Monday 27 April 2020

Covid 19 - A Wannabe Twitcher

Ruth, my late mother-in-law, was an avid birdwatcher.  With her trusty binoculars, she pursued her interest wherever she settled and wandered.  She did her rounds in UK, New Zealand (where she finally settled down), Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, Fiji and and most remarkably in Australia when she was in her 70s.

Lely, my former student from Jurong Secondary School is another bird enthusiast.  She would spend many, many hours of her weekends in Singapore, her visits  to our abode in KL and Leicester, as well as her overseas trips (with Darby and Joan) to New Zealand; taking umpteen photographs of birds.  From Lely, I learned to recognise the names, the songs  and the plumage of some birds, especially the ones in our garden at Setiawangsa.  She has a stockpile of thousands of photographs of birds, flowers, iguana, bats, lizards and all sorts of creepy crawlies and even of our dumb domestic cats - in fact, all of God's creatures that she loves and respects.  Part of her collection is located at :

However, 8 years ago she suffered a stroke caused by AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation) a very rare congenital illness in the brain.

Though deprived of her ability to continue this great pleasure of her life, she retains her chirpy, optimistic self, just like her beloved birds!  She's still - in her spirit - flying free, joyous and rejoicing despite being in a wheelchair, just like her celebrated birds!

However, I must admit I am not a good student.  If I were Lely, I would give Ash just 3 marks out of 10!!!

During the PKP ( Movement Control Order),  I am beginning to appreciate even more the peace that our feathered friends  bring: their morning chorus, the tweetings  during brunch and lunch time and the busy chirpings before bedtime in the evenings.

Also, during the PKP I began to sort out my Stamp Album and opened a folder on 'Birds in Stamps' from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Here's part of the folder - on birds of Malaysia and Singapore.

Left to Right :  Hornbill (48 inches long),  Argus Pheasant ( 29 - 39 inches), Barred Ground Dove ( 9 inches )  

Left to Right :  Resident Paradise Flycatcher (7-8 inches ),  Tern, Chamar ( 13 inches),  Pittas (8 inches)

Left to Right :  Common Shama,  Murai Hutan, Murai Batu (10 inches),  White-breasted Kingfisher,  Pekaka (10 inches),  Yellow-breasted Sunbird, Kelichap ( 4.5 inches)

NOTE : On Malaysian Stamps, the country's name is firstly written in JAWI.  So why the vociferous opposition to learning Jawi in schools in 2019????

Birds I have seen and/or  heard in our garden

1. Perenjak/Tailorbird

But here is my pride and joy - my very own discovery in our garden in Kuala Lumpur.

The Nest of the Tailor Bird or Perenjak.
It had dropped(?),  fallen(?) into the garden.  I can't believe my luck, to be able to touch (and revere) this serindipity-find.  But I feel so sorry for  the mother-bird who had worked so hard to sew this nest.  My joy is this poor bird's sorrow!  Fortunately, there was no egg or baby bird in the nest.  The mother-bird must have just started on this little home of hers.

" The nest, which is similar in all the lowland Tailor Birds, is a very remarkable structure.  Most usually a single large, living leaf is curled round by twisting strands of spider's web silk round it, so that the opposite edges come together.  These are then joined by a method usually described as sewing, but really more like riveting.  Holes are punched opposite each other near the two edges, and tangled spider's webs or tree-cotton (kapok) is pushed through and teased out on each side so as to hold the edges together. ........ In the resultant pouch the nest is built of vegetable fibre mixed with kapok or lalang down, and firmly anchored by stitches or rivets pierced through the leaf. " 

(From 'Common Malayan Birds' by M.W.F. Tweedie, Longmans of Malaysia, 1960; pg 49)

The Tailor Bird is just one of God's creatures making use of its God-given skills to live and survive on this earth with the minimal damage to its surroundings. But this is not my first nest.

 The first time was in 1952/1953  when Ash discovered a little nest on the ground,  in the  grass-shrubbery patch not far from our local kedai Seng Teow at Kampung Abu Kassim, Pasir Panjang.   It was about 5 inches in diameter, made up of layers of tiny bits of dried leaves, grass and twigs woven into a kind of cup-shape. It was just about 2-3 inches deep, enough I suppose for a mother bird to sit on comfortably, while hatching her little clutch of eggs.  I gasped at its incredible design, so simple and  fragile and yet so practical for the pro-creation and continuity of life on this earth.  I can't remember seeing any eggs in the nest.  I let it be, and kept my discovery a secret.  I was fairly certain that this nest would be safe because no kids would find this semi-belukar a good place to play in and thank goodness, in those days, motorcycles and cars were rare in our kampung.
I don't know which came first - this unforgettable first encounter with a bird's nest or this reading passage from my primary school text-book;  The Radiant Way.

The Chapter - The Lark's Nest

The above  extract is taken from ...

It's a shame that the names of the authors were not in the book.  However, on the Internet, I found out the authors were Jane Brown and Elizabeth L. Sinton. You can, with a bit of difficulty, just locate the illustrator's name, Rene Cloke, from the little notation on some of the really beautiful colour-drawings. This series was first published in 1933.  Other editions were made in 1953 and 1960.  I guess I must have been taught with the 1953 Reprint.  I have in my keeping the 1963 Reprint which I excavated from a little bookstore at Chowrasta Market, Penang in 1992.  Another epic discovery!!

The Perenjak / Tailor Bird is a very common bird in our kampungs and gardens.  It is a very noisy - and I can vouch for it - and secretive bird.  Look out or rather, keep your ears open for this little (only about 5 1/2 inches in size) bird.  Here's a video by Azlina Abdul on this seamstress-chatterbox.

This is what the Perenjak/Tailor Bird  (D) looks like.

Plate 15  A. Magpie Robin,  B. Common Shama,  C. Chestnut-Backed Fork-Tail,  D. Long-Tailed Tailor Bird

It's taken from  .....

Although Tweedie's book was first published in 1960, it remains the main reference book for this wannabe twitcher since 2007.

.......................TO  BE  CONTINUED.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Covid 19 Mornings

Since the implementation of Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan (PKP) on 18 March, AsH's grey matter has also gone into an immovable mode.  The mind has been like a car in neutral (not parking) gear wanting and waiting to move somewhere but undecided as to which way to turn.

As a septuagenarian, I have gone through such critical times like the Malayan Emergency (1948 - 1960).  During the mid-late Fifties and early Sixties, my parents would take us on our annual (sometimes bi-annual) trips from Singapore to visit the relatives in Kuala Lumpur. Abah took a risk in driving all the way to KL.  We were not allowed to bring  much food and I recall seeing a group of soldiers running quickly up a hill, somewhere in Johor.  Abah would avoid 'black areas' like Labis and Yong Peng and would drive straight on to Muar, crossing the Muar River by ferry to get to Melaka and our destination in Selangor.  We were stopped at several road-blocks especially in Johor and Selangor. But the most scary part was to notice how sometimes, for miles and miles, ours was the only car on the road.

The riots of the mid-60s were something else! There was no prior warning of  an emergency approaching us.  I only knew how dire the situation was when, as I was approaching the Union House, Singapore University, voices were telling me to "go home, go home quickly".  The rest is of course history.  The curfew was imposed, there was no time to stock up on food or toilet paper! We just bunkered down and the villagers (Chinese and Malays ) set up a kind of Home Guard to protect each other and keep out any outsiders.

Years after that, we were never too complacent to reckon this will not happen again.  When I started teaching at Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak in 1967,  teachers had to set up a food bank for each class, consisting of a collection of tinned and dried food.  The kids thought it was fun to set up a food store in the classroom but we teachers knew better.  At a Staff Meeting, it was decided that married teachers would get home as quickly as possible to pick up their kids. As for the  stranded students who could not get home, they would be looked after by the "bachelor-teachers" who had to remain in school to see to their welfare.  Fortunately there was quite a good number of young, bachelor-staff members to be roped in, and I was one of them.  Sleeping areas and food and security were all  arranged and we knew what we had to do.

But unlike Covid 19, the 'enemy' was visible.  We did not have to maintain a secure distance between each other.  This time in 2020, the unseen 'enemy' could be nestling within our midst, the family, our friends and colleagues and our students!  Welcome to 21st Century Planet Earth - modern, prosperous, hi-tech, 'civilized'  Earth!  I think man has forfeited his tenure in this beautiful planet, it should be inherited by all of God's winged, finned, 2-legged and 4-legged creatures that walk, swim, fly, crawl, burrow or anything else but man!

Since the PKP our streets look eerie.  It's like a scene from an old black-and-white B movie, "The Invasion of Earth by Aliens from Mars".

But for AsH, it has its compensations. Covid 19 and the  PKP has restored the serenity of mornings at our abode.  Let me explain.

The Azan for me is the most beautiful and peaceful sound to be articulated by man . But for over 2 years something else came along to impair the message of the call of prayer and mar the tranquility of dawn and the early morning. I recorded two videos after the Azan on 30 July 2019.  The first was recorded at 7 am and the second at 7.20 am.

Certainly (at least for AsH), the second is more peaceful, in tandem with with the God-given sound of an early morning.

The birds you hear in both videos could be the Koel, the Tailorbird, the Pied Fantail Flycatcher or the Bulbul, all  good and lovely friends in our garden.  They come round every morning to contribute to the morning chorus, no matter who or what is about.

InsyaAllah I shall write about our feathered friends (other than the cats, tree shrew and the family of toads) in our garden in my next posting.

As of 18 March 2020, after the Azan, our feathered friends had the morning stage all to themselves and as a result we can enjoy our first class seats for this Morning Chorus.  Kawalan Pergerakan has its compensations after all.

Stay at home and keep safe.