Bako-Buntal Bay (or BBB for short) is Sarawak's prime migratory waterbird site, and indeed, holds numbers second only to the North-central Selangor coast in the whole of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, it's a pretty challenging site to count properly, with a vast area of exposed sand and mudflats at low tide and difficult-to-access high tide roost sites. We took a boat out to the intertidal flats in the hope of counting the birds on the falling tide. However, the gradient of the flats is so shallow that the tide retreats very rapidly, leaving us watching most birds as dots on the horizon!
As we went out in the driving rain, many waders, like this flock, were still roosting in the mangroves. Mostly Terek Sandpipers, but you should be able to spot single Common Redshank and Grey-tailed Tattler in there!
Arriving at the edge of the sandflats.
The view when we got out there!
Walking on water! Daniel and Rose, our two main field survey stalwarts, counting dots!
Part of a flock of over 600 Greater Crested Terns. Some of the funding for the survey is for searching for wintering Chinese Crested Terns. There are estimated to be fewer than 50 left in the world, so looking for one is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but the odds have been beaten recently, when, incredibly, one was found in Indonesia - the first record from the non-breeding area for over 70 years. There have been three records from Sarawak - the most recent a mere 98 years ago!
The flock was thoroughly scrutinized and no needles were forthcoming! Still, the flock will certainly be worth revisiting in February and March, when Chinese Crested Terns are likely to be on their way north from wintering grounds further south.
One of fourteen Nordmann's Greenshanks seen, and the only one close enough to be photographed. It was nice to see one feeding for a change. Most NGs I see are asleep at high tide roosts. You can just about make out the semipalmations (partial webbing) between the toes.
A Greater Sand Plover and a Grey-tailed Tattler. The bad weather, distances involved and time taken counting meant I didn't take many pictures, but there was no lack of birds - 8,600 waders of 22 species, over 700 terns and 80 Chinese Egrets.
Our walk back to the boat was very nearly disastrous, as we got stuck in deep mud along the bank of a creek as we tried to wade out to the boat. After several attempts to reach the boat, we gave up and took a longer route to a place where we managed to walk across the creek and back to land. By the time we arrived back in the village I was pretty much coated head to toe in mud, looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and feeling completely exhausted! Had it not been for Daniel and the boatman taking my tripod and optical gear off me, I doubt I would have made it out of the mud at all! A chastening experience!
For details of how you can volunteer to take part in the Sarawak Waterbird Survey, see here.