Saturday, March 14, 2009

10th March 2009: Pelagic off Tanjung Dawai

I was all set to get back to some 'proper' work when I got an SMS from my friend Harun on the ikan bilis boat. Our poster asking them to look out for unusual seabirds had paid off - they had seen a 'burung dendang' coming to the net the previous day. A quick consult of my Malay-English bird names revealed ... Brown Booby!!!

Choo Eng and I quickly rearranged our schedule to get onto the boat the following day.

We went out on a rising tide and got stuck on a sandbar at the mouth of the river, which meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the nice clear view of Gunung Jerai!

I didn't take many pics of the boat today as I've posted plenty in previous posts, but the colour of the sky and sea were really amazing!

The booby had come in to the net the day before, and the description of the fishermen sounded spot on - large brown bird with conical ivory coloured bill. We were impatient for the captain to find fish and let out the net, but the fish were elusive!

As we made our way the first good bird of the day was an Aleutian Tern, the first we'd seen since last April. Like the birds we saw then, this one flew high and fast past the boat, not stopping, nor associating with other terns. These are poor shots of the bird flying away from us. We had two sightings, probably of the same bird, an adult in non-breeding plumage. The blackish underside of the secondaries was striking, as was the short bill. The bird seemed smaller and had a more bouyant, graceful flight than Common Terns.

There were still plenty of Common Terns about - we estimated 2,000, - many fewer than last time. Most were of the black-billed 'longipennis' race. On this bird, some greater coverts are missing, revealing the white bases of the fresh secondaries.

I only noticed this one red-billed bird - not sure if it's 'tibetana' or 'minussensis'.

There were a few more Bridled Terns about today, including some adults coming into breeding plumage.

There were still a couple of thousand White-winged Terns around; they seemed to be moulting wing feathers before body and head moult.

No Booby, but we were very happy to see that the jaegers are back in town! First up was this nice adult Pomarine, complete with tail 'spoons'. The white flash on the upper primaries is more restricted than I would expect but there is also a white flash on the underside of the primaries, which Long-tailed should not show.

A Common Tern catches a fish...

...But catching a fish doesn't necessarily mean getting a meal when there are jaegers about!

Suddenly the terns found themselves attacked on all sides as we were joined by a gang of at least five Long-tailed Jaegers!

Once a jaeger locked on to a tern, they rarely missed getting what they were after!

Sooner or later, the tern coughed up!

Another piece of daylight robbery!

Stand and deliver!

Once the terns turned the tables on the jaeger - here a group of White-winged Terns have a go at a Long-tailed!

Here's a comparison of a Pomarine (left) and Long-tailed Jaeger. Apart from the darker upperwing of the Pomarine, note the 'barrel-chested' bodyshape of the Pom compared to the 'deep-keeled' shape of the Long-tailed.

We saw a flock of 5 Long-tailed together, but from my photos I was able to identify a minimum of eight birds. These are three different adults, judging from the length of the central tail feathers.

I judged these to be four different possibly 2nd/3rd year or possibly adult non-breeding plumaged birds.

And this one was, I thought, a 1st or 2nd year bird. I'd be glad to be corrected on any of these, as I don't have Olsen's Skua and Jaeger book.

Unfortunately the birds, though close, were often against the light. Never mind - there's always next time!

Fish continued to be hard to find all day; here's one of our two catches, with a large garfish trying to stab its way out of the net!

The bright sunlight today meant that the water showed a lot of phosphorescence. The effects were breathtaking, especially when enhanced by fish scales from the catch!

Even the jellyfish seemed to glow from within.

Rather than risk getting caught on the sandbar again on the outgoing tide, we headed back early, giving us a chance to see Tanjung Dawai in daylight for the first time!

The crew disembark.

And the day's catch was unloaded. We left reluctantly, already planning our next trip to take advantage of the next few weeks!

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