Intense observation of nesting birds is really not my forte. Apart from being intensive and a time consuming hobby, it is treading thinly into the fragile realm of avian breeding cycles. It is not recommended for novice bird watchers/photographers or twitchers ill primed for scientific field work.
It is not because I dislike the idea of looking at naked chicks. To say I am not curious would be not telling the truth. However, it will not be easy for any birder to convince me to make a ‘Beep! Beep!’ road runner‘s dash to join the queue of elated nest chasers for hunting shots; go home feeling lucky-happy; and or, competitively comparing images with each other at the expense of stressing nesting birds.
In the interest of birds’ welfare, I choose to be recalcitrant in this aspect of not observing nesting birds at close range or be absent. And, if that decision I make is one less potential human predator to parenting birds, or compromise the breeding cycle of especially rare birds, that is fine by me.
Somehow, the power of the unseen has an uncanny way of rewarding me for my choice to stay convicted to my beliefs. It provides me the joys of sighting those rarities in the wild conveniently, without me having to chase or hunt them down; and showing me things of interests or situations to write and share my thoughts and joys with readers. Some may choose to call it birding luck.
Laura and Laurie, the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycononotus goiavier) may not be a rarity in Malaysia. But they are soon to show their appreciation of my noble intent, by supporting my cause as their avian ambassadress, in the advocacy of good, birding practice.
In the past several years, pairs of bulbuls have turned my balcony into an avian maternity home. They came and went with their new families. I was reluctant to get myself embroiled in observation right from the beginning as that would mean also, I had to follow through until fledging. Anyway, let’s zoom in to read and see what they have been acting up.
This time it was different. With Laurie’s moon walking stunts and sending me avian Morse Code with his tap dance repertoires, he finally got my attention (left). This hero is different and got style!
He was like telling me, “Hey Mam, we have decided on the nesting venue; we are Steven Spielberg’s nominated actor and actress and we have chosen you to roll the camera; and, we are ready!” How could one refuse such a privileged invitation when the stage is set and brought forth in front of one’s bedroom window, and the obligation of knowing your home is the chosen one? And so… this story began one day in January 2007.
Laura and Laurie were finally seen together perched in their favourite roost- a Christmas tree tucked at the side of the driveway (top right).
It has taken Laurie months to win Laura over. The tinkling sounds of tap-dancing finally came to a halt. The pair disappeared for their pre-nuptial honeymoon and appeared after an absence of 2 long months. Laura turned up one day perched on the balcony rail with nesting material. Laurie on sentry duties spotted me observing from my bedroom. Vigilant as always, he squawked a warning call to his mate, sending her fleeing into a nearby mango fruit tree.
‘This is not good’ I said to myself and decided to get my act together and did right by draping a camouflaged curtain in the balcony. Further observation revealed the nesting site to be at a corner of the side balcony, where I had used assorted artificial foliages to decorate a hanging macramé basket (bottom above)
A recycled, old bird cage picked up from a Masalama (Goodbye) sale once used as ornamental piece for decorating miniature indoor plants, found a new purpose with the hanging macramé basket.
Laura and Laurie’s parenting skills were excellent, well synchronised and exhibited outstanding team work.
The 3-point observation technique: ‘Look right, look front, look left’ for predators is always mustered before the nesting site is approached (above). Nest raiders like the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) are commonly seen and they are never far away.
The speed at which the nest was built was astonishingly quick. By evening the same day, the nest was already taking shape (below). Materials used ranged from dried straws to foliages found nearby.
What was interesting and intelligently put to use was a polythene sheet, lined at the bottom to reinforce and waterproof the nest. Discerning housing contractors would also use a waterproof membrane to line the foundation at ground level before bricks and mortar get piled on top. I wonder who is learning from whom?
The images show a very neat, steady nest, piling tall, testifying the fine workmanship of Laura and Laurie. It is not shoddy and short changing like many houses being built these days.
It took three days to complete the nest. It looked like a nest built within a nest. Fourth day was rest day for Laura and Laurie.
The first egg with reddish-brown spots came on the fifth day. The balcony was sectioned off and I decided it was time to head off for a retreat, leaving the house to the pair to incubate their eggs with minimal disturbance (far left). A week later upon my return, a second egg was observed. Exactly fourteen days after the first egg was laid, Laura was seen with grub in her beak (above right, arrow).
It was time for another inspection. The eggs have hatched and two featherless chicks noted. I decided to take no photographs to show readers. Instead, to visualize what new born naked chicks would look like. Besides, they were nothing chic or pretty to look at this stage, similar to new born human babies.
It was a critical time. For chicks to thrive, feeding schedules had to be maintained and predators kept away. I had to exercise discretion and I kept my distance.
There are 39 species of bulbuls in SEA belonging to the Pycnonotidae family and they are mainly insectivorous and frugivorous. What did Laura and Laurie feed the chicks with? Let’s take a look at some images (left).
Four days into hatching, Laurie was observed bringing in the biggies! First a damsel fly and later in the week, a grasshopper!
There was a night and day of continuous rainfall and the heavens opened its’ ‘flood gates’ and deluged the whole residential area with flood waters.
Feeding continued. While there were no life creepy-crawlies to be had on bad days, Laura was seen soaking wet and bringing in a motionless looking stale, crumb of macaroni for the hungry chicks (far right). Well, hard times call for tough measures.
Parenting is a stressful and strenuous task as seen in the plumage of Laurie and Laura. Apart from having lost some weight, they have not been preening themselves to look neat and in good form like other birds did (top left).
A week into hatching, a quick, opportunity inspection was carried out when Laura was away for breakfast with Laurie. I soon learnt the familiar 7am- breakfast, whistle call by Laurie.
The chicks were looking spiky (top left). On the 9th day, transformation was amazing. They were looking downy (bottom left). On the 11th day, a commotion was heard in the balcony. I popped my head out of the doorway to investigate.
‘Oh, my goodness!’ I was taken by surprise.
A chick was perching stoically on the edge of the nest. The parents were frantically coaxing the chick to fly. I dashed downstairs for my camera and raced up again equally as excited as the parenting pair. Was the chick still there? Yes!
It was still waiting for me to provide a hand-held single, blurry shot. After which, the chick took flight with the parents (top right). The nest became empty. Suddenly… all went quiet (bottom right).
I was taken by surprise that fledging came so early. What happened to the other chick? Was it predated or fledged earlier?
Four days after fledging, it rained heavily. Like every parent with pangs of concern of a child’s safety just left home, I wondered how the chicks weathered the storm.
As Mother Nature is the best provider of survival instincts, one chick was seen perched under the canopy balcony for shelter while parents weathered the storm at the roost.
The Omega chapter has got to be the most rewarding to write. Here I am able to finally confirm the well being of two lovely and healthy chicks of Laura and Laurie on the 8th day of fledgling.
Readers, I present you: Laura-Laurie Juniors (below: right male, left female).
SUBMITTED BY DAISY O’NEILL (Avian Writer), PENANG, MALAYSIA.
(The bedroom was used as an observation point and hide. Some images were shot from the bedroom. No flash photography used in any of the images.)