Thursday, April 10, 2008

7th April 2008: Kapar Power Station Ash Ponds, Selangor (Part 1)

Peninsular Malaysia has many famous destinations - from the islands of the east coast, the caves of the north and the spectacular buildings of the capital city to the rainforests of Taman Negara and the beaches of Langkawi, but for me personally, there is no place I would rather be than Kapar Power Station Ash Ponds at high tide during wader migration.

The ash ponds are an extensive and securely-fenced area of shallow ponds and 'mud' which lie within a few kilometers of the extensive low-tide mudflats of the the Klang islands. During a visit on Oct 12 last year I counted over 20,000 birds using the roost. In early April the numbers are far smaller, but this is more than compensated for by the fact that many birds are now in pristine spring breeding plumage.

I chose the 7th and 8th of April to make my spring pilgrimage because of the afternoon spring tides, which would hopefully bring maximum numbers of birds to the ponds when the light was best for watching and photographing them.

I arrived during tide to set up my 'coffin' - my horizontal hide that I last used to good effect almost exactly a year ago.

Within moments of entering the hide, there was a roar of wings overhead and suddenly there were birds right in front of me! They were so close that I dare not move for the first few minutes, and then, as the birds relaxed, I was able to scan slowly with my camera.

Birds, birds, birds! There are three 'zones' in this shot - Red-necked Stints at the front, Curlew Sandpipers in the middle, and Redshanks at the back. With such a low camera angle unfortunately I couldn't get them all in focus!

A couple of Ruddy Turnstones break up the sea of Curlew Sandpipers

The alert pose of these newly arrived birds creates a lattice of bills

The stunning orange colour of the breeding plumage Greater Sand Plovers creates a vivid contrast with the green background. Most Lessers are still in their drab non-breeding dress.

Here and there, one or two Broad-billed Sandpipers wove in and out of the other species.

A Curlew Sandpiper towers over a dozing Red-necked Stint coming into nice plumage

There was tremendous variation in the plumages of the Red-necked Stints

Several appeared to have yellow legs - as a result of wading in some yellowish mud!

This one was ringed, but I couldn't quite read the number!

I was particularly interested by the bird on the left. One distinguishing feature of Little Stint from Red-necked is that the latter supposedly does not show broad chestnut fringes to the tertials or coverts. Somebody obviously forgot to tell this bird!

This Lesser Sand Plover looks like one of the shorter-billed races, even though the bill is foreshortened by the angle of the head. Previously I have only seen the long-billed 'schaeferi' race in Malaysia.

Something distracted me from trying to identify this sand plover. I think it must have been the bird on the extreme right!

After searching through so many thousands of Red-necked Stints in Malaysia, I had finally found the 'Holy Grail' - a Spoon-billed Sandpiper - and so close I barely dared to breathe!

Even though it was close, it wasn't exactly easy to view!

A glimpse of that extraordinary bill.

The beginnings of summer plumage are coming through, but this is probably a first summer bird

Then, "as rare things will, it vanished"! As suddenly as the bird had appeared in view, it disappeared, and I wasn't able to pick it out from among the hundreds of birds in front of me for some time.

As I scanned the flock looking for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, I came across this blazingly bright Dunlin - another 'country tick' for me. I checked my watch - it was only 40 minutes since I had entered the hide!

Even at a distance, the bird really stood out - a lot easier than I had been anticipating!

I came across a second bird amongst the sand plovers.

This bird, with its fine-tipped bill, white throat and streaked breastband, ought to be a Little Stint...

But the rather straight bill and very bright orange tones (as opposed to chestnut) made it not quite a straightforward one. The scapular pattern is rather more like Red-necked than Little too, although the leg length and small head are good for Little.

Having seen a Red-necked Stint with chestnut-fringed coverts earlier, I was now puzzled by the almost total lack of chestnut fringes on the coverts of this bird - odd if it was a Little Stint. So, in the end, I couldn't quite be certain of this bird's identity. Any thoughts, opinions or comments would be welcome!

The whole flock was disturbed by something and took off with a roar like an aircraft. I allowed the flock to pass through my lens, keeping my finger on the shutter and hoping it would focus on the right birds. By the grace of God I managed to get a number of reasonably sharp shots of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper again...

Sadly, the only unobstructed pic of the bird wasn't very sharp!

When they relanded I managed to find the bird again, this time much more distant.


Not so easy! But check out the big head, steep forehead and white lores, and the restricted streaking on the sides of the breast

Fortunately, not all birds are so tricky. This Eurasian Curlew looks quite out of place among the smaller waders.

At this point I decided to pack up my hide and head to the other side of the ash pond to see what other birds the tide had brought in. But that will have to wait till the next post!


Jason Bugay Reyes said...

nice pics of the waders in breeding plumages especially the spoon-billed sandpiper :)

Anonymous said...

Dave, what can i say, so interesting and fascinating blog. Congrats in getting the rare spoonbill sp and the wonderful pixs. I learn so much and thanks for sharing...Kenneth, Singapore.

digdeep said...

Thanks guys!

rockfowl said...


Mark Andrews

tai haku said...

awesome find - well done.