© Kuhl’s Sunbird Singing in the Rain

posted in: Sunbirds, Travel-Personality | 1

“I made a mental pact with Heinrich Kuhl that I would revisit Cibodas Botanical Gardens (1200m.asl) for a better view of White-flanked Sunbird (Aethopyga eximia), also known as Kuhl’s Sunbird in his memory.

“This I did in early March 2013 and hoped to retrace my steps to the Red Powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala) flowering bushes that I last saw a pair of those birds in August 2012.

“I decided it has to be at least a one night stay inside the Gardens to do justice to the place, wind down and ‘catch’ other early birds as well. I was in luck with confirmed accommodation bookings and given best room view of the Colonial Dutch Guesthouse with its sprawling manicured gardens (above).

“I was unprepared for a punishing, hard earned trip. I was on my last leg visit to West Java and knowingly it was rainy season, I somehow managed to beat the rains in other birding areas earlier visited, only to receive the accumulative doses upon my arrival at Cibodas Botanical Gardens.

“For the next 24hours of my stay, the rains were relentless. Whenever reduced to a heavy drizzle, I would do a quick dash out. Each time I did, I managed to photograph a bird, rushed indoors again before my DGscope succumbed to the rains. I found myself repeating this Scene 1: Act 1, no less than four times. I soon gave up this ridiculous idea and resigned to a newfound practicing apprenticeship hobby – ‘Geriatric Birding and Photography made easy’!

“As there was no evening catering in the Guesthouse, my new found improvised dinner menu was “Bananas on Saltine Crackers.’ Didn’t know they tasted so good and I had a huge Chinaman hot flask to keep warm company overnight.

“After a quick breakfast and chat with caretaker that I would be not staying another night under such rainy circumstances, I re-parked myself on the veranda with DGscope. I sat and we stared into a Ficus tree about 20 metres away that received the full splatter of the relentless rains that continued from overnight.

“The evergreen tree was about seven metres tall with blooming white flowers, coated lichen branches and crowned with a profusion of other epiphytic plants and a generous spread of mistletoes (above).

“From this vantage view, I turned boredom into a relaxing, positive and creative energy like sipping corpus amounts of hot coffee to keep warm, watched who visited the tree, who came, who went and even photo talked with DGscope-being, we were the only in-house guests that day.

“It was the only time that I had this forced upon opportunity to practice distance and flying shots with a Digiscope of tiny birds. They seemed to want a good game of Hide-N-Seek in the rains and used the tree as refuge, stopover and opportunity to feed on berries, insects and nectar produced by scented blooms amongst the profusion of foilage.

“Here were some of the visitors.

“A pair of tri-coloured butterflies observed to be prospecting and sipping nectar from the white blooms (below left).

“A pair of Orange-spotted Bulbuls (Pycnonotus bimaculatus) – endemic to the Indonesian archipelago, flew in and perched for very brief pit stopover and a quick opportunity refuel of ripen, red berries before the pair flew off. They gave only a partial view in the rains (above right).

“Plate 5 (below left) is provided to show the luscious shine of thick cover foliages refreshed by rains with flowering buds, blooms and berries polished clean by water droplets. Further into the photograph, a blurry picture of a Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassina) perched and took refuge with feathers puffed up in the cold.

“To do justice to this endearing solo flycatcher, as first bird to show itself into the open – signalling a short lived abating rain, a decent view of this turquoise coloured and demure bird is provided (above right).

“Next to the ficus tree, a juvenile Blood-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum sanguinolentum) in molt was observed to perch on a giant fern. She was looking lost and frantically calling for its parent (below).

“The adult male drenched in rain, played deaf and was too busy foraging and preening to keep in top form. Here a ballerina shot taken with a one foot stance on tree and the other foot, stretched out in comfort position (below).

“Found only in Sumatra and Java, the Blood-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum sanguinolentum) is striking in its plumage features and certainly lives up to its name as shown in this male, frontal shot with its bloody, gorgeous breasts (left).

“Near noon and final hour before checking out, the rains continued. I resigned to the fact that I would have no more opportunity to get out for a walk looking for Kuhl’s Sunbird (Aethopyga eximia) and besides, those Red Powder puff blooms would have been withered by the heavy rains and the birds would find no reason of attraction to be around that vicinity.

“Then… magically at the eleventh hour, a dark pair of small, sunbird-looking birds flew towards the tree and disappeared into it; flashing brief coloured glimpse of red and yellow which I followed intensely with my binoculars. Species confirmation came through partially obstructed views when the male showed his titillating white-flanks.

“DGscope and I sat up. Mesmerised by its frontal iridescence, we followed the bird without blinking our eyes.

“Finally… Kuhl answered my pleading calls and provided just a second of a view to enable this one shot with the male Sunbird singing and calling in the rain (above left).

“This is probably the last time I need to see Kuhl’s Sunbird at Cibodas B.Gardens and…. what a sweet, punishing memory to keep (above right).

“‘Danke’ and ‘Auf Wiedershen’ Kuhl…”

Travel Advisory: The Guesthouse inside the Botanical Gardens is not within walking distance with bags to lug in. Courtesy transport from entrance gate to Guesthouse doesn’t exist. Good hotel and hospitality management hasn’t arrived to Cibodas Botanical Gardens yet. Nearest café that double as mini shop is several hundred metres away across the lawn. It has limited local menu providing poor quality foods, ill-suited to western palate and shuts at 5pm. Apart from daily breakfast inclusive with room tariffs, there is no in-house catering unless group prearrangement is made. Room tariffs have increased almost doubled since March 2013 (US$45/room). Be prepared to pay for room with nice lawn views but slumber and be transported to a Chino décor styled 1950’s room of back street, old Chinatown.

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
5th June 2013
COPYRIGHT ARTICLE AND ALL IMAGES: COURTESY OF DAISY ONEILL BIRD CONSERVATION FUND

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One Response

  1. John Lynn

    Such a delightful read

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