So here’s how it happened. The day after I saw the Himalayan Buzzard, I was scanning the paddyfields looking for the buzzard. In the distance I saw several illegal mistnets, so I decided to drive there to get the coordinates to give to the Wildlife Department. While in this previously unknown area (to me), I chanced across a flock of starlings which included a male Chestnut-cheeked. Because of that, Hor Kee went to the site, and saw a White-shouldered Starling. Because of that, I went back to the site and, while looking for starlings I heard the call of a Manchurian Reed Warbler (which I had recently familiarized myself with in Perlis). And that’s how I found the second wintering site for Manchurian Reed Warbler in the country – 130 km south of the first one, discovered just a month ago. If I was a spiritual person I would say that such a chain of unlikely coincidences could only have been divinely arranged…oh wait, I am!
The moment I saw the place I thought how birdy it looked, and this was confirmed as soon as I set foot on the path running round the edge of the marsh, with Pallas’s Grasshopper-warblers hopping out from under my feet “pit-pit”-ing in annoyance.
On hearing the call of a Manchurian, I decided to wait till one showed itself. The birds were close but almost always invisible, or at best, partially visible. This one eventually emerged briefly to pick up a caterpillar for breakfast.
This little marsh seemed to have more Manchurian than Black-browed Reed Warblers – at least 4-5 of the former but only 2-3 of the latter. Later on, I tried a slightly drier area of reeds, and recorded only Black-browed there.
More Manchurians. I noticed that all the birds I photographed were still in wing and tail moult – an important identification feature at this time of year.
- a heavier, longer bill
- an unmarked lower mandible
- a paler iris (though Black-browed can look pale in bright sunlight, and young birds have paler eyes than adults – thanks Ayuwat)
- brown rather than black lateral crown stripes (they are also narrower than on Black-browed)
- a supercilium which tails off to a point behind the eye (most of the time), rather than being flared and square-ended
- a more distinct and longer eyestripe, contrasting with lower ear coverts
Comparison of plumage and structure. Manchurian (below):
- longer-tailed (the tail feathers are also narrower)
- more rufescent above and more peach-coloured below (with whiter throat and central breast/belly)
- centres of tertials and secondaries seem blacker than on Black-browed
- legs brighter pink
- in wing and tail moult. At this time of year, Black-browed has completed wing and tail moult.
Two other denizens of the reedbeds. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (above) and Oriental Reed Warbler were more vocal than the smaller reed warblers, and generally easier to see, alhtough only Oriental Reed habitually came out into the open. The yellowish wash on the underparts of this P G Warbler indicates that it is a first winter bird.
Still no sign of any rare starlings among the Purple-backed.
A very rare photo! I have almost no photos of Eurasian Tree Sparrows in my collection – a case of familiarity breeding contempt? – so when I saw this flock enjoying a chaff pile I thought I should remedy that omission.