Thursday, February 28, 2013

Malaysia Birding, Day 2 - Part 2, I go to the Hills

It was an incredible experience we had at the Jelai Hotel parking lot that morning. Noon we decided to have lunch at the Food Court. That sounded quite simple, didn't it? Fact is, that food court was about half a kilometer from our hotel through a winding, undulating road. Rather daunting for people our age. To make things easy for us, we thought it would be a good idea to check out the hill station environments for birds. I even brought along our lighter gear, just in case, you know, we encounter an interesting bird along the way.

First we stopped by the Interpretive Bird Center which was some sort of a museum (with, thankfully, no stuffed specimens, but rather sculpted shapes of local birds). From there we passed the first curve of the road. To one side was a ravine overlooking the golf course and on the other a "wall" covered with thick vegetation, mostly ferns, with tall trees at the top. All of a sudden Cynthia stopped and looked at the ferns. I can tell her sharp ears heard something. Then even half-deaf me heard something too. There was some movement behind the fern leaves until out popped a noisy Mountain Bulbul. One more lifer to add to our list.

As we approached the long flight of stone steps towards the Food Court, we met a Japanese couple. The lady, obviously the birder of the two, was pointing at something halfway between the road and the hilltop. "Yellow bird", she said excitedly. I looked and saw a yellow bird called Grey Wagtail. It was interesting that the lady was thrilled to see such species whereas it would have been just a so-so bird for us.

Our lunch of Malaysian fare was forgettable. After lunch we further explored the road from the hill which had trees on both sides. It was here that we saw an unexpected lifer. I didn't know what it was until we got back to the hotel and I was able to access the internet. It was a White-browed Shrike-Babbler enjoying a caterpillar.

Not far from it was the poor bird of Fraser Hill. We call it poor because no one paid attention to it. Now don't get me wrong, this was not a tiny nondescript bird but rather a medium sized, dark blue colored beauty. When I first saw it at Jelai that morning, I shouted "Niltava! Niltava!" and eagerly took its picture. To my surprise not one of the 10 people in our group responded to my yelling. It felt like I was pointing to a Yellow-vented Bulbul to a bunch of Filipino birders.

Back at the fern-laden roadside. This time we were rewarded by a male Little Pied Flycatcher busily hawking for insects and a Mountain Fulvetta characteristically moving non-stop in search for food.

Passing by the area where we saw the wagtail, an Oriental Magpie Robin was looking for grub on the ground.

At the playground the huge Streaked Spiderhunter was unmindful of us taking its picture.

Later that afternon before dinner a short foray in the hotel neighborhood gave us a Javan Cuckoo Shrike.

A bird that suddenly perched on the electrical wire above us drew the attention of my wife. "There's a bird up there!" Cynthia exclaimed. I looked and it was an uncommon (in Malaysia) Yellow-vented Bulbul. Did I hear someone yell "Niltava"?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malaysia Birding, Day 2 - Part 1, The Hills are Alive

It is not often that a verbose person like me to run out of words to describe what we saw and experienced on that shivery cold early morning at the parking lot of the Jelai Hotel which sits on top of a hill. So please just allow me to show you some of the birds we saw:

At daybreak we were waiting for the action to begin:

We were joined a little later by more birders/photographers..but 'nuff said, here are the birds;

First, the Verditer Flycatcher

Then came a pair of Little Pied Flycatchers

A White-throated Fantail 

Everybody went ga-ga when the Sultan Tit showed up at close range!

As if that wasn't colorful enough, the Common Green Magpie popped into view

Of course, the iconic bird of Fraser's Hill, the Silver-eared Mesia, can never be ignored

Blue mood with a male Large Niltava

could the female be far behind?

A Grey-chinned Minivet added a flash of bright red-orange to the melange of colors

Rounding up the collection of Jelai birds was the very active Mountain Fulvetta

At half past eight avian activity died down somewhat. Only the usual Sibias and Laughingthrushes remained. We (four Chinese, three Thai, a lady from Hongkong, a Japanese couple, one really tall New Zealander, a Malaysian [Weefar], and two Fil-ams [me and Cynthia]) were all smiles as we slowly and reluctantly went down the hill to our respective hotels.

While having breakfast at the Shazan Hotel, the Manager who was at another table signalled to us. "Barbet" he said softly. We looked at the feeders outside the restaurant and lo and behold, a Fire-tufted Barbet was having breakfast of its own. Let that be a teaser though because I will be posting its photo in my Day 3 blog.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Malaysia Birding, Day 1 - Part 2, The Truth and Jelai

Ask "where is the best place to see lots of birds at Fraser's Hill" and you will get only one answer: the parking lot of the Jelai Hotel. "Be there between 7 and 8:30 in the morning" was the unanimous suggestion.

We were at Bukit Tinggi earlier that day and arrived at Fraser's Hill a little after 2 pm. After checking in at the Shazan Hotel (which will be our home for the next four days) and an hour or so of resting (we were up since dawn), our friend Weefar, drove us to this fabled, though somewhat incongruous, place. Although it was not the recommended time to visit Jelai, we were assured that there will be birds there.

The very first one we saw was the Silver-eared Mesia. Its vivid colors and incredible tameness made it the iconic symbol of Fraser's Hill.

Mingling with the Mesia were the "regular" residents of the Jelai area: the rather plain but very noisy Long-tailed Sibia.

The super friendly Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush

and its shyer cousin, the Malaysian Laughingthrush

Right next to the hotel entrance blooms a red bottle brush tree. Here the Black-throated Sunbird refreshes itself.

Joining the sunbird is the unbelievably huge and aptly named Streaked Spiderhunter.

Rounding up the avian population were a Mountain Bulbul 

and a very calm looking male Mugimaki Flycatcher.

Soon darkness started to envelope the hills. We boarded Weefar's car still reeling from the beauty and friendliness of the birds. "Wait until tomorrow morning," our friend warned, "you will be overwhelmed."

Based on what we experienced that afternoon at Jelai, we knew he's telling the truth.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Malaysia Birding, Day 1 - Part 1, Garden Angels

As my wife and I were getting ready to turn in for the night, we reflected on the awesome experience we had on our first day of birding in Malaysia. One of the primary reasons for this was because of the people we met. In all of our eight years or so of going after birds we were showered with blessings from people: friends and even strangers who helped us locate our quarry or help us identify those that were completely new to us. Cynthia calls these people "angels". If there is an "archangel" among these, then that should be applied to our new Malaysian friend, Weefar Wee. He picked us up from the airport last night, let us sleep in his house, treated us to dinner and breakfast and then drove us to two great birding destinations the following day.

We left Kuala Lumpur while it was still dark. A couple of hours later we were climbing towards Bukit Tinggi. A few feet past the guard's post at Berjaya Resort, we saw our very first lifer: A Green-billed Malkoha feasting on an unfortunate butterfly.

That was the start of an exciting day as we chalked up lifer after lifer. Near the entrance of the Japanese garden we met four Singaporean bird photographers (Albert Tan, Vincent Ng, Sunny Lwee and Khng Eu Meng). After the usual introductions we discovered that while researching for information on birds in Coron, they stumbled upon my blog. They found it quite useful, they said, when they visited the place last month. It was while we were exchanging pleasantries that our group was rewarded by incredible open views first of one, then followed by the other, of the two star birds of Bukit Tinggi: the Silver-breasted Broadbill and the Orange-breasted Trogon.

Silver-breasted Broadbill
Orange-breasted Trogon
After these birds left to pursue their own scheduled activities for the day, we all went to the Japanese Garden, where another "angel", the in-house guide, pointed us to a fruiting tree. "Wait, and they will come", the Kevin Costner of Bukit Tinggi assured us. Come they did, three kinds of Bulbuls took turns in enjoying the ripe berries: Black-crested, Ashy and Stripe-throated.

Black-crested Bulbul
Ashy Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
A Greater Green Leafbird also joined the fray.

Around noon, the bird activity slowed down somewhat and we were finally able to breathe normally. We said goodbye to the Singaporean quartet and started on the long trip to Fraser's Hill.

with our garden angels -Photo courtesy of Albert Tan

Monday, February 18, 2013

Peeps Avenue

It was quite unexpected. Seeing so many peeps on the fallow fields as we were about to leave the Candaba Wetlands. However, as fate would have it, the light was so harsh from the noonday sun that our resulting photos were all "documentary" in quality. Still it was such a pleasant surprise to see these tiny brown birds, some of which were already donning their breeding plumages, in a tiny patch of muddy field.

Little Ringed Plover
Long-toed Stint
Kentish Plover
But then it was a day of unexpected encounters. While Peter and Irene were photographing the Chestnut Munias and Striated Grassbirds, Cynthia and I were treated to a "show" by a nonchalant Clamorous Reed Warbler. We called our friends and pointed to them the friendly bird. 

From there we moved on towards the Mayor's house. As we were negotiating a corner, Peter asked, "what is that on the tree?" We all looked at the tall trees beside us and saw nothing. "That tree!" Peter pointed to a skinny branch protruding from an equally frail growth. We all looked and saw an incongruous brown thing perched near the top of the "tree". It couldn't be a bittern I thought to myself, for no self-respecting bittern would expose so much of itself at so high a place. And this bird is not big enough to be a Grey or Purple Heron. 

We all alit from the car to get a better look. Then exclamation points popped above my head! Of course, it had to be a Pond Heron! Javan, most likely, for isn't it that one was found here at just about the same time two years ago? Eventually the bird flew off and we saw it again later at the "Mayor's pond" busily hunting for food.

As were about to board the car to continue on our way, I noticed another bird sticking its neck and upper body out of a huge bush. I walked towards and was surprised to have a "first sighting" here in Candaba - it was a juvenile Woodcock! 

On the way to the "Mayor's pond" we stopped by the haunts of the Dusky Warbler. It wasn't long when Irene heard the distinct "tschack, tschack". Unexpectedly, the tiny Warbler stopped its skulking and posed for a few seconds, preening under the densest of shrubs.

Also, for the first time in Candaba, we saw a Lesser Coucal bask in the early morning sun. 

As the midday sun beat mercilessly on us, we decided to call it a day. That was when we had that fateful encounter with the SSPs (Sandpipers, Stints and Plovers). Because of that I thought of naming that road Peeps Avenue. Quite appropriate if I may say so myself.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Dove Story

Where do I begin? It wasn't dove at first sight for sure. The birds we saw early that morning were a study in contrasts: the pious from the profane.

A Philippine Pygmy woodpecker was deep in prayer as it greeted the morning sun.

While a (literally) dirty-mouthed Large-billed Crow was spewing expletives from its lofty branch.

The rest of the avian species were simply carrying on with their usual routines of hunting for food or frolicking under the bright blue skies.

Striated Grassbird
Black-naped Orioles
My wife and I however came to the hills of Antipolo for something else. We were in the mood for dove. We were looking up at some tall trees when Cynthia heard something cooing.

"Perhaps dove?" she was hoping.

"Can this be dove?" I echoed her sentiments.

Minutes passed then a flutter of wings and flash of color. All of a sudden dove is in the air. Following its true dove ways, it landed under a thick canopy. After searching thoroughly we found our target bird peeping through the leaves giving us the look of dove. I was having a hard time taking its picture because I was handholding my camera with a 500mm lens so I walked to our car and got my tripod. When I returned to where I was taking its picture earlier, I asked my wife, "Is it still there?"

"Don't worry," she said, "it looks like dove is here to stay."

There was a slight ray of sunshine that fell on the bird revealing its wonderful reddish color. Indeed, dove is a many splendored thing. Eventually on the wings of dove it flew off to a place behind some lush verdancy. We were wondering where dove has gone. 

As we prepared to go home we were happy to have experienced dove like this. Maybe when we return we will find that dove is lovelier the second time around.

By the way, "dove" is a Philippine Cuckoo Dove.