Wednesday, January 21, 2009

9 - 10th January 2009: Kuching Waterbird Workshop, Sarawak



Do they realize what they are letting themselves in for?! Friday was the first day of the workshop and was a full day of class sessions.

Saturday was a full field day. I had to miss the morning session due to a virulent bout of food poisoning, but felt well enough to join the afternoon sessions, which turned out to be the highlight of the weekend, and one of my better days birding!



Sarawak in January is 'landas' season - the monsoon - and we had been experiencing non-stop torrential rain and strong winds for several days. Fortunately, we found a seafood restaurant at Buntal which provided good views of the birds while keeping us dry. The owners allowed us to use their premises all afternoon, and we reciprocated by ordering a steady supply of drinks!



One of the first birds of the day was this Bridled Tern, which was found perched on a car behind the restaurant! It was very thin and clearly exhausted, although there was no sign of injury. The aging of this individual provoked considerable discussion. The bird was in wing moult (the outer two or three primaries were old feathers). Wells mentions primary moult in Oct - Nov in some first winter birds, so this may be a bird of the year.

Before our arrival Daniel Kong had been busy! Without telling me what he'd found, he beckoned me over to his scope, and this is what I saw:


Digiscoped

A Pied Avocet - the first for Malaysia! This was a fine introduction to the field session for the workshop participants! Besides being rare, this was a truly handsome bird, though looking a little out of place on the stormy beach of Buntal Bay. Avocets are the only wader/shorebird family to have fully webbed feet (besides that extraordinary up-sweeping bill!).

Since this was a teaching session, I had decided to leave my DSLR camera behind - a decision I rapidly grew to regret!


Digiscoped

The hide tide, assisted by driving rain and an onshore wind, rapidly covered the sandbar where the birds had roosted yesterday, pushing the birds to another roost upriver. However, as the tide fell, wave after wave of birds appeared and circled down to land in front of us! How many species can you spot here? Answer at the bottom of the page!

An interesting thing I've noticed lately about the Black-tailed Godwits we get here (the small 'melanuroides' race) is that they all have a dark vertical smudge down the breast. That's not a feature I've noticed in any books.



Digiscoped

Bar-tailed Godwits were commoner. The longer bill of the female is quite evident in this picture.


Digiscoped

Some Great Knots.


Digiscoped

A close view of one of two Red Knots that were hiding in the knot flock. Apart from the smaller size and shorter bill and legs, those dark scallop-shaped marks on the rear flanks are a useful feature of Red Knot. This one still has a few unmoulted 'red' feathers, which helps too!


Digiscoped

The commonest Tringa sandpiper present was - ahem - Nordmann's Greenshank! A total of 12 birds dropped in with the knots and godwits.


Digiscoped

In my more imaginative moments, I have more than once thought that Sanderlings look a bit like diminutive Nordmann's, but this is the first time I've had chance to see them alongside each other (the small white bird to the right of the NGs). The heavy, broad-based bill of the Nordmann's is very evident here.


Digiscoped

These birds were close enough for DSLR photography, and I might have got some great flight shots had I brought the camera, though the light was very poor.Still, I'm not complaining!



The slightly surreal feeling of the Nordmann's being the commonest Tringa sandpiper was enhanced by the fact that the commonest, indeed, the only egret species on view, was Chinese Egret!



Sanderlings are also good value to watch,as they dash about evading the inrushing waves. Beginner wader-watchers are sometimes dismayed to see waders which have apparently lost one leg. In most cases, this is simply a case of the bird choosing to tuck one leg up into its belly feathers, but here the bird third from left really did only have one leg, as did another in the same flock. We wondered whether the birds were 'born like that' or had lost a leg in a snare on migration.


Digiscoped


Digiscoped

It was definitely a day for sandpipers rather than plovers today, but this Kentish Plover stuck in out despite the atrocious conditions.



Digiscoped

Apart from the waders, a hundred or so Gull-billed and 120 Greater Crested Terns came and roosted on the sandbar, in addition to a few Common, Little and a single Bridled Tern. This is a first winter Greater Crested Tern wishing it were somewhere else!


Digiscoped

This first winter Black-headed Gull came to roost on the egret poles, and later, almost at dusk, an adult came to roost on the sandbar. A first record for Buntal apparently.


Digiscoped

As if that wasn't enough, on the falling tide a jaeger came steaming out of the rivermouth and past the sandbar, heading rapidly out into the bay. Not having my DSLR around I had to resort to digiscoping, and this was the best I could manage. The bird was in a very unfamiliar plumage to me, with white underparts apart from a dark breastband, a very pale underwing, and a white, unbarred rump. From the structure and presence of prominent upper and underprimary flashes I identified the bird as a Parasitic Jaeger.

Quite an amazing afternoon's birding, and these photos are evidence that I wasn't just delirious with the after-effects of food poisoning!


Answer: You should be able to find 5 species: Gull-billed Tern (big, white, at the back), Black-tailed Godwit (1 bird, back left), Great Knot (the majority); Red Knot (1 bird, front centre, with short bill and legs, dark crown and white 'eyebrows'), and Terek Sandpiper (orange legs and long, upturned bill).

2 comments:

horukuru said...

Excellent digiscoped Dave hahaha :)

digdeep said...

Thanks Jason. Still learning!