Sunday, September 23, 2007

September 23rd, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

Since I'll be away all next week and will miss the next set of good tides, I made time for a morning visit to the wader roost today, even though I didn't expect the high tide to push all the birds off the mud.

The water levels had risen yet again since my last visit, so I had to change the site of my hide once more. I decided not to use my wardrobe as the area was too muddy underfoot.

Once I got into my hide the birds weren't too keen to come close. Maybe it was just too prominent. In any case, I was happy to just watch, having taken as many pics as I wanted to of the commoner species!

First to come close was a number of juv Yellow Wagtails. I was really pleased to be able to photograph them as I've been trying to get good shots of this grey and white version for a few years. Oddly, I mainly see adults in the rice fields.

Some of them came very close indeed. This is practically uncropped.

I really like this shot, even though it's not really sharp. I call it 'Yellow Wagtail with attitude!'

The wader roost out to the side of my hide was almost exclusively Lesser Sand Plovers today, with just a few odds and bobs here and there. Fewer Long-toed Stints than last time, though I did see my first juveniles.

There were even more terns this time - mostly Whiskered, followed in abundance by Little and then White-winged.

I enjoyed the Whiskered Terns against the colourful backdrop of the landfill!

A White-winged Tern looks for a landing space, much to the annoyance of a juvenile Whiskered! The Little Terns don't seem bothered at all.

A couple of immature Purple Herons landed in front of my hide, and spent a very long time pretending to be reeds and peering suspiciously in my direction! Eventually they relaxed somewhat.

I said I wasn't bothered to take more pictures of species I had already photographed many many times, but I just couldn't resist this gorgeous juvenile Lesser Sand Plover - blending in perfectly with the colour of the earth.

I always check for leg flags on the waders. I didn't have any luck today, although I did spot this Marsh Sandpiper which had an aluminium ring on its right tibia.

Having spent about three hours in the hide, I decided to walk down to the southern end of the site to see if there was anything else there.

I flushed about 8 Greater Painted Snipe.

The brighter bird on the right is the female. I must set up the hide to photograph these on the ground one of these days, when the migratory waders have gone!

This male settled on the sand, where it sat looking impossibly front heavy!

As I found out two weeks ago when researching the status of Pectoral Sandpiper in Malaysia, Dr Wells says of Sharp-tailed and Pectoral Sandpiper "Together, hardly more than vagrant, with only nine records from Pattani Bay and the Kedah/Perlis border south to Singapore." So, having seen a Pectoral Sandpiper here on my last visit, what would be the chances of seeing a Sharp-tailed today??

Whatever the odds, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was sitting right in front of me!

Rather subtly different from Pectoral Sandpiper, the distinguishing features of an adult 'Sharpie' include a different head pattern - a supercilium that flares behind the eye instead of being more prominent in front, a rather plain crown that presents a capped appearance, chevron-shaped markings down the flanks and on the vent, a more distinct eye-ring, a less distinct cut off between breast and belly, and a rather pot-bellied body shape.

Here's the Pectoral Sandpiper (below) from Sept 12th for comparison.

Having shifted the birds around a bit I scanned through the Sand Plover flock one last time before calling it a day, and picked out a juvenile Little Stint, the first I've seen in Malaysia. All the birds I saw last season and have seen so far this season have been adults in either breeding or non-breeding dress, and I have been wondering how easy it might be to pick out a worn juvenile.

The bird was rather richly marked above compared to juv Red-necked, with the upper rows of scapulars having quite chestnut fringes, and the scapulars and mantle seemed darker centred than juv Red-necked. Perhaps because of this, the 'V' on the mantle stood out far more obviously than on any Red-necked I have seen. The streaking on the breast sides was more coarse than on juv Red-necked, and the crown was darker, without the paler sides to the crown. A split supercilium was fairly prominent. Apart from these plumage features, the differences in bill and leg structure, body and head shape and size noted on adults were also noticeable on this bird.

So the landfill delivered the goods once again. Let it not be said that this particular landfill is a load of rubbish!

Sept 20th and 21st, Tanjung Tokong, Penang

There wasn't a particularly good tide today, but I decided it was high time I checked out my last season's local patch. Despite the much increased construction activity and human disturbance, there was quite a pleasing variety of waders out on the mud, even if the numbers weren't that great.

I found a small group of stints feeding in the outflow of a small stream close to the shore, and they seemed to quickly get used to me sitting quietly a few feet away. I took way too many photos, hence the delay in getting the best uploaded!

I found that more or less the same individual birds came back to the area again and again, with just the odd non-regular customer.

Here's an adult Red-necked with a nice bit of summer plumage still remaining.

Another adult, this time with most of the body feathers being fresh winter ones. Looks as though the wing feathers are still unmoulted. The right hand out of focus bird is a juvenile.

This is a juvenile Red-necked. In fresh plumage those dark-centred scapulars would have whitish fringes, but these have mostly worn away now.

The faint greyish wash across the chest is characteristic of juv Red-necked, as are the rather pale sides to the crown.

Another juv showing off its wing pattern.

There I am, minding my own business, when suddenly I come across this fellow on the right.Long legs, fine, tapering, blob-tipped bill, small head and the straw-brown background colour all say ... adult Little Stint. Another one!

This adult has already begun to moult into its grey winter dress, and the remaining summer feathers are extremely worn. Still, you can just about make out some vestigial pale chestnut fringing to some of those rear greater coverts.

The difference between Little (right) and Red-necked (left) in body shape, head proportions and bill structure is very apparent at this angle. The Little looks more akin to a Long-toed alongside the chunky Red-necked!

Portrait of an adult Little Stint.

Oh yes, there were other birds there as well!

This Greater Sand Plover came to the stream for a drink of fresh water.

A juvenile Ruddy Turnstone just passing through.

On the 21st I took ace photographer Hum Kim Choy with me to try his luck. The Red-necked Stints were very obliging but the Little stayed well out on the mud this time. This fine fresh juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was something of a consolation.

What the waders have to put up with (among other things)!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sept 12th, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

After a busy spell 'in the office', I managed to get out to the landfill site today. The water level had risen again since I was last there, cutting down the options for roosting places. This made it easier to predict where the birds might settle.

I decided to put up my wardrobe hide, which was last put to good use last spring! I spent a lot longer than I should have trying to put the right poles in the right places (must label them for next time!), but eventually got the thing set up.

Once inside I knew I was in for a roasting! My wife thinks I may the only person in Malaysia that would choose to spend half a day under the tropical sun, lying in a wardrobe in the mud at a landfill site! She's almost certainly right ... in fact I may be the only person in the world!!

Anyway, despite the heat, the sweat and the smell, I had a superlative morning, taking over 500 pics!

First to arrive was a flock of 150 or so Pacific Golden Plovers. They were very suspicious of this new addition to the landscape at first, so I had to lie completely still, resisting the urge to take photos, till they relaxed.

Next to arrive was this Long-toed Stint, showing off its long toes!

A small flock of Long-toed Stints landed further away, with a lone Wood Sandpiper.

Then suddenly there were stints and sandpipers everywhere I looked, including this nice juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper.

In this picture I managed to capture a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (right), and adult Long-toed Stint (middle) and another adult stint, which on closer inspection, proved to be a Little Stint. And at the top of the pic, there's a dragonfly - Orthetrum sabina - for good measure!

A better view of the Little Stint. This is an adult moulting into winter plumage. The chestnut fringes to the greater and median coverts are what makes identification possible; Red-necked never shows chestnut fringes to the greater coverts; in breeding plumage they are grey-brown.

Seeing double! Here's the Little (on the left) with a juvenile Red-necked Stint. Notice the longer legs of the Little, especially the tarsus, and the thicker neck of the Red-necked.

Here's a second adult Little Stint with a juv Curlew Sandpiper. This one has moulted more of its scapulars than the other bird, but still retains a single diagnostic chestnut-edged greater covert.

Another Long-toed Stint with a juv Red-necked (on the right), The Long-toed's head is tiny compared to the Red-necked's!

A beautifully marked juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Compare this bird ...

...with this one. Both are juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, but this one is much duller and greyer.

While I had been putting my hide up earlier, a single Black-tailed Godwit had flown over, calling. Presumably the same bird came back later with 5 others. Black-tailed Godwits are not common birds, so it was good to see them, especially as they were all birds hatched this year.

A trio of Tringas! Not a great photo, but good to see Wood Sandpiper (front), Marsh Sandpiper (back) and Common Redshank (left and right) together.

Lesser Sand Plovers were the commonest species, with good numbers of juveniles present.

There were still some adults with breeding colours around, but most had moulted into winter plumage.

A lone Ruddy Turnstone put in an appearance.

Terek Sandpipers were busily stalking the clouds of insects that hover just above the water surface.

There was a smattering of Greater Sand Plovers among the more numerous Lessers.

Terns were well-represented today, with Whiskered and White-winged around as well as a large flock of Little. Little Terns suffer chronically from panic attacks! Every few minutes they all fly up as if spooked by something, but then wheel around and sheepishly land in the same spot again. The other birds pretty much ignore their antics!

Sigh! Off they go again!

After a few hours I decided to try to scan the flock with my scope (not an easy feat in my cramped quarters!). In the midst of some sedges I came across a bird feeding with its back to me that I couldn't immediately identify. It reminded me of a Long-toed Stint but it was plainly much too big for one. My suspicions were confirmed when it eventually turned round to reveal a clear cut-off between the streaked breast and white belly - a Pectoral Sandpiper! It was difficult to photograph, as it preferred to feed among the vegetation, but it eventually gave itself up so I could get some 'record shots'.

I'm not very clear what the status of this species is in Malaysia. Some sources say it has occurred before, while others don't. At any rate, it's a pretty rare!

So despite the heat and the discomfort, I felt it was a morning well-spent!