Last year a late January visit to Kuala Gula brought rich dividends in the form of Dusky Warbler, Ruddy-breasted Crake and, best of all, a male Shikra. However, I had failed to connect with my number one target that day, Rosy Starling, and I persuaded Hor Kee it was worth another shot this year. The site seems as regular as any for this irruptive species, and has on occasion hosted up to six birds. However, last year was a complete blank, and no birds had been reported so far this season.
A number of species are more or less guaranteed at this site, among them Sunda Woodpecker, Little Bronze Cuckoo and Lesser Adjutant, and all duly performed. From a year-list point of view, I was pleased when we got a couple of Ruddy-breasted Crakes, though no photos this time.
Starling-wise, we were drawing a blank though, so we began moving around the site more widely.
This immature Dollarbird gave us ample opportunity to play with different camera settings. Up above, we noticed a number of ‘Fork-tailed Swifts’ passing high overhead.
Now that these have been split into several species, they attracted our interest. I summarized what is known about the identification and status of the two species known to occur in Peninsular Malaysia, Pacific and Cook’s Swift, here.
The large white rump patch, brownish head sides and clearly defined white throat identified the ones close enough to see as Pacific, and it seemed reasonable to assume that, as these were clearly moving inland off the sea, they were all migrating Pacifics – about 300 of them.
Digging out my old pics of Cook’s Swift from Fraser’s Hill, I’ve put together some montages for comparison. Differences are subtle enough to really only be apparent on still photos (rather than moving birds!). Brown head sides, more clearly defined pale throat, larger (squarish) white rump patch and less obvious pale scaling on the underparts are distinguishing features of Pacific compared to Cook’s.
Structurally, Cook’s looks shorter-necked than Pacific. Another way of saying the same thing is that the wings seem to be set further forward on the body of Cook’s, with less head in front, and more ‘tail’ behind.
Even when almost directly overhead, the white rump of Pacific is visible, so perhaps it ‘wraps around’ further than on Cook’s.
Overall, Cook’s looks slightly more slender and spindly than Pacific.
Interestingly, many of the photos of Cook’s Swift (taken on 4-5 Feb last year) show well-worn flight feathers, whereas all the Pacifics I photographed today appeared to be in fresh plumage. Might there be a moult-timing difference, with Cook’s moulting earlier in the winter than Pacific? Worth looking out for.
It was past midday, and we were giving the mudflats ‘one last look’ when Hor Kee announced that he had found a Rosy Starling! It was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still until I got the scope fixed on the bird, which was singing, making it an even more surreal moment! I had undoubtedly walked straight past the bird, which was perched in the topmost branches of a dead tree. Fortunately, Hor Kee’s younger ears had picked out the soft warbling song and he had been alert enough to know that it was worth investigating! A long-awaited Peninsular lifer for me, and my first ever adult anywhere. Thanks Hor Kee!
We watched the bird singing for a while, until our attempts at a stealthy approach put the bird to flight. After lunch we returned to the site, and immediately heard the bird singing in the heat of the sun. This time, the bird was singing from a low branch just a few meters above the mud, and it quickly disappeared before we could get any shots. Despite a long wait, the bird did not reappear, so we called it a day, well satisfied with our final bird of the visit!
If you turn the speakers up loud enough, you can just about make out the song in the video below.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/118471715″>MVI 2932</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user23184508″>Dave B</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>