo. It is one of the most impressive birds that one can come across in garden and park habitats. This individual was hunting within the compound of a village house bordering the mangroves of Sungai Batu in Kedah state upon our arrival.

The Mangrove Pitta of this site performed well during my last visit and it was a repeet performance today. With the breeding season fast approaching, the celebrity bird was in its finest form. Every feather in place and the plumage, as radiant as it will ever be. The population of this terrestrial bird is doing well at this locality with no less than 4 birds recorded within our 2-hour visit. Regardless if they are natural or man made, the conditions here are favourable for the Mangrove Pitta and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will remain this way for a long time to come.

The resident Black-winged Kite regularly patrol the adjacent paddy fields for food but they are exceptionally shy towards human presence. It is a shame because an adult Black-winged Kite is a graceful and striking bird of prey and distant photos like this one does no justice to the true beauty of the kite. Anyway, a young bird was seen accompanying the adult bird and that is a good indication indeed.

Another species that is doing well here and other suitable sites throughout the country is the Red-wattled Lapwing. This success story again boils down to the fact that this bird is able to adapt well to living alongside Man – a trait is absolutely necessary in this age and time. The alarm call of this vocal wader will echo through the location on almost every visit especially during the breeding season like now.

A visit to the modest Bukit DO recreational park in mainland Penang ended well with the resident pair of Barred Eagle-Owls seen roosting at their favourite tree. But upon further scrutiny of the female bird, I was sad to discover her left eye injured. I could not be sure if it was a recent mishap or it was overlooked. She appeared to be healthy otherwise and I guess there is no need for concern for now.

Apart from the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, parrots are not a common sight around Penang. A pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets was showing well within a residential park in mainland Penang and despite being an introduced species, I still took the effort to search for these parrots. Thanks to the all pointers provided by my fellow birders, it did not take me long to enjoy good views of this elegant parakeet. Only the female was present but it is still a good record as it has been decades since my last encounter with this species.

Today’s excursion was fast paced as Jackson is young and energetic. I promised him that I will try to show him as many species as possible and we clocked close to 40 species in the end. As the female Rose-ringed Parakeet was the final bird before we concluded the tour, we took our time with her. Once she got accustomed to our presence, she let her guard down and started preen. And this non-native species was still good enough a way to wrapped things up for the day.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

A fluffy weekend indeed

The access road up the Air Itam Dam in Penang Island was recently reopened after a major landslide. Although I do not expect anything out of the ordinary here, I still decided to pay the locality a visit when I found myself with a few hours to kill on a Saturday morning. As my iron steed took me up the ascending windy road, I was greeted by huge concrete retaining walls where once were patches of secondary forest. Thankfully, the repair works were confined to the lower reaches of the hill. The access trail up Bukit Penara looked almost like how I remembered it and I started my trek up with rejuvenated spirit.

The frantic call of the Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo is rather distinct and it stopped me in my tracks when I heard it calling from the ravine below. A brief view was all it offered this time and as I was still recovering from the disappointment, another distinct call gained my undivided attention. It took some effort as the Green Broadbill is small and blends in well with its surroundings. But as soon as I spotted the female, her mate started to call from the adjacent tree. The morning just got a lot more interesting.

The Green Broadbill is the last remaining broadbill species to occur on the island and that makes it a distinguished species for me. Unfortunately, the male was reluctant to show himself well and all my efforts were in vain. The drabber female, on the other hand, was quite showy.

There are many amazing songsters in the avian world and the White-rumped Shama is undoubtedly one of them. Cursed with both good looks and voice, it is heavily trapped for the bird trade and the population here in Penang is dwindling. This pair was checking a dead tree trunk for a nest site and hopefully, they will find a more suitable one that is not so exposed.

Babblers are not that well represented on the island. The one species that stands out for me here is the Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler. For today, this stunning species turned out to be the main highlight. There is nothing not to be liked about this babbler except for its preference for the dense undergrowth which can be a major hindrance to observation and photography. But it is a visit to a local patch on my own and time was not a restriction. I patiently followed the babbler and took whatever photographic opportunity that was provided.

The saying good things come to those who wait could not have made any more sense than in this moment. The Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler is a loud, adorable and striking species and I am truly grateful it has managed to endure living here in Penang Island despite all the looming threats.

When vocalizing, the blue skin on the neck was quite obvious and together with its body movements made it quite a performance indeed. In fact, the entire encounter was incredible. Looks like the Pearl of the Orient has not lost all its glitter just yet.

The next day, I had a half-day excursion with a Singaporean guest and our first destination was the mangroves of Sungai Batu in Kedah state. It has been weeks since my last visit to the locality and it warms my heart to be greeted by the territorial call of the Mangrove Pitta upon our arrival. It did not take long for the star bird to reveal itself and my guest could not have asked for a better way to start off the tour than with a Pitta as a lifer.

The inquisitive Abbott’s Babblers further improved the quality of the visit with their adorable presence.

For most, the Crested Serpent-Eagle is a common raptor that is usually taken for granted. But when seen well, it is still a beautiful and majestic bird of prey. A lone individual was perched in good light at the edge of the mangroves and since it was confiding, the raptor was given its due attention.

At the freshwater swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam, it was disappointingly quiet despite the favourable weather. The only encounter worth mentioning from this site was a Crested Serpent-Eagle looking fluffy and adorable as unbelievable as it may sound. Anyway, this sighting helped prove my earlier statement of it being a common raptor.

The last destination of the day was the paddy fields of mainland Penang. With the breeding season almost in full swing for most of the water birds, some of the egrets were looking gorgeous in breeding plumages like these Cattle Egrets.

This is the only species that sports some colouration on its plumage and that makes this smallest of the egrets truly stand out from the crowd.

A full breeding plumaged Intermediate Egret will sport blood red eyes. I guess this individual is still considered to be in partial breeding plumage despite the presence of the body plumes.

The final bird of the day is another water bird but is far more enigmatic than any egret. The Asian Openbill is a common sight nowadays around mainland Penang but my fascination for this peculiar stork is far from over. A couple of birds resting on a bund was confiding enough this time to allow our vehicle to make a close approach. For my guest, it was a much-anticipated lifer. As for me, the Asian Openbill was a great way to finish off this short excursion around my usual birding haunts.