Sunday, April 08, 2007

2nd April: Penaga rice-fields, mainland Penang

Birds in rice-fields tend to occur in concentrations rather than being evenly-spaced. I guess that's because prey abundance depends on the exact state of the individual fields. The good thing about this is that it's rather easy to spot a flock of egrets, and once you find the egrets, you find the other birds as well - wagtails, hirundines, terns etc.

Find the egrets, find the birds!

Intermediate Egrets (left) feeding alongside Cattle Egrets. Sometimes egrets can present identification problems, especially when seen alone, when size can be difficult to judge accurately. Here a helpful difference in the gape pattern can be seen. The loral skin on Intermediate Egret extends to halfway back along the width of the eye, whereas, on Cattle Egret, the loral skin extends only about a third of the way under the eye, and then the gape-line extends further in a thin 'whisker'. Notice also the difference in bill shape, and of course, the distinctive black tip of Intermediate.

Cattle Egrets in breeding dress present no such identification issues! The combination of yellow,orange, pink, purple and red around the eye and bill is visually stunning!

The egrets and pond herons are here for the frogs and water beetles, which seem abundant, and apparently easy prey. Here a Chinese Pond Heron grabs a snack.

Three species of Pond Heron occur here (in the north of the country). In immature and non-breeding dress they are practically indistinguishable from each other.

However, in spring, each species develops their own distinctive and beautiful colour scheme. Here we have the Chinese Pond Heron, available in burgundy, charcoal and cream...

...the Indian Pond Heron - a recent addition to our range, in tasteful beige and maroon,... and the Javan Pond Heron, in peach, charcoal and cream, which is unfortunately currently out of stock. Actually, Javan tends to prefer estuarine habitat, though they do occur in rice-fields.

A small flock of White-winged Terns paid a fleeting visit.

Hundreds of Yellow Wagtails (mostly of the 'simillima' race) hunt for insect and snail prey. Despite much searching, I've yet to find a Citrine or a White Wagtail among them.

The tasty morsels on offer also tempt Zitting Cisticolas out of hiding.

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