I took an opportunity to accompany Tan Choo Eng, first to see his family swiftlet project, and then onto some of the sites in Perlis where he and others have been seeing lots of great birds recently, including 2 firsts for Malaysia - Long-legged Buzzard and Asian Openbill.
First stop was the swiftlet house, where there were a number of swiftlets wheeling around in the early morning, clearly interested in this new potential breeding site.
These swiftlets seemed less -longed winged (or maybe broader at the wing bases?) and less 'Apus'-like than the Singapore birds I photographed. All of them seemed to be in fresh plumage, with no sign of moult. Later on I hope we can establish their identity by looking at the nests. Choo Eng's family are obviously hoping they'll be the 'White-nest' or Germain's Swiftlets, as their nests are much more valuable than those of Black-nest Swiftlets.
From the swiftlet house we journeyed north toward the Thai border. En route I got good but brief views of a White-breasted Woodswallow, which I think is the first sighting for Kedah state, and evidence of yet further northward expansion.
Just before we reached the Chuping sugar cane plantations, we made an unscheduled stop to photograph an Oriental Honey Buzzard. This proved to be the first of many.
The sugar cane plantations at Chuping are the largest in the country, and stretch like prairie grassland for miles in every direction. We saw many field being planted with young rubber trees in response to the rising price of rubber at the moment.
Over the fields were sizable flocks of Oriental Pratincoles, and, further up, several flocks of Oriental Honey Buzzards making good use of the wind and hot temperature to migrate northwards.
It was a good opportunity to observe the variability of plumage of this species; this one being a particularly distinctive individual. The yellow iris marks it as a juvenile.
...And yet more!
A thorough survey of the plantations failed to reveal either the Long-legged Buzzard or the Openbill, but we did manage to find a few good birds typical of the habitat including Siberian Stonechats, at least two Sand or Pale Martins...
This rather wary Indian Roller - possibly a first for the state of Perlis,
... a distant Osprey,
...a pair of Long-tailed Shrikes frequenting a patch of burnt sugar cane,
...and this subadult male kestrel. We did wonder for a while about whether it might be a Lesser, as it seemed quite short-tailed, had pale underwings and rich pale rufous underparts. After doing some reading we realized that it must be a Common, and that the race found in south-east Asia, 'interstinctus', has much richer-coloured underparts than their European counterparts.
Butterfly Lizards were commonly encountered in the plantations.
Perlis is very different geologically from most other places in Malaysia, with limestone karst formations in abundance, and the large and unique lake, Timah Tasoh. This is a view from a look-out in the State Park.
"Arrrggghh! I've been shot!" We watched two pairs of Blyth's Hawk Eagles calling and displaying from the viewpoint.
In the next valley there were a few paddyfields between the forested limestone escarpments, and several hundred Striated Swallows lined the wires there.
They seemed to enjoy coming down to the road to dustbathe and perhaps warm themselves whenever there was an opportunity.
Striated Swallows are residents in Malaysia, and seem to prefer limestone cliffs to breed. They are very similar to the migratory Red-rumped Swallow, and differ from them in having heavier streaks on the underparts and rump, less red on the ear coverts, and a dark rather than rufous nape. This bird is presumably a first winter.
Here's an adult in moult, showing the diagnostic dark blue nape. All but one of the birds we saw were apparently of the race 'stanfordi', though we did see one of the distinctive 'badia' race, with its brick-red underparts. EDIT: These birds are probably the migratory Red-rumped Swallow, in spite of the obviously dark nape.
Don't fall off your perch! I saw several birds leaning over like this in an attempt to get into the best sunbathing position, even though it was past midday and already very hot.
Near the swallows we spent some time walking through the forest, following the valley between to ridges. A Great Hornbill flew overhead and several others were heard, as well as Banded and Black-and-Yellow Broadbill.
We got not very good views of both male and female Banded Kingfisher (this is the male), and, at the same spot ...
a nice Ferruginous Flycatcher, the first I'd seen in many years.
Grey-breasted Spiderhunters seemed particularly numerous. I heard the bird calling, and knowing their predilection for banana tree flowers, focused my camera on this one. As soon as I had done so, the spiderhunter flew into frame - one of the few times I've successfully anticipated a shot!
This Many-lined Sun Skink was uncharacteristically confiding.
From here we took a short drive to the excellently laid out Perlis State Park. On the way in, we spotted a number of Forest Wagtails foraging and preening by the roadside.
This one seems to have lost its head completely!
Ah, that's better!
I got close but frustratingly brief views of a stunning male Banded Pitta (I'll be back!), and then close and unfrustratingly prolonged views of a stunning male Rufous-collared Kingfisher.
Our second 'forest' kingfisher of the day.
Our final stop of the day was Timah Tasoh, the lake itself. We weren't successful in seeing either Pheasant-tailed Jacana or Racket-tailed Treepie, but the scenery alone was well worth the visit. I shall certainly be making more trips to Perlis!