Sunday 19 February 2012

Panti Forest - Malaysia

Yesterday afternoon I got this text message from a local birder that I was planning to go birding with:
"Did u hear that there is a Rosy Starling at lorong Halus area? Would you mind switching locations?"

Lorong Halus area is in Singapore and a Rosy Starling is a vagrant to the island so naturally all the big year birders wanted to see it. And I was more than happy to join in the chase.

Then yesterday evening I got another text message from the same person:
"Do you want to go to the famous panti forest instead? A mega was seen - Brown-backed Flowerpecker... at a fruiting tree today so chances are high to see it again."

I guess mega-rarities trump big year rarities?

I've heard of Panti Forest several times from the local birders in Singapore. They describe it as some sort of holy region for birding. So I was looking forward to the unexpected trip to the forest today when I got that text last night. You can't say no to a mega rarity especially when it involves exploring new habitat with the promise of several lifers!

A photo of the actual bird we were chasing:
Check out Con's other great photos here. Especially the Barbets!

This species is poorly understood. I knew nothing about it yesterday and now probably know pretty much all that there is to know about it - which isn't very much. They specialize in "peat forests" which is a limited habitat already and are constantly being destroyed. Very few people have seen them or photographed them making it all the more desirable, despite it being a relatively bland bird. Although the eye in this photo is badass!

Fast forward to this morning, after 1.5 hours of driving we were very close to the fruiting tree and it was still dark out. We decided to not go immediately because it was raining. After a delicious breakfast we headed straight for the location to find 3 birders already at the tree - they had not seen the bird.
One of them has ~1800 on his Asian list (out of about 2800 - and he's only a few years older than I am!) so he was eager to add this bird to his list.

Unfortunately the bird wasn't to be seen and there wasn't much activity in general at the fruiting tree. This Black-thighed Falconet didn't help much either with finding Flowerpeckers. But I was pretty excited to see it. It is one of the smallest birds of prey and is very cute:

Blue-eared Barbets eventually came out to feast on the fruits:

This Black and Yellow Broadbill was a highlight for me:

I got a much better look than that though. This photo does the bird justice - looks like a clown!

Photo from here

Gliding lizards are common in SE Asia, while patiently waiting for a shy bird to make an appearance this one glided into view:

A Whiskered Treeswift was another highlight for the day. I had seen these birds in the field guide before coming to SE Asia really hoping I would see one. They find a perch and literally hang out there for several hours without flying once! The bird we saw today stayed in the same location for at least 1 hour.

Photo from here

Another beautiful bird was the male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher:

Photo from here

I spent a lot more time enjoying great looks at these birds today instead of taking photos so that's why I'm showing you photos from other people.

We never did end up seeing the Brown-backed Flowerpecker but all these birds more than made up for it. And an awesome experience with a very secretive and highly sought after species was the highlight of the trip. That  story to come another day!