© Fledgling Blue-winged Pitta left behind in Penang, P. Malaysia 2017

“Meet BornFree – Fledgling Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis)
From Batch 4 (below).

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“Meet JSparrow – fledgling from Batch 3 (below).

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“BornFree (below)| at just less than two weeks old was first spotted on 30th August 2017 foraging close-by with JSparrow- a two week older chick from different batch.

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“Both late arrival fledglings got left behind by their parenting birds. Breeding window period in the past had been accepted to be generally between April-Aug annually.

“This year – by end August 2017, there were no more adult birds spotted in vicinity of known breeding areas on mainland Penang- not where locations of my field work on monitoring Blue-winged Pittas (Pitta moluccensis) took place anyway.

“While JSparrow had the luxury of at least four weeks of parental guidance, BornFree had less than two weeks.

“JSparrow at six weeks old went missing after 17th Sept. – towards end of post natal moult. Left behind was a four-week-old chick in a secluded secondary forest out of town. It was ‘Home Alone’ for BornFree.

“Since monitoring JSparrow had been reported as a ‘Hat-trick’ sighting, I had bonus time to check on BornFree – a 4th batch fledgling and indulge readers with this extra window of opportunity on her activities.

“Let us see what this independent, born wild BornFree was up to. See if there was any difference in fledgling behaviour, while growing up fending alone, in comparison with well parented cousins.

27Aug-2Sept. (2nd week old)
31st August – “Bornfree was spotted foraging on one end of forest. Suddenly, she took to low abseiling flight and landed a metre away from JSparrow. BornFree raised its wings to stage a take over of foraging grounds. JSparrow initially walked away but lost patience when persistent junior pursued. A sparring bout issued. A demeanour BornFree junior soon learnt there was pecking order to be observed in her own kind.

“Far from being full hardy, BornFree was extremely shy, skittish and avoided my presence. Her acute sense of hearing was remarkable – an inbuilt, acute predatory instinctive asset endowed, gave very little opportunity to get close without my presence being detected.

“An accidental close encounter incident with BornFree issued as bird openly perched on mossy rock and well camouflaged by its green back plumage. I walked towards unaware of her presence. Spooked, BornFree suddenly took flight. I was just a metre away and was equally startled.

“It was probably first time BornFree encountered a human predator. To a small bird, my presence would appear to be that of a moving, over towering green giant, armed with monstrous sized telescope held on by three long, skyscraper-looking black feet.

“This incident, I believe, helped to explain why BornFree became extremely skittish and continued to be elusive though out first three weeks of my visits. I probably had reinforced human predatory instincts onto this chick. She learnt well, she learnt fast.

“At early fledgling stage, cowardice was also observed when a Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) scurried past.

“To regain BornFree’s confidence and be allowed my presence, I had to drum up another strategy of observation amicable to the fledgling.

“This was not a bird to pursue but to sit, freeze and wait in potential hideouts and foraging areas where BornFree was likely to show. That meant, I had to be prepared with high forest’s humidity, hundreds of swamping mosquitoes around me, heat sweat that kept blurring my vision goggles and lugging a collapsible stool and camouflaged screen cloth to hide my fidgety.

“Quick movements were also taboo to these elusive creatures. I had to move and observed in slow motion and in stealth without arousing and causing bird to flee. The art of stalking on the prowl like a feline was at best- in infancy stage.

10-16th Sept (4th week)
16Sept – “Fast forward and onto my 39th visit, BornFree got spotted foraging at foot of ant hill. Feather moult had begun on its head. Fledgling was extremely skittish and only a very brief partial view was had (below).

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“Two heavy consecutive days/nights of rainfall had softened ant hills in the vicinity and became potential vermin/ants enriched sights to forage in.

17-23Sept (5th week)
17Sept – “40h visit. Better photo opportunity finally came for this very skittish fledgling in post natal moult.

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18Sept – “41st visit had to be the extravaganza opportunity in photography. At about 7metres away, BornFree still with horn coloured bill tip, allowed my presence. Foraging spot around ant hill was too irresistible to stay away (above).

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“A porcupine looking headgear had to be the best pose, BornFree could possibly oblige (above).

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“Forage included hop- jumping to dig in deep and/or flicking over ground fallen foliages (above).

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“Shy and cautious look in her eyes reminded me a rare moment in her presence (above).

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“Eventually, the 5th week fledgling with breast and belly feathering in mottled, post natal moult and white, spiky bristled feathers jutted from throat, took to a perch (above, below).

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“Videography was had with BornFree observed feather maintaining-preening its breast and wings. Raised and flapped its wings to show her naked armpits and took to fanning out its wings in comfort positioning (below).

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19Sept – “BornFree’s close encounter with a scurrying squirrel was not of flee. This time it was wing flapping to ‘shoo’ her adversary away. A final decent image of BornFree provided (below).

PLATE 12 Bornfree DSCN5912 5th wk moult|

24-30Sept. (6th week)
25thSept – “BornFree was elusive and was not spotted until my 45th visit, foraging on a slope edge of forest. Having regained new head feathering, she was quick to avoid my gaze and disappeared into hiding.

27Sept – Rained overnight. BornFree was spotted hiding amongst some rocks and took to a swift get away upon seeing me. No photographic opportunities.

29Sept – “47th visit showed no sign of BornFree. Instead, older cousin was finally spotted. I had to wait it out but only a short glimpse was had as ground hopper scurried into hiding when she caught me looking through my binoculars. Game over!

1-7thOct (7th week old)
1st Oct – “Spotted by BornFree, she scurried to hide and took low abseiling flight to edge of forest. Behind forest slope, it became safe refuge from my sight. Through my binoculars, fledgling juvenile appeared to have fresh, black coat of head feathering and mottled, fawn coloured chest.

“Only very short window of opportunity – a blurry photograph of bird foraging on ground from great distance was had.

“Observing BornFree will no longer be any easier as elusive juvenile to be was not going to ignore me nor stay put to be photographed.

“It was futile pursuing bird at this age.

4thOct – “My 50th visit found BornFree foraging on the quiet along a trail and took a dash into hiding upon spotting me. It was observed a loose feather stuck to its claw, while breast and belly plumage remained lightly mottled towards end stage of post natal moult.

6thOct – “My 51st and final visit to regular location spent observing BornFree since first day she was spotted. While no sign of showing up to bid me farewell, it was unusual to hear several soft pitta calls, ‘taew-laew, taew-laew’ from direction of forest edge. Not to be mistaken for imitating calls of Drongos –none were observed through out my visits in same location, I had to conclude, it was shy fledgling-juvenile BornFree’s way of saying farewell- first call ever heard from her…… rather than in action.

“It is not ‘goodbye’ from Avian Writer. She will be dropping by once a while to see how this ‘born from the rocks’, elusive gal will cope alone in the wilds of the Peninsular Malaysian forest…

“100 days window of observation finally came to an official close.”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang Malaysia
21st November 2017

Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

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