Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Birds Of Air Hitam

Why would a town named Air Hitam (black water)? 

Two months ago i rang up my friends saying i would be visiting Air Hitam looking for migratory birds, and curiously, asked how the town got its name, the immediate response was "No birds here, I will show you a river where the town got its name from!" 

And I 'betrayed' my friends by secretly stuffing the complete birding equipment in the trunk, leaving only a smallish dslr body with wide-angle lens attached visible in the cabin.

We have breakfast at the famous "yong tao fu" noodle shop (next to Magnum 4D outlet), and another friend came along "Hey! What makes you here! There is no bird in Air Hitam man!". And I thought it was a pretty smart move by keeping the birding gear out of sight.... at least i won't be embarrassed,  if indeed there were no sight of birds in Air Hitam!

And the river is just 2km from the town named 'black water', interestingly, the river's water looks dark, or blackish! It has to be, otherwise the town of Air Hitam would have gotten a different name! Air Hijau (green water) would sound more horrible for me!

And much to my astonishment and delight, just across the river, a beautiful plot of  scenic land - 178acres of paddy fields! Strangely, i have never heard from anyone before about the paddy fields here, despite the paddy planting was started by a few families whom migrate here from the state of Kedah in the 70s. (sources according to a farmer)

So "Oops! I forgot! I have the complete birding gear in my trunk!", with that i told my friends to meet up for a late dinner instead of the proposed lunch!

Needless to say, subsequently i made several trips in the following weeks and got myself more "yong tau fu" to tame my tummy, as well as capturing a few species of birds I have always been hoping to get in Sg Balang until now i.e. the Black-winged Stilt, and a bird that i called Lady Ga Ga!...

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Kedidi Kaki Panjang 黑翅長腳鷸 セイタカシギ Cà kheo *
Échasse blanche šišila bocianovitá Ходулочникนกตีนเทียน
Stelzenläufer StylteløbeCigüeñuela de Alas Negras * Cavaliere eurasiatico

Only five Black-winged Stilts were spotted, 4 were usually seen in pair, so i guess one is still single then! :(

The rundown hut serves as a perfect hide, but unfortunately behind this hut is a trunk road with occasionally passing bikes, so waders always react in full alert  and easily spooked. 

Most of the local/migratory species here are similar to those seen in Sg Balang .  But Common Moorhen, surprisingly occurs in large number. I counted more than 50 with my trusted fingers and toes! I have never seen more than 2 in Sg Balang! Perhaps the water is not blackish enough in Sg Balang!

A friendly farmer's account seemed to tally with my number. According to him, he often see a flock of 30 around 7-8pm feeding behind his farm house, which was build next to the paddy fields. And unfortunately for the Moorhens, farmers do not like them as a flock of 10 can easily chew up a hectare of freshly planted seedlings within a few days. So i hope nobody introduce flamethrower to the farmers here! :~)
And sexing of Common Moorhen is difficult according to Google, but is easy for me, lets see, pic below - an adult male!

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Tiong Air 黑水鸡 *トリスタンバン * Kịch
Gallinule poule-d'eau * sliepočka vodná Камышница นกอีล้ำ
Teichhuhn Grønbenet Rørhøne Gallineta Común * Sciabica 

And the Moorhen infront is an adult female.....Yeap!

Told ya! :~p

Yes! Bird photographers generally are avid peeping tom,
 when it comes to birds!

And the bird that i called Lady Ga Ga....

Sighting of Garganey was a real surprise indeed. I had thought earlier they were just some domestic ducks breed by the farmers when they were first sighted far away. I took some still and video shots of them and immediately rush home, as it was late and about to rain. So imagine my shock when i checked the files two days later....

Garganey (Anas querquedula)
Itik Garganey 白眉鸭 シマアジ Mòng két mày trắng 
Sarcelle d'été kačica chrapačka * Чирок-трескунок เป็ดลาย
Knäkente * Atlingand Cerceta Carretona *  Marzaiola

Sadly, they were nowhere to be seen on my return trips despite spending hours scanning the whole of 178-acre of paddy fields! Sobs..sobs..! I sure hope they come back soon. :~(

Speaking of domestic ducks, I do find them worthy of a few images. They looked delicious to me too, but only if they are done to Hakka's recipe, or roasted like the Johnson Lok's Duck of Singapore.

Rest assured speedboat or flamethrower was not used 
for these two shots!

Sg Balang is probably 5 times bigger in term of land area, but it is more scenic here and at half the distance from home, i am not surprise that i would be visiting here more frequent than Sg Balang. If you are heading up to Sg Balang from the south, you are actually passing by Parit Sagil on your right, which leads you to the paddy fields here. Parit Sagil is just ~2kms from Air Hitam towards the direction of Batu Pahat. (see map below)

No raptor was sighted except a single Black-winged Kite. Perhaps it was too wet for them during the period of my visit. Much of the land were flooded by the monsoon rains, and farmers were sad as more than half of the seedlings was destroyed, but not the children though...

Unlike Sg Balang, you can't drive into the infield dirt roads as they are very narrow. So access to the mid fields is only possible by foot, or motorcycle. I did try to walk into the mid fields, but only scare off scores of roosting waders, sending them screaming in mid air, and then more from further away got scare off by the screaming waders, like a chain reaction. It was then i realized there must be quite a few hundreds of them hiding/feeding here.  

Migratory waterbirds are generally skittish, so a camouflage blind over the window helps a great deal on these nervous visitors. No sure if smearing of mud on the face like John Rambo will help though.........

 Common Greenshank

 Little Egret

 Little-ringed Plover

don't squint, no bird in this pic!

Purple Swamphen

Oriental Reed Warbler

 Pacific Golden Plover

 Wood Sandpiper

Yellow-billed Egret

 Yellow Bittern

And the yellow oval is meant to save you from squining!

 Purple Heron

The Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were wondering why I did not make an attempt to get nearer at all despite they always perch clean. "Read my blog on Sg Balang!" - i screamt at them with my eyes each time i drive pass !

And would you believe if i say there are 843 birds in this pic?

Hard to believe too! I counted using CS5 Analysis Count Tool...phew! Actual num is more likely to be 2000+ as my my lens angle was barely wide enough to capture half of the flock! 

Lastly, if you visit Parit Sagil paddy fields and come across a Myna that land on your shoulder or lens, don't panic, run and scream! Just remember to call her Ah Bit and say hello for me. The mean-looking Ah Bit was bred in captive since born and was recently released. Lucky Ah Bit!


Map to Parit Sagil, from Air Hitam. You may like the map even though you are just a "yong tau fu" lover!