Several years ago, Teluk Air Tawar coastline (TAT for short!) used to host waders in vast numbers, up to 10K or more. However, the coastline changes yearly, roosting and feeding sites change, and mangroves have grown up to obscure many former vantage points.
I recently got to know a resident of the area who offered to show me a path through the mangroves out to the rivermouth. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. though he warned me the going would be muddy!
While waiting, I was entertained by this pond-heron which was clearly fascinated by a hunting Dog-faced Water Snake. The snake was near a metre in length, and too much for the heron to handle, but the heron could not quite bring itself to walk away from this potentially mountainous morsel! The snake itself appeared oblivious to the heron’s close attention, and continued its hunting technique of checking out crab holes.
When the snake happened to move in the direction of the heron, it became visibly nervous! You can watch a short video of the proceedings here.
I was interested to see if I could identify this bird, as it was beginning to show signs of breeding plumage. I checked carefully for signs of head plumes which might reveal if it was Chinese (maroon) or Javan (white), but couldn’t be sure in the end.
My guide arrived on schedule, and we picked our way along the river bank through initially dry, but increasingly muddy mangroves. Having reached the rivermouth, we then turned north and walked a kilometer or so inside the mangrove fringe, in mud mostly about ankle deep but occasionally rather deeper! Eventually we arrived at a place where we could see birds – many of them, but there was nowhere even near firm enough to be able to stop and set up the scope and tripod. Ahead of us was an enticing bund which offered a perfect place from which to observe, but between us and it lay an outflow which looked very deep!
With a bit of ingenuity, no small amount of hard graft, and considerable risk, we eventually found a way to get across the ditch, although we were beseiged by ferocious kerengga ants in the process, and I have red bumps from the top of my head to my ankles to prove it!
Distance and the heat haze made photographing the birds very difficult, but believe me, there were a lot! Including the ones almost lost in the heat haze to the north, I estimated ten thousand birds was conservative.
Some larger waders (Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knot and Grey Plover) dropping in to join the crowd. Yes, Grey Plover! Previously I had only managed to record a single bird in Penang, but I counted 50 out there!
Other high counts were 1,800 Pacific Golden Plovers, 1,000 Bar-tailed Godwits, 700 Great Knot, although unidentified waders made up the largest figure…
Part of a flock of PGPs which included a Ruddy Turnstone.
I was especially pleased to pick out three leg-flagged birds; a Bar-tailed Godwit ringed on Chongming Dao, China, and these two Great Knot, almost side by side. The black over orange code of the left hand bird signifies that it was ringed in Java (a leg-flag ‘lifer’ for me!), while the triangular black over green flags on the right hand bird show it was tagged not so far away, on Ko Libong, off the west coast of Peninsular Thailand.
…39 Nordmann’s Greenshanks. These always love to feed right on the tideline, and so are the most distant birds of all, appearing as white dots in the heat haze. Of course, there are also Common Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers out there, so counting white dots is not a recommended way to census NGs! Instead, you have to wait for the tide to bring them a bit closer.
They seem quite comfortable mingling with the larger, longer-legged waders.
It’s very hard to convey the magnificent spectacle of so many birds through the lens. You really have to be there, and pay the price of the long slog there and back in the process!