I was back at the marshlands of Pulau Burung at the break of dawn but despite the good weather, there was nothing much about this time. All the scarce migrants like the Garganeys and Little Stints were no where to be seen. After about an hour, I decided to search for greener pastures elsewhere. I cannot recall the exact reason why I chose to visit Batu Kawan but it turned out to be one of the most crucial decisions that I have ever made in my life.
Upon my arrival, there was this particular dead tree with quite a few large birds resting on it. However, two of them had somewhat odd body shapes. Once I had my binos on them, their identification was crystal clear even at that distance – Oriental Darters! Apart from the historical records, there has been only one confirmed sighting of this enigmatic waterbird in Peninsula Malaysia and that was last year at Kinta Nature Park in Perak. I then quickly took a few record shots just to make sure I have photographic evidence in case the birds decide to disappear before I could get closer. I guess I have learned my lesson well from all my previous rarity sighting records where I was not able to support my finds with photographs and inevitably, resulted quite negatively on me.
Anyway, they were reasonably tame as I got as close as I possibly could by car. Using my car as a hide, I took quite a number of shots and the Darters were more than happy to oblige. As far as I could tell, both of them appeared to be adults birds in non-breeding plumage and there was not much difference in terms of colour and size.
The Darters were exhibiting their typical behaviour of drying itself and preening on exposed perches like this dead tree. It is most probably they had completed their morning hunt when I came across them. Much to my delight, my presence did not seem to bother them at all and I was given the opportunity to observe them going about their normal routine.
Looks like Christmas is early again for me this year and this lifer is one that I have been keeping an eye out for as long as I could remember. It fulfills most of the criteria that I look for in a bird that is worthy to be considered a mega lifer. It’s rare and it’s big and furthermore, it’s a waterbird. And even the moderate quality of the images due the distance and lighting did not seem to matter all that much. What is important is the fact that I was lucky enough to be at the right place and the right time to enjoy certainly one of my best birding moments ever. Merry Christmas and I hope you guys will enjoy your stay here…
Unfortunately, my encounter came to an abrupt end when a marauding White-bellied Sea-eagle came a little too close for comfort and caused the waterbirds in the vicinity to panic and flee - including the Darters. In flight, their long narrow wings carry them with ease and their necks are held outstretched. They stayed relatively close to each other as they flew and disappeared from sight among some vegetation at the far distance. I am not sure if the 'handshake' effect of these flying shots are due to my camera settings at that time or I was still recovering from all the excitement. Anyway despite a careful search of the area, I failed to relocate the Darters again.
And so, I finally had the time to pay homage to the other birds present. The marshlands here are quite rich in birdlife and there are always quite a number of large waterbirds around like this subadult Grey Heron.
During the migratory season, there will be a large influx of Egrets to the locality and the Great Egret is one of the four species that have been recorded here.
The Changeable Hawk-eagle is another common sight at the marshlands and I photographed this one while it was contemplating what to have for breakfast from a dead tree stump.
As for the waders, not many were around. The Red-wattled Lapwings are quite conspicuous and their presence usually does not go unnoticed.
This Terek Sandpiper was rather wary of my approaching car and I had no choice but to photograph it from a distance.
My next destination was the scrublands and mangroves of Juru. The Black-capped Kingfisher is one the most striking of our commoner kingfishers. However, it is terribly shy and this shot is one of the better ones I have managed to obtain so far.
The Brahminy Kite is a common resident along the mangrove belt here and two were seen patrolling the skies today.
At my last destination, the Sungai Dua paddy fields, I spent some time photographing this rather confiding Blue-tailed Bee-eater that was posing so elegantly against a nice green background.