Chuping, Perlis, 26 December 2013

Chuping sugar cane fields, now fast becoming a rubber plantation, continue to pull in the rares in their swansong season. Hor Kee fluked a fabulous Short-eared Owl (flushed by plantation workers as he happened to be nearby!) and James Eaton managed to find a Richard’s Pipit (potentially the first confirmed record for Peninsular Malaysia) in the week before Christmas. So there was little discussion as to destination when Choo Eng and I planned a little Boxing Day excursion.

Even before we arrived at the owl site, we came across a Greater Spotted Eagle sitting by the track at first light.

Greater Spotted Eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8669Aquila eagles are surprisingly scarce at Chuping considering how many other raptors there are there, and this was a personal first for the site.

Greater Spotted Eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8693Disturbed by us, it flew downhill and promptly flushed a Short-toed Snake-eagle – not a bad start!

Armed with GPS coordinates for the owl, we spent the first hours of the day attempting our own owl-flushing.  Oriental Reed Warbler_Chuping_261213_IMG_8704

This Oriental Reed Warbler was sunning itself in a scrubby bush. The whole area was alive with prinias and warblers, and probably much else besides. The best we could conjure up was 2-3 Thick-billed Warblers, which were evidently numerous in this habitat.

Large Hawk-cuckoo_Chuping_261213_IMG_8711I also managed to disturb this young Large Hawk-cuckoo from among the rubber saplings. However, despite much tramping and collecting of irritating burrs and grass-seeds, we failed to find an owl. We were disappointed but not terribly surprised, given the enormous area of suitable habitat. We decided to scan the wider area in the hope of finding the bird hunting somewhere.

Although there was no sign of the owl, there were plenty of raptors to keep us entertained…

Short-toed Snake-eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8731Short-toed Snake-eagles became a regular feature of the day – at least three birds and possibly more. Two here shared a thermal with an Oriental Honey-buzzard (top right). There were 3-4 of the latter around too, and a couple of Black Bazas.

Short-toed Snake-eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8726 Short-toed Snake-eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8840One of the Short-toed Snake-eagles photographed at different times of the day. The last photo showed that it had managed to find breakfast!

Eurasian Kestrel_Chuping_261213_IMG_8764At least three Eurasian Kestrels were also often encountered – two ‘female/immature’ birds…

Eurasian Kestrel_Chuping_261213_IMG_9173 Eurasian Kestrel_Chuping_261213_IMG_9158And one adult male. The pale cheek patch of the females and the rich upperpart and underpart colouration of the adult males are distinctive of the interstinctus race.

Eurasian Kestrel_Chuping_261213_IMG_9175At some angles, the male seemed to have contrastingly rufous ‘thighs’ – a bit like a Eurasian Hobby or Amur Falcon.

Peregrine_Chuping_261213_IMG_8799

Peregrine_Chuping_261213_IMG_8779 At one point we watched it sparring with a male Peregrine – wish they could have been closer, but the comparison in shape and size was instructive nonetheless – the Kestrel being much slimmer-bodied and -winged, and longer-tailed.

Booted Eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8877 Booted Eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_8888Another couple of distant raptors proved to be a Black-shouldered Kite mobbing a pale morph Booted Eagle! Again, closer would have been nicer, but it was encouraging to know that this pale Booted, last seen by Hor Kee back in mid-November, was still around, so perhaps the owl might be also! Later we also saw the dark morph Booted, but it was even further away, so I didn’t bother with a photo!

Osprey_Chuping_261213_IMG_8949The regular female Osprey was a little closer at least!

Red-throated Pipit_Chuping_261213_IMG_9105

With our efforts focused on scanning the horizon, passerines received less attention. However, I found it hard to pass up an opportunity to enjoy Red-throated Pipits – one of my favourites!

Chuping_261213_IMG_8835Anywhere there were tractors working the fields, there were birds – swarms of them!

Black Drongo_Chuping_261213_IMG_8916Dozens of Black Drongos festooned the few trees like black Christmas lights!

Black-browed Reed Warbler_Chuping_261213_IMG_9046 Black-browed Reed Warbler_Chuping_261213_IMG_9041A marshy spot yielded this Black-browed Reed-warbler – a darker and more rufescent individual than most I have seen.

Black-browed Reed Warbler_Chuping_261213_IMG_8999Interestingly, it appeared to have pale tips to the tail feathers – more obvious in the field than in the photos.

BBRW_MRWI couldn’t interest Choo Eng in looking for the Manchurian Reed Warblers, but here’s a comparison of the heads of both species (Black-browed on the left).

Long-tailed Macaque_Chuping_261213_IMG_9429Throughout the day we noticed two Long-tailed Macaques apparently marooned in the middle of this new ‘desert’ atop the high tension pylons and cables. In this picture, one was on the pylon, the other had ventured some way along the top high tension cable.

Long-tailed Macaque_Chuping_261213_IMG_9435In the gusty wind, this seemed precarious even for a macaque.

Long-tailed Macaque_Chuping_261213_IMG_9432I couldn’t help wondering how they got there in the first place, and whether they will ever make their way back to more conventional habitat, or die of thirst first.

Greater Spotted Eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_9202We later saw the Greater Spotted Eagle, which looked like it might already have eaten a macaque, doing a passable frigatebird impression!

Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9067

Soon it was getting to ‘harrier o’clock’, when the harriers began to congregate before roosting, and, we hoped, when the owl might show itself!

Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9079This Eastern Marsh Harrier might, in some circumstances, have been mistaken for a dark morph Booted Eagle.

Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9413 Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9401 Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9124 Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9121 Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9118 Eastern Marsh Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9258Some more Eastern Marsh, including a very black-headed male.

Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9088 Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9130 Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9218 Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9283 Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9323 Pied Harrier_Chuping_261213_IMG_9374And a generally disappointing selection of Pied Harrier shots as the light faded.

Short-toed Snake-eagle_Chuping_261213_IMG_89237The last three birds of the day were this Short-toed Snake-eagle, very distant views of the hybrid buzzard, and…

Grey-faced Buzzard_Chuping_261213_IMG_9476…a crepuscular Grey-faced Buzzard hawking, nightjar-like, for dragonflies at dusk – behaviour I have neither observed nor heard of for this species. This last brought the number of raptor species for the day to 13, despite having seen almost none of the ‘common’ Malaysian species (i.e. no Brahminy or Black-eared Kites, no Crested Serpent-eagle,Changeable Hawk-eagle or White-bellied Sea-eagle, and no accipiters)!

Sadly though, despite spot-lighting for an hour after dusk, no owls!

Chuping_261213_IMG_9458The sun is setting on an era, as rubber saplings gradually swallow up the grasslands and arable crops of Chuping.

7 thoughts on “Chuping, Perlis, 26 December 2013

    • A senior FELDA man I met there said that planting of rubber seedlings will be complete by the end of 2014. By the end of 2015 I would imagine that the trees will be too big for open country birds. There will still be small areas planted with maize, and some smallholders nearer to Padang Besar may continue with sugar cane. The wetlands and swampy areas may persist, but I am not sure how their value will be affected once they are surrounded my rubber trees.

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