This time's birding the focus was on terns and one of the best places in Penang for these angelic waterbirds is the coastline of Kuala Muda. Located at the northernmost tip of mainland Penang, big numbers of migratory terns will rest on the sandbanks near the shore every season. Again, timing your visit with the tide is essential here as well and that task was entrusted to Hor Kee. Unfortunately, the haze was bad morning and that made positive identification of the birds and obtaining sharp images of them a challenge. The terns were present in big numbers as expected but we needed to reduce the distance between us. This was where the adventure began because there was a 20 feet wide canal of water, sand and mud that we had to cross to reach our goal. I guess wading knee deep (in some spots, thigh deep) in mud to get to the sandbanks was bearable for what laid ahead.
An estimated 400 terns consisting of six different species were present in the vicinity. It was more than enough to get a couple of waterbird junkies high on adrenalin. The Greater Crested Terns towered over the rest and it looked like the earlier inconvenience was worth the trouble. Or so I thought.
Our joy was short lived. Just we were about to get comfortable, a cockle collector came too close and put all the terns to flight. Well, birding, as in life, sometimes we just have to roll with the punches.
The majority of the terns were White-winged Terns. Some of them still had traces of their breeding plumage.
There were hardly any waders around. It has been like this for as long as I could recall. But when a pair of curlews flew overhead, it was just pure instinct to take a few shots. I did not expect much from the shots as the birds were a little too fast and thanks to the haze, the lighting and clarity will be out as well. When I finally got round to checking the images, I was surprised to see that I managed to capture both the Eurasian Curlew and the Far Eastern Curlew in a single frame. The latter is a much rarer species and this image depicts the underwing difference between the two species in which the latter has dark underwings.
The main disadvantage of having the longest bill of any wader is getting it cut off in photographs. This is just a self-preservation thing for me being careless enough to let this sort of thing happen.
The Pacific Reef Egret is uncommon here in Penang. The appearance of a dark morph bird on any outing is a bonus. I have yet to obtain any images that I could be proud of and from the looks of things, the hunt goes on...
Hor Kee spotted an “unusual” white egret flying towards the sandbanks from a distance. It then alighted on the far end of the sandbank and initially, we thought it was a white morph Pacific Reef Egret. Its presence was not welcomed by a Great Egret and the big fellow chased the smaller egret away almost immediately. Once back home, after much scrutiny and confirmation from Dave, we realized it was a Chinese Egret. A globally endangered species, this strictly coastal species winters irregularly here in Peninsula Malaysia and in very small numbers.
Here is a composite shot to show the proportion of the legs of the Chinese Egret compared to the dark morph Pacific Reef Egret.
When the tide finally covered most of the exposed sandbanks, we made our way to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam. The migratory Yellow-rumped Flycatcher has been performing well of late and we wanted in on some of the action. And we were not to be disappointed. The male is a truly gorgeous bird. Enough said…
The resident Mangrove Blue Flycatchers were certainly not going to let this visiting flycatcher hog all the limelight without a fight. And what a fight they provided. The male took the first swing…
And the follow up by the female reinstated them back as the best performers of this little swamp forest.
Flycatchers seemed to the flavour of the day as the young male Asian Paradise Flycatcher that I saw a few weeks back wandered into our path.
Apart from the birds, other wildlife species are also thriving at this birding paradise. A Long-tailed Macaque and her baby wrapped things up for a surprisingly exciting trip despite the lack of good photographs from our muddy adventures at Kuala Muda.