Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birding Merkang Nov 2011

Merkang's networked roads in the paddyfields.

Back to Merkang - a week off work just before the school break to send the kids back to Kelantan for their annual immersion of kampong life. Also the twice yearly visit to check-out and keep up the family home.

The kids are a year older, and with their eldest cousin Afif being 13 now, it's a bit easier to leave them at home for a couple of hours while I go check out the birds in the paddyfields of Merkang just at the back of the house. Normally by the time I get back home with the day's breakfast, they'd still be curled up in the living room, still asleep.

These annual trips has become something that I most look forward to every year since Mom's passing. It recharges, with plenty of time to reflect on past years events and look forward or plan for the upcoming new year. Dusting up the family home, packing away a bit of Mom's knick-knack are theraupatic.

The kids love the space to run around, watch tv or play games all day with their cousins. Roaming the paddyfields fishing and collecting siput sawah are probably some of the activities they most look forward to this time of year.

Merkang in my backyard is mostly actively worked on paddyfields in the area connecting Merkang proper, Padang Pak Amat, Jelor, Pauh Lima and several other villages in the area. Clumps of little hills scattered the landscape, for most parts they are flatlands planted with paddy with rows and rows or irrigation canals and good network of kampong roads, some surfaced and some not.

The birds you see here are the regulars you'd see in perhaps many of the paddyfields in Peninsular Malaysia. You've got the waterbirds : egrets, snipes, herons, bitterns, crake and the likes; you'll have raptors, the most common being the kites and harriers; and then you'd have the seed eating variety such as munias, grassland types of birds. Kingfishers are a personal favorite along some of the clear water canals that meander along the road network. One rare sighting was of the Crested Partridge a couple of years back, a sighting of a Watercock still remains unconfirmed.

I usually start off just after daylight, traverse the road network by car and shoot from the car window. The likes of Pond Heron, Egrets, Kingfishers are very skittish here, perhaps due to regular hunting for the pot by the locals (especially the pond herons and bitterns). The 400/5.6 and 600/4 are both attached to Canon 7D bodies respectively on the front passenger seats. The 400 for quick grabshots while the 600 are reserved for more slow work where the quarry if comfortable and unawares.

I hardly use flash because the attachment on the bracket would fit the car window, it's quite a challenge trying to maneuver the 600 in a car, much more with all sorts of accessories attached to it. Back in the boot, I have the Gitzo ever ready, so far it hasn't seen much use in the paddy fields. In fact I was thinking of just ditching it for any upcoming Merkang trips, replacing the Gitza instead with a beanbag.

The shots have been half-way decent half of the time. With not much traffic during the early morning hours, the birds get spooked less, so opportunity for good captures are rather high. So far other than the raptors, most other quarries have afforded some decent images.

Below is a selection of images captured in Nov 2011:

Black-shouldered Kite is probably the most successful and abundant raptor in the Merkang paddyfields.

Harriers are also sighted regularly and is the biggest raptor around these parts.

White-throated Kingfisher, the most common kingfisher species in paddyfields.

Pond Heron is another ubiquitous species near the water's edge. A very skittish quarry being regularly hunted by the locals for the pot.

Old friend Little Egret, it's always a grand sight to see them fly into the paddyfields in big flocks in the early of the morning and to see them off again in the evening.

A Common Kingfisher perched unawares nearby a clear water stream that branched off one of the irrigation canals. By the time the 600m was poised for a photo, it did a fast dissappearing act not to be traced again.

Chestnut Bee-eater on a dead branch in early morning light.

Another Pond Heron photographed with a 400mm from the car window as it was ready to fly off again.

The children also tried their hands at bird photography on this year. Afif finally got the hang of the 400mm and made a couple of decent shots before the week was over. Aisya and Irfan concluded that the lens and camera were far too heavy for them, Irfan got excited with the prospect of owning his own pair of binoculars one of these days.

Ali has a fair ways to go yet to be converted to a birder. Several more similar outings in the backyards of Merkang, I am sure we'll have a few more birdwatchers in the area.

No comments: