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Inaugurating First Edition of Flock in Zamboanga

Flock, the birding e-magazine by Amazing Journey Asia Media, reporting on the events in Zamboanga in conjunction with the 9th Philippine Bird Festival 2014. This edition will be updated progressively as the videos are edited & uploaded. I hope you would enjoy this birding chronicles in Flipbook style! A big thank you to the Department of Tourism in Philippines & the people at the Wild Bird Club of Philippines, without you, this experience wouldn’t have achieved so much fun, action & camaraderie! Enjoy the e-magazine!

Get Flock here.

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Sizzling To End The Race At Sepilok

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Saving the best for last, no race is ever complete without experiencing the festivity of Borneo Bird Festival & the grandeur of the hospitality of Sabahans (people of Sabah) with the organisers & Sabah Tourism. After the 6 hour bus journey from Mount Kinabalu, we checked into Sepilok Jungle Resort, another wildlife haven near Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre where we spent 2 nights doing night walks & stargazing. The International Borneo Bird Race 2013 is truly the first of its kind, beginning in the Brunei, ascending to Kinabalu Park & descending to Sepilok lowland forest.

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Birdwatching for some, may be a pastime but for those who pursue the understanding of their behaviour, flight pattern, habitat & nesting activities go far beyond watching. Birders don’t just hang a pair of binoculars around the neck, they now tote big cameras, bazooka lenses & rock-steady tripods to document them. Even then, there are distinctions in bird photographers, one who take pictures for the sake of getting beautiful pictures & the other who go the extra mile to remember the names, geographical distribution, migration routes & their unique bird characteristics. Pictures & videos are used to spread awareness & to create the love of birds for the vibrant display of feathers, courtship & nesting. The Borneo Bird Race attracted 8 teams of likeminded individuals from 7 countries, 3 members in each & all could rattle out names of birds like they lived in their backyard. Rightly so, when they make birding their profession!

Setting out the next morning, the 7th day of the race, birders reached the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre & proceeded to explore. The pristine jungle here is well mapped out, with marked trails & visible signboards. Some trails have benches or logs for you to sit & rest which makes birding very leisurely here despite the hills you have to walk to get to them.

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On the way to these trails, birds hop from tree to tree in such a flight fashion that it gives a symphony to a bird wave! The participants were in for a treat! Ticking off species in their wanted list as they add on to their competition entry. And on the 8th day of intense racing, one team went home with the Champion’s Trophy. During the opening ceremony of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013 on the 7 June which was opened by the Minister of Culture, Arts & Tourism of Sabah, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Team Philippines, comprising of Adrian Constantino, Mark Jason Villa & Ivan Carenas took home a title to do their country proud as they had come this far to race against the 6 other nations in a relations-fostering event to promote travel-for-birding within the region of Asian birding nations. Team Thailand wasn’t too far behind with their list of birds, taking the 2nd Prize & Team Singapore came in 3rd, with the advent leadership of Kim Seng, who had been entering bird races since 1992! What a great interest that becomes a lifelong adventure!

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Revelling the 9th day of the adventure, participants could finally share information after the race as the took to the trails together. Team Taiwan was birding with Team Philippines as from the start, biologist Wayne Hsu found something in common with Mark, a professional bird guide, in the love of bird-findings & being in the same age group. It was a day of trying for the Bornean Bristlehead, an endemic species which Team Japan was most eager trekking the jungles for as they had even foregone their rest day on the 10th day to make it back to Sepilok Forest to spot the elusive wonder. And they were rewarded!

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In the gaps between, we attended a talk by Team Gujarat’s biologist, Dr. Bharat Jethva, whom I’ve had the pleasure of birding with in two consecutive years of birdwatchers’ conference in Gujarat, India. Speakers like Andy Boyce, whom we had bumped into in Kinabalu Park, was showing his findings in video clips of nesting behaviour, giving us a great insight to the life of these tree-dwellers.

Ending the adventure on the 10th day was the beginning of another as the nations added one another on their social media profile on Facebook. The flurry of pictures & updates denoting their excitement of their 10-day encounters flooded our timeline & with appropriate responses, bridged the distance even further.

The dinners hosted by the Sandakan Town Council & Sabah Tourism cemented relationships & chiselled away the last bits of ice in the participants as they cheered their comrades on in a bid to get the Proboscis Monkey stuffed toy by impersonating an animal seen on the journey. Laughter permeated the dinner, stopping even the waiters who stood to laugh along with us. The jovial sporting mode that they wore transcended barriers of language, culture & nation. An event that stands uniquely Borneo & with a promise of a bigger & better installation next year with the possible inclusion of Sarawak & Kalimantan, Indonesia. You want to make yourself available for it even if it takes 15 days for you win not only the race but a camaraderie that will win you friends for life.

Racing in Kinabalu For Birds

Mount Kinabalu holds a special place in the hearts of Sabahans, being the tallest mountain in South East Asia, its surroundings host between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified making it one of the most important biological sites in the world. Rightly so, it earned a place in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site. This is right after we got so pampered in Brunei that we left with a heavy heart not being able to see more of what it has to offer. This will make some of us come back for sure.

The flight was a short 35 minutes to Kota Kinabalu where we were transported to Kundasang shortly after immigration clearance. We met Tengku Adlin, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board, when Sabah Tourism hosted the welcome dinner in the cool mountain inn. Vegetation changes were prominent as it spans 4 climate zones. As we ascended every 100 metres, we could even see stars at eye level! The following morning began with a wake up call at 4am for a headstart towards Timpohon Gate by 5:30am. This is where climbers usually begin their ascent up the mountain & we were there for its inhabitants! The birds! And did we see birds! It was also 15 degrees C!!

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Indigo Flycatcher

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Participants at race!

Roger Rajah pointed out to me a particular fern (pteridophytes) whose spores are used as the dusting powder for fingerprints in forensics! How awesome is that? There are 600+ species of ferns here & it would not be surprising if scientists find other miracle uses for them. Taking a stroll down the 4km road to the park’s headquarters, there were beautiful plants popping up in the most unusual of places. Apart from finding several swift nests on ledges of a rock cliff, we found a group of foreigners marvelling at a Bulbophyllum orchid by a tree on the side of the road!

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The Borneo Bird Race is not just about the race but a reason to combine expertise from each of the 7 nations participating to document the most number of bird species. It is a melting pot of minds to find the flamboyant & the elusives of Borneo’s avian life, some endemics, while promoting travel within Asia. Known as one of the most hospitable nations, Sabah has a great expanse of natural resources to marvel at, with the Minister citing to keep 65% of the state to be maintained as forest reserve. What a fine example to set for the country! And if these sightings of wild & rare orchids, magnificent birds, superb bugs & awesome mammals are anything to go by, Sabah will be one big wild secret that’s difficult to keep!

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Bornean Whistler, Pale Faced Bulbul, Black & White Flycatcher(?), Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

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Spores for forensics.

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Keeping quiet was imperative although at times I felt like exploding with delight when I see a bird I hadn’t seen before. The teams were concentrating hard to spot the skittish birds & identifying them through Quentin Phillips’ guide book or Susan Myers’. Most of these birds are lifers to them (also to me) & some of them even went into the trails. There were times when there were no birds at all & that’s when we turn to other flora & fauna. What kept the teams apart during the race (they can’t discuss birds), they made it up during bus rides & pit stops! After breaking for lunch, the entourage embarked on a 6 hour road journey through a picturesque inland to Sepilok in Sandakan. Along the way, we even stopped to see the Bornean Falconet! We can stop a bus for a bird! 😀

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What’s camaraderie if Adjudicators like Alim here, doesn’t take a break to fool around by hijacking the gas tank of a mountain porter??? Here, he poses with a backpack belonging to one of his porter friends who were later seen lugging it up Timpohon Gate!

The remarkable Stewards were always on hand to give advice, tips & suggestions on how to spot the birds & rightly so, a few of them have made the Borneo 400 Club! A club that recognises a record of over 400 species sighted!

Don’t miss my next post on Sepilok Forest as I take a weekend break to cover yet another bird race in Fraser’s Hill!

Amazing Encounters in Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei

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Ulu Temburong sounds like a faraway place owing to its name of being in the depths of the jungle. And indeed, it is as obscure as a hidden treasure tucked away to be found & marvelled at. Nestled in the midst, is Ulu Ulu Resort, by the banks of Temburong River, a terrain of pebbly rocks smoothen by the rapids. The journey begins in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, where we boarded the Flying Coffin (fast ferry speedboat) to weave through a Nipah grove along the muddy banks. This is also a place where big crocodiles sunbathe out in the open. The 45 minutes ride led us to a harbour in Temburong where we took another 40 minutes bus ride to a small jetty to embark on another 15-minute ride upriver. This might cause you to grip the side bars along the longish, narrow motorised boat as it tilts & turns. Each boat seats 5 persons, with our plastic bag-wrapped belongings, cruising became the adventure of averting splashes & collision with overhanging branches that sometimes, rests a Kingfisher.

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Surprises at every turn, sightings of perched Oriental Darters, Swifts & the ever elusive Crested Wood Partridge, caused a stir amongst the participants. A flock of 6 partridges flew across the river while our boat was cruising pass, sending all who saw them into squeals of delight. Sightings are rare & to see an entire brood is even rarer. It is no wonder why birders are going deeper into the forests to document birds. Half expecting the legumes to turn into a beanstalk inviting an ogre to descend, the perspective of size is evident in just the roots of this tree. I can’t even be Jack to climb pass the root, let alone cutting down the beanstalk. Not that I was about to cut anything but fantasical things come to mind when you have a vivid imagination.

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Landing at the banks of Ulu Ulu Resort, I felt like I had developed sea-legs & swayed as I disembarked. The gigantic trees (Legumes) structured the banks bowled me over with the towering stature. Every growth has its place in this pristine ecosystem. Birds & butterflies abuzz, each going about its own way. Ice cold pandan-infused lemongrass tea with condiment tray of curry puffs & appam welcomed us at the reception. Just as we attended the briefing, a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts began to mate  outside the room on bare tree, sending the birders into a frenzy. The race hasn’t resumed yet as breaks were an imminent part of the game. How can we contain our excitement when we are prominently situated at the heart of Bruneissic Park??

Thick foliage in tall trees meant that bird photography would be very challenging. The birders (race participants) set off to list their sightings armed with one spotting scope, one camera & 3 binoculars per team. Frequent reference to the Birds of Borneo book proved another challenge as the birds were fast & the lighting didn’t help with the colour identification. Most of these nations had never seen so many variety of birds in one place as they had in Borneo & Brunei seemed to be an undiscovered trove! Little is known about the birds in Brunei & the availability of learned/trained guides is even fewer with Roger Rajah (co-organiser of Borneo Bird Race) being the ONLY licensed bird tour guide operating in Brunei. Throughout the Brunei leg, Roger had been instrumental in providing logistic briefings & assistance to the entourage. Together with Tom Chong, a tour guide who works with Ulu Ulu Resort, they were giving us detailed explanations of every place of interest, cultural practices & customs of Bruneians. What a resource Brunei has in incredible people of passionate pursuits!

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Horned Spider.

Orb Spider eating cicada.

Flowerpeckers (3 – 5cm only) here are not afraid of humans & would come to a proximity of about 1 metre of you. Seeking a perch that they frequented, I parked myself on the boardwalk & documented hundreds of pictures of these tiny, flighty, cheerful birds. I also learnt that they ate guavas & pomegranates! Videos when I get back.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – male

Yellow Breasted Flowerpecker.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – female.

Being so natural, even spiders abound in the walkway to the rooms. A total of 17 rooms that can accommodate 50 people comfortably, we were the only guests at the resort that day. Bugs, cicadas, strange squirrels & the bizarres of bizarres occur naturally & thrive in this environment. We asked the resort to keep webs in its place to allow city bumpkins like me to document insects for the appreciation of all. It’s not every day that we get to see a Horned Spider or an Orb Spider eating its prey & every encounter is a witness of God’s provision of His goodness to the animal kingdom that He has created. Here’s to the bugs & birds!

Tasek Merimbun Hosts More Than Birds in Brunei

The Minister himself is an avid diver who has just taken a great interest in birds, citing the many species’ behaviour as he talked to the participants of the Bird Race. Flagging off the event in a celebration at the Balai Seni Bandar Seri Begawan, the 7 participating nations were given the Bruneian welcome & shown the gallery of photos of Brunei’s fantastic flora & fauna taken by local talents. He expressed that the Bird Race should continue to its second installation next year where they can better document the species of birds to showcase then.

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Birders off to add species to their list!

At one of the booths, the Wildlife Division has an impressive information of several types of mammals, birds & reptiles. Talking to their officers, I got to know that they have the Slow Loris & Maroon Langurs here. Many of the mammals are found in Borneo & Brunei has a beautiful backdrop when you go to Tasek Merimbun to find them. The race flagged off upon reaching the park office, participants were briefed to stay on trail & each Steward (very experienced bird guiding professionals) assigned to each team, would be marking their finds as they go & if needed, proof of photograph would determine the authenticity of the species. There’s really no grounds for cheating.

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Panoramic view of Tasek Merimbun.

Though the forest is a visibly large area, the birds that are in abundance are flighty & sparse. I hardly have any photos to show despite being there for 2 hours. The distraction is really in the landscape. The first leg of the race, progressed with teams getting a glimpse of what the Bornean forest hosts.

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Maroon Langur

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Dinner hosted by Brunei Tourism where we were taken to a cheerfully local place to eat! We love it!

Borneo’s Most Happening Event of The Year!

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What do you get when you put a flock of birders, bird photographers & birding enthusiasts in a 130 million year old forest??? An animated pandemonium of ornithologists at the international Borneo Bird Race 2013! We are heading to the heart of Brunei & Sabah for a chance to capture on media, over 680 species of resident & migratory birds, 350 of which are in Sabah! Tell me if that’s not reason enough to be electrified! Birders from Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, India, Taiwan, Japan, Brunei & Malaysia will be on the path of flight to congregate for this event.

The pristine forests have been teeming with avian life since the beginning of time & participants will be competing for coveted prizes in the form of cameras & cash from Nikon & various sponsors. Sabah Tourism Board is equally excited to co-host the event at a grand scale as the Bird Race will take off in Ulu Temburong in Brunei before flying over to Kinabalu Park to find montane birds and make the descent to Sepilok, Sandakan for the 5th instalment of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013! Covering coastal regions, freshwater swamps, lowland forests, to the hills and mountain ranges of Sabah, this 10-day expedition will be The Big Year of the East!

I can hardly wait! Preparing my feathers to fly soon!

Will be giving updates on-the-fly from 31 May – 9 June 2013 so follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my FB!

Next, the Bird Photography Contest! Stay tuned!

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Drive Around New Zealand in a Rented Car!

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Photo by Thomas Young

Seeing some of the pictures on National Geographic website, I’ve been stirred with the thought of exploring the land of The Lord of the Rings by road which would be the best option to see places of interest at my own pace. New Zealand is also known as the land of Kiwis and packing for a birding trip would be easier if I don’t have to worry about transportation that can accommodate all the detours I’d be making with a discovery. Checking my options, I found a car rental site that can provide me with a supersaver compact car for only NZ$25 per day! It’s RM2.458 to NZ$1 which is about US$0.815 only. Being mobile can take me to more places than if I were to stay in one place throughout a 10-day trip.

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There are two islands, the North & South islands to explore. Snap Car Rentals offers a range of rented cars from economy to premium depending on the size of your group. They take care of reservations of ferry tickets by Interislander Ferry if you want to cross the islands too. What makes it more convenient is that I’m able to select a pick-up at Auckland airport & choose to return it in another airport! The options are available as shown below in a simple dropdown list form to check the availability of the car of your choice for your dates of travel. While you are there, pick up some hip bags or some cool motorcycle gear in Motormart with a 3-day shipped to you option in New Zealand! And if you fall in love with the country & want to buy yourself a holiday home, check out this mortgage site too.

The notably large number of unique bird species & a mild maritime climate, this land was mostly covered in forest. New Zealand’s varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks caused by the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. This undulated landscape makes a perfect picture & one of the places I must visit is Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island. Self-drive is an option I choose to get the birds on my list to photograph!

Brought to you by Snap Car Rentals, New Zealand.
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Landscape of Lake Tekapo by Pichugin Dmitry.

Perdik & Beyond

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The unfurling of a fern.

At the start of the New Year, life just went on turbo mode. I accepted assignments that sent me to places, spent 5 days in Singapore, then spent another 6 days travelling to India & back. I’ve amassed a load of pictures which I’m tirelessly going through & selecting them for the stories. Returning from several birding trips & planning some more reminded me of words of wisdom from Chien who had persistently gone back to get the birds when no one did. I miss his take on so many aspects of my life & I’ve assimilated all of his advice on how a birder should be. Babes, how I wish you were here to see your legacy continue in the friends you have inspired such as the vivacious Georgina Chin, who has published a coffee table book with your excerpts, no, epilogue on birding. Even Nelson Khor, your best sidekick, the man of few words whose photographs of birds show more than what we will ever see, had started Malaysia’s very own bird forum to teach & nurture many Chinese-speaking birders to take pictures the way you did. To think that once, you defended him when the slew of nature police went after him for a crime against nature which he was innocent of. Today, he is standing upright & showing the rest how to be a leader the way you led. And me? Oh, I’m just going to places that you have told me to go, to see the birds that we have been after & to experience other cultures just as you did. I know you wanted me to be enriched just like you & would get upset if I didn’t listen. I am your legacy too. Today, I write more about nature & birds than I ever have in my life. And it’s all thanks to you.

My friends took me to Perdik. New birders who have the same passion for documenting birds. I brought my famous relax camo chair along, a gift from Philip Tang, and a camo collapsible umbrella I got from Colleen Goh which I never leave without. Just as well, the skies opened up & poured. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I stood in my poncho, holding my umbrella & shielding my camera gear while I shot some of the flora & fauna in the jungle. Having acquired the Kiwifotos 4/3rds adapter for my Samsung NX200, I was able to mount my Sigma 50-500mm lens on it. The pictures came out pretty good.

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Ferns in the jungle look more appealing to me.

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The fire ants on the banana flower as it drizzles.

Birds were hard to shoot. With a full manual mode system, I was positioned right in the centre of fruiting trees & saw Barbets, Shrikes, Malkohas but they didn’t stay long enough for me to get a sharp shot. I managed to take videos but I need to find time to upload them. Walking along the fringe of the jungle, I came to a small farm & found a fluttering Rajah Brooke waiting to settle for some salt licks. The makcik by the name of Asiah, came out to check on what I was doing as I looked at her farm with fascination. She had free range chickens!!! And a few strange looking birds which I hadn’t seen before. There were ducks but they ran away when they saw me coming in with my tripod. I asked her why that strange looking fowl was called ”˜Ayam Keluk-Keluk.’ She said, “sebab bunyi dia macam keluk keluk keluk!” (it made the sound of keluk keluk keluk!) The cows had free range of the place too & the owner of the farm had to stop a territorial bull from coming at me. Yikes. The natural hazards of nature photography.

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The gobbledegook bird called Ayam Keluk-Keluk.

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The resting rooster, awaken by the pecking hen!

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Came across a very friendly Rajah Brooke!

We really got rained out & decided to quit for lunch at 2:30pm but not before I spotted a Drongo! People think black birds are drabby but this is such a beauty! You don’t need to have expensive gear to take priceless photos. You need to be at the right place at the right time, hopefully with the right settings on your camera for the right moment. All these photos on this post was taken on manual focusing with infinity focus. Here’s wishing for more opportunities like this!

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Drongo.

What To Find While Birding in Kuala Selangor

This month, Tourism Selangor takes us to celebrate the return of migratory birds & explore the resident species that make homes in the entire state. Migratory birds use the mangroves and coastal areas around Kuala Selangor as a transit area to feed and rest before continuing on their journey down south, much like a rest & relax area for birds! Kuala Selangor Nature Park has been designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) – in compliance with internationally set criteria by BirdLife International. What can you find in this huge park? Let me take you to the permanent inhabitants……

Before you go, here are the list of things that you must carry on you when you set out on the long walk. You are not adviced to go if you don’t have these things on you.

  • Insect repellent <– compulsory. Midges will get you otherwise. These are nastier than mosquitoes & they come in swarms. Preferably, wear long sleeves or you will be considered as one with the colony of monkeys nearby.
  • Hat. The sun has no mercy. Stay cool & stay in the shade. Machismo can’t take you far in this park. Use a brolly if you have to. There are camouflage collapsible ones sold in tactical shops to prevent you from sticking out like a sore thumb as you wait for the birds.
  • Polarised sunglasses. <– you will need this to prevent you from squinting the whole day. Go to Peak Vision Optics & get yourself a pair of Cocoons.
  • Drinking water. <— compulsory. When you find a bird stalking a prey, you wouldn’t want to run back to the park office to get something to quench your thirst.
  • Batteries for all gadgets. Your phone, your camera, GPS, torch, whatever you need to power up everything for you to document the journey (of birds).
  • Portable/handheld fan. You will thank me for this.
  • Camouflaged attire or any green, brown or khaki coloured clothing will help you blend into the surroundings & get nearer to the birds.
  • Folding chair to rest at will. 🙂

Leave word with your friends & the park ranger of your expected time of return. They will send for a search party if you are caught ogling at birds longer than you should. We set off early in the morning to get there after breakfast. The loop around the wetlands is several kilometres long but you will see plenty if you keep your eyes peeled. The only migrants who arrived sooner than expected were the Blue Tailed Bee Eaters.

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Blue Tailed Bee Eaters. I think they were having a bit of a domestic quarrel here!

Walking along the fringe of the mangrove, we spotted a huge bird lying on the ground. When we got closer, it flew to the nearby trees, settling just above our eye level. It was a huge Crested Serpent Eagle! We had a good 20 minutes shooting it at all lighting conditions & angles never thought possible. A Black Naped Oriole was consistently attacking it to chase it away from its nest, assumed to be nearby. The eagle didn’t budge until it spotted a bigger morsel further into the jungle.

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Soaring above us was a White Bellied Sea Eagle, taken here just after a successful hunt. The fish it caught in its talons was a sizeable one! We weren’t really looking up into the sky if we weren’t having a break & thankfully, I had the camera ready. They will usually give out a shrill but most come unannounced when they hunt.

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Us taking a break in the shade while waiting for the kingfisher.

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Flying Lizard (Cicak Kubing)

Birds are not the only kind of wildlife we see in the park. There are Flying Lizards too! When we went up to a watchtower, we got to capture a few woodpeckers looking for worms in the woods.

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Spending a good 5 hours at the park & returning with all these beauties in our memory cards was all we came after. On the way back, we were treated to another session of birding when we saw a tree filled with nests that turned out to be Baya Weavers’ nests. Treading carefully & slowly, I was able to film one doing the deed! See video here:-

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They are normally built on the same tree.

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Closer look at the nest.

Coming away with a few residents & one migrant specie in my list is a great boon to come back again & again. More birds will be arriving in these shores as December approaches so it’s the best time to be watching them at Kuala Selangor Nature Park! Don’t forget that list of things to bring!

To get there, you can take the bus or taxi but it’s more advisable to drive.

(Taken from Wikipedia)
Visitors can board Selangor Bus No. 141 from Medan Pasar Bus Hub in Kuala Lumpur. The bus departs half-hourly from KL between 6.30am and 7.30pm, and takes 2 hours (++) to reach the bus terminal at Bandar Malawati, Kuala Selangor. (The last bus for the return trip from Kuala Selangor to KL is at 7.45pm) The one-way fare is RM7.30. The bus hub is about 100m north of Central Market. From Masjid Jamek LRT, walk 100m southeast along Jln Tun Perak before turning right into Lebuh Ampang. After walking another 100m, you will see the bus shelter next to a grey “clock tower” in the small square.

Directions from Bandar Malawati Bus Terminal: The terminal is in Bandar Malawati, which is about 1km southeast of the town centre. You can then take a RM5 taxi ride / local bus to the town centre of Kuala Selangor (alternatively you can take a 15-20min walk). [The bus terminal is also served by Cityliner buses from Klang]

It’s a one hour journey by cab. The cab might also not be able to pick up a passenger on the way back, so expect fares to be high. For comparison, the distance from KL to KLIA is about 80km and a one hour journey. Taxis typically want RM 70 for a trip to the airport. So you would expect something similar, or higher for this trip. You might be able to negotiate a good deal if you book the taxi for a return trip.
Hourly hire rates for a small taxi (red/white) is about RM35 an hour if you would like to book one for the duration of the trip.

If you drive, set your GPS to Kuala Selangor Nature Park & navigate your way there! I use Waze, available on iPhone & Android.

Birds of Different Feathers Flocking Together at Kensville Golf Resort, India

The air was crisp & the streets were scattered with birds of different feathers. Big fat Rosy Starlings ruled the perimeters of the airport, Ringed Necked Parakeets squeaking as they landed on trees, some rogue Red Wattled Lapwings seen foraging on the ground occupying the keen photographers in the bus as the driver circled between the international & domestic airport to pick up the delegates of the 2nd Global Bird Watchers Conference 2012 in Gujarat, India. What a way to set the pace for birding enthusiasts when we arrived! Completing a 16 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai with a 7hr transit before landing in Ahmedabad.

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The most exciting part of this segment of the trip itinerary was not knowing where exactly the resort is tucked away. We couldnt have chosen a better place when we arrived at Kensville Golf Resort & saw a couple of Black Ibis grazing on the green. If this was an indication of life on the fairway, I wanted to be on the 18th hole scoring this birdie! As soon as I had registered & gotten my key card to the room, I dumped my bags & went for lunch. It was a good way to get acquainted with the others.

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Very soon, I was on the fairway with the Phillippinoes going after the Indian Roller! The water bodies situated beside the green was a welcome sight though the afternoon sun was harsh on the censor, casting shadows from the top. We inched forward to witness Green BeeEaters hunting for insects in the air as they land on the turf. There was a Pansy patch that created a colourful dotted background to this beauty. Wagtails were everywhere. I couldnt get further than the second hole on the golf course as I had already seen more than 10 species! Capturing them was a different story altogether.

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Birders must master the art of stalking & still-mimes when it comes to inching forward to where the bird is perched. The Indian Roller was rather cooperative as it fluffed & preened itself on my approach. I had to get closer for a better shot. It was perched about 4 – 5metres above on a branch of a tree, in full light. The irridiscent blue on green feathers made it such a catch on my sensor! Alain Pascua was stalking about 10 metres away from me, Rey Sta Ana was by the lotus pond & Mark Jason Villa was between the trees. Going after different species made it all the more exciting as we gestured with our eyes & gesticulated instead of using words to point to where the birds were. Body language was THE preferred mode of communication when everyone understood the universal code of birding ethics.?

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A Raptor glided by, hunting for prey as the Red Wattled Lapwing made its tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu calls as it flew across. I wasnt sure which bird I should aim for when they came at once. My heart was pounding with excitement, waiting for the right time to capture the behaviour of mating pairs. How do I begin to describe the breathlessness that comes from the feeling of awe each time a bird does something??? Birders traverse the world to get to see these magnificent winged creatures when the action is right here on the golf course of Kensville Golf Resort. This was not the start of the official excursion yet  Im all worked up from the sheer exhilaration of Pink Panther-activity in 13 degree weather.

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My Phillippino comrades on the field were great companions as our silent concerted efforts of preying upon the birds proved that we happen to be the birds of different feathers who can flock together.

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Will post links to more pictures in my album as soon as I can.

Next post, at the wetlands of Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary…..

Note:- The influx of delegates checking into Kenville all at once with some demanding to get service right away just proves that class belonged to the professional English-speaking Indian receptionist instead, who was beseiged with the ire of some jetlagged delegates who had no courtesy whatsoever. What irked me was that some didnt even know about the prohibition of alcohol in the state, had the gall to throw a tantrum ridiculing a system & belittling the reason behind the ban & that tourists are required to apply for permit to consume/buy alcohol in private properties. This clearly shows their ignorance of the countrys (India) culture & customs when they are too arrogant to read up about the hosting state which is the place of origin of their beloved Mahatma Gandhi. A few began whining about the level of competence while complaining about everything offered to them instead of waiting for their turn. It would be a wonder if they get invited to the state again. One travel writer took it a step further to sabotage the event by writing to the Times of India as well as other presses to allege that he was mistreated & that he had rude hospitality. Well, I received no such mistreatment, neither had anyone been rude to me possibly because I wasnt making unreasonable demands nor did I accuse the host of putting me up in shared accommodation when the website had clearly stated that we would be sharing with another. These delegates who happen to be from first world countries, behaved worst off than third world countries with their inexcusable manners & lack of appreciation for the reason they were sent to Gujarat for. Let the expenses that the government paid to fly them over to Gujarat be a lesson to never have them back again. With the many tourism boards I have worked with, I have never threatened to go to the media with any service thats below par. It usually comes in the form of a post-trip report thats separate from the actual articles that I write about the destinations. This puts the place in a better light & gives a chance for the host to rectify any wrongs that had occured in the process. Thankfully, theres nothing to report about except the exceptional time I had experienced with the people & the birds!???

The Oriental Diving Bird of Borneo

The Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) is a magnificent bird that hunts for fish underwater! Listed as a threatened specie, this bird is also known as the Snake Bird, contributed by the way it moves its head on its elongated neck. When it dives down into the water, it can stay submerged as it hunts for fish & reemerges to toss the fish in the air before it swallows it. The most impressive sight would have to be when it takes off from being in the water. Only its head breaks the surface as it swims to gain momentum for the lift. At Kinabatangan River, this specie can be spotted on treetops when not in the water.

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While cruising on North Borneo Safari’s quiet, electric engined boat, Alex Tiongco, Marts (speakers from Phillippines) & Hamit Suban, our brilliant nature guide, pointed out a flock of them on a skeleton tree. Unable to contain ourselves, we were rocking the boat with excitement. Each time either one of us did that, none of us could get a focus on the bird with our cameras & binoculars but it didn’t matter! Shaking from excitement is part of the fun. Thankfully for my Manfrotto 055CXPro4 tripod, much of our shakes were minimised & I could still take pictures on the flat bottom boat.

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Count the Darters!

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A Darter emerging from underwater! Used with permission from Cede Prudente.

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Grooming.

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These were taken from at least 100m away.

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A fishing Darter! Used with permission from Cede Prudente.

That was our first sighting on our first cruise. Eight of them in one frame! Sighting of a lifer is something that birders get extremely excited over especially when the specie doesn’t exist in my part of the world (Peninsular Malaysia), what more seeing eight of them. Their sheer size was also noteworthy & Cede Prudente had the opportunity of capturing this diving bird fishing as well as emerging from the water & it is truly an aspirational picture for me to document it one day……if I get to stay long enough in the river stalking this Darter.

The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo

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Panorama shot of the trails within the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pictures do not tell a thousand words when the eye of the beholder does not know the behaviour nor the habitat of the bird the picture was taken in. The level of effort corresponds with the level of commitment to obtain the shot given the probability of  most conditions that are not favourable to photographers. With a very small window of opportunity in the thick foliage of Sepilok jungle, you have a few seconds to respond to adjusting your lens to frame the bird & get it into focus before firing the shutter.

Most times, you need to be up early & light is usually not favourable to you. Making the best of these situations, you either use fill-in flash on 2nd curtain sync or bump up the ISO to the max, depending on how capable your camera is. Pictures shown here are the exact lighting conditions without any adjustments.

Venue:- Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sandakan, Sabah.
Heat & Humidity – This place must be the most awesome creation of tropical foliage in the rainforest of Sandakan but having so much thick cover, the humidity can reach well above 90% on an average day. It’s almost like the foliage on the canopy had trapped a massive amount of moisture for the life below that lingering inside is like a mist-cooker, you would be melting without even moving an inch. Lugging your gear with you & walking in the trails can cause you to be drenched wet with perspiration within your first half hour into your excursion. Solution: Get a Cobber, an expandable water-activated gel tube scarf to tie around your neck, cooling your carotid nerves as the day gets hot & hotter. Wear quick-dry & light attire to wick off moisture & sweat.

Hilly Terrain  – Be prepared to trek uphill as well as downhill. Carrying your mounted tripod if you have a 400mm lens or above would test your stamina & endurance but that’s just the beginning. Your essentials are almost always needed on an expedition like this so add it on to what you will be carrying on your photo backpack. Apart from carrying the right bag, an airtight/moisture-tight container is recommended for your batteries, memory cards & any peripherals which you think might be subjected to the humid air. A mini trolley would be an ideal partner for your bag & tripod as walking to the hotspots (spots with rare bird sightings) from one location to another can really drain you. Bring a 1.5litre bottle of water to rehydrate. You would not want to move from your spot for water only to discover from your birding buddies later that the bird landed, courted, fed & possibly mated when you were gone.

Wet Ground – Bring a foldable chair. Camouflaged preferred. I had to resort to sitting on the ground with my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod shortened to fit into the little window. Alternatively, bring a small piece of spongy, exercise mat to sit on. Wear shoes with traction. I had my Timberlands Chocorua Trail on & it has served me well for the last 6 years.

Here are the shots, unedited, a few of them just cropped to give you clarity.

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In this picture, there is a hole in the tree. What we didn’t know was that this hole, is a secret bathtub for the birds!!! Note the twigs & branches obstructing the view.
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Close up shot of the bird bath…..
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And I managed to capture a Leaf Bird! I took videos of this bird & will upload them when I have better internet connection!

Updated! Video of secret bird bath!
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See the full frame picture……
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….and this section here where I pointed my lens!
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Here the bird sits quietly as it hunts for food. And a twig was in my way! Grrrr…..!
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Sometimes, you get lucky. There were two Kingfishers in this shot! Unfortunately, they were too far in even for my 500mm lens’ reach.
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To get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (8cm in size only & this male was in a feeding courtship!), there was only one window around the leaves.

 

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This is the ‘window.’ The blurred parts of the picture are leaves obstructing my view.
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See the leaves again?
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Courtship in action! I gotta find a male who would feed me too! LOL!
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I think marriage is on the way…….yay! (Chan Pak, the HK veteran birder, eventually got the mating shot of these OD KF!)

 

The jungle is filled with sounds of bugs & birds. We were so engrossed with the little Dwarfs that we missed the big red Trogon behind us. The Diard’s Trogon has a red chest but always remain hidden with its back facing us so any opportunity to take a frontal shot is a shot in the dark…..

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See what I mean??? Obscured, I managed to get an ID shot of its chest.

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Still obscured despite me shifting position & angle.

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Getting a little frontal shot is still not considered good enough for any birdmasters, who will never show shots like these.

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Finally after a strained neck, a twisted back & wobbly legs from contorting myself to get the shots, I got the Diard’s Trogon!

My foray into bird photography in 2006, was attributed by my best friend, Chien, (who passed away on the 24 August 2011) when he talked to me about how he got those waders by staking out in the water to wait for the right moment. His pictures are astounding. His passion was even more infectious. He was born to teach & by sharing what he knows, he had enlarged his circle of influence to emulate what he did. And everyone enjoyed doing what he taught us to do, birding & learning about the habitat of birds to get the right time & capture the right shots. He had been a great friend & I am a product of emulating what he did with bird photography. I will share with you my discovery along the way just as Chien was so enthusiastic about sharing his discoveries when he was alive. Whatever challenges in bird photography that comes my way, his teachings would always echo in my head.

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Nature’s umbrella In the jungle – even the yam leaves are taller than I am!

The people behind the Borneo Bird Festival were fantastic & the resort I stayed in (Sepilok Jungle Resort) gave me a lot of opportunities to shoot birds in their compound. Being appointed as one of the judges in the Bird Photography Contest of the Festival, I want to thank the organisers for that honour & opportunity although it blew my cover as The Wannabe, I still think I do better stalking & reporting in my profession! Make Sepilok Forest Reserve as your next birding destination & be thrilled!

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A Sunbird in natural lighting.

Racing For Birds in Frasers Hill

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Under the invitation of Travel Malaysia & Tourism Malaysia in Singapore, I attended the Bird Race two weekends ago in the company of avid birders & photographers comprising of 38 teams in a quest to spot & name the most number of species in the 1 & 1/2 day race up in Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. The event was celebrated with the presence of officials & councillors amidst vendors adding to the festivity with sale of bird identification books, embroidered patches, shirts, binoculars, digiscopes & headgear. I met someone whom I had been communicating with for the passed 4 years in the forums & later joined his group for the race that soon floored me.

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Panoramic shot using the inbuilt function on the Samsung NX100. Vendors at The International Bird Race 2011

The race started at noon & we proceeded to the usual birding spots to count the species & also procure ”˜photographic evidence.’ Jason, Andrew, Ron & Alven were using digiscopes, short name for digital camera-mounted-spotting scopes. They hail from the land below the wind, Sabah, our neighbouring state in Borneo, and they were bent on locating the Silver Breasted Broadbill, the Orange Breasted Trogon & Silver Eared Mesia, which are non-existent or scarce in their terrain. Playing the good host, I brought them to midway between Hemmant Trail & Bishop Trail, when I got plagued with a broken clamp on my tripod, a non-functioning Aperture Priority on my Olympus E1, slow buffering rates & tripod giving way. Upon Andrew’s suggestion, I shortened the third section of my tripod to make it two sections for all three legs, rendering a shorter tripod, a bent back & a craned neck. I was subjected to sitting on my birding chair & crossing the tripod legs over mine in order to get a better balance & stability to shoot any birds that land ahead of me. The picture below depicts how camouflage & proper equipment can make a big difference in the success of bird photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t got any NX lenses for birding. I am contemplating on getting an adapter to affix my current lens onto the NX100 but will be limited to manual focus only.

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The Sabahan birder team & the armchair birder!

Spotted the Female Large Niltava giving me her sexy pose near her place of residence. The Male came out while I was fiddling with my camera, hopped onto a milestone & stared squarely at me about 2 metres away. Before I could direct the lens at him, he fled. Sigh. Presenting you, his partner……

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Female Niltava.

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Niltava feeding on a worm.

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Cuckoo Dove perched after feeding!

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Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush feeding on moth.

Nesting sites & nests are almost a highly prized commodity worthy of secrecy & protection. Alven & I ventured to the spot where a Silver Breasted Broadbill’s nest was spotted & we virtually parked ourselves about 7 metres away from it. This specie is very clever, weaving & building a hanging nest from a suspended branch over a ravine where no humans could get to, nor wild animals apart from snakes. At 15 minute intervals, the parents would return singularly to feed the chicks in the nest. Each time people ventured to where we were, I swung into a pose & Alven had to pretend that he was shooting me instead to detract them from sighting the nest. Here, I managed to catch a glimpse of the chick but only see it properly in the pictures.

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The mummy (female) returning to feed chicks. Note the ”˜necklace’ she’s wearing.

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And the slightly larger male’s turn to feed chicks.

To get a proper shot of them, we had to stay put for over 2 hours. Even with my camera troubles, these record sightings of them are worth it. I can’t wait to get my hands on an NX lens for birding. With newer technology, I am sure to have the chance to improve on my shots. The Sabahans came out as 3rd Runner-Up in the pro category & received books & hamper plus cash vouchers & I got to take home a piece of my work, not in bird photography but in an expression of colours on fabric!

The batik painting that I completed in about 4 hours in between meals & shooting nature, sparked off a new hobby & reignited my passion for painting since I laid my brushes to rest after school.

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My next purchase would have to be a sturdier, carbon fibre tripod to support my equipment. The never-ending buying of gears is part & parcel of a lifelong pursuit of nice pictures. Until then, I’d have to be happy with being under-my-tripod-on-a-chair to track birds that fleet over with no fear of the camo-clad, clandestine meets with the feathered-kind.

Distinctively Different

So another birding opportunity arose when Philip & Chien planned their outing two months ago to the same place. I thought I had better be prepared or I’d get chided again by people who adhere strongly to some kind of bird code of conduct which no newbie would ever get to know if they had just gotten into the sport by sheer coincidence, chance or timing.

The second trip was a bit more organised. I drove up to Fraser’s Hill after work, following the instructions laden by my GPS for the heck of it but after I got to passed KKB town, the unit was telling me to make a U-turn & head 21km North East!!! Either there’s something wrong with my GPS or there’s something wrong with the maps installed. I got up there feeling so good about the thought of birding again the next morning. Met Chien & Daisy for dinner before retiring for the night.

The next morning, I put on all my camo gear & went straight out to expect my feathered friends. Right. Not only was it 5 degrees colder than the previous trip, it was misty & we couldn’t see much. Even our bird pictures were ‘fogged up.’ We trotted along the Telekom Loop to look for some elusive ‘Cutie’ that someone had spotted many moons ago. What it looked like, I don’t know. I was just tagging along. When you’ve been working, travelling & leading groups all year long, you would be happy just to follow & receive instructions for a change.

And so the tripods, bipods, monopod & quadropod came out. What on earth are bipods & quadropod??? Here is a picture of two tripods, two bipods & one quadropod……


Chien, ‘Bruno’ & Philip.

Just as fast as Bruno got into our group, Bruno got out of our group to join some passers-by. So I watched for the bird wave to come.

Chien: “Greater Racket-tailed Drongo! No, Lesser!!!”
*Philip swivels his Wimberly to the canopy…*
Chien: “Look, the female drongo is coming!”
*Philip fires away……….clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick!*
*Chien spots with his binoculars, high up in the trees…*
Chien: “The female is harassing the male!”
*pummkin’s holding onto tripod for balance as she laughs…*
Chien: “See? See? The female is hammering him, the drongo probably came home late last night.”
*pummkin is now showing more teeth than eyes….*
Chien: “Worse, he probably came home with a lipstick mark too!”
*pummkin & philip momentarily stops firing from inability to focus while listening to Chien’s rendition of bird behaviour*
Philip: “Oi, Chien, where did you pick up THIS laughing thrush from?”
*Philip laughs while looking at pummkin*

The company was great & I even inherited a camo foldable chair from Philip & Jodie! Thank you very much! While Daisy & Jodie were digiscoping, I was fiddling with my Olympus E500 to get the settings right since I got it two weeks ago. It’s no D2x quality nor does it have a 600mm prime to go along with it but it served me well with pictures that I would not be afraid to share with you. Until I decide between a Sigma 50-500mm & a digiscope with an OM mount, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…!!

Here’s what I shot with an Olympus E500 & 40-150mm & sometimes firing the FL36. Apart from the first thrush, every picture was cropped.


Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush – Garrulax mitratus – hahaha! Got the name right this time!


Another one in the golden light….


Long-Tailed Sibia – ]Heterophasia picaoides


Javan Cuckooshrike – Coracina striata, it announces its’ arrival pretty loudly.


Flycatcher – which species it belonged to, I dunno. It was too small to see!


Mountain Bulbul – very showy this one. Almost at eye level.

Until this wannabe develop some length & reach, pummkin will remain a wannabe, bringing a part of God’s first creations to you.

Category: Adventure, Birding  Tags: ,  3 Comments

Distinguishable Differences

Last Friday night, I followed the birders to Frasers Hill & watched the masters at work. Sleeping at 1am & rising at 6am, I was so amazed at their dedication to be the first worms to bait the early birds. Here, I failed miserably to take pictures, resigned to the pavement & coffee station & watched. Dont get me wrong, I wasnt unhappy not being able to take pictures, I was just plotting how I can be a successful WANNABE!

Firstly, I have to learn the names of the birds so that I can rattle off as well as Chien when I see birds coming, or knows what on earth hes talking about when he sees them coming first!!!! Theyre everywhere!

Secondly, I have to wear camouflage. (Done. Ive gotten my spaghetti straps & hipster pants as Jason had suggested. Even got a sleeveless hooded camo jacket to go with it.) A support team has to be inconspicuous & stealth….just like the masters.

Thirdly, I must get over the shock & horror of Phil being able to eat anything under the sun or the fact that he would suggest eating them or catapulting them off trees or shooting a bow at anything with hoofs. Mention a hornbill & hell tell you they are not tasty! And to hear Chien add, Did you suck out the horn off its head too?!?!? Ohmigosh, a conservationists nightmare……Phil can be described aptly by two words, ABSOLUTELY ABO. (Short for aborigines/aboriginal). Hes great to be around though, he kept me awake with all these edible suggestions when I was on the verge of collapsing into slumber on my monopod.

Lastly, one must have the ability to laugh at oneself when you do everything for the first time. Heres an example of the differences:

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The Pro (Chien)

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The Abo (Phil)

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Wannabe! (pummkin)

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Cannot Be…

The birds are everywhere, sometimes you hear them but you dont see them. When you see them, you cant find them in your viewfinder. When you finally see through your viewfinder, the bird is so small, you squint & pray that your focus will lock on. Then they flee…….this is so frustrating……

You remember names but dont remember the sequence. Get corrected by Chien many times. You retreat to the coffee station & tell yourself to take a tea break. Then you hear a shriek, somewhat like bird with a sore throat. All you can manage to shout out is Tok tok tok! Thats a tok tok tok! When the surroundings cold, your brain freezes momentarily out of excitement, you say whatever that comes to mind. Woodpecker is non-existent in my vocabulary then. Just tok tok tok. A result of seeing too many PM threads of this name. An Indo Chinese Cuckoo Shrike becomes an Indian Chinese Cuckoo Bird to me. Soon, I was just pointing up in the sky shouting, Big Bird! Big Bird!

Here are some of my attempts but of course, no where near the pros. I stress that Ill stay as a Wannabe & stick to shooting micro underwater stuff, something which Im good at.

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Tok Tok Tok…..dont know what kind. Ask Chien.

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Forgetful Bird…….think its called Amnesia.

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Some kind of thrush…….no, its not a disease.

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Racket Tailed Drongo…….this one I know coz it makes a lot of noise outside my apartment every morning.

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Phil being powered up by Tenaga!

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The Real McCoys

Phil will be joining Philip this weekend & Philip is coming again in December, hopefully Chien can make it. Im going to set up the coffee station proper, be like a Yau Chin Tai-Tai (a rich man’s wife), sit down & wait for the birds to come before I lift my finger to shoot.

Category: Adventure, Birding, Event  Tags: ,  6 Comments