Following the exploratory trip on the MV Amusement World last month, Tan Choo Eng and I decided to try another pelagic excursion; this time on a working ikan bilis (anchovy) boat.
We set off from Tanjung Dawai at about 7am, and spent the whole day a few kilometres offshore hunting for anchovies, returning at about 8.30pm. I got up at 3.30am and got to bed after midnight!
Setting out from the jetty in first light.
The boat was a sturdy one, with about 30 crew, and functioned as a simple factory. The nets were laid and gathered at the front - sorry - bow, and the fish were processed at the stern.
Operations were directed from the bridge, where the skipper had a sonar to locate the anchovy shoals. Once one was located, he would steer the boat rapidly in a large circle to corral the fish into one area, then he went round once more to lay the net, with much hooting and banging on the deck to scare the fish into a tight ball. Sometimes one of the crew would jump into the water to make even more noise!
The skipper would also radio the other boats in the fleet to come and share the catch, and soon there would be 4 or 5 boats laying their nets.
All the noise was apparently the sign the terns were waiting for.Within minutes, a sea devoid of birds would become a boiling throng of several hundred terns. I would estimate up to a thousand at times.
Once the nets were laid, they would be slowly winched in, drawing the noose ever tighter around the fish, and also bringing the birds ever nearer!
In the gathering gloom of the approaching storm, the wind billowing the nets make this boat look some kind of weird sea monster.
Gathering in the nets is very wet work!
The catch is scooped out using a smaller net.
Next the fish are transferred via a chute to the back of the boat...
...where they are cooked and stacked in trays
As soon as the nets are arranged back on deck they are checked for holes and mended.
Times between locating shoals of fish were times to rest and also check out these two odd new crew members!
Robson's Birds of South-east Asia was a big hit!
As were our bins!
The crew were very interested in and knowledgeable about the wildlife they see out there. They told us that there weren't 'many birds about' now compared to December - February. I was slightly incredulous at this, seeing the huge flocks of terns about, but they assured us that this was 'very few birds' compared to the winter months! They also told us about some all black birds with 'feet like ducks' that live on the sea in the winter. We guessed these might be cormorants. Worth checking out next winter.
I had an amusing conversation with one guy. I asked him if they ever saw whales, to which he replied: "Tak ada. Ibu yu hitam." I translated this in my mind as "No, is your mother black?" While I was still trying to make sense of this, Choo Eng came to the rescue. "I think he means Whale Sharks!" 'Yu' is the Malay word for shark, so 'Ibu yu hitam' literally means 'black mother shark'!
Anyway, what about the birds?
Overwhelmingly the commonest birds were Common Terns. These had us in quite a pickle for a while, as there was a bewildering variety of plumages. The adults looked quite unlike the western race I am familiar with in Europe. They had strikingly grey underparts, tinged pinkish or even purplish, mostly black bills and dark red feet. The tail streamers seemed rather long, and the upperparts quite pale, so I tried to make them into Roseate Terns for some time.
The blackish outer web of the longest tail streamer eliminates the possibility of Roseate, despite the superficially similar upperwing pattern.
The grey underparts had a pinkish or purplish tone to them.
These grey-bodied, black-billed birds are presumably the race 'longipennis'. They are pretty chunky, looking larger, heavier-billed and longer-tailed than the nominate race.
Much less common were a few birds with a red base to the bill, apparently shorter tail streamers, whiter underbody and weaker-looking bill. I wondered if these might be the 'tibetana' race.
Here's another one.
This appears to be a non-breeding plumaged adult, possibly 'longipennis'.
There were also plenty of first year birds. Typically, these seemed to be midway through primary and secondary moult. The whitish areas in mid-wing seem to be caused by moulted lesser coverts exposing the pale bases of the median coverts, and this was a variable feature.
Here's one half way through primary and secondary moult, but without the white midwing patch caused by dropped lesser coverts.
This view shows the tail moult as well - the third from outermost pair of tail feathers are missing.
Hold on a second - gotta scratch!
Taking a break.
Back to work!
This looks like one of those photoshopped pictures showing a bird diving, but it's actually one shot of four birds!