Thursday, November 13, 2008

11th and 13th November 2008: Tanjung Tokong

The last couple of visits to Tanjung Tokong have been somewhat frustrating! On 11th I set up my hide on the sandspit, only to find that the birds were roosting on a newly-formed sandbar some distance away. So I got no pictures from the hide at all for my troubles.

Then today, I set up my hide on the new sandbar 3 hours before high tide, and the birds roosted on the sandspit! So in 3 hours of roasting heat I managed about 20 shots of 2 birds - a Little Egret and a Common Sandpiper! Here are the best of slim pickings.

3 Bar-tailed Godwits on the 11th. Bar-tailed Godwits are one species where the size and bill length difference between the sexes is really noticeable. The huge, long-billed bird in front is a female, the two behind are males.

A Common Sandpiper in typical stiff-winged flight on the 11th.

A few Little Ringed Plovers have started feeding on the mudflats. They are the only common Charadrius plover to lack a clear wingbar in flight.

Since my last visit the number of Kentish and White-faced Plovers has also increased - to 11 and 6 respectively. I couldn't get close to them on either of my visits, but here's a useful comparison of the two.

A Pacific Swallow on its favourite perch.

A Little Egret, still with most of its breeding plumes.

Here it is in full 'rouse'. Rousing is the term given to what birds do when they raise all their feathers, often after a preen. It's supposed to be a sign of well-being. I suppose it puts all the feathers in place.

Walking past the hide.

A Common Sandpiper having a bit of a rouse too!

The fruits of my 3 hour wait!

What happens when you get the tide wrong!

Sandakan Bird Fair

This is a plug for the Sandakan Bird Fair. I met some of the main guys organizing this at the recent KK Wader Workshop. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it this year, but if anyone is visiting Sabah around the end of November, do go along and give it your support!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

5th November 2008: Tanjung Dawai Pelagic

Another early start; another long day in the sun on the cards!

Watching the nets go overboard! It took us several hours to find the first decent-sized shoal of anchovies - lots of time staring at the sea and some distant terns!

You can watch a video of the process here:

This is the signal the birds have been waiting for, and terns appear out of nowhere in large flocks.

This time the flocks were made up predominantly of Common and White-winged Terns. Interesting to see so many 'marsh terns' out in the open sea - we estimated 2,000 White-winged and saw only 1 Whiskered Tern.

Most of the White-winged were adults moulting into non-breeding plumage.

There were a few 1st winter-plumaged birds, but this was the best I could get of one.

The White-winged Terns seemed more anxious to perch on the net floats than to catch fish!

Bottoms up! They had quite a job to stay balanced on the bobbing floats!

Sometimes there were accidents!

The Common Terns were even more abundant; we estimated 3,000 from what we could see, but the actual number could have been far higher.

Adults were all in mid-wing moult. Notice the grey rump - supposedly a distinguishing feature of White-cheeked Tern.

Plunge-diving for anchovies caught in the net!

We could afford to let them have a few!

There were only a couple of hundred Bridled Terns around today. I think this must be a juvenile.

This might be an adult in non-breeding plumage.

And this looks like an adult moulting out of breeding plumage.

We saw very few Black-naped Terns today - perhaps only 5 or 6.

What's this coming out of the sun? Looks interesting!

What a beak it has!

In better light the mystery is solved - a superb Lesser Crested Tern - bird of the day!

We presented the fishermen with a poster of nine seabird-types - Bridled and Common-type terns, noddy, petrel, shearwater, tropicbird, frigatebird, jaeger and booby. The poster has our phone numbers on so they can call us if they see anything other than the terns. On seeing the poster, they immediately identified the birds they'd seen in June as petrels, on account of their tube-noses. When they checked Robson, they were unanimous in pointing to Bulwer's Petrel. There had been up to 7 birds for about a week, and, according to the fishermen, they appear every year in June at the time the westerly winds occur. There are currently no west coast records of Bulwer's Petrel, so we'll just have to wait for next June!

Like last trip, the highlight of the day was not a bird but a fish.

When I was watching the net being winched in, I saw a large dark shape swimming beneath it. Moments later, a Whale Shark surfaced! Note the Bridled Tern on the left which gives an idea of scale!

According to the books, Whale Sharks are supposed to be plankton feeders, but this guy or gal was definitely after fish - the ones in our net!

A Jaws-moment. It's BEHIND YOU!

Apparently this one was just a tiddler - only about 12 feet long we estimated. They can grow to 40 feet long! Still - it was an impressive-enough sight!

Coming in for another gum-attack on the net!

Here are some of Choo Eng's shots of the beast's approach.

Apparently these fish are very docile and friendly to swimmers and divers. So... after you! You can see the Cobia fish that accompany the shark everywhere, scavenging for food leftovers. For more info on cobias, see here (Thanks for the correction Choo Eng!). The Whale Shark's Malay name translates as 'black mother shark', and they call these fish her 'children'!

Steaming in not-so-docilely toward the net!

Hungry shark!

Once we'd started moving again, after gathering in the catch, the shark followed in our wake for a while. I found it fascinating that it showed no fear toward us and seemed to associate the boat with food. What an amazing animal! It made the day for me, and was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life I think. Now I want to see a forty-footer!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

More photos from the Wader Workshop

I've just received some amazing photos from one of the participants of the KK Wader Workshop - Suhaino. He took these pics with his hand-phone, and I must say, I'm impressed!

Our first field trip location - Lok Kawi Beach

Field Trip 2 - Penampang paddyfields

The last day - Likas Bay