Tuesday 21 December 2010

18/12/2010: Mainland Penang

I had to abandon my plans for some forest birding when I felt the first few drops of the pre-dawn drizzle as I made my way to my car. Rather than to risk a possible soaking-wet birding excursion, I opted for the marshlands at Pulau Burung where I can still bird from my car no matter how the weather turns. The birds were rather sluggish, like these Whiskered Terns, on this cold and gloomy morning and who could really blame them.

I found quite a few raptors drying themselves off on exposed perches. This particular Black-winged Kite was a rather feisty individual and chased off a much bigger Brahminy Kite that wanted to share this tree to rest and preen.

I don’t think any other bird would want to share perches with a Changeable Hawk-eagle…

This Crested Serpent-eagle was living up to its namesake which not a common sight.

This puff-up ball of feathers is a Jungle Myna shaking off the effects of the earlier drizzle before getting on with its day.

However, the Black-capped Kingfisher was as wary and active as usual despite the weather. This species is by far the most difficult open-country kingfisher to approach and naturally, it also happens to be the most gorgeous.

I was delighted to see that more Black-winged Stilts are coming back to this locality. The open grassland that was slightly flooded because of the rain was like a magnet to these graceful waders and a particular birder.

The Yellow Wagtails were also attracted to this “new” hunting ground…

A gaping Pond-heron bid farewell as I made my way over to my next destination.

At the paddy fields of Permatang Nibong, I was greeted by a familiar sight that was sorely missed these past few weeks. The Asian Openbills were back at their usual spot – all 5 of them as recorded earlier on in the year.

As I was observing the openbills, the thought of a fellow birder being robbed at this very locality a few days back did crept into my mind. Sometimes I can be quite “submerged” into my observation or photography and these are the times that I am most vulnerable to these predators. That is one of the reasons why I like birding in remote areas where there are hardly any fellow human beings around. I rather take my chances with Mother Nature than humans anytime. Anyway, the only intruder this time was a Great Egret trying to bulldoze itself to a perch next to the openbills.

A couple of the openbills were distinctly whiter than the rest. They appeared to be moulting in their breeding plumages. The million dollar question now is will it start to breed here in Malaysia? It is quite possible as the once migratory Cattle and Little Egrets have also started to raise their families on our shores.
I came across my first Imperial Eagle of the season and it was a juvenile resting on a distance pylon.

The pylons provided yet another raptor and it was a pair of migratory Peregrine Falcons. Typical of raptors, the females are larger than their mates.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

04 & 06/12/2010: Mainland Penang

I found myself when some time to spare for birding on 2 separate days and decided to try my luck with the rarities that have been recorded in Penang recently – mainly the Red-necked Phalarope and the Black-headed Ibis. I did basically the same route on both days but birding is very much like life itself – it has its ups and it certainly does have its downs. The rarities were no where to be seen despite all my efforts. All was not lost as in their absence the commoner species prevailed and provided several outstanding performances. At the marshlands of Pulau Burung, the Little Grebes finally received my undivided attention as they swam along the “phalarope-less” waters.

The Wood Sandpipers, as always, provided more great images to my ever-growing collection of this common wader. I have said it before and I will say it again – this is the best place to observe and photograph Wood Sandpipers.

The Common Sandpipers occasional do get as confiding as the Wood Sandpipers like the particular individual.

It was a delight to see a pair of Black-winged Stilts resting at the water’s edge as their absence over the past few weeks certainly did not go unnoticed by me. Where have you guys been?

Pulau Burung is undoubtedly an awesome spot for bird photography and it has been accommodating more and more bird photographers. I even bumped into an old college mate and her husband together with a couple of friends on the second day I was there and was really surprised that she took up bird photography about 5 months ago. Good for you, girl! Anyway back to the birds and this is the one place where even the common species like Pond-herons still do it for me.

The Black-headed Ibis that was reported at the Permatang Nibong paddy fields has eluded me on so many occasions since its discovery that I have lost count. I guess some things are just not meant to be. Even the mighty aquila eagles were sorely missed on both days. A flock of rather confiding Grey-headed Lapwings relieved me of my disappointment on the second day. I know from experience that it is quite difficult to approach these skittish waders even when using your car as a hide. I guess these fellows took pity on me and willingly pose for my camera under the hot mid-day sun.

I also managed to obtain several delightful images of this White-throated Kingfisher thanks to its rather tame behaviour.

This Blue-tailed Bee-eater also played its part splendidly in cheering me up…

And so did this Intermediate Egret.

There were no unexpected surprises at the Batu Kawan mudflats as well. The variety of wader species seen was more or less the same as all my previous visits. Ever since nature worked its course over the mudflats at Bagan Tambang and filled the vicinity with mangrove vegetation, I have been looking and waiting for another site to pop up that will be able to fill the void this once amazing wader site left behind. Sadly, none have come close in terms of accessibility and observation distance from the subjects. The Pacific Golden Plovers were quite confiding as usual and did remind me slightly of the past glory days at Bagan Tambang.

This Common Redshank was taking it rather easy today and was unfazed by my close approach. When you try to “stalk” a Common Redshank, you will usually end up with the wader taking flight and screaming its head off and indirectly warning others of your intrusion. Then only the empty mudflat is left for you to observe or photograph.

An adult White-bellied Sea-eagle soaring on its massive wings is always a majestic sight to behold.

I did swing by the scrublands at Juru and not surprisingly, the Indian Roller was not at its usual haunt. A foraging Paddyfield Pipit that came really close to my stationery car prevented me from leaving the locality empty-handed. Thanks, buddy!

Monday 29 November 2010

27/11/2010: Pulau Burung & Kubang Semang (Penang)

I was back at the Pulau Burung marshlands again to check on the Red-necked Phalarope but upon arrival, the celebrity bird was no where in sight. So, I diverted my attention to this confiding young little Grebe that was foraging nearby.

I headed to the adjacent mangroves to see if anything else was about and was truly entertained by the antics of this loving couple. Love was certainly in the air for this pair of Zebra Doves.

They took turns to preen each other with such intimacy that even a non-romantic guy like me was moved by this show of affection. I know that I relish obtaining images of rare species but when commoner species like these Zebra Doves are able to provide images like these, who needs rarities...

Gradually, I headed back to the marshlands again. It has been quite a while since I last took close-up portraits of the Blue-tailed Bee-eaters at this locality. The maintenance works have removed most of their favourite perches by the edge of the marsh which were most ideal for photography. I guess I have to get used to photographing them from this distance for the time being.

Reflections of wings and inspiration courtesy of a foraging Common Sandpiper…

A Common Moorhen resting near the water’s edge made me stop to observe and do some photography.

After a few minutes, my heart skipped a beat as the Red-necked Phalarope casually swam into view.

Although it was not close to the water’s edge, I still managed to capture quite a number of delightful shots. I guess beggars can’t be choosers. Glad you can join me today, buddy…

The Little Grebes was also in the vicinity and one of them did harassed the phalarope once but unlike the previous occasion, the later just flew a few meters before alighting on the water again.

However, the grebes were the least of the phalarope’s worries this morning as there was a bigger and deadlier threat looming around – a juvenile White-bellied Sea on the hunt. As I was observing the phalarope, this eagle was circling low above the marshland looking for any potential prey. A confiding winter visitor like the phalarope would have made a very good snack.

Its presence did not go well with the others as well - especially the Whiskered Terns.
Anyway, the eagle did not make any kill during my observation and it frequently returned to the same perch to assess the situation in between its rounds around the marsh. I took note of the perch and when the opportunity to capture a landing eagle finally came, I took full advantage of it.

This eagle is the largest resident eagle in Malaysia and is truly a magnificent sight to admire - both in flight and at rest.

My next destination was the paddy fields at Kubang Semang. Despite searching high and low, not a single aquila eagle was seen. My disappointment soon faded away when a male Common Stonechat provided a few photography opportunities.

When the stonechat alighted further away, I continued my search again. However it came to a halt again when I saw a stunning male Red Collared-dove foraging on a recently planted patch. For the second life in my life, I was given the opportunity to observe this species in the wild and this time, I knew I had to obtain some photographic records. I am not sure how the Records Committee will react to this sighting as my first one was dismissed as an escapee because this species happens to be a popular cage bird. Through natural expansion or escaped stock, this species has been sporadically recorded in a few other states as well. This individual certainly does not look or behave like an escaped pet bird as it kept to the cover of the paddy stalks most of time. It was quite alert and wary and will stop foraging whenever there were any signs of potential threats like a passing motorcycle or an observing birder.

Anyway using my car as a hide, I remained as still as possible and after a while the dove went about its foraging again. I patiently waited until it foraged on slightly more open areas and took as many shots as possible. My efforts did not end up in vain as I managed to obtain quite a number of decent shots in the end.