Tuesday 25 February 2014

Overwhelmed is the word (22/02/2014)

I have not done my usual circuit of birding spots in mainland Penang for quite a while and I decided to give a try. First stop was the marshlands of Pulau Burung. This former favourite of mine is now a pale shadow from its glory days and it is all thanks to someone's bright idea of turning a wildlife haven to a scenic lake. Surprisingly though, one species seems to be thriving in this new environment - the Lesser Whistling-ducks. A quick count revealed 90 birds and this is my personal highest count. 

With the marshlands being practically dead, I diverted my attention to the adjacent mangroves. At least 3 Black-capped Kingfishers were present but these striking birds are extremely shy and difficult to approach.

The Blue-tailed Bee-eater, on the other hand, is as tame as it comes for a wild bird. The magic of Pulau Burung dwindles on...

Big waterbirds like the Purple Heron still call this place home and for that, I am grateful. 

The Grey-headed Lapwing is an uncommon migrant to this locality and this morning's record of two foraging birds was a much-needed compensation for missing out on capturing a much rarer visitor - the Ruff. I have no one to blame for that failure but my slow reaction and the perimeter hoarding board.

The resident Red-wattled Lapwings were in their usual numbers but the two species appeared to be avoiding each other despite the fact that they were less than 100 feet apart. 

While waiting for the Ruffs to reappear, a family of Little Grebes came exceptionally close to my stationery car. The blue structure in the background is the hoarding board I mentioned earlier. A simple structure that does its job, of keeping intruders out and rare waders such as the Ruff out of sight and reach of desperate birders, to perfection. 

A slow drive along the coastal mudflats yielded nothing much except for a resting Brahminy Kite. 

The White-breasted Waterhen is a true exception to the rail family. It is undoubtedly the friendliest and tamest rail in Malaysia. Are you sure you are even a rail, bud?

The next two sites in my circuit were the marshlands of Batu Kawan and the scrublands of Juru. Unfortunately, nothing much was about and it was a real disappointment.  The paddy fields of  Kubang Semang was the last destination for the day and much to my delight, it was not another letdown.

A small flock of Grey-headed Lapwings resting along the paddy stalks kept me well occupied for a while. There is nothing out of the ordinary to come across this species here during the migratory months but the surprisingly tolerant behaviour the birds were exhibited was indeed something to shout about. Usually, these birds will fly off at the slightest sign of danger - but not today. 

Who would have ever thought that this is a common sight in Penang? The answer is nobody - well, not before 2 years back anyway. That was the time when the Asian Openbills started to colonize Peninsular Malaysia from the neighbouring country of Thailand. 

Still, when I came across a flock of at least 300 foraging along a single canal, I was overwhelmed. It is rare to see big concentrations of large waterbirds in Malaysia, except for egrets, and this was certainly quite a sight. This is my highest count of these unique water birds and I could not help myself to stop whatever it was I was doing and just enjoy the spectacle. 

I also decided to take some flying shots as I recalled I did not have that many good shots of them flying. The storks being huge and a little slow made my task a little easier as well. 

With the current dry spell being one of the worst in recent years and the temperature skyrocketing off the charts, I decided to call it a day. The conditions may have taken their toll on me but the birds look set to brave it out. It just goes to sure how poorly adapted we humans are without our technology.