Watching waders from a boat provides an interesting change of perspective. Instead of peering across a vast expanse of mud to the water’s edge, the tideline is in the foreground, as are the birds. Birds seem to treat men in fishing boats as part of the scenery. This sounds ideal, but there are also significant constraints too. Distance is governed by water depth – areas with expansive mudflats have very wide, shallow intertidal areas, so often we sat frustatingly far away from the birds, silently willing the boatman to take an unwise risk of getting closer! Then there are the waves. Not seasickness-inducing, but definitely a challenge when it comes to looking through bins to count and identify birds, or through a camera to take photos.
The rivermouth is one of the few places where you get the best of both worlds – steeply shelving banks enable relatively close approach, and the river is sheltered from the waves offshore..
Two of a group of 6 Nordmann’s Greenshanks – some of the first birds we came across – but these were flighty!
This Grey Heron acted as if we weren’t there, dropping in right infront of us without so much as a backward glance!
The IBA stretches north for about 8km from the jetty. Birds are concentrated around the various rivers that empty out into the straits, for the simple reason that the outflow of silt and nutrients means that food is concentrated in these areas. This is a view looking north-east, with the limestone massif of Gunung Jerai in Kedah in the background.
A lot easier to identify in flight than when sitting on the deck!
The white irides of the adults give them a distinctly menacing air!
Toward the northern end of the IBA, we came across 2 Chinese Egrets, one (back left) obvious, as the bill had already turned yellow, and the other (right) not, since mud obscured the bill colour altogether.
This latter bird was most easily distinguished by the fan-like spray of head plumes just emerging on the nape, the longish largely greenish-yellow legs, and the distinctive shape of the loral skin. Note how it kinks down in front of the eye, a feature which distinguishes Chinese in all plumages from Pacific Reed and Little Egrets.
By the time we started our return leg the tide had come up sufficently for birds to begin forming roosts. These tended to be of similar species – mainly sand plovers above…
Grey Plovers (mostly)…
A few decent-sized flocks of Common Redshanks (with a few Marsh Sandpipers in the mix).
Tereks and Redshanks have a definite affinity for one another.
With all those birds, there’s a chance I’ll get one in focus, even from a rocking boat!
This is the kind of boat you want to get as close as possible to the birds. The ‘long tail’ (‘ekor biawak’ in Malay, which translates literally as ‘monitor lizard’s tail’!) enables them to get into the shallows where the boats with fixed outboard engines can’t get to.
The seaward side of Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrel.
A roost of 150 greenshanks received close scrutiny, but all proved to be Common.
On the other hand, this roost proved to be almost all Nordmann’s – just the one Common among them (plus Great Knots)!
A careful count of photos of the flock revealed 63 Nordmann’s Greenshanks – which on current estimates could represent over 10% of the world population! Oh, and the orange has a story too, which all Malaysians (and Chinese elsewhere) will know about, but it’s too long to recount here! Look here if you need to know!
Of course, you probably miss quite a lot from a boat, so it’s always a good idea to take as many pictures as possible. When examining mine, I came across three Asian Dowitchers (the two birds left of the Eurasian Curlew facing head-on, and the bird two to the right of the curlew with bill and half the head submerged). Those “Denis Healey eyebrows” are a dead giveaway, as is the skinny side-on profile compared to the much larger and bulkier Bar-tailed Godwits.