It has been a while since my last visit to the mudflats and a free Saturday provided the perfect opportunity to do just that. I had a few hours to kill before the tide was favourable at Bagan Belat. So, it was back to the nearby swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam again. A large raptor sitting quietly at the edge of the swamp turned out to be a Crested Serpent Eagle. It was on a relatively low perch and I could not resist taking a shot despite the fact it being one of the most regularly encountered raptors here.
When you see a Sparrowhawk, chances are it is a Japanese Sparrowhawk. I am not implying it is easy to see one perched but it is, after all, the commonest of the Sparrowhawks that occur in the Peninsula. Unlike the Crested Serpent Eagle, it is not a regular here and a whole lot shyer. Even at this distance, it allowed me just a couple of shots before it dived into the cover of the canopy.
A momentarily lapse of concentration cost me an image of a roosting Buffy Fish-owl. Before I could react, the huge silent wings of the owl took it deeper into the swamp forest. An Abbott's Babbler that foraged nearby did not help to ease my frustration either. It was so close that its signature "three cheers for you" song was simply deafening. Active and sulking, this was the only shot I managed to take and I swear I could have made out a smirk on its face.
There are certain families of birds that are in a class of their own when it comes to identification and Leaf-warblers are most certainly one of them. Recently, the Sakhalin Leaf-warbler was split from the Pale-legged Leaf-warbler. According to Dave, the only noticeable difference between the two species is their call (and I thought the Paddyfield - Richard's Pipit split was bad). Consulting Google yielded more or less the same results. Fate would have it that I would cross path with a possible Sakhalin Leaf-warbler on this day and playing back its call on my iPhone was the only way to help firm up its identity.
The bird was foraging near the ground level of the swamp forest and I, was standing on the elevated boardwalk. The response to the playback was immediate and certainly not lacking of enthusiasm. It flew across the boardwalk in front of me and alighted on a slightly exposed perch among the undergrowth. It even called back. Unfortunately, the shooting conditions were difficult and it was facing me most of the time. It did not occur to me at that time to record its call using my iPhone because I have never practiced that in the field. Now, I realized that it was probably the only way to confirm its identity. Photographic evidence is simply insufficient and response to playback is not conclusive in this case. And this sighting will probably go down as another Pale-legged Leaf-warbler which is by no means a common species to begin with.
Some of the flycatchers at this locality are also in a class of their own. However, it is not in terms of identification. It is their remarkable tame nature. I know that I have taken numerous shots of this handsome male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher wintering here and so has every birder in Penang. But I have also learned from my years of birding never to take things for granted. What is here today may not be here tomorrow. So, enjoy it while is last. This probably applies to everything else in life as well. Anyway, how could one possibly even turn down a performance like this…
All the attention this winter visitor has been receiving of late did not go down well with the resident male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. On several occasions, I have witnessed the larger Mangrove Blue Flycatcher chasing away the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. The thing is I am not sure if this is a normal behaviour everywhere or is it just here where the two species are in close proximity with each other very often.
The male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher is even more confiding than the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Not much effort is required to obtain frame-filling shots.
The same can be said about his mate as well. That’s my girl…
At mid morning, the coastal mudflats beckons and I was back at the rocky outcrop scanning through the flocks of waders that have amassed there to feed. I did not have much opportunity to use my camera this time as the waders were keeping their distance from the shoreline. One notable sighting today was a lone Grey Plover foraging where else but at the far end. Relatively uncommon in Penang, it is always a delight to come across it in the field.
A Greater Sand Plover making the best out of life despite its shortcomings. It seemed to fairing quite well. Feeding and foraging among the other sand plovers is no easy task as they are an aggressive bunch. What does not kill you only makes you stronger.
Curlew Sandpipers were in their usual numbers and a few did wander close enough to remind me why I bring my camera with me for all my trips.
Waders can paddle like ducks when they want to but I am not sure if I have ever seen a Common Redshank doing it before.
The number of Red-necked Stints has increased tremendously since my last visit. Yes, I did scrutinize every single one for a Spoonie. And no, I did not find one. When the sun was at its zenith and the temperature soared to even greater heights, I decided to call it a day.
I did make a quick detour to the mangroves and scrublands behind the Telekom Maritime Station just further up north along the Kuala Muda coast. It has been many years since my last visit to this locality and treading along the soggy access trail brought back fond memories of a young birder easily excited by most of the birds he comes across. Other than a gate to prevent car from entering, nothing much has changed here – much to my delight.
The presence of a small flock of Black Bazas made me linger at this locality a bit longer than I had anticipated but in the end, nothing came of it. The Forest Wagtails that were foraging among the protruding roots of the mangroves were way too skittish for any good images either. But overall, it was a another good day thanks to the birdlife at the small patch of swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam that through the years has not stop to excite this now not-so-young birder.