Thursday 20 October 2011

16/10/2011: Penang Wader Count

The MNS Penang Bird Group holds a wader count annually at the northern coastline of mainland Penang. I have to admit that I have missed out on a couple of counts due to other commitments but I try my best to do my part. The Teluk Ayer Tawar mudflats is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) as it plays host to a few wintering rarities like the globally endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank. But through the years, the habitat has changed and quite a vast area of mudflats is now overgrown with mangroves. The number of wintering waders now is also a pale shadow from its past glory days.

The tide line at Bagan Belat (part of the IBA) was quite acceptable when we arrive at the site. However, most of the waders were beyond the reach of my gear. There were an estimated 500 waders along the stretch and we soon got down to the tedious task of making positive identification of the individual species.

Some were pretty easy like these Common Redshanks…

Others are slightly more difficult from this Lesser Sand-plover…

And some are near impossible. A smaller looking stint foraging among the Red-necked Stints could very well be the rare and much overlooked Little Stint. However, back home Dave identified both stints as Red-necked Stints after scrutinizing the photograph.

There were no signs of the rarer Nordmann’s Greenshank from the flocks of Common Greenshanks present today.

This Collared Kingfisher was quite confiding and rested on this perch for quite a long period despite the presence of a group of birders intruding into its domain. Somewhere in between the counting, identifying and confusion, I took a breather and diverted my attention to it.

Yours truly, Kanda and James – three quarters of the underdog team that won the Selangor Bird Race back in 1994. Andrew Ponnampalam from KL completed the winning combination. Quite a few feathers were certainly ruffled when the outcome of the race was finally announced. It was certainly one of the main highlights of my birding life. We even got a Short-toed Eagle along the way!

Tuesday 18 October 2011

15/10/2011: Mainland Penang

Although the migratory season is now in full swing, there was not much around at the marshlands of Pulau Burung to stir much excitement in me. And that is most unfortunate because I could really do with a lifer. I did manage to record and photograph 5 different kingfishers at a single locality beginning with the commonest one – the White-throated Kingfisher.

The Collared Kingfishers here are usually quite confiding and approachable but, not today.

A rather pleasant surprise was this Stork-billed Kingfisher hunting from an eye-level vantage point. I was, however, a little disappointed with the perch which was man-made because in terms of photography, one should always try to capture the subject on a natural perch. Now come to think of it, if the kingfisher is a completely wild bird and it chose this perch on its own free will because of its strategic location shouldn't this perch be considered a natural perch?

The Black-capped Kingfisher was being its usual self – shy and uncompromising.

This type behaviour must be slightly contagious as it got the Common Kingfisher to follow suit.

But at least the Pied Fantails along “Fantail Lane” are a sure thing – for now.

I was really hoping for to spend more “quality time” with Lesser Adjutants at Batu Kawan but it was a no show for the storks. An immature Grey Heron did brighten up the day slightly.

A distanced raptor resting on a dead tree finally got my adrenalin pumping and upon further scrutiny, it turned out to be a light morph Changeable Hawk-eagle.

The Silver Leaf-monkey is confined to the mangroves and coastal areas. This is a much welcomed shot as I find this species to be more skittish than its inland counterpart, the Dusky Leaf-monkey.

The paddy fields along Permatang Nibong provided another mundane affair but at least the Asian Openbills were there to keep me occupied.

A Black-winged Kite circled quite low overhead but the overhead sun was a difficult element to work around. It is quite interesting that this plumage colouration is shared by 2 other species that do occur in such a habitat here in Malaysia – the White-bellied Sea-eagle and the light morph Booted Eagle.

Friday 7 October 2011

6/10/2011: Kubang Semang (Penang)

A congregation of munias attracted my attention as I made my around the paddy fields. Upon further scrutiny it turned out to be a mixed flock of White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias and they were gorging on plant matters that were submerged by this flooded patch. As the munias appeared to be quite confiding and the water provided a great natural backdrop for photography, I decided to stop my car and started shooting these little adorable birds.

The commoner of the two species, the Scaly-breasted Munia, accepted my presence in no time and came really close to my car. At such close quarters, they provided some of my best images to date.

The White-rumped Munias, on the other hand, were slightly more reserved but still managed to provide a memorable performance.

Everything was perfect when I photographed this lone Zitting Cisticola. Well, everything except the bleedinbacklight

A group of four immature Brahminy Kites were seen foraging along another flooded patch of the paddy fields. These youngsters circled around and around and made a couple of half-hearted attempts as they skimmed just above the water. Come to think, they could just be fine-tuning their hunting skills.

From the look of things, they certainly need all the practice they can get. Oops…

All the activity attracted the attention of an adult kite. It proceeded to come closer and investigated what the youngsters were up to. I guess all the fun the youngsters were having must have brought back fond memories of a time when it still an adolescent. It must have decided to relive those memories and joined them.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Kupang-Gerik, Perak (01/10/11)

It has been more than a year since my last visit to this logging trail which is sadly the only way we have access to this pristine area of tropical rainforest. The day started off on a quite positive note when a Peregrine Falcon flew overhead. Every other bird that was up and about in the area immediately took cover from the mere sight of this deadly predator. Unfortunately, the falcon alighted on the canopy level of the tallest tree around and well beyond my gear’s comfort zone.

The locality was also filled the loud and distinctive calls of the Hill Mynas. After putting in some effort to locate the birds, I was slightly disappointed with the results. Although my subjects were rather close, the only way I could obtain a slightly clear image was to shoot between small gaps of the tree’s foliage. This species is a highly-prized cage bird because of its ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. And it is because of this talent that its population has been greatly reduced from many of its former strongholds.

A pair of foraging Scaly-crowned Babblers provided the main highlight for the trip. My preference for non-flash photography always made it quite a challenge for forest photography especially when it comes to babblers and their active nature. I had to rely heavily on continuous shooting and with a whole lot of luck, hopefully a few shots will turned out good. Anyway, this is the best shot out of the whole lot.

A pair of Red-bearded Bee-eater tantalizingly hawked for insects along the logging track and provided some colours and excitement to the trip. This pair of forest gems was the last birds we managed to photograph for the trip.

There was another encounter worth mentioning during the trip and it involved a snake. All three of us could have sworn that it was a cobra as the meter-long serpent raised its hood before slithering into the undergrowth. Choo Eng’s quick action resulted in a few record shots and a herpetologist researcher back home thinks it could be a juvenile King Cobra or an Indo-Chinese Rat Snake after reviewing the images. And I thought reptiles would be easier to identify...