Monday, February 23, 2009

23rd February 2009: Universiti Sains Malaysia, Durian Valley

Another visit to the Night Heron site today, and again Encik Hifni was the man! I went down and took a good look around the area but drew a blank. Just as I was putting my gear back in the car, I got a call from Hifni saying that he was on the other side of the valley, and could see the heron feeding on the forest floor.

I cautiously went back into the valley, and got some glimpses of the heron scuttling along like a startled chicken - most un-heron-like! Eventually it flew up into some trees and I joined Hifni on the ridge bordering the valley, where we were able to get eye-level views.

From its vantage-point the bird never took its eyes off us, even though we were some distance away.

The bird has a longish crest of black, white-spotted feathers, which it would occasionally raise.

X marks the spot! The bird flew a short distance to another branch, where it perched at an X-shaped intersection of branches, which was quite useful when some more local birders turned up!

The bird posed admirably for the swelling group of Penang 'twitchers'! I'd better not mention names, as I'm sure it was during office hours, but I was impressed by how many seem to take their photographic equipment and bins to work every day!

Our model changed position after we'd all taken enough shots of the er... back side!

The biggest challenge was getting a 'clean' shot without twigs or branches in the way. I never managed it.

With the bird perched in thick cover, the other problem was light. Tripods were definitely required!

Getting closer didn't solve the branch problem!

On my way back to the car I flushed a Large-tailed Nightjar. It flew a short way and then appeared to crash-land to the ground. It repeated this manoeuvre several times, making me to suspect that this was a distraction display designed to lead me away from a probable nest.

Friday, February 20, 2009

19th February 2009: Universiti Sains Malaysia Campus

I got a call from Encik Hifni from the Eco-Hub in USM that the Malayan Night Heron was 'back' (it probably never went away!), so grabbed my camera and drove straight to the campus.

He met me and led me to the place where the bird was roosting. It was extremely shy and wary of us, even though we were some distance away.

The first two pictures were digiscoped at half a second exposure - quite tough as the bird was just below the canopy and blocked by leaves and branches.

If anyone wants to go to see the bird, they should contact Encik Hifni by phone first (phone me and I can let you have his number). The university has agreed to let people in to see the bird provided we stick to this arrangement. He will take you to see the bird personally. It would be practically impossible to find any other way in any case!

My thanks to Encik Hifni and USM for my first lifer of the year!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

18th February 2009: Sungai Burung, Penang

We had our first rain for many weeks last night and it improved the air quality quite a bit. I decided to make another late afternoon foray to try to get better views of the Booted Eagles.

A lot of the subadult Brahminy Kites are in wing moult at the moment. This pic is a nice contrast to the Booted Eagle photos from yesterday - small head, rounded tail tip and convex trailing edge to the secondaries.

Something different... but not a Booted Eagle - a resident Changeable Hawk-Eagle - also a subadult.

White-bellied Sea-Eagles are always around, but I can never resist taking pictures of them, especially the heraldic adults.

Anyone looking for a logo?!

Another photogenic raptor - a Black-shouldered Kite in characteristic hovering pose. Though small, they harry the eagles fearlessly whenever they come too close - they must have a nest somewhere near.

But no Booted Eagles today!

Once the harvester had finished for the day I moved into position alongside a tiny remnant of uncut paddy and a rare oasis of water.


It was being used by three generations of White-browed Crakes, two Slaty-breasted Rails and some White-breasted Waterhens, though only the former were sufficiently bold to allow photographs.


This was definitely the youngest Crake!

Here it is with a slightly older sibling(?); the head and body feathers are growing but the wing and tail feathers are not yet fully developed.

Digiscoped can be seen here.


There were two older fully-fledged juveniles that must have been from a separate clutch.


One of these was missing two toes on the left foot - the latest in my series of birds with deformed limbs.


The other appeared to have an overgrown lower mandible. I couldn't help wondering whether these aberrations had anything to do with the pesticide-loaded environment in which they live.

Eventually one of the parents showed up, much to the excitement of one of the young birds.

Parent and youngster.

Yuk! Imagine taking a drink of this soup - we'd be lucky to survive!

And fancy having a bath in the stuff!

Getting good and clean!

Bathing in pesticide soup leads to inevitable spontaneous combustion!

But wait - perhaps there's something in this mudpack beauty treatment stuff!

Ta-DA! How do they do that? They bathe in filth and come out glistening.

Today I found out why crows are black... so they can hide in fields of burnt stubble!

I caught a small group of Large-billed Crows feeding in a newly hoed field in the last rays of the sun. Usually these birds are incredibly difficult to approach, but they tolerated me today, and I got my best pics yet of these birds.

Giving me the eye!

This spot has a pair of Asian Pied Starlings nesting, but all I could find was this Asian piebald Common Myna!

And this rather splendid Crested Myna.

During the afternoon I also found this Paddyfield Pipit singing away from one of the few perches available.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

17th February 2009: Sungai Burung, Penang

A quick hour and a half's excursion to the paddyfields in late afternoon brought SUCCESS in the form of two dark phase Booted Eagles. YES!

As soon as I arrived on site there were a number of raptors circling overhead, and the third one I checked turned out to be a Booted Eagle. It was however, gliding rapidly away from me, and I was torn between watching it and turning to get the camera set up. By the time I did the latter, the bird was getting ever more distant.

The light was terrible, etc, etc! Actually, the main problem was that the camera was still set up to photograph the Malaysian Night Heron, so the shutter speed was too slow. These pics do, however, show the difference in structure from a Brahminy Kite - the longer, straight-sided and square-cornered tail, the larger head and longer wings with straightish trailing edge. The birds were extremely dark below in the poor light, with only the vent and undertail showing any colour. Overhead, the bright yellow cere was quite evident, and the pale 'landing'lights', upper wing covert bar and uppertail coverts were visible when the birds briefly banked toward me.

After watching the first bird disappear into the distance, a second one surprised me by gliding past quite close. However, I had arrived just as the tractors had finished their work in the fields for the day, and, within minutes, the sky emptied itself of raptors. I'll try to go earlier next time!

A Peregrine zoomed in to have a go at some feral pigeons.

What a waste! The local farmers have put up mist nets - whether to catch birds for food or to protect their crops I am not sure, but either way, this Large-tailed Nightjar and a number of bats had met a senseless and needless end.

The farmers have also taken away the small trees along the bund which the Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were so fond of. So now they perch on the bare earth...

...unless they can find something else to perch on - in this case a dead oil palm frond. Not a sharp pic - digiscoped at 60x, but I like the colours!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

14th February 2009: Universiti Sains Malaysia campus

News broke yesterday afternoon of a juvenile Malay/Malayan/Malaysian Night Heron which had been spending the last week feeding in an undistinguished ditch on the local uni campus. This morning I was at the site before dawn, remained till 10am, and then returned to sit it out from about 5pm till dusk.


Here's The Ditch, but all I saw in it were several White-breasted Waterhens. This picture was taken in fading light at 1/15th sec to test whether I could still photograph the heron if it arrived. The question was moot in the end as it never did! I guess the heron has flown, so I can add it to my growing list (which includes Imperial and Booted Eagles already) of birds I have missed this year!

I did take advantage of a quiet day on campus to photograph Mangrove Whistlers. It was the first time I'd noticed the patch of mauve skin behind the eye on an otherwise unremarkable bird.

There are no mangroves nearby, but it does whistle!

This is what the top looks like. You weren't missing much!

I'm not sure if this is an adult female Tickell's Blue Flycatcher or a subadult male. Despite this species being common on the island, I still haven't yet got a decent pic of an adult male.

Here's a colour you don't see every day! A stunning creamy lemon yellow-breasted Grey Wagtail. This is a male just developing his black throat.