Wednesday 22 March 2023

Taboo of the birding world?


This would be my first birding excursion to the wettest part of Peninsular Malaysia since the pandemic. We have been experiencing excruciating hot weather in Penang and unfortunately, it is not much different here in Taiping as well. I decided to visit the stakeout at the foothill of Bukit Larut and a juvenile Siberian Blue Robin reminded me just how challenging photography can be at this particular spot.

The migratory Green-backed Flycatcher did not fare any better for my photography endeavour. My feeble attempts did no justice to the vibrant colouration of this adult male and in the end, this is the only image that I can barely justify to share in my post.

Any pitta encounter is a good encounter in my books. Despite the lighting condition, this Hooded Pitta provided a much-welcomed dose of exhilaration to my time here in this gloomy gulley. And the throng of hikers making their way up and down the steep access road finally had a reason to stop and look at my unreserved birding antics set off by this mesmerizing species.

I cannot help but to feel a little disappointed with the results at the stakeout so far. Years of birding may have made me a patient man but I have my limits. The absence of any resident species to the stakeout was another setback to my plans for the day. But life goes on and I then started to explore the vicinity by foot. This old school approach yielded a female Rhinoceros Hornbill flying above this lush landscape.

A pair of Banded Broadbills was nesting in the locality as well and as expected, a congregation of bird photographers marks the spot. Photography at nesting sites is a controversial matter – always has been and always will be. As long as one does not go overboard with his or her attempts for the perfect shot, there are worse threats to a nesting site as far as I am concerned. Anyway, the chicks successfully fledged at the time of writing and here are some images of the female bird carrying out her parental duties. As you can see, I do practice what I preach.

While waiting for the Banded Broadbill, some other forms of local wildlife helped to keep me occupied like this Gliding Lizard.

Slight movements near where I have planted my feet (when there is a crowd, good shooting positions is a prized commodity) turned out to be a Flat-backed Millipede. Invertebrates are not really my cup of tea but I made an exception for this creepy crawly.

Once I obtained the images I wanted of the Banded Broadbill, I continued with my search for more avian delights which have proved to be difficult throughout this warm and sunny morning. A female Large Woodshrike managed to convince me that the world is not such a bleak place after all with a commendable performance.

A foraging Grey-breasted Spiderhunter could not keep the momentum going and refused to give up the safety of the forest canopy. And a distant, harshly lighted image was all I have to show at the end of this rather brief encounter.

The Black-thighed Falconet is not uncommon here but its diminutive size can be easily overlooked. This tiny bird of prey does have a preference for exposed perches and this individual doing exactly that, wrapped things up for this time.

Thursday 16 March 2023

The marvel of fruiting trees (chapter 2)


The draw of the fruiting trees was simply too strong to resist and I found myself back at the same locality exactly one week later. However, I was disappointed to find relatively few birds patronizing the trees despite of the fact that ample fruits were still available. I guess that is birding. One can never truly know what to expect. The arrival of a couple of Cream-vented Bulbul helped to lift my spirit. With wholly white irises, there was nothing suspicious of their identification.

I do not come across the Streaked Bulbul all that often but my joy was short lived as this pair was particularly skittish. I only managed to take a few shots before they retreated back into the forest for the rest of the morning.

There were a few flowerpeckers darting about trees and when they finally settled down to feast, I was delighted to record at least two Thick-billed Flowerpeckers among them. And the day was no longer that gloomy anymore.

As one of the rarer species, I tried my best to document this encounter but it was challenging indeed. Being small and restless, both me and my gear were put to the test. But pleasure is derived from taking the effort for endeavours like these. I guess that is how I am built.

There is not much one can elaborate on the appearance of the Thick-billed Flowerpecker. It does however have an adorable tendency to wag its tail from side to side. I have seen this behaviour before during my past experiences but not today. Perhaps, it is again due to the easy availability of food and some habits are momentarily abandoned.

A series of loud notes announced the presence of Cinereous Bulbuls which is another bulbul species that I look forward to at an active fruiting tree. One of the birds was kind enough to rest on a relatively open perch and flaunted its good looks. And I soaked in the view.

The resonating territorial call instantaneously drew my attention to the canopy level opposite the fruiting trees. The forest here is a known stronghold for the White-crowned Hornbill and a flock was soon located through the small gaps of the dense foliage. I only managed one record shot of the male but any encounter with this enigmatic species is a true blessing.

The next bulbul species recorded at the fruiting trees was the Buff-vented Bulbul. It is not what most would consider to be a sought-after species. But the confiding nature of this individual certainly amount to something for me.

The Grey-bellied Bulbul, on the other hand, certainly is with its lovely colouration.

Serenading the surroundings with their vocal talents, a pair of Greater Green Leafbirds was a much welcomed additional to my list today. On this occasion, the female overshadowed her mate with her boldness and feasted exceptional close to my position.

Today was a much warmer day than last week and unrelenting sun cast undesirable highlights and shadows that made photography frustrating. The Red-eyed Bulbul followed its appetite down to the lower reaches of the trees. Inevitably, it was the last bird to be documented before calling it the day.

Thursday 9 March 2023

The marvel of fruiting trees


When in season, the fruiting trees of the interiors of Kedah state can be phenomenal. More than a dozen of birds can and will congregate to feast. These natural bird magnets do not only attract the birds but birders and photographers as well. For the past two years, the coronavirus kept me from my yearly pilgrimage here to pay homage to this revered occurrence. With the worst of the pandemic finally over (hopefully), I visited the trees with my Singaporean guests and we were not disappointed. Yes, it is trees. Two of them are in season to be exact and located almost next to each other.

Bulbuls, as expected, formed the majority of the birds patronizing the trees. A total of 12 different species were recorded on this trip and that itself is a privilege to me. As the birds continued to swoop in from the adjacent forest, we started our documentation of this incredible experience. One of the first species that truly captured my attention were the Grey-cheeked Bulbuls. Robust and with a wicked crest to boast, they momentarily stole the limelight.

The Finsch’s Bulbul maintained a distance from its bigger cousin and I managed to capture a couple of its images before my attention was diverted elsewhere. The issue usually faced at an active fruiting tree is the overwhelming number of birds present. And your attention span on a single species can become short and flitting.

And if it is a drab-looking species like the Red-eyed Bulbul, the chances of being ignored is inevitable. However, if it times itself perfectly and makes an entrance when all eyes will be on it, then the stage will be its.

The Scaly-breasted Bulbul is considered by many as one of the most striking of all the bulbuls. I can blame it on Murphy’s Law or Sod’s Law but it will not change the fact that I only managed to capture one decent image in the end and not before this forest jewel tormented everyone present from the cover of the foliage throughout most of the morning.

The mesmerizing Grey-bellied Bulbul was the showstopper as usual with its willingness to show off its vivid colouration without reservation. Perhaps its confiding nature is the reason it is not considered to be the Scaly-breasted Bulbul’s equal. We humans tend to want what we cannot have more than what we can easily have.

I did not capture that many images this time as I have foreign guests to host and they are always the priority. I have known Nigel for a long time and his son Lucas was a small boy when I first guided them. To see him now, all grown up, makes me feel even older. Anyway, it is always good to have the younger generation taking up interest in birding. And stunning species like the male Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker will only flame this interest.

The Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers were exceptionally bold today and naturally, provided some of the best images of the trip.

Food drunk by the seemingly endless supply of tasty morsels, these adorable forest dwellers momentarily abandoned their natural instinct to hide among the vegetation.

A cluster of white mushrooms flourishing on a fallen log somehow managed to gain a brief moment to be appreciated despite the flurry of bird activities at the fruiting trees. As I contemplated the transitional phase of convincing myself there is more to life than just birds, a burst of musical notes at the fruiting tree signified the end to this trail of thoughts.

The arrival of leafbirds added even more colours and beauty to the occasion. A long, good look at the male was required to determine the identification of this Greater Green Leafbird.

On the contrary, the identification of the female Greater Green Leafbird with her distinct yellow throat and eye ring was instantaneous.

Big is certainly beautiful especially if it is a Gold-whiskered Barbet dwarfing the rest of the birds in its surroundings. Initially, it remained partially hidden by the foliage while gorging on the fruits. With a full belly it then decided to put on show I rarely get to witness. And it left me breathless.

You do not have to hazard a guess for bird of the day. This Gold-whiskered Barbet certainly deserved that honour. When it finally retreated back into forest, we decided to conclude our visit here.

On the way back, we did a short visit to Air Hitam Dalam. There was not much to be expected of this locality nowadays. That is the sad state of birding close to home and it can be depressing. The resident pair of Mangrove Blue Flycatchers are again my saviours and they did not go unappreciated. A sense of nostalgia started to develop in me as we observed the pair in the dim understorey of the forest because eight years ago, I was showing the same species to both Nigel and Lucas at this very spot. Back then, this locality was so much different. It was not only a sanctuary for the birds but mine as well. Change is the only constant in life. We just have to make the best out of it.