Thursday, 27 March 2014

It was twenty years ago today...

If you were to be asked what you were doing twenty years ago to this very day, most of you wouldn't have a bloody clue. I, on the other hand, not only have a photographic memory (although this ceases to work beyond 1994) but also field notebooks that go back into those glorious days of the slightly grubby 1970s. So, what was I doing on March 27th 1994. Here's a clue:


A bit of detective work is needed to identify where, in the world, I was. The dendrologists among you will no doubt have clocked the Dipterocarpaceae and may even be able to point out individual meranti, chengal and keruing trees. Others will look at the forest floor and at once place the rich reddish-brown soil and creeping tree roots as indicative of south-east Asia. And you'd be correct. This is a forest trail at Taman Negara in Malaysia... if you listen carefully, you might just be able to hear the Banded Pitta calling off to the right.


And here are my fellow birders of twenty years ago - Janice and Mark Hollingworth. We spent three weeks in Peninsular Malaysia, dividing our time between Taman Negara, Kuala Selangor and Fraser's Hill. Each site had its own suite of birds and in our twenty days birding saw at least 280 species without really trying too hard. There were many highlights, including Banded, Hooded and Blue-winged Pittas (plus Mangrove Pitta heard), Masked Finfoot, Great Argus, Bathawk, Cutia, Brown Bullfinch, Blue Nuthatch and the two Malaysian endemics - Malaysian Whistling Thrush and Mountain Peacock Pheasant (a rare double for birders staying but a short while).


And here I am. I haven't aged a bit, have I ......... Both of the photographs above were taken at High Pines at Fraser's Hill. But, being a slave to accuracy, twenty years ago today we were stalking the trails of Taman Negara, and thankfully I wrote a very full account of the trip on our return, so can share with you one of the highlights from that very day. It was the moment that Janice finally caught up with the spectacular Great Argus on the slopes of the Jenut Muda trail.

"This time there could be no mistakes - we both sprinted up the slope towards the calling bird, hearts beating, making sure J was always ahead so that she could clearly see the Argus. At the top we were greeted by a male in all its finery. Standing off the path to our left, on our appearance it slowly walked across the track in front of us, as if an exotic float in a carnival procession. Magestic. It took its time to do so, giving us ample opportunity to feast our eyes on this almost ghostly presence - it made not a sound as it moved. My previous impressions of this species were justified, as once again I was awestruck. Our private showing ended as the long tail edged off the path and back into the vegetation. The bird had been so large that at no time had the whole of it been in view."

That may well have been twenty years ago, but I still get goosebumps thinking about that Argus. If you don't know what they look like, seek an image out. As big as a Peacock. Just much, much, shyer.

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