Tuesday, October 07, 2008
7th Oct 2008: Tanjung Tokong, Penang
I went down to the mudflats in the late afternoon, hoping for some nice evening sunlight, but instead, I got this!
I judged from the wind direction that I wasn't going to get wet (correctly!), and found that the light produced some interesting results, even though I had to up my ISO and reduce my shutter speeds. At least there was no heat haze!
The Lesser Sand Plovers were up to their usual games of brinkmanship, standing upright to make themselves look as big and frightening as possible!
On closer inspection I noticed that these birds have quite different-shaped bills from the ones that came through in August - more bulbous-tipped and smaller.
Comparing the two, the difference is quite obvious. The top bird is one of the two seen today; the middle one is one of the smallest-billed males from 5th August, and the bottom one the longest-billed female from the same date. If the lower two are 'schaeferi' then perhaps what are coming through now are 'atrifrons', which, according to Message and Taylor, winters in Sumatra.
A couple of male Yellow Wagtails of the 'simillima' race engaged in similar territorial spats right in front of me, but unfortunately my shutter speed was not up to the challenge of capturing them in mid-altercation. You can see some bright new half-grown throat feathers, still partly encased in the quill - what ringers call 'in pin'.
There were quite a few Red-necked Stints around, adults now in pristine non-breeding plumage (well, almost, this one still has one pink breast feather!)
Some haven't yet grown their new tertials, leaving the unmoulted primaries exposed.
This one has a full complement of new tertials. Notice that, with the way the flanks feathers are fluffed up and the scapulars are spread, it's impossible to see any coverts at all here. This can be confusing for budding wader-watchers! The five rows of scapulars can either be held 'closed', in which case the coverts can usually be seen, as in this picture, or 'open' as in the picture above.
OK, I admit it, the real reason I was there today was that I was hoping to get better views of the two probable Little Stints I saw last week. I eventually managed to find one (not the one shown in the last blog entry, as this one has much less of a breastband than that bird).
This one was also in pristine non-breeding plumage, and as such, a much more challenging bird to identify than those earlier in the migration.
This one wasn't as long-legged or as fine-billed as some I've seen, but after watching it at length through the scope, I was convinced it was one. I would characterize Little Stint's body shape as being like a football, and Red-necked's like a rugby ball. This, plus the difference in leg length and head/neck proportions give an appearance quite unlike that of a Red-necked. This bird also fed rather more rapidly than Red-necked - something I've noticed of other Littles I've seen. Red-necked seem to shuffle almost like a Temminck's, whereas Little seems more in a hurry. This bird was constantly harassed by Red-neckeds whenever it was deemed too close, which may have contributed to the impression of it being a runner.
In the overcast light, the Little was the brownest of the stints out there (all of which were adults in non-breeding plumage). It had fine pale lines either side of the lower mantle, not always visible - perhaps obscured by other feathers. Not sure what the significance of this feature was, as it shouldn't be there in this plumage! This composite hopefully illustrates the football/rugby ball analogy!
You can just about make out the pale mantle line I mentioned above in this pic.
For what it's worth, here's a comparison of the primary projection beyond the tertial tip (PP) and the wing projection beyond the tail tip (WP). Clearly the Red-necked (lower pic) has both a longer PP and WP. Whether its tertials are yet full grown is a moot point though.
One more for the road. The "White-faced" Plovers were conspicuous by their absence today, and the Kentish Plover was seen only briefly. However, there was plenty of exposed mud for them to be feeding on, so they are probably around somewhere.