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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cheery wakeup calls

Colourful:The red-crowned barbet stands out among the foliage.
By Mary Margaret

The easily accessible Gunung Gading National Park is about a one-hour drive from Kuching and a mere five minutes from the small town of Lundu.
It encompasses four peaks – Gunung Gading (965 metres), Gunung Perigi (955 metres), Gunung Lundu (823 metres) and Gunung Sebuloh (625 metres). The largest flower in the world, Rafflesia, is not the only draw for visitors – human and otherwise. Malaysian Nature Society 
members who visited the park during the second last weekend of January were up at the crack of dawn when the morning bird calls replaced regular alarms.

The birds were active. A tall fruiting tree that towered over the shrubs just beyond the park headquarters was alive with the flutter of wings making a beeline for breakfast, darting in and about the crown. Cameras and binoculars took aim.
The forest-green barbets are well-camouflaged among the foliage of the fruiting trees. However, the red-crowned barbet, one of the three beautiful barbets seen, stayed still long enough for a good shot.
Amateur birders were able to see the striking green bird with a red crown that is sometimes called the many-coloured barbet in recognition of the blue yellow and black of its head. This bird is common and widespread in lowland forest, including kerangas (heath) and degraded forest. It calls with a deep took-took.
The large gold-whiskered barbet taunted birders – can you see me – from the tree under which it took shelter. This bird has a preference for hill forest.
Like all barbets, the blue-eared barbet feeds mainly on fruit as well as insects and lizards. It is the commonest of all, being at home in cultivated areas and primary as well as secondary forest. It ranges from India to southwest China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Striking a pose:The gold-whiskered barbet has a preference for hill forest-Photos by YeoSiew Teck

Barbets, like woodpeckers, have two toes pointing forward and one pointing backwards enabling them to remain upright on tree trunks. They roost in holes in rotting wood that they excavate. These holes can be enlarged to serve as nests. Several holes may be excavated along a bole and this could be to serve as a decoy from snakes.
Barbets call all day and their territorial calls are a good way to identify them. The red-throated barbet was heard, but remained elusive. This barbet, like the red-crowned barbet, is a common inhabitant of the lowland forests including peat swamp, secondary and kerangas forests.
While the barbets and other fruit-eaters were gorging, the insectivorous glossy swiftlet and the Pacific swallow put on dazzling acrobatic performances as they whirled and twirled overhead while hunting down flying insects.
The glossy swiflet is one of the commonest birds in Sarawak and can be seen almost everywhere, from oil palm plantations to the mountains, cities and towns, feeding on mosquitoes and other small insects. Unfortunately in urban settings, it is considered a pest because it nests in colonies and leaves droppings on the cars and pavements below. But imagine all the mosquitoes it eats. Its grass nest is glued by saliva to walls of buildings and caves. These are of almost no commercial value. The calls of the rufous-tailed and ashy tailorbirds beckoned the attention of birders as they sought to locate the singers, but alas they were too deep in the shrubbery.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the birds took cover as did the birders.
For more information go to any of the many bird guides available on the birds of Borneo and Malaysia.