With the long spell of dry weather we’ve been having, I thought it might be worth checking out the fringes of the lakes at Chuping, especially as Mun and others had seen Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cotton Pygmy-Geese and Little Cormorant there recently.
At first light the Pygmy-Geese were immediately obvious.
There were seven of them, six apparent females and a male, which kept apart from the rest of the flock.
A female above and the male below. I’m not sure whether he is in immature or adult eclipse plumage. The bill and eye colour suggest the latter.
While the male swam around serenely, the females were a quarrelsome bunch!
Squabbles were frequent, which I suppose may be a sign that hormones are a-stirring!
Eventually a Common Moorhen arrived to restore a little law and order! Now, now ladies!
A little more investigation brought my main target of the day into view – a close but wary Pheasant-tailed Jacana.
Unfortunately I was always competing with the thick lakeside vegetation, and getting a clear shot was difficult. Frustratingly, the bird flew across to the other side of the lake just as Mun, delayed by an accident en route, arrived. Later, the bird flew back, and he was able to get a few reasonably close shots. (His account of the trip is here).
As we were watching the jacana, we heard the distinctive call of a Manchurian Reed Warbler on the opposite side of the track. The wind was making the tops of the reeds sway around rather wildly, which meant that the warbler kept low. We did manage some brief views with the bins, but no photos. This is the fifth separate spot within the Chuping area that I’ve recorded Manchurian Reed Warbler over the last two seasons – so clearly this is a a wintering site for this globally Vulnerable warbler.
A Little Cormorant put in a fleeting appearance, and there were several Purple Herons around the fringes of the ponds. However, there was nothing else of note, so we moved to the former sugar cane fields.
At the effluent ponds we flushed a Tringa which called loudly as it turned and flew over us. The quality of the call was loud and ringing, like Green Sandpiper, but the notes were a repeated pi-pi-pi-pi, like a Wood Sandpiper. I caught a glimpse of thick black tail barring, and both of us felt that the upperparts were rather dark. On that basis, and the fact that a Green Sandpiper had been at this very spot last season, I identified it as a Green Sandpiper. However, the call bothered me, being unlike anything I had heard from Green before, yet seeming to be louder and more strident than typical Wood. We checked the other ponds and eventually came across this distant sandpiper. Through the bins it looked like a Wood Sandpiper, so I took a single photo and we concluded that this must be the bird we had flushed earlier.
Only when I examined the photo on the computer I noticed that the tail barring is indeed very prominent (for a Wood) and the head rather plain, lacking a prominent supercilium. The bill shape seems odd for either species, appearing slightly drooped at the tip, and the legs give the impression of being short. Nevetheless, the lack of prominent dark breast band or solid dark upperwing are not right for Green Sandpiper. So I am puzzled by this bird, and wish we had given it more attention. On balance I still think it was a Wood Sandpiper, but an individual that was less clearcut than most. Any other opinions?
Resident Aisan Pied Starlings were pairing up, but the Brahminy Starling which was the star attraction last month seemed to have moved on.
The lack of rain had turned the fields into a dust bowl, and indeed, it was clear that most birds had deserted the area. Whereas we usually see dozens of Black Drongos and hundreds of Eastern Yellow Wagtails, our counts for each were in single figures. Perhaps as a consequence, raptors were also conspicuously absent, with one Osprey and a couple of Eurasian Kestrels being the only migrants other than the usual Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers.
In the heat of the day I persuaded Mun to accompany me in bashing through the ‘Richard’s Pipit field’. We did hear one, but all the birds we got our bins onto were the familiar Oriental (formerly Paddyfield) variety. This one had a nice streaky crown and apparently pale lores, but the evenly dark ear coverts indicated that it was nothing unusual, and when it took flight, the short tail and call confirmed this.
The rarest bird of the day! An army Hercules dropping paratroopers.
The birds must have wondered what these strange aliens invading their airspace were. They also attracted quite a crowd of human spectators; the tractors stopped their work in the fields and cars parked along the roadside for a free airshow!
By Chuping’s own very high standards this was a relatively quiet visit, though things might have been very different if we had succeeded in tracking down an extremely furtive brown warbler which we flushed a few times in low scrub early in the day. Still, I was pleased to have seen the trio of pygmy-geese, cormorant and jacana, and to have had very nice views of the latter in particular.