Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dig Deep has moved!

Deep Deep has migrated to:

Please check out my new site - see you there!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Swinhoe's Plovers: new leg-flagged birds to look for!

Coming to a sandbar or mudflat near you? In addition to the one Thai flagged bird (black over green)and one flagged in Sumatra (orange over black), there are now 19 Swinhoe's Plovers sporting white over yellow flags to look out for  this coming migratory season!

The birds were trapped and flagged by Jonathan Martinez and Professor Fasheng Zou at Xitou beach, Guandong Province, China. The flags are on the left leg - the white flag is plain and triangular; the yellow flag is square-ended and engraved with 2 numbers.

If you are lucky enough to see one, please send the details - number, location with Google Earth ref, date - Jonathan at jonathmartinezATgmailDOTcom.

There's a very nice summary of the Swinhoe's Plover story to-date on Terry Townshend's 'mouthwateringly good' blog, here

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Joining the dots: the Peninsular Malaysia marine boundary

With more and more interest in and information on pelagic birds in Malaysian waters, sooner or later, I thought, we will need to work out exactly where Malaysia ends and neighbouring territories begin!

So I spent a few hours this afternoon doing a complicated dot-to-dot exercise, mapping the coordinates from this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borders_of_Malaysia onto a Google Earth map. I've only managed to finish Peninsular Malaysia so far - East Malaysia will have to wait for another Sunday afternoon!

Here are the results of my labours! The entire peninsula sits on a continental shelf of relatively shallow water, meaning that we are unlikely ever to ever see any of the deep ocean pelagics (e.g. albatrosses!). Nevertheless, there are exciting possibilities for the adventurous to get reasonably far offshore and into the Andaman and South China Seas, especially off the northern state coasts.

The reason I was especially motivated to draw this map is that there have been, not one, but TWO Red-footed Boobies off the coast of Malaysia in May and June, and I was eager so see whether either qualified as a 'Malaysian bird'!

The first was seen during a pelagic survey from Singapore on 13 May. It was first sighted here:

Definitely in Malaysian waters! Happily for the Singaporean observers, the cooperative bird flew over into Singapore waters too, so they could add to their national list!

The second was seen on 14 June by Peter Ryan on board the RV Marion Dufresne in the Straits of Malacca, just here:
So close! Just the 'wrong' side of the border, as far as Malaysia is concerned! Peter has generously allowed me to reproduce some of his amazing photos here.
If you were expecting a dot on the horizon, you'd be wrong!This bird is a little older than the Straits of Singapore bird, and is safely identifiable as a different individual. Peter also got some enviable opportunities to photograph frigatebirds in the Straits of Malacca too (also just outside Malaysian territory).

A juvenile Christmas Island Frigatebird,, identified by the ‘hexagonal’ shape of the belly patch and the white axilliary spurs pointing forward from around the middle/front of the belly patch. The small white spot on the upperwing is also supposed to be diagnostic. (thanks to Nick Brickle for supplying these helpful notes).
A third year female Lesser Frigatebird. Details again from Nick: a third-year female Lesser with plumage that is somewhat transitional between a Juv and an Ad female Lesser. The belly patch is heavily mottled in a way that is consistent with it becoming the shape of an Ad Fem Lesser. The axilliary spurs are prominent, white and triangular. The breast band seems to have faded and the black feathering around the bill is probably a hint of the black hood to come.

SO...an intriguing taster of what is out there. Next step - a pelagic west of Langkawi, or - the Holy Grail - out to Pulau Perak...anyone??

Friday, June 29, 2012

28 June 2012: Pelagic off Tanjung Dawai, Kedah

I wasn't expecting much today, and was pleasantly surprised to have my expectations exceeded!

These two Long-tailed Skuas were flushed by the boat before 8 a.m., an unusually early start to proceedings.

A brisk southerly wind built up during the day, and a succession of thundery squalls interrupted the bright sunshine.

This made for interesting lighting and a cool breeze throughout the day - very pleasant.
What a difference a ray makes! Two Bridled Terns taken within three minutes of each other! Bridled were the predominant tern on show today - about 120 or so.
Two juvenile Sooty Terns. The first is still in complete juvenile plumage; the lower two photos show the second bird, already in moult. The patches of white are caused by feather bases being exposed by missing feathers above.
A sight often searched for - the diminutive form of a petrel skimming the waves!
A Swinhoe's Storm-petrel - the first of 3, though technically, the other two were too far away to go down as anything but "dark-rumped storm-petrel - probably Swinhoe's". These are my first in the area, and over a month after I would expect the main passage period to be. Perhaps the southerly winds and fog-like haze of the last few weeks have  held some up.
Another surprise - two Short-tailed Shearwaters. It doesn't look as though these two are going to make it to the Bering Sea! Most Short-tailed Shearwaters undergo a full moult in the far north, becoming flightless for a time. I don't know if that is what is happening to the lower bird, it doesn't look too healthy, and may have picked up some feather pollution leading to waterlogging. For a moment as we caught sight of it swimming past, I thought we had found our first auklet!!
Haze? What haze? This was the weather by the time we came back in - the wind change and rain have thankfully cleared the air.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning Bird Songs with Doctor Warbler

This is just brilliant!

After watching, check the date it was uploaded!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The Jewel Hunter, Chris Gooddie

The nice people from Princeton University Press popped this book through my letterbox (metaphorically - it's too big to go in  my letterbox and too thick for even my postman to fold in two, though I suspect he tried) the other day. It's been out a while of course, long enough for a good number of 'proper' reviews to be written, to which I refer you if that's what you're looking for.

In case you don't already know, the 'jewel' in the title refers to pittas - all 32 currently recognized species, and a few other races besides, in the world, and the 'hunt' was the quest to see them all in a year. The author, Chris Gooddie, describes in the opening chapter how this hunt was conceived as the solution to a serious bout of mid-life crisis. You may have followed the blog Pittasworld (now defunct) which outlined his plan and brought together a scintillating collection of photos and art. You may even have met Chris and friends as they trawled the forests of Fraser's Hill, Taman Negara, Danum Valley or Sepilok during his "Year of the Pitta" a couple of years ago. He evidently lived to tell the tale, and kudos to him for following up on his promise to write it all down - hence, The Jewel Hunter.
First and foremost, I was glad to get this book so I could work out where the bird was on the cover - I'd spend quite a bit of time squinting at small images (like the one above) of it, trying to make out what the picture was. Now, I can reveal that it is actually a ... well, get yourself a copy if you can't figure it out!

I'd read quite a few reviews of the book before reading it, some of which were less than glowing, so I can't say I came to it with great expectations. However, by the middle of the first chapter I was thoroughly hooked! The book is an absorbing account of Chris's many and various experiences, not only of birds but also of the people and places he encountered along the way. The content is at times witty, at others sobering, often quirky, and always identifiably British!

There are a number of reasons why I really enjoyed this book:
1. I got a real feeling of being there (minus the many and considerable discomforts of actually being there!)
2. By the time I was halfway through, I knew that this was a book I would be urging my wife and daughter to read "so you can understand me". Actually, I'm hoping that it might make my birding extravagances look reasonable by way of contrast, thereby gaining me a bit more 'licence to bird' ("at least you're not as mad as that Chris Gooddie nutter.").
3. I learned a lot. Although probably quite a lot of us have our own theories about how to go about seeing pittas, I would wager that, having read this book, there'll be a few new techniques you'll want to try out - there certainly are for me.
4. Linked to 3, reading the book made me feel like going out and finding pittas. Any book that makes you want to go out into the field has got to be good.
5. Some of the pitta photos make mine look really good! Mind you, that's because they are all by the author, all taken within the aforementioned yearlong period, and often taken while he was either suffering from dysentery, soaked to the skin, several days up treacherously muddy mountain trails, seriously bleeding from leech bites and falls, or all of the above (not to give too much of the story away!)
6. It has lots of lists -from why pittas are the best things in the world, to how to make a propah cup of English tea (not that I ever make lists you understand).

So - did he succeed in seeing all 32 species of pitta? You'll have to buy the book to find out. I would lend you mine, but you'll need to take your place in the queue!

Finally, to whet your appetite a little further, I decided this was as good an excuse as I need to present my own humble collection of pitta photos - only Malaysian ones in my case!

Blue-winged Pitta, Kedah.
Mangrove Pitta, Pulau Pinang.
 Hooded Pitta, Kedah.
Garnet Pitta, Pahang.

 Black-headed Pitta, Sabah.
 Blue-banded Pitta, Sarawak.
 Blue-headed Pitta, Sabah.
Giant Pitta, Sabah.
 Rusty-naped Pitta, Pahang.
Bornean (left) and Malayan Banded Pittas.

Friday, June 22, 2012

20 June 2012: Penanti

Having left the folly of flycatcher-hunting, I dropped into Penanti en route home to check on the Oriental Pratincoles.

 One was standing sentinel on the access road and wasn't that interested in giving way to my vehicle!
Interesting to see that post-breeding moult has already begun - those slightly greeny-glossed scapulars, wing coverts and tertials are new, as are the darker feathers on the head. 
The adults were all just starting wing moult - the inner four or five primaries and their respective coverts had been replaced.
I could only see two juveniles - suggesting that the season hasn't been a good one. Both were just fledged. Sometimes pratincoles will raise a second brood after the first is fledged - wonder if this may happen here?
The inevitable Red-wattled Lapwings making their disapproval of my presence known! I was surprised to hear a Blue-winged Pitta calling not that far away in the scrub. However, it didn't want to play, and I was unsuccessful in luring it into view. While searching, I did spook a Red Junglefowl - another species I was surprised to find at this rather open location.