When Graeme told us that the marshlands at Pulau Burung, Penang are being developed, I can only fear for the worst. I finally had the time to see for myself the magnitude of the damage and it was a sight I hoped that I will never have to see. All unprotected birding sites in my beloved home state usually will not be able to stand the test of time and it would be very foolish of me to believe that would be any different here at Pulau Burung. According to Dave, the extension of the landfill into the marshlands was always part of the plan and it was only a matter of time.
With a heavy heart I bid farewell to one of my favourite birding sites. Not only is it the best and easiest place for bird photography, it also gave the birding community rarities like the Red-necked Phalarope, Garganey, Little Stint and Pheasant-tailed Jacana. And it is not always about rarities. Even the commoner species provided hours of priceless birding memories – to me anyway.
With the ongoing "works", most parts of the marshlands are now inaccessible unless you are willing to thread on soggy and muddy grounds. Photographing Wood Sandpipers will require more work from now on. I guess it will never be the same without the aid of my car as a mobile hide.
There was quite a number of wintering Whiskered Terns present here today and this pair was taking a breather after a hearty breakfast.
I will certainly miss the flocks of Lesser Whistling-ducks that are thriving here if the marshes are completely destroyed in future.
And how can I forget all those close-up shots I managed to obtain here of the stunning Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. No, things will certainly never be the same again.
I then decided to try my luck along the surrounding mangroves and that is something that I must admit, have neglected in the past. I did not have to drive far before I came across this lone Stork-billed Kingfisher hunting from a shaded perch.
A small flock of Black Bazas were also seen circling above the mangroves. Despite the distance, these striking birds of prey were reasonably wary of my presence.
But I guess it would take something really rare or really big to cheer me up today. And it was the latter - an adult White-bellied Sea-eagle resting at the edge of the mangroves. The distance and angle of this majestic raptor from my stationery car was just within the reach of my camera and this was something that I have been waiting for because all of my past encounters were either from a distance or in flight. Much to my delight, this individual was quite confiding and totally ignored my intrusion. I took quite a number of shots as an opportunity like this is pretty rare even though this eagle is not.
I was dumbfounded as soon as I turned into the gravel access road of the paddy fields at Bandar PERDA Penang – my second locality of the day. A huge eagle glided overhead and it only took one look to identify the species. I finally unblock the last of the Aquila eagles from my life list. It was a juvenile Steppe Eagle in all its glory. As fate would have it there was another car behind me and I had to frantically drive to the nearest lay by to let the car pass. Unfortunately, when I got out of my car with my gear in hand, I had lost the eagle. How can one possibly lose sight of an eagle that has a wing span the size of a door? Apparently you can because I did.
Streams of profanity were immediately replaced by phrases of joy when I managed to locate a large flying raptor being harassed by a smaller one shortly after. My happiness was short lived when the large raptor turned out to be, no disrespect intended, only a Greater Spotted Eagle. The smaller raptor was a juvenile Brahminy Kite and it must have struck a nerve of the big guy causing it to retaliate quite aggressively.
I could hardly believe my luck when a second eagle came into view. This must be the Steppe Eagle or so I thought. But it turned out to be another Greater Spotted Eagle. So much for luck. Judging from its much streakier underparts, it could be a younger bird than the first one. Why I am so adamant of obtaining the image of this lifer? Well, let's just put it as a photo is worth a thousand words. Especially if it is as rare as a Steppe Eagle and you have no one else with you at the time to back up the sighting.
Anyway, the second Greater Spotted Eagle must have felt my disappointment because it decided to give quite a performance by gliding very low directly where I was standing and it came close. Pretty darn close I might add.
The migratory Black-winged Stilts are starting to build up in number and they will always be a welcome sight to me.
Wrapping things up for the day was this handsome Brown Shrike looking perfectly at home at his wintering ground.