Thursday, March 19, 2009

18th March, 2009: Batu Kawan and Pulau Burung, Penang

I visited a new site for me this morning, an area of cleared mangroves just behind the coastal fringe at Batu Kawan on the mainland. It has apparently been attracting a lot of waders, but today the tide was wrong, so there were relatively few around.


This pair of Collared Kingfishers were courting in the early morning sun.

An Olive-winged Bulbul tried a few phrases of song.

And this Paddyfield Pipit paid particular attention to a small patch of long grass.

Here's why!

My next stop was Pulau Burung Landfill site, where I had spent a season photographing the waterbirds a couple of years ago. Here's what the site looked like then.

And here's what it's like now. Lucky for you, photographs don't reproduce smell! It's such a sad sight to see the migrant waterbirds trying to find food in this muck. For a moment I felt angry at the landfill company, but then I realized that this wasn't their fault so much as mine. That's my waste in there - a powerful argument to recycle as much as possible.

In the UK, landfill sites have gulls; here, we have Cattle Egrets! There were about 1,000 or so feeding on the active landfill.

The area opposite the active landfill remains attractive to a variety of birdlife.

Lesser Whistling-Ducks have moved in more or less permanently. Check out those enormous feet!

This barely fledged juvenile suggests that they may be breeding here too.


Little Grebes certainly breed here. Interestingly, the population in Malaysia doesn't appear to have a non-breeding plumage. They always look like this!

This juvenile Purple Heron looked enormous as it stood tall in the morning heat.

As elsewhere, the pond herons here are beginning to assume breeding plumage. Here's a Chinese Pond Heron with a few tell-tale maroon feathers on the rear crown.

And here's a Javan beginning to take on some orangey hues around the head and neck.



It was nice to see a few Marsh Sandpipers in smart breeding plumage. This one's an adult.


It's not often you get to see a size comparison between Marsh Sandpiper and Little Grebe!


This bird is in first summer plumage (ie it hatched last year).


The way to age waders at this time of year is to look at their lesser coverts. Adults have a full body, wing and tail moult before or during southward migration, and then a body moult (and some wing coverts) in the northward migration. So the lesser coverts are still relatively fresh, as can be seen on this bird (a nice even, rounded shape).

Young birds, however, retain their first set of (juvenile) lesser coverts and most other flight feathers throughout their first year of life, so by now, they are looking decidedly worn (ragged edges, shaft extending beyond the rest of the feather as a 'spike', bleaching etc). Birds in their 'first summer' do not usually attain complete breeding plumage - this bird is much less well-patterned than the adult. Feather patterning and colouration is apparently driven by hormone levels, so birds intending to breed will have more intensely coloured and patterned feathers. Most waders will not breed in their first summer, and may not even migrate all the way to the breeding grounds. For more on moult, see here.

Here's a Wood Sandpiper for comparison - an adult I think.

I tend of think of Marsh Sandpipers as quite 'leggy' birds, but this one looks positively stumpy next to a Black-winged Stilt!

I flushed an immature male Watercock.

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters may be extremely common, but they are also irresistibly photogenic! I realized today that, no matter how many perfectly good photos I have of this species, I will always take more!

My last photos of the day were a stroke of good fortune. Cruising along slowly in the car with my camera at the ready, I suddenly spotted a pair of Barred Buttonquails by the road, about a second before they saw me! I was able to squeeze off about four shots before they ran for cover.

This is one of a select group of birds where the female is brighter than the male and is polyandrous (mating with more than one male and leaving him/them to carry out the parental duties). She also seems to have a heavier bill than the male (all the better for pecking her many husbands with?). Apparently buttonquails are more closely related to waders than to quails. Anyway, good views are hard to come by, so I was happy to have had this brief opportunity.


Anonymous said...

wow! Amazing Photos!

Jason Bugay Reyes said...

Excellent digiscoped Dave hehehe nice !

Ronald Orenstein said...

I'm envious over the Watercock -- well, perhaps next year.... And thanks for encouraging my own efforts!

artuso birds said...

Wonderful photos and very inforamtive! reminds me of my time in Singapore and Malaysia! Thanx!

Kit Day said...

The Bee-eater shots are perfect! Superb

Chan Kim Beng said...

There's a range of beautiful birds to view but I feel sorry for the sad physical state they are in due to our own doings. One must practise the 3Rs (Reduce, Recycle, Reuse) to preserve the environment for our future generations. We must sort out our rubbish, those items that we can apply 3R on, please take the effort to preserve and conserve mother nature, for we may not keep it for very long due to the killing pace of deforestration, global warming and polution.