“One of my favourite strangling fig trees bore fruits after the rains came. I was much encouraged to be revisiting the site several times a week for an early birding walk and look-see.
“I was not disappointed as what caught my eye was an assorted species of birds resting over a canopy bamboo grove- especially the ones with red vents. That’s something new to see in the wild and soon counted three of them to be Red-whiskered Bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocosus).
“These birds are popular in Thailand and the first time I saw such a species was a caged bird hung at the immigration checkpoint border between P. Malaysia and Thailand in the 1980’s.
“Sighting of these three mixed maturity birds (probably a family) in early February 2013 were not likely to be escapees but rather, emigrants from the north in search of food, and indeed they were seen foraging at the fig tree.
“They appeared to be very shy and took small opportunities to join in bird waves to feed very briefly on the berries. They then retreated to perch on neighbouring trees (above – Indian cherry? ) to await the next opportunity, where the ‘bigger boys’ were either too busy foraging to scare or when big boss, Pablo- the Gold-whiskered Barbet (Megalaima chrysopogon) took rest.
“Those three birds continued to be present for several days at the forest’s edge in mainland Penang.
“I finally managed a shot of one of them with orangy vent that got left behind. A sub-adult perhaps, looking lost and calling for the whereabouts of the other two seen earlier, that took flight from the fig tree (below left). Subsequent days followed and I was further rewarded with a foraging shot under dark tree canopy condition of an adult with red vent (above).
“An old tall durian tree (Durio zibeththinus) nearby provided a rest over. Two birds were seen perched contently on tree canopy – one of them, preened vigorously, spread out its wings, pooped and eventually flew (above right).
“Several days into my observation, I was not alone. Soon on a weekday, a bird handler on his motorbike arrived with a caged bird. He proceeded to suspend his songster pet or live bait on a pole, camouflaged with a leafy branch and waited it out under a tree.
“I decided to let it be as he was on the other side of the field. I was on the opposite and continued with my observation while my 3rd eye discreetly took opportunity shots of the contents of the cage.
This image (above) clearly indicates the Red-whiskered Bulbul has been kept as a pet and provided with refreshments and fresh bananas. Was the owner bringing the pet out to socialise and hopeful find a sing-song partner for his pet, that he could bring home or was he a professional poacher with some class? How did he know when to show up with his well thought after contraption cage?
“Baited bananas vs. wild, juicy fig berries. Result: Round 1 & 2. Birds lived to see another day.
“Under the old Laws of Malaysia Act 76: Protection of Wild Life Act 1972, this species falls under Scheduled 4 of Protected Birds.
“The new Laws for Protection of Wildlife Act 2010 gazetted in 4Nov. have excluded Red Whiskered Bulbul in the bird list as extracted from the Ministry’s publication on the website.
“The guardian of these Laws rests on the Department of Wildlife & Conservation Malaysia (PERHILITAN). Interesting reviews and comments on the new Act and the Department may be had in the internet where readers may be enlightened.
“One flew over the ‘cuckoo’s nest’….?”
Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
14th March 2013
Article and all copy images: Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund