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 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.
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.