Sunday, April 19, 2009

13th April: Malim Nawar, Perak, Malaysia

My second port of call en route home was an area of mining pools which have now been largely converted to either fish-ponds or duck-rearing ponds (think Beijing duck).

It's a sad place, because virtually every pool is covered with netting to stop herons and egrets getting even a sniff of a fish, and virtually every net has at least one dessicated corpse in it, and often several. It's a perfect illustration of the greed and selfishness of human beings.

The reason I went there is that a couple of years ago I found one area of marsh that wasn't netted, and it had Temminck's Stints in it. Temminck's are pretty rare in Malaysia, and that pond was the only place I'd seen one. So I went back in the hope that there might be another.

The little marsh, which seems to act as an overflow for one of the duck-rearing lakes, was still there, and it was heaving with birds!

I counted around 25 snipe - mostly Common - but a few of the Pintail/Swinhoe's variety. Just to show that getting decent views of the tail feathers isn't an impossibility, here's a shot of a Common Snipe sunbathing, taken through some vegetation unfortunately.

There were at least 150 Yellow Wagtails on show, all in cracking plumage. They were, however, very quick and nimble, so getting sharp pics was a challenge. I started off trying to decide if these were Eastern or Western Yellow Wagtails (another Robson split) but in the end I gave up and put them down as just Yellow Wagtails.

Everyone knows that Greater Painted-snipes are a) usually solitary or found in pairs b)extremely shy and c)prefer to skulk in dense vegetation.

Which all goes to show that the birds at Malim Nawar must be a new and previously unknown species. There were at least 23 birds, they were tame and basically ignored my presence, and they all sat around in full view like ducks!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, painted-snipes are one of a select group of waders where the ladies wear the trousers. Females are polyandrous, which means that they mate with several males, have the brighter plumage, and, apart from egg-laying, take on very few parental duties.

Males wear more muted colours, which help them go undetected as they sit on the eggs and raise the young.

Most birds were paired off, and I got the distinct impression that the females kept a close watch over their mates, never letting them stray far from them.

The birds fed on small molluscs.

Once in a while, a rogue single female would stray too near another female's 'kept man' and much wing-flashing would ensue. Unfortunately I only caught a couple of brief blurry shots of this behaviour.

The females spent a lot of time preening and making sure they looked their best. Toward late afternoon, some started calling.

At first I wasn't aware what was making the strange hawk-owl-like call, but my suspicions were confirmed when I saw a female puffing herself up and uttering rhythmic soft 'hoo' notes. Right at the end of this video you can hear one bird making a couple of 'hoo' notes. At this point my battery ran out of juice, and just seconds later, this bird launched into a full calling routine!!

Apart from the snipes and wagtails, the 50 or so Wood Sandpipers, 20 Marsh Sandpipers, 40 Oriental Pratincoles, 15 Black-winged Stilts and flocks of White-winged Terns, this little pool was awash with stints. I counted 114 Long-toed, all looking dazzling in their rufous and orange breeding plumage.

One of my most vivid memories was one magical May morning while I was still at school watching a pair of Temminck's Stints display-flighting over my local patch at that time, Alton Water in Suffolk, UK. The birds were only migrants passing through, but the joys of spring had obviously got to them, and there they were displaying as if they were already over their Arctic breeding grounds. Today I had a wonderful reprise of that experience, only instead of the song-flights and faery trills of Temminck's Stints, it was the tail-cocking, wing-spreading and gruff trills of Long-toed Stints I was privileged to witness.

This video shows the characteristic 'hunchbacked' small-headed structure of Long-toed Stint, as well as its active feeding technique.

But there were also faery trills! I was really pleased to eventually find two Temminck's Stints grubbing about in the vegetation. It was raining and the light was awful, but I got reasonable views of the two birds; one a dull (first winter?) individual and the other coming into nice breeding plumage. Temminck's are characteristically sluggish feeders, even more so when seen alongside the twinkle-toed Long-toed Stints.

A grey Temminck's Stint on a grey afternoon.

I could hardly believe it when I set eyes on this bird - my sixth Little Stint in four days! This little pond held three of the four stint species recorded in Malaysia; only the commonest - Red-necked - was missing!

This was an interesting bird as it appeared to have yellowish legs, or at least olive. This seems to be genuine colouration rather than mud or staining.

Though the chestnut-fringing on the tertials and coverts is somewhat similar to Long-toed, structurally the two are quite different. Little looks much bigger-headed and less dainty than Long-toed.

It's also much whiter about the head.

A subadult male Watercock was a brief distraction from the waders!


Tom said...

Your photos are excellent. love the variety of birds there.

Gabrielle said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and have already bookmarked it. Sad about the netting over the pools. But the painted snipe is gorgeous. Thanks for brightening my cold, damp day with beautiful pictures of birds in warm locales.

[Oops - the first time I submitted the comment above, somehow it ended up on a previous post where my references to the snipe and the netting wouldn't make sense. Ignore that one. This is my official comment!]