Friday 11 August 2023

Land of the winged giants


It has been months since my last blog entry. Probably the longest lapse since I started blogging. Heavy work schedules and age are the main contributing factors. Yes, I have reached a point in my life where the heart and mind are as passionate about birding as ever but the body is not. Age catches up with everyone. It is just a matter of time. Midlife crisis aside, I set off to the wild interiors of Kedah state with two companions to look for hornbills in particular and the captivating aura engulfing the locality upon our arrival reminded me just how much I miss my birding adventures.


It may be a little late in the season here for the nomadic Plain-pouched Hornbills but we were not to be disappointed and at least 100 individuals were recorded for this trip.

Good photographic opportunities were far and few but it was a great trip never the less. It gave me a chance reconnect with my birding roots when a pair of binoculars was all that I needed. On one occasion, I surprised even myself when I lifted my binoculars and not my camera when a lone Wreathed Hornbill flew across overhead. These winged giants of the forest are just so impressive especially in flight. And on the same note, judging from the photos I obtained of this flying Rhinoceros Hornbill, perhaps I should have done the same.

My best photographic effort of hornbills on this excursion was this male Oriental Pied Hornbill resting on a roadside tree. This may be the smallest and commonest of all our hornbills but it is not quite that common enough to me. And the encounter was certainly much better than what I was given for the Helmeted Hornbill, Great Hornbill and Bushy-crested Hornbill. Seven species of hornbills on a single trip was an amazing experience even if I do not have the materials to boast on social media.

A unique territorial call echoed across the vicinity later in the morning and one can rarely mistake the vocalization of a Black Magpie for anything else. No effort was spared in trying to locate the bird among the foliage of the forest edge. Although we succeeded in the end, the distance was simply too great to expect anything more than record shots. However, forest is not always unforgiving. Shortly after giving up on the Black Magpie, the bird actually shifted position and alighted on a much nearer perch. To ordinary folks, it looks like a crow which is not far from the truth. But to me and most birders, it is a fascinating forest dweller that rightfully deserves our undivided attention.

Along the edge of a manmade lake yet another distinct territorial call was heard. Unlike the Black Magpie’s, this call is somewhat eerie and it belongs a predatory bird known as the Lesser Fish Eagle. Unfortunately, it was another distant observation but to see the resident pair still thriving here is good enough for me.

On the other hand, there is no joy in seeing this particular species thriving anywhere in Peninsular Malaysia. I was slightly taken back by the sight of a flock of Javan Mynas loitering about the vicinity. This evasive species has now their found their way deep into forested areas and we can only fear for the worse in future.

The Sooty-capped Babbler is not particularly rare in Peninsular Malaysia but like most babblers, it is more often heard than seen. For this case, the vocal appeal outweighs the aesthetic appeal. This drab-looking bird possesses one of the most recognizable and beautiful songs in my home land. The lower storey of the forest where it frequents usually provides ample cover to hide it from view. A small window of opportunity betrayed the trust of the Sooty-capped Babbler to produced this mediocre effort before it gradually vanished into the forest.

Bird waves are phenomenal for birders but not so for photographers. A dozen species of birds on overdrive dashing about everywhere is not exactly what one would consider to be easy shooting. And this male Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike was the only image I have to show in the end.

Before concluding this long overdue blog post, here are a few candid shots of the locality and some of the views we came across are undoubtedly stunning which is not unexpected.