Saturday, April 07, 2012

23 - 25 March 2012: Kapar power station. 6. Small stuff

These are mostly pics taken on the smaller ashpond roost. For the last few years, this was the main roost, but now that the pond is dry, it's mainly used by sand plovers and stints.

In the late afternoon sun, the Greater Sand Plovers in breeding plumage looked stunning.

At this time of year, the different moult timing of Greater and Lesser provide an additional clue to identification. On the whole, Greaters moult into breeding plumage about two months earlier than Lessers, so most birds in breeding plumage are Greaters and vice versa. On the other hand, leg colour at Kapar was of no use - all species showed yellowish legs - courtesy of the light-coloured mud they'd been wading in!

It was hot out there!

Exceptionally, some Greaters show a blackish border to the breast band - fewer than 1 in a thousand I would guess. I photographed a similar bird in April 2008.

It was interesting to see the variation in the amount of orange in the crown and upperpart plumage.

I think this is probably a female.

I spent some time trying to find a 'mongolus' Lesser Sand Plover, recently mooted as a full species. This dark bird (left) with some smudginess on the fore flanks was the closest I came, but after some scrutiny I decided that it was still just a 'schaeferi'. I've yet to identify any other taxon of Lesser in Malaysia.

While on the subject of plovers, here are a couple of big Grey Plovers from the big pond.

When they're in breeding plumage, you can see why the Americans prefer to call them Black-bellied Plover.

What do you make of this then?

This should make it easier - a Broad-billed Sandpiper. You weren't thinking of that other 'billed Sandpiper' were you?

Oh, and there was one nervous-looking Terek in the plover roost - this one really does have yellow legs!.

This is that other-billed sandpiper - Spoonie! (hopefully you can find it!). Looking for a Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Kapar is a truly herculean task - the birds are crammed together, milling about constantly, and sifting through hundreds of Red-necked Stints in the slim hope of scoring what is probably the only Spoon-billed Sandpiper for hundreds of miles is possibly one definition of obsession!

You've got it now, right? Check out the unstreaked breast sides, white forehead and large head. Single birds have been recorded at Kapar in 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and now 2012. I wonder if perhaps there are just one or two individuals involved in all these sightings? If they survive to adulthood, Spoonies are known to be long-lived, so I think it's possible that this is the same bird coming back year after year to winter on the Klang Islands. It's sobering to think that this one bird could represent half a per cent of the world population now.

The gap between this picture and the previous one hides an hour of tension - from the moment the bird slipped out of view behind another bird (with only me having seen it!) until we managed to locate it aqain right at the back of the flock as the clock ticked round to 7 pm. That exhausting period was spent with seven of us (we were joined by Ang) intensely scrutinizing every stint through scopes repeatedly. At times like this, even I would question whether wader-watching is 'fun'! Hard slog and eye-strain, more like!

Fortunately this time the bird remained stationary, and more or less in view, for long enough for everyone to get least a fleeting view through my scope.

If you want to see a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, I would recommend going to Kok Kham in Thailand, but if you want the immense satisfaction of finding your own on home turf (along with the pain of spending hours and hours of fruitless searching!), then Kapar is, in my view, the ultimate testing ground! For better pics of perhaps the same bird, see here and here.


Birdtour Asia said...

Ah! Brilliant, well done Dave - truly gripped, I really have to make sure I'm around next March to get this in Malaysia before it's too late...

Great read, thanksa lot, even new stuff to learn with waders...


digdeep said...

Thanks J - even if waders don't float your boat, you'd have to be a complete birding Philistine not to be wowed by Kapar in March/April!