Friday 23 August 2019

A Mysterious Dainty Charadrius Plover of Langkawi

Langkawi generally lacks big mixed flock of migratory waders even though we have some coastal mudflats, reeds and mangroves. It has a very low variety of wader species and not a great place to study varieties of migratory waders. Having said that, the island occasionally does have a couple of individual waders that are either rare or vagrant. My wader highlight on the previous bird migration was the Red-Necked Stint and as far as I know, this stint has not been previously recorded for Langkawi. It was a delight to find a rare among the common ones.

On the third week of February 2019, I noticed a solo dainty wader walking up and down along tide line of a sandy beach at the Four Seasons Langkawi, Tanjung Rhu at midday. That was not my first time noticing this sort of lone plover along this beach. I have seen one a couple of times on different migratory seasons years ago. At that time, it was either I did not have my binoculars or my camera with me and that bird didn't give me a chance for a decent record shot. Until that day. 

These images have been sitting in my SD card of my Panasonic bridge camera for months until I recall this dainty plover now as I am currently updating the bird list of Langkawi.

After some cropping and editing of these two record shots, my first impression was a Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. A comparison with my field guide has raised some doubts. The noticeable differences were:
1) The bill of this dainty plover is slightly longer and heavier
2) Broader white lore and brow than the Kentish plover (I have yet to see a Kentish plover)
3) Lighter or paler legs colour

And so it is not a Kentish. Or it is a Malaysian Plover Charadrius peronii

My image did have some resemblance to a Malaysian Plover but I am still doubtful especially on the colouration on the upperparts. And so I needed some help. I turned to Choy Wai Mun for help. Wai Mun is a passionate Penang birder/bird photographer/guide and also the E-bird reviewer for our Northern states of Peninsular Malaysia. And so, it is a White-faced or Swinhoe's Plover Charadrius alexandrinus dealbatus, a subspecies of Kentish Plover. My lifer! Yeah!
Wai Mun also pointed out that a Malaysian Plover has "scales" on the upperpart or variegated upperpart. That was my initial doubt. Thank you for this, Wai Mun.    
Langkawi Birdwatching
White-Faced or Swinhoe's Plover Charadrius alexandrinus dealbatus. Note the legs colour, size of the bill and broad lore as compared to a Kentish plover

Based on the old records, Kentish Plover was recorded at an unknown location with the mudflats and sandy shores on unknown date. (Gregory-Smith 1995; Medway and Wells 1976). While Malaysian Plover nesting was recorded on 19 March 1995 on an unknown location here. An adult male was collected on 23 April 1911 (Robinson and Chasen 1936). At that time when Yeap's journal was published, the status of our Malaysian Plover was reported as Rare and Threaten. For the past decades, there isn't any report on the sighting of Malaysian Plover on Langkawi. Could this species has extinct due to development on our beaches or the increased of predators such as feral animals like dogs, cats or even crows? Malaysian Plovers are considered as rare resident and their eggs are laid on the ground.

Armed with the species identification of this plover, I went on to dig further because this subspecies of Kentish Plover is not found on my field guide that I am currently using. The search based on the species keyword has led me to this blog on Swinhoe's Plovers in Beijing and subsequently to an article which is more than a decade ago by David Bakewell and Peter Kennerly on Surfbird's Malaysia's Mystery Plover

Initially, I was ecstatic about this plover being another new record for Langkawi but when I stumbled on which posted an article on Rediscovery of a long-lost Charadrius plover from South-East Asia, obtained from Forktail journal of  Oriental Bird Club (OBC), my excitement was diminished instantly. Surprisingly, there were samples taken as far back as in 1899. Holy! That was after the period of our Legendary Mahsuri and the last Siam invasion. 

Here are two screen shots from the article:
Specimens of Swinhoe's (White-Faced) Plover collected from Langkawi
Specimens collected in months 1899 and 1963 which is the migratory season for Langkawi
My mysterious dainty lone plover on the beach has finally been identified and I have entered into our E-bird for Langkawi's record keeping. We had Kentish Plovers in Langkawi's E-bird submissions from foreign birdwatchers previously. Could those be the dealbatus species? For future E-bird submission, it is best to attach a record shot so we know exactly which type of Kentish Plover. At input, you can click on the "Change Species" tab to obtain the Kentish Plover (White-Faced) Charadrius alexandrinus dealbatus.

Even though this species isn't a new record for Langkawi, it is a still lifer for me. I look forward to seeing this species here again and the next time with the Kentish Plover together one day.

Birds of Langkawi
A White-Faced Plover foraging. Notice the broad brow and supercillium giving him a "white face" look. The black band on the forehead denotes a male in breeding

1. Gregory-Smith, R. 1995. Birds of Perlis and Kedah, Including Langkawi. An Annotated Checklist. Sarawak: Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. 
2.Yeap C.A (2005), Report on Birds of Langkawi Archipelago. Malayan Nature Journal 2005, 57(1),107
3.  Robson, C. (2011), A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia,New Holland
4.  Bakewell, D. N. and Kennerley, P.R (2007) Malaysisa's mystery plover,
6. (2012)