Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whistling Thrush Project: Fraser's Hill 22nd June 2009

I decided to stay one more night rather than rush back to Penang last night, and gave myself the luxury of some early morning birding for a change. I decided that the Gap road was favourite, especially after reports of the female Pin-tailed Parrotfinch and a male Bamboo Woodpecker during the Bird Race.

As usual, there were more birds heard than seen, but a few did show themselves in between periods of being enveloped in low cloud!

This Hill Blue Flycatcher was singing right beside the road.

I was quite pleased to get this shot of an Everett's White-eye. They are common enough, but nearly always in the very tops of the trees.

While photographing the white-eyes I heard the swooshing sound of hornbill wings, and a Rhinoceros Hornbill landed in a tree practically overhead. It didn't stay long though, being scared away - not by me...

..but by a furious Greater Racket-tailed Drongo! David and Goliath came to mind!

As I was retracing my steps to the car in mid-morning, I heard the unmistakable call of a Marbled Wren-Babbler in a ravine on my right. Having listened to the call on tape so often I could hardly believe that I was hearing one 'for real'! I made my way down into the ravine as quietly as I could, and spent a while sitting quietly, but the bird stopped calling after a short while.

I climbed back onto the road and resumed my descent with mixed feelings. I'd at least heard one of the fabled birds ... but I hadn't seen it. Oh well!No-one said they were easy!

However, less than 50 meters further on I heard another one calling up the hill on my left. Again, I made my way into the forest as best I could and found a place to stand quietly. After a few minutes I saw a largish bird fly in to the bank opposite me. I thought it was probably a laughingthrush and resumed my search for the babbler. A moment later the 'laughingthrush' re-emerged from the undergrowth, whereupon it revealed itself to be a huge wren-babbler!

My flash failed to go off for this pic, but it shows the proportions of the bird well - very unwren-babbler like - more like a rail-babbler!

All the descriptions of Marbled Wren-Babbler I can find describe the bill as black and the facial skin as blue, whereas this bird has a pale blue lower mandible and pink facial skin. I'm not sure whether this may be due to sexual differences or simply that descriptions tend to be taken from skins with discoloured bare parts.

I'd like to dedicate these images to the memory of Ong Kiem Sian, Singapore's 'first lady of bird photography'. Sian passed away after a long battle with illness just a few days ago. I never met her, but we corresponded, and she particularly encouraged me to attempt to photograph species which are less well-known. So - here's my tribute to an amazing woman with a passion for the birds of this region. She'll be deeply missed but will continue to be an inspiration to many.


Unknown said...

amazing photo as always! Congrats for the marbled wren babbler,pity i missed it. Sad to here the legendary Ong Kim Sian has passed away b4 i could met her :(

Choy Wai Mun said...

Looks like another fruitful trip for you. You got some great shots but nothing can beat the Marbled Wren-babbler. Congratulations.

Gim Cheong said...

Fantastic work with the Marbled Wren-Babbler!
Thanks for sharing.

Alfred Chia said...

Dave, how I drooled and marveled at your luck in being able to not only see the marbled wren but photographing it so well as well. I was one of the many who was at Sian's wake last week, and I am sure she would have appreciated it very much on your dedicating these fabulous shots to her. Again, good rare shots!

wengchun said...

dave...great shot on a rare bird! should have gone up fraser's hill but schedule was pretty tight. well done and thanks for sharing. had the opportunity to do birding and photography with her in KL many years back. everyone will miss her.

Wai Yien said...

great find and it saddened me to hear that a fellow birder had passed away and thanks for sharing.

Peter Ericsson said...

She probably was right there directing you to it!
Her spirit was free to travel before she went on to be with Jesus!

Great images! Congrats!

Jordan Sitorus said...

Wow...but I bet better shots of the babbler is already on the way!

Congrats for the record shots nontheles! Amazing...


John Holmes said...


Great bird, great shots !

John (HK)