Mainland Penang, 13-19 December 2013

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!Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_0665

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.

Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_0664The best time to be on site is at dawn, when there are no people about and birds are at the most active.

Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_7958On 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.

Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8011These are some of the few photos which show the bird more or less in the open – the result of several hours of waiting!

Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8068Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8052 Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8050 Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8058This 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.Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8555 Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8544 Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_8028 Manchurian Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_121213_IMG_7952

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.

Black-browed Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8527 Black-browed Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8493 Black-browed Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8489 Black-browed Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8488Some Black-browed Reed Warblers for comparison.

MRW BBRW comp2A comparison of heads. Manchurian (below) has:

  • 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 covertsMRW BBRW comp1

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.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8593 Oriental Reed Warbler_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8476Two 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.

Purple-backed Starling_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8598

Still no sign of any rare starlings among the Purple-backed.

Great Spotted Eagle_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8653The regularly seen 3rd plumage Great Spotted Eagle. I noticed that it seemed to have an injury on the leading edge of the right wing – the result of a collision with a wire perhaps?

Great Spotted Eagle_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8644Doing an impression of a flying barn door!

Great Spotted Eagle_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8646 Great Spotted Eagle_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8621Don’t ask me to analyse the wing moult on this one!

Eurasian Tree Sparrow_Kg Permatang Nibong_191213_IMG_8667A 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.

11 thoughts on “Mainland Penang, 13-19 December 2013

  1. Amazing shots of the Manchurian RW, congratulations! The habitat looks just perfect for them. I’d like to make a little comment about the iris colour. Younger Black-browed also tends to have paler iris too, so it might be useful to add a little note to that.

    • Possibly John, they’re beggars to see, and my usual response to glimpsing a small acro is to ‘tick off’ Black-browed without giving it much thought. Having said that, if you see one well, the rufescent colouration really stands out as something a little odd.

  2. Pingback: The Acrocephalus Issue | ayuwat

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