Tuesday, February 08, 2011

7 February 2011: mainland Penang ricefields

Had another shot at tracking down the Steppe Eagle today, this time with Aun Tiah of the Raptor Study Group.

We started off at Permatang Nibong, where one adult Greater Spotted Eagle was roosting on the favourite pylon. The Peregrine pair were still on pylon 319, and another could be seen distantly perched on another pylon.

Here's the pair.

A close up of each bird. Compared to the one at Sungai Dua (see the photos on this post), these are noticeably darker above, lack the pale forehead, have broader moustachials, a peach wash to the underparts and heavier spotting on the belly and flanks. These differences seem to accord with what we could find in literature about the differences between the japonensis and callidus subspecies. Could it be that these birds are japonensis and the Sg Dua bird is callidus? They all seem in fresh plumage (so the differences can't be attributed to wear). I'd be interested to hear views on these birds.

We spotted some mistnets with dead birds in them in the distance, so started walking toward them. As we did so, we regularly flushed Zitting Cisticolas left and right out of the paddies.

But it would be a mistake to assume that everything that comes out of the rice is a Cisticola! Especially early in the morning, when skulking Locustellas come out to sun themselves, as this Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler did.

"PG Tips" as we called them in my UK twitching days (not that I ever saw one in the UK!) start singing early in the year while still on the wintering grounds. The song and call are quite distinctive, and best heard early morning.

I moved to get closer to the bird. The light was less favourable so I didn't have much hope for these pics, but actually I find the effect of the strong backlighting quite pleasing.

This worn individual is quite well-streaked on the breast and has lost its white tail-tips.

Flashing its undertail at me before diving into cover!

It's quite amazing how the light affects the appearance of the plumage of this bird. Had I not seen it in good light (first two pics) I might have been wondering if this was a Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler, as it looks relatively unstreaked above in the backlit pics. Before you ask, it's definitely the same bird - and even the same stalk!

An adult female Pied Harrier gave us brief views. The rear flanks are distinctively white and unstreaked.

The nets had 5-6 birds in them, some dessicated by the heat to the extent that they were unrecognizable.

A female Greater Painted-snipe.

Cinnamon Bittern.

Barn Owl.

This illegal practice is still widespread over many rice-growing areas. The rationale is apparently to deter birds that might eat the paddy, although the mesh is large enough to let munias, the main crop-feeders, pass right through.

We moved onto Sungai Dua, where the juv Steppe Eagle had been seen. We had another good view of the Peregrine there - our 4th for the morning, and on our way back toward the road, came across this sitting in a field.

A superb juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle.

It didn't stay perched for long.

Getting some unwanted attention from a local Brahminy Kite.

So still no Steppe Eagle on my third attempt. In the afternoon, we headed to Perak to watch a large harrier roost at Ulu Dedap. More in the next post!


John Holmes said...

Nice raptor shots, the Greater Spotted Eagles are just like the ones you may recall in Hong Kong.

digdeep said...

Ah yes John, happy memories. It's been a good year for them this year. I think the wet weather further north helped push them further south than usual.

jytou said...

Envy your shots of your Rusty-rumped Warbler, despite the close occurrence of it to my own doorstep, I had never been able to take any shots as the bird will not get out of cover for long, at least not long enough for me to find it in my LCD screen and wait for the long shutter to grab a shot...... I so wished that I would be able to invest in DSLR soon but dont think that would be this year....

Their calls are in fact pretty distinctive.

Terence Ang said...

The picture here is a Japonensis. The earlier bird seem good to be anopther japonensis to me as well. See the barring on the breast area. it clearly show a broken bar then in spot. This individual usually are much older bird.