Monday, December 27, 2010

Waders: Red-capped and Hooded Plovers

These two residents were both new birds for me, with the Hooded being a particular bonus.

Most plovers adopt a 'Look-walk-peck' hunting strategy. These plovers were odd in that they did the opposite - 'peck-walk-look'! They would always make a little run after pecking at the surface.

These two males were in breeding plumage. They looked very similar, except that one had more black on the sides of the neck and breast.

Two birds in fresh plumage. I'm not certain, but I think the bird on the left is a juvenile, and the other is a non-breeding adult.

I was fortunate to come across a pair of Hooded Plovers on a beach in Victoria. They had young, so I kept my distance.

The other 'bird' in several of these pictures is a Short-tailed Shearwater corpse. The tideline was littered (e.g. 20 birds in a 50 metre stretch) with these wherever I looked, in both Victoria and NSW. I don't know whether such high mortality rates are 'normal', or what causes them.

As I lay prone on the sand, one bird wandered over, whether to check me out or just by accident I wasn't sure. Great birds!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Waders: Stilts

I don't have an extensive library so am not sure on what basis those who separate White-headed (Himantopus leucocephalus) from Black-winged Stilt (H. himantopus) do so. White-headed is an Australasian taxon which certainly breeds in Java and other Indonesian islands, and has been claimed in Borneo, including Sabah and Sarawak.

The problem with identifying White-headed is the variability of plumage shown by Black-winged in South-east Asia. Here's a pic taken at Pulau Burung, Penang, in 2008.

So this visit gave me chance to take another look at White-headed Stilts.

There doesn't seem to be much difference between the sexes.

The juveniles I saw had significantly less buff fringing to the upperparts (compare with this pic taken in Penang)

Almost all the birds in the colony had white heads and extensive black manes, except for this bird.

I made some recordings of the calls, which, according to Susan Myer's Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, is slightly higher-pitched than that of Black-winged, so I'll check this out next time I visit Pulau Burung.

Some more pics:

Overall, I came away wondering why this is considered (by some) to be a different species from Black-winged. A glance through the images of Black-winged on the Oriental Bird Image database shows that the species exhibits such a variety of plumages over its wide range, and the difference in neck markings appears to be clinal...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waders: Snipe

One of my goals this trip was to get some more experience of Latham's Snipe. Latham's Snipe is an anomaly among the region's waders. It breeds commonly in parts of north-east Asia and Japan, and is the commonest snipe occurring in eastern Australia in the non-breeding season. However, there are no records at all from South-east Asia or Borneo. While the majority presumably fly straight over or pass further east, I find it hard to believe that bad weather or other circumstances don't occasionally deposit one or two in Sabah at least.

I was largely undone by the excessive rainfall in Victoria and NSW, which meant that the snipe were not restricted to a few well-known sites as is normally the case. I tried hard to find some around the usual haunts in NSW, but muddy fringes had all been flooded out. I was therefore very grateful to Simon Mustoe of Wildiaries for helping me to see my one and only Latham's of the trip, at Edithvale Wetlands in Melbourne.

I realize that it's hard to say too much from just a few photos of one individual, but I was surprised at how distinctive this bird was in flight. Three things struck me as being notably different from Pintail/Swinhoe's Snipe:

1. Relatively narrow, pointed wings
2. Greyish-black (rather than brownish) primaries and secondaries
3. Long 'back-end' projection, resulting in the impression of a 'flying cross'

From the nice fresh look of the wings of this bird, I would say it's a juvenile, so perhaps adults look a little different, as this photo suggests. The other 'fly in the ointment' with this theory is that I've yet to see juvenile Pintail/Swinhoe's in flight. However, I would expect them to show broader, rounder wings than this, with browner remiges.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010





Biggest! The four tern species I saw were Little, Common, Greater Crested and Caspian.

Common and Greater Crested were the most frequently-encountered.

I found the Commons a pretty confusing bunch.

There didn't seem to be much consistency in head pattern...

...or leg colour

... or bill length

And trying to work out the moult just gave me a headache! On this adult everything looks nice and fresh except the outer primaries.

This one seems to have fresh primaries but worn coverts (and a very worn head?) which makes it perhaps 1st summer/2nd winter?

And how old is this bird? First winter-type plumage pattern but primary moult and extremely worn median coverts - so another '2nd winter'? I'm struggling here - so if anyone can explain, please do so!

I've no idea what's going on here. Looks like there are three age classes of primaries - 1-2 being the newest, then 3-5, 6 is missing, and 7-10 are old. I can only guess this is something to do with Common Terns' habit of 'suspending moult before migration and then carrying on again once they arrive at the non-breeding grounds. I've read that Common Terns may moult their primaries three times a year!

A couple more for you to work out!

Greater Crested Terns were generally much easier, being all dolled up for breeding. This is a long shot of the colony at the Nobbies, Phillip Island.

Of course there were also a few subadults taking life easy!

But most were busy trying to look their best

or else looking after the kids!

No such hard work for the Caspians.

Their job is just to hang around and make all the other terns look small!