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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waterbirds and Wetland Habitats Survey of the Sarawak Coast Announcement

A waderwatcher scanning the flats for interesting waterbirds.

A small segment of our extensive coastline, some are very important resting and refueling points for waterbirds as far as Siberia and other far-flung places of the northern hemisphere.

Project Summary:

The extensive coastline of Sarawak is one of the most important wintering grounds for waterbirds in Malaysia. It contains more coastal Important Bird Areas (IBAs) than any other state in Malaysia . Several of these meet the Ramsar criteria as Wetlands of International Importance (Yeap et al. 2007). The west Sarawak coast regularly records some of the highest concentrations of migratory waterbirds in the country during the annual Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) (Li et al. 2009).

Despite this, the status of waterbirds and their habitats on much of the coastline is virtually unknown. There has never been a comprehensive coastal waterbird survey of Sarawak. Most surveys, such as that carried out between January-February 2006 during the annual Asian Waterbird Census (Mizutani, et al. 2006), and earlier studies (Edwards 1985, 1986a, 1986b, Howes, 1986a) have concentrated on the western part of coastal Sarawak.   Other sites which have received some coverage include sections of the Kuala Baram coast and Brunei Bay (e.g., Howes, 1986b).There are AWC volunteer teams coordinated by MNS Kuching Branch and MNS Miri Branch members, and these, together with staff from Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) have provided consistent coverage of some sites since 2007.

The Waterbirds and Wetland Habitats Survey of the Sarawak Coast proposes to survey waterbirds and wetlands habitats along the entire Sarawak coast in a comprehensive and systematic way. The results of this survey will provide a definitive account of the state of waterbird populations and wetland habitats in the state; and a baseline for future coastal wetland conservation efforts.

The field surveys will take place between October 2010 and March 2011, and will utilize the existing teams of AWC volunteers, and collaborations with State agencies. In addition, the project will seek increased partnership with State agencies such as Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Forest Department, Sarawak Drainage and Irrigation Department, IBEC;  input from the private sector from such companies as Sarawak Shell Berhad, Brunei Shell Petroleum (for work in Brunei waters); and NGOs such as Wetlands International.

Initial surveys to locate key waterbird concentrations will be done by boat and/or plane. Follow-up counts will be done either by boat, or via land access.

Project Objectives:

1) Conduct a survey of the entire coastline of the state of Sarawak to identify key waterbird sites and to identify and count waterbird populations during the northern winter period of October 2010 to March 2011.

2) Produce a report on the findings of the survey which can function as a basis for future policy and management strategies for wetlands and waterbirds in Sarawak.

3) Build capacity of members, participating stakeholders and volunteers in waterbird identification and monitoring and wetland habitat surveys.

4) Increase awareness of the importance of the Sarawak coastline for waterbirds and wetland habitats at local, national and international levels through CEPA, training, publications and sharing of output with stakeholders and relevant organisations.

5) Forge working relationships in matters related to waterbird biodiversity and wetland habitat conservation between MNS and other NGOs, government agencies, schools and universities, and private corporations in Sarawak and other areas of Malaysia.

6) Document the process of the survey, from initiation to completion, as a model for replication in other areas of Malaysia.

The project itself is designed to take place within a 12-month period. However, there are several ways in which it will contribute to the ongoing conservation of Sarawakís coastal wetlands and waterbirds:

1. It will help to improve AWC coverage in future years by:
a. Identifying priority sites
b. Capacity-building skills and experience among volunteers, and by enlarging    the volunteer-base
c. Involving more agencies in collaborative surveys

2. It will provide key baseline data for efforts
a. to protect important sites, such as Bako-Buntal Bay
b. to designate new IBAs and
c. to strengthen claims for Ramsar site status
d. by the government to gazette and protect important wetlands

3. It will raise awareness of the importance of wetlands for humans and wildlife in the media, schools and the public. This will have an ongoing positive influence and should lead to increased MNS membership in Sarawak.

4. The project will provide a valuable blueprint for similar coastal surveys of other parts of Malaysia

The Sarawak Waterbirds Survey (SWS) team would like to call on volunteers for the survey of the following sectors (please refer to the survey map):

Trip 1 = 01-05th December 2010 : Sector 1 to 4
Trip 2 = 07-11th December 2010 : Sector 11, 12
Trip 3 = 15-20th December 2010 : Sector 13, 14, 15
Trip 4 = 27-31st December 2010 : Sector 16, 17 based in Pulau Bruit
Trip 5 = 07-12th January 2011 : Sector 29 to 36 based in Miri
Trip 6 = 13-17th January 2011 : Sector 22 to 28 based in Bintulu
Trip 7 = 19-25th January 2011 : Sector 5 to 10
Trip 8 = 05-13th February 2011 : Sector 37 to 40 based in Limbang/Lawas
Trip 9 = 21-27th February 2011 : Sector 18 to 21 based in Mukah

Southwestern sectors, please click on image for a larger version. The circle represents current available data on the presence and numbers of waterbirds in the area. This project will be able to update the distribution map of a significant portion of the coastline of Sarawak.

Northeastern sectors, please click on image for a larger version. The least studied portion of the coastline, this project would enable to contribute significantly to scant existing data in key sectors such as the Limbang-Lawas areas.

For those interested to participate in surveys of sector 1-21, please contact Anthony Wong of MNS Kuching Branch.

For those interested to participate in surveys of sector 22-40, please contact Nazeri Abghani of MNS Miri Branch.

In your email please state the sectors that you are interested in and the dates that you are available, we'll follow-up with the rest of the pertinent questions.

Anthony and Nazeri will answer any relevant questions you may have and put you through to Daniel Kong (Field Coordinator) and/or Rose Ngau (Field Logistics) once you've decided to be a part of the survey team for each sector.

As this is a wide-spread survey covering the entire coast of Sarawak, we'll need as many volunteers we can get.

So, we'll see you in the field!

This project is partly funded by Malaysian Nature Society Merdeka Fund, Shell Sustainable Grant 2011 and Hornbill Skyways.

1. Mizutani, A., Kato K., Tanaka K., Ichikawa, T., Mawek Z., Auby I. (2006) A Report of Wintering Waterbirds Status Along the West Coast of Sarawak ñ Results of AWC 2006. Sarawak Forestry Kuching, Sarawak
2. Sebastian, A., (2005) Waterbirds Count in Western Sarawak. Suara Enggang 3 (May-June):23-25
3. Gregory-Smith, R., (1999). Status of Waders, Terns and Ardeids in Sarawak, 1994-96. Sarawak Museum Journal LIV(75):276-287
4. Edwards, P. J. and Haxby, J. B. (1989) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report No. 5 ñ Pulau Bruit Revisited. Report No. 47, AWB, Kuala Lumpur.
5. Edwards, P. J. and Parish, D, and NWPO (1986a) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report No. 2 ñ Western Sarawak. INTERWADER. Publication No. 6, Kuala Lumpur.
6. Edwards, P. J. and Parish, D, and NWPO (1986b) Survey of the Western Coastline of Sarawak to Evaluate the Status of Wetlands and to Identify Key Sites for Migratory Waterbirds ñ Preliminary Report  INTERWADER. Report  No. 3, INTERWADER Kuala Lumpur.
7. Howes, J. and NWPO, (1986a) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report 3: Pulau Bruit. INTERWADER Publication No. 10, INTERWADER,Kuala Lumpur
8. Howes, J. and NWPO, (1986b) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds.  Report 4: Limbang-Lawas Districts of Brunei Bay. INTERWADER Publication No.14, INTERWADER, Kuala Lumpur

MNS-BCC Waterbirds Group/Dec 2010
Maps by Anthony Wong
Photographs by Nazeri Abghani

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy New Year 2011!!! Selamat Tahun Baru!!!

Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch Committee:

is wishing all our  members a Merry Christmas and Happy 2011

Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.

Charles Dickens

Safe sanctuary

WELL-HIDDEN: The garganey is camouflaged well against the brown water. — Photos by Vincent Wong

ELEGANT VISITOR: The black winged stilt ranges from the northern to the southern hemisphere in coastal areas and interior wetlands.

Mary Margaret

THE wind swept grass-green rice fields of Kampung Chupak, which nestle at the foot of some staggering rock formations, are dotted with white statues.
In alarm, the little Egretta garzetta and intermediate egrets (Egretta intermedia) took flight, circled, then landed ...
Kampung Chupak, a major rice producing area, is about 50km from Kuching. The fields were busy as many people were manually transplanting the rice seedlings, for the second crop, into water-filled fields that are part of the complex ecosystem.
The rice fields of Chupak produce rice needed for Sarawak’s growing population and provides safe sanctuary for resident and migrant birds.
The biologically diverse wetlands are areas defined as being saturated with water that have vital ecological roles, including acting as a reservoir and flow regulator of water. In addition, they are natural filters removing impurities.
The multifaceted cycles of life and nature occur with living organisms — plants, animals, and fungi — occupying niches in the complex web of life.
Wetlands are vital stopover places for the many species of birds that migrate from northern breeding grounds to southern overwintering grounds, enabling the birds to replenish their energy stores. They can also be final destinations.
The over 20 members of the Malaysian Nature Society who spent the late afternoon, rambling along the edges of the rice fields, saw several species of birds co-existing with humans.
The egrets — white herons — touched down away from humans, but did not take off in alarm as long as we kept our distance.
The hunting technique of these easily seen birds involves walking across the field or marsh to flush out frogs and other animals.
The grey clouds that skidded overhead gradually diminished, as did the rain. With this our chances of seeing birds increased as they sensibly try to stay out of the rain.
The hoarse call of the common, but rarely seen, white browed crake (Porzana cinerea) sparked attention. The skilfully camouflaged mottled brown bird with a white brow, scuttled among the recently planted rice seedlings. Once sighted, binoculars followed its every move.
We sighted more birds — the slightly larger dusky black common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), that normally occur in small groups in swamps or rice fields.
This bird, which ranges from Africa to Europe to Asia and the Americas, spends much time in and around water eating insects and surface vegetation
Two of the six species of bitterns found in Borneo were also sighted. The shy yellow Ixobrychus sinensis and cinnamon bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) stalk the field in search of prey, but blend and hide in with the vegetation.

Scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulta) has become more common and like other munias feed almost solely on grass seeds, including rice.
The white and brown pattern on this chestnut brown bird resembles fish scales and thus its name.
The hill myna (Gratula religiosa), despite generally being found in tall forest, was also seen.
The common garden bird, the yellow vented bulbul (Pynonotus goiavier), also made an appearance.
Several overwintering visitors had also found sanctuary in the rice fields of Chupak.
The wood sandpiper (Tringa glarola) and common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) are common migrants.
The wood sandpiper is particularly at home in paddy fields and freshwater marshes.
A group of five black winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus)
took flight and then returned several times.

This long-legged elegant visitor ranges from the northern to the southern hemisphere in coastal areas and interior wetlands. It uses its long slender beak to probe the mud for invertebrates.
The common greenshank (Tringa nebularia) was also observed feeding singly using its long bill to probe the mud.
The highlight was a brownish bird in a small group. The garganey (Anas querquedula) is a migrant duck that does overwinter in Sarawak in small groups. It breeds in the northern hemisphere from Europe to Japan.
Cameras and binoculars took aim at this inconspicuous bird camouflaged against the brown water.
The group stayed on waiting for more ducks, but none came. The egrets departed for their night-roosting tree and then the group gradually dispersed with the darkening shadows of the evening.
For more information read ‘Phillipps’ Field Guide To The Birds Of Borneo’ by Q Phillipps (2009), John Beaufoy Publishing Ltd, UK.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy New Year 2011!!! Selamat Tahun Baru!!!

Dear Members,         
On behalf of MNS Board of Trustees, Council, Branches and the Secretariat, we would like to wish all our Christian members a joyous and Merry Christmas!
We wish you good cheer and hope that in the spirit of the season that we will come together for a greener year ahead. Next year’s IUCN theme is International Year of Forests and MNS will certainly be up to the challenges ahead specifically with the growing concerns over the loss of our forest cover.
We hope that you will join us in our tireless efforts for conservation and look out for our calendar of events which will allow you to be part of our host of exciting activities throughout the year.
MNS would also like to take this opportunity to wish all our dedicated members a very Happy New Year 2011!!! Selamat Tahun Baru!!!
Don't forget to Rethink, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle...
Best Wishes,
Dr Maketab Mohamed
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Night of the spiders

DELICATE WEB: This horizontal web could be photographed thanks to a fine mist of cornstarch.

Cheong Ah Kwan

STRETCHED across the lower branches of a tree was the convoluted three- dimensional ‘circus tent’; a magnificent piece of web architecture.
Constructed by a tent- spider, the elaborate web is a deadly trap to insects.
Guide lines and safety lines have been woven into the web to protect the builder, lest it becomes a victim of its own device.
There are also signal lines built into the design to facilitate the monitoring of the massive web.
The ensnared prey in its struggle to escape causes vibrations to be transmitted through the signal lines, thereby unwittingly hastening an untimely death.
The sun had just set and we were gathered outside the Rainforest Cafe waiting for Joseph Koh, affectionately known as the Spiderman, to guide us on a spider hunting night walk along the Red and Blue Trail at the Permai Rainforest Resort.
A couple of days earlier, the expert on Southeast Asian spiders had presented the Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch with a very interesting talk on the defence strategies of spiders.
The audience was so captivated by the arachnids and their webs that most of those who attended the talk turned up for the three- hour night walk on a weekday.
Koh was pleased that we had found a tent web. Not all spiders construct webs.
For those that do, web architecture is species specific.
Hence, there are various types of webs ranging from a minimalist single strand ‘clothesline’ to the convoluted three- dimensional ‘circus tent’.
The net-casting spider (Deinopidae family) spins an unusual web that it suspends between its front legs to catch prey. It gives the impression that it is holding the net, casting it over potential prey such as ants, beetles, crickets and other 
spiders. One of the aims of the 
walk was to catch the Nephila spider or golden orb web spider in action 
The Nephila constructs impressive webs that come complete with early warning systems on the outer edges to alert the arachnid of incoming prey or guard against spider hunting predators.
Just a few metres from the cafe, we stumbled upon a beautiful horizontal web that was perfectly displayed for photography.
I was doubtful my humble instant camera could pick up the fine silk threads in the dim light when Koh produced a cunning solution to aid photography; a fine mist of cornstarch dusted over the delicate structure. 
“It helps to enhance the web,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as we clicked away with our cameras. 
Spiders that hunt at night have excellent night vision adapted for nocturnal predation. As we walked along the trail, we saw a great number of them hiding under leaves and on trees.
Koh taught us the ‘eye shine’ technique to spot spiders in the dark. 
We would not have been able to see any spiders at all if we held our torches normally.
The torch has to be held 
at eye level. The eyes of the spider reflect light well to produce ‘eye shine’.
In the dark velvet night, the spiders were exposed looking very much like glittering jewels.
Koh wanted to show us just the bigger spiders as they are more spectacular to the layman.
We managed to identify several spider species such as the carnivorous huntsman spider, lichen spider, and a Ctenus species just by staying on the trail.
Spiders not identified in the field were collected for further study. Collecting the spiders requires technique as these creatures possess exceptional agility and speed to jump away to safety.
It was well past 11pm by the time we left the resort. Although we did not see the golden orb
web spider spinning its trap, we were not disappointed as we had a few treats that evening.
There were two green snakes by the side of the trail in the trees above us, a gecko on a tree trunk, a tiny frog whose length approximated one centimetre, a centipede, stick insects and a couple of trilobite larvae.
The trilobite larvae were an entomological enigma for a century in the scientific world until the puzzle was solved by a Swede entomologist in the 1920s in the rainforests of Sarawak.

BIG STAR: A carnivorous huntsman spider was among spiders spotted on the trail.

We also had an unexpected encounter; that of a spider eating another of its kind. Needless to say, both the victor and the vanquished were no match for the Spiderman, who caught them with his dollar scoop net from Tesco.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spiders galore

 Photo's by Lim Jin Bing

Deception: A spider demonstrates beetle mimicry

By Sunita
 The first thing I had learnt about spiders was that they are not insects because they have 8 legs and only two body parts. They are a diverse lot and can be found almost everywhere in the world. They prey and are preyed upon. And just like any other organisms they need to defend themselves against their enemies or potential predators.
During Mr Joseph Koh’s talk on October 26, 2010 it was interesting to discover that the way a spider protects itself is akin to something a person would see or go through when in the army. As I love pilfering my brother’s books on the SAS (Special Air Service), my immediate thoughts were that they (the SAS) must have at one point or another emulated the spider’s techniques!
Spiders build shelters or hide themselves to visually conceal them from birds or wasps, very much like hiding in the trenches or bushes. Hiding in burrows also has advantages especially if the burrow is deep and the enemy is unable to reach through it. Silk funnels, very much like the ‘bubu’ that is used to catch fish, are also good places to retreat into when under threat.
Concealment:A spiderhides in a leaf retreat

A warning system likened to a trip-wire or radar will give a spider ample time to run away or hide. The extensive network of fine silk webbing has several fine long silk web lines attached to it. These lines extend a distance away from the main web and when an insect – regardless if food or foe – comes near the vicinity of the main web and trips over the line, whoop! – off the spider goes into hiding.
Having camouflage also helps the spider from being spotted. Camouflage ‘fatigues’ seen in the huntsman spider comes in all colours and textures. Some resemble sticks, leaves and branch nodes. Others resemble insects by waving the first pair of legs like an ant antennae, a deceptive move to help them live amongst ants. They also secrete formic acid like ants. To remain undetected, spiders may even mimic plant parts such as flowers. This certainly aids in ambushing the unsuspecting insect predator or a potential victim in a flash. Mimicry is not just limited to plants. It has been reported that some spiders look like bird droppings, even adopting the smell of one and soil lumps on the forest floor!
One species of spider commonly called the lichen spider is known to flatten itself against the surface it is on as such that it does not cast a shadow. ‘Armaments’ acquired from modified structures on a spider provide protection by making them indigestible. Other deterrence includes adopting threat postures to scare off any potential threats. Being large (although slow) also helps in deterring itself from being devoured.
So, spotting spiders may not be easy in the beginning but with patience and plenty of practice you’ll bound to find one – hiding or lurking somewhere…. waiting for you.
Big web:A spider stays hidden within a leaf in the middle of an intricate web.

Invitation to attend IBEC's Lunch Hour Talk - Sarawak River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management: Incorporation and Deployment Study

Dear members,

On behalf of the Director of Institute of Biodiversity & Environmental Conservation (IBEC) Unimas, we wish to invite you to attend our Lunch Hour Talk as follows:

Date  : 15 December 2010 (Wednesday) 
Time :  1:00 - 2:00pm 
Place : TR4, Level G, FRST/IBEC Building, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak 
Title : Sarawak River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management: Incorporation and Deployment Study 
Speaker: Mr John Bowie 
Project Title: Sarawak River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management: Incorporation and deployment study

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Lau Seng, Ph. D.
Co-Researcher: John Bowie, M.A.
Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) calls for comprehensive policy structure combining land and water resource management into a single system. By viewing water resource management through an interdisciplinary lens, IRBM aims at a sustainable water cycles from catchment to consumption for all stakeholders. Sarawak has numerous administrative bodies participating in various aspects of water resource management, with many efforts aimed at IRBM. However, gaps in comprehensive management still exist.  This study examines the administrative structure and practice in the Sarawak River catchment as a model of current river basin management practices in Sarawak, in order to better provide future policy recommendations for comprehensive Integrated River Basin Management. 

Your participation is highly appreciated. 

(*Kindly e-mail me of your attendance to the above talk) smeri@frst.unimas.my
Thank you. 

 on behalf of IBEC's Director 

Meri Bt Sabas 
Personal Assistant to the Director 
Institute of Biodiversity & Environmental Conservation 
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak 
94300 Kota Samarahan 
Tel :  082-583007 
Fax:  082-583004 

Rebuilding of Wallace Trail


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spiders defence defence strategies strategies

ByCheong Ah Kwan

BEFORE the advent of online Spiderman games, little boys used to hunt down the real McCoys, put them carefully in small matchboxes and primed them for sport.
These ‘fighting spiders’, known to display aggressive behaviour when put together with another of its species, were trophies by themselves to be flashed at potential opponents in contests. A champion spider
could elevate a young boy’s status more than a few notches.
Joseph Koh, the current High Commissioner of Singapore to Brunei, was one of those little boys who carried around matchboxes with a prized spider in each of them.
What began as a simple hobby turned into a life-long passion.
His book on the spiders of Singapore has gained him recognition as the authority in the region.
The Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch has never had an expert talk about spiders and it was indeed a rare treat to have the mysteries of some of these spectacular web sites unravelled.
Spiders have an array of predators ranging from birds, frogs, wasps and other spiders.
As a result, these arachnids have evolved a host of defence strategies to protect themselves.
Some of these strategies to escape predation are ingenious and include camouflage, the building of shelters, intimidation with threat posture and the use of mimicry.
Camouflage is a very common defence strategy and we are not unfamiliar with animals that can blend into their surroundings to render themselves invisible to potential enemies. In fact, this is such an effective strategy that human beings have exploited the technique in warfare.
Spiders that resemble tree nodes are often found sitting on the bark or branch of a tree.
The wraparound spider simply ‘vanishes’ by wrapping itself around a twig during the day.
Instead of constructing webs, some spiders build shelters or burrows on the ground.
The entrance to such contraptions is often plugged with leaves and pebbles during the rainy season to protect against flood waters.
The waterproof trapdoor also keeps uninvited guests at bay.Most spiders possess great agility that enables them to escape with speed when danger lurks. Some slower moving spiders do play dead when they feel threatened.
CAMOUFLAGE: The bird-dropping spider takes mimicry to a whole new level.

The use of intimidation as a defence strategy is relatively common.As a deterrence to their enemies, many spiders are armed with thorny projections and may be colourful in their appearance in an effort to present themselves as unpalatable.
Defensive stances and threat postures such as the spreading open of legs, raising the body and exposing fangs are used to intimidate potential enemies.
Of all the defence strategies employed by spiders, the most fascinating one has to be that of mimicry.
Spiders have fantastic mimicry that they employ for protection as well as hunting.
To escape predation, several species of spiders have resorted to ant mimicry.
Ants are known to be unpalatable because of the formic acid they contain, and it is therefore advantageous to look like them.
In protective mimicry, these eight-legged creatures wave their forelegs in the air to fake antennae reducing the number of functional legs to six. In addition, their bodies also seem appropriately segmented to look like an insect.
Very often, protective mimicry extends into aggressive mimicry whereby the spiders use anatomical and behavioural ant mimicry to hunt ants.
Their stunning deception gets them accepted into ant colonies which they willlater destroy. The bird-dropping spider
takes disguise to a whole new level. It not only looks like bird dropping on a leaf, but comes complete with a wafting odour of dung. Such a devious strategy is effective against birds and wasps.
The smell is a plus as it attracts flies which are devoured.
The macro photographs of the spiders projected onto the big screen during Koh’s talk were a feast for the eyes. Certainly the Spiderman weaved us into his multi-dimensional web.
As we queued to sign up for the night walk to hunt for spiders, he promised a session on the feeding strategies of our eight-legged friends when he returns.
Meanwhile, to all the Miss Muffets out there, do stock up on curds and whey.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How Snakes Can "Fly"


ANNOUNCEMENT – BIRDING TRIP / Time: Sunday 28 November 4 P.M. at Chupak

 Pictures taken by Collin Cheong


The MNS Kuching Branch Bird Group is organizing a birding trip to Chupak!

It will be a perfect time to visit Chupak again as the paddy fields have just been planted and are in great condition to showcase the birds found there. 

Previous sightings at Chupak have been more than rewarding.  The Buff-banded Rail, a first sighting record for Kuching, was spotted in Chupak.  More recent sightings include the Black-winged Stilt and Gargarney.

The trip will be led by our expert birders, Daniel Kong and Yeo Siew Teck.  Unlike the usual early morning birding trips, the Sunday afternoon trip will give us a chance to see birds which are more active in the evening. 

Meeting Point:              By the road at Tapah Village

                                     Taman Rekresis Tapah (Town Park) Please be there by 3.45pm 
Time:                            Sunday 28 November 4pm

For those who prefer to sleep in on Sunday you still can join us!
One of the nearest and most extensive rice fields around Kuching area, Kg. Chupak/Skudup attract great number of migratory and wetland birds.   A number of interesting sightings have come out of the area including Sand Martin (1st record for Borneo for nearly a century), Greater Painted-Snipe (1st for Sarawak), Red-necked Phalarope, Blue-breasted Quail, Black-winged Stilt and Chinese Pond Heron. 

HOW TO GET THERE  Drive up the Kuching/Serian road, passing Siburan town, 18 mils (Jong’s Crocodile Farm) and Beratok town, 22 miles (limestone quarry is opposite the town).  Drive further along the road for 2 more miles and you will pass a Shell petrol station on your left.  Tapah town is just a kilometer along the road from Shell station.  So slow down!  Turn into Tapah town and meet at the road side in front of Taman Rekresis Tapah (Town Park) which is next to the Tapah Chinese Primary School.  Please be there on time - Those who are late will have to find their way to Chupak themselves.

TO BRING Please bring along your binocular, bird guides, pocket-size note pad, hat, and umbrella.  Please also remember to wear dull-coloured clothes.
FEES MNS Members and Students: FREE.  Non Members: RM5/-

For registration please contact Susan Teal at 012-8874401  or sueteal2006@gmail.com'

For more information about the trip please contact Anthony Wong at 013-8333163 (antwong@sareaga.com)or Susan Teal – 0128874401 or Kwan – 0198349499

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Chinese crested tern

RARE SIGHTING: An adult and juvenile Chinese crested tern are seen at the Min Jiang Estuary, China. — Photo by Zhang Hao (Fujian Birdwatching Society)

By Cheong Ah Kwan

“So, this is the place, eh?”, he half-murmured to himself.

When Adrian Long from BirdLife International visited Buntal last November, he could not be persuaded to get off the beach despite the searing mid-day heat.  It was low tide and the shorebirds were sitting too far out to be seen.  He scanned the coastline with his binoculars, now and then turning to our local guide to ask the same question, “and you have seen it; Chinese?” 

I did not catch the significance of his questions then.  A growling stomach did not help and playing over and over through my mind was …. “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Mid-day Sun”.

Last week, after a scrumptious steamboat dinner in honour of Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife International Asia Division, we gathered around a table to listen to the exciting news our guest had to share with the Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch.  That was when I put the two separate visits from our BirdLife partners together, and the penny dropped.

The Chinese Crested Tern (Thalasseus bernsteini) is a globally threatened seabird and has been designated by the IUCN Red Data Book as Critically Endangered.  In layman’s term, the bird is extremely rare and in grave danger of becoming extinct.  In fact the entire population in the world today is estimated to be not more than 50 birds!

The Chinese Crested Tern was first described in the early 1860s.  Very little is known about the species since sightings were few and far between.  Identification is made more difficult as there is another bird very similar to it in appearance. 

It is generally assumed that the bird breeds in north eastern China because of the breeding plumage it displayed during the sightings there.  However, breeding grounds have never been discovered.  In 1937, on the islands near Tsingtao on the Shandong Peninsula, 21 Chinese Crested Terns in breeding condition were collected for specimens.  After that insanely tragic massacre of 21 there was no more confirmed sighting of the bird and it was thought to be extinct. 

In the year 2000, a photographer made a chance re-discovery of the Chinese Crested Tern while carrying out a survey in the Matsu Islands.  These tiny islands, designated as nature reserves, are just a short distance off the coast of Fuzhou mainland China but are administered by Taiwan.  Politically, the islands are of strategic importance.  They are, hence, under military regulation and have been off limits to the public for many years.  Security measures put in place for political reasons appear to have offered the seabird protection from poaching.  The highest count of the species in the year 2000 was 12 birds consisting of 8 adults and 4 chicks.

Poaching and the collection of eggs continue to threaten the Chinese Crested Tern. The Taiwanese Government gives strong support to projects that increase public awareness on this rare tern.  Taiwanese Coast Guards intercept and inform fishermen that poaching and egg collections are not permitted.  Both the marine and agriculture departments work closely to protect the birds even though the two departments are known to have little communication.
DOING THEIR PART: Student volunteer groups increase public awareness in Huangqi Town, Fujian Province. The town is very close to the Matsu Islands.

Simba updated us on his work with the Chinese Crested Tern.  He talked about concentrating efforts on where it is most needed which is information on the distribution and population size of the birds. The BirdLife International China Programme together with local birding communities in China is organizing a series of educational student workshops in areas where breeding colonies have been sighted.  The focus is on students from fishing families. It is hoped that these children will take the urgent message home to their parents who are often out at sea and might come into contact with the Chinese Crested Tern.  Posters and booklets are printed for distribution in restaurants and parks to get people to familiarize with the bird so that chances of it being identified are increased.  It is akin to the milk carton campaign in search of missing children.

While the breeding grounds of these birds have never been confirmed, a greater enigma hung in the air.  Where do they go during the non-breeding season? 

Non-breeding range of the Chinese Crested Tern is thought to include southern China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.  There are three winter records from Sarawak; in 1890, 1891 and 1913.  The last confirmed sighting in 1913 was from the Bako Buntal Bay.  Yes, here in our very own backyard!  Since then the Chinese Crested Tern has not been reliably recorded from Borneo.

“….and you are sure you have seen it, the Chinese Crested Tern?”