Sunday, 25 May 2008

Day Trip to Bukit Rengit

Beginners Luck…

Bukit Rengit

The day started at 5am with the dull throb of the alarm clock drilling into my brain. Hmmm, birders must be very serious folk to be up this early to just see some birds in some forest, I thought, as I groggily made my way to the car.

I was on the way to Bukit Rengit forest, which is near the Krau elephant sanctuary. The trip was organised by the birding group of the MNS.

It had been quite sometime since I got up this early and on the Karak highway. Nice cool morning with mist drifting across the road as we made our way up the range, car droning as we climbed up to Genting Sempah and down to Karak. From there it was just a 15-20min drive to the Lanchang exit of the East Coast highway for the first regroup.

There were already a group of 10-20 birders there, already having breakfast. Already the bins were out, as directly opposite the rest stop, were a few hornbills perched on a prominent tree. Black Hornbills, I was told. Later, the flock of Black Hornbills took flight over us, and as they drifted over us through the mist, I felt the magic of these flighted creatures as they gracefully glided away.

From the rest stop/toll gate, it was just a short 30min drive to Bukit Rengit. There was a prominent signboard showing the way to the elephant reserve, hmmm…noted with interest.

We parked the cars along the road at the Deer Land park, and the group were efficiently separated into 2 sections, the day-trippers and the follow up for the Beginner’s birding class.

After the 2 groups separated the day-trippers were walking along the road, looking and listening intently. The mist was still in the air, and the sun had not quite shone through the trees yet.

Then pleasantly surprised, I saw that Aun Tiah was in the day-trippers’ group…someone that I recognised from the old days of MNS slide shows and bird talks in the Rimba Ilmu auditorium. I think I was lucky that he was there to show the newbie’s the ropes.

Looking at the group, mostly everyone dressed in drab earth and natural earth colored clothing; and naturally being a guy, I had great interest in their hardware. From bins of small and big sizes, there were all makes and types. More interesting was the scopes, these big heavy scopes with equally heavy tripods!!! Everyone seemed to have an opinion on which was the best…
Walking slowly along the road, everyone seemed relaxed and enjoying the fresh air…

Suddenly, someone pointed into the forest, and said, Sunbird!!! Where?, where?…everyone asked. Bins were out, and soon we were trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive bird.

And there it was. A small tiny bird almost invisible amongst the foliage…some Latin named sunbird, someone said. Errrr, what’s a sunbird??? After we watched the tiny bird flitting in and out the trees…it suddenly became aware of us, and flew away.

So what was the bird doing? Looking for food, defending its territory, feeding its young? So many questions!!! I guess I never really thought about what birds do, how they live and do the things they do…all that nature stuff. Interesting….

Aun Tiah and other more experienced birders were a great help, they took out their field guides and showed us the different birds. The colour plates were a great help in identifying each species. Aun Tiah even tested us, and asked us which bird actually we had seen, amongst all the colour plates in the book!

So that was the pattern of the day, walking, looking and hearing birds, trying to catch a glimpse of the birds and getting to know a great group of people.

Surprisingly, the highlight of the day for me came at the end of the day, when the birding class group rejoined us. Someone had found a small brilliantly coloured bird on the road. Apparently it had been stunned by something, collided with a tree or car…who knows.
Black-naped Monarch being placed into leaf and returned to shelter of a tree

It sat quietly in our hands, and someone said it was a Black-naped Monarch. Brilliantly coloured blue, with black on the beak and nape…it looked quietly at us and didn’t respond at all. I had thought that it would have been freaked out at being handled, this creature of wild nature, but it didn’t!!!

Everyone crowded in for a look, digital and SLR cameras came out for pics, then the creature was placed in a folded dry leaf and set amongst the branches of a small tree next to the road, while we watched for signs that it recovered. Finally after about half an hour, it recovered and sat perched on a branch, posing yet some more for our group.

By now, the sun was high up in the sky and we broke for lunch, officially the trip was over. Then over a lunch of nasi lemak and fried chicken, I managed to talk with other members of the trip entourage. It impressed me how passionate birders can be, the life lists, the favourite birds, their bird calls…what a great pastime.

In the end, it was a fantastic day!!! From looking at birds’ long distance to actually holding one in the hand!!! I think I was very lucky to have experienced both extremes…

Text by Wai Hoe Lock
Photographs by John Steed
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