Saturday, July 03, 2010

19th June 2010: Pelagic Boat Charter, off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

This trip may have marked a new chapter in the annals of Malaysian birding - the first chartered pelagic trip. Turning up for the occasion were Choo Eng, Hakim, Phang and Tan Dek from MNS Kedah branch, and me.

Diehard pioneers setting out to see what we could see on the ... er... sea. Note the four buckets, double-sealed in the foreground, of nausea-inducing chum!

It was mid-June and who knew what Southern hemisphere pelagic wanderer might be attracted to the fragrant bouquet of rotten fish and cod liver oil - perhaps a nice petrel or two?

Our boat was considerably smaller than the anchovy boat we normally go out on, giving us chance also to explore some of the offhsore islands and islets.

There were three pairs of Black-naped Terns on the aptly-named 'Black Rock' but no nests or juvs in evidence.

Stunning birds!

We headed out to the area where we'd seen most shearwaters and jaegers in past months and started ladling out the chum. This involved everyone else retreating to the stern of the boat to get as far away as possible from the stench, and yours truly, plus nose-clips, doing the dirty work. The challenge was keeping my mouth closed while not being able to breathe through my nose. I didn't want to accidentally swallow any of that stuff!

What did we get for the trouble of Choo Eng preparing the stuff in his back garden for three days, all of us having to endure near-suffocation in the car journey, and then shovelling it out into the ocean? A couple of Bridled Terns was about it. Despite repeated attempts in several spots, our chumming drew a depressingly complete blank. Guess there just weren't any tubenoses about! Your turn to do the ladling next time chaps!

Bridled Tern walking on water!

If chumming was the low point, visiting Pulau Songsong was the highlight!

A leisurely swim and walk along the beach was rounded off by fresh coconuts taken straight from the tree!

There were at least 4 pairs of White-bellied Sea Eagles on the island, though all were wary of our approach. We also saw Pied Imperial Pigeons.

Nothing else to photograph, so we tried snapping the Garfish as they skittered away from the boat.

Near the rivermouth there are some 'kelong' poles (markers for fishing nets) which are a favourite loafing spot for Common Terns. We counted over 30 summering birds in 'first summer' plumage.

"Watch me guys!"

"Bet you can't do this!"


The white stripe on the wings of the nearest bird is caused by exposed feather bases. They would normally be hidden under the coverts above, but these have worn away to such an extent that the bases are revealed. It's an effect commonly seen on 1st summer shorebirds too.

On this one, the white bases of the median coverts are exposed by worn lesser coverts.

While on this bird, the white patch is caused by the exposed bases of the greater coverts, the median coverts having been worn away completely or moulted out.

The left hand bird has a deformed and discoloured bill, something that seems remarkably commonplace among Common Terns here (see here, here and here).

Room for one more? The response of the other two birds suggests not!

Red legs, black legs. Leg colour is usually a significant marker in identification of waterbirds, but not in this case. At most, it might indicate that the birds are of different races (perhaps black being 'longipennis' and red 'tibetana'), or it might be just variation in the same race. Anyway, they're both Common Terns!

Part of the flock in flight. The bird with the yellow-tipped bill is third from right.

Funny duck! A sign seen as we drove home. Thanks, guys, for your company, and thanks to Choo Eng for the extra photos. So we didn't see anything ground-breaking this time. Who volunteers to make the chum next trip?!

Anyone know where we can buy commerical grade cod-liver oil (not the de-odorized pharmaceutical stuff)?


John Holmes said...

Pelagics ! Always a lottery, but usually worth the effort...

We haven't really done chumming properly up here in HK yet, either.

Isn't there some chemical you can use as well ? I forget the name of it.

digdeep said...

Hi John,

Yes, it's DMS (Di-methyl Sulphide), but is about as easy to get as weapons-grade plutonium, and apparently almost as nasty! Cod-liver oil sounds much more eco-friendly!

Thanks for your encouraging comments. I was very envious of your Red-footed Booby seen on the same day in HK!