Friday 1 December 2023

Compromising is the key to all happiness


It has been far too long since I last experienced the birding wonders of Fraser’s Hill. When my better half suggested we should do a short getaway from our hectic working lives and each choose a location, mine was an easy decision. Initially, I had my doubts if it was even possible for a birder like yours truly to have a somewhat normal vacation up this hill resort. However, the years have taught me that a happy marriage is all about compromise and compromise I did. It was only a night’s stay and I booked a cozy (and birdy) little bungalow that will hopefully be able to keep both of us satisfied.

Stephen’sPlace lived up to its reputation from the gracious host to the romantic interiors and the pristine surroundings. Stephen the owner, for some time now, has been running a second place called the MCM Nature Discovery Villa which is more impressive and just a short walk from the first bungalow. It has a mini library and a host of other facilities to keep, you know, ‘normal’ guests occupied during their vacation in Fraser’s Hill. However, I have been exposed to the treasures this rich ecosystem hold. Once you are exposed, you are smitten for life and the only time you can find me indoors during the day and not out birding is when the weather is unforgiving. Except for this occasion.

There is a watch tower at the villa with stunning views of this lush montane forest. But for me, the view was not the only thing that had my attention.

I would have trembled with exhilaration if this was taken at some Godforsaken marsh out there in the wilds but this Mandarin Duck is also part of the attractions here.

And no, I did not leave my wife to fend for herself during our visit. That is not compromising. We explored the rustic charms of Fraser’s Hill and took leisurely walks together. If there is one thing in life that can rival my passion for birds, it would be her. And time spent together is time well spent. It also made it easier to excuse myself for a few hours the next morning to bird.

Now, to the birds. I restricted my birding endeavours to the bungalow compounds and nearby vicinities. And I was fortunate that a fruiting tree next to the compound was in season and it attracted flocks of Little Cuckoo-Doves. For this common montane species, heard only records and birds seen in flight constitute most encounters. However, the availability of food can sometimes sway the will of even the most secretive species.

The Little Cuckoo-Doves took very little effort to conceal their presence and neither did I. I slowly repositioned myself to improve my photographic efforts and the doves continued to tolerate my intrusion. It has been a relatively uneventful birding year for me and naturally this encounter is up there among the best.

Typical of pigeons and doves, they are far from graceful when foraging. Plenty of flapping and lumbering about as these sizeable birds struggle for foot holds in order to reach the succulent fruits.

As far as I can tell, all the images I obtained were of male birds – not that it mattered. The mesmerizing pale blue eyes were bewitching and rekindled my love for this amazing birding locality.

Flowering trees, natural or planted, are heaven-sent for nectar feeders like the Streaked Spiderhunter. And the garden at Stephen’s Place is one of the easiest spots to observe this common but striking species.

The Streaked Spiderhunter was the most photographed species this time. It came as no surprise given the amount of time I spent at the compound. One particular individual was exceptionally confiding and left me breathless on more than one occasion. Most of the time, the status of a bird is irrelevant to me. It is the experience provided that holds the true value.

I usually do not expect remarkable images from my modest setup and moderate photographic skills. But on those rare occasions when my images turn out better than expected, it is simply magical even for a common species.

The Black-throated Sunbirds also patronized the lovely blooms of this garden but on this trip, the males were reluctant to fully reveal their splendour for my viewing pleasure.

Moths and other insects are attracted to the lights of the bungalow at night and a number of fascinating species greeted us on the morning of our stay here. I will not attempt to identify the moths I am sharing in this post as we all know, identification of insects is a whole different ball game. But their appeal certainly did not go unappreciated.

My beloved avian subjects also took a keen interest on the moths but theirs are of a different nature. Large Cuckooshrikes boldly swoop in overhead to carry off larger insects for breakfast. Just like the phenomenon of fruiting trees in season, gluttony is a deadly sin few can resist.

I was a little disappointed with the variety of birds that were recorded at this banquet but the memorable performance by the diminutive Black-thighed Falconet single-handedly kept that feeling in check.

Birds that occur in the mountains tend to be more obliging than their lowland counterparts. Add a seemingly endless supply of food into the mix and you will find yourself enjoying rather intimate observations that would otherwise not be easily obtainable.

Unlike the Little Cuckoo-doves, the Black-thighed Falconet forages or more accurately, hunts with deadly precision. I must admit the hunts are nothing as spectacular as the larger falcons’ but they are still quite a sight.

Although it is a known birding hotspot, one is not guaranteed a rewarding excursion every single time. Nothing in birding ever is. A flock of Hume’s White-eyes with their cheerful calls and active nature is rather difficult to be overlooked during my brief birding endeavours beyond the bungalow grounds. The conditions under the lush forest canopy made photography challenging and a stroke of good fortune produced this decent capture of a resting individual.

Persistent vocalization gave away the presence of Buff-breasted Babblers skulking away in the undergrowth. Patience and determination provided brief glimpses into their secretive world. Mist and poor lighting may appeal to some as it provides the mountainside feel. However, I greeted them with profanities because they hindered my efforts to capture the babblers significantly.

It is always a treat to be serenaded by the sweet repertoires of the Oriental Magpie-Robin. However, I did not put in much effort to photograph this songster as I was constantly distracted by other species present. This is, after all, a birding site rivalled by few in Peninsular Malaysia.

A migratory Grey Wagtail foraging along the edge of a manmade pond briefly held my attention. But the distance and restless nature of this individual were unlikely to improve the encounter if I had decided not to withdraw my efforts.

And to wrap things up for this revisit to a beloved birding ground is this image of a Tiger Shrike with its most vital parts concealed by the vegetation. No one ever said birding or bird photography is always easy. But I guess that is beauty of the birding as it keeps you coming back for more.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see you out and about again Wai Mun with your loved one. I've never been to Frasers Hill but your posting has persuaded me to do this very visit when I'm back in Msia next month. Some lovely pictures as is usual and looking at your post Stephen's place looks a good recommendation up there. Tks for sharing your experience.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you for the compliment. You must make it a point to visit Fraser's Hill.