|The Masked Finfoot at FRIM
From December 2004 until May 2005 the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) had an unexpected and rare visitor, a Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personata).
This bird, a migrant in Peninsular Malaysia, is normally very shy and there is not much photographic material available. However, this bird apparently did not mind the publicity and came to be known soon as:
The Prima Donna of FRIM
The bird is mentioned in the birders yahoogroups for the first time by Aun Tiah on 29/12/2004. It has been sighted by TC Lim on 11/12/2004. Later Anthony Lau reports that Mr Chin, a tractor driver from Kepong has observed the appearance of the bird in early November.
26-12-2004 by K.F. Chan
Immediately the Masked Finfoot becomes a hot item! This is a rare visitor and all birders of course want to catch a glimpse of it.. :-) In January almost daily groups of birders gather around the FRIM pond, eager to spot the bird. In most cases they go home satisfied, because the bird is not shy and doesn't seem to care about the publicity.
The visits of so many photographers with their large expensive cameras, telelenses and scopes do not go unnoticed to the FRIM rangers. There are a few confrontations where a hefty camera fee of RM 88.80 is demanded! It turns out that this fee, although not compulsory, is regularly asked from wedding couples who come to FRIM to have their pictures taken, as a kind of Ang Pow. After an explanation that the target for these photographers is 'burung with feathers', the fee is waived.
One of the earliest pictures, taken by Tee Lian Huat
26-12-2004 by Yeap Soon Pin
1-1-2005 By Chan Kai Soon, grabbed from a video clip
Is it a he or a she? Or a crossdresser?
Soon after the bird's first appearance a discussion starts about its gender. It is complicated. The general appearance is that of a female, but there is unmistakably a small horn at the base of the bill and the eyes are not yellow, pointing to a male. Even the experts do not agree. According to David Wells it is a female, but Krys Kazmierczak (OBI) catalogues it as a female or a first-winter male.
1-1-2005 by Lean Yen Loong
2-1-2005 by Ooi Beng Yean
2-1-2005 by Ooi Beng Yean. The feet are almost visible.
Anthony Lau ("it is a female!") coins the name The Prima Donna of FRIM and gives a poetic description:
This elegant but normally secretive and shy bird was strutting her stuff in the small wetland pond.
The battery of scopes and cameras trained at her did not bother her at all. She made periodical curtain calls from amongst the dense weeds, swam around and displayed her swelte body.
She would then go back into hiding while the crowd of admirers with bins, scopes and cameras ready, waited patiently for her encores.
4-1-2005 by Anthony Lau
Finally! The webbed feet in all their glory. By Anthony Lau, 1-4-2005
7-1-2005 by Cheong Weng Chun
The FRIM Theatre
A typical day at the FRIM pond in January. The performance of the Prima Donna draws a large audience. Soon the nearby school will start again and the kids may chase M. Finfoot, so better come before it is too late. Tun Pin Ong hopes the bird will still be there during the CNY. Another birder from Australia changes his travel intinerary, on his way to India, to make a stop over in KL.
Actually there are many more birds in FRIM. They feel a bit neglected. But there is of course a spill-off
The crowd on 8-1-2005. Birders from KL, Selangor and Ipoh
Conversation recorded by Anthony, 8-1-2005
A dedicated photographer will rather protect his equipment than himself, when it rains!
There might be TWO!
On 23-1-2005, as a bombshell, it is reported by several birders, that they have sighted TWO Masked Finfoot (Finfeet?) at FRIM, one chasing the other. Chris Shepherd breaks the news and even reports about pictures of the two, although not in in one picture. Could it be one female and one first-winter male?
A shy one and the Prima Donna who doesn't care?
Until now this is still a unresolved issue, because those pictures have not been published.
Anthony Lau (more or less residing in FRIM in those days) wonders if it is an early April Fool event.
23-1-2005 by Cheong Weng Chun. Could these birders settle the issue?
2-2-2005 by Anthony Lau. The Prima Donna as Masked Finfoot.
2-2-2005 by Anthony Lau. The Prima Donna practising for her role in the Swan Lake
Will she become a Resident?
The Chinese New Year arrives, and M. Finfoot is still there. That is good news for Tun Pin Ong who comes back from Australia, 'balik kampung', and gets his chance to take a (beautiful) picture. Several mails in the birders mailing list wonder if she/he might decide to become a resident.
7-2-2005 by Tun Pin Ong. He made it!
8-2-2005 by Yeap Soon Ping
19-2-2005 by Tee Lian Huat.
Of course, as is to be expected, after a few weeks the birder frenzy wanes. But birders still visit FRIM regularly to check if she is still there.
23-2-2005 by Tee Lian Huat
24-2-2004 by Banard Lau. Another show of the feet.
21-4-2005 by Banard Lau. The last picture? According to his own records the last sighting was on 21-5-2005
Goodbye and See You Again!
Although some birders are hoping that the Masked Finfoot might apply for a permanent resident visa in Peninsular Malaysia, David Wells warns that the bird will migrate end of May or beginning of June.
And that is probably what has happened.
Of course birders are hoping that he/she might return, end of 2005.
But in vain, until now.
Many more pictures of M. Finfoot have been taken, during her stay at FRIM. Here only pictures are shown taken by photographers who have given the Birding in Malaysia website permission to use them.