This weekend was the inaugural meeting of the MNS Waterbird Group, at Kuala Selangor Nature Park. It was also a chance to introduce some key people - the Group members - to the jewel in the crown of Malaysian waterbird sites - Kapar.
I arrived on Friday afternoon and decided to scope out the roost. Having noticed that increasing disturbance on the main lagoon by local villagers had been affecting the birds, I decided to focus my attention on the smaller lagoon - Site B. Heavy and persistent rain throughout the afternoon, coupled with lightning and thunder, made for a decidedly damp time, and photography was frustrating because the poor light meant that many of my pictures were blurred by movement.
Compared to two weeks ago, numbers were well down, and the colour of the flock was noticeably browner and less chestnut. Most of the birds in full breeding condition have now moved north on their journey back to the breeding grounds, and what remains are a mix of late birds, and many that will not make it back to the breeding grounds this year, as they are not yet sexually mature. These birds tend to moult into much duller plumage than the ones that are getting ready to breed.
Feeling left behind? Bar-tailed Godwit numbers were down from 2,900 two weeks ago to just 300 today.
With so few of their own kind to socialize with, the godwits were happy to mingle with other species, like these Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlews.
There were still around 1,000 Whimbrels left, including this "White-faced" Whimbrel which Simon found last time.
This is what a normal one looks like.
The bird it was with was a lone Grey Plover.
There were a couple of hundred Eurasian Curlews, giving me my first chance to get some closish shots of them. They are usually very shy. This picture gives a good comparison with the smaller Whimbrel (behind). Apart from the smaller size, notice the shorter bill, darker plumage and more marked head pattern of the Whimbrel.
Eurasian Curlews are quite pale, and this race (orientalis) has thin, droplet-shaped marks on the flanks.
Checking the flanks is a good way to spot a Far Eastern Curlew! These are even bigger than Eurasians, and have strongly barred flanks, buff behind the legs and are darker overall and even larger than Eurasians.
Most Far Eastern Curlews have an even longer bill than most Eurasians, and seem longer-necked and smaller-headed. The head is plainer than Eurasian and the tertials are usually more strongly barred.
Far Eastern Curlews are quite a scarce bird on the west coast of Malaysia, as their main migration route takes them further east. They are much commoner in East Malaysia.
One Asian Dowitcher dropped in - probably a different bird from the three we saw last visit. It had just a few pinkish breast feathers, and I thought it was probably a female.
Sometimes using a hide and digiscoping don't mix! This Grey Heron got a bit too close for a portrait.
Once it moved away a bit I could do a better job.
Grey Herons have started nesting just next to the ashpond. There are a range of residences on view. This one has gone for a bungalow with garden.
While these obviously prefer condo living!
As in any society, there are the marginalized, who have to make the most of it in low cost housing or shanty homes. Actually, the design of these lamp posts seems to have been tailored specifically with herons in mind!
I didn't see any Purple Herons in the colony, but one or two came down to enjoy the company at the wader roost.
Javan Pond Herons seem to be taking over from Chinese as the default pond heron species around here.
Back to the waders, I was surprised and delighted to see a flock of four Little Stints zipping around the mud near my hide. Perhaps there is actually a small passage of this species, which was formerly considered a vagrant, at this time of year. The light was so poor and the birds so active that I didn't manage more than record shots of these dynamos. Here are two of the three birds in breeding plumage (left and right).
Though blurred, this picture illustrates nicely the difference in structure between Little (left) and Red-necked Stint (right). Note the more upright stance and fuller chest of Little, compared to the slender, horizontal body-shape of Red-necked.
This bird had the best-marked head pattern of the four birds, with orangey ear coverts, lateral and central crown, and rather obvious whitish supercilium and lateral crown stripe.
This one was much less well-marked around the head and had a fainter breastband.
The third bird had a distinctive white-tipped scapular on the right side.
The fourth bird was the trickiest, being in moult between non-breeding and breeding plumage, It was identified mainly on structural features - the head and body shape, long legs and fine-tipped bill - but it did have one or two fresh chestnut-fringed median coverts.
Just about the only time any of the birds stood still while I was watching them! Unfortunately it was facing dead away, but the photo shows the chestnut-edged coverts that enable Little Stints to be easily distinguished from Red-necked at this time of year.
Bird 1 more or less sharp!
You can get some idea of how difficult it was to photograph these birds from this video! Two of the four birds appear ... eventually!
Red-necked Stints are not as rare as Little Stints, but in breeding plumage they are definitely BETTER than Little Stints! Note the uniformly grey-edged coverts of this bird.
There weren't many stints about, but there were quite a few very smart Broad-billed Sandpipers.
Now you can see how it got its name!
Dapper little chaps aren't they!
There were also a couple of Sanderlings - one quite smart, and the other not so.
I'm always on the look out for leg flags, and I managed to pick out this black and green triangular-flagged Red Knot. This combination shows that the bird was ringed at Ko Libong in Peninsular Thailand. Phil Round wrote to say that, because only 4 Red Knots have been ringed so far, all on the same date, we can even know that the bird was ringed on 7 April 2008, almost exactly a year ago. So this bird is right on schedule! How cool is that?
This Red Knot is one of the 'piersmai' race, which is the brightest and reddest of all the Red Knot races. It is so far the only race I have definitely been able to identify here. The race 'rogersi' is the other possibility.
A Red Knot roosting in front of a Great Knot, both coming into breeding plumage.
Some studies suggest that Great Knot moult into breeding plumage on migration northwards and then undergo a further moult on arrival at the breeding grounds when they grow more orange and black scapulars.
Keeping their eyes on the sky. Where there are wader roosts there are always predators. Here, crows harass waders, Brahminy Kites sift the flocks for injured or weak birds, which they will catch and eat, and, most dreaded of all, Peregrines will take anything they can catch in lightning-fast attacks.
A Common Greenshank keeping a wary eye. This particular bird is as spotted as I've ever seen. Another reason why I prefer the name 'Nordmann's' to 'Spotted' Greenshank!
A less extreme individual.
Next to a slender Common Greenshank (right), this Nordmann's looks - well - fat!
Only juveniles and first year birds, such as the one on the left, have obviously bicoloured bills. Adults, such as the bird on the right, show a yellowish base to a mostly dark bill.
Catching roosting Nordmann's Greenshanks awake is a rare event!
More often than not, they are seen like this.
Adults and first years are very different-looking birds.
The pack of Common Redshanks has many different hues and patterns.
Sand Plovers aren't supposed to have white collars. However, they quite frequently seem to show a whitISH collar, as this picture shows. Both Lesser (two left hand birds) and Greater (right hand bird) seem to develop this feature as a consequence of feather wear. I assume the whitish colouring is the worn feather bases. I don't know why it should occur on the nape and not elsewhere on the head however. Does anyone know or have a suggestion?
No feather wear on this Greater Sand Plover! He looks fresh and ready to party!
One last shot of Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers. I'm sure I don't need to say which is which!