Wednesday, December 31, 2008

28th and 29th December 2008: Kapar Ashponds, Selangor

A family visit to KL allowed me a chance to visit Kapar on a couple of afternoons when the tides were good.

On the 28th I was accompanied by Ooi Chin Hock. The sky was quite overcast and the birds flighty, so photography was a challenge.

One of the very first birds we saw was a male White-faced Plover. During the 1990s I and several other observers recorded 'Malaysian Plovers' at Kapar. In retrospect, what we saw must have been White-faced Plovers, as Malaysian are rarely recorded on the west coast, and never away from sandy beaches. It was good to confirm that Kapar is still used as a wintering site for White-faced Plovers. Later we counted 13 feeding on the far side of the pond.

Repeated scanning of the enormous roosting flocks eventually yielded fruit. First, this attractive leucistic Lesser Sand Plover, with pink legs!

Then this rather odd breeding plumaged Lesser Sand Plover. Presumably it never moulted at the end of the last breeding season.

Brahminy Kites often harass the wader flocks, but I had not seen them actually catch a bird until today.

All that was left after the meal! Some feathers enabled us to identify the bird as a small Calidrid sandpiper, perhaps a Red-necked Stint or Curlew Sandpiper?

It was great to see a few Nordmann's Greenshanks (on the right of the Common Greenshank in this picture) - we counted four - our first of the season.

This pic shows a good comparison of the difference in leg and bill structure and colouration between Nordmanns' (right) and Common Greenshank.

Here's a video of the same bird.

This still from the clip above shows how distinctive Nordmann's is even from a distance (the bird is third from the right). The pale grey wings (with a darker 'shoulder' patch sometimes visible, paler head, thicker bill, shorter, thicker legs and deeper body shape all add up to quite a distinctive species, in some ways more reminiscent of Terek Sandpiper than Common Greenshank.

After three and a half hours of scanning the flocks, we finally turned up an ace in the pack! This Spoon-billed Sandpiper may be the same bird I saw last April. It stayed put long enough for me to take one sharp photo, and to get Chin Hock his life bird, and then the whole flock was disturbed by a marauding Brahminy Kite and we couldn't locate it again.

On the 29th, the weather was even more overcast, with frequent rain, and the birds were as skittish as ever, preferring the more remote corners of the ashpond. With photography out of the question, I concentrated more on counting. I located the white leucistic Common Redshank first seen on 17th August, and a Greater Sand Plover with orange legs (the same as or similar to one I saw earlier in the year), but not the leucistic Lesser Sand Plover, nor the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Best of all was an exceptional count of 35 Nordmann's Greenshanks (compared to only 4 yesterday).

Taking the best species counts from both days, just under 19,000 waterbirds were present over the two days:

Pacific Golden Plover 3
Grey Plover 200
Little Ringed Plover 20
Kentish Plover 2
"White-faced" Plover 13
Lesser Sand Plover 4,000
Greater Sand Plover 2,000
Black-tailed Godwit 150
Bar-tailed Godwit 15
Eurasian Curlew 4,900
Whimbrel 100
Common Redshank 2,470
Common Greenshank 350
Nordmann's Greenshank 35
Marsh Sandpiper 150
Terek Sandpiper 100
Common Sandpiper 1
Ruddy Turnstone 7
Red Knot 1
Great Knot 300
Red-necked Stint 2,500
Spoon-billed Sandpiper 1
Curlew Sandpiper 400
Broad-billed Sandpiper 25
White-winged Tern 250
Gull-billed Tern 736
Caspian Tern 24
Little Tern 5

Lesser Adjutant 1
Grey Heron 2
Great Egret 2
Little Egret 60
pond heron sp 1
Little Heron 2

TOTAL 18,916

Wall to wall waders! If you find the Spoon-billed Sandpiper let me know!

A good end to the year. Here's wishing you an excellent and happy New Year!s

26th December 2008: Permatang Pauh ricefields, mainland Penang

Another morning visit to the ricefields in search of Aquila eagles - Greater Spotted and a possible Steppe had been reported since the one-day visit of the Eastern Imperial. I resisted most opportunities to photograph the birds I'd taken on 20th, as the light was overcast today.

There were a couple of 'lineatus' Black (eared) Kites about, both juveniles.

And I got slightly closer shots of one of several Intermediate Egrets.

Brown Shrikes are usually pretty shy but this one was more interested in breakfast than in me. The lack of flank barring identifies it as an adult male, probably of the 'cristatus' or 'confusus' race. It seems to have fresh scapulars and some new crown feathers. Svensson, in his Identification Guide to European Passerines, mentions that "rather uniquely there is a second complete, or almost complete...moult in late winter in most (all?) adult birds" after a full autumn moult. Could this be the beginning of this second moult I wonder?

When the sun eventually broke through the clouds this 1st winter Black Drongo took the opportunity to soak up some sun.

A group of snipe also indulged in a spot of sunbathing. The loral pattern (the dark lores getting broader and the supercilium narrowing toward the bill base), longish bill and restricted flank barring suggest that this is a Common Snipe. The smaller waders are Long-toed Stints.

The snipe id was confirmed when one bird obligingly spread its tail and angled it to catch the sun. The rather broad outer tail feathers confirm that these are Common Snipes. It is worth observing snipes in the field whenever the chance presents itself. They will quite often fan the tail, either when sunbathing or preening.

Around 11.30am a distant Aquila eagle appeared. Views through the scope revealed that it was an adult Greater Spotted Eagle, but unfortunately, despite driving closer to where I'd seen it, I wasn't able to relocate it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

20th December 2008: Permatang Pauh ricefields, mainland Penang

Following the mouthwatering prospect of an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle I arrived at the paddyfields at dawn, and was delighted by the amount of bird activity.

A Little Egret in the early morning light.

And a Wood Sandpiper. I've started to try taking more shots 'against the light' as it produces attractive results if you get it right.

The presence of over 100 Grey-headed Lapwings gave me a good opportunity to improve on previous photographic efforts. This was also the first day I've had chance to try digiscoping in decent light with my new scope. Here's one of the results. A 1st winter (rear) and an adult.

Two adults - the left bird had a considerably browner head and breast and a pale-fringed breastband, while the right hand bird had a much greyer head and breast and a solid black breastband. I wasn't sure whether these two plumage types indicate a difference in gender or just wear and tear, with the browner bird being in fresher plumage. Digiscoped.

Another of the browner type (especially on the crown).

And another of the smart grey ones!

I was pleased to get some decent flight shots in the excellent light.

Wood Sandpipers were everywhere, and this one allowed me to try my hand at digiscoping again. The colours are a bit odd, but overall, I am pleased with the sharpness.

There were lots of Long-toed Stints around too, but these were a bit too fast zipping in and out of the rice clumps to enable me to get any sharp digiscoped shots. All these were taken with the DSLR.

When alarmed, Long-toed Stints adopt a distinctive upright posture with neck outstretched.

Later in the day. What a difference the light makes!

Later in the morning a raptor appeared, but it wasn't the eagle! At first I thought this was a juvenile/1st winter 'govinda' Black Kite, due to the indistinct pale under-primary patch. However, I now think it is more likely a dark adult 'lineatus'. I am basing my tentative identification on the very pale yellow legs and whitish-yellow cere, the whitish forehead and rather rufous underparts. Wells mentions that 'lineatus' has bluish-white cere and legs at all ages but some photos of 'lineatus' on OBI cast doubt on this in my mind. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated, especially as the two races are now widely treated as distinct at species level.

The light was good today for photographing swiftlets, and I was able to answer some of my own queries arising from the last few posts. I assumed that these birds were German's Swiftlets, owing to the close proximity of a 'swiftlet hotel' and the fact that in this area I have only seen 'white nests' in such places. Earlier I noted that Himalayan Swiftlets have a blue-black gloss on the upperwing, and it is clear from these pics (if they are indeed German's) that this feature is not unique to Himalayan. It appears to be a feature of freshly moulted feathers of German's too.

From the pale tips to the greater coverts I would guess that this is a juvenile moulting into its first set of adult feathers.

The tail fork on this bird seems to me to be as deep as the Himlayan Swiftlets I photographed in northern Thailand, so that may not be a useful feature to separate Himalayan from other Aerodramus in the field.

This bird appears to have pale shaft streaks on the flanks...

..whereas this one (a juvenile?) appears to have quite uniform underparts. So could dark shaft streaks on the flanks and belly be a useful diagnostic feature of Himalayan??

Something easier to relieve the brain-ache! A stunning fresh-plumaged Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

There were a few Intermediate Egrets among the more numerous Little, Great and Cattle Egrets. They have distinctively small round heads and short bills.

My last model of the day - a Barn Swallow. The small lump on the right of the picture is a pellet containing all the indigestible parts of the insects it catches.

It posed for a portrait!