Friday, October 30, 2009

29th October 2009: Kampung Pertama, mainland Penang

I spent the last couple of daylight hours at the ricefields today, and picked up a 'state tick' - the first Temminck's Stint I have seen in Penang!

There's not much you can say about Temminck's plumage-wise - they're just very plain grey above compared to Long-toed.

They have quite a distinctive unstreaked grey breast band.

And a feeding rhythm that might be described as sluggish, as the video shows.

I spent some time searching the Pacific Golden Plover flock for the colour-banded bird I released 9 days ago, but the birds had moved into a new field with much more vegetation, making it much more difficult to see legs, so I didn't succeed.

I was surprised to see a cracking breeding plumaged male in the flock. It was the only bird with any breeding feathers at all, and it still appeared to be in pristine condition. Very strange!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

25th October 2009: North Kedah coast

An afternoon trip up to Alor Setar to check out some 'new' wader habitat (new to me!) led to a couple of good sightings in the local context.

Black-tailed Godwits are Near Threatened globally, and have a Flyway population of only about 160,000 (the 'melanuroides' race). They are a scarce bird on the west coast, especially in the north, so this was a good find. Apart from being much longer-legged than Bar-tailed Godwit, once useful difference is the prominence of the supercilium - more obvious over and in front of the eye on Black-tailed; clearer behind the eye on Bar-tailed.

There were quite decent numbers of terns feeding on the shoreline - mostly Whiskered with a few White-winged.

They were catching small crabs.

Common Redshanks flew out to feed on the falling tide after roosting in the rice-fields.

Greater Coucal is a common bird which is difficult to photograph well. I caught this one munching on a grasshopper.

We came across another concentration of waders a bit further north, but the sinking sun made viewing conditions less than ideal!

We were very pleased to pick out this Grey Plover in the late afternoon. This is only my second west coast sighting north of Selangor. Noticeably thicker-set than Pacific Golden when on the mud, and showing its characteristic black 'armpits' as it flew away into the setting sun.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

23rd October 2009: Tanjung Tokong, Penang

It's been a long time since I visited my old favourite wader patch. It's getting more and more difficult to access now, as you have to get through a barrier manned by security guards.

But I eventually made it in late afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised. The first bird I saw was this beauty! So for anyone who's been wondering - the White-faced Plovers are back!

I counted six birds in all.

Since the light wasn't great for digiscoping I took a lot of videos today - another White-faced Plover preening.

Along with a couple of Kentish Plovers.

It was interesting to compare the hunting method of Kentish (above) with White faced Plover (below).

Both together, albeit briefly!

There was a decent roost of about 600 birds at high tide, and as the tide went down, the birds flew along the tideline in front of me in ones and twos to fresh feeding areas. They were a bit distant but the lighting was nice. This Bar-tailed Godwit shows how dowitcher-like the bill can look when it's covered in mud! The prominent white rump shows that this is the menzbieri race, which winters in Australia. Check out the difference between this and the baueri race here.

I've mentioned the variation in Whimbrels here in previous posts, and I photographed the two ends of the spectrum again today. Above is a 'phaeopus-type' bird with very white underwing coverts. Below is a typcial 'variegatus-type', with well-barred underwings.

The same two birds showing the upperside. The lower one (the variegatus type)possibly has a browner base colour to the uppertail coverts. Both birds, and the Bar-tailed Godwit above seem to be at an identical stage of wing moult - all having replaced the inner four or five primaries.

A Whimbrel on the tideline.

And a Common Redshank (the light was nice for 'arty' pics!)

This Greater Sand Plover wasn't such a pretty sight. I wondered whether it had got squirted in the face by a shellfish or squid, or whether this was a man-made pollutant. Either way, things didn't look too good for this bird.

A dream for any wader-watcher in Europe! A couple of juvenile Great Knots.

A couple of Terek Sandpiper fly-bys.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20th October: Release of Pacific Golden Plover

By this afternoon, the bird's weight had gone up to 96g, and I felt I should release it rather than hang on for another day.

I decided to release it at Kampung Pertama, as Hakim has found a flock of Pacific Golden Plovers there, and he visits daily, thereby increasing the chances of us monitoring its movements after release. To help with this, I fitted a couple of colour bands to the legs - a red one on the left tibia and a yellow one on the left tarsus. They aren't leg flags, just bands, so hopefully won't interfere with the flyway flag system.

A view of the underwing.

Free at last? On release the bird walked slowly away from us, watching us the whole time.

At a safe distance it started to preen.

Oil secreted from the preen gland (or uropygial gland) above the tail is wiped onto the bill...

Then the oil is applied to the feathers to waterproof them. It 'zips' the flight feathers through the bill to reconnect all the barbs.

First one wing, then the other.

Returning frequently to the preen gland for a top-up.

At the end of the preening session, the bird 'rouses' to shuffle the feathers back into correct position.

Ready to party!

This was the bird's reaction to a perceived threat from above - a crow flying over. By crouching down the bird hides its white underparts, exposing only the cryptic parts of the plumage which help it blend in with the background.

When we left it was making its way up the field to the large flock of Pacific Golden Plovers at the far end.

When we returned at dusk, we relocated the bird in amongst the flock. You can just about make out the red band in the gloom. A satisfactory end to the episode I felt!

Monday, October 19, 2009

19th October: Pacific Golden Plover

After the first day of feeding by itself, the plover is up 4 grams to 89g. Yay - another 13g to go! And after lots of bathing and preening, it's looking in very nice condition.

16th October: Mainland Penang

I planned to combine an early morning revisit to the Kg Pertama ricefields with a trip to the high tide roost at Teluk Air Tawar.

No sign of the Riparia martin, but this was made up for by some wonderful early morning lighting.

An Intermediate Egret with a juv Purple Heron.

Some early morning Wood Sandpipers.

And a nice comparison of Common (left) and Wood Sandpiper. The barring on the upperparts of the Common is quite different from the speckling on the Wood. Note also the shorter, duller legs, the duller head pattern and the white mark in front of the wing on the Common Sandpiper.

The light was great for birds on the left of the road, but terrible for the ones on the right, which included a nice flock of Long-toed Stints, so I made a mental note to return later in the day. The high tide wasn't high enough to push birds off the mud onto the roost, so I drew a blank there. However, lunch at the roadside at Bagan Belat was served with a plateful of excellent opportunities to photograph birds feeding on the mud almost under the restaurant!

A cat sharing my table - more interested in eating 'ais kacang' than birds fortunately. Ais kacang is basically ice, coated with sugar, drowned in condensed milk and buried in syrup.

A Common Greenshank kept at a discreet distance.

As did this smart juvenile Whimbrel.

This Common Sandpiper had no such qualms.

It was all a matter of choosing the right-sized meal!

This one seemed about right!

I aged this Terek Sandpiper as a first winter,...

...on the basis of the juvenile upper tail coverts, showing dark subterminal markings...

There was one worn juvenile tertial remaining, but the other tertials and body plumage were fresh non-breeding feathers. The unmoulted tails feathers were starting to look a bit ragged.

Like the Common Sandpiper, the Terek was after crabs.

The crabs were not happy!

This one's defiance saved it - as least for today!

Collared Kingfishers are also crab lovers!

It chose a muddy look-out from which to pounce.

It's behind you!

As if threats from avian predators weren't enough, there were crab turf-wars going on all over the place - and some real martial arts experts!

There were some which went for a more civilized form of rivalry - high fashion!

This is why there no birds at the roost, they were all roosting on the tideline!

Common Redshank and Terek sandpiper show a similar colour scheme in flight but very different proportions.

Back at the paddyfields in the late afternoon, the light was now much better for those Long-toed Stints. They really are long-toed! This is a first winter bird. It can be aged by the few unmoulted whitish-edged lesser coverts.

Keep your eyes on the sky! Waders frequently cock their heads sideways to look at raptors passing overhead - it's a good way to spot them!

Those first winter body feathers were in pristine condition!

Here's a juvenile that hasn't yet completed the head and body moult into first winter. Notice the lesser covert pattern is the same as on the bird above.

And an adult - like the first winter bird but lacking the pale-edged juvenile lesser coverts.

A couple of Long-toed Stints in flight.

And one doing aerobatics!

Little Ringed Plovers are tricky to age in non-breeding plumage, as adults and juvs both show buff tips to the upperpart feathers. This one can be aged as a juvenile by the dark subterminal crescents on the lesser coverts.

Grey-headed Lapwing numbers had increased dramatically from 1 to 51 in two days!

I started photographing this smart juvenile Pacific Golden Plover, but quickly noticed that its primary tips were coated in mud, and it seemed unable to fly.

This proved to be the case, and it was easily captured. I popped it into my camera bag - birds are calmer when kept in a dark place!

Full circle - egrets at dusk!

Des res! The plover was given the run of our en suite bathroom! There were no visible injuries, but the bird was badly undernourished - weighing only 85g compared to the mean of 102-138g given in Wells. I force fed it garden worms on the first evening, then bought some marine worms the following day (sold as bait and expensive!). Reading in Wells that the preferred diet is a shellfish locally known as siput lala, we bought some fresh the next day, but found them very difficult to open! So now, on the third day, I've resorted to mealworms. These have the advantage of living longer than worms, and they can crawl about happily on the bathroom floor till the bird decides it's hungry! It is now much stronger, though no heavier, and is able to feed itself, so should be ready for release in a day or two.