Sometimes what you do to get a photo of a bird is just dumb and yesterday was definitely one of those dumb days.
Instead of the usual Sunday photography we decided to go out on Saturday so we could sleep in on Sunday and have a bit more time for processing the shots. The biggest dilemma was where to go. This time of the year in Malaysia choices are slim and you sweat for your shots. In the end we decided to hit our favorite paddy fields down at Sungai Balang which usually always delivers something worth the effort of going down there.
Sungai Balang is at its best during the harvesting season which happens to coincide with the raptor migration. Stripping the rice exposes the frogs, mice and insects hidden under the rice stalks and the paddy teems with Herons and Lesser Adjutants that come in from the nearby mangrove mudflats to feed. During this time the sky is always good for good numbers of raptors circling the thermals overhead, while the road verges are great for Kingfishers, Bee Eaters and a wide variety of other lowland birds. So, more or less you usually cannot fail to come away with something interesting. But not yesterday!
Despite arriving at sunrise the only birds out and about were some Munias and Baya Weavers busy feeding in the tall grass next to the road. The paddy was barren of birds and the sky was a blank blue canvas. So after a two and a half hour drive there was nothing to do but chase uncooperative Munia’s and Baya Weavers feeding in the roadside grass. An adventure in endurance I never expected.
First we tried slowly driving up to them and then sitting quietly waiting for a chance. But this didn’t work. Either they flitted off twenty meters down the track as we approached, or the thick grass obscured the view. Then I tried stalking on foot…even worse. I don’t know if birds can smell, but the moment I got within smelling range they were gone! After an hour of tramping up and down carrying the tripod and lens which seemed to get heavier by the minute, I was sweating like a pig and didn’t have a single shot to show for the effort. The looks on the paddy farmers faces as they chugged past on their motorcycles told me they thought I was one real dumb Ang Mo (local slang for white faced foreigners!)
Finally, after tracking the birds movements we managed to get ahead of them and then sat quietly waiting near some open grass clumps for them to catch up and I got a few shots worth keeping.
The first few successful frames of Baya Weavers having breakfast were not too bad and here they are. Bayas, like all weavers are busy birds and when there is a group of them in thick grass you have to be fast to catch them when they are exposed.
Next up are some quite nice frames of Scaly Breasted Munias. These are nice little birds. They are frustrating to try and photograph, but when you get a nice shot you are pleased with yourself.
To cap off what was effectively becoming Munia Day a small group of squabbling White Headed Munias caught my attention but before I could get a second frame they flitted off. The single shot at the very top of the blog is my best of these attractive little guys so it gets the top spot today.
In between the Bayas and Munias a White Breasted Waterhen briefly showed its face down in the channels next to the paddy. It’s a common bird and I usually don’t waste time on it. But given the day so far beggars couldn’t be choosers so I had to take a shot which turned out to be not too bad.
After sweating it out on the road my next target was to try and get some Baya Weavers, which still seem to be busy building nests. Some trees next to the road were literally dripping with nests, but like the Munia’s the moment these guys saw the lens they decided to test my patience and en mass flew off in a hoard into the paddy never to reappear. Bastards!
Just then when all seemed lost, a shadow passed over where I was sitting. Gliding overhead looking down on me was a lone Brahimny Kite. Unfortunately as quickly as he appeared he disappeared. But not before I had him.
By this time we had had enough. So we packed up and drove back to Kuala Lumpur, arriving just in time to hit the Saturday lunchtime traffic jams. All I can say about KL traffic is that if you had wanted to educate yourself on the finer points of descriptive Zimbabwean English yesterday would have been a good day to learn some new words!!