Friday, April 29, 2011

27th April 2011: At sea, off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

The crew of the fishing boat have been reporting the first 'itik air' (Short-tailed Shearwaters) of the year already in the last week or two, so I was keen to get a poster distributed on all the boats in the fleet. Hence this trip.

The poster gives information about the life-cycle of these birds and explains how numbers have been declining over the past 40 years or so. It ends with an appeal not to catch the birds when they come close to the boats (see this post). The printing of the posters was enabled by funds from MNS Penang Branch.

This cloud was lit by the rays of the rising sun as we set out - a good omen?

Right on cue, the first bird of the day was this Short-tailed Shearwater, not far offshore.

This was followed by a Lesser Crested Tern in breeding plumage.

I'd not seen this plumage before (with a full black cap) and wondered for a while what it was.

This was followed some time later by a passerine skimming across the waves just in front of the boat.

Which turned out to be my second male 'incei' Asian Paradise-flycatcher in just over a week - amazing!

Then everything went a bit quiet!

It was obvious when we let the net out that there were many more terns around than last week - just the usual species though, and no jaegers in evidence.

Bridled Terns - this adult was moulting into breeding plumage.

Common Terns...

No Aleutians today, but I snapped this Common Tern (right) to compare with the Aleutian I photographed last week.

There were a few White-winged Terns in cracking plumage. How do you set the exposure correctly for a bird with a black body and white wings?!

Eventually, at lunchtime, we came across an area where there were plenty of fish... and birds!

Our first jaeger of the day. The Crossley ID Guide calls Pomarine Jaeger "a bruiser", and this incoming bird looks as if it could do some damage!

Unusually for a Pom, it hung around long enough for me to get a few decent shots.

A good view of the 'double crescent' on the underwing, formed by pale bases to both primaries and primary coverts. It's diagnostic of Pomarine in all plumages, though not always visible.

The black cap extends down to the malar area and chin, unlike on Parasitic, giving it a more menacing look.

 Between catches, the crew were keen to read the new poster! Note also the Chinese Crested Tern poster in the background. Running out of wall space in the cabin!

As always, the crew are very interested in any bird books I bring along, and are pretty knowledgeable about which species occur locally.

The third and fourth nets of the day were the most productive in terms of birds.

Three more Short-tailed Shearwaters showed up, spending some time feeding close to the boat (the poster had arrived just in time!).

They would do a couple of prospecting circuits of the boat first.

They gradually came closer...

...and closer!

 Eventually they pitched down and a feeding frenzy would begin!

They would search for prey by sticking their head below the water surface - like a periscope in reverse!

Once prey was spotted, it was often pursued penguin-style!


I like the 'pearl tiara' on this birds' head!

Once the fish were gone it was time to go in search of more!

I tracked this distant adult Long-tailed Jaeger as it moved toward us, hoping for a closer shot.

Everything these birds do seems to be graceful!!

Getting closer... but at this point I got distracted...

 the arrival of this Brown Booby!

I think this is a first year bird. Anyway, it was a lifer for me!

It spent its time around the perimeter of the net, making shallow dives from a few metres above the water.

The worn tail was noticeably unwaterproof, and often appeared white due to the sun reflecting on the water on it.

The feet, typical of Sulidae, have all four toes pointing forwards.

The blue bill and eye indicate that the bird is a male I think (and make it look as if it came straight out of the movie 'Avatar'!).

A video of the scene as the net is hauled in can be viewed here.

In the end, 4 Short-tailed Shearwaters, 3 Long-tailed Jaegers, 2 Poms and a Brown Booby (I know, I know - it should really be a partridge in a pear tree!) was a very nice return for the day's efforts. Hopefully a sign of more to come in future weeks.