Thursday, November 26, 2009

23rd-25th November 2009: Some birds from northern Suffolk, UK

Compared to Malaysia, there are very, very few birds around the places we've visited so far, and also compared to my memories of the UK ten years ago. Of course, the season doesn't help, nor the fact that it gets dark in mid-afternoon, but still - the birdlessness is quite an unpleasant shock!

One of the few birds that still visits my parents' bird feeder - a European Goldfinch. Even Robins, House Sparrows and Starlings are tough birds to see these days it seems.

A visit to my old favourite haunt, Lowestoft, was another shock. Enormous wind turbines have sprung up, even in the sea, and an industrial estate now sits inland of Ness Point. This was one of a small flock of Meadow Pipits sheltering in the lea of the seawall.

What I was really looking for was some Purple Sandpipers, which used to frequent the seaweed-covered breakwaters. Eventually I found a couple, unfortunately rather distant on a couple of groynes.

At this point the course of our day was drastically altered by my wife falling heavily onto the concrete seawall, smashing her face up pretty badly and fracturing her left wrist. The rest of the day was spent experiencing the primitive services of Great Yarmouth hospital A & E. It made us glad to be living in Malaysia!

On our way to and from regular appointments at the outpatients department of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, we came across a 500-strong flock of European Golden Plovers.

I gave them a good going over but was not able to pick out any Pacific or American Golden Plovers among them. Not an easy job, with the birds being rather distant and huddled down in the furrows of the field, trying to keep as much out of the wind as possible!

In flight, European Goldies differ from both American and Pacific Goldies in having white axillaries and underwing coverts as opposed to grey. It wasn't so easy to distinguish the true colour of the underwings from the effects of shadow in the strong low sunlight.

Once the flock took flight, they spend ages flying around before deciding it was safe to land again.

Watching the flock twist and turn, flashing dark and light like a shoal of fish, was a brilliant sight!

From above, they have a more obvious white wingbar than American or Pacific.

Coming in to land again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A few shots from the past year

As I head back to the UK next week for a while, here are some shots I haven't yet posted which I've taken at various places and times in the past year.

Here's an in-hand comparison of Blue and Malayan Whistling Thrush to give you an idea of the difference in size!

These other pics are either of breeding birds or birds that I felt would be jeopardized if the site were widely publicized.

Male Chestnut-naped Forktail

Female Chestnut-naped Forktail. All digiscoped.

Male Rhinoceros Hornbill - also digiscoped.

Male Rusty-naped Pitta - the rarely-photographed endemic 'deborah' race.

Friday, November 13, 2009

12th November 2009: Bandar PERDA ricefields, Bukit Mertajam, mainland Penang

The sound of rain pouring onto the roof when I woke up before dawn wasn't an encouraging start, but I decided to press on anyway. By the time dawn arrived the sky was clearing encouragingly!

Sun rising over Bukit Mertajam.

Some Grey-headed Lapwings were still sleepy enough to allow a close approach for a change!

In a nearby field hundreds of egrets gathered for breakfast.

When you got your order it was time to move out ... fast!

Because there were always scroungers around hoping for a share!

As well as bullies who weren't so polite!

Found a quiet spot at last - time to enjoy!

A moment to reflect!

Great Egrets ruled the roost till ... a Grey Heron arrived!

Me and my shadow, part 1...

...and part 2!

Even the Grey Heron got hassled!

Time to go.

The Brahminy Kites were also at the party - waiting for someone else to catch their breakfast for them!

Eels were their favourite, and any lucky angler faced the same problems as the egrets - hanging on to their catch long enough to enjoy it!

On the look out.

All of this was just the snacks before the main event of the day. As it got near to nine o'clock all the egrets queued up to wait for the tractor drivers to arrive and start ploughing.

In the quieter fields waders could still be found. Snipe always pose a stern identification challenge!

The very thin black loral line and bulging supercilium in front of the eye eliminates Common Snipe, and this is confirmed by the pattern of the lower scapulars, which show a buff fringe on both sides of the feathers, and the wing coverts, which lack a dark central line. The relatively short tail suggests this may be a Pintail rather than Swinhoe's Snipe, but without a clear view of the tail feathers it's impossible to be sure. So, like most of my snipe sightings, it has to go down as one or the other!

Some easier waders - Little Ringed Plover...

And a Long-toed Stint (first winter - as can be told by the white-fringed lesser coverts).

A sad sight at Bandar PERDA were the hundreds of meters of mist-nets strung up all over the paddyfields. This one had three live Ixobrychus bitterns in it - one Cinnamon and two Yellow. I managed to release two of them but had to kill the third as it was beyond saving. There were body parts of several other bitterns in the net. Locals put the nets up to catch Black-crowned Night Herons and Watercocks to eat, but the by-catch must be enormous. I disabled this particular net, but it would take a large operation to take down all the nets in the area. I have contacted the Wildlife Department, and they have said they will send a team there 'as soon as possible', so let's see what happens.

My main aim today was to see if there were any migrant raptors coming to feed at the ploughing. Frequent scanning eventually yielded a distant juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle being harassed by crows.

Bringing my rally-driving skills to the fore, with Hakim keeping an eye on the bird and me keeping both eyes on the road, we sped and bumped our way to a point where our path dissected that of the eagle, so that it was directly overhead. Nice!

We decided to cross over to the Kg Pertama fields to see what was happening there, pausing to photograph a juv Purple Heron and a Yellow Wagtail on the way.

A kobotor tractor was being attending by a small flock of hirundines, which included at least two probable Pale Martins.

We watched another Greater Spotted Eagle - an adult this time - drift overhead, so decided to head back to the fields at Bandar PERDA.

We found a tractor ploughing near a small copse, which turned out to be a favourite spot for raptors to rest in the heat of the day.

There were at least three subadult Greater Spotted Eagles and one adult.

Here's the adult digiscoped at 60 x magnification!

This is probably the juv we saw earlier in the day.

It put on quite a show for us...

OK - that's probably close enough - starting to feel a little uncomfortable!

Phew! Evidently it decided we were not edible!

Something a little smaller - a Black-eared Kite to finish off with.