Thursday, May 17, 2012

16th May 2012: Pelagic off Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan

Having sent out the challenge for people to get out on the water at the southern end of the Straits of Melaka to look for Swinhoe's Storm-petrel and Aleutian Tern last week, the opportunity arose for me to go and test my own theory this week, courtesy of John Howes organizing the very first pelagic charter out from Port Dickson on Wednesday.

The pioneering team consisted of John, myself, Rafi, Swee Seng and Carol, and Merijn, and John was anxious to set expectation low to minimize any potential disappointments! It was impossible not to feel a slight twinge of eager anticipation as we set out however, not to say trepidation, once we saw the size of the boat!

Big boat, small boat! We were heading out into the most congested shipping lanes in the world in a 30-footer - but hey - that's what pioneers do...isn't it??
The bow-wave alone of this behemoth was about 4 times the height of our boat. We actually got the full horn treatment just before taking this picture - I guess it was easier for us to move out of the way than for him!

There goes a forest. Mind-boggling to imagine the number of trees which are on this ship alone. But did you notice that little bird skimming the waves this side of the ship? A case of a lot of fuel and a little petrel (groan)!
I can't remember how many times I've watched Germain's Swiftlets skimming across the waves at sea and wished they were Swinhoe's Storm-petrels. At last, this was the real thing, looking surprisingly like Germain's Swiftlets!

Fortunately, the birds pitched down on the sea and we were able to approach them slowly. Being very near the water surface ourselves, it was difficult to get a clear view of the birds as they frequently dipped out of sight beneath the wave-tops. Getting the birds in focus was another challenge, as both we and they were moving up and down asynchronously!

 Not a sharp shot, but it gives a clear view of the tail shape.
The birds were in pristine plumage, with nice clear upper wing covert bars and white flashes at the primary bases. Their flight style was languid, keeping very low (following the wave troughs) and banking from side to side as they went. Sadly, this time they kept going, and we didn't see any more. Still, I was more than chuffed. Mission accomplished!
Being in such a small boat, spray was a real problem, so I mostly kept my camera well under wraps. I did risk taking a few shots of this first year Arctic Skua as it flew over, and a few were sharp. Compared to the Tanjung Dawai boat, this one was much less stable, making photography much more of a challenge. 

Other than these, we saw a single 1st year Long-tailed Skua, a Short-tailed Shearwater and 121 Bridled Terns. Though relatively modest totals, they more than met expectations, with everyone on the boat getting at least one 'lifer' (and one got an absurd FIVE new birds in just half a day!).

 It did get hot though!
 A couple of pirates? Oh no - Seng and Carol doing a good impression!
Cape Rachado, Tanjung Tuan lighthouse from the sea. This is where we do the Raptor Watch from every March. The gap between Sumatra and Malaysia which the OHBs fly across looks very much wider from sea level!

This wasn't at sea! I spent the night at Rafi's place, and was rewarded by great views of a female Little Green-pigeon in his back garden this morning! Thanks Rafi, and thanks to the PD Pioneers, including Raja, our enthusiastic and sharp-eyed boatman (he got us several birds), especially John for organizing everything. 

PD Pelagics have great potential I think, especially if we can get a bigger, higher boat. That, and a chum bucket in September should be quite something I would think.

Oh - and congrats to John on reaching 550 for Peninsular Malaysia with the addition of Arctic Skua and Short-tailed Shearwater!


John Holmes said...

Well Done ... still jealous of the SSPs

Ronnie said...

Getting a 30 footer to open seas was quite an audacious attempt.

jytou said...

Good attempt, showed that our pelagic birds must had been very poorly studied, should have more people traveling into the pelagic range throughout Malaysia to find out more, I am highly hoping someone will pop in a photo of a tropicbird somewhere.......

Avtoprokat said...

Thanks for the beautiful photos !!!