Friday, 21 April 2017

The colourful birds of Fraser's Hill

I have been to Fraser's Hill at least once a year for the last 20 years. I was there last week when there was a flurry of photographers trying to photograph a Red-headed Trogon pair. In the post-session lull an Australian accented voice asked where are more colourful birds to be found. It seems to be hard-wired into homo sapiens that we like beautiful objects no matter how superficial. In the bird world this usually means multi-coloured feathers. If the worlds rarest bird species was black it would garner little attention from avian photographers. While not wanting to join the majority it is hard to avoid it and it seems to be a good way to promote Fraser's Hill.....a 1200-1500 metre high hill station that has seen better days.

I have said that photography at Fraser's Hill is not easy and it may take many visits or a long stay to add the range of colourful birds to an album. Some are regulars and some are infrequent migrants.

The following is an arbitrary collection that I hope will inspire many considerate and ethical photographers to record the beauty of this upland rainforest.

Perhaps the easiest colourful target are Silver-eared Mesias. They are one of the four major species that constitute bird waves  and regularly visit places like the carpark at the derelict Jelai Resort.

Silver-eared Mesia

Silver-eared Mesias

Red-bearded Bee-eaters used to be found around the old rubbish dump but can be found intermittently in various places including the Telecom Loop (Jalan Girdle). Blue-throated Bee-eaters are migratory and I have seen and photographed them roosting at the reservoir at the foot of the hill and in various locations on the way up to The Gap.

Red-bearded Bee-eater

Red-bearded Bee-eater

Blue-throated Bee-eater

Blue-throated Bee-eaters are master fliers.

Trogons are flying palettes of patchwork colour and patterns. They can be found on the Telecom Loop or between the Hemmant and the Bishop Trail entrances. Occasionally they can be found in flocks with over 10 individuals roosting in a tree.

Red-headed Trogon (male)

Red-headed Trogon (male)

Orange-breasted Trogon

Minivets are small dabs of colour often seen in small hyperactive groups. The males are tangerine and black and the females are mainly a bright yellow.

Grey-chinned Minivet pair

Grey-chinned Minivet (male)

Broadbills as a group are cute and colourful, two outstanding features pursued by avian photographers. Silver-breasted Broadbills are usually found deep in the forest except during nesting season where they make pendulous nest often over tracks, roads, streams or rivers. They are mostly found, but not every year, at the Waterfall area where they build nests near the stream.

Silver-breasted Broadbill (female)

Silver-breasted Broadbill (male)

Silver-breasted Broadbill pair

Silver-breasted broadbill Pair nest building

Long-tailed Broadbills can be found throughout the Fraser's Hill forests.....either singly, in pairs when nesting or sometimes in groups with around 10 individuals. This species is affectionately known as Elvis while supposedly sporting the pompadour hairstyle favoured by the iconic rock n roller of the 1950s. Their pendulous nests are found in high trees or above tracks. Banded Broadbills also show up from time to time.

Long-tailed Broadbill

Elvis lives at Fraser's Hill

Long-tailed Broadbill

Banded Broadbill

Green Magpies are sought after by photographers from Singapore or Malaysia where the multi-coloured bird is rather elusive. I have only every managed one good session with this beauty as they appear briefly and often at daybreak before the light is good for photography. I have seen Thai and Indian photographers ignore their appearance as they are much more abundant in other countries.

Green Magpie

Leafbirds are also a universally multi-coloured species, the Blue-winged and Lesser Green Leafbird is not so common but the Orange-bellied Leafbirds can be frequently found sucking nectar from the Bottlebrush trees that are in many locations around Fraser's Hill including the carpark at the derelict Jelai Resort.

Blue-winged Leafbird

Lesser Green Leafbird (male)

Orange-bellied Leafbird (male)

Flycatchers come in many shapes and sizes from very small to quite large and ornate. Verditer flycatchers are seen in many locations. The one below was nesting under the eaves of the Jelai Resort. The exotic-looking male Asian Paradise Flycatcher was photographed 10 years ago in the carpark of the Jelai Resort....when the resort was busy with guests. The Mugimaki flycatcher is a more diminutive species found seasonally in a number of locations.

Verditer flycatcher (male)

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (male)

Mugimaki Flycatcher (male)

Woodpeckers are invariably multicoloured. The most observed species in Fraser's Hill are the Great and Lesser Yellownape. The yellow colour of the mohawk headpiece identifying the presence and type. other woodpecker types such as the Checker-throated and the Banded are less often observed. After the Yellownapes the next most observed species is the Crimson-winged Woodpecker.

Checker-throated Woodpecker

Banded Woodpecker

Lesser Yellownape

Greater Yellownape

Crimson-winged Woodpecker

Barbets are invariably a colourful species. The most prominent in the location being the Fire-tufted Babrbet. They respond to hotels and individuals leaving fruit in feeding stations. Their call sound like a poorly maintained generator motor starting up. Another common call in the evenings is from the Black-browed Barbet.  Less common are the Red Throated and the Gold Whiskered Barbets.

Fire-tufted Barbet

Fire-tufted Barbet portrait

Gold-whiskered Barbet

Black-browed Barbet

Red-throated Barbet

Sultan Tits are not uncommon and they can be seen around the Telecom Loop searching for protein. I have seen them aggressively strip captured caterpillars and large cicadas that are attracted to night lights.

Sultan Tit

Several smaller birds come under the colourful category and are relatively common.The Orange Breasted Flowerpecker and the Black-throated Sunbird are two such examples. The latter seems poorly named because it is a bird of many colours which are best seen in full sunlight whereby irridescent purples and crimsons are revealed.

Orange-breasted Flowerpecker

Black-throated Sunbird.

Pigeons and Doves may not be high on photographers wishlists but they too can be colourful. Two examples of this found at Fraser's Hill include the Common Emerald Dove and the Thick-billed Green Pigeon.

Common Emerald Dove

Thick-billed Green Pigeon

Two other birds seen at Fraser's Hill that come under the arbitrary colourful category are Dollarbirds and Asian Fairy Bluebirds. The latter is relatively common especially on fruiting trees. Dollarbirds always seem to perch on high branches and their colour is best appreciated at close quarters.


Asian Fairy Bluebird

Although I have not observed them there both at this location  the Blue Winged Pitta and the Rhinoceros Hornbill have been recorded in Fraser's Hill, Thare worth keeping an eye out for for your colourful portfolio.

Rhinoceros Hornbill (female)

Blue-winged Pitta

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Courting display of the male Chestnut-naped Forktail

Chestnut-naped Forktails (Enicurus ruficapillus) are a member of the flycatcher and chat family Muscicapidae. The species was originally placed in the Thrush family, Turdidae but were recently replaced in the Muscicapidae, the Old World flycatchers. All the birds in the Genus Enicurus have long forked tails.

There are other members of the flycatcher family in the adjacent forest.

Grey-headed Canary flycatcher

Asian Brown Flycatcher
The Chestnut-naped Forktail is 18-20cm and weighs around 27g, The head of the male is Chestnut coloured, with a white forehead and black mask in front of the eye. The wings are black with a white wing-bar. The breast is white with black barring, fading towards the white belly. The rump is white and the tail is black with white stripes and a white tip. The female is the same as the male except the back and mantle is chestnut. The forktail calls in flight, either a single or three high-pitched whistles.

                                                       Male( right) and Female (left)                              Photo by Lawrence Neo

The species is known for its extreme shyness and blinds are usually necessary to get close images. This small insectivorous bird is localized throughout southeast Asia (shown below), being found in subtropical moist lowland forests and lower montane forests (up to 1300m) with swiftly running rivers or streams. They feed on insects amongst the rocks alongside these streams and next to small streamside pools.

The following observation occurred at Hutan Lipur Sungai Sedim, a recreational forest about 30km northeast of Kulim in Kedah, Malaysia. Sungai Sedim, which flows down the hills of Southern Kedah, is a tributary of Sungai Muda. I was staying with Nick Baker from Singapore and Andie Ang came with us to study the resident population of Banded Leaf Monkeys. We stayed at the Sedim Rainforest Resort where the food is good and the staff very friendly.

Sungai Sedim

I went down to the river as the sun gathered some heat to see if I could capture the Forktails. I saw a flash of white across the river… appeared to be the male forktail. He was restlessly perched on a relaxed U-shaped vine in the shadows on the other side of the river. 
I had no way of getting closer so set up my 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender… me 720mm of glass. My exposure parameters were ISO 2000, f5.6-f8 at 1/80 to 1/100 sec…… other words I was on the edge both with distance and exposure and restricted in terms of freezing action. To make things more difficult Chestnut-naped Forktails flick their tail up and down repeatedly.

My shooting position

The female was not in sight. The male appeared to go into a form of courting behavior on what seemed to be his lek or stage. He stalked and pranced over the extent of the vine 3 times and for a while appeared to do a Michael Jackson moonwalk. 

He also had a bowing maneuver. he repeated often .

He left the branch briefly several times but reappeared to resume his ritual. After about 15 minutes the female flew in. Several times she presented her derriere to the male with uplifted tail. He inspected but appeared not interested. 


The pair left the vine together and he had a bath while she observed. 

The pair came close together on the rocks again and the female presented her rear again....alas the male again appeared disinterested. They then flew downstream and were seen foraging on the riverbank.

I would be interested to hear if any other photographer has witnessed this type of courtship display.

An excellent video showing the species can be found here

Additional information on Chestnut-naped Forktails can be found here