Wednesday, May 30, 2012

22-26 May 2012: Krau, Pahang

Krau Biodiversity Centre, set in Krau Game Reserve, isn't a bad place to be if you have to attend a training course! Even though the course kept us busy for most of the daylight hours, I still managed to squeeze a couple of hours in here and there at the beginning and ending of each day.

Early morning walks were productive for frogmouths, with this confiding Gould's perched about 5 feet off the ground...
And a splendid pair of Large Frogmouths put on a fantastic show. This was the brighter-plumaged and more aggressive of the pair, so I assumed he was the male. This rear view shows faint "ear tufts" and a prominent nape line.
 This is him reacting strongly when I played his call back.

The second bird was greyer and much less strongly marked. I judged this to be the female of the pair.
A comparison with the other bird.

In BirdingASIA 14, Tan Gim Cheong and Yong Ding Li mention the following plumage differences in a breeding pair:
1. The well-marked bird (presumed male) showed white traingular marks on the wing coverts with little or no black edging. The other (duller) bird showed more tear-drop shaped covert spots, edged with more black.
2. The scapulars were tipped black on the duller bird, but had black subterminal spots and buff tips on the brighter bird
3. The brighter bird had more well-defined pale buff brows than the other.

All three of these differences can be discerned in the two photos above, suggesting that these may be consistent plumage differences between the sexes.

Apart from the typical growling calls, both birds gave chicken-like clucks, which appeared to be alarm or threat calls uttered in response to my playback.

Also out and about early were swiftlets which were clearly different from the familiar pale-rumped Germain's which I see regularly at sea and around swiftlet farms. I assume that these were Black-nest Swiftlets. 

These birds were greyer overall (notwithstanding the lack of light), with barely notched tails. The wings appeared to be set slightly further forward on the body, with a longer tail projection (very thin when in profile) and a shorter head projection than on Germain's. The head was noticeably larger than Germain's - an impression in the field borne out by comparison of photos:
 
Black-nest Swiftlet. Note the neckless appearance and large domed head profile.
Germain's Swiftlet seen off Tanjung Dawai on 10th May. The wings seem more central, there seems to be more neck, and the head is small, typically with a flat head profile.

A few more birds of note - a blue morph Rufous-winged Philentoma.
  
An Olive-winged Bulbul.
 
And an overflying Large Green-pigeon at dusk.

I enjoyed a few days catching up with my old birding friend Mike Chong. On the morning after the course, we spent a fruitful morning birding along the road. After an hour's separation, I returned to find that Mike had been watching a family party of Grey-and-buff Woodpeckers over his head for five minutes! In case you don't know, G and B W is (and remains) my No. 1 bogey bird in Malaysia!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

16th May 2012: Pelagic off Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan

Having sent out the challenge for people to get out on the water at the southern end of the Straits of Melaka to look for Swinhoe's Storm-petrel and Aleutian Tern last week, the opportunity arose for me to go and test my own theory this week, courtesy of John Howes organizing the very first pelagic charter out from Port Dickson on Wednesday.

The pioneering team consisted of John, myself, Rafi, Swee Seng and Carol, and Merijn, and John was anxious to set expectation low to minimize any potential disappointments! It was impossible not to feel a slight twinge of eager anticipation as we set out however, not to say trepidation, once we saw the size of the boat!

Big boat, small boat! We were heading out into the most congested shipping lanes in the world in a 30-footer - but hey - that's what pioneers do...isn't it??
The bow-wave alone of this behemoth was about 4 times the height of our boat. We actually got the full horn treatment just before taking this picture - I guess it was easier for us to move out of the way than for him!

There goes a forest. Mind-boggling to imagine the number of trees which are on this ship alone. But did you notice that little bird skimming the waves this side of the ship? A case of a lot of fuel and a little petrel (groan)!
I can't remember how many times I've watched Germain's Swiftlets skimming across the waves at sea and wished they were Swinhoe's Storm-petrels. At last, this was the real thing, looking surprisingly like Germain's Swiftlets!

Fortunately, the birds pitched down on the sea and we were able to approach them slowly. Being very near the water surface ourselves, it was difficult to get a clear view of the birds as they frequently dipped out of sight beneath the wave-tops. Getting the birds in focus was another challenge, as both we and they were moving up and down asynchronously!


 Not a sharp shot, but it gives a clear view of the tail shape.
The birds were in pristine plumage, with nice clear upper wing covert bars and white flashes at the primary bases. Their flight style was languid, keeping very low (following the wave troughs) and banking from side to side as they went. Sadly, this time they kept going, and we didn't see any more. Still, I was more than chuffed. Mission accomplished!
Being in such a small boat, spray was a real problem, so I mostly kept my camera well under wraps. I did risk taking a few shots of this first year Arctic Skua as it flew over, and a few were sharp. Compared to the Tanjung Dawai boat, this one was much less stable, making photography much more of a challenge. 

Other than these, we saw a single 1st year Long-tailed Skua, a Short-tailed Shearwater and 121 Bridled Terns. Though relatively modest totals, they more than met expectations, with everyone on the boat getting at least one 'lifer' (and one got an absurd FIVE new birds in just half a day!).

 It did get hot though!
 A couple of pirates? Oh no - Seng and Carol doing a good impression!
 
Cape Rachado, Tanjung Tuan lighthouse from the sea. This is where we do the Raptor Watch from every March. The gap between Sumatra and Malaysia which the OHBs fly across looks very much wider from sea level!

This wasn't at sea! I spent the night at Rafi's place, and was rewarded by great views of a female Little Green-pigeon in his back garden this morning! Thanks Rafi, and thanks to the PD Pioneers, including Raja, our enthusiastic and sharp-eyed boatman (he got us several birds), especially John for organizing everything. 

PD Pelagics have great potential I think, especially if we can get a bigger, higher boat. That, and a chum bucket in September should be quite something I would think.

Oh - and congrats to John on reaching 550 for Peninsular Malaysia with the addition of Arctic Skua and Short-tailed Shearwater!

10th May 2012: Pelagic off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

Pelagics from Tanjung Dawai start at 7 a.m., which means we had to be on the boat before that. This is the boat we used to go on - with the twin dolphins. The new boat is much more spacious and better for observing birds. Just Hakim and I were on board to enjoy the ride today.
The dock just before casting off.
Heading out to the mouth of the River Merbok, with the sun behind us and who knows what goodies before us! It's always a great feeling - heading out of the estuary as the sun breaks the horizon.
Behind us, Gunung Jerai is an unmistakable landmark. This view probably hasn't changed much in the last hundred years!
Within a few hours it was obvious we were going to be in for a hot day.

Not many fish, and not much wind. Between 8 and 9 am we watched about 400 Bridled Terns steadily heading north, but after that, not many birds either - just the odd distant Lesser Crested, Common and Sooty Tern.
Birds started to appear once we finally put the net out. There were very few Common Terns about. This one had a largely reddish bill, so was presumably 'tibetana'. The Lesser Crested was stunning in its full breeding plumage.
 
It struck me that this is a more likely bird to mistake for Chinese Crested than Greater is.
We got our first proper looks of the year at Short-tailed Shearwaters today. There seem fewer around than this time last year, but this one put on a virtuoso display! The plumage has a velveteen quality, so appears in a wide variation of colour tones depending on how it reflects or absorbs light - from near white to black, and every shade of brown in between!






Note how the secondaries appear white at some angles. This impression was given frequently as the birds banked in strong light.
It's also interesting how the light can have an effect on the apparent thickness of the bill. In strong light it can look quite fine, while in shade it looks distinctly chunky.
I had my first ever 'three-skua day' - with this adult breeding plumaged Arctic being the only representative of the species today.
One of two Long-tailed I photographed. I reckon this is a second winter, aged by the adult-like upperparts (but not well-developed cap) and limited underwing barring. Unlike other 2nd year birds I've photographed this spring, this one doesn't have well-grown central tail feathers.
And this one must be in either retarded moult into1st winter plumage or in mid-moult into 1st summer plumage. Howell states that it isn't clear whether skuas undergo one or two complete moults between juvenile and 2nd pre-basic moult, so... it's complicated!
At last, our first undoubted 'Pom' of the year, and incidentally, our first ever not to be in adult breeding plumage. The fact that we are getting non-breeders coming through suggests we have missed the main passage completely this year. After looking at so many Long-taileds and Arctics, this stood out a mile, and made me sure that, whatever it was, the bird I saw on 21 April was not a Pomarine!
 
 
 
A classic 'bruiser' of a Pomarine, with nice double flashes on the under primaries. I would say a first winter, going, as always, by Howell's article.
 
  
This brief fly-by Sooty Tern was a nice surprise. A juvenile which has not yet begun wing moult, this is clearly a different bird from the ones seen on 21 April and 7 March. I had my attention drawn to it by Harom, eagle-eyed fisherman and budding pelagic bird expert, who identified it without the aid of bins as it flew by with several Bridled Terns! Nice one!

 
Also courtesy of the crew, a mixed pod of 2 Indopacific Bottle-nosed (top) and 7 Indopacific Humbacked (below) Dolphins, as we made an early return to port.