Tuesday, 2 October 2018

A sky full of raptors

Dipping out on the Oriental Plover last season at the grassland outside Taiping in Perak state left a devastating blow to my spiritual well being. It was a deep wound that may have healed as time passed. But the scar remained. An invitation by Hor Kee (who suffered the similar fate) to check the grassland again as this migratory season commenced, was accepted without much hesitation. The sight of 50 Pacific Golden-Plovers (a known associate of the distinguished Oriental Plover) upon our arrival at the locality sent a stream of adrenalin through my veins with such vigour that left me lightheaded. However, the exhilaration was short lived. Upon further scrutiny, there was no Oriental Plover among them.

We scouted around the remaining areas of grasslands but without success. It was relatively slow in terms of birding. A Long-tailed Shrike calling from a lofty perch provided some compensation. Although this species is not uncommon in this part of Peninsular Malaysia, it is a species that rarely occurs back in my home state of Penang. Of all the shrikes found here in Malaysia, I find the Long-tailed Shrike to be the most appealing. Its distribution may have an influence on this matter.

A Spotted Dove that alighted near our stationary vehicle received some unexpected attention as there was basically nothing else about.

From the flat grassland, we made our way to the vantage point atop Scott’s Hill to try to eradicate another disappointment from last season when we spent at least two excursions staring at empty blue skies during the peak of raptor migration.

Our faith in the locality was restored when we saw a flock of about 100 Chinese Sparrowhawks riding the thermal as they make their way south for the winter. This flock alone had more migrating raptors than the whole of last season at this site. During our 2-hour observation, this species formed the majority and several flocks were recorded.

Most of the migrating raptors were high up in the sky and photography was almost a lost case. Record shots like this of a lone Japanese Sparrowhawk were aplenty.

Even the larger Oriental Honey-Buzzard passed through at great heights...

Except for one but it was heading the other direction and in no particular hurry. It was, after all, the resident race of the Oriental Honey-buzzard and it provided the best raptor images of the day. Soaring gracefully just above the tree line, it had our undivided attention. Unlike its migratory counterparts, resident Oriental Honey-Buzzards are not exactly common raptors.

However, not all the resident raptors recorded today were as confiding. A pale morph Changeable Hawk-Eagle flew past about the same altitude as the migrants.

Another highlight from this brief raptor count came in the form of Rufous-bellied Eagles. An adult swooped down at a juvenile in mid-flight and although it was not a vicious attack, the display of aerial agility was spectacular. My modest gear could not capture the true essence of the bout but it was an exciting experience nonetheless.

Evolution has made the Brown-backed Needletail aerodynamically perfect and trying to photograph the world’s fastest bird is no walk in the park. However, today the lighting condition was ideal and this one was cruising a leisurely pace. I took the opportunity to capture a few images of which one turned out reasonable. This wonder of nature was the last bird we recorded before we made our way to the last destination of the trip.

Both residential and commercial developments have been sprouting up like wild mushrooms in Batu Kawan ever since the Second Penang Bridge was opened to public. Inevitably, a significant area has lost its charm as birding localities. A newly discovered wader roost near some major developments including a much-anticipated one by a Swedish-founded furniture company. This rose among the thorns was where we headed before calling a day.

I always have a soft spot for waterbirds and I just wanted to check out the site before it is too late. An expanse of mud and water may not appeal to normal folks but no one ever said birders are normal folks. This bleak landscape plays host to several species of birds and that to me makes it irresistible.

It is heartening to see big waterbirds like the Grey Heron still has a place to call home here in Penang state. The lighting was harsh at the time of our visit and not much hope was put into the outcome of the images taken there.

Overall, this new site certainly has potential and pushes all the right buttons for me. A return trip at a more ideal time will not be too far in the future. A foraging Long-toed Stint made sure of that.


Russell Jenkins said...

Magnificent photographs, Choy. I love all those raptors. I wonder if there is a chance that some of the Oriental Honey Buzzards passed by this area a week or so back?

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Russell. Yes, they will pass by around this time until November.