Thursday, February 16, 2012

14th Feb 2012:Kampung Permatang Pauh, mainland Penang

This afternoon I set out to find the wettest area of padifields I could, since most of the area is now bone dry. After some scouting around, I came across a single sizable pool, and it was chock-full of waders!

A quick scan revealed over a hundred stilts, lots of Wood Sandpipers, several Grey-headed Lapwings, and a couple of Temminck's Stints creeping their way along the far muddy fringe. No doubt these are the birds last seen on 17 Dec by Mun. They must have been here the whole time!

There was also a lone Common Greenshank in the stilt flock.

There were lots of places for birds to conceal themselves from sight, so I settled down to wait. Soon enough I was rewarded by the sight of a Little Stint. Again, this is doubtless one of the 'Pulau Burung Four', at least one of which was later seen in these padifields, but not since 24 December.

I had originally hoped that the birds at Pulau Burung would stay long enough to moult into breeding plumage, and I am pleased to note that moult has begun on this bird. The longest tertial and the longest greater covert on the right hand side are new 'breeding' feathers. Colouration in breeding plumage feathers is influenced by hormone levels, and because it's still so early in the season, these feathers are rather weakly coloured. Later moulted feathers will show much brighter hues.

Two scapulars on the near side and one on the far side are also new breeding feathers (the ones with the neat, clearly-defined black centres). Again, because these are early feathers, they only show a trace of typical breeding colours, at the base of the edges. Generally, once feathers are fully grown, the supply of blood to them is cut off, so that they become 'dead tissue', preventing further infusion of colour. However, in some waders, it is believed that this does not always happen, and that some additional pigmentation changes are possible even after the feather is full-grown. This is known as aptosochromatosis (see this post for more on this!).

A couple of shots of the left side reveal a similar pattern of freshly moulted breeding feathers.

Oh, and there were some of the 'common' stints too! Interestingly, this Long-toed Stint has also replaced its longest tertial. The only stint species not represented today was Red-necked, which is overwhelmingly the commonest of Malaysia's four species!

Much later in the afternoon, after the two Temminck's had exited stage left, I found this lone Temminck's much closer. I can't say for sure that it was a third bird, but it seems odd that it was alone if it was one of the earlier closely associating pair.

Like the other stints, this bird has already started its moult. The second longest greater covert is a new, weakly-patterned breeding feather.

There were lots and lots of snipes in the pool, and these eventually became more active and visible as the sun lowered in the sky. Unfortunately, all the ones feeding in the open proved to be Common Snipes. I saw several 'Pintail/Swinhoe's' fly in over the course of an hour, but every one dropped in to cover and remained invisible!

Still, the Common Snipes put on quite a show, with much preening and posturing going on!

With a bit of patience, it proved not too difficult to get some 'tail shots', and I was surprised to see how broad the outer tail feathers are on Common Snipe.

They're even quite easily visible in flight, as on this late-arriving bird.

Eventually, once the light had gone, a single Pin/Swin Snipe did creep out into the open, looking very different from the neat, well-proportioned Commons.

Apart from the obviously different structure, it was much paler, buffier, more mealy in colouration, with a much broader supercilium. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around long, being chased back into cover by one of the Common Snipes .

Last of all to appear, this curious-looking juvenile Greater Painter-snipe. I wonder whether it is one of the four I saw on my last visit here, but perhaps it is too young to be one of these birds about 5 weeks on.


Choy Wai Mun said...

Very informative write-up. Great images as well. Who knows what else could hiding from the birders at this site!

Erwin said...

seems like waders prefer padifields instead of their natural habitat!
some great photos again!

Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok said...

Love the second shot from the top! It shows so many species of waterbirds together in the same place. It's always fun observing snipes. I used to go out watching them sunbathe when there's strong sunshine in the late morning after a stormy night.

John Holmes said...

"aptosochromatosis" - yes, I learn something everyday...

Friend of HK said...

Looks like a nice place for the waders. Great photos too!