Monday, 4 March 2013

Early Birds at Raptor Watch - 2 Mar 2013

It's a clear blue sky at Tanjung Tuan's lighthouse in Port Dickson. The annual Raptor Watch event organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) will be held next weekend, but we decided to go a week earlier. Learning from our experience last year, we knew there's no perfect time to see the birds of prey (raptors) as they need the right thermals for flight ie dependent on weather and wind conditions. On a sunny day, it's safe to be at the lighthouse between 10am to 12pm especially more for comfort reason. There's really not much space at the lighthouse, the spectators have to stand along a narrow ledge outside the lighthouse wall and in the afternoon, standing under the hot sun is unbearable. 

Every end of February until March, Tg Tuan acts as a rest stop for the incredible journey of five main species of migratory raptors as they cross from the Indonesian islands and the Straits of Malacca and head back to their breeding grounds some 12,000 km in the northern hemisphere. Tg Tuan is located along their way, they need trees to take a break from a long journey. The most sighted species are Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Chinese Goshawk and Grey-faced Buzzard. Don't be mistaken with the local residents eg. white bellied sea eagles you could see flying around.

Faithful MNS volunteers - the regulars come year after year observing the clear blue sky and counting the raptors they spied with the telescope. Click....Click....Click

We did not have the long, professional telephoto lens. But no words or photos could do it justice to one of nature's great spectacles. 

Our waiting paid off - we saw the peak flight between 11.00 am to 12.20 pm. When our eyes finally got used to observe the cloudless sky, we saw a continuous stream of Oriental Honey Buzzards emerging from the horizon. Soon, they're overhead, left, right and all over the sky. The MNS volunteers told us it's uncommon they came in such number continuously - and the count for that 1 hr 20 mins was more than 1,600!!


Even a fleeting glimpse, the experienced birders can tell whether the birds are male or female, adults or juveniles by the colour patterns and the boldness of the markings. Don't you agree it's very majestic. When you see hundreds of honey buzzard in the sky, the feeling is the memory of a lifetime.

An amazing show of flight displays by these birds of prey - such effortless and quiet flyers, with alternated glides and flapping wings, rising, diving and circling in rising thermals. There's so much beauty in the elegance of the silhouette, their sheer size, deep eyes..... the kings of the sky.

Ouch!! Feathers lost in transit.

We came prepared this trip with portable chairs, fans, snacks and cold drinks, caps, umbrella - most important the binoculars. We didn't know when they're coming and they needed the 'heat' to provide thermals for the flight. So be prepared to be hot. These birds do not rise before 9.00 am. Between 10.00 - 11.00 am, we scanned the horizon. Birds were low at that time, circling to gain altitude. As temperature went up, we have to scan higher in the sky. We're told that in the late afternoon, when the thermal wanes, birds will respond by flying lower again - go back to scanning the horizon. 

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