Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Counting raptors?

October is always an exciting time of the year as the migratory season comes into full swing. It is also time to catch raptors on autumn migration. Bedong is small town in Kedah state where migrating raptors passed through each year. There is a particular hillock in the middle of a palm oil estate where these migrating raptors can be observed and counted. It is definitely not in the same league as some of the other renowned raptor count sites in this region but it is the nearest one to home and that accounts for a lot. However for a rewarding raptor count, hot and sunny weather is an absolute requirement. The Bedong site has changed considerably since my last visit and the ever-growing palm trees now threaten to block our view of the migrating raptors. But the trees were the least of Hor Kee and my worries. The looming thunder clouds were…

It was almost mid morning and yet, no sign of the life-giving rays of the sun. Our raptor count on this overcast Saturday morning was turning be a lost cause. Then the characteristic calls of the Blue -tailed Bee-eater echoed through the vicinity and that is always a good sign. Both of us immediately stare into the heavens above. Migrating bee-eaters are good indicators of approaching raptors and true enough, a lone dark morph Oriental Honey Buzzard leisurely glided into view. And it was surprisingly low.

Oriental Honey Buzzards usually form part of the majority seen during raptor counts here but today, we counted only two. I hope that they are a little late this year or have taken another route south. Got be positive in life sometimes...

Small groups of Japanese and Chinese Sparrowhawks periodically passed through but they were way too far for any photographic attempts. The biggest flock of raptors recorded today was a flock of 30 Black Bazas. My pathetic attempt to capture these striking raptors does them no justice. The poor lighting and distance was just too much for my gear to cope.

By lunch time, things came to a complete stop. Raindrops started to trickle down. It was fortunate that we heeded Mother Nature’s warning and made out way out there and then. Not long after we got into our vehicle, the heavens opened up. The torrential rain washed my SUV clean as we needed to go off-road to get to the count site. But it could not wash away my disappointment as my first raptor count of the season ended with less than 100 raptors. After lunch, we head towards the paddy fields of mainland Penang hoping for some waders to lift our spirits. It has stopped raining by then and the gloomy sky could work to our advantage as we need not deal with the harsh lighting of midday.

The newly ploughed patches were ideal for waders and it did not take long for us to find one teeming with waders. The Long-toed Stint is a small bird and its intricate upperwing patterns blend in well with the environment. A stationery bird can sometimes be overlooked and I am sure we did today. Those that we did managed to pick out numbered up to a staggering 150 birds.

A small number of Little Ringed Plovers were also present and these little guys usually try to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Talking about being inconspicuous, snipes are also back at their wintering ground here. Being masters of camouflage, they are often overlooked. And when that fails, they will fly off to the next cover when threatened. However, this individual did neither although its cover was blown. Another thing that struck us was its plumage. Snipes are a nightmare to identify and we pretty much agreed that this one was a Common Snipe but there is just something about its plumage that did not appear quite right. I suspect the reason it was so confiding was to allow us to obtain good images and torment us later when it came to confirming its identity.

Egrets were aplenty at the paddy fields today. Among all the freshwater egrets, the Intermediate Egret is the one that usually gets the most attention especially from my foreign guests. Although I was not hosting any guests today, it does not mean I do not give the egret any attention at all.

Other than the egrets, there was a big number of Purple Herons present as well. I cannot recall the last time I recorded this many here. Two adult birds standing next to each in the open is certainly not something you see often.

Flocks of Daurian Starlings will usually receive my undivided attention as I do not want to overlook the almost similar but much rarer Chestnut-cheeked Starling which has a tendency to hang out with its commoner cousins. But the only other starling species in this flock are a few Asian Glossy Starlings.

To wrap things up for the day was this flock of Grey-headed Lapwings exhibiting its usual suspicion of approaching humans – birders in particular. 


kezonline said...

Quite a journey to Bedong, near the Thai border? So a different starting place and another birding story well told. Keep up the good work for those of us who just dream of taking such great photos so often for us reading from afar. Thank you Choy!!

Choy Wai Mun said...

Bedong is not that far about an hour's drive from Penang. Thank you.

John Holmes said...

Great to see the Bazas, whatever the light !

Choy Wai Mun said...

I have to agree with you on that, John.