Thursday, August 28, 2008

26th August 2008: Pelagic off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

Choo Eng and I took advantage of a public holiday to go on another pelagic trip on an anchovy boat - our last was April 15th.

When we got to the boat the fishermen took great delight in telling us we should have been there last month! They had seen up to 8 'ducks' which they described as bigger than terns, all black, with duck-like feet and a large beak like a nose. They dived from height to catch fish when the boat was hauling in the nets, coming so close they could have caught them. They ran along the water to take off. We figured that these birds were most likely Brown Boobies. They had hung around for a week! They then told us that there weren't many birds about now. But, as a sage seawatcher once observed, "the great thing about seawatching is that there's always plenty of sea to watch!" so we decided to go out anyway.

I had my big camera back but this time my little point and shoot was in for repairs, so for more pics of the boat, please see the April 15th posts.

We headed out past Gunung Jerai as the sun came up.

The weather varied between stormy and bright, giving some interesting photographic opportunities. This Black-naped Tern flies past an approaching downpour.

In April we only saw 4 Black-naped Terns, but there were good numbers about on this trip.

The adults are stunningly attractive in any light!

There were quite a number of juveniles about too, perhaps indicating that these birds are breeding not too far away.

These slightly older birds already have an adult-like head pattern and are gaining adult-type scapulars and coverts, so don't present much of an identification problem.

However, younger birds showed largely black crowns, and an upperpart pattern strikingly similar to juvenile Roseate Tern. Photos of juv Roseates in flight are hard to find on the web, but this pic suggests they may be very similar to juv Black-naped.

Toward the end of the day the low sun showed off the translucence of the primaries to perfection!

This pic shows how poor light can often result in a more interesting image.

Bridled Terns were present in abundance, with a variety of plumages.

The lighting at sea is constantly changing, making birds look pale at some times and very dark at others. This bird is not a Sooty Tern, though it might easily get identified as such. The shape of the white forehead, extending back over the eye, confirms that the bird is a Bridled Tern.

I found Bridled Terns tricky to age, and I suspect that this whitish mantle is a feature of fresh adult non-breeding plumage.

This bird still had some of the breeding head pattern.

Most birds had completed wing and tail moult, but a few were obviously still in mid- moult. This bird has 8 new full-grown primaries, the 9th is half-grown and the tenth (outermost) is an old unmoulted feather. Secondary moult has just started, with the outermost fresh and full-grown, the second is a half-grown new feather and the others are old and very worn. I wonder if this could be a 1st summer bird moulting into adult non-breeding?

There weren't many Common Terns around yet, but they proved a challenge as they had in April. There appeared to be two types; one a heavier-set bird with an all-dark heavyish bill; the other seemed to be of lighter build, and to have a slimmer, reddish bill. Again though, the light could cause amazing changes in apparent colours.

Here's the first type, tentatively identified as the race 'longipennis'.

Here's the second type, perhaps 'tibetana'?

A similar difference in bill colour and proportions was evident in the juveniles, though perhaps age was also a factor in the differences. This is a black-billed juvenile (longipennis?).

And here's one with a red bill (tibetana?).

In mid-afternoon, during the hottest part of the day, birds seemed to vanish. Eventually we discovered one or two rafts of resting birds. Bridled were never seen swimming, they preferred to sit on floating debris. These are Black-naped and Common Terns.

During the birdless times there were other things to see, like this amazing jellyfish.

In fact, our 'bird of the day' was a fish!

This Indo-Pacific Sailfish spent a minute or two performing spectacular leaps not far from our boat.

A juv Little Tern appeared briefly, uncharacteristically far from land. Barn Swallows passed us quite regularly through the day, and once a Grey Wagtail almost landed on the boat.

The times when we weren't catching fish were an opportunity to mend nets.

One fisherman's T-shirt caught my eye!

As they had done in April, some terns followed us as we made our way back to port against a spectacular sunset. I have to confess that there is a bit of Photoshop skulduggery going on here!


Tony Morris said...

Great set of Tern photos.

digdeep said...

Thanks Tony,

I found that the 100-400 zoom AF coped much better than the 400 5.6 prime, contrary to most people's experience!