I was invited to visit this new resort on Pulau Tengah as part of a team who are putting together a new exciting project - BRISC for short, or Batu-batu Reef and Island Study Centre for long! Take a look here for how the resort is taking shape.
The three most obvious 'tracks' for BRISC are 1) the reefs and corals, 2) turtles, and 3) birds. The latter is where I came in! Though the island is quite small, about 2 square km, it is strategically situated in the South China Sea, and I expect that it will prove to be a magnet for migrating birds, especially in the southward migration season (Sep - Nov), as well as a good jumping off point for pelagic forays for seabirds.
Here are a few pics from my three days of heaven-on-earth!
Boy - this was a tough assignment!
But someone had to do it!
Here's the view from my room.
At one end of the island there's a rockpool 'garden' at low tide. I'm no good at marine stuff, but here are a few things I found in the pools:
An anemone ... sounds like the beginning of a tongue-twister!
Another kind of coral.
Big fish, small fish, blue fish, fat fish... now I sound like a Dr Seuss book!
This is a Ghost Crab I think.
And this very cool creature looks like a clam.
Native bird life on the island is quite sparse, but a fruiting fig near the chalets was a hive of activity each morning. This is a female Brown-throated Sunbird.
Undisputed stars of the show each morning were a flock of Pied Imperial Pigeons. There's no known sexual dimorphism, but there were two distinct plumage 'types', as can be seen here. Wells notes that "the white parts of fresh-plumaged adults are flushed ivory-cream, perhaps by preening from lipid-producing feathers". So maybe the ivory-white birds were subadults.
It was the creamy birds which most drew my attention. In the golden early morning light, they were truly stunning creatures!
It was the ripe, pink figs they were after!
I was amazed at how broad the bill is - obviously tailor-made for walloping fruits in one gulp!
Down the hatch and after another!
The light filtering through the wings made it look as if the bird had golden underwings!
Another fig swiftly dispatched!
The unexpectedly gorgeous Pied Imperial Pigeon!
A couple of flight shots showing the distinctive wing and tail pattern.
A few Pink-necked Green-pigeons crashed the party. They didn't have a big enough beak to swallow the fruits whole, so things got a little messy - and each sported a bright pink forehead as a result of staining from the fig juices.
But it blended right in with the rest of their colour scheme!
Pacific Reef-egrets are among many species which island-hop.
We took a small boat out one day to prospect some of the smaller islets in the archipelago. Plenty had Black-naped Terns on them.
The bird with the smudgy mask and grey spots on the wingtips is a one-year old bird. The others are adults.
They're iconic birds in flight!
I was hoping to find some Roseate Terns, and eventually we had brief views of a pair which flew overhead, mobbing the Black-naped.
I was surprised at how much red was on the bill, compared with an adult we saw recently on the west coast. I suppose it must be a feature of birds in breeding condition.
A sea cave on one of the nearby islands.
A yellow Chinese lantern moon.With so little artificial light, the island would be a great place to star-gaze.
For more information on BRISC and Batu-batu resort, see the website and Facebook page. As well as a full-time Divemaster, we're looking for volunteers to a) monitor bird migration on the island and b)conduct pelagic seabird surveys on board local fishing vessels this autumn, from September - November. If you'd be interested in being a volunteer for part or all of this time, please email me!
The beach at Mersing still had a decent flock of non-breeding waders - mostly sand plovers and Terek sandpipers, but with a few Ruddy Turnstones and a single Red-necked Stint which you should be able to spot in the flight shot.