Every year, at the end of January, the Asian Waterbird Census takes place. This is conducted by an army of (mostly) volunteers in 21 countries throughout Asia, who visit a wetland site, note its present condition, and count the birds using it. The focus is predominantly waterbirds, but note is also made of non-waterbirds that are using the site (eg raptors, kingfishers, pipits and wagtails, etc).
Waterbirds come in many shapes and sizes!
Today I was joined by Lim Aun Tiah and his wife to do a count of Tanjung Tokong mudflats. Numbers were relatively modest compared to numbers in the passage periods, with a mere 596 birds of 15 species recorded. 2 "White-faced" Plovers were present, though, for the time being, they will go into the Census as 'Kentish' Plovers.
Some people are surprised to find that it is possible to identify waders in flight. In fact, sometimes identification is simpler in flight, when wing, tail and rump patterns can be seen, than when the bird is at rest. What differences can you see here between the Common Greenshank (above) and the Common Redshank (below)?
I still remember a friend challenging me to draw the head pattern of a Blue Tit (a common and familiar garden bird in the UK) from memory. I found that I couldn't do it very accurately! My friend's point was that, although we can spend many hours examining every feather of a rarity in detail, we often take little notice of the birds which are all around us.
Here's a case in point. Baya Weaver is the only weaver likely to occur as a wild bird in Malaysia. It's pretty common. But how sure am I that this is a Baya Weaver? Can I rule out an escaped weaver of some other Asian species? Actually, I couldn't! I had to do a bit of research into Streaked Weaver (subspecies 'williamsoni'), and learned something in the process!
So, is it or isn't it?!
Here's another one that had me going. I had read up on Long-billed Plover and could remember some of the distinguishing features. I had studied photos on the web and had been surprised how similar they could look to Little Ringed Plover. And I had subconsciously been on the look-out for one. When I picked out this bird with its prominent black frontal bar, thin breastband and very slender appearance I began to wonder. The bill was covered in mud, so wasn't giving much away.
I noted that the tail extended beyond the wingtips, and was fairly sure that this was a feature of Long-billed. By this time the bird was looking more and more like a Long-billed to my mind! I was on the verge of texting a few friends to that effect, but still a vestige of doubt lingered. Could Little Ringed look like this? The truth was that, despite often seeing "LRPs", I had never really sat down and studied them in detail. I started scanning around at other birds and found 2 other similarly plumaged individuals. One Long-billed Plover in Malaysia would be a remarkable find, but THREE??? Unlikely! Doubts began to grow and I put my phone back in my pocket.
Once home I dug out an excellent article in the December 2006 issue of BirdingASIA by Nick Lethaby. There I discovered that Long-billed Plover has a white forehead, while Little Ringed has a black forehead ... quick check of my birds - black forehead! Lesson (re)learned: Take more notice of common birds!
Crested Myna - a common bird, at least in Penang, but when was the last time I really sat and looked at one?