Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wednesday 11th October

There was an afternoon high tide today, and I managed to spend a few hours at the site after a busy spell at work.

I visited another site that sometimes has Long-toed Stints. No stints, but I was rewarded with point blank views of an adult Common Sandpiper hunting insects. Note the very worn primary tips visible above the tertials.

The end of a bug's life is milliseconds away!

Friday 6th October (Final Part !)

I couldn't zoom out on this Greenshank fast enough to get all the wings in, as it momentarily stretched, but it's still a nice pic I think. One day I hope to photograph a Nordmann's Greenshank doing the same thing, and showing a nice clean white pair of underwings!

An adult Pacific Golden Plover comes close.

A close-up of Great (right) and Red Knots' heads, showing the difference in bill length and structure. Notice especially the distinctive nostril shape on each species.

As knots of both species like to cluster together (in a tight 'knot'!), it can be difficult to get a good view of whole birds. So knowing the various 'bits' can be quite useful! By looking at the nostrils and other aspects, you should be able to spot 5 Red Knot in this group (though you'll need to click on the pic to enlarge it!).

Oh boy! I almost dread finding one of these 'strange stints' again - getting a bad reputation for them! This bird looks very similar indeed to the one I photographed on Sept 26th (see that post), and could conceivably be the same bird (the old tertial has been replaced by a new one on this bird), though 10 days seems quite a long time for a migrating bird to hang around.

Back in the 1980s I used to see the odd Little Stint at Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong in the spring migration. What struck me and other observers then was the difference in body, head and bill shape from Red-neckeds. Little have a more round shouldered, hump-backed appearance than the rather flat-backed silhouette of Red-necked. They have a pot-bellied appearance, and are generally more rotund than the slender-bodied Red-necked. The head seems to have a high forehead and then slope back to a rather rounded rear crown, in contrast to the rather square headshape of Red-necked. The bill is longer, finer-tipped, and slightly decurved, especially along the lower edge.

When feeding, I noticed this bird made more 'pecks per feeding movement' than the Red-neckeds, making it seem busier in its feeding style.

This picture gave me a shock when I saw it as it looks as though the bird's foot has partially webbed toes, which would make it Semi-palmated or Western Sandpiper. But, having enlarged it, I can't be sure that the effect is not produced by something other than webbing.

This picture shows the distinctive shape of this bird well - almost ball-shaped with a head and tail stuck on each end! Notice also the high forehead and domed crown. Is it a Little Stint? I think it probably is - I certainly can't see it as a Red-necked - but I can't be completely sure. I'd love to hear what others think!

As if one odd stint wasn't enough, I found another! This one still has many very worn breeding plumage feathers. It shows a similar head, body and bill shape to the other odd stint, but it seems to be quite a small individual.

Here it is next to a typical non-breeding adult Red-necked (on the left). The differences in shape and jizz are pretty obvious! The mystery bird seems more 'leggy' than the Red-necked on the left, but this could just be an effect of the stance of the two birds.

Another view with a couple of Red-necked Stints (left). A(nother) Little? I don't know! Can anyone help???!!!

The day had already been an outstanding one when I noticed a tern that was clearly larger than the Little Terns flying around. I could only see it through the camo material on my hide, but by the size I assumed it was a Common Tern. Hoping it would land somewhere nearby I scanned the pool in front of me and eventually located it to my right. As soon as I got the camera focused on the bird I realized that this was not a Common Tern - the bill looked way too small.

I could also see that the central tail was dark smoke-grey, which ruled out any of the 'normal' terns. Looking at the ghost of a crown pattern on this bird, the incongruous thought came to me that this could be an Aleutian Tern!

The more I looked at the bird and checked off other possibilities, the more likely it seemed that this bird must be an Aleutian Tern. Sooty and Bridled Terns would show much darker, browner upperparts than this bird, as well as a more substantial bill.

The bird showed a curious upperwing pattern, with a pale stripe along the middle of the wing, caused by pale-fringed median coverts, and a slightly darker carpal bar running along the leading edge of the wing.

The bird flapped its wings after bathing, showing a dark secondary bar on the underwing, which I later found is a fieldmark of Aleutian Tern.

The then took off and flew out of sight. A short time later, I decided to leave my hide, and, as I did so, found that the tern was the closest bird to me, sitting on the sand just to the right of my hide. It seemed reluctant to fly, so I was able to approach it and get some closer pictures from the side.

Some smokey-grey colouration can be seen on the sides of the neck. In breeding pluamge adults, the underparts are smokey-grey.

Realizing that I would need to get better flight views, I retreated to the car to get my telescope and binoculars, and then was able to watch the bird as it flew from the roost area to settle on the mudflats. I noted, among other things, that it had a grey central tail but a white rump. While it was on the mud I was able to take some sketches and notes. Once I got home I found that it wasn't easy to find out much about this species. All the photographs I could find are of adults in breeding plumage. The pictures of juveniles in The Sibley Guide to Birds appear to show a greyish tail and rump. My bird had a white rump (a feature of adults), so I would guess that it was somewhere in the moult process from a subadult plumage to adult. The longest primaries seemed to be worn, which would indicate that the bird is not a juvenile/1st winter, so my guess is that it is in its 1st summer/2nd winter.

Aleutian Terns breed on the coast and islands of Alaska and Eastern Siberia, and are now known to winter in the seas around parts of Indonesia. It is an oceanic species, rarely seen from land. I'm not sure of the status of the species in Malaysia. Some references suggest that it 'should occur' in Malaysian waters, but it isn't on any list of Malaysian birds I can find. In any event, it maybe the first record of this species on Malaysian soil!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Friday 6th October (Part 4)

This juvenile/1st winter female Bar-tailed Godwit has a good shake after a bathe. Note the pristine secondaries. An adult would have at least some showing wear at this time.

The comparatively dark appearance of Whimbrels compared to Bar-tailed Godwits (behind) is a useful distinguishing feature at distance.

Synchronized swimming by a couple of Greenshanks!

The six visible inner primaries with white tips are freshly moulted; the two outer ones are old feathers (as can be seen from the brownish colouration, the ragged edges and the protruding quill of the longest one). Moult of the flight feathers starts in the middle of the wing (the outermost secondary and the innermost primary) and works progressively toward the innermost secondary and the outermost primary.

The extreme wear on the old feathers can been seen on this bird too - the longest primaries, the lowermost tertial, and a dark row of scapulars that are barely more than tatters. Both these birds are Greenshanks.

This preening juvenile Great Knot shows off its white rump - one of the differences between this species and Red Knot.

Another pic of the same juvenile Great Knot.

A couple of adult Great Knots, still with old breeding plumage breast feathers (with spots).

A good comparison of Red Knot (right) and Great Knot (left). One interesting structural difference is the shape and length of the nostril - longer in Great Knot and running more parallel to the culmen and cutting edge of the bill than Red Knot(you may need to click on the pic to enlarge it to see this!).

The shape of the nostril may be a useful feature when we are faced with some intermediate birds, like the out of focus bird on the left here. Is it a short-billed Great Knot or a long-billed (female) Red Knot? The nostril shape (just about discernible!) as well as the rather plain unstreaked plumage enable us to identify it as the latter.

One of my 5-star birds today wasn't a rarity at all, but a leg-flagged Redshank. By reporting the bird to the Australian Wader Studies Group, I was able to discover speedily that this 1st winter bird had been tagged earlier this autumn at Laem Phak Bia, in the south-west corner of the inner gulf of Thailand, approximately 868km away. This is the first sighting of a Thai-flagged bird away from the ringing area.

A study in relaxation! This Marsh Sandpiper does a passable phalarope impression!

Friday 6th October (Part 3)

A few more pics from my epic Friday session!

Birds have a preen gland just above the tail which secretes an oily substance that helps waterproof the feathers. This Greenshank is getting some of the oil onto the tip of its bill, which it then rubs over its feathers. Kind of like polishing one's shoes!

A couple of adult Great Knot. The greyer feathers are those that have grown more recently.

A juvenile for contrast. A couple of rows of scapulars (the plain grey feathers) are already moulted 1st winter feathers.

A couple of adult Red Knot (left) with distinctly shorter, straighter bills than Great Knot (two right hand birds).

A 1st winter Little Tern evidently enjoying its bath!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Friday 6th October (Part 2)

After the Whimbrel performance, more birds dropped in. Around the time of high tide there was a whoosh of wings overhead and suddenly there were hundreds of birds all around me - Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits to my left, Terek and Curlew Sandpipers to my right, and in front a selection of sandpipers, knots and plovers. It was a completely breathtaking spectacle!

At one point I pulled back the zoom to 100mm to try to give an impression of the scene. See how many species you can spot!

Eyes left! A Marsh Sandpiper (left) and a Greenshank move in unison.

I could take pictures of Greenshanks all day (Oh wait a minute - I did!). They are one of my favourite waders - so perfectly proportioned.

You'll have to bear with me posting a few more images of this exquisite shorebird!

Two draw alongside each other momentarily.

A Marsh Sand and a Greenshank adopt the 'field guide position'!

Another field guide pose, this time showing the differences between juvenile (front left) and adult Redshanks.

An adult Great Knot gets down to the serious business of bathing! Note the new central tail feathers.

Birds often raise their wings after bathing, but catching them at it is something I don't manage too often. A Great Knot airs its armpits!

A nice spangly juvenile Great Knot stands out among the dowdy adults.

Some of the Pacific Golden Plovers are still showing remnants of their breeding plumage.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Friday 6th October (Part 1)

Today started out quite unpromisingly and ended up as one of the best and most exciting day's birding I've had in years!

A 2.8 metre spring tide was due to peak around midday, but the haze was so bad at first that the sun appeared as a dim orange blob at around 10am. When I first arrived the tide was well out, so I spent some time scoping the birds on the mudflats.

The first surprise was two Kentish Plovers feeding not too far from me. This is quite a rare bird here - I had only recorded them once before at this site. I picked out a stint moulting from juvenile to 1st winter that showed characteristics of Little Stint, but it didn't hang around long enough for me to get thorough notes.

The construction workers seemed to have stopped using the dirt track behind 'my' pool, which meant that there was a good chance that the waders would try to roost there. This meant reconstructing the hide yet again (I had moved it to another area at the end of my last visit)- hauling heavy bits of wood around is hot work at the best of times!

Eventually I got into my 'coffin' at about 10.30am, and was treated to an exhilirating display, as several hundred birds roosted within a few 10s of metres from me. Four hours and about 700 photographs later I emerged! There are so many pictures that I think I'll upload them in stages. Here's the first crop.

This Greater Sand Plover was one of the first birds to return after I had got into the hide.

Not a particularly sharp photo, but it shows the difference in size and proprtions of Greenshank (front) and Marsh Sandpiper nicely.

The adult Broad-billed Sandpiper again fed at the back of the pool today. Here it is with a Curlew Sandpiper. Note the shorter legs and also the double supercilium.

Here it is again with a couple of Red-necked Stints. It isn't a great deal bigger than them.

This juvenile Whimbrel was determined to get a bath! Unfortunately something disturbed all the birds, and it had to abandon its ablutions...

...but almost immediately it came back again, and walked into the deeper water right in front of me.

So it got to finish off its bath in peace!

Drying off with a quick flap of the wings!