Monday, 22 October 2012


The Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network organizes a yearly Collaborative Research Project of Migratory Raptors and this year, the two sites in Malaysia that was selected to join the research was Pulau Tioman (Pahang) and Bedong (Kedah). At the Bedong site, which is still ongoing, it is a 35-day survey and volunteers are coming in from as far as Selangor. Choo Eng is the coordinator as this site was discovered by him a few years back. The site is basically a small hillock overlooking palm oil and rubber estates. Here, the price birders have to pay for the unobstructed view is the scorching heat of the sun and sometimes, the conditions can come close to being unbearable. Due to my workload these days, I could not commit myself to help out until I found myself a free Saturday. So, here I was, counting raptors, under the hot tropical sun with three other birders – Choo Eng, Phang and Tan.

A flock of forty Oriental Honey-buzzards started things off for the day…

While we were observing the flock, a handsome male Chinese Goshawk came into view and put on a really good show. It has been a long while since the last time I managed to observe this raptor from close range and I guess I must have forgotten how beautiful this species truly is because I was momentarily spell-bounded by this male bird. And to top it all off, this time I finally managed to capture a few reasonable shots.

The majority of raptors passing through today were Oriental Honey-buzzards. However, most of them did not come enough for my camera’s sweet spot except for this pale morph individual. We were also keeping an eye out for the four satellite-tracked Oriental Honey-buzzards that are part of the Hachikuma Project. The main purpose for this project by Keio University is to make available the real time status of these raptors’ migration online not only for scientific researchers but the general public as well. Anyway at the time of writing, one of the buzzards has reached the northern tip of Peninsular Malaysia.

The sighting of a migrating Osprey caused much excitement among the group. This fish-loving raptor is not a rare winter visitor to Malaysia but it is a new record for the site. I did miss out on a migrating falcon as it was simply too far and fast for me to confirm its identity. I can only hope that it was only a Peregrine Falcon (as seen by other counters a few days back) and not something rare - like a Eurasian Hobby.

White-bellied Sea-eagles do not migrate, right? Well, try telling that to this big fellow that decided to join the migrating flocks. The far-fetched thought of an Egyptian Vulture did cross our minds but as soon as the distinctive honking of the Sea-eagle filled the vicinity, we fell back to Earth with a loud thump.

The resident raptors, like this Crested Serpent-eagle, must have felt slightly neglected and decided to try and divert our attention from the passing migrants. Passing low overhead was certainly one fail safe way of doing it.

The resident Changeable Hawk-eagle also made its presence felt when it scouted around the vicinity a few times hunting for food.

There were times when we were staring at empty blue skies for long periods because the migrating raptors do not passed through non stop – not here in Malaysia anyway. So, what better way to help pass the time than to observe and try to photograph whatever migrants that are passing through like this Blue-tailed Bee-eater. I personally look forward to passing Bee-eaters during a raptor count. Bee-eaters are extremely vocal when migrating and I take their distinctive calls as a sign that the raptors are coming because on most occasions, this is all so true.

Swiftlets are notoriously difficult to photograph in flight but this time I had plenty of time and opportunity to try. At the end of the day, after numerous attempts, this is the only reasonable image I have to show. Photographing a Swiftlet is only half the battle. Positive identification is the other half. Who am I kidding – positive identification is a whole new battle and one that I rarely experience the sweet taste of victory. Apart from the Glossy Swiftlet with its distinctive whitish belly, all Swiftlets look remarkably alike and to make matters worse, have varied plumages. Anyway, I'm putting my money on Germain's Swiftlet in this case.

The Brown-backed Needletail is not only the largest of the Swifts found in Malaysia but they are also one of the fastest bird in the world - in direct flight that is. Naturally, their images are far and few for me and this one, despite the poor quality, is certainly a keeper.

Below is the result of our count for the day. Click here for past results and as well as results from other participating sites.

Oriental Honey-buzzard 150
Chinese Goshawk 16
Japanese Sparrowhawk 15
Black Kite 3
Grey-faced Buzzard 2
Osprey 1
Unidentified Accipiters 227
Unidentified Falcon 1
Unidentified Raptors 35
Total 450

Monday, 1 October 2012

Finally, some birding time...(29/09/2012)

I have not been out on the field for about a month now and when I finally found myself with some time to spare, I was at the marshland of Pulau Burung, Penang just after the break of dawn. With the migratory season coming into full swing, the timing could not have been any better. This first rarity of the season has been recorded by Madi in the eastern state of Trengganu. It was a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo and a probable second record for Malaysia. With that in mind, I started scanning the marshlands full of optimism and anxiety. However, the level of bird activity was well below par but the flocks of resting Lesser Whistling-ducks did keep my spirit up and provided quite a few lovely images.

The migrants have certainly arrived but not quite in their usual numbers yet. There was nothing suspicious about this lone Yellow Wagtail because it was, after all, only a Yellow Wagtail. I have been without a lifer for many months now and I guess it is kind of getting to me.

A dark raptor perched on a distant dead tree provided a much needed boost of excitement to this morning’s excursion. However once the distant between me and my quarry was reduced, it turned out to be only a dark-morph Changeable Hawk-eagle. Since it totally ignored the presence of my car, I decided to capture a few images as best as I could in the harsh lighting conditions at the time. 

Nevertheless, it was a Changeable Hawk-eagle and once the twitcher in me was no longer in the driver’s seat, I took the time to observe and admire this powerful raptor from such a close range.

My next destination was another marshland habitat – Batu Kawan. Much to my dismay, a thorough search did produce anything extraordinary or exciting. But at the adjacent mudflats, I bumped into a wader species that I have longed to photograph but was never given any good opportunities. Well, not until today that is. Even from a distance the sheer size of the Eurasian Curlew made it stood out from the rest and I have not even come to the fact about its wickedly long bill. Distant record shots are not what my heart truly desired and so, I slowly reduced the distance between us by using my car as a mobile hide. Lady luck was certainly on my side today as I managed to get into a position that was within the reach of my gear. It may not be rare but I had to wait all these years to finally obtain some reasonable images of the impressive wader.

Unfortunately, it was slightly perturbed by my presence and gradually made its way further onto the mudflats. It found some sanctuary in the company of another large wader, the Whimbrel and the two of them resting so close to each provided me with an opportunity to capture a comparison shot.

My final destination of the day was the scrublands at Juru. Nothing much here as well except for a Brown Shrike giving me the evil eye for driving too close to her vantage point.

The resident Crested Serpent-eagles of Juru are so accustomed to human presence that I think they are probably the friendliest eagles I have ever encountered before. For them, it is not a matter of whether you can get close enough but whether the perch and lighting is optimum.