Bukit Tinggi 2009 – Cute Birds, Old Friends and New

by Lee Phek Thong

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A trip to Bukit Tinggi is a yearly affair for NPSS, and probably also for many other bird photographers around the region. Last year was the first time my family joined in the trip up North organised by Con Foley, and we had a jolly good time as a family as well as for myself. So when SC Fang decided to organise an NPSS outing to Bukit Tinggi, my boys happily agreed to come along.

So what is it about Bukit Tinggi that attracts us? For the bird photographers, it was the chance to take some highland fauna, including the icons of Bukit Tinggi, the Silver-Breasted Broadbills, and a host of other birds. For the family, it was a quick road trip up to just enjoy a nice weekend on the hills, with nature, and a host of attractions to keep the children entertained.

 

We started out on a Friday morning around 5am, meeting up just after clearing the Malaysia customs and headed along the second link towards KL, and from there towards Genting and beyond to our destination. Driving up is relatively easy, with little need for navigation, except at KL where traffic gets heavier, and those less familiar with the route find themselves needing to stay close to the convoy. There are many rest stops (RSAs) to choose from, such as  Machap, Pagoh, Ayer Keroh, Seremban. When travelling with kids, we try to make a few more stops for stretching and toilet breaks, both adults & kids apprecate that. We reached our destination at around 11am after a few breaks, a leisurely drive by the standards of frequent Malaysia visitors ;-)

Off to ‘work’ the gang went, unloading the gears, and hiking up the hill to the Japanese garden entrance. This year they seem to have blocked off access to the top if the car park is full, so since we were there at 11am on the first day, we had to work our way up. This wasn’t going to be a problem anymore in subsequent days when we get up there early at dawn.

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 20090320-canon_eos_40d_img_8199.jpg The first day was pretty much getting to know the surrounding, and hoping to find a good spot. Shooting halfway in the afternoon, a heavy downpour came, and some of us chose to stay in the nursery for shelter. It was during the heavy downpour that somewhat dampened some of our spirits, wondering if the following days were going to be plagued with gloomy weather. But it just took the song of a magpie robin that showed that there is always something to sing about, or at least to photograph, that left us in better spirits and hope for the next few days.

And it proved to be right, for the weather in the next couple of days were simply gorgeous, sunny, and with a good number of photography opportunities for everyone.

Birding and photography
The star of the show was the Silver-Breasted Broadbill, walking along the side of the uphill road and overlooking the downward slope, we were able to catch birds on higher perches, and birds aplenty there was. The birds could however be further, or on higher perches, so a good reaching lens would be best, say a typical 400mm with 1.4X TC, was sufficient to get decent shots, naturally, a 500mm and 1.4TC would probably give better options and allow a better (smooth) background.

Of the birds spotted were a few Silver-breasted Broadbills (male and female), Black-crested Bulbuls, a speedy Spider Hunter. A few special captures for us was the Minivet with it’s glowing red feathers for the male, the Flycatcher and a bird that eluded my camera last year, the Blythe’s Hawk Eagle. In a short walk halfway up the hill, the variety of species was good, and it didn’t take much waiting. It was a rate of return I did not manage to get a year back.

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This year, the nursery was the place to be, to get close to birds, albeit with pretty messy backgrounds, though we did get some with tolerable backgrounds. Feeding Broadbills are abundant here, along with a good variety of species, including the Bulbuls, Trogons, Back-Yellow Broadbills, Magpie Robins, Tiger Shrikes and the elusive Spider Hunter.

Latest: it was brought to our attention recently that the nursery was recently destroyed by a fallen tree along the slope between the restaurant and the nursery itself. So there goes the great spot for spotting birds. We do really hope that a new nursery will be built in place soon. As for the wildlife, I reckon they’ll be around, nature always finds a way to move on.

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The Broadbills arrived in waves, and especially in the mornings, before the arrival of the tourist crowd. The birds are quite happy to hop and skip around the nursery beams to pick up the moths and insects with their bills, and slowly consume them while perched on a nearby branch. It is during this period where the photo opportunities are best, as the bird is concentrating on feeding.
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Accommodation

Typically, one would be better off in the wallet if we booked the golf resort suites, but this year, there was a golf event happening at the resort, and chances were rooms were not as plentiful as we would have liked. Luckily, the normally more expensive Colmar had an offer for early birds. So, much to the delight of our kids, who had been there on a visit, but never stayed there, we booked a room at the French-themed resort.

Overall the place is decent, and the rooms typically huge with high ceilings. There is a wide variety of restaurants available, so we didn’t have much trouble with food. Though quality-wise there leaves much to be desired, but since we’re stuck on the hill with kids, driving down isn’t always a good/safe option especially for dinner when it gets dark. But overall food was alright. Our pick of the lot was the oriental food place, with the chef willing to cater to our request to change dishes to vegetarian, though it did take a while for food to be served. Luckily the kids were treated to a nice performance while waiting. We just needed to get used to the idyllic pace, after all, it is um… an idyllic French village.

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Of shooting as a group

While I  usually prefer to go in a small group of 2-3 photographers, there’s definitely an appeal to having a bigger group of photographers coming together with a common objective such as to capture a particular bird on ‘film’. There’s never a dull moment with jokes and thought-provoking discussions being carried out behind and around the pleasant surroundings, and sharing of ideas, both photographic and non-protographic in nature are well received. Of course the group cannot hit a certain number in case of overcrowding and stressing the subjects (in this case, the birds), but a good decent bunch of like-minded photographers can have a good time snapping away or just waiting for the arrival of a bird. Besides, the extra pair of eyes and ears helps in spotting more subjects, especially for  birding beginners and novices.

This time round, much of the group consisted of old timers, some of whom I haven’t seen for a while, as well was new aquaintances, some who did not join our convoy, but happened to be there at the same time. Overall, it was a friendly atmosphere, and I do enjoy a good conversation as much as taking that shot I’ve always wanted, and to return back with at least one, is good enough. For this trip, I got more than I expected. Needless to say, this was a great trip for me. Thanks to SC and the NPSS company of friends.

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Lee Phek Thong
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