24th February 2010
The ostentatious objective of the trip was to pay a visit to Thailand largest National Park - Kaeng Krachan, also a known birders' paradise. Privately Stephen and myself were looking forward to harvesting Hoopoe pictures. It was way back in 2005, that I accidentally ran into a family of 3 birds, extremely friendly and flying in and out to another point on ruin No.2. At that time, though I was not interested in birds seen elsewhere outside Malaysia and having a home model of Sony videocam, I cannot disregard the Hoopoe. They are unique looking birds. Years later in 2008, the craze in Juru showed me that regretfully I don't have camera for that type of job then.
That was the background to our visit to this little known tourist spot.
On this visit with the group, as expected, we were the only people to the place. After getting the ticket and entering the park's compound, a beautiful, bright blue bird, was perched at 12 o'clock on the tree beside the road. 30 feet up with gorgeous colors. As Malaysian, someone shouted "Dollarbird". No lah! It was a "Thai Baht bird" Got down the van and of course the bird, shocked to see so many people in this otherwise quiet park, took flight.
Disappointed in not getting the first big bird we saw we headed for the car park. It's hot, then earlier in the trip, we could not find lunch at the Temple of the Tigers. We stopped, the ladies headed for the Loo & Canteen. I led Stephen to the spot where the Hoopoe were last seen perched, some 5 years ago. Of course, they were no where to be seen. Hung around the spot to wait for a while but gave up and we too had lunch. At the canteen, our meals were interrupted by Bulbuls and Flycatchers luring us away.
After having our stomach filled, we went back to the same spot to wait for miracles to happen. But this time we saw some activities. Saw large birds chasing big birds. Actually, couple of hundreds meters away, were the pair of Indian Rollers dispersing a flock of Drongos. We too joined in their kind of chase but the Rollers decided not to have their pictures taken.
Typical of bird scene, 2 trees later, huge compound of the park and where were the birds? We were lured from a point at the back portion of the ruins to the front entrance area.
Simultanously, the distance between us and the Rollers got further apart. These Rollers, they are not powerful flyers, seeing them needing frequent rest stops. So at great distances, I started collecting my souvenir. This one, for example, easily 300 meters away, canopy level.
With the Rollers high up and far away, the compound had Egret in the Lily pond and Drongos in the nearby trees.
Excited, I had to bring the rest to the place quickly. While I was calling, the pair just flew up to disappear within the clump of low trees of Drongos overhead.
The whole group waited. Recollecting my action, as apart for the shouting, we had not make any action to spook the birds. 30 minutes passed and the Hoopoes not descending to the ground to continue their foraging. Unknown to us, that clump of trees had a motorcycle lane passing through in the center. Quite disturbing when we waited. Murphys Law, a motorcyclist just passed under the trees and 10 minutes later, on return leg. Since the disturbances had set the pace, we decided that's enough of waiting and slowly inched in, spread out in one line to flush the birds out. Yes! 8 Drongos made their way out to the nearby tree, but no Hoopoe. We then splitted and searched all around - None! Suddenly Gilbert spotted them landing on branch overhead. Real stubborn or fearless birds
Taken by surprise, the bird too immediately retreated to the ruin. That was the first short hop, at that spot, all of us had our fill of souvenir shots. Just for 3 minutes.
Second hop, this time flew to the rear of the ruin, same side - left. Then it perched for good 20 minutes allowing us to try our position and angles. Not so good for us, the afternoon sun was right into our eyes. That was one reason why we needed to keep shifting our position to shoot.
Yes, the Hoopoe stayed that long. We had mixed feelings when the birds decided we had enough of shots. Happy that bird was near and remained still enough for good pictures but the lighting compromised the final quality of the shots we collected.
Then it flew into a heavily foliaged tree on the right of the ruin. Gone forever! We were happy that all of us, got our pictures.
Still discussing, reviewing our performances and slowly making our way back to the van. We passed the ruin, there one bird was in full view on a 9 o'clock branch of that thickly foliaged tree. The exact spot where I saw the birds 5 years ago. Another 30 minutes of shooting, then the mate came in for the shoot as well.
This time the sun was at our back and the bird just 12 feet up. Where else cam we find such cooperative models.
For me especially exhilarating was the fact that the telephoto pictures that I should have taken 5 years ago, finally landed on my hand. More important too, the birds or descendants of the ones I met, chose the same spot to pose.