“One day of romance and another full day of nest reconstruction was all time needed for resilient Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) pair – Scarlet and P10, to retry a second clutch, before their breeding window period came to close.
“5th June came, no further nesting materials were brought into the forest. Instead, the next three consecutive days saw single pitta bird foraging to refuel itself (left).
“8th June – Calls heard in foraging areas of burnt rubbish heap, fruit plantation and inside palm groves.
“9th June – It rained the whole day. A quick late evening visit heard nothing.
“10th June – A morning call rang out. A bird flew out from forest for 0800hs breakfast.
“Both Scarlet and P10 heard calling at 1000hs. I suspected pitta pair was taking turns foraging and sharing incubating duties.
“11th and 12June – Only short calls heard during morning visits. Evenings were not so fruitful.
“13th June – Male bird P10 was spotted in the morning foraging in village backyard. An unusual evening gale blew followed by heavy rain pour overnight.
“14th June – An early morning visit 0730hs. and 1030hs. yielded nothing- all silent in the forest.
“15th June – A short territorial call heard in the morning.
“16th June – Nothing was heard or seen in that evening.
“17th June – Early morning call heard 0730hs. One pitta bird flew out into the open from deep forest to forage at 930hs. I suspected my vehicle had been recognized. Decoy specialists had changed flying tactics and took to ‘banana’ flights to avoid observatory detection by friendly foe – ‘a green shadow with seven eyes’!
“18th June –One short call heard. It would appear, had I missed this morning call, non-birding persons would unlikely have known of pitta’s existence living and breeding in their midst, for at most times, the birds remained quiet during the day.
“19-21 June- Observations continued three more consecutive days. The breeding pair had gone entirely quiet and unseen.
“I clocked a total of 18 observation days since nest rebuilding day commenced 4June. Scarlet and P4 had nothing to show as yet.
“22nd June-1July – I took a break from my observation. I figured out should eggs had survived the ordeal of nature, the breeding pair should be busy once again with food catering duties when I returned. My no show, decoy tactics too perhaps could provide a clearer picture of the birding pair’s new strategy.
“2nd July – Morning visit spotted a pitta bird flying into foraging grounds of palm groves.
“No food sorties were observed being brought into the forest from this date onwards- not from where my observation post stood anyway. It was possible food transporters had changed their courier routes, food source or clutch had failed.
“While one bird was away foraging, another pitta was calling from deep in the forest. It was time to abandon my post and checked out the forest. Unlike the first nest location, this deep forest was user unfriendly with thick undergrowths that reached to my waistline. In some areas were steep slopes and gullies. I was more concern of the unfavorable location- known to be potential hideouts for drug addicts.
“I secured personal belongings and cross-checked my intuitive faculty with ‘Guardian Angel’ in prayer for not needing any ‘Jackie Chan’s’ action stunt. With long stick, I pussy footed and swatted a new pathway following the trail of the calling Blue-winged Pitta.
“Finally, I caught up with the calling bird perched on a mid- storey tree branch. No feeding observation to be had, only territorial calls in a quiet forest. I searched around on foliage littered ground, slopes and mid-storey trees but found no nest. It wasn’t easy when birds left no clues when not feeding their young.
“5th July – A total of three visits were made in the deep forests. I met up with pitta bird again on my third attempt in the morning. The bird was quiet on the forest floor. Spooked by rustling sound off my footwear, the bird flew to a mid-branch, squawked several alarm calls and eventually flew away.
“The invisible nest refused to be found. It could have been damaged or abandoned after nesting failed.
“The consolation that came out of this search was…I had stumbled into a new roosting hideout of Scarlet and P10.
“Monitoring Scarlet and P10 over a 43 days period finally came to a close. My passion and concern for these birds have sustained me. It has been exhausting in time and resource but had been worthwhile in pursuit (above).
“Several ‘first time’ opportunity observations of the Blue-winged Pittas’ behaviors had been had. A closer look of their plumage for sex identity, nest measurement details and documentation of re-nesting were provided by the amazing pair (above).
“Many photographs were provided to substantiate observation findings. They include forensic images valuable to arm future personalities, the unsavory task of mitigating in inquiring committees, to bring irresponsible/errant birders and photographers to task. (E.g.: Touching, man-handling of active nests/nestlings, and hard flash photography on nestlings etc…).
“Informers/whistle blowers of active nesting sites be advised, if seen abetting with illicit actions of uncaring photographers, would equally be held accountable for their actions.
“Past representatives of inquiring, impotent committees with no birding backgrounds and or photographic experiences, unfairly requested or used to purposely sit in to mitigate irresponsible behaviors of bird-photographers. They and all parties concerned would also benefit in knowledge provided by experienced Blue-winged Pitta – Scarlet and P10.
“Details of my observations have been painstakingly reported for the benefit of new generation of fresh birders/photographers. (Second decade of 21st.century-2011-2020).
“It is hope to educate, to choose the middle way of decency in eschewing their hobbies. They be armed with good birding ethics, be prepared and accountable for their actions prior taking to the fields and do so responsibly and not give ignorant excuses especially in observing pitta nesting sites or any nesting sites.
“There are still lots we do not know about the elusive and secretive ways of Blue-winged Pittas – such as the intimate ways of courtship and exact chick fledging periods.
“An article in this blogsite- ‘Nesting of Blue-winged Pitta’ got me sitting up to mention ‘Force fledging’ whereby parenting birds were noted to pre-mature fledge their chicks by pulling off the roof top coverings of the nest to expose the chicks.
“It was a pity the observer –photographer failed to document this extremely important action in image that prove beyond doubt of such an unusual act having taken place. There would be ample time to photograph this procedure as we have learnt; the tightly interwoven nest roof top just could not be removed in a jiffy- not by a bird in seconds that a fast shot photographer would have missed.
“Assuming parenting birds had done so, would chicks yet remained in the opened nest to be obligingly photographed or decided they all hopped back together into their nest chamber for‘Open Sesame’ studio session photography?
“Why would parenting birds force fledge their chicks this way and expose premature chicks to further harms way?
“If it was really necessary for overly stressed parenting birds to force fledge their chicks, a simpler way would have parent dangle feeds at nest’s entrance to lure hungry chicks out.
“I believe under normal circumstances, chicks when ready to fledge would emerge from their chambers via the side entrance opening, beak crafted and designed sufficiently to be large enough.
“A recent successful nesting have been photographed this August of their cousin- Malayan Banded Pitta (Pitta Irena) showing fledging moment of a chick emerging from the side entrance – the nest being built mid-storey high. Two reference images contributed by member colleague of OBI- YL Lean may be viewed at HERE or at above and below.
“I look forward to the next season when Scarlet and P10 hopefully would return to their roost and have grown wiser.
“Should there or any observer/s have the opportunity to deliver observations not reported or recorded /under-recorded before, I look forward to your contributions so we may learn to know more, to protect and conserve, to appreciate and respect these extraordinary ground jewels that never fail to amaze and to teach human kind some lessons.
“I am not done with Scarlet and P10 yet and intend to keep my promise to their hideout a secret in ‘Pandora’s Box.’
“My Odyssey with Blue-winged Pittas continues as when more revelations show…”
Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund
Acknowledgement: Appreciation and thanks to YL Lean for contributing 2 images of the Malayan Banded Pitta.