Tuesday 26 April 2011

22/04/2011: Penanti (Penang)

I decided to visit the Oriental Pratincole breeding colony and from the looks of things, I’m pretty sure it will be another successful season. Most of the birds already are or soon will be proud parents to the next generation of these graceful waders.

As it is the breeding season, all the birds in the vicinity are in full breeding plumage. Looking absolutely poised and elegant, they were a delight to photograph.

I managed to locate a few chicks moving around in the colony – under the watchful eye of the parent birds.

Their plumages are well camouflaged with the surrounding environment and that is their main defense against predators.

Although they are quite young in age, these chicks are very alert and observant of what is going on around them. Anything out of the ordinary will go not unnoticed because it is a matter of life or death. Friend or foe?! Friend, most definitely…

The Pratincoles share this breeding ground with the Red-wattled Lapwings. The latter possess a more conventional wader appearance whereas their neighbours look more like oversized Swallows. Another major difference is the fact that the Lapwings do not have to moult into a different plumage during breeding plumage. They look this beautiful the whole year round.
The piercing cries of a Crested Serpent-eagle put the entire colony into a standstill. The chicks of both species remain totally motionless and try their very best not to appear anything even remotely resembling lunch to the raptor. Anyway, it flew past without any incidents. And life goes on…

Tuesday 19 April 2011

15/04/2011: Permatang Nibong (Penang)

A short birding excursion to this locality yielded quite rewarding results of Pond-herons and to start things off was this splendid Javan Pond-heron foraging alone at a distanced patch of paddy fields. I guess my fascination with Pond-herons has a lot to do with the fact that you simply cannot tell the 3 species apart when they are in non-breeding plumage. Come April all the suspense built up over the entire season will finally reach its climax as the Pond-herons will start to reveal their true identities. And another thing, 2 out of the 3 species are reasonably scarce outside of Penang.

There was one particular patch of the paddy fields that had a number of Pond-herons foraging together with some egrets. I paid extra attention to those still in winter plumage just in case I miss out on any Indian Pond-herons in partial breeding plumage. I was utterly delighted when one of the paler Pond-herons turned out to be an Indian Pond-heron almost in full breeding plumage.

Its presence was a good enough reason for me to settle down at this location and using my car as a hide, hope for better photography opportunities to arise. Once it got used to my stationery vehicle, it started to foraged closer and I, started to fill my memory card with reasonably good images. And that is something I have been waiting for quite some time now.

The rather subdued plumage blended in well with the surrounding environment. This and the colour similarities to Pond-herons in winter plumage are probably some of the factors why this species, the rarest of them all, can be overlooked.

The Chinese Pond-herons were in their usual high numbers. Sorry buddy, this photo session belongs to your rarer compatriot…

An Intermediate Egret in breeding plumage foraging in the same vicinity was an added bonus. However, the plumage was still in its early stages and the breeding plumes are yet in their full glory.

There were quite a number of Yellow Wagtails in the vicinity as well and all of them were sporting their smart breeding plumages. Their extremely active nature made it quite a challenge to obtain clear and unobstructed images.

Looking over the shoulders of the foraging birds was this Black Drongo. Occasionally, it would swoop down and snatched insects that the birds below had flushed out. But this did not go well with the Wagtails because Drongos have been known to take small birds as prey. Whenever it swooped down near the Wagtails, they will utter their alarm calls and make a quick dash away. Better safe than sorry...

I continued on with the rest of the locality and found myself face to face with a second Javan Pond-heron. It was paler than the earlier individual and slight colour variations are not uncommon among the Pond-herons. Individuals in various stages of transition moult can appear quite different from each other as well and this just makes accurate identification of Pond-herons in partial breeding plumage anything but straight forward.

To top it all off, I spotted a second Indian Pond-heron as well. The discovery of this second bird was a huge satisfaction for me and compensation for all the earlier dips.

I knew I was in for treat when it found what appeared to be a carcass of a snake.

Although the snake carcass was quite a mouthful, the Pond-heron made quite short work of it…

A little water to help it go down…

And off it goes to find a relaxing spot (away from a peering birder) and digest a hearty breakfast in leisure.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

02/04/2011: Kampung Benggali (Penang)

The Kampung Benggali paddy fields in the northern end of my home state is quite close to where the first Indian Pond-heron was discovered in Malaysia about 12 years ago. I have had several encounters with both the Indian as well as the Javan Pond-heron here in the past and I am hoping for history to repeat itself. A healthy number of mixed egret species foraging together momentarily side-tracked me from my main quest. I even managed to capture all the 4 species in a single frame – Cattle, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets.

There were quite a few Cattle Egrets in their stunning breeding plumages and it is always a delight capturing their images during this time of the year.

This immature Barn Swallow must be gearing itself for the approaching breeding season and the long journey back north. From the looks of it, pretty soon it will reach adulthood.

This Brown Shrike is looking a little smug in his summer plumage...

An inquisitive White-throated Kingfisher decided to fly in and have a closer look at what I was having for lunch – or maybe it was just a coincidence. Anyhow, it was another frame-filling shot of this common species.

The paddy fields here are quite vast and there is certainly a whole lot of area to cover. I tried my best but unfortunately, I could only locate the Chinese Pond-herons this time. With the breeding season drawing ever near, they were a little more confiding than usual and provided much more photographic opportunities as well.

The number of good images I managed to obtain today of this species helped me get over for the disappointment of not being able to locate a single Javan or Indian Pond-heron in the vicinity.

It can get pretty warm out here in the paddy fields…

Even those Pond-herons with only partial breeding plumages were undeniably turning into Chinese Pond-herons.

Just like us, patience is the key to successful fishing…

I bet there’s bound to be a couple of Indian and Javan Pond-herons among these Pond-herons that are still in winter plumage.

The bright and sunny sky looks pretty inviting to a soaring raptor and true enough, a majestic White-bellied Sea-eagle soared into view just overhead. Although it is still a young bird, its presence was nevertheless impressive.

This pair of Brahminy Kites was being quite affectionate to each other although they were in mid-flight. Judging from their sizes, it seems like the female is following the male around.

A juvenile Peregrine Falcon soaring at a far distance was the final raptor for the day and I rarely turn down an opportunity to observe this deadly bird of prey.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

02/04/2011: Pulau Burung (Penang)

It was gloomy and wet as I gradually made my way to the marshlands. The sky really open up and I had to sit the rain out from within the comforts of my car. As the rain started to ease, I spotted this visibly drenched Brahminy Kite attempting to dry itself on an exposed perch.

Luckily the weather did get better and only then did the birds start off their day - most of them anyway. I guess this Lesser Whistling-duck is feeling really sluggish and lazy after the rain.

Even the usually wary Red-wattled Lapwings did not even bother to scream out their alarm calls as I drove past their territory.

The Common Moorhens, on the other hand, were really up and about. The first thing on today's to-do list is to catch some of the soothing rays of the morning sun.
One particular individual was exceptional tame and this is probably the closest I have ever been to this species.
The rain was intermittent throughout the morning but the White-browed Crakes seem to be relishing this weather condition. Quite a handful were heard and seen along the edge of the marshlands.

These adorable waterbirds are quite elusive elsewhere and this is probably the best place to observe them in their natural habitat.

Now if only the Watercock were to perform like the smaller Crakes...

The Little Grebes are getting prepared for the approaching breeding season and this is usually the best time to photograph them as they will be slightly more confiding than usual.

I don’t see a Little Grebe completely out of the water all that often and a moment like will never be taken for granted.

Most of the Pond-herons I came across this morning were Chinese Pond-herons. In full breeding plumage, the vibrant colour combination of this commoner species outshines those of the other two species that also occurs here in Malaysia.

But a scarcer species will always invoke more excitement – like this Javan Pond-heron.

Surprising, this sighting is an area lifer for me as I have no previous encounters despite my numerous visits in the past. I decided to go for the sit-and-wait approach and was quite pleased with the outcome.

It did come really close to me at one time but unfortunately, the vegetation prevented me from obtaining an almost perfect shot.

As I was about to wrap things up, a rather creamy-looking Pond-heron immediately caught my attention. Could it be? It certainly was - my first Indian Pond-heron for the season and another first for this locality as well. Although it was only in partial breeding plumage, the beige neck region and the slightly maroon mantle is enough for me to confirm its identity.