Thursday, 17 November 2016

The eagles have certainly landed...

The weather has improved slightly here around Penang state and a beautiful sunrise unfolded as we made our way along the elevated boardwalk of Air Hitam Dalam. This time, I had the company of a couple from Scotland and they have been birding for a very long time. We had barely broke a sweat when we came across our first bird of the day. It was a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo foraging noisily along the canopy level of the swamp forest. The rackets of this bird have always been the object of fascination for me but today, it was the bird’s hearty catch.

Moments later, the presence of a pair of Spotted Wood-owls stopped us at our tracks. However, the owls were restless and did not stay put for long. Daytime encounters with owls are always exciting. Even if brief glimpses were all that were to it. The owls, despite their size, can hide surprisingly well among the foliage and shadows of the tree crowns. Hide-and-seek is one game that you do not want to engage with them. On the other hand, another predatory bird of this swamp forest was a lot more obliging. The Crested Serpent-eagle is not new to any of us but it still received its share of admiration and affection.

The next destination was the expansive mudflats of neighbouring Bagan Belat. The tide was slightly higher than anticipated and inevitably, the number of waders present was less overwhelming. The Nordmann’s Greenshank is one of the most sought after wader species among my foreign guests. It comes as no surprise because it is an endangered species and the coastline here is one of its regular wintering grounds. It is also one good looking bird even in winter. Flocks of almost similar-looking Common Greenshanks were given extra attention but to no avail. And Penang continues to anxiously await the arrival of the first Nordmann’s Greenshank of the season (at the time of writing, a few had revealed themselves to Dave a few days after our visit).

From the coastline, we headed inland towards Permatang Pauh - the main paddy planting district of Penang. The electrical pylons that spans across one section of the paddy fields is the favourite haunt for wintering eagles. It did not take long to find one and it was a Greater Spotted Eagle. It was an exciting find but unfortunately, there was nothing much I could do about the distance of the encounter.

I was so preoccupied with the Greater Spotted Eagle that I did not notice a pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles on the very top of the same pylon until they were pointed to me by my guests – much to my embarrassment. Again the distance was just too great or this majestic pair would have made a very good capture.

Unlike the mighty raptors, one small migratory passerine performed admirably well for my camera and it was a female Siberian Stonechat. It is by no means a rare species but she is exotic enough to have my undivided attention.

Black-crowned Night-herons are not often seen here. Not in broad daylight anyway. This juvenile was hunting when our paths crossed and since it was obliging enough, we took some time to admire its presence.

The flocks of Grey-headed Lapwings are increasing in numbers - as expected. Their numbers may have grown but their courage remains the same – as expected too. Anyhow, the lighting was good today and I tried my luck at some distanced shots hoping that they will turn out good enough to be posted. And one of them did.

To see a Lesser Adjutant foraging in a paddy field in Peninsular Malaysia is nothing out of the ordinary especially in the paddy fields in the southernmost state of Johor. But this is the first time I have seen one in the paddy fields here in Penang. Hence, the inclusive of this dreadful shot to end this time’s post of our half day excursion. Thanks to the sunny weather, it was a memorable and rewarding trip as well.

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