Sunday, February 27, 2011

21st February 2011: Sarawak Waterbird Survey - Muara Tebas area

This morning we decided to station ourselves at a number of places along the coast as the tide was falling, to see what we could learn about the birds' movements. I was dropped off well before dawn and positioned myself close to a high tide roost.

This was part of the scene in front of me as dawn broke. See how many species you can identify here (Answers below. Pic A).

The sun appeared briefly, illuminating the flock. I've uploaded a large version of this picture, so click on it and count the species! (Answers below. Pic B)

Common Redshanks. Prof Bill Hale commented on this photo: "I would say that this is T.t.ussuriensis. I think that the tertials and greater coverts are not yet fully coloured. This may seem surprising considering the development of the feather but I think that Redshanks show aptosochromatosis - defined in my dictionary (Hale et al 1988) as 'the process of colour change without moult in birds (eg. greenshank), in which fully formed feathers change colour without abrasion'."

There were plenty of Grey Plovers about...

And one Pacific Golden Plover landed next to me on the bund!

There were lots of Common Greenshanks - some close enough for some good shots.

The three Nordmanns' Greenshanks present unfortunately didn't come quite as close! This bird shows a clear-cut bi-coloured, olive-green and black bill, which is a well-known feature of Nordmann's. However, Common Greenshanks can also show similarly patterned bills, such as this bird, while Nordmanns' does not always show this bill pattern (such as this bird)! So, it's good to check other features besides the bill colour. In this case, the leg length can't be judged, but note the thickset structure, small eye, pale grey, relatively unstreaked crown and breast sides, and the plain grey, pale fringed upperpart feathers, lacking the dark 'pencil marks' along the edges of the tertials and coverts (cf with the Common Greenshank above).

Nordmann's are very distinctive when seen head-on, with their broad-based bill and 'piggy eyes'. Can you identify the other two species?

A Nordmann's with a small flock of Red Knot.

Sometimes they can look a bit overweight!

Same species, different posture (with a Common Greenshank behind).

The centre of attention!

A meeting of rares! Eastern Curlews with a Nordmann's Greenshank (and 2 Marsh Sandpipers) behind.

You should be able to spot the Nordmann's here!

This pic has the three 'greenish-legged shanks' - Nordmann's and Common Greenshank, and Marsh Sandpiper.

A few pictures of birds as they left the roost area:

Common Greenshanks.

A calling Eastern Curlew.

And a flock of three calidrids - Great and Red Knots, and Curlew Sandpipers.

Some waders are not so dependent on the tidal cycle, preferring to feed in brackish or freshwater. This is one of them - Little Ringed Plover.

Answers: Pic A: I can see 4: Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit (the blurry birds at the back) and Great Knot (bits of two birds visible)
Pic B: 7 species. At the back, out of focus, Marsh Sandpipers and two Black-winged Stilts. In front, Bar-tailed Godwits, Eastern Curlew, Red Knot (facing us, near the left), Great Knot, left, in the middle of the flock), Black-tailed Godwit (a lone bird at the back, near the left hand end, facing away from us

Saturday, February 26, 2011

20th February 2011: Sarawak Waterbird Survey - Bako-Buntal Bay, Rombongan and Sejingkat

The day dawned with weather much the same as yesterday, and with the probability of high waves making counting difficult and dangerous, we decided to postpone the planned boat survey. Instead we went to check out some potential roost sites from land and later, as the weather cleared, went to check waders at low tide.

First stop was a construction site near Bako-Buntal Bay. It held only 17 Little Ringed and 4 Kentish Plovers. Next, we moved on to Bako-Buntal Bay (#3 on the map) to watch the movement of birds as the tide fell.

This Chinese Egret fed close by but the rain made photographing it less than satisfactory.

Aggression posture in response to another Chinese Egret landing close by.

From BBB went headed west to Rombongan (#5 on the map), where Daniel was able to drive along the beach. Numbers were low, comprising only a few species. Malaysian Plovers were dotted regularly along the beach in pairs, usually on or near some shoreline debris. This is a female.

So are these.

A male.

And a pair.

A Kentish Plover.

And a fleeing Lesser Sand Plover.

Terek Sandpiper.

Terek Sandpiper lunch!

In the afternoon, we moved to Sejingkat to conduct the field component of the Waterbird Workshop. Over 40 people gathered in a suburban carpark clad in khaki green and carrying suspiciously weapon-like hardware, but we managed to move off to the more secluded ashponds without being arrested for a staging an attempted coup!

The weather behaved itself pretty well, and the birds performed to order, so the participants were able to get to work on the challenging work of taking field-notes and identifying those hitherto anonymous brown blobs!

Fieldcraft! Making good use of available cover and avoiding breaking the skyline are some of the keys to getting good, sustained views.

Counting and scribing practice!

19th February 2011: Sarawak Waterbird Survey - Santin

There are days when everything goes well, and then there are "days like this" (to borrow a Van Morrison song title!).

Our goal was to survey the area of coast marked as #4 on the map by boat. However, the weather started bad and got rapidly worse, so we spent hours huddled behind tarpaulin.

David Li puts on a happy face!

When the rain finally eased, Daniel and David were dropped off to survey the mudflats, to see if they could find a wader! Then we went home!

18th February 2011: Sarawak Waterbird Survey - Sejingkat Ashponds

Once the tide had covered Pasir Puteh, we moved to Sejingkat ashponds (#2 on the map), where we observed a large mixed flock of Eurasian and Eastern Curlews.

The birds were extremely wary and eventually took flight.

This was the reason - a hunting Osprey. Being exclusively a fish-feeder, it was not remotely interested in the curlews, but they weren't to know that!

This flock of Eurasian Curlews seems to be following the Osprey!

Curlews are much easier to identify in flight than 'on the deck'. From below, the pure white underwing coverts of Eurasian make them stand out clearly from the barred, darker Easterns.

Even from a distance!

While from above, their white rump and back give them away instantly.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

18th February 2011: Sarawak Waterbird Survey - Pasir Puteh

I was over in Sarawak again for another round of waterbird surveys. The original plan had been to start with a heli survey of the Bako-Buntal Bay area, but this had to be postponed because all the helicopters were booked up by the Deputy Prime Minister and his entourage, who had decided to visit at the same time (not for waterbird surveying though!).

Plan B was to survey various areas near Kuching. In addition we carried out a number of training workshops on waterbird id and counting techniques.

Today we visited Pasir Puteh (Site 1 on the map).

The tide was far out but rising when we arrived (we being Rose Au, Daniel Kong and volunteer David Li from Sungei Buloh NP in Singapore).

Many local women were leaving the flats as we arrived, carrying their hauls of shellfish and horseshoe crabs. This pair (the smaller male on top) were locked in a mating embrace even after having been caught and carted off for the pot. Healthy wetlands are vital to local economies as well as waterbirds!

We were a little concerned by the speed at which the sandflats were being vacated by the locals, but we were soon distracted by the presence of large numbers of waders along the shoreline.

Mainly Whimbrel and Eastern Curlews here.

Further left, vast mixed flocks of waders and terns.

The shimmering heat haze played havoc with attempts to take pictures. You can just about make out a dense flock of Bar-tailed Godwits (some already in breeding plumage) and Gull-billed Terns, with a large flock of Kentish Plovers in the foreground.

In any case, it rapidly became apparent that there was no time for photography! David Li is seen here saying: "Er guys, I think we should be heading that way...NOW!" We barely managed a count (over 4,000 birds) before legging it shorewards. The speed of the advancing tide was scary - about as fast as we could walk. Fortunately the sand beneath our feet was firm.

This photo was taken moments later from the safety of the shore! Compare with the first photo (above) with the same headland on the right of picture.