© Of Garnet Pitta And Playback Recordings: Part 2

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Part 1 of this post can be found HERE

“An initial, quick walk through grounds of Park headquarters, along some forest trails on first two consecutive days, provided some fairly good ideas where prospective birds may be had.

“High on my list was the resident Garnet Pitta (Pitta granatina).

“While texts would suggest March-August to be their prime breeding periods, where these ground dwellers tend to be more resoundingly vocal in attracting their partners, what about the off breeding seasons and how do they behave during October months in Peninsular Malaysia National Parks?

“Into my survey, I caught up with several visiting bird-photographers. Alongside the main trail were pitched two camouflage tents where huge bazooka looking lens peeped and pointed towards direction of thick forest undergrowth (above).

“This is common, social practice amongst bird-photographers with heavy, top notched photographic equipment aspiring for excellent photos. The handicap of taking on back-breaking, steep mountain slopes, dense undergrowth and multi- kilometre walks deemed less important.
Sound of playback recordings from direction of tent heard. It went on continuously… “.prr..prr..prr…” – the unmistakable, familiar calls of Pitta granatina.

“Being more mobile with my user bird friendly Digiscope, I proceeded further up trail to bird in a quieter spot, than be mislead into hearing distant real bird calls to at times, annoying and unnecessary playback recordings.

“Intermittent calls of Pitta granatina were heard that morning but no bird flew into open trail. Heading backwards about an hour later, tent occupants were still waiting patiently in vain to the company of playback recordings playing, ‘prr…prr…prr…’

“Why bird still not coming out?

“Suspecting, presence of bird in hiding, I entered forest, about thirty metres away from the tents to seek out the bird.

“I took to squat position amongst thick, ground vegetation amidst a classical habitat of fallen rotted logs and scattered dried vegetation. Soft, bird playback recordings, tent distance away was just about audible.

“Decided it was about time I got heard by Granatina.

“I whistled –blew a short call and waited. Within five minutes, rustlings of dried foliage heard from tent direction. Behind a fallen tree log, Granatina appeared. The ‘red jewel’ took my breath away.

“Pausing and looking towards direction where I whistled blew; the exposed bird proceeded to foraging by hop-pausing alongside decayed log. As the red jewelled bird ignored/played deaf to repetitive electronic calls of Pitta granatina, it left behind, I played dead observing behaviours of the ground dweller, life in action movie behind a screen of thick undergrowth.

“Granatina appeared confident moving about in its habitat, at times took to brisk walking, short and low flights while remaining quiet mostly. The bird eventually settled to privacy in between more fallen logs for intensive preening, grooming and feather maintenance.

“Granatina had moved about sixty degrees left from the spot first appeared and about ten metres away from my Digiscope.

“A total of twenty-six minutes (1214-1240hrs) observations were had in photography and video-recordings from my one standing position and bird posed continuously from one spot.

“Let’s have a look at some of these pictures.
An un-cropped image showing perched bird undercover amongst fallen tree trunks and foliages. Distance- about ten metres (above).

“Let us enjoy the various anatomical and plumage views of an adult Garnet Pitta – one of fourteen pitta species in SEA photographed as aptly described by Craig Robson’s ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of SEA.’

“Side view flashed an iridescent azure to light blue, longish patch on its wing-coverts. The bird wore a beret looking of scarlet- red on crown and nape and embellished below with ribbon lined, pale blue Hermes’s looking loose featherings towards rear sides. The head-sides and throat spotted jet black to contrast with crimson-red belly and vent. The bib looking purplish-black breast is well reflected in front view pose- taken under all natural lighting conditions available in the forest (above).

“The ectoparasitic, infested bird appeared to be in moult and harboured a wild-boar tick studded on its left cheek. Bird observed to be scratching vigorously, shuddering and fluffing its feathers (above).

“It was observed the bird took a serious, thorough and methodical approach in preening and grooming itself. From feet inspection to checking under armpits, feather preening and maintenance were also executed to include pinching of its pineal gland (above, below).

“In comfort position, Granatina posed one footed and fluffed up like a ball. Wing stretching and foot lifting was also recorded (below).

“I proceeded to monitor further bird’s reaction with a short whistle. Unaware of my presence, Granatina looked around and responded. The bird’s belly was observed to inflate and deflate like a bellow in the process (below).

“Granatina continued calling in between more vigorous feather maintenance. I made no further whistle calls. Finally when no other bird showed, the soloist pooped and eventually flew further into the quiet forest.

“These opportunity observations conclude to suggest Garnet Pitta species have the capacity to discern the difference of continuous electronic device playback recordings. In conserving themselves, they learnt to ignore the fallacy of such overly enthusiastic practices.

“It must be also highlighted that such irresponsible practices if left unchecked, is detrimental and frustrates male birds during their breeding season to surely and slowly deplete their population.

“Let 2015 be the theme year in advocacy to educate and down play such practices, to buy more time, so another generation or so still have the opportunity to see these forest jewels in this little corner of the world-Peninsular Malaysia.

“Let Pitta granatina be Hermes – the Greek God messenger to send the message home to earthlings…”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill, Penang, Malaysia


Mike Edgecombe, UK

Copyright article and all copy bird images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

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