Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda IBA, Penang: 18 Sept 2014

Wow – it’s been a while! Not much birding was done over the ‘summer months’ (this was the exception), but now that the waders are starting to come through, it was only a matter of time before I visited ‘the  mud’!

The tide wasn’t a very high one (it never is in the morning) so the birds were generally distant, with a few exceptions.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_2154

Lesser Sand Plovers are among the most confiding of waders, especially juveniles (like this one).

Greater Sand Plover_TAT_050914_IMG_2094

An adult Greater Sand Plover for comparison. As a rule, if you think it’s a Greater, it probably isn’t. When you see a Greater, there’s usually no doubt about it! The reverse seldom seems to be true (i.e. people often confuse Lessers for Greaters, but rarely the other way around).

Greater Sand Plover_TAT_050914_IMG_2138

Another view of this not very difficult individual.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7906 Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7798

A couple of fly-by Lessers. The last one is known in bird photographers’ circles as a BIFFIM. Bird In Flight, Food In Mouth! Both of these are adults, as can easily be told (at this time of year) by the active wing moult.

Lesser Sand Plover_TAT_180914_IMG_7862

Juveniles, by contrast, have a neat trailing edge to the wing of feathers of equal age.

Common Redshank_TAT_180914_IMG_7769

A smart juvenile Common Redshank.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7777

An adult Curlew Sandpiper still showing traces of breeding plumage.

Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_2161

And a pristine juvenile.

Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7784 Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7785

Examining my photos later, I came across this unusual Curlew Sandpiper. According to all the field guides, Curlew Sandpiper should have a white rump. But I have noticed previously that in breeding plumage, they often have some black-spotted feathers on the central rump area. On this bird the effect is extreme, caused by a combination of worn breeding upper rump feathers (dark spotted), and some missing upper tail coverts revealing the dark, new central tail feathers, which are just growing out.

Odd Curlew Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7925

A more typical Curlew Sandpiper rump pattern is shown on the left here. A dark central rump would normally suggest another calidrid species (there are many with this pattern) such as a Red-necked Stint or Broad-billed Sandpiper (centre). The right hand frame is the same pic as above flipped for easier comparison. The dark central rump line is, in fact, much thinner than it would be on any genuinely dark-rumped calidrid.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_7820

A juvenile Great Knot flying in.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2189

It had already replaced some scapulars for non-breeding feathers.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2173

This adult was already largely in non-breeding plumage.

Great Knot_TAT_180914_IMG_2172

And an adult in very worn breeding plumage.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_2148

Early on there were ten adult Asian Dowitchers keeping company with a flock of 30 Black-tailed Godwits.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_2100

Later, these were replaced by four juveniles, with their characteristically warmer plumage tones accentuated by the morning sun. When a large flock got up north of the river mouth, I counted 34 birds, the largest flock I have ever seen in Penang. These are most likely birds migrating through to winter further south of us.

Asian Dowitcher_TAT_180914_IMG_7889

Part of a mixed flock. The lighting conditions were good enough to show off the characteristic differences in underwing pattern of the two godwit species and the dowitchers. I make it 4 dowitchers, 3 Black-tailed and 1 Bar-tailed, with a Great Knot and a Pacific Golden Plover making up the numbers.

Terek Sandpiper_TAT_180914_IMG_7911

Terek Sandpipers are difficult to age when on the deck, but much easier in flight. The neat trailing edge of the wing reveals that this is a juvenile.

Common Moorhen_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8140

I spent a long time scouring the usual paddyfield areas for waders, but they were in short supply. I did catch this smart Common Moorhen escaping from a rotavator turning the old padi into the mud.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8124

Wherever there is a tractor at work, Brahminy Kites and egrets have learned to pay close attention, in the hope of snatching a rat, frog or fish from the disturbed area.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8115

Spotted something – going in!

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8117

Was the kite after an egret? They didn’t seem too sure!

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8128

End of panic, as the sharp-eyed kite snatched a fish from the mud which the egrets had missed.

Brahminy Kite_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8134

That’s lunch sorted!

Long-toed Stint_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8151 Long-toed Stint_Kubang Semang_180914_IMG_8158

I did eventually locate some waders – over 200 Wood Sandpipers, a few Pacific Golden Plovers, a Curlew Sandpiper, and about 20 of these little beauties – Long-toed Stints. Nothing more exciting among them, but it’s still early in the season!








5 thoughts on “Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda IBA, Penang: 18 Sept 2014

  1. Great time you had there, and that aberrant Curlew Sandpiper was the icing on the cake. Earlier this year, I also counted 30+ Asian Dowitchers at the estuary, so it seems to be a particularly important site for this endangered species.

    • Thanks Hor Kee. It is of vital importance that you report sightings like these in a searchable database like Bird I Witness (and it’s successor), otherwise the importance of the site will go under-recognized.

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