Thursday, February 25, 2010

25th February 2010: Pulau Burung, mainland Penang

I took the morning off to go look for a Red-throated Thrush that was photographed recently at one of my old stamping grounds, Pulau Burung.

The place where the bird was seen looks like an excellent place for one to hide, but you'd have to be very lucky to see it, even if the bird is still there, as the cover is very dense. Plenty of other birds there though!

A male Pink-necked Green Pigeon enjoying the early morning sun.

A female Common Flameback doing an impression of a Wryneck!

You can just about see how they get their name!

One of several Dollarbirds. They all looked this colour - must be the early morning light (normally they look bluer than this).

Overhead, I couldn't resist trying to snap the swiftlets, which I assume are Germain's.

Having given up on the thrush, I went to the pools, where my main target was snipes.

Snipes are easy to see close here! But not always so easy to see out in the open. I watched this Swinhoe's or Pintail Snipe for ages as it sat within a few metres of me, but I never got a clear view of the outer tail feathers, so had to leave it unidentified.

The same bird after it decided that maybe I was too close!

Another Pintail/Swinhoe's, also hiding its rear end from me!

However, I got lucky with this one, because it started to preen, and eventually gave me a glimpse of the outer tail.

These two feathers show that the bird is a Swinhoe's Snipe. If it were a Pintail, these feathers would be much more needle-like.

In the wetter part of the ponds I came across a Common Snipe for comparison.

Apparently, my explanation of how to tell Common and Pintail/Swinhoe's apart on the ground a few posts back was confusing for some. I'll try to clarify here.

1. The pattern of the scapulars, especially the lower scapulars (red arrows). On Common, only the outer web of each feather has a broad pale edge. The inner edge is much duller. This makes the overall scapular pattern look like a series of pale diagonal streaks on a dark background.

On Pintail and Swinhoes, the buff edge goes right round each feather, so the pattern is a series of scales rather than streaks. Because the background is not so dark, these stand out less than the outer web streaks on Common Snipe.

2. The pattern of the coverts (blue arrows). Adult Common Snipes' coverts have whitish tips. From a distance, this gives the impression of indistinct wingbars (see the series of Common Snipe pics above). Adult Pintail and Swinhoe's have evenly barred coverts, without paler tips, presenting a rather uniform barred wing pattern.

The other birds seen today were all Pulau Burung regulars, except for a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo that flew across the road in front of me.

Little Grebes seem to be increasing in numbers.

Lesser Whistling Ducks certainly are. I wonder how long before a migrant duck drops in to join them?

The pond-herons are beginning to get their breeding plumage. The fresh milky tea feathers on the head and the new blackish scapulars reveal that this is a Javan.

Some flight shots of common birds:

Whiskered Tern.

White-winged Tern.

Wood Sandpiper.

White-browed Crake.

These put on a good show today!

Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

Oriental Pratincole. The last shot shows the diagnostic tail pattern compared to Collared Pratincole. The outermost tail feathers of Oriental have very little black on them compared to Collared, which are black for roughly half their length. See here.

Savanna Nightjar. I came across a communal roost of five birds.

I finally got my chance to photograph a Common Kingfisher in good light today. If anything, the light was a bit too harsh!

Monday, February 22, 2010

20th February 2010: Fraser's Hill

Another morning start at the Gap. This time I walked down the road towards Raub in the hope of hearing Ferruginous Partridges, but to no avail.

A typical early morning sight - Mountain Imperial Pigeons flying over.

More perplexing swiftlets! In addition to White-bellied and the pale-rumped Germain's-like swiftlets, there were one or two very dark-bodied swiftlets flying around first thing. Are these 'lowi' Black-nest or Mossy-nest Swiftlets? Unfortunately the low sunlight made seeing their upperside difficult.

Flocks of Fork-tailed Swifts were passing over the Gap at around 100 birds a minute. Goodness knows how many 1,000s passed through altogether. With them, in much smaller numbers, were swiftlets, clearly migrating with them, passing over high and fast. Himalayan??

A Black Eagle allowed brief views before disappearing over the canopy.

Birding at Fraser's can be frustratingly quiet, but there are always things to marvel at - like this tree!

But then again, it only takes one bird to turn a bad day into a good day! I decided to visit the same spot where I photographed Marbled Wren-Babblers last June, and had the most amazing experience of watching a pair of these elusive birds in more or less continuous view for over 2 hours! Here are selection of the 70 or so photos I kept.

This bird, which I took to be the male, would sit stationary for 15 minutes or more giving his monotonous wheezing call.

On one occasion his efforts brought out a second bird, which perched briefly on a branch over his head, before disappearing. Occasionally the two birds would duet, but I couldn't see both of them when this was happening.

Calling while feeding.

Doing a bit of rustling! When feeding, the bird would energetically toss leaves and other debris high over its head. This made the bird easy to track through the undergrowth with the bare eye and ear.

At times the bird came to within a few metres of me, and didn't seem that bothered by my presence as long as I stayed still.


...and relaxed!

Posing for the camera! After about two and a half hours of sheer enjoyment, I left the birds and walked to my car. As I drove up the road to the hill, when I reached the spot they were still merrily duetting away!

In the afternoon, I tried in vain to see a distantly-calling Rusty-naped Pitta on the Bishop's Trail. More than adequate compensation was provided by a pair of Long-tailed Broadbills!

A great end to a great day!

At Fraser's Hill, silver linings come gilt-edged in gold!