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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

7th Feb 2012: Kampung Permatang Nibong, mainland Penang

My first trip out after the fever, I managed a few hours at the end of the day in the padifields.

I don't know what this grass is called, but it is stunningly beautiful in the late afternoon sun.

I guess this is the flower of the kapas (or wool) tree. It's used to stuff pillows locally.

Sometimes shooting into the sun can produce some pleasing results, like this pond-heron in the padi stubble.

Or this Intermediate Egret, caught at the critical moment!

The cloudless blue sky gave way to a peachy sunset as the egrets gathered to roost.

And a perfect full moon rose in a velvet dusk.

There can only be one caption for these photos - Over the moon!

A few days after this, I took some more shots of the moon over my house.

Looks like it could do with some acne cream!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ashy and Swinhoe's Minivets - males

As promised, here are the males of both species, not annotated this time, as the diagnostic features are basically the same in both sexes.

The things to look for are:
1. Brown wash on the back and rump
2. Brown wash on the underparts (males sometimes have a hint of peach on the rear flanks)
3. White supercilium extending well behind the eye
4. White forehead and thin black loral streak

An additional feature of males is that the rear crown is always grey, not black.

The bill of Swinhoe's is often subtly weaker (looks thinner and shorter), though this is not always the case. At close range, the eye-ring is more extensively white on both the upper and lower crescents. That's more a point of interest than an identification feature!

I have to say that I don't think we have been widely missing these, and I doubt they are anything other than very rare. They must also be more likely in the north than further south. Having said that, minivet flocks are worth a check wherever you get the chance. Best of luck!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Swinhoe's Minivet - another new species for Malaysia?

I got very sick last week, and since I had no energy for doing much, spent some time going through some of the blogs linked to this site.

As I was scrolling through Adolph Khor's site, I came across some interesting minivet photos he'd taken at Ulu Muda last November (see this post). The upper two of these photos looked very like a Swinhoe's Minivet, a species not previously known from Malaysia!

Then another bird came to light, this time, on the Malaysia Bird Photography Forum here (you'll need to register to see these), photographed by C V Cheah. More investigation revealed that both birds were snapped at the same spot at the same time, and were part of a flock (at least some of which were Ashy Minivets).

Differences from Ashy are subtle, and I'm still looking into the range of variation shown by both species.

But it strikes me that it would be a worthwhile exercise for birders and bird photographers to pay close attention to Ashy Minivet flocks, especially in the north of the Peninsula. Here's a brief guide to the differences between non-males.

Wing pattern is not very much help, since there seems to be much variation, especially among worn birds. However, when fresh, Swinhoe's sometimes shows a neat pale yellow or buff bar on the greater coverts which Ashy appears not to show. Calls are also very similar. I've highlighted the four main things to look for on females/1st years, and would stress that it's probably necessary to get at least three out of four of these to be confident of identification.

Here they are side by side for easy comparison.

I'll add the males when I have a bit more time... or get sick again (hopefully the former!). I'll also add a bit on Rosy Minivet, a similar species in both plumage, vocalizations and rarity.

My main sources of photos for learning about Swinhoe's Minivet are:
1. Oriental Bird Images
2. The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society website (minivet section)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pipits: Paddyfield, Richard's and Blyth's

I've noticed that more and more Malaysian birders are looking critically at pipits these days, in the hope of finding something other than the 'default' species, Paddyfield Pipit.

This is good!

There are no confirmed records of Richard's Pipit in Peninsular Malaysia or Singapore, and its status in Borneo is unclear. However, as a common and widespread northern breeder migrating to South-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent, it must surely occur.

The trick though, will be to see and hear one well enough to 'clinch the record'. Field observation skills, meticulous note-taking, photography and sound recording, and an obliging bird, will all be critical factors in getting this one 'in the bag'! Anyone up for the challenge?

Blyth's Pipit is, on the face of it, the least likely of the three species to occur, yet at least one has definitely done so (account here), so why not again?

My good friend Peter Harris recently sent me a couple of great photos of Richard's Pipit taken in Hong Kong this winter, and he's allowed me to post them here.

Having spent many hours recently scrutinizing pipits, I am pleasantly surprised how distinctively different this looks from Paddyfield, though, of course, a clear hear of the call would be needed to make absolutely sure.

Below is a comparison of the three species, to give you a few tips to get you started on the hunt for Messrs Richard and Blyth!

Blyth's (left), Paddyfield (centre) and Richard's (right).

I hope the table below is legible. I've had to import it as an image, so I'm afraid the hyperlinks won't work. If anyone knows how to embed a table, please let me know!

Here are those links:


Paddyfield 1

Paddyfield 2

Blyth's 1

Blyth's 2

Richard's 1

Richard's 2

Try playing a few of these simultaneously to pick out the different species!!


1. Paddyfield
2. Blyth's
3. Richard's

26-29 January 2012:Fraser's Hill, Pahang

A few shots from a rather quiet visit (birdwise!) over Chinese New Year.

A male Black-and-Crimson Oriole.

Female Black-eared Shrike-babbler.

Blue-winged Siva.

Chestnut-crowned Warbler.

A typical view of a Large Scimitar-babbler! For a better view, see this post.

A confiding Mountain Imperian Pigeon.

This splendid male Mugimaki Flycatcher just wouldn't come into the open!

Red-headed Trogons were more than usually in evidence.