Plans for Monday were hastily revised after I received a text from my friend Harom, one of the crew of the ikan bilis boat we go out on. They'd seen 10 'itik ayah' near the boat on Sunday. The exact identity of "itik ayah" (literally 'water duck'!) is still a mystery, but from the fishermen's description we know they are small dark shearwaters, probably Short-tailed, a species which is not yet on the official Malaysian list. These "itik ayah" appear regularly at sea between April and June according to the fishermen, some years in great numbers, other years, almost not at all. Last year was one of the 'drought' years, when they only saw one or two.
I hadn't been on the boat since July 15th last year, so it was high time to take a trip in any case!
Germain's Swiftlets perhaps breed on the offshore islets. They are common over the sea. Beats me how they find enough food out there!
A Garfish, or 'ikan todak' skimming across the water. Every once in a while you read in the paper about some unfortunate fisherman in a boat who suffers a mortal injury from one of these accidentally jumping into the boat and impaling itself in the man. An unlikely occupational hazard you might think!
True to form! Almost every time we go out in April we see one or two Aleutian Terns. We always see them in the morning, they always fly straight past, and never join the other terns in following the boat or scavenging at the nets. This one played the part exactly!
I find Aleutians very difficult to pick out from Common Terns. They have a similar jizz and flight action (perhaps a little more bouyant?), are not conspicuously darker or lighter than Common, and the upperwing pattern is closely similar. The best pointers are the well-defined white triangle on the forehead and the black secondary bar on the underwing. You need reasonably good views to see these fieldmarks.
Terns were few in number, as is usual at this time of year. There were just two or three Black-naped, one White-winged, two Great Crested...
Just four or five Little Terns...
Bridled were more numerous than usual. We estimated 350 birds.
We estimated about 650 Common Terns, almost all the black-billed 'longipennis' race.
There were one or two red-billed 'tibetana' types about. Both bird I managed to photograph had bill deformities. I have previously noticed a very high incidence of this among Common Terns here.
Jaegers were pretty numerous, both Pomarine and Long-tailed, though it was difficult to get an accurate count. There were probably double figure totals for both species. Here are both species together, though sadly, not in focus!
Long-tailed are much more attracted to the boat, and liable to harass the terns, than Pomarine.
It was quite easy to spot a marauding Long-tailed. They tended to go for the terns which were resting in rafts on the water. The whole flock would fly up high above the horizon in an attempt to evade the jaeger. So whenever we saw a flock of terns do this, inevitably we found a Long-tailed Jaeger in amongst them.In this photo there is one in the centre, toward the lower edge of the flock.
The jaeger would single out one tern, separate it from the rest of the flock, and then chase it down to near the surface of the sea.
Sometimes two would gang up on one tern, which hardly seemed fair!
Or even three!
Some more images of Long-tailed. I think jaegers are very cool - they make such great shapes!
There were plenty of 'Poms' around too, many with full tail-spoons, but they were much shier of the boat, rarely coming close.
This flock of four took off as we approached.
And went their separate ways.
In the end, no shearwaters, but lots of other things to see, including a large Marlin/Sailfish, and this enormous Whale Shark.
The tail fin is just visible to the left of the picture, and the head is where the swirl in the water is on the right! I'm not good at estimating size, especially when there's nothing alongside to compare it with, but I can say that that was a BIG fish!
Some Bridled Terns flying around the dorsal fin of the shark.
Hopefully 10 'itik ayah' this early in the season indicates that this will be a good year for them. Hope so, as I'd really like to solve the mystery! Watch this space!