In order to celebrate Labour Day today I did not work at all. Instead we had Labour Day pancakes, twice, and I pretty much spent the entire day napping, reading, and entertaining a brand new interest - birdwatching.
Multiple inspirations led to this. First is of course The Genius of Birds that I'm reading, which has gotten me interested in the goings on of our local birds, since the ones described in the book are so endearingly intelligent. Second was an article that I was reading on The Guardian which encouraged people to look up (at birds) or look down (at insects) for nature photography. I'm not into photography but I do like the idea of using what's at hand to access what is out of reach. Plus, we live right next to a big patch of green and we've always had an abundance of bird life flying or twittering around. Third, but maybe to a lesser degree, is the idea of painting birds in Chinese ink, which was what I was trying to do before I got distracted by the whole lockdown business.
So this morning I poked around the internets to find out what I could find for a birding beginner in Malaysia. Plenty, it seems. Apparently we have more than 800 species of birds in the country, and a lot of people are excited about that.
- First I got this handy sheet from the MY Garden Birdwatch project, which gives an illustrated guide of 28 common bird species in Malaysia. For ten years now they hold a citizen science event yearly where residents in Malaysia can count the birds in their backyard and report the figures, to build historical data on the number and types of birds there are in different parts of Malaysia.
- Then I found a database of bird calls, Xeno Canto, and that kept me occupied for a bit, looking for and clicking through the birdsong of the common birds in the handy sheet, trying to find familiar calls. I hear the Asian Koel often, for instance.
- After that I got this comprehensive list of birds organised by family, which makes it easier to group birds by characteristics.
It is all very exciting. I read through some articles on how to identify birds, and here are the main points that I have gathered:
- Look more at the bird than at the field guide. Try to notice everything that you can about it - its size, the beak shape, colour, markings on the feathers, how it flies and moves, its personality. One should make rough sketches and then annotate the sketches with that information collected. Then go back to the field guide and try to identify the bird then.
- It is important also to learn the bird calls because a lot of times they indicate where the birds are and also differentiate one bird from another. One analogy I found was that birding with only sight is like watching TV without sound - you lose a lot of the experience.
- Do it often and do it with enjoyment.
This evening I spent some time looking at a pair of what might be spotted doves or common mynas, following each other as they went from tree to tree; and a flock of possibly Asian Koels (did they have red eyes? I really can't be sure) jabbering in a nearby tree. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow who serenaded me from another tree top for quite some time. A sunbird of some kind, I think, who perched on my henna tree and fed from the flowers of the butterfly pea plant creeping on it.
I'm not sure how long I'll keep this up but certainly this has been a fun day of learning.
Today there was a flurry of action and information coming from the Prime Minister. Next Monday we will have a loosening of the MCO as most economic sectors open. Apparently we can't afford to lockdown for much longer as we're losing 2.4bil ringgit per day of MCO and so far it's been 64bil. So far, we've got 6071 cases and 103 deaths. We will see what happens on Monday. The real challenge for the government starts then.
There's a list of things that will not be opened yet during the conditional MCO, including commonsensical things like cinemas. Public parks are not in that list. We will probably try to go to the park next week to see. Other than that we're not sure if things will change remarkably - we'll probably continue to isolate ourselves and cook at home for a while.