Thursday, 4 February 2016

Solo Kayaking: A Quest For The Blue Rock-Thrush

The skipper on my mangroves boat cruise spotted something and pointed it out to us. I looked over my shoulder and caught a quick glimpse of this blue bird before it dipped down and disappeared behind the rock. The skipper said, "I have not seen that bird before." I may have and suspected that we have seen a male Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius in breeding. Blue Rock-Thrush is considered as uncommon for Langkawi though I have seen them on the wall of a limestone area in Ipoh, Perak where a cave temple is located.  

I wanted to see this bird again. I was thinking about getting to this spot without having to rent a boat. Aha!! The cheapest method would be on a paddle, with some physical workout, getting myself wet and sweaty.

As there was no tour for me on the following day, I checked the tide level on the night before and thought that it would be an ideal time to head out. And so I was at the pier the next morning equipped with my life jacket, a paddle, cameras and the rest of the gear.

I knew I started out late on that morning and told myself that I will not get any birds at all! Oh well, I will still be happy being out there alone with nature.

Paddling out to the coastline on a breezy sunny morning with some occasional gusts and very light waves. 

Kayaking in between these rocky islands
I got to the exact spot where the skipper pointed that thrush to us. No sign. I waited and took more pictures of the surrounding while waiting for this bird to show up. 

I noticed small crustaceans scuttling away when I got close to the rocks. Certainly one cannot miss these colourful crabs! It wasn't easy to photograph one when they were so skittish and I was trying to keep the kayak still at the same time! 

This crab below is very likely a Sally-foot-crab Grapsus albolineatus based on the patterns and markings on the carapace.

Sally-foot-crab Grapsus albolineatus was probably playing dead and gave me a chance to photograph it. 
Thank you to these websites which led me in getting the identification:

Admiring the karst landscape on the kayak
No sign of this blue birdie still after more than one hour of waiting and kayaking around that island for couple of times. I decided to move on and paddle to my favourite spot, a hidden cove to chill.

The tide level was not very high on that afternoon when I got there. I looked around for the perfect path to kayak in. Luckily the water level was high enough for the kayak to get around the rocks without hitting the rocks below. 
Enough water to get in without hitting the rocks below. Yay!
Ahh... stretching my legs and cooling off with a dip in the swallow water
Alone with nature, my nasi lemak daun pisang for lunch and the kayak...Bliss! 
I left the beach with my footprints everywhere and took nothing but photographs with more rubbish that were washed up on the beach.
On my way back to the pier, I decided to stop at the spot where these bats are roosting. I didn't have clear photos of them the last time and so this was my opportunity. It is a challenge to photograph them without using any camera flash and some of these bats were about 5 to 6 meters above me. Added on to the challenge were the sea current and waves from the speeding tourist boats. It was impossible to keep the kayak still and I had to paddle back and forth many times to get a few shots.
A decent photo of this colony of Black-Bearded Tomb Bats Taphozous melanopogon. My gratitude to Dr Juliana Senawi of UKM for helping me to identify this species.
I decided to leave the bats in peace after kayaking back and forth for half an hour.

About five hundred meters from where the bats were, I kayaked pass a small rocky island and heard the call of a sunbird. I stopped to determine the species. 

A bird appeared and I thought that this bird doesn't fit the figure of a sunbird at all. But the call was a sunbird! And so I took a shot of it. And then more shots of it.

This image was not cropped yet. 
After cropping the image...
I have checked the details from the bird guidebook and indeed this is female non-breeding of a Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius. A record shot for me.
It was tricky to have a good photo of it when my kayak was swept away by the current. I paddled back to that spot and she was gone. Then came a male Olive-Backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis tweeting away.

And so, I didn't go home empty-handed. Happy to be out there with nature and very thankful to this female appeared unexpectedly even though I didn't get the male version.

References:
2. www.wildsingapore.com
3. A Field guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson

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