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Monday, December 20, 2010

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.

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