Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Black Kites and Indian Cuckoo of Penang Mainland - Jan 2017

Currently there are just a few places in Penang mainland which could accommodate large number of winter migrants. Air Itam Dalam is one of those areas where wintering birds (big and small ones) can safely used as their wintering playground as well as refuel stations. The authorities were quick enough to safeguard this area instead of sending bulldozers over. This location has been a birders' paradise for many years and hopefully it will remained that way for many more years to come. On 29 January 2017, i decided to dropped in for a short stopover. Met a man who looked like Confucius but he ain't nothing like the ancient scholar. He was well equipped with long lens and can speak Penang Hokkein ! After some conversation, we were already birding together. The first bird we saw was this Cuckoo. In fact it was my new found friend who had alerted me of the bird's presence as i was about 50 meters away from him. Of course i ran the fastest 50 meters spring ever recorded in planet earth to where he stood. Such a nice chap.

Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus micropterus)
As the bird's initial position was obscure, we have suspected that it could be a "Himalayan Cuckoo" (Cuculus saturatus saturatus) or some literature have named it an "oriental cuckoo".  However after looking further at its photos, the bird turned out to be an "Indian Cuckoo" (Cuculus micropterus). How to differentiate them? Literature has described "Himalayan Cuckoo" as having more greyish upper parts than an "Indian Cuckoo".

Most of the time you could only hear its calls but this bird was rather friendly. This was the closest i have ever got to this cuckoo.  It was reported that the female has paler grey on the throat and having more brown on the breast while an adult male back are more brownish and has broad subterminal tail band. So this one is definitely a male.

Its the same bird but under the shade, its feather colors are different.

Current literature also mentioned that there are 2 subspecies been recognised i.e (i) C. m. micropterus and (ii) C. m. concretetus. This means that one is a resident and one is a migrant. A local resident expert suspect that this cuckoo could be a migrant as he opined that resident Indian Cuckoo are usually found in pristine forest.

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
The next bird which i have came across was the Black Kite (Milvus migrans). The scholarly looking birder told me that he had once seen close to 100 + black kites over here. Really? From the information he gave on the various types of birds which can be found at this location, i believe he was not pulling my legs.

I saw a total of 15 of them and they were mainly juveniles as depicted by the above photos.

From the above photos, i believe they are mostly from the subspecies, M. m. lineatus which literature described them as having bluish grey cere and legs, whiter face, larger whitish wing patch on underwings and is larger in size. Pretty straight forward.

Although it was called a kite which probably due to its kite-liked shaped tail, but its body size and wing span is actually larger than a "Rufous-bellied Eagle" and quite similar to a Changeable Hawk Eagle.


"Don't just judge a person on how good she is but also on how good she wants to be" 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Importance of Conservation - A Birder's Perspective

BirdLife International had so far identified over 12,000 sites of international significance for birds across the globe as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA). However only 40% or less of those areas are reported to be formally protected. Why are bird issues so important ? It is not because we are birders but conservation is all about birds as well as the people of which they are associated to.

Birds depend on their habitats which in turn depend on the way which we treat our environment or natural resources. Migratory birds especially waders / shore birds life span depends much on their survival during migration. They often make long distance flights from/to their wintering grounds and would made multiple stops during their migration (especially the small-bodied shorebirds). These multiple stop areas or at times what we call "staging areas" or "refuel stations" are the keys to their survival. Depleting inter-tidal mudflats would mean less place to rest and little food to feed on during their migration. Eventually it may lead to the reduction of the birds' population. 

Red-Necked Stint - taking off

Declining bird population in turn means that there are no marine life in those areas which also means that the area may not have many fishes for human to eat as well. Local fishermen would then need bigger boats to venture further out to the sea. That would potentially mean higher cost and more pricey tuna sandwiches ! 

Dwindling catch perhaps ?

These are very fresh fishes but their numbers can be more.

The conservation of these staging areas actually has a lot to do with the way we live as well as our ability to inform and influence the policy makers, the stakeholders and the broader public. Competing demands on coastal lands, economic priorities, attitude towards conservation, state legislation etc make shorebird conservation a real challenge as most conservationist would attest.

Broad-billed Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we can start with the local fishermen ! Why fishermen? I would consider them as the 'Guardian of IBAs' or the 'First Line of Defence for conservation' ! "Human are beings of social so therefore we must interact with each other in the name of conservation". When fishermen understand the importance of conservation works, they will in turn begun to embrace the spirit of conservation as part of their life.

I have met several fishermen on my usual birding/fishing trips and was delighted to know that they are aware of the presence of these waders or what the locals here named them as "burung hijrah". They were amazed with the sound of the birds made when flying in a group and some of them even told me that when the birds arrived here it was through the Northern Winds (autumn migration) and they would follow the Southern Winds ('angin selatan') on their way back (Spring migration). Take it from the local fishermen who did not attend college at all.


Eurasian Curlew

The Present and Future of Conservation

So where does the future holds for the waders? In order to carry out a sensible environmental assessment or what we call 'feasibility study' in business and to sustain any conservation efforts, benchmarking, learning and emulating the best environment practices is the way forward, i believe. How much success is probably down to the willingness to persevere and to constantly fine tuned this best approach. It would be a colossal effort. The 11th Malaysia Plan is coming to an end soon (2016 to 2020). Perhaps RMK 12th will place greater emphasis on the conservation of its natural resources and strengthening our resilience against climate change, pollution etc.

The Australian model on conservation of its wetlands can potentially be one of those best practices which can be emulated in many countries. Their 'local-to-global' approach works on the premise that local people (example fishermen/farmers) are engaged to work for nature in their own backyards but is still connected nationally and internationally through a global partnership. Apparently Malaysia is a member of the 'East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership" (EAAFP) since 2012.

"Conservation Without Borders" is the way to go!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bird Watching and Grey-Capped Woodpecker

The essence of bird watching from the very beginning is all about identifying accurately the birds we see. Some even went a step further by studying their poo/pellets. Bird watching is also unlike looking for "pikachu"/"pokemon".  We do not have any apps to look for the birds especially those called vagrants. In identifying the birds we see, there are several methods which one could use. Some do it by taking notes, some thru sketching while some just rely on their photographic memory. I usually use photographic evidence and then compare the info with some well established field guides. Of course at times, i would still refer the info to the birding experts/gurus. That way ones' sightings can be more accurate and credible. Scientific evidence like MtDNA analysis would be the final frontier in confirming them especially the more difficult ones but that is beyond the means for most of us and is time consuming for citizen science.

Recently while on a usual bird watching trip up north, i came across two Grey-capped Woodpeckers or what locals called them "Belatuk Kecil Ubun Kelabu" (Allen J & A. Pearson, 2012). To differentiate them from the quite similar "Sunda Woodpecker", i have relied on these two prominent features:

i) Grey Crown
ii) Absence of / less distinctive dark malar stripe

The crown is black but it is certainly not brownish as said for a Sunda Woodpecker. Here you can also noticed that the malar strip is not as distinctive as may be shown by a Sunda Woodpecker.

Here are more photos showing its prominent features:

As compared to 'Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker', its overall colors are darker even when in bright daylight.

The taxonomy status of this woodpecker species is still in the state of flux. Currently it has 3 scientific names given:
i) Dendrocopus canicapillus ii) Picoides canicapillus & iii) Yungipicus canicapillus

HBW and BirdLife International apparently uses # (ii).

Notice its eyes which are either half close or totally shut when it is pecking.

Finally you get to see its grey cap:

Time to go:
Oh yes, the first two photos above was actually a different individual.  Certainly difficult to tell them apart.

Happy Birding !