After all the inclement weather of late, I took advantage of some afternoon sunshine to pay a visit to what I have previously called Bukit Mertajam ricefields, with the expert local guidance of former student of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu student, Muhd Hakim.
The rice-fields are in just the right state for waders, and I wish I'd visited a few weeks ago during the best time for rare passage waders like Oriental Plover, Pectoral and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, as the place looks ideal for them.
As it was, the fields were busy with Long-toed Stints (112), Wood Sandpipers (111), Little Ringed Plovers (38) and Black-winged Stilts (33), with smaller numbers of Grey-headed Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper, though all were a bit far away for photography.
There were a few Whiskered Terns about, along with White-winged and Little. This pic illustrates the typical feeding behaviour of the 'Marsh Terns' (White-winged and Whiskered) - dipping down to snatch prey off the water surface. 'Sea terns" (including Little Tern) typically hunt by hovering and then diving to catch their prey.
A couple of years ago I saw a series of Riparia martins which I tentatively identified as the fokhienensis race of Pale Martin. The jury is still out on these birds pending a clearer understanding of the diagnostic differences between this and the poorly known ijimae race of Sand Martin. Anyway, we saw another of these birds today among the Barn Swallows. Only flight views were obtained unfortunately.
As I understand it, the shallow tail fork, narrow breastband and lack of marking on the lower breast below the breastband make this likely to be a Pale Martin rather than Sand. Pale Martin is not yet on the Malaysian list, but it's possible that a good proportion of 'Sand' Martins reported are actually Pale. For more pics and discussion of the differences, see here, here and here.
A few Barn Swallows for comparison!
This Barn Owl was an early riser in the evening!
Flexing its muscles in preparation for the hunt?
Low sun and thunderclouds made for interesting lighting. I explained to Hakim that Great Egrets rarely occur in rice-fields, and that a short yellow bill is characteristic of an Intermediate Egret, which is what I confidently identified the right hand bird as...
... till I took a closer look and realized that it was actually a Great Egret! It can be identified by the triangle of gape skin extending backwards from below the eye. Compare with this image of a real Intermediate and this one of a Great. It always pays to double-check!
At dusk the egrets converged on a group of trees left standing in the middle of one paddyfield, making for an attractive spectacle. I guess it would have been easy for the farmer who owns the field to increase his yield by doing away with this little clump of trees, but I for one am very thankful that he didn't!
The Bible talks a lot about compassion in agriculture. For example, "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien," and "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands." I am reminded of this principle every time I see modern intensive agricultural projects that remove every blade of unproductive vegetation in order to maximize yield, or aquaculture ponds entirely covered in netting so that not even one fish can be taken by birds. The project manager may call it efficiency, but I suspect it is greed. More power to smallholders like the rice farmers of Kampung Pertama who leave 'unproductive' trees in the middle of their rice fields!