Even though I've got a pile of books waiting to be read, I couldn't resist re-reading Chris Gooddie's excellent 'The Jewel Hunter', his account of seeing all of the worlds pitta species in a single calendar year - I bet he wept when Red-bellied Pitta was subsequently split into 16 species! Anyhow, a world birder I may not be, but I have seen a few of these marvellous birds and reading about Chris's exploits once more has taken me back to Malaysia in 1994...
Our first full day in Taman Negara. Janice Hollingworth and I were walking back down from the lower slopes of Bukit Teresek (her husband Mark had gone back to our chalet), when she alerted me to a bird that was standing, motionless, on a fallen tree trunk that was lying in a dip beneath us. Even though it was in the gloom the bird shone out - a splendid Hooded Pitta. It stayed in place for just five seconds before it disappeared before our very eyes. It was if it had just vanished into thin air, but not before the bright green body, blue wing coverts and a black head topped off with a chocolate brown cap had all been taken in. It was the only one we saw.
This bird led me a merry dance around the trails of Taman Negara over several days. We were hearing them on a daily basis, and Mark had seen one quite early on (Janice and I were standing next to him at the time but couldn't get onto it). It became personal. Then, on one hot, unforgettable afternoon I was working the Jenut Muda trail..."along a very dark section, where the vegetation surrounded me like a blanket, a Banded Pitta stuck up calling "Powwww!" Very close. I didn't grab for the tape recorder but stood perfectly still and waited. Peering into the forest I was aware of a small patch of dappled sunlight on the leaf litter. When it then moved to the left I realised that I had been looking at the intense orange and yellow supercillium and throat of a Banded Pitta! Like an apparition the whole bird materialised before me. It was simply stunning. Chestnuts bled into inky blues that ran into black bars which enveloped apricots. The bird was in subdued light yet shone out like a beacon". I subsequently saw another bird, and we kept on hearing them throughout our nine day stay in the national park.
Another Janice and Steve 'Taman Negara double-act' as we walked along the River Trail towards Lubok Simpon. This pitta was hopping along the trail in the open but on seeing us flew smartly into the surrounding forest, called once and was not seen or heard again.
We spent a few days at Kuala Selangor, a wetland/mangrove swamp reserve on the west coast of Malaysia. On our first morning a Mangrove Pitta was calling, for a few minutes only, from a dense area of mangrove swamp. Between us, and it, was a wide flooded channel. Not fancying a swim and a crawl through mud, the pitta remained unobserved and we didn't hear another.
I'm ridiculously proud of my pittas. As you can no doubt tell.