Monday, August 15, 2011

15th August 2011: Air Itam Dam, Penang

I decided to follow up a tip from Hor Kee, who wrote that Brown-backed Needletails were coming down to drink in the evening at Air Itam Reservoir.

The needletails did eventually arrive - but when it was already far too dark for photography. However, this was made up for by the presence of 10-20 Grey-rumped Treeswifts flying low to and fro along the dam, which gave me a good opportunity to try and capture some flight shots.



This seems to be the inter-breeding period. Most birds were in wing and tail moult, with some having lost their longer outer tail feathers altogether, which made them look quite odd in flight!

Toward dusk they went to roost in some small trees near the guard house. This was a challenge photographically, as they were against a colourless sky, and I was very limited in my viewpoint options (mostly directly below!). Hope to go back and improve these shots on a better day.

Very fluffy!

A Brahminy Kite provided a considerably simpler challenge!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

12th August 2011: Swiftlets, USM

As I've said before on this blog, give me the chance to photograph swifts or swiftlets in decent lighting conditions, as I'm as happy as Larry, and can easily lose all track of time...and memory cards!

Yesterday I was at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) campus in late afternoon, and many Germain's Swiftlets were coming down to drink and bathe. Here's the final cut from several hundred efforts to capture them in pixels. It was a lot of fun!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

4th August 2011: At sea off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

For a week or so my old friend Harom had been reporting a 'large' skua/jaeger from the boat, so I was tempted to go check it out, in the hope that it might be one of the southern hemisphere Catharacta skuas. Brown has occurred in Sri Lanka,and South Polar has been seen in several North Asian countries.

At the nets there were fewer birds than I can remember seeing - the commonest being Bridled (c50 birds).

This non-breeding plumaged bird has recently moulted the outer 4 primaries (p10 is still growing). The inner 6 are significantly older, indicating that wing moult was suspended at some point.

This breeding plumaged bird is just starting to replace the inner primaries. P1 (the innermost) is new, along with its equivalent primary covert. The tips of the older primaries show some unusual patterns of wear, and make me wonder whether these were caused by abrasion against rocks on the breeding grounds.

There were a dozen or so Common Terns, a mix of first and second summer birds and a few adults, the latter of which I took to be genuine returning migrants. In midwinter off Malaysia, the black-billed 'longipennis' ('Eastern Common Tern') is overwhelmingly the most numerous race, with perhaps only 5% of the many thousands of birds seen being of the red-billed 'tibetana' race ('Tibetan Common Tern'). What was interesting about today's birds was that all the adults I saw were 'tibetana', suggesting that they have a distinctly earlier southerly passage period than longipennis off Malaysia, which is something I hadn't realized before.

Adults are very attractive, with their bright postbox red feet and bill base and lavender grey underparts. All three pics are of the same individual.

Another bird. Note how distinct the dark tips to the upper primaries are on this one.

This one has a Forster's Tern-like rump and tail pattern (grey tail, white rump).

A second summer 'tibetana'.

Compared to a second summer longipennis - the only one of this race I noticed. Longipennis always looks a heavier-set, heavier-billed bird in the field.

A first summer Common. The presence of so many adult tibetana, and the fact that this bird had bright red legs made me wonder whether leg colour may be a reliable indicator of this race in 1st year birds.

And another.

This first summer Common has a grey rump AND tail - supposedly a distinguishing feature of White-cheeked. Not the first subad I've seen showing this feature, but I've yet to see an adult like this.

My first returning Barn Swallow of the year!

Since there were no birds about for much of the day, I turned my camera to other things, and was especially taken by the two different types of flying fish we caught. This one is surprisingly bird-like in shape!

This one is more typically fish-shaped.

Cool colours!

I took some pics of the crew.

All good men and true - we've become good friends over the years.

These are my favourites!

I was deeply touched when the Captain Anwar presented me with a painting of the boat he'd done for me. Awesome colours! Note the (Black-naped!) Terns just visible on the rock at the top left of the picture!

After the trip I met up with Harom and showed him pictures of various skuas/jaegers. He unhesitatingly pointed to a pale phase Pomarine Jaeger as the bird he'd seen, thus putting my mind to rest that I hadn't missed a 'first' for Malaysia!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The passing of a great man

I just learned today of the death of John Stott. I've never had an obituary on my blog before, but I felt I couldn't let this moment go by unmarked. Though I only had the privilege of hearing him speak once, John Stott's books and lifestyle have had a great impact on me, and I can truly say that his was a life well-lived.

John Stott was the one who pointed out to me in his book "The Birds Our Teachers" that Jesus actually commands us to study birds!

Photo: John Yates

John Stott 1921 - 2011

You can read The Guardian's obituary here.