Tuesday 29 December 2020

A trail of teasing trogons


I found myself exploring the foothills of Gunung Bintang in the state of Kedah on Boxing Day this year. And the weather was surprisingly good with clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine. The vicinity was alive with the sounds of nature and as usual, the wilderness provides sanctuary for my wearied soul. The troops of Agile Gibbons present almost drowned out all the rest with their powerful territorial calls and for these shy primates that is often the only indication of their presence.

One particular call had my undivided attention. It is a series of mournful notes but owner of the call is anything but mournful. I do not come across the Red-naped Trogon all that often and this individual was not making it easy for me. The dense foliage of the canopy hid the bird well and the vocalization was the only aid I have to locating this stunning forest dweller. Quarter of an hour and a couple of leech bites later, the trogon shifted position and slight movement was all that was needed for its location to be revealed. It was a dreadful photographic attempt but the experience exciting nevertheless.

The trogons of this birding haven appear to have returned to the forest surrounding this access road. The movement control order by the government decreased human activities considerably here and could well be one of the main reasons why I found myself surrounded by these forest denizens today. As much as I hate to admit it, human interference regardless of any nature, will have an impact on the ecosystem. In our absence, Mother Nature thrives. Anyway, the Diard’s Trogon and Orange-breasted Trogon teased me with fleeting views from the cover of the forest. Even the commoner Scarlet-rumped Trogon was reluctant to reveal his true beauty today.

His duller mate was not any much better despite resting on a relatively open perch.

The two resident forest kingfishers were also up and about. While the Banded Kingfisher remained out of sight, the Rufous-collared Kingfisher provided a brief but mesmerizing encounter. She alighted at eye level but unfortunately in a gloomy part of the forest. Unlike most avian species, she is just as striking as her male counterpart. I could not recall the last time I came across a female of this species and this girl certainly brought some cheer after the frustrating time with the trogons.

A number of birdwaves swept past me as I slowly ascended the trail. Babblers, warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers and sunbirds were the main participants of this natural phenomenon. Photographic attempts were futile as the birds were exceptionally active today. All except for a male Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike that decided to take a short breather in the midst of all the chaos.

Fruiting trees are always a good spot for birds. A small fruiting next to the access road made me stop to have a better look. A pair of Finsch’s Bulbuls came for a short feed but they were the only signs of life at the tree for the entire duration I was there.

I did not give much thought to the resident Chestnut-naped Forktails that were darting about today as these birds do not appreciate human presence much. However, a juvenile decided to momentarily abandon its skittish nature and foraged relatively close to my position. This species has a tendency to hunt along isolated access roads and when out the in the open like this, one can truly appreciate the beauty of the Chestnut-naped Forktail even if it has yet to obtain full adult plumage.

Well, we are all familiar with the saying stop and smell the roses but you will not find any roses here in this hot and humid environment. I hope I am not getting sentimental with age but while waiting (in vain) for the forktail to show itself again, this yellow flower did catch my eye.

The Bushy-crested Hornbill is probably the avian world’s equivalent of the gibbons here at this site. It occurs in flocks and just like the primates, are vocal by nature. A flock was yelping away (yup, they do sound somewhat like puppies) from one of the taller trees and lucky for me, the foliage was sparse enough to make the shape of the hornbills. They were quite a distance away and the tree, strongly backlighted.

Years of birding has moulded me into a patient man and I waited for, hopefully, a change of fortune. My determination paid off when the flock, consisting of nine individuals, took flight and headed towards my direction. I also have been birding long enough to know that things rarely work out exactly how you hoped. When it comes to forest birding, everything comes down to luck and it certainly had some for this encounter.

My best effort of the flying Bushy-crested Hornbills was of this young male. He was the last one to make it across the valley and my modest photographic setup had a little more time to capture the moment. There is just something about hornbills in flight that make them so captivating – even if the species is mostly shades of brown.

I had to borrow my better half’s ride for my birding adventure this time as the battery of my old girl died on me the day before. When it comes to photography, birds and other wildlife naturally has precedence over everything else. But vehicles are one of my few other passions in life and you will find a number of photographs of this nature in my digital archive. And this Kai Concept crossover wrapped things up for the day.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

The case of missing Mugimakis


I have been constantly kept away from birding of late and it was rejuvenating to finally get to venture out into the field again even if it was only for a couple of hours. This time last year, the Penang Botanic Gardens surprisingly became the centre of attention for birders throughout the country because of the presence of Asian Emerald Cuckoos. A few notable migrants started showing well again in the form of a Taiga Flycatcher and Mugimaki Flycatchers. Their aesthetic appeal and charisma are not quite in the same league of that of the cuckoos and naturally, did not caused that much of a ripple in the birding community. Thus, I found myself alone as I searched for the flycatchers on this wet and gloomy morning.

The overcast sky cloaked the vicinity with an extended state of dawn lighting and undeniable evidence of last night’s heavy downpour made me ponder if it would have been wiser for me to sleep in late instead of birding in such a challenging condition. The Crimson Sunbird is not much of a singer but its call is quite distinctive to my ears. And one was certainly present nearby. This location is one the best site I know for Crimson Sunbirds and it did not take long for me to start ogling at a handsome male satisfying his sugar craving on a low flowering bush. It was a close and prolonged encounter and all thoughts of comfortably curling up in bed ceased to taunt me.

The lighting may have dampened my efforts to digitally capture his splendour but in real life, his vivid colouration pierced through the gloom like a fiery torch.

I come across Black-naped Orioles frequently in my housing estate and they are undoubtedly one of the prettiest garden birds in Malaysia. It may be a common bird but I do not have as many photographic opportunities with the Black-naped Oriole as I would like to. The striking beauty of the bird helped to brighten up the morning’s excursion.

The Penang Botanic Gardens has long been a stronghold for the Crested Myna and here, it outnumbers every other myna species. Somewhat of a Penang speciality, this species continues to thrive throughout the Pearl of the Orient.

As I wandered about this popular recreational location, I unintentionally flushed a pair of foraging Spotted Doves. The birds here are certainly accustomed to human presence and were hardly perturbed by my intrusion. They alighted just a few feet away and carried on with their foraging.

There was a fruiting tree in the vicinity but the fruits were almost depleted. Although there was hardly any bird activities, a pair of Olive-winged Bulbuls still came for whatever that is left.

They stayed for quite a considerable amount of time and me, having nothing else to keep me occupied, accompanied them until they moved on.

The search for the migratory flycatchers proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Except for a brief glimpse of a female, the Mugimaki Flycatchers were nowhere to be seen. That is a real shame for the male is an absolute stunner and one of the deciding factors why I chose this landscaped garden for my birding excursion this time. A little brown flycatcher hawking for insects did not evoke much excitement for I have not seen a Taiga Flycatcher hunt this way before here in Malaysia. As expected, it turned out to be an Asian Brown Flycatcher and no amount of scrutiny can change it into anything more notable – I tried.

A short while later, I came across another little brown flycatcher. Foraging about the lower level of a bamboo clump, it exhibited a more typical behaviour of the Taiga Flycatcher. When it started cocking its tail, the identity was no longer in doubt despite the distance. With a little perseverance, I managed to reduce that distance and obtained some decent images of this scarce migrant.

The Taiga Flycatcher may lack the bright colouration of the male Mugimaki Flycatcher but I am grateful to be able to spend time with it. It is way much better than missing out on both species – that is for sure.

A hunting Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo brought back memories of last year’s Asian Emerald Cuckoo because it was doing the exact same thing – gorging on caterpillars. This species tend to be quite tolerant of human presence and I managed to approach it without much effort.

The cuckoo’s hunt lasted several minutes and that was more than I could I have asked for. While it focused on satisfying its seemingly insatiable appetite, I took full advantage of the situation to obtain images of this sleek bird.

It was momentarily joined by another individual but sharing appeared not to be in their nature. Hostility ensued and one of them left the vicinity soon after. I can only presumed this was the second bird as the tails feathers appeared tidier. Anyway, it was just as confiding and continued to provide good photographic opportunities. Some Christmas magic after all...

In terms of birding, there is nothing much for me to shout about this year. Christmas did not come early for me nor will it be late. A Little Egret nicely moulting into breeding plumage is my Christmas angel this year. One thing about the pandemic that the world is still facing is that it has reminded us well to be grateful for what we have or have been given. To all those celebrating, I wish you a blessed Christmas.