Friday, December 29, 2006

Wednesday 27th December

With the disappointing run of poor tides continuing this week, I decided to venture over the bridge for the first time in months to take a look at 'The Far Side'! It rained constantly for the first couple of hours, and with the tide dropping from a pre-dawn 2.1m, I didn't have high hopes of seeing much. Nevertheless I started off at Bagan Belat, which is more or less opposite my patch at Tanjung Tokong, across the strait.

It was good to see quite a few birds I don't get at TT, including Eurasian and Eastern Curlew, Brown-headed Gull and Common, Whiskered and White-winged Terns. There was also a smart breeding plumage Grey Heron. No Nordmann's Greenshanks today, though I didn't expect to see many at this stage of the tide. There was a Eurasian Collared Dove at Bagan Belat, which I assume to be an escaped cage-bird rather than a genuine vagrant. It seemed quite at home in the village environment.

From Bagan Belat I drove several miles inland to the area around Air Hitam Dalam. This used to be a beautiful area of swamp and mangrove along a river. Last year the powers-that-be decided that it should be developed as an 'eco-resort'. Now most of the riverine forest has been cleared, several roads are being constructed through it, and a canopy walkway has been erected through the few remaining trees. Actually, most of the work underway is in the construction of a major road past the area. The eco-resort seems to have been forgotten about. This isn't surprising, as there isn't much left to built a resort around. It all seems such a senseless waste.

I found that one or more likely several owls have been using one of the viewing towers as a roost or nocturnal hunting post, as it was covered with droppings and there were many pellets in evidence. No owls though.

There was a 1st winter Crow-billed Drongo flitting about in the trees, but it mostly kept high up, and out of decent range.

This squirrel was one of several seen here. If you know the speicific identity, please let me know! Thanks.

I spent quite a while driving through the paddyfields in the area. Most of them were full of well-grown green paddy, with just a few open areas where there was standing water. Notable birds were good numbers of Intermediate Egrets among the commoner Little, Great and Cattle Egrets and pond herons, a couple of Black-winged Stilts, a very few Wood Sandpipers, Swinhoe's or Pintail Snipes and a Black Kite.

A graceful Wood Sandpiper in typical habitat.

A 'Swintail' Snipe freezes to avoid detection.

Black-winged Kites hunt very much in the manner of Kestrels; hovering and then swooping down on their prey.

A Paddyfield Pipit just where it should be - in a paddyfield!

Finally, though, I came across an area of paddy being harvested by two huge yellow combine harvesters on caterpillar tracks, and here the air was full of dust and hirundines.

They were mostly Red-rumped Swallows, with many Barn Swallows and at least one Sand Martin. Sand Martin is not on the official list of birds that have been recorded in the state, though I did see one last year.

One of several hundred Red-rumped Swallows.

A Sand Martin. The frequency with which I was able to pick out a lone Sand Martin amongst all the other birds suggested to me that there may have been more than one.

The dark breastband and belly markings rule out the similar Pale Martin, which could conceivably occur.

There were also hundreds of Yellow Wagtails hawking insects on the newly cut paddy-stems. I spent a while looking through them but failed to find a Citrine Wagtail or anything more unusual. Four Black Kites hung on the wind in the hope of catching rats.

What are YOU looking at?! A Blue-tailed Bee-eater stares me down.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wednesday 20th December

This week the tides are still not much good for photography - 2.1 and 2.2m all week, but, ever the optimist, I went to see what I could see today. I was also keen to see how the Malaysian Plovers' moult was progressing.

As expected, it was difficult to get close to the birds, but I was able to take some distant shots and do a count. On the construction site, new blue-painted pegs have appeared everywhere - no doubt the forerunners of house foundations. For today anyway, some Barn Swallows were making use of them as flycatching lookout posts, and they were quite approachable as long as I stayed in the car.

There were one or two stunning pinkish-purple flowers growing out of the sand. Their colours were so vivid I just had to take a photo! If anyone knows the name of this plant, please put it in a comment below this entry!

I got a few flight shots of the waders as they were moving around to nab the best spots to feed.

A flock of Red-necked Stints with a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper in there somewhere. See if you can spot it!

It was nice to find a fairly obvious Little Stint (as Little Stints go!) among the Red-neckeds, but frustrating not to be able to get very close. The most marked feature was the long legs - both the tarsus and tibia seemed longer than Red-neckeds. The bill tapered to quite a fine point and was slightly but noticeably decurved, and the bird showed the distinctive 'round-shouldered' shape and turned up rear end I have noted on other Little Stints. The upperparts were nice and dark (though not as dark as these pictures suggest!) , and the bird had a good breast band. Structurally the bird looked very similar to one seen and photographed earlier in the autumn (see here) and could conceivably be the same bird.

In my attempts to get closer to the waders on the high tide mark I managed to step into a sink-hole in the mud and went in straight up to above my knees! Thankfully the surrounding sand was firm and I was able to pull myself out with the help of my tripod. Amazingly camera, scope and bins survived unharmed! My trousers and shoes weren't so lucky!

The lengths - or should I say the depths - to which I will go to get my photos!

There were a few more birds today - both in number and variety - than of late. Here's the count:

Pacific Golden Plover 8
Little Ringed Plover 3
Lesser Sand Plover 1
Kentish Plover 19
Malaysian Plover 11
Red-necked Stint 210
Little Stint 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper 2
Curlew Sandpiper 2
Common Redshank 500
Common Greenshank 30
Marsh Sandpiper 10
Whimbrel 1

Total 798

On my way from the site, I came across this confiding 1st winter Brown Shrike. Usually I find Brown Shrikes very shy and unapproachable (Tiger Shrikes, by contrast, are usually quite tame), but this one seemed engrossed in catching prey and wasn't too bothered by my presence (in the car).

It was amazingly successful at catching various bugs, and had a very high strike rate - probably about 80%.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday 15th December

As well as getting some Christmas shopping done this week, I have finally managed to almost finish a picture that I started way back in the early half of this year. It's a 27cm x 37cm acryllic and watercolour on paper. I say almost finished, because I'll let it sit for a week and then see what I think needs doing to it by way of a final touch-up. It's a Chinese Pond Heron in rice-padi.

If you'd be interested in buying this picture, please email me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday 12th December

It was a desperate gamble, but I went down to Coffin Mk IX this afternoon in the hope that maybe the tide would push the Malaysian and Kentish Plovers off the sandbar and up onto the foreshore in front of me.

Two and a half hours lying prone in the midday sun on the mud - I must be certifiable! Needless to say the plovers didn't come, so all I got for my troubles was a couple of distant shots of a nervy Little Ringed Plover amongst multi-coloured plastic bags!

It's kind of sad, when you think about it, that birds choose to come and feed in a place like this. It must mean that there's nowhere better for them to go.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday 11th December

The tide is bad all week (again!) but I went to the site to take another look at the plovers, since I am trying to write up something on them.

The tide was way out and I could see the Malaysian and Kentish Plovers feeding on an exposed sandbar in the distance.

The same trio of Little Ringed Plovers was hanging out on the construction site and they again allowed close approach.

After taking a few pictures of them I went to the sandspit where the river flows out into the bay to watch the Redshank flock. I counted 420 Redshanks, and there were 5 Greenshanks, a Marsh Sandpiper and a couple of Curlew Sandpipers in with them. I spent quite a while scrutinizing a Redshank with all grey legs, trying to make it into something else. In the end I concluded that the colouration was probably due to the mud rather than an aberration. It was obvious that the tide wasn't going to bring the birds within photographic distance, even though a fisherman in a small boat unintentionally helped to shepherd the birds a little closer to me.

In the end I put the camera away and set up a hide for when the tide is better, since I've noticed that the Redshanks always roost at this sandspit. That was when a Black-winged Kite decided to fly over me and land on a nearby bush. Birds seem to know when the camera isn't there!

The Coffin Mark VIII - my most ambitious design yet - complete with natural foliage! I realise that I'm getting a bit obsessive about building hides - maybe it's a territory-marking thing!

Back at the mudflats in the late afternoon, the tide started coming in somewhat, and the plovers came up to roost on the sandy foreshore, and I was able to do a partial count. Once they squat down they are incredibly difficult to spot. There were at least 12 Malaysian and 5 Kentish, though when they flew I counted 27 birds (including a couple of Red-necked Stints). They flew into the light so I wasn't able to differentiate between the two species of plover.

The plovers feed on the sandbar in the distance to the left of centre. They roost on the sandy area in the middle of the picture, to the right of which you can see yet another hide - Mk IX!

Behind me, the housing development moves ever closer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tuesday 5th December

After a week of very poor tides, this week is slightly better, so I went early to the roost site to set up a hide on what I hoped would be the high tide mark.

I decided to experiment by using part of my kids' play tent as a portable hide (thanks kids!). In the end it proved a futile exercise, as the tide arrived before the birds did, and I was forced into a hasty retreat! I had misjudged the high water mark by about 2 feet, but it would have been enough to get wet had I stayed.

The Coffin Mk VII

It was fun watching the fiddler crabs waving at each other while I waited for the waders. They seemed to be saying, "Just come over 'ere and say that!"

There were so few birds at the roost today that the chances of getting pictures were not good anyway. I made a few estimates:

Red-necked Stint 40
Sanderling 1 1st w bird -still there
Common Redshank 200
Common Greenshank 12
Common Sandpiper 4
Whimbrel 8
Pacific Golden Plover 20
Greater Sand Plover 3
Lesser Sand Plover 10
Kentish Plover 22
Little Ringed Plover 4

Noteworthy were the highest totals so far for both Kentish at the site. Amazingly, Kentish was the commonest plover there!

I did manage to approach a flock of three Little Ringed Plovers by using the car. I judged them to be 2 1st winters and an adult winter bird.

This is one of the 1st winter birds. Note the buffy-brown forehead and lack of clear supercilium.

Here's the adult bird, which has a whiter forehead and more marked, cleaner supercilium. This bird is also showing the relative plain wing pattern distinctive of this species.

The other 1st winter bird, taken just before I managed to get the car stuck in the mud! No doubt the birds had the last laugh.

Friday 3rd November - Mason and Olympic Park, Sydney

On my last day's birding for this trip I decided to return to Mason Park to try to get some better shots of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Unfortunately the weather frustrated me again. The light was if anything even worse than my previous visit, and showers were frequent.

I did succeed in getting brief distant views of a Pectoral Sandpiper which has been staying at Mason Park for a few weeks. It was a strikingly long-billed individual.

A first winter Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. It was interesting to note how much the plumage of these birds had changed since my earlier visit.

A leg-tagged Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, with the same combination of colours as the Red-necked Stint photographed here

A Yellow Thornbill in Olympic Park.

The lagoon at Olympic Park seen from the hide. It has quite an algae problem, which is currently being addressed.

Olympic Park had several parties of school kids wandering around it. This was obviously not so conducive to seeing birds, but I was glad to see that schools seem to have a policy of taking children outside the classroom and showing them the environment. I was very impressed by the interpretative facilities available for children in the park. Actually, the party of kids I shared the hide with over lunch was remarkably well-behaved and not that noisy!

A Red-necked Avocet in the rain.

A novel way of collecting rainwater!

This Purple Swamphen nearly flew into the hide!

I renewed my acquaintance with Channel-billed Cuckoo - being chased by ravens as usual!

This Australian Crake was seen as the result of accosting a birder and asking "Anything about?" Turned out he was a Dutch tourist who couldn't speak enough English to tell me, but I was very grateful when he pointed it out! It was the last of 38 new species for me on this trip.

My last bird picture taken on this trip - a Grey Teal.

Wednesday 1st November Brisbane - Sydney

The river in the early morning, looking perfect for a platypus!

Up at the crack of dawn, and I got very wet walking through the long grass on the riverbank! There were various creatures moving around in the water - freshwater turtles, surface-feeding fish, and water dragons - and I was busy thinking dark thoughts about how many people had REALLY seen a platypus, when suddenly one surfaced near the bank in front of me. It was so close to the bank that its head was obscured, and as I moved very slowly and quietly to get a better view it sensed my presence and that was it - gone! Again, patient waiting proved fruitless, but now at least I had seen one, and I knew what to look for - just before it had surfaced, I had noticed many small bubbles coming to the surface - so that was now what I kept my eyes open for.

One of a flock of Silvereyes foraging in the early morning sun.

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo flies past.


Having walked up to some of the remoter reaches of the river, I finally returned to the spot where the road crosses the river via a low bridge. Here I spotted a slight commotion in the water, and then the hoped-for bubbles. Keeping still, I trained the camera on the spot and waited. Seeing a movement through the lens I fired off a couple of shots and then it was gone. I didn't really even 'see' it. But it there it was on the screen - evidence of a real live wild platypus!

Not a great shot, but it was the only one I got! The highlight of my trip to Australia!

Later in the morning I brought my family to the same spot and I saw the platypus again, but the moment I tried to draw their attention to it it was gone, and we never saw it again. I still wonder how many people really see platypuses there - the adults at least seem EXTREMELY shy, but I was really glad we'd decided to stay the night anyway!

Later in the day we stopped at the Entrance, just north of Sydney to watch the pelicans being fed. I lost a whole cards-worth of pics here - deleting them after thinking I'd uploaded them onto my storage disk, only to discover too late that I hadn't! Nothing too drastic was lost though - just lots of rather nice pics of flying pelicans.

Pelican at 9 o'clock - incoming!

Me! Me! ME! Throw it to ME!