Cover photo: Logging track into Panti Forest Reserve just before the dip with Gunung Panti Ridge in the distance.
Jungle, Tree and Tit Babblers of Panti.
“Babblers are the most infuriating group of birds to shoot”, Morten Strange, retired professional bird photographer once told us. We cannot agree more. They are sulking, confining and always on the move inside the dark under storey. You hear them calling more often than you will see them. Getting a good look was enough to make your day. You will need persistence, quick fingers and lots of luck to get decent photographs of these lowland forest babblers.
Much easier to zoom in on the birds at Panti’s sparsely wooded second clearing with from left Milton Tan, Alfred Chia, Veronica Foo, Patricia Tiang, Jimmy Chew and the author. Photo: Lim Kim Keang.
The lowland rainforest of Johor has 20 species of these Babblers. (See list below). You can find all of them at the Gunung Panti Forest Reserve. Some of the more common ones like the Black-capped and Chestnut-winged Babbler are more conspicuous and vocal, while others like the Grey-breasted are rare. They are mostly insectivorous, moves in family groups and non migratory. Forest fragmentation is a threat.
I was lucky during some of my recent visits to find a few either having a bath in the open, nesting building, feeding its chicks or popping out in the open for a split second. Here are some record images of them.
This pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers were busy gathering leaves to build their nest and did not care too much about our presence. We have a small vulnerable population in our Central Catchment Forest and they are not so easily seen.
We found this Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler bringing back food for its chick. Even so they were very cautious and we had to stayed at a distance before they will feed the chick.
On hot mornings, the Black-throated Babblers cannot resist a dip in the puddles of water at the quiet tracks. Inside the undergrowth, it is hard to get the sheen of their plumage.
The Black-capped Babbler is one of the most vocal and common babblers in Panti. Still it is not easy to see them as they prefer to stay inside the forest. Best is to wait for them to fly out into the open and hope to snap it in the split second.
The Horsfield’s Babbler resembles the Abbott’s Babbler except for the faint streaks on its breast. Theirs were the first calls you used to hear as part of the dawn chorus at the first clearing. Unfortunately they have moved further in and are hard to find these days.
Rufous-crowned Babblers are very jumpy and prefer to stay inside the dark mid storey. Light is always a premium for getting any good shots. Looks similar to the Scaly-crowned Babbler except for the grey legs.
The White-chested Babblers inhabit the freshwater swamps of the lowland forests. Uncommon in Panti so great to have this record shot. It is very rare on mainland Singapore, last seen and heard in the early 2000s.
Reference: Graig Robson. The Field Guide Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah. Pocket Checklist of the Birds of Johore, Peninsular Malaysia. My thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Alfred Chia, Jimmy Chew, Veronica Foo, Milton Tan, Thio Hui Bing, Patricia Tiang, Luke Teo and Timothy Liew for their great company and help during these trips.
- White-chested Babbler
- Ferruginous Babbler
- Abbott’s Babbler
- Horsfield’s Babbler
- Short-tailed Babbler
- Black-capped Babbler
- Moustached Babbler
- Sooty-capped Babbler
- Scaly-crowned Babbler
- Rufous-crowned Babbler
- Grey-breasted Babbler
- Rufous-fronted Babbler
- Grey-throated Babbler
- Grey-headed Babbler
- White-necked Babbler
- Black-throated Babbler
- Chestnut-rumped Babbler
- Chestnut-winged Babbler
- Pin-striped Tit-babbler
- Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler