Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda IBA, Penang: 18 Sept 2014

Wow – it’s been a while! Not much birding was done over the ‘summer months’ (this was the exception), but now that the waders are starting to come through, it was only a matter of time before I visited ‘the  mud’!

The tide wasn’t a very high one (it never is in the morning) so the birds were generally distant, with a few exceptions.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_2154

Lesser Sand Plovers are among the most confiding of waders, especially juveniles (like this one).

Greater Sand Plover_TAT_050914_IMG_2094

An adult Greater Sand Plover for comparison. As a rule, if you think it’s a Greater, it probably isn’t. When you see a Greater, there’s usually no doubt about it! The reverse seldom seems to be true (i.e. people often confuse Lessers for Greaters, but rarely the other way around).

Greater Sand Plover_TAT_050914_IMG_2138

Another view of this not very difficult individual.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7906 Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7798

A couple of fly-by Lessers. The last one is known in bird photographers’ circles as a BIFFIM. Bird In Flight, Food In Mouth! Both of these are adults, as can easily be told (at this time of year) by the active wing moult.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7862

Juveniles, by contrast, have a neat trailing edge to the wing of feathers of equal age.

Common Redshank_TAT_180914_IMG_7769

A smart juvenile Common Redshank.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7777

An adult Curlew Sandpiper still showing traces of breeding plumage.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_2161

And a pristine juvenile.

Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7784 Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7785

Examining my photos later, I came across this unusual Curlew Sandpiper. According to all the field guides, Curlew Sandpiper should have a white rump. But I have noticed previously that in breeding plumage, they often have some black-spotted feathers on the central rump area. On this bird the effect is extreme, caused by a combination of worn breeding upper rump feathers (dark spotted), and some missing upper tail coverts revealing the dark, new central tail feathers, which are just growing out.

Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7925

A more typical Curlew Sandpiper rump pattern is shown on the left here. A dark central rump would normally suggest another calidrid species (there are many with this pattern) such as a Red-necked Stint or Broad-billed Sandpiper (centre). The right hand frame is the same pic as above flipped for easier comparison. The dark central rump line is, in fact, much thinner than it would be on any genuinely dark-rumped calidrid.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_7820

A juvenile Great Knot flying in.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2189

It had already replaced some scapulars for non-breeding feathers.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2173

This adult was already largely in non-breeding plumage.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2172

And an adult in very worn breeding plumage.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_2148

Early on there were ten adult Asian Dowitchers keeping company with a flock of 30 Black-tailed Godwits.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_2100

Later, these were replaced by four juveniles, with their characteristically warmer plumage tones accentuated by the morning sun. When a large flock got up north of the river mouth, I counted 34 birds, the largest flock I have ever seen in Penang. These are most likely birds migrating through to winter further south of us.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_7889

Part of a mixed flock. The lighting conditions were good enough to show off the characteristic differences in underwing pattern of the two godwit species and the dowitchers. I make it 4 dowitchers, 3 Black-tailed and 1 Bar-tailed, with a Great Knot and a Pacific Golden Plover making up the numbers.

Terek Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7911

Terek Sandpipers are difficult to age when on the deck, but much easier in flight. The neat trailing edge of the wing reveals that this is a juvenile.

Common Moorhen_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8140

I spent a long time scouring the usual paddyfield areas for waders, but they were in short supply. I did catch this smart Common Moorhen escaping from a rotavator turning the old padi into the mud.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8124

Wherever there is a tractor at work, Brahminy Kites and egrets have learned to pay close attention, in the hope of snatching a rat, frog or fish from the disturbed area.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8115

Spotted something – going in!

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8117

Was the kite after an egret? They didn’t seem too sure!

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8128

End of panic, as the sharp-eyed kite snatched a fish from the mud which the egrets had missed.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8134

That’s lunch sorted!

Long-toed Stint_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8151 Long-toed Stint_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8158

I did eventually locate some waders – over 200 Wood Sandpipers, a few Pacific Golden Plovers, a Curlew Sandpiper, and about 20 of these little beauties – Long-toed Stints. Nothing more exciting among them, but it’s still early in the season!







UK Visit: April – May 2014 – Waders on the Dovey Estuary

We’ve just got back from an extended family visit, and since my family is quite widely dispersed around the UK, it gave me some good opportunities (weather permitting!) to explore some beautiful places around southern England and Wales.

I managed to spend a few hours on the Dovey (Dyfi in Welsh) Estuary on the mid-Wales coast in the second week of May.Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_1979

It wasn’t quite blowing a gale, but the wind was strong enough to send the top layer of sand swirling across the sand in wraith-like ribbons a few inches above the surface. Keeping optics well covered, I leaned into the wind and headed for the shoreline in the hope of finding some roosting shorebirds.

Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7541I found them hunkered down among the stones, grabbing whatever shelter they could find. More often than not, I was in amongst them before I noticed them – they were incredibly well camouflaged – with the result that my first few shots were of flocks which I had flushed. They were a mixture of Dunlins and Common Ringed Plovers, with the odd Sanderling or two.

Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7547 Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7556 Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7560Eventually I managed to track a flock as it wheeled around and resettled, and was able to approach more cautiously.

Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_1984 Dovey estuary_IMG_1986 Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7584In the end I had to crawl commando style across these rocks, making sure that I didn’t crush my bins or handphone beneath me – those rocks were pretty hard!

Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7611 Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7684Once I got down to eye level with the birds they weren’t too bothered by my slow approach, and the combination of the subtle blue-greys of the rocks and the contrastingly bold lines of the plovers were a delight to the eye.Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7681 Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7676 Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7657 Dunlins and Ringed Plovers_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7717

The fact that these plovers were obviously on migration, coupled with their neat, narrow breastband and relatively dark upperparts helped me to identify them as ‘Tundra Ringed Plovers’ – either the race ‘tundrae‘, which breeds in Northern Scandinavia across to far-eastern Siberia (so is the race which turns up as a rarity in Malaysia once in a while) or ‘psammodroma‘, which breeds in Greenland, Iceland and into north-east Canada.

Dunlin_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7701 Dunlin_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7700Dunlin_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7715I think the Dunlins (or some of them anyway) were the schinzii race, but I stand to be corrected. Sanderling_Dovey Estuary_090514_IMG_7671

A familiar face – a Sanderling still largely in non-breeding plumage ‘in amongst’.

I would have happily spend a week going down to the Estuary, but in the end, I was happy to have had one near-perfect afternoon!


Boat survey of the Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda IBA, Penang, 23 Mar 2014

This second survey of the season will be remembered by those who came for the choppy seas and soaking spray, courtesy of rather strong NW winds. Two of us will remember it for another reason – because 2 of us saw a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! But 2 of us didn’t! I was in the latter group, though not for want of trying. A few other shots from the day below.

Brown-headed Gull_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6672Brown-headed Gulls were ready to go, and numbers were well down on last month’s count.

Common Redshank_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6708One or two craggi race Common Redshanks stood out from the crowd as they had begun to develop their foxy brown plumage (upper right).

Common Redshank_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6915A mixed flock of Common Redshanks and Terek Sandpipers.wader roost_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6725

Lighting conditions were variable and the haze further hampered things.

Marsh Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6757At other times the sun was out, providing perfect lighting for this photo of a Marsh Sandpiper.

small calidrids_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6814The usual suspects – a mixed flock of Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed Sandpipers and Curlew Sandpipers.Asian Dowitcher_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6874 Asian Dowitcher_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6882

There were a couple of Asian Dowitchers starting to come into nice red plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit_TAT-KM IBA_230314_IMG_6878A Black-tailed (right) and Bar-tailed Godwit dwarfing surrounding Curlew Sandpipers.IMG_5479

Spoonie fail! We spent a lot of time scouring the stints for the Spoonie – not easy from a rocking and rolling boat. And there were plenty of Red-necked Stints intent on fooling us. This one stood right in front of the primary projection of the bird behind, causing a missed heartbeat!

IMG_6704 IMG_6679= IMG_6678 IMG_6674 IMG_6775 IMG_5679The really devious ones were those which went around with clods of congealed mud stuck to their bills. These are easy enough to discount on a still photo, but a lot more difficult when things are moving about! For more on the differences between real and fake Spoonies, see here!

Air Itam Dalam and Bagan Belat, 22 Mar 2014

Air Itam Dalam has had an exceptional run of hawk-cuckoo records this spring, and Mr and Mrs Hum have been doing a sterling job of documenting them photographically. One of the birds they photographed on 19 March showed several features associated with Northern Hawk-cuckoo, and it was with the aim of studying this bird that I headed to the site early in the morning.

Large Hawk-cuckoo_AID_220314_IMG_1769Unfortunately, the only hawk-cuckoo I could find was this subadult Large Hawk-cuckoo. It was extremely skittish, and disappeared into the thick stuff at the slightest disturbance.

Buffy Fish-owl_AID_220314_IMG_1773 Spotted Wood-owl_AID_220314_IMG_1791 Mangrove Blue Flycatcher_AID_220314_IMG_1775 Forest Wagtail_AID_220314_IMG_1790Some of Air Itam Dalam’s ‘regulars’ – roosting Buffy Fish-owl and Spotted Wood-owl, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and Forest Wagtail.phyllosc_AID_220314_IMG_6417

There was also a ‘Pale-legged type’ Leaf Warbler, which showed well at times. Recent records in the Gulf of Thailand and Singapore suggest that Sakhalin Leaf Warbler may be the commoner of this difficult species pair in the Peninsula, so I was eager to see how it would respond to playback of the songs of both species. The result? It showed no visible response to either! Big disappointment!

Tim and I were hosting a visitor from England who was keen to see some shorebirds, so we headed for the coast at Bagan Belat, where the tide was low and the shorebirds were predictably distant.

However, I was surprised to hear the familiar tink call of another ‘Pale-legged’ Leaf Warbler coming from the coastal scrub, so in I went again with my playback of the songs. First I played the song of Pale-legged for about 3 minutes. No sign of the bird. Then I played the song of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. The response was almost immediate!

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler_Bagan Belat_220314_IMG_6429Overhead and looking down for the intruder.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler_Bagan Belat_220314_IMG_6508Over the next hour or so I played the songs of both species again, and each time I played the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler song, I got the same immediate response.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler_Bagan Belat_220314_IMG_6565I did not manage to hear or record the song, but this photo shows that it was clearly singing!

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler_Bagan Belat_220314_IMG_6648There’s no certain way to differentiate these in the field other than by song. Even in the hand, there is apparently quite an overlap in wing length, with only  birds at either end of the spectrum (Sakhalin has longer wings, Pale-legged shorter) being identifiable with certainty.

Several observers have noted that Sakhalin’s tink call is lower-pitched than Pale-legged, and if you compare the calls of birds identified by song, such as this Pale-legged and this Sakhalin (in Singapore!), and their accompanying sonograms, the difference in pitch is quite evident, with Sakhalin being around 5kHz and Pale-legged around 6kHz. In addition, to my ears, Pale-legged sounds thin and weak, whereas Sakhalin’s call is appreciably fuller. I was not able to record the call of the Bagan Belat bird, but all my recordings of birds in Perlis are lower-pitched, some even lower than the Singapore bird. The only fly in the ointment of this potential differentiating character are two recordings of apparently the same bird (though it was not actually seen) giving both call types, made in Hangzhou Bay, China by Frank Lambert. This recording is of a thin high-pitched call (around 6kHz), while this one sounds identical to that of the Singapore bird to my ears (and is around 5kHz). This anomalous example apart, a survey of calls of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler on xenocanto in Vietnam and Cambodia reveals that all of the recordings are of the thin, higher-pitched call associated with Pale-legged. Another bird recorded in Hangzhou Bay sounds much more like Sakhalin, a possibility noted by Frank in the notes accompanying the recording.

So, are there any certain records of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler in Malaysia? Wells (2007) gives the range of wing lengths of 7 skins from the Thai-Malay Peninsula as 59-68mm. Birds at the lower end of this range should be Pale-legged, but, for the time being at least, Pale-legged should probably be square-bracketed as a Malaysian bird.

In the meantime, anyone heading to Perlis in the next few weeks would be well-advised to carry a recording of the song of both species (downloadable from xeno-canto), and a recording device to document any response.

Sungai Sedim and Kulim Hi-Tech Park, 17 Mar 2014

A text from Mun on Sunday evening about a ‘large, all brown snipe’ flushed off the forest floor at Sungai Sedim on Saturday sent me scuttling over there first thing in the morning in the hope of finding what must surely have been a Eurasian Woodcock.

Before dawn in the car park, there were a number of swiftlets flying around, including three or four of these…

Black-nest Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6163At first, I thought I was looking at Silver-rumped Spinetails, but on closer inspection, I realized my mistake.

Black-nest Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6158I realized I was watching what were presumably newly-fledged Black-nest Swiftlets. I identified them as such on the basis of the well-capped appearance and grey-brown underparts and rump. Besides, I doubt they could have flown this far if they were from a ‘swiftlet hotel’ somewhere.

Black-nest Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6177Here’s an adult with ‘normal’ tailshape. Apart from these, and very distinct from them were…

Himalayan Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6128These swiftlets were distinctive, not only in that they had long, broad-based, well-forked tails, but in their manner of flight. This was a series of shallow, stiff-winged, fluttering wingbeats, followed by long glides. The flight mode was reminiscent of a treeswift (but lacked the deep wingbeats) and enabled them to be picked out with the naked eye.

Himalayan Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6123 Himalayan Swiftlet_Sedim_170314_IMG_6120The tail fork was noticeable at all times, even when the tail was well-spread, and I found the breadth of the tail striking. It seemed broader at the base than the Black-nest Swiftlets. I have no doubt that these were Himalayn Swiftlets, and was pleased that they were more distinctive than I had expected. Unfortunately, they cleared off well before it got properly light, so I was unable to see any colour on them.

My Woodcock search proved fruitless, so I decided to head home. While driving through Kulim Hi-Tech Park I noticed a weir with water flowing over it on my left. The drought since January has been so severe that anywhere with water is worth a look, so I did a U-turn and made my way eventually to a manmade flood mitigation lagoon with a stream running through it. It looked promising!IMG_1763

The weir I had spotted from the road is at the far end of this photo, and when I reached it, I flushed this…

Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6286Until almost exactly a month ago, I had searched without success for a Green Sandpiper in Malaysia (for eighteen years!). The very next day, I saw my second, and now here was the third of the month! They’re like buses! This bird was coming into breeding plumage, and had less marking on the tail than the bird in Chuping.

Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6288It was flighty, but obviously wanted to come back to the weir, which provided some shade in the midday sun, so all I had to do was wait quietly.

Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6203Showing the distinctive black underwing.

Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6217Coming back!

Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_1699 Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_1694The bird was quite a lot larger than nearby Wood Sandpipers.Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_1726Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6260 Green Sandpiper_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6321

It eventually returned to the weir, but the heat haze bouncing off the pvc lining of the stream made it impossible to get really crisp shots.

Eurasian Kestrel_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6390This interesting new site had one more surprise for me before I left. There were several Oriental Pratincoles soaring high overhead, but I noticed something different among them…

Eurasian Kestrel_Kulim Hi-Tech Park_170314_IMG_6367A smart male Eurasian Kestrel. At the time I thought it was migrating, but others have seen it since, so perhaps it will hang around for a while.

So, the potential superstar did not put in an appearance, but a very creditable supporting cast made the morning’s trip worthwhile.


Wadering in mainland Penang, 13 March 2014

First light saw me stationed in my car alongside the ‘painted-snipe marsh’. There were several birds extremely close, but getting them out in the open was another matter!

Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5158Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5164Two males trying not to be seen!Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5204Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5190

Eventually a young female appeared, feeding by delicately picking insects off the top of the grass stems.

Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5191Understated beauty!Swintail Snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_ 130314_IMG_5227

Sorry to slip this in! Just to illustrate how frustrating these things can be – I got a sharp shot showing the outer tail and I still can’t identify it! There aren’t quite enough of the outer tail feathers showing for me to be certain if this is Pintail or Swinhoe’s Snipe.

From here I moved to the ‘snipe ditch’, but I have shown most of the shots from there in this post. Once it started to get really hot, I moved to the coast and hired a boat for a couple of hours to try my luck on the advancing tide.

wader roost_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6045There were one or two birds about!

Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5519Of course, I was only looking for one bird amongst all that lot – the Spoonie we had photographed in February, so most of my attention was focused on the Red-necked Stints.Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5598

There were plenty to look through…

Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5624 Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5945…in a variety of plumages…

leg flag Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5595…including this bird flagged on Chongming Dao in Shanghai.

Little Stint and RNS_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5501No Spoonies, but I did pick up a couple of Little Stints. This shot is the best I have of the first one, but it shows the small head, round body, upright posture and long legs typical of the species.

Little Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5527 Little Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5534The second one was brighter and also more obliging, being the closest bird to the boat at one point.

Broad-billed Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5932There were lots of Broad-billed Sandpipers, including the two here (with a Red-necked Stint on the left).

Broad-billed Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6021They’re midway in size between Red-necked Stint (right)…

Broad-billed Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5950…and Curlew Sandpiper (also right).Great Knot_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6096

Curlew Sandpipers (left) are, in turn, dwarfed by Great Knots.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6052A lone Asian Dowitcher foraging on the advancing tide.

Nordmann's Greenshank_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6055And a single Nordmann’s Greenshank. It looked rather dozy.

Nordmann's Greenshank_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6076 Nordmann's Greenshank_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6078But it perked up later and began engaging in typical crab-hunting runs.possible Aleutian Tern_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5669

A mystery tern in the roost. This bird was much smaller-billed than the Common Terns (the three right hand birds) and too long-tailed to be a Whiskered. I didn’t spot this in the field, only on my monitor when checking later that evening, so I only have a single frame. Initially, I thought this might be an Aleutian Tern, but eventually, with help from others, I concluded that the best fit is a Common Tern with an exceptionally small bill.

There were plenty of opportunities to practice taking flight shots as the tide rose. Here are a few.

Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5809 Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5814

Red-necked Stint_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5989Red-necked Stint.

Broad-billed Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5919Broad-billed Sandpiper.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5717Curlew Sandpiper.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5879With both shadow and reflection!

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5767Note how short-billed the right hand bird is. This is likely to be a male (females are longer-billed).Curlew Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5712 Curlew Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5656

Curlew Sands all in a row!

small calidrids_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5846All together now! From left to right, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper.small calidrids_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5826 small calidrids_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5766

Mixed flocks of the three common small calidrids – Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpier and Red-necked Stint.Marsh Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5997 Marsh Sandpiper_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5999

Marsh Sandpipers.

Marsh Sandpiper and Common Greenshank_TAT-KM IBA_130314Marsh Sandpiper (left) and Common Greenshank (right).Lesser Sand Plover_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6036

Lesser Sand Plover.

Eurasian Curlew_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6009Calling Eurasian Curlew.

Eurasian Curlew_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6011No man ever made anything so beautiful!

Eurasian Curlew_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5981Eurasian Curlews along the surfline.

Far Eastern Curlew_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_5971The lone Far Eastern Curlew.

Whimbrel_TAT-KM IBA_130314_IMG_6027Whimbrels are darker above and much more compact than curlews.

No Spoonie in the end, but a good slection of birds, and a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours!

Mainland Penang, 3 March 2014

This was a morning sortie in search of snipes, but I will spare you the ordeal of more confusing snipe photos, and post a few of the other birds I saw.

Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_5040At least these are easy to identify! A female Greater Painted-snipe – one of many in a small patch of marsh which was still wet. Such places are increasingly scarce in this prolonged drought period we’ve been experiencing, so finding one is like finding a goldmine for marsh-birds and marsh-birders alike!

Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_5054Painted-snipes are one of the relatively few wader families in which the females are polyandrous, mating with several males, and taking no part in incubating the eggs or rearing the young. They initiate courtship and display, and in consequence, are more brightly coloured than the males. Despite the name, painted-snipes are not true snipes, nor are they closely related.

Greater Painted-snipe_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_5070This looks superficially like a male, but the plain wing coverts and the presence of a few burgundy-coloured feathers on the neck show that it is a subadult female.

Asian Openbill_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_5033The tiny patch of marsh even attracted a couple of Asian Openbills. Even though they are now well-established as a Malaysian bird, I still do a double-take every time I see one!

Manchurian Reed-warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_4897From one recent arrival to another. Actually, Manchurian Reed Warblers have probably been wintering in Peninsular Malaysia for years, but it’s only in this past season that we’ve discovered them.

Manchurian Reed-warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_4904In contrast to November, there was no sign of active wing and tail moult, though this photo suggests that one or two tail and secondary feathers may be missing. It’s difficult to judge the freshness of the tail as the tips were wet and partly matted.

The contrast between the pale fringes and dark centres of the tertials and exposed secondaries is strikingly different from the relatively plain wing of Black-browed.

Manchurian Reed-warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_4946Other differences from Black-browed include:

  • long, heavy-looking bill
  • unmarked yellow lower mandible
  • clearly demarcated dark lores and eyestripe (which contrasts behind the eye with pale lower ear coverts)
  • the short dark lateral crown stripe (on Black-browed, it extends to the rear of the supercilium)
  • pale iris
  • supercilium narrowing over the eye
  • overall bright, warm plumage tones
  • quite bright pink legs


Manchurian Reed-warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_4997

  • the remarkably long tail

Manchurian Reed-warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_030314_IMG_4954… which is often held cocked at a shallow angle.

Smart birds, and once you get your eye and ear in, quite easily distinguished from Black-browed.