Taman Rimba Kiara is a little green gem located in a corner of the TTDI residential area. The above flowering tree, the firmiana malayana or mata lembu, flashes in testimony to man's care-less-ness - it's one of only two trees in the park that had flowered, since then the tree had been chopped down.

Monday 23 November 2020

A Woodpecker story, Part I

 I would normally do a nesting story only after the chicks have fledged, for obvious reason.  But as this one is already public knowledge, so I’ve decided to proceed with this story (one of hopefully a few parts to come) with the sole aim of hoping that as much as birders enjoy their photography outing i.e. celebrate their prowess with their camera on these woodpeckers' journey, they will always be mindful of the welfare of the birds.

A bird’s nesting is always a cause for celebration.  In this case, as it takes place in the taman is especially reason for cheer and optimism as the taman is still under threat of encroachment due to the proposed massive residential/commercial development.

The crimson-winged woodpecker is generally a forest edge, forest or plantation bird and to be seen to nest in a public park is euphoria for some.  And to have it nesting less than 5m from the ground has send some bird photographers wild, parking themselves in front of the nest, for the most part, day long.  Morning walkers too have their fair share of gawking.

However and unfortunately human fixation for the ‘best’ photographs sometimes is a bane to avian survival.  There are still bird photographers, and they’re really merely photographers, and nothing much more, because all they are interested in are taking photographs and vie for as many Facebook likes as possible.  So reports go that they resort to using flashlight, even spotlight to get the best images, in the early stages when nesting news broke out short of poking their multi-ringgit lens into the birds' hole nest, taking selfies and even touching the nesting trunk to feel the vibration of the bird’s working inside its home (wonder if they ever imagine how they would like it if someone were to aim a camera at their house, or hold vigil in front of the house for hours!).  It’s terribly sad these actions will not be the last as they will recur whenever there’s another nesting elsewhere.  And the saddest part I guess is the response from these adult photographers when advised to behave with more sensitivity – callous distorts to say the least.

And so to ensure that the birds can have a successful nesting to fledgling, concerned birders have urged that the area surrounding the nest be cordoned off.  The taman's Residents Association, namely the TTDI RA acted swiftly when approached and together with the local authority DBKL worked to barricade the area.  Kudos!

In tandem with concerned birders over the welfare of the woodpeckers, I followed up by a posting in my FB, in the hope for a wider reach to photographers on some bird photography ethics, as follows:

I’ll probably step on some toes, lose a few friends by posting this – but the situation has reached a stage where we must be reminded that in bird photography we must always consider first and foremost the welfare of the birds.

In the last couple of years TRK has been a hot spot (under ongoing threat of proposed massive adjacent development), and for birders, because of a few rare sightings of migrant birds, and now, has a ‘first’ of a pair of nesting crimson-winged woodpeckers, an ‘open secret’ now but I will still risk censure by further highlighting this because of concern over negative photography practices.

Firstly, concerned birders have urged that we cordon off the area to ensure the safety of the birds, successful brooding to fledgling, and kudos to TTDI RA and DBKL, we managed to do so.

But we are still receiving reports of UNDESIRABLE BEHAVIOURS such as using flashlight, spotlight, knocking on trunk of nest hole, using call playback to get the brooding bird to emerge, etc.

With all due respect, could I please call on any birder/s present at the site to help gently remind those who resort to these behaviours not to do so, all simply in the interest and welfare of the birds.  

I believe photographing frenzy will intensify when the chicks hatch and feeding starts.

If I may share the following few basic practices learnt from concerned birders over the years, and others may want to add more:

* Nesting birds are especially vulnerable.  Be particularly sensitive.

* Keep a respectful distance from the nest. 

* Do not flush out brooding adults by playing calls or using any other means.

* Do not use flashlight or spotlight.

* Lower your voice at all time, especially when comparing your photo images.

* Avoid unnecessary movements, even as you walk to or away from nest.

* Avoid stressing feeding parents by pointing out their presence when they approach nest.

* Do not attempt to lure the chicks out for photography purpose.

And lastly, hopefully I’m not overstepping my limit by adding, know when enough is enough.

Please care more for the birds than your photographs.  We want to continue to enjoy this passion and can only do so for as long as there are birds, even the least concerned ones are now in danger of being listed as protected species.

Many of us birders are thrilled not just with the photography opportunities but also with the story that is unfolding with this pair of Crimson-winged Woodpeckers that have already shown some unconventional behaviors, which led us to question if they could be first-time parents!?

To start off, it's bewildering that the pair would choose a location that's less than 5 ft from the ground, along a path which is rather heavily used by morning and afternoon park walkers, which means that it's within reach of any one.  It is part of a sawn-off hefty branch bereft of any leaves that could have concealed the entrance to the nest cavity, which nevertheless is only revealed by the birds themselves by their movements.

In addition, woodpeckers are generally known to breed between March to July but this pair is doing it in November.

(And I'm grateful to my fellow birders for their subsequent input observing the birds as I was unable to visit the site daily or be there at opportune moments.)

Notwithstanding, many were thrilled to watch the pair took turns to build the cavity nest.  Towards the completion of the nest I believed, one would sometimes disappear into the cavity for some time and could be heard still chipping inside, perhaps tidying up.  The other mate would hang around whilst this one was inside and eventually both would fly away together.  And this went on for days till it looked like the cavity was ready.  Eventually the pair would take turns to stay inside the cavity for occasionally up to an hour, but there are occasions when the cavity would be left unattended for hours which led us to believe that the bird had not laid any egg or eggs, so, lo and behold, when the male emerged one morning with an egg in beak!

This rare occurrence of emerging from the hole and flying off with an egg in beak baffled even the more experienced birders – theories abound that it could be a cracked egg or it could be a still or runt egg or it could be a faecal sac.

But the very next morning, the pair returned to the nest, and behold another bemusing sight, seen to be mating close to the nest!

From this day onward, each bird was seen to spend lengthy time in the cavity, even up to three hours at a stretch.  Could they have commenced brooding?  Perhaps it would not be wrong to deduce that there have been more than one egg in the nest.  Again, an unusual behaviour is observed in that the birds did leave the nest unattended at times whilst presumably there is or are egg/s in there.

And so the pair took about 14 days from nest completion to egg laying.

And so this is how the woodpeckers' story unfolded.

I look forward to continue my story as the pair’s nesting develops.  We truly and earnestly pray for a successful story.

The ground below the chosen nesting site, gradually covered with wood chippings, was the sign of things to come.

Nest building in progress.

The rather ruffled male bird as nest building is obviously no mean feat.

The female checking out their workmanship.

And it's finally ready!

Can't blame the poor thing as it cautiously checked out the presence of rows of photographers, from time to time.

One apprehensive moment when a plantain squirrel ventured dangerously close to the nest which caused the woodpecker to swiftly retreat into the hole.  The woodpecker was earlier seen to pop out its head - I guess the squirrel's scrambling over the trunk must have betrayed its presence. 

As it turns out, all's well so far.

To be continued.

No comments: