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.

Friday, 26 November 2010

24/11/2010: Mainland Penang (Part 2)

As I made my way towards my next destination which is the paddyfields at Bandar PERDA, there was only one thing on my mind – to see my first Aquila eagles for this season. Anyway, sighting reports of these magnificent eagles have been pouring in from this locality recently. True enough, I was greeted by two juvenile Greater Spotted Eagles foraging on a recently planted patch upon my arrival at the locality.

I guess they didn’t quite fancy my intrusion and took flight shortly after.

I also came across a pylon where a quite few Black Kites were resting on in the mid-day heat. At one time, I counted 9 kites altogether.

I stationed my car there and took quite a number of images of the kites flying to and fro the pylon.

This Great Egret was surprisingly tame and I managed to capture a few decent images of this graceful waterbird despite the apparent heat wave.

This Purple Heron, on the other hand, was being its usual wary self.

A full frame portrait of a White-throated Kingfisher - courtesy of this extremely tame individual.

The Yellow Wagtails were in their usual high numbers.

The last leg of today’s birding excursion was to check on the Indian Roller at the scrublands of Juru. It was still there in the same vicinity and seems to be doing pretty well from the looks of things.

This foraging Zebra Dove came rather close to my stationery car while I was observing the roller.

Back in December 1994, I came across 47 Grey-headed Lapwings in this particular locality and it was quite a significant discovery at the time. Since then, greater numbers have been recorded and this species has become a regular migrant – to Penang anyway. When I counted 64 of them here today, it brought back memories of a young birder extremely exhilarated by the whole experience.

However, the harsh lighting conditions prevented me from obtaining better images.

Keeping the lapwings company were 242 Pacific Golden Plovers...

And what is a buffalo pasture without the buffalos and those individuals with the massive horns certainly cut an imposing figure.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

24/11/2010: Mainland Penang (Part 1)

I decided to visit the Batu Kawan wetlands because of the rather promising result from the first trip. However, I should have checked the tidal forecast the night before as it was high tide upon my arrival. Most of the waders kept to the far end of the canal where there was still some exposed mud flats. Eventually, I did come across a couple of waders that ever resting close enough for me to photograph and this Common Redshank was one of them.

Just like the last trip, the Pacific Golden Plovers here are surprisingly confiding as long as you do not intrude too much into their “space”.

A small flock of Pink-necked Green-pigeons foraging on a low bush was good enough a reason as any to linger at this locality for a little while longer. Although this species also occurs in urban gardens, I prefer to photograph it in wilder areas – away from suspicious stares and unwanted attention. As expected, the duller females were more confiding and came closer to my stationery car.

The more vibrant male was more hesitant and kept his distance.

The Collared Kingfishers were quite conspicuous, again exactly like my last trip.

As I was contemplating where to go next from the comfort of my car, a Common Kingfisher alighted on an exposed stake just next to me. This pretty little girl was more than willing to be photographed and the images I managed to obtain were worth the trip here itself. That’s a good girl!

Initially, I wanted to visit the paddy fields after this locality but since I still had plenty of time in my hand, I decided to visit the Pulau Burung marshlands first. In life, sometimes things happen for a reason and on this faithfully morning, the reason was a Red-necked Phalarope. The ill-timed visit to Batu Kawan indirectly provided me the opportunity to try for the phalarope again. I dipped out on this scarce migrant a few days after it was seen and photographed about two weeks ago. Although this is my second encounter with this graceful wader, my first sighting was never really accepted back then. But this time, thanks to the help of my buddy Sigma, the tick next to this bird in my life list just got a whole lot bolder.

It behaved exactly like how the guidebooks say it would – tame and confiding; habitually swims and forages by making circling motions with constant stabbing of its needle-like bill to capture food. My personal observation of this particular individual is that it seldom forages out in the open waters and tends to keep close to driftwoods and the marsh vegetation.

Unfortunately, my observation came to an abrupt end when a nearby foraging Little Grebe was suddenly overwhelmed by aggression and charged directly towards the poor phalarope which reacted quickly and took flight. It alighted quite a distance away and disappeared from view due to the dense vegetation. I was truly grateful that I had taken a fair share of photographs by then.

The Little Grebes could be the culprits for a number of birders dipping out on the phalarope earlier on including yours truly, as the bird was rather tame throughout the duration of my time with it. You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves. That’s no way to treat such a privileged guest.

The Lesser Whistling Ducks have settled in quite comfortably at this locality. As of late, they have being recorded on every visit.

As usual, the tame Wood Sandpipers are always here to delight any bird photographer.