Monday, April 06, 2009

30th March 2009: Tanjung Dawai pelagic trip, Kedah

Having had three days of early mornings and long drives, we were up at four this morning to drive the one and half hours to Tanjung Dawai to get on the ikan bilis boat. Simon's main target, besides just being on the water again, was to see Aleutian Tern.

One obliged in typical fashion at 9.30am, as we were heading out to the fishing grounds, flying straight past without stopping, giving clear but frustratingly brief views.

Numbers of birds were well down on the last visit; we counted only around 300 Common Terns and just handfuls of other species. Fish were hard to come by too (some connection perhaps!), with the boat letting out the net just once in a very long and hot day.

The black-billed 'longipennis' race of Common Tern are the commonest tern. They are now in pristine plumage, and for the first time today I realized that the dark wedge on the outer primaries is a real feature of plumage and not just the result of feather wear.

The red-billed 'tibetana' race is much less common, but I tended to take more pictures of these! The bill seems thinner than that of 'longipennis', but the impression may be caused by the darker colour of the latter.

Only a couple of Black-naped Terns put in an appearance - this one a rather tatty subadult.

There were also a handful of Bridled Terns, which seem to look like this most of the year round. This is one species that is inadequately illustrated in most field guides.

A few Little Terns kept us company from time to time.

Swiftlets are a regular sight at sea, and I presume these are birds that breed in caves on offshore islands - perhaps different from the ones that are now habituated to breed in manmade 'swiftlet hotels'. There was some evidence of migration going on today - a number of butterflies and other insects spent time on the boat - and we saw a steady trickle of Barn Swallows heading north. More unusual were an unidentified drongo and a tiny Phylloscopus warbler heading across the bows just a few inches above the water surface.

Jaegers are now an expected sight at this time of year. This is one of a flock of five Long-tailed that got off the sea in front of the boat.

All were adults with more or less full-grown tail streamers. We saw eight in all, including just one immature.

A frustrating view of a Pomarine Jaeger which flew straight over the boat and dead away from us for miles! We saw at least three full-spooned adults, but none gave close views.

We tried putting out chum today - a stinky mix of rotting fish and cod liver oil - but didn't succeed in attracting any shearwaters or petrels. Oh well, we can look forward to doing it again next month!

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