Every new wader season, I try to search out the best vantage points. The coastline changes so fast that even the places where I enjoyed great views back in April may not be so good now. Mudbanks are moved around by storms and changes in offshore currents; clear views of mudflats are obscured by quickly colonizing mangrove saplings – it can be a frustrating business, or I can strike gold, as I did back in 2009, when a construction site provided a perfect high tide roost site where I could get right in amongst the birds – but for one season only – the place is a housing estate now!
This season, so far, it looks as though there’s nowhere to get up close and personal with the birds, so I will have to be content with more distant views!
Common Redshanks are always interesting, because there are four races we could potentially get here: craggi, eurhinus, ussuriensis and terignotae. You can only tell them apart by the pattern of the breeding plumaged tertials, so I was glad to see some still in that plumage.
Breeding and non-breeding (top right) plumaged Common Redshanks. In August, birds in worn breeding plumage can look so dark that they are sometimes mistaken for Spotted Redshanks. Spotted Reshanks are not commonly seen in intertidal environments, nor are they likely to be dark coloured at this time of year.
Way in the distance, where most of the birds were, I came across this small calidrid (left) which appeared to show symmetrical blackish markings on the underparts. Initial hopes of a Dunlin were dispelled by the fact that structurally it was identical to the Curlew Sandpipers around it. The apparent blackness was probably just the effect of shade and distance.
A little closer, this Red-necked Stint was my first flagged bird of the season. The commonest leg-flag combination in Peninsular Malaysia by some distance is black over white – which is the code used by wader-ringers on Chongming Dao, an island in the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River in China. This shows that a significant number of birds of several species use both the Yangtze River estuary and the coasts of Peninsular Malaysia as refuelling points on their epic migratory journeys. Some of them probably fly direct between the two.
This one is on its first migration – a juvenile Lesser Sand Plover. Mortality among juveniles is higher than for adults, but if they make it through the growing years, waders can live for 15 years or longer.