Friday, 4 August 2006

A Fiery Lifer for a novice birder in Taman Negara

Tired and weary after 2½ days’ trekking through the beautiful jungle trails of Taman Negara, I was glad we were close to the jetty, but happy having sighted many birds that were lifers (a person’s first-time sighting of a bird) – there was the elegant Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, the Dusky Broadbill to name a few.

I was ready to rest my aching legs, have a refreshing shower, a scrumptious dinner cooked by our very able proprietress Rosnah, followed by a good cuppa of teh tarik. The night’s entertainment would include indulging in some enthusiastic chatter
and lively discussions to compare and confirm sightings.

However, as we got close to the jetty, we saw Loh Wan Yeng peering up into the treetops. There were loud chirpings from various birds plus alarmed chatter. Careful not to make too much noise we trained our ‘bins’ in the same direction. Immediately
we saw two squirrels, several very agitated small birds – and what had become the all too familiar drongo – fluttering, chirping and calling out loudly in threat, directing all their efforts at a spot blind to us. We wondered what was spooking them, but it was a rare opportunity to see so many different species of birds in one spot.

It was difficult for a novice like me to identify them all, but I did focus on a pretty, bright orange-bellied little bird, which our leader Lim Aun Tiah guided me into identifying as the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. Another lifer, yay!

We stood there a good 10 minutes, with the more persistent among us trying hard to spot the tell-tale features of the different birds, while a few in our group were beginning to disperse from the spot. Then it happened! I caught a flash of fire in the midst of the foliage. It was bright scarlet – really bright, fiery, chilli red. I started describing it and the moment Aun Tiah said it might be a Trogon, the excitement just overtook me – out the window went the birding rule book – I was pointing and giving reference to its location a bit too loudly. Well, can you blame me? I didn’t want my husband, Alan Yu – who had gone further down the trail, to miss this beauty of a lifer.

Anyway, I regained my composure the moment I heard Aun Tiah softly and gently chiding in my ear: “Ok, you can stop pointing… describe where it is.” It flew off before Alan could spot him. Aun Tiah assured us it would not have flown far, explaining that it is this bird’s habit to fly about 5 to 10 feet each time to a new perch and stop for awhile. Hearing this, I walked down a little in the direction I saw it fly and true enough, just as Aun Tiah had said, there it was about 5 feet away.

This time I resisted pointing and whispered its location. Almost all of us had a good look at it. It was a Scarlet-rumped Trogon!! Wow! It was beautiful. What a lifer! With a big smile on my face I proudly noted the Trogon in my notebook – all weariness forgotten. Needless to say, the Trogon was a highlight of our bird watching trip to Taman Negara, but it certainly wasn’t the only one.

There was the lovely 40 minute trip down Sungai Tahan – where Aun Tiah had requested the boatmen to cut the engine and allowed us to drift slowly back to Sungai Tembeling where our chalets were located. Sungai Tahan was clear, cool and teaming with fish. It was refreshing as we glided down in serenity; and with the gentle breeze lulling me, I could have just closed my eyes and nodded off to sleep but the surrounding beauty demanded that I savour every moment.

There was the adrenalin rush that four of us experienced dashing off track and through the brush and thorns in search of the elusive, ground-dwelling Banded Pitta – one of us caught sight of its bright blue wing but we all heard its “brrrrrr” call. (Yup, it got away, but we’ll be back for a full-on sighting.)

Then there was the impromptu bird call competition between group 1 (represented by Lim Bing Yee) and our group (represented by Julia Mellors), where one reproduced the bird calls heard by their group during the day and the other had to
identify the bird. Don’t remember who won, but there was a lot of laughter and fun.

From what was shared, we all learned something new about birding and gained more skills from each other, especially from Aun Tiah and Bing Yee, that will help us hone our birding skills – like good and effective note taking and learning to focus on
diagnostics to help identify the bird in question correctly. Even the light-hearted bird call competition was a good learning experience, emphasising the importance of taking note of bird calls and learning to reproduce them as a key tool for effective
identification. Hopefully these skills can help us become experienced amateur birders who can contribute to data collected for use in the conservation of these beautiful creatures.

What else can I say? I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. This was the first outstation trip with the Bird Group for my husband and me. We’ve not been able to go birding very often due to our work situations but we are certainly looking forward to our next trip.

by Ng Bee Cheng,
August 2006

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