Mainland Penang, 22 April 2013

It was good to get out to the Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda coast IBA today after a month-long break, even though in that time, the bulk of the waders have headed north.

Javan Pond-heron_Bagan Belat_220413_IMG_3057

Javan Pond-heron_Bagan Belat_220413_IMG_3049I went in the hope of getting a few pictures of pond-herons, but only Javan were in evidence. Still, the difference in colouration of the head and breast between indivudals was striking!

Javan Pond-heron_Bagan Belat_220413_IMG_3062This bird has an almost white head.Javan Pond-heron_Bagan Belat_220413_IMG_3067

Another Javan, a first summer I assume. I’ll write more on these one of these days!

Javan Pond-heron_Penaga_220413_IMG_8749There were a few Javans in the paddyfields at Penaga, but Chinese predominated there. Javan, in Penang at least, seem to be more associated with the intertidal zone.

Chinese Pond-heron_Penaga_220413_IMG_8866 Chinese Pond-heron_Penaga_220413_IMG_8867

Here are a couple of Chinese.

Pacific Golden Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_3080Pacific Golden Plovers were the most numerous waders still on the mudflats – about 1,000 or so, many of them looking pretty smart.

Pacific Golden Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_8695Pacific Golden Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_8701Heading north?

Nordmann's Greenshank_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_8713There were still at least 4 Nordmann’s Greenshanks hanging on, as well as a good selection of other waders, the pick of which was an adult breeding plumage Little Stint, and the most unusual was a pair of Black-winged Stilts – never seen these on intertidal mudflats before!Waders_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_3658

A couple of Grey Plovers flashing their unwashed armpits!

Terek Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_220413_IMG_3101I caught a Terek Sandpiper indulging in a spot of rhynchokinesis (left). If you don’t know what that is, check out this link.

While checking the paddyfields I got talking to a farmer who asked me if I’d seen the big grey migratory birds which have begun to frequent the area. I knew he was talking about Asian Openbills, and having not yet seen any of this year’s invasion, asked him for directions. It was a bit of a long shot, but I had run out of other ideas, so thought I would give it a shot.

The first record of Asian Openbill in Malaysia was in 2008. In 2010, a small flock frequented an area of paddyfields in Penang for a while, peaking at 10 birds. These tended to disappear between April and August, and stopped being seen altogether in October 2011. Then, on 8 and 9 Jan this year, the invasion started, with flocks numbering from a few hundred to a thousand birds turning up in at least Johor, Melaka, Perak, Selangor and Penang states. It’s impossible to know how much duplication of counts there has been, and coverage (and reporting) is perhaps not comperhensive enough to be able to track individual flocks. But there’s no doubt that Asian Openbill is now a Malaysian bird!

Even so, I was hardly prepared for the sight which I came across!

Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_8795

Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_3112

Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_3106I had to put away my DSLR and resort to the P & S camera to try to capture the scope of the spectacle. I failed! I counted 2 airborne flocks of 500 and 400, and another flock of 900 feeding in a paddyfield. Meanwhile, another equally large flock in a distant paddyfield must have taken flight while I was counting the others, and I wasn’t able to count that one. So there were certainly 1,800 birds, and possibly as many as 3,000!

Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_8833 Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_8832 Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_8845Just to prove it was in Malaysia, there’s a PAS political party flag in the foreground!

Asian Openbill_Kg Selarong Gajah_220413_IMG_8835What was encouraging was that I spoke to three local people separately and all three told me that these birds eat snails, and are therefore not hunted. One man did say that early on, there was some hunting, but as soon as people realized the birds were preying on snails and not fish, this information was widely disseminated and the persecution stopped.

The obvious question is – what will these birds do in the next month or so? Will they head back to breeding colonies in Thailand, or will some attempt to set up home here and become Malaysia’s next breeding bird? Only time (and effort) will tell!

6 thoughts on “Mainland Penang, 22 April 2013

  1. Pingback: Kampung Selarong Gajah, mainland Penang. 2 September 2013 | Dig deep

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