Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dec 19th, Suffolk, UK

Here's the finished painting of the Greenfinch I mentioned yesterday, and in addition, a sketch of a Goldcrest seen this afternoon in the local churchyard.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December 17th, England

Time to blow the dust off this blog and see if it still starts!

I haven't done a great deal of proper birding over the last month or so, since this has mainly been a time to catch up on old friends and spend time with the family.

I have enjoyed getting reacquainted with the common English birdlife, and it's been especially good to see ducks, gulls, thrushes and the like, as those families are poorly represented in Malaysia.

Quite a bit of my birding has been from the kitchen window - watching stuff coming into the bird table.

Here are a couple of sketches of a male Greenfinch that found a sunny spot in the hedge and was soaking up a bit of December sun. I'm in the process of turning one of these into a painting.

This is one of a small flock of House Sparrows that regularly hangs around the feeder.

Another short project was redoing the house sign.

I took part in the BTO Atlas project, and did a 2 hour 'Timed Tetrad Visit' for the square around our house. We've managed to record 49 species in our square, which isn't bad for an 'agricultural desert' miles from any decent waterbody.

In the past month Peter Kennerley and I have published an article detailing our observations of some interesting plovers which once appeared on this blog as 'Malaysian Plovers'. The full article is here, with an link to a forum that gives opportunity to comment on or discuss the article. If you want a potted summary of the article, you could try looking at this link.

And if you haven't got time to even look at that, here's what all the fuss is about!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An old rock!

Going through some old photos in preparation for a trip to the UK this month, I came across this. It's an acrylic painting of a pair of Pied Oystercatchers seen at Mudeford Quay in Dorset, UK, done on a stone found on the beach nearby. I painted it for our good friends, George and Cathy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Another one from the landfill site

From my last visit to the landfill site. I didn't quite see this scene as it's drawn, though I did see all the elements separately - the Peregrine chasing waders, a Marsh Sandpiper flying around, and plenty of rain! Afterwards though the picture arranged itself in my mind, so here it is!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Some more sketches

Some common birds

Jungle Myna

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

White-rumped Munia

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Long-toed and Temminck's Stints

A painting of a scene from Malim Nawar a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oct 26-27th, MNS Penang Wader Workshop

I ran a two-day workshop on wader identification with MNS Penang branch bird group. The 'classroom' session was on Saturday afternoon at Pantai Mutiara Hospital, attended by about 13 people.

Me recommending a reference book. Photo credit: Tan Choo Eng

One of the slides from the Saturday session.

On Sunday we did our field session at Teluk Air Tawar. Here the emphasis was on taking field notes and sketches to get to know some of the more numerous species. It was a chance to put some of the input from Saturday into practice! By the end of the session, participants were confidently checking off many of the more obvious species, and even tackling some of the more tricky ones.

Not a field guide in sight! Participants were encouraged to make notes of the birds they saw, and to use a field guide only afterwards.

A Far Eastern Curlew poses helpfully with a Eurasian Curlew (right)

Watching the birds come into the high tide roost from a shady spot!

Getting it all down on paper while the bird is still fresh in the memory!

After all the protestations of "But I can't draw!" it was great to see some really good examples of field notes emerging, once people got started.

My thanks to all the participants, who were great students, to Kanda for organizing the event, and to Daisy for bringing along an extra 'scope for participants to use.

We managed to see around 1,100 birds at the high tide roost, a number well below what we were expecting. Wader species recorded were:

Eurasian Curlew
Far Eastern Curlew
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Greenshank
Common Redshank
Terek Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Pacific Golden Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Red-necked Stint

Worryingly, there were no Nordmann's Greenshanks seen. I haven't seen one yet this season, and it makes one wonder what effect the destruction of the Saemungam Estuary in South Korea may have had on migratory waders.

Later on I had brief views of a Sand/Pale Martin over the rice fields at Penaga.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oct 26th, Water Watch Education Programme, Botanical Gardens, Penang

Today I was invited to represent MNS as an observer of the River and Water Awareness and Education Programme for Schools in Penang. This is run by Water Watch Penang with funding from the MNS-ABN AMRO Conservation Fund. The day was co-ordinated by Prof Chan Ngai Weng, who is the President of Water Watch Penang, with the help of one of his Master's students and a friend.

For this particular programme he was joined by 2 teachers and 30 Form 2 students from St Xavier's School. The day started with a talk on the importance of water catchments, and then some testing of the river's cleanliness and water quality.

By the time I arrived, students were already enthusiastically wading knee-deep in the stream, equipped with nets, petri dishes, trays and bottles.

"There! There! Get that one!" Some excited encouragement from the sidelines!

"Come and look at what I caught!" If only more science classes could be like this!

The catch is carefully and quickly transferred into a shallow tray filled with stream water.

Put into a petri dish for closer study.

Now, which one is it? Checking the identification key.

Reading about how different species are indicators of water quality.

Marking the catch on the pollution score sheet. The total catch score will give an accurate assessment of the state of the stream's water quality.

No clipboard? No problem! What are friends for?!

You know, I could get into this!

St Xavier's students go wild!

I was told by the students that this is a shrimp - river prawns apparently have hairy legs!

And we thought this must be a water spider of some kind.

Lunch tastes good after a hard morning in the field! Notice the biodegradable food wrappers!

Collecting rubbish at the end of the fieldwork, to make sure we leave the place cleaner than we found it. Malaysia boleh!

Students learn where the water in our taps comes from, and about the treatment process it goes through first.

A view over the treatment plant.

We were privileged to see the waterfall that provides the inflow for the treatment plant.

Reluctantly I had to leave at this stage for another appointment. Having observed the pristine beauty of the headwaters, the students were now taken to the mouth of the river into which the stream in the Botanical Gardens flows - the Penang River. At the point where the river enters the sea it is now longer pristine, but a foul-smelling black outflow of pollution. This would be a lesson in care for our waterways a thousand times more effective that the best classroom lesson. Hats off to Prof Chan and his team for their work in helping school children to understand and value their natural environment!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oct 25th, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

It's over a month since I visited the landfill site, and, after all the torrential rain we've been having, I was anticipating finding a lake. However, the pump has obviously been hard at work, and the site was drier than I've seen it yet - a perfect 'scrape' of pools and fresh mud for the waders to feast in.

This also made it harder for me to predict where the main roost would form, there were just too many options for the waders to choose from. Added to this, the presence of a male Peregrine, 2 Brahminy Kites and a White-bellied Sea Eagle was making the waders highly mobile and jumpy today, and I hardly got close to any.

Too close for comfort! This Peregrine made several passes at the waders, but I didn't see it catch any.

As soon as I got out of the car I could see there were more stints than usual - here are a Long-toed (left) and a Red-necked (right) in classic field guide position! I started to get the feeling that today would be a good one to find a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but then, any day would be!

Check out the toes on this one! A first winter Long-toed Stint (note the pale-fringed wing coverts).

The first nice surprise was not one but two Ruff, an unusual bird here. These are both males; the one on the left is a juvenile, while the right hand bird is an adult. Rather distant I'm afraid.

Then while scanning the Pacific Golden Plovers, I came across two Pectoral Sandpipers - again, an adult and a juvenile! The adult had completed its body moult into non-breeding plumage, but was still in wing moult. I couldn't say for sure whether this was the same bird as the one I saw on Sept 12th.

Here the adult bird is below. The juvenile is a brighter bird overall, with a clearer whitish supercilium and two pale lines on the mantle and upper scapulars.

Seen here with a Long-toed Stint (top left) for size comparison.

I managed to catch one shot of the juvenile in flight. At least you can see it doesn't have sharp tail feathers!

Here's a very poor quality video of both birds. As you can tell, I'm very new to videoscoping! Any advice gratefully received!

In early afternoon the rain closed in again, so I retired to the car and took a brief look over Site B, where there were a couple of hundred Whiskered Terns hawking around. So no Spoonie, but a good day for all that!

All seats taken!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Oct 20th, Juru, Penang and Malim Nawar, Perak

I wanted to attend a talk by David Li of Wetlands International on the Asian Waterbird Census in Ipoh in the evening, so decided to go early and do some birding on the way.

First stop was Juru, on the mainland of Penang state, where last year there was a flock of 250 Grey-headed Lapwings. The numbers haven't yet built up yet, but there were about 14 birds on a marshy field that is used for cow pasturing.

An adult bird with a grey breast and dark grey pectoral band.

Juveniles have a pale buff breast without the darker breast band.

I flushed this Cinnamon Bittern when I got out of the car.

After this brief stop I travelled about 150km southward to Malim Nawar, just south of Ipoh. I used the directions in the book The Birds of Perak and Where to See Them and found them accurate and helpful.

This is an area of abandoned tin mining pools, which have now largely been taken over by duck and fish farmers. The first birds I photographed at the site were a sad sight.

This is a Yellow Bittern. I also saw Grey Heron, egrets, White-throated Kingfishers and numerous other unidentified dessicated corpses strung up in this way.

Nets like this have been placed around and over fish ponds, and there were corpses in almost every net. I also witnessed dozens of spent shotgun cartridges around the pools, and heard gunshots while I was there. It seems that the birds are being killed for the crime of wanting to use the ponds to feed in rather than for food.

Little Egrets using one of the few unnetted ponds. This one has already been drained and emptied of fish.

In another drained pond I cam across a small flock of Long-toed Stints and Little Ringed Plovers, and something else ...

The banana-shaped body, short legs, shuffling feeding action and smokey-grey plumage are all typical of Temminck's Stint, an inland freshwater specialist that is rather rare in Malaysia; in fact, it was a new Malaysian bird for me.

Back in my youth, when I used to visit my 'local patch', Alton Reservoir in Suffolk, UK, Little Ringed Plover and Temminck's Stint were two species that would brighten up any spring day, so seeing them together here was a nice reminiscence!

A lucky flight shot showing the white outer tail feathers. Temminck's is the only stint to show this feature.

A short drive further, another empty pond, and I came across another Temminck's, this time much closer and in the company of a Long-toed, enabling a nice comparison of two yellow-legged stints.

Actually, apart from that one feature, Long-toed and Temminck's don't really have that much in common, as can be seen here. Structurally, Temminck's (left) is larger-headed, shorter-legged, shorter-winged, and has a long, slender, horizontal body shape. The upperparts are an almost completely featureless smoke-grey in non-breeding plumage, and there is a distinctive unstreaked grey throat and breast.

Some people say that Temminck's (right) looks more like a miniature version of a Common Sandpiper (rear). Well, you can decide for yourself. The Long-toed Stint in these pics is a first-winter, as can be seen from the whitish-edged coverts.

Another shot of those white outer tail feathers.

Across the other side of this pond I came across another or the same Temminck's Stint among a flock of 30 or so Long-toed. However, by this time the clouds had opened, and the rain effectively brought the days birding to a close. It didn't stop raining till after midnight!!