Monday, 23 April 2018

Two days too late


It started out like any ordinary weekday morning. After checking my emails and messages, I decided to have a quick look at my Facebook. A photo posted by a friend caught my immediate attention. It was a photo of an Oriental Plover – a rare migrant to our shores and a would-be lifer. After obtaining the necessary information, the open country of Kamunting will be my next birding destination two days from now. Dave was about to make a trip to Ipoh on that day and Kamunting was conveniently along the way. Later in the afternoon, I received news from him. Not one but two Oriental Plovers in the bag. And thus began the agonizing wait for the weekend. Two vehicles, four birders, one very plain-looking but rare objective and a vast grassland. Not as vast as the grasslands of Chuping in Perlis but Hor Kee, Nelson, Beng Yean and yours truly still had our work cut out for us.


The most prominent species present were undoubtedly the Oriental Pratincoles. These peculiar but beautiful waders were nesting there and caution had to be taken not too stress them out too much during our search for the Oriental Plovers. The sight of the nesting pratincoles brought back memories of the nesting ground in my home state. Sadly, the site is now nothing but a distant memory.




The next generation of Oriental Pratincoles which in time will grace our world with their graceful aerial agilities…


Normally, where the Oriental Pratincole nests so will the Red-wattled Lapwing. Although not in such high numbers, there were enough of this common but stunning waders around to grab my attention. Come to think of it these birds are natural born attention grabbers with their loud and distinct alarm call and the numbers present does not matter.



I think by now you have more or less have guessed the outcome for my twitch for the Oriental Plovers. If something as rare as this is not mentioned by the second paragraph, it can only spell dip out. Despite a careful sweep for more than 3 hours, we just could not locate the plovers. The trip was not without its highlights and one of them is certainly this – my first ever photo of the Small Buttonquail after all these years.


I was not too disappointed for being too slow to photograph a Barred Buttonquail. The reason being I almost got a clear shot of a male Blue-breasted Quail. Now the latter deserves a lengthy paragraph not only to make up for the crappy image but the bird truly deserves it. Adorable and striking, the male Blue-breasted Quail is one of the most attractive gamebirds in Malaysia. Looking more like a plush soft toy than a real bird, this quail is naturally much sought after. It is not rare. However, to actually see a bird well in the field is often difficult. After all, both quails and buttonquails are the Houdinis of the natural world and their vanishing acts are just as remarkable as the great man’s.


One is bound to come across a Paddyfield Pipit in such a habitat and there were certainly a fair number present. Most were seen in pairs and that saved us the time and headache of trying to determine if they could be some other migratory pipit species.


Common Mynas are one of the most aggressive birds I know. I have witnessed numerous fights between birds of the same species and the majority of these fights involved the Common Myna. These bouts can last for a long time and that can be exhausting. This one lasted about 10 minutes and the loser retreated from the vicinity leaving the victor to enjoy his triumphant moment.



White-headed Munias are not as numerous as some of the other species. However, they seemed to outnumber the rest at this locality. While observing a flock grazing near our position, one of the birds got a little carried away with the feast and wandered very close to our stationary vehicle. But the munia was constantly on the move and photographing the little guy was harder than expected.


Once we were gripped by the possibility of dipping out, desperation set in. We widened our search to beyond the four corners of the grasslands. There are a few former mining pools in the vicinity and these man made wetlands are now home to the local wildlife including birds. It always nice to see an adult Purple Heron although it is not uncommon. The size and colouration makes it attractive species that I still cannot ignore to this day.


The Black-backed Swamphen, on the other hand, is a waterfowl that I do not come across often enough. It is most probably extinct from my home state and this site is probably the closest one to home that I can admire the beauty of the swamphen. It has a preference for the invasive Hyacinth plant and the colouration of this water plant does help to bring out the radiance of the bird. I guess I did not go home empty handed in the end. Of course it would have been great to get the Oriental Plover but things do not always go according to plan. Hopefully, my time will come in the near future and until then, flocks of Pacific Golden Plover will be scrutinized as usual for a chance of an Oriental Plover.


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