The day began as the previous one had ended – windless and with clear skies – and the weather radar charts revealed that we were stuck in a lengthy period of settled weather. This is supposed to be the monsoon for goodness sake!
We decided to walk along the beach path this morning, and it proved an inspired decision. Rafi spotted something different among the Common Mynas, and it turned out to be a lifer for him – a fine male ocularis White Wagtail. It put on a real show for us, hunting for prey busily on the fine sand, giving every appearance of being newly arrived.
Next stop Magic Swamp, where only a single Red-throated Pipit was in evidence, and it seemed much warier of us than yesterday, giving excellent flight views!
Scrutiny of the images revealed a perplexing suite of characteristics. The apparently orange eye suggested a male, and underbody pattern and colour suggested a male Besra, for which there are no confirmed records for Peninsular Malaysia (and just one for Singapore). The tail pattern, with pale and dark bands being of more or less equal width, and evidently bulky structure were other pro-Besra characters. The bird lacks the wingshape of Crested Goshawk, and there’s no sign of a prominent white undertail.
Having said all that, there are a few things I can’t quite square away – the rather brown upperparts and apparently pale ear coverts; the barring on the underwing is not especially strong (especially the underwing coverts), as it typically is on Besra, and what can be seen of the wing formula doesn’t fit Besra. So for me, the sighting will go down as a ‘maybe’, unless someone who is more knowledgeable than I am can convince me otherwise!
As we continued on our way, the birding was hard – very few birds in general, but a few gems were dug out – a Black-browed Reed-warbler in some long grass (no photo) and this Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler at the rubbish dump (why are the best spots for birds often also the smelliest?!).
Mention must be made of a particularly satisfying bit of bird-finding. We came across a couple of gardens that looked just perfect for attracting migrant passerines. Murphy’s Law dictated that the best one was securely locked, so all we could do was look longingly through the fence and imagine what was lurking within. I mentioned to Rafi that I could just picture a Taiga Flycatcher turning up there, and shortly afterwards we glimpsed a small bird fly up from the ground, flashing some white in the tail. Unfortunately it had flown into thick cover, and a wait of around an hour yielded one more fleeting view as the bird flew to the back of the garden and even more securely out of view.
An hour or so later we were back – getting bitten to pieces by mozzies. I had another brief view of the back end of the bird – the head was obscured behind a tree – and everything I could see of it said ‘Taiga Flycatcher’. But it did a disappearing act again, and all we found in the ensuing long wait was an Asian Brown Flycatcher in the same area. This was bad enough for me, but even more agonizing for Rafi as Taiga was a potential lifer for him.
In the late afternoon we decided to make the long walk from our chalet back to the garden for one last go. This time when we arrived, the bird immediately flew off the ground but we managed to get onto it as it sat quietly on a low branch, and it was finally “in the bag”!
We were constantly referring to Petter Olssen’s report to discover where he had found his birds, and this led to us eventually finding a nice track around the south-western end of the runway. He had had a bunch of good birds here and we could see the potential – if only the weather wasn’t so ridiculously good! Maybe tomorrow…