Thursday, March 31, 2011

12-13th March 2011: Raptor Watch Weekend, Tanjung Tuan, Melaka

Raptor Watch Weekend has become, over the past number of years, the most popular bird-related event on the calendar in West Malaysia. It takes place at Cape Rachado, an enclave of Melaka State deep inside Negeri Sembilan, on the second weekend of March.

This year, for the first time ever (confession is good for the soul!), I attended the event, along with my family. The plan was to stay on after the weekend for 4 more days to help out with counting the raptors, which choose to cross the Straits of Malacca at this, the narrowest point between the landmasses of Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia.

At the Ilham Resort below the lighthouse is where all the stalls and people were - an impressive gathering of birding afficionados and interested people from all walks of life.

The face-painting booth was popular, as usual!

Selangor Bird Group were doing a brisk trade in a nice variety of merchandise!

The Suara Enggang booth had plenty of interested visitors too!

"So those are what we're looking for?!"

Right on cue - there they are!

Fantastic! The headline act put on a great live performance right over our heads!

"How many did you say? A hundred? I can only see fifty!"

So that's where they're going!

Up at the lighthouse was where the serious business of counting was going on.

Totting up the totals every hour. About 15,000 Oriental Honey-buzzards passed over during the two days of Raptor Watch Weekend 2011!

Not for the faint-hearted! A narrow ledge outside the lighthouse wall, with the sea down below!

A pair of resident Changeable Hawk-eagles and their juvenile made regular patrols along the cliff top. This is one of the adults - a dark morph bird.

The other adult. Obviously, opposites attract!

And the juvenile - a mixture of both parents!

But their airspace had to be shared with the migratory raptors. There were a few Black Bazas, migrating high overhead.

And one or two Grey-faced Buzzards.

These could be surprisingly falcon-like in shape - a trap to the unpractised eye.

But the days belonged to the Oriental Honey-buzzards - better known as OHBs!

Nine and a half thousand on the Saturday and about six thousand the next day.

As a complete beginner when it comes to the finer points of sexing and aging OHBs, I picked up a few tips from the seasoned pros at the lighthouse. A thick black trailing edge to the wing, a thick subterminal tail band, dark eye, grey face and pale, black barred primary tips all indicate that this is a male.

As is this.

And this, though they all look very different from each other!

This bird, with its dark, unbarred open primary tips and fine-barred tail is, I think a subadult. It has completed a moult of the secondaries (note the nice rounded tips cf the ragged ends of the inner primaries). The grey face suggests it may be a male.

A closer view reveals a brown iris.Notice that this bird has its bill open. Most birds were panting on arrival. Some showed sputum-like liquid exuding from their bills. All of this suggests that the birds are at the point of exhaustion after the hour-long sea crossing.

Sadly a few didn't quite make it. This one ditched in the sea about a kilometer offshore and floated off. It disappeared later. Perhaps it became lunch for one of the reef sharks cruising around just below the surface.

A few birds were very dark. This one is a juvenile I think (it had a yellow eye but I caught it in mid-blink!).

While this superb creature is an adult female.

Adult females show a thin terminal bar along the trailing edge of the wing and thinner tail bars than males. The open primary tips are pale with thin bars.

 Another female.

I think this is an adult or near adult female as well, despite the dusky-tipped open primaries. The uneven trailing edge of the wing suggests that the remiges are of several age classes.

A couple of juveniles, with dark outer primaries, darker secondaries, and nice evenly-aged wing and tail feathers.

Another juvenile with some damaged flight feathers. A few showed similar damage, which is probably caused by being shot at.

 This bird, an adult female I think, had very noticeable secretions from the bill, and was panting heavily.

A lucky shot of a male (left) and female, showing obvious differences in size and shape.

Monday, March 28, 2011

23 - 24 Feb 2011: Pied Harriers, Ulu Dedap (Part 3)

Without apology, here are lots and lots of unmistakable adult males, surely one of the best raptors in the world!

This one popped out of a ditch really close, but was gone in a flash!

The low sun and dark rain clouds near dusk made for some impressive lighting!

Love those panther eyes!

There was a single, very distinctive 1st winter male.

At the roost.

And hunting.

An adult female.

At the roost. She seemed to have lost the use of her left eye.

In flight.

Wing-on profile comparison with Eastern Marsh, showing the small, almost owl-like head and short neck of Pied.

Finally, some dusk shots of harriers coming to roost.