Monday, 7 May 2007

Gems in Gerik by Ng Bee Cheng

During the Labour Day and Wesak Day holidays, 20 of us birders (birdwatchers) descended upon the small town of Gerik and claimed a piece of it for our own from April 28-May 1.

It was an outing filled with "oohs and ahhs" as we sighted some rare or "difficult to see" gems and not so rare but just as awesome beauties – one can never get enough of them.

We covered the Bersia area where the Gerik Forest Reserve is located, Jalan Sumpitan – near Lenggong, fringing the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve – and a spot along the new Gerik-Kulim highway.

We were joined by Choo Eng, from Penang, who had very graciously agreed to lead us to the nesting site of a pair of Bat Hawks. An opportunity not to be missed as the pair had chosen to nest high up in a Tualang tree, so it was safe for us to observe them without disturbing them, although the pair, nest and chick were in clear view.

One of the little gems that brought excitement (and personally, my trip's favourite lifer [a birder's first time sighting of a species]) was the little Rufous Piculet (woodpecker family) measuring just about 9cm.

Caroline Ho was the first to spot it. Word soon got round among the jungle green/khaki-clad crew and the whole group was hot on its trail as it flew from bamboo cluster to bamboo cluster at Speedy Gonzales-like pace – tapping as it went along in search of some grub or other. So strong and loud was its tapping, first time "sighters" of the little beauty had to be forgiven for being really surprised at how tiny it was, when it finally decided to reward our persistence with a close-up look – it had bright orange rufous underparts with bright olive green upperparts.

There were also frustrating moments. Personally, I was experiencing hornbill frustrations – they kept appearing or disappearing early in the morning, flying or perching on some branch far, far away in the mist… so even if I could see them, it was just not a good enough look… aaarrgh!

Being nesting season, we were all reminded to be sensitive to the birds as there was always a risk of causing them to abandon their newly/partly built nests or chicks. It is rewarding to see that despite our excitement, most of us – if not all of us, managed to follow our trip leaders' (Khoo Swee Seng's and Lim Bing Yee's) instructions.

Some of the other highlights of the trip were visits by various birds and the magnificently coloured Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (rufous-backed form – first spotted by sharp-eyed Jasmine Steed and which later decided to sit on a branch to pose for us while it did a spot of human watching) along Jalan Sumpitan while we were taking a break at a small clearing. And last but not least – yummy local delicacies like steamed freshwater fish from the local streams and fish farms plus lovely fragrant nasi kerabu and nasi dagang at a roadside warung that came complete with a plasma TV for entertainment.

It is always rewarding to join birding trips like this as one gets to meet other birders, learn from those who are more experienced, hone one's bird identification skills and put to practise (or at least be reminded of) birdwatching ethics – to be considerate to the birds and your fellow birders (by not scaring off the birds or standing in front of birders when they've sighted a bird and etc).

Plus the obvious satisfaction of helping to collect some basic data on species sightings (in an effort to monitor the health of our bird life) and of course the joy of adding more lifers to our personal list of species sighted to date.

For the record, number of bird species sighted this trip – over 125. Number of lifers for me – 27… Yay!

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