Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August 29, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

I arrived at the site at dawn today to be in the hide well before the high tide pushed the birds onto the roost. Yesterday's constant rain had caused the water level to rise considerably. The result was that my hide was in the water, so my first task was to move it back a few metres onto dry land.

Thankfully today was dry and the morning started clear. From about 8 o'clock to 10, the "native" waders (ie those that are at the site all the time) were quite actively feeding. Once the sun began to get hot, there was a noticeable lull in activity, as birds rested and preened.

The early morning light and the reflection of the red earth behind the pool made for some colourful images. This Wood Sandpiper was my first catch of the day.

Another view of the same bird.

This juvenile Greater Sand Plover's legs positively shone in the low sun!

Across the other side of the pond, this Grey Heron indulged in a bit of sunbathing!

At 10.50, about two and half hours before high tide was due, suddenly the air was full of the rush of wings, as the first wader flock flew low over my hide and settled on a sand bar some way away. It was an exhilirating spectacle!

A flock of Little Terns drops in to join the Lesser Sand Plovers.

After this, things became quite hectic, as succeeding waves of birds arrived, landing all around my hide! It was difficult to know where to direct my attention with flocks behind, to the side and in front of me. I had to move very slowly to avoid spooking the birds, which resulted in some agonizing leg cramps!

Juvenile Lesser (front) and Greater (right rear) Sand Plovers resting on the sand just behind my hide.

Quite a few of the Lesser Sand Plovers were still in summer plumage, unlike the Greaters, which have all moulted into winter dress.

There were about 40 Terek Sandpipers today, with slightly fewer Lesser Sand Plovers than on the 27th.

Among the 120 or so Redshanks were a number of juveniles - arriving a lot earlier than last year. One of these sported black and green leg flags on the right tibia, indicating that it had been ringed in Thailand.

As I was scanning the Redshanks for more leg flags I came across a nice surprise - a juvenile Asian Dowitcher! A bit distant, but hopefully there will be more!

Finally, a sketch of one of the three Curlew Sandpipers present today. This one spent quite some time feeding just behind my hide.

August 27, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

I went to get a hide put up today at Site A. It was quite an experience! First I got a lift with a JCB driver up to the dump, where we held our noses and pulled four pallets out of the mountain of rubbish. We loaded these on the JCB and then drove out onto the site, where the driver helped me put up the hide. Another JCB came out to see what we were up to! I was frequently asked if I was making a movie for Discovery Channel!

Siting the hide was quite difficult, since the water level is constantly changing. Each day a pump forces water out, but, at the moment, the frequent rain more than makes up for whatever is pumped out.

A view of my hide. At high tide I was happy to see good numbers of birds arriving. This was the first time I was able to confirm that the area is used as a high tide roost.

About a thousand waders and terns roosted at the site today. The commonest species by far was Lesser Sand Plover, with about 650 present. It's still early in the season, so the diversity of species is still quite low.

Long-toed Stints are quite common, and very aggressive! This one is seeing off a Red-necked Stint.

There were a few Greater Sand Plovers about; this one is in nice fresh winter plumage.

Here's a composite of both Sand Plover species in flight (Lesser on the left).

The Greater Painted Snipe's nest was empty, and there was no sign of chicks, so it may have been predated. I found another nest with one egg, so presumably there are more to come. Again, good numbers of painted snipe were in evidence today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hybrid Myna

Over the last few weeks I've been getting frustratingly few chances to observe a hybrid myna near my home.

Whenever I have my camera handy, the bird isn't there of course! Here's sketch of it I have built up from seeing it a few times. I reckon its parents are a Common and a Crested Myna, owing to the combination of plumage features it shows.

August 20, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

Following my first visit to this site earlier this month, I've obtained permission to conduct a survey of waterbirds using it over the next few months, so I will summarise some of my preliminary findings here. I hope to erect a few hides, and to visit the site during high tide, when I anticipate it will be used by good numbers of waders as a roost site.

The two parts of the site interesting for birds are quite different. To the south of the access road is an area of red earth with shallow brackish pools and clumps of sedge. This is the area which I will focus my attention on and I will refer to it as Site A.

Site A looking south from the access road.

North of the access road, the water is deeper, and is filled with dead or dying trees.

This is a view from the same access road, looking north.

Today was my first visit to Site A, and my aim was to map out the area and get an idea of what birds might be using it.

Looking eastward toward the land-fill area.

The southern end has less open water and sedges proliferate.

Of the four wader species that breed in the state, three of them breed here. At least 3 pairs of Black-winged Stilts have reared young this year.

Greater Painted Snipe is another breeding bird here. Painted Snipes are one of a select group of waders where the sexes reverse roles. The males incubate the eggs and rear the young, and are duller coloured than the female, which mates with several males. This bird is a male.

The nest is concealed in a tussock of sedge. This one contained four eggs.

Another male bird flies by.

A few migrant waders were already present. My visit was during low tide, so most birds were those species that prefer fresh and brackish-water habitats, such as these Long-toed Stints...

...Little Ringed Plovers ...

...and Wood Sandpipers. This shot was taken at Site B, where the Wood Sandpipers seem to like the emergent tree stumps.

There were just a few true intertidal specialists present, like this Lesser Sand Plover.

And finally, I came across this unique three-eyed monster! Actually, it is made of rolls of lining material that will eventually be used to cover this site.

Friday, August 17, 2007

August 17, 2007

I've recently bought the book "Understanding Bird Behaviour" by Stephen Moss, mainly because I really like David Daly's style of illustration, and decided I could learn something from him. The book is also an interesting and enjoyable read.

Here are my latest attempts to work on my painting style:

A White-throated Kingfisher

A Lesser Sand Plover

And one more ...

White-bellied Sea Eagle

Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 12, Sungai Burung

I headed south today to check out some sites around the airport and on the south side of the island. The airport was disappointingly birdless, and the sewage farm at Batu Maung held only a couple of Wood Sandpipers.

The rice fields at Sungai Burung were still unharvested, or else harvested and dry, so, again, quite birdless. A lone Blue-tailed Bee-eater did allow me to approach very closely, which made the trip worthwhile however!

Quite often I find my bee-eater shots are 'ruined' by the bird being in a rather tatty state of moult. No complaints with this bird though - it's in perfect shape!

After the rice fields I went down to the mudflats. I found that they have extended the jetty, or breakwater, way out to the edge of the mudflats. I guess this is to keep the silt out of the river mouth. It presents some interesting possibilities for photography on a rising tide.

Today, the birds were roosting way off in the distance, somewhere out there!

There was a surprisingly large number of birds for so early in the season. I counted:

Lesser Sand Plover 400
Curlew Sandpiper 14
Terek Sandpiper 1
Common Redshank 4
Little Tern 74

All way too far away for photography, but not too far away to try a few sketches!

Some Lesser Sand Plovers...

... and a Terek Sandpiper.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 11, Tanjung Tokong

Construction continues apace at my favourite local patch, so I don't expect as many birds as last year.

Still, the mudflats are accreting, and some birds are already returning. I spent a couple of hours baking in the midday sun, trying to paint and sketch. I got ants in my water and red mites all over my sketchpad, but apart from that, I quite enjoyed myself.

A couple of adult Lesser Sand Plovers kept a wary distance fom one another, already protecting feeding territory.

A roosting flock of Whimbrels were more companionable!

Total numbers today were meagre:

Lesser Sand Plover 2
Common Redshank 6
Common Greenshank 1
Common Sandpiper 5
Whimbrel 11
Little Egret 7

Monday, August 06, 2007

August 6, Landfill Site, Nibong Tebal, southern mainland Penang

I got directions to this site from a good friend and headed out there this morning. The landfill is located on the edge of mangroves and oil palm estates. In front of it are two large areas which have been cleared in preparation for future landfill. In the meantime, they are a haven for waterbirds. To the right of the site, the swampy area is covered with broken and dying trees, creating dense watery thickets perfect for Purple Herons and Little Grebes. The latter seemed to be everywhere, and their calls were a constant feature of the place.

This is a well grown juvenile. I counted 8 pairs of adults, at least three of which had young. There were probably many more.

Face off! Wherever there were grebes, there were Water Monitors on the prowl. This juvenile grebe appeared to have a dangerous fascination for the lizard.

An adult with a younger juvenile. Interesting to see how the plumage, including the eye-ring, changes with maturity.

Wood Sandpipers were another common occupant of the swamp; they were quite happy perching on branches and tree stumps, just as they would be on their breeding grounds.

Standing tall. This Wood Sand checks me out!

And even taller! In an adjacent pool, a pair of Black-winged Stilts were standing vigil ...

Here's the reason for their watchfulness - one of two fledged young birds.

I was intrigued by the swollen tarsi of the young birds, especially near the tarsal joint. I presume this helps strengthen the legs while they are still forming.

Not the sharpest pic, but a colourful background! The wingshape of the juvs is a lot rounder than the adults.

Around the back of the swamp, I came across a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. The extreme wear on the coverts, tertials and primaries, and the presence of some juvenile coverts, ages this bird as a first year, and it may well have oversummered here.

Perhaps it was kept company by this Oriental Pratincole, which also looks like a first summer bird.

Here's an odd-looking bird! It's a juvenile Yellow-bellied Prinia, and looks quite different from the adult. What was even odder is that it was singing, or trying to! The 'song' was a kind of scratchy impression of a typical adult song, sounding not ulike an acrocephalus warbler's song. Interesting!

On the the left of the gate was an area of flooded red earth and thick tussocky grass, looking just perfect for waders. Unfortunately it wasn't accessible, so I was limited to telescope views. There was quite a colony of Black-winged Stilts - I counted at least 15 adults, including a pair with 3 juveniles. There was a reasonable flock of Cattle Egrets - around 80 birds, and a smattering of waders, all adult birds, most still in partial summer plumage, as follows:

Little Ringed Plover 10
Red-wattled Lapwing 9
Common Sandpiper 1
Common Redshank 10
Lesser Sand Plover 9
Red-necked Stint 2
Long-toed Stint 4
Curlew Sandpiper 5
Greater Painted Snipe 1 male
Little Tern 15
Grey Heron 2

There was a marauding flock of Brahminy Kites, much to the consternation of the Black-winged Stilts!

A juvenile Brahminy takes a break from hassling the waders!