Monday, August 31, 2009

30th and 31st August: Bukit Penara and Mainland Penang

A visit from Rafi and Angela from KL gave me another opportunity to go look for the Oriental Bay Owls on Bukit Penara. However, not only were the 'OBOs' not showing, even the normally reliable Brown Hawk-owls were silent and absent. Collared Scops-owl was the only owl heard, and we didn't really come close to seeing it.

This Colugo with young was the only success of the evening. This is the second time recently I have drawn a blank with the Oriental Bay Owls.

The fact that the weather has been fine for a few days may be partly responsible for the lack of birds along the coast today. No waders at all were on view at my usual coastal haunts.

Some compensation was had in the form of a Streak-eared Bulbul at Teluk Air Tawar. I had heard it at the site on my last visit, but been unable to see it. It was quite obliging today. These are pretty rare in this far south.

Apart from the call, which sounds more like an Oriental Reed Warbler than a bulbul, Streak-eared can be told from the much commoner Olive-winged Bulbul by the heavier, pink-based bill, pale iris and the more prominent streaks on the ear coverts.

Even the normally reliable Pulau Burung was unusually quiet today. Just a few Wood and Common Sandpipers and this solitary juvenile Common Redshank were on view. It's not often you see Common Redshank alongside Wood Sandpiper, as Redshanks are usually coastal mudflat birds, while Wood Sandpipers prefer freshwater habitats.

This subadult Black-shouldered Kite is helping to keep the local rat population in check.

Monday, August 24, 2009

24th August 2009: Teluk Air Tawar coast, Penang

When the skies looked clear this morning I made plans to take a half day off to get to the roost again!

However, by the time the waders arrived, so had the rain, though it wasn't quite of the magnitude of yesterday's deluge. Today there was probably only about half the number of birds compared to yesterday, and the variety was correspondingly lower.

The one new bird was this Kentish Plover, which put in a brief appearance.

The Ruddy Turnstone was still around, and so was the first summer Little Stint, but the dowitchers and other larger waders didn't appear today. They were probably able to roost in the mangroves or on uncovered mudflats, as the tide was not so high today.

Yesterday I had failed to get any decent Broad-billed Sandpiper shots, despite there being plenty of them around, so I tried to remedy that today.

I wonder what the function of that extraordinarily long nasal groove is?

Lesser Sand Plovers make up about 70% of the whole flock, and there are still some males in nice breeding plumage.

Here's a first summer Terek Sandpiper. Note the extremely worn juvenile lesser coverts and generally 'threadbare' appearance.

The plumage looks very moth-eaten, and the legs are a rather dull yellow, compared to ...

...this pristine adult in fresh non-breeding plumage. Check out those orange legs!

The colour on the bill is much brighter too.

Not sure about the age of this one. It's certainly in fresh non-breeding plumage, but the legs are quite dull compared to the bird above.

Two views of Common Redshanks: - a very young juvenile...

...and an adult still in breeding plumage - somewhere in there!

A great illustration of the effects of feather wear. The pale areas of the old feathers have worn almost completely away, leaving only the darker feather centres and a very ragged appearance. Compare these with the neat, paler-edged fresh non-breeding scapulars emerging on the right hand side. It's an adult Red-necked Stint by the way!

On the menu! It's sad but true that migratory waders can never really relax. Wherever they go they are a gourmet treat for a wide variety of predators, from domestic cats to man. Yesterday as I was photographing the waders, they suddenly took flight, and a large piece of wood went sailing across my viewfinder. I looked up to find a man had just thrown the wood into the midst of the flock. When I asked him 'Why?', he grinned sheepishly and said he was hoping to kill a few for the pot. Of course, it's normal and natural that waders form part of the food chain, and they have their own natural predators. But against the onslaught of pressures from hunting to habitat destruction, they aren't doing too well in Asia. Declining populations point to exploitation that is way beyond sustainable levels.

23rd August 2009: Teluk Air Tawar coast, Penang

I don't think I can remember a day with weather like today. It rained from before dawn till after dusk more or less continuously! I headed back to the roost I had discovered yesterday - the pool was considerably larger!

Nice weather for ducks ... and waders!

A Greater Sand Plover and a Common Redshank. Not sure if it's possible to tell the race of the Redshank, given that its breeding tertials are heavily worn. However, it looks like one of the more well-marked races - eurhinus or ussuriensis.

An astonishing size difference between two Common Redshanks! My guess is that the front bird is a first summer moulting into its second winter plumage. The extreme wear on its feathers may contribute to the impression of its smaller size.

A different 'shank' - a Common Greenshank.

Joined by its smaller relative - my first Marsh Sandpiper of the autumn.

Apart from the usually obvious structural and size differences, Marsh Sandpiper has a much more contrasting head pattern than Common Greenshank - a white supercilium and a dark crown.

Talking of size and structure, this pic illustrates nicely the differences between Greater (left) and Lesser Sand Plovers.

At times the weather got pretty nasty!

Curlew Sandpipers, with a supporting cast of Red-necked Stints, Terek Sandpipers, Lesser Sand Plover, and Common Redshank.

Gradually the number of birds, instead of building up as the tide rose, dwindled away, and I became certain that I was missing the main roost, so I decided to do some scouting in the rain! I drove down one dead end road and could see a new housing project just across a small river, obscured by a small bund. I asked a local fisherman if there were any birds there, and he looked at me rather pityingly - "No birds there, you should try looking further down the coast." I got back in my car and was about to drive off, but the bund seemed to be drawing me. Braving the rain I decided to go take a look over it, and there were the birds - thousands of them! Bingo!

It took a while to work out how to find a way in, but eventually I managed to drive right up to the birds.

The birds seemed to accept my car as part of the scenery pretty quickly, and soon I found myself in the middle of the roost, with birds on three sides!

Birds fore and aft!

Still raining!

A small section of the roost. I estimated there were about 6,000 birds in all.

Some birds came so close I thought they were going to shelter under the car! Here's a Greater Sand Plover.

A couple of adult Lesser Sand Plovers in very ragged breeding plumage, just starting to moult.

And two juveniles. Some people mistake them for adults because the peachy wash on the breast looks similar to breeding plumage. I've noticed that young Lesser Sand Plovers often have a yellowish or pinkish tinge to the legs.

Adult Greater Sand Plovers (left) tend to have a better-defined breastband than adult Lessers, as if it's been painted on using a broad brush.

A lone Ruddy Turnstone came to join the party.

A flock of Great Knot were in a variety of stages between breeding and non-breeding plumage.

And a lone adult Red Knot.

Still raining!

Guess what!

A Terek Sandpiper in power drill mode!

I'd been looking for yesterday's Little stint for a fair while before it suddenly appeared right in front of me!

Judging by the complete lack of fringing on any of the visible wing feathers, I'd guess this is a first summer bird, retaining last year's juvenile coverts.

With a Red-necked Stint for comparison.

Same bird, different camera! This was taken with my DSLR.

Still raining!

This is what I'd expect an adult Little Stint to look like at this time of year - with nice broad chestnut fringes to the wing coverts. I found this second bird just before it was time to leave.

It was busily preening the whole time, so difficult to get a clear head shot, as this video shows.

I was really chuffed to see five Asian Dowitchers which dropped in with some Whimbrels and Eurasian Curlews as the tide reached maximum height. This is an adult.

As is this. You can see a juvenile in the background.

Juvs look very different. The fresher ones have a beautiful peach wash to the breast and head. There were three juveniles. This is the dullest of them.

Hiding behind a Great Knot.

Eventually I had to drag myself away. But I'll be back! Happy days are here again!