Tuesday 29 November 2011

26/11/2011: Bukit Wang (Kedah)

The Selangor Bird Group decided to visit this locality as part of their group outing to the north and being the “locals”, we had every intention to greet the visiting birders with our usual friendly hospitality. However, Mother Nature had other thoughts and it poured for almost three hours at daybreak. The entire group had to seek shelter in one of the huts but we took the opportunity to catch-up with old friends and meet new ones. 

When the rain subsided, the group finally got to experience the birds found here. Although it could have been better, I guess the locality did provide a memorable experience for our guests in the end.

The resident Bat Hawk gave a much-welcomed performance and posed long enough for everyone to enjoy excellent views.

The only other bird that I managed to capture was this Dark-sided Flycather hunting from the edge of the forest. 

The main highlight of the trip, surprisingly, was not a bird but it does fly. To more precise, it glides. Colugos are arboreal mammals that are found only in the forests of Southeast Asia. They are very unique creatures and possess flaps of extra skin between their limbs to enable them to glide great distances through their forest homes. This pair was seen resting on one of the tree trunks and at that distance, our group was no threat to them at all. So in return, we were rewarded with prolonged views of this beautiful but elusive glider.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

23/11/2011: Pulau Burung (Penang)

I just could not resist another short visit to this locality to check on all the scarce migrants that have been turning up here of late. However, the Garganey again provided only fleeting views before it disappeared into the dense vegetation. This duck is the main reason I am here today because our last encounter had left me yearning for more. I also dipped out on the White Wagtail that happens to be another first record for this locality. Although this species is not new to me, it has been a few years since my last sighting and still do not have any decent images of it yet. Luckily, all was not lost as the Little Stints came to the aid of a frustrated birder. Foraging on their now habitual patch of bare earth, these adorable little waders have provided excellent views to a number of birders including yours truly. After years of scrutinizing flocks of Red-necked Stints for possible Little Stints among them, now I can get to see them whenever I wish – at least for the time being.

A few Long-toed Stints were also foraging in the same vicinity and identification of this species is rather straight-forward when compared to the Little Stint.

It has been quite a while since I last photographed Blue-tailed Bee-eaters from close range. The clearing of the vegetation and natural perches along the edge of the marshlands which are part of the maintenance works is the most probable cause. When a few of them alighted just next to my stationery car, it felt like the good old days again and from the looks of things so far this season, it could well be.

Monday 21 November 2011

19/11/2011: Pulau Burung (Penang)

I was contemplating if I should go or not to this locality tomorrow for the Garganey that was first seen by Dave a few days back. As it will be a working Saturday for me, I can only spare a couple of hours after dawn to look for this rather uncommon migrant. The reason for all the thinking is the fact that I seen this species once before and that is back in 2004 with Kanda at the mudflats of Bagan Tambang. Anyway, Choo Eng helped me come to a decision when I received a text message invitation from him to join him for a fast trip to look for the Garganey and the Little Stints as it was also a working day for him. And at first dawn, the two of us together with James were scanning the marshlands for the Garganey. It did make a brief appearance before it took cover among the dense vegetation after being spooked away by a Lesser Whistling-duck. Soon after, it started to rain and that drowned out any chance we had of relocating the duck.

How could you guys? Bad, bad ducky…

A lone Wood Sandpiper provided another “Reflections of Wings & Inspiration” image for my archives.

By the way, we got both the target birds as the Little Stints were still foraging in the same vicinity as my encounter with them last week. However, they were a little too far this time for my current setup but not Choo Eng’s…

Alarm bells started ringing in my head when I caught a fleeting glimpse of a slightly darker looking Ringed Plover scurrying around the vicinity. Unfortunately from Choo Eng’s record shot, it turned out to be a Little Ringed Plover in breeding plumage and not the rarer Common Ringed Plover as I had hoped. But one can always be optimistic, right?

Tuesday 15 November 2011

12/11/2011: Mainland Penang

It was a rather wet and gloomy morning as I entered the marshlands at Pulau Burung. Weather of this nature does have its affect on both birder and birds. From the look of things, I could sure use a good cup of coffee and so could this Common Sandpiper.

Loud splashing along the river mouth diverted my attention temporarily away from the birds and the reason behind the commotion was a family of otters. The dim lighting and constant movement of these graceful animals prevented me from obtaining any real good shots.

It is good to see the resident Lesser Whistling-ducks are enjoying one successful season after another here. This is probably the last stronghold for this species in my home state of Penang and that is pretty sad considering the fact it is quite common elsewhere.

I decided to stop my car next to a patch of slightly flooded red soil as I noticed there were quite a few Little Ringed Plovers foraging in the vicinity. It did not take long for them to get used to my car and I managed to capture some pretty decent shots as they gradually came closer.

Excitement grew when I picked out a few greyish-looking stints but they turned out to be Red-necked Stints (first winter birds, I think) and not the much rarer Temminck’s Stint as I had hoped for. Although Red-necked Stints usually occur along coastal habitats, they do sometimes show up inland, right fellas?
That was until Dave corrected me after I posted this blog entry because the wader in this photo is a Little Stint and finally, I can include this species into my life list without feeling any guilt. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the two species in the field especially in non-breeding plumage and the skills needed are perhaps just a little beyond me for now. Thanks, Dave.

Basically, the rarer Little Stint (much overlooked due to its similarities to the Red-necked Stint) has a somewhat thinner bill, longer legs, a smaller head that is positioned slightly higher on the body and rounder overall appearance.

The tide was just about right when I arrived at my second destination – the mudflats of Batu Kawan. A rather confiding Pacific Golden Plover was a good enough reason for me to stop my car and waited for it to get accustomed to my presence. Judging from the images I obtained today, I must make it a point to visit this locality just before the next spring migration to catch this species in their outstanding breeding plumage.

This is one…



A few Lesser Sand-plovers also gave a good performance when they foraged near my stationery car. Common, small and nondescript but with a whole lot of attitude.

I even managed to gain the trust of the usually wary Common Redshank and it was shortly after that I discovered the highlight of the day. I was so preoccupied with photographing these commoner waders that I almost miss my lifer – a Grey-tailed Tattler, that I could not determine if it just came in or was there the whole time. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, it did not stay long enough after I had it in my sights to obtain any images. Just a pretty good view of its wholly grey upperparts as it was flying away from me. This is my second consecutive lifer (a first winter male Blue-and-White Flycatcher last week) that has slipped past my camera but most fortunately, not my binoculars.

A lapse of concentration…

and this adult White-bellied Sea-eagle flies off hungry.

The paddy fields at Kubang Semang did not provide much to ease my disappointment with the tattler until I came across a pair of Red Collared Doves foraging on some exposed mud. The male looks like a subadult as it has yet to fully sport the splendid red plumage of an adult male.

The female is very plain looking and to an unwary birder, can be overlooked as a Spotted Dove. I must admit if not for the male bird, there is a high possibility I could have drove past the foraging pair.

The Pond-herons are back but not in usual high numbers yet.

Reflections of wings and inspiration – Great Egret…

I may not be much of an insect person but this striking dragonfly feeding on these snail eggs does make a rather interesting portrait.

Saturday 5 November 2011

03/11/2011: Sea off Tanjung Dawai (Kedah)

It started out like any ordinary day till I received a text message from Dave which sounded something like this, “You should consider making a boat trip soon because I just had a Little Gull”. This species is a first record for Malaysia and a second for Southeast Asia. When you find something this rare, it is no longer just a lifer. It is, in the words of Bill Oddie himself, a cosmic mindf*#ker! It has been 3 weeks since that faithful day and I finally got to have a go at the gull.

Anticipation was high as I set off towards the sunrise with Choo Eng in search of this rare visitor. One of the first few seabirds to greet us was a couple of Lesser Crested Terns. Not a bad way to start the day as this species is quite uncommon. Although they came around the boat on two occasions, they did not stay long enough for me to obtain any really good images.

Around this time of the year, the regular wintering terns would have arrived and start to build up their numbers. It came as no surprise when the fishing boats started to cast their nests, the terns came from all directions and in their hundreds. Like the Pied Pipers of the sea, it is simply impossible for the terns to resist the natural “chum” of the boats.

Trying to locate a small gull that somewhat looks like a tern among the flocks of terns was no easy task but we had to try our best. And tried we did. Unfortunately, we dipped out on the Little Gull and I guess our cosmic experience will have to wait another day. The brief appearance of a lone Brown Booby in flight over the far horizon did not do much to relieve us of our disappointment.

The easy pickings attracted a lot of patrons. It certainly beats the tedious task of hunting – just ask these White-winged Terns.

The White-winged Terns were also the most numerous of the terns today.

The Common Terns were slightly outnumbered but their true numbers have yet to arrive.

This particular Common Tern with the sexy red legs could be of the minussensis race.

The angelic Black-naped Terns, in their usual low numbers, are always a delight to observe and photograph.

Little Terns cut a pretty diagnostic silhouette in flight and are easily recognizable even from a distance. It is pretty hard to mistake a cigar-shaped tern for anything else – in Malaysian waters anyway.

The star performers for this trip were undoubtedly the Bridled Terns. Today’s high number provided ample opportunity for me to photograph this strictly pelagic species. At the end of the day, I was rather pleased with the results of my efforts.

The blue waters provided the perfect backdrop to capture these graceful seabirds...

As evening drew near, storm clouds started to form signaling the arrival of the daily thunderstorms and strong winds that have been hitting both Kedah and Penang for the past few weeks. This snapshot I took of what was brewing on the horizon was a rather intimidating sight and I was not the only one feeling this way as the crew decided to call it a day earlier than usual. Besides, today will be their last day at sea before they take a week off work to celebrate the Hari Raya Haji and challenging Mother Nature’s dominance and fury isn’t exactly on their agenda on the eve of a festive season.