Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Nature of Seri Tanjung Pinang, Penang Island

Seri Tanjung Pinang
My wife and I moved to Seri Tanjung Pinang in August 2011. The development is on mainly reclaimed land which is essentially at right angles to the iconic Gurney Drive. The development is close to the forest-clad Penang Hill system and has a number of ecosystems that attract a surprising amount of fauna. One of the nice features of the estate is the long seaside promenade. Although the water is not crystal clear and has a steady population of flotsam and jetsam it currently supports interesting wildlife. 

This blog is written to celebrate the wildlife of the area and to hopefully highlight to developers that people and flora and fauna must live in a balanced system so future generations can enjoy the beauty of the natural environment





The weather moods
The sun rises in the East across the sea over the hills behind Butterworth. Clouds in the sunrise area can produce flamboyant colours that highlight the silhouettes of fishermen or early birds. In the wetter months huge cloud-heads that have their own menacing personalities can fill large amounts of the afternoon sky. There is a sullen beauty in advancing storm clouds. In the evening the setting sun in its last throes can light up huge cauliflower clouds in the opposite direction. Night sees the moon in its various phases with the reflection of the full moon dancing on the small waves arriving on the shoreline. On New Years Eve the fireworks set off at Straits Quay decorate the sky with a multitude of  coloured-streaks and patterns.











Around our home
Our semi-detached house has a limited amount of garden space that we have maximised to attract birds. Currently we have recorded 20 different species of birds, several reptiles, rodents and mammals...not including wandering domestic cats and the neighbours dog that keyholes itself though the gaps in the gate. Some research was done to see what plants were needed to attract the nectar-feeders. One link here

A Malayan Water Monitor in our garden

We have a covered third floor balcony where we have a number of the shrubs in irrigated pots and some of these shrubs are planted at ground level and interspersed with colourful but nectar-poor plants. One of the main targets for these nectar-producers were sunbirds. There are at least three species in the area and the nearby Botanical gardens; Olive-backed, Plain-throated and Crimson. The Olive-backed seems to like human proximity and we have multiple birds coming in daily. The males with their iridescent bibs are particularly attractive. We have had infrequent visits by the Plain-throated sunbirds and so far the beautifully coloured Crimson Sunbirds sticks to the hills. Sunbirds are hyperactive and very small but they are outdone on both accounts by Flowerpeckers. At least one species; the Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers are intermittent visitors and difficult to photograph. They have a rasping call reminiscent of scraping a nail on glass and appear to be in severe need of tranquillising medication.





Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

Plain-throated Sunbird (male)

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (male)

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (female)

The nectar-producing flowers also attract Yellow-vented Bulbuls. This species is ubiquitous in Singapore and Malaysia in most ecosystems. Their secret of success is likely the amazing cooperation between the male and female. They do everything together and work hard as a pair to raise a family. You can hear them 'talking' to each other in various situations. We have had an energetic pair around the house and in adjacent houses since we arrived. They are constantly looking to build nests and do so swiftly and then incubate their eggs diligently and feed the chicks rapidly to get them to fledge as soon as possible (as short as 12 days). On one occasion they built a duplex nest....one above the other.

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Yellow-vented Bulbul pair

Yellow-vented Bulbul eating berries

Yellow-vented Bulbul chicks


Another species that is always in the area but quite reclusive are Black-naped Orioles. Attractive birds they have various calls and come down lower in the trees to hunt for bugs around dusk. They are aggressive birds and I have seen them destroy a sunbird nest and eat the eggs. They are in fact the masked bandits they appear to be.


Black-naped Oriole

Black-naped Oriole

A Yellow-vented Bulbul attacks a Black-naped Oriole that is near its nest.

Another house bird with a penchant for eating fruit are Asian Glossy Starlings. They usually hunt in noisy flocks and have a radar system that locates ripe fruit. We have several taller trees that produce small red berries once or twice a year. The Bulbuls, Starlings and Orioles love these berries.

Asian Glossy Starling (male)

Asian Glossy Starling (females)

Asian Glossy Starling on the fruiting tree

There are several other regular or intermittent resident bird species. The Common Tailor Birds are always around but I have yet to see their stitched nests. They are small birds about the same size as sunbirds but tell you where they are by being extremely vocal. We get irregular visits by a pair of Pied Fantails with their characteristic twittering and  beautiful fanned tails. Common Mynas are practically always around and like to bathe in water features and build nests under the eaves of houses. Every resident will be familiar with the call of the Koels, especially around pre-dawn hours. This is one species where the female is prettier that the noisy male. Most mornings we can hear the low frequency rumbling call of Greater Coucals. They are a large bird of the cuckoo family and are predatory. They seemed to know where the Bulbuls were nesting on one occasion and stole a fledgling chick from the nest much to the consternation of the Bulbul parents.

Common Tailorbird

Common Myna

Pied Fantail

Koel (female)

Greater Coucal
Butterflies
I am not a great expert on butterflies and moths so these beauties don't get the coverage they deserve. We have a number of recognisable species drifting through and occasionally perching for the night. These include; Great Mormons, Painted Jezebels, Clippers and Malay Lacewings.


Great Mormon (male)

Painted Jezebel

Painted Jezebel

Malay Lacewing

Clipper


We previously had a water feature that attracted noisy frogs and various-sized Malayan Water Monitors. It has been replaced with grass and we now get grazing Sparrows and a small but very energetic Plantain Squirrel. I wondered who was stealing my mealworms until he was caught red-pawed.

Plantain Squirrel

Plantain Squirrel

Birds of the estate and wastelands
Currently there are empty building blocks on the estate and the opportunistic grasses and vegetation that grow on these attracts various bird species. The proximity in bird flying terms to the bush of the hills also means various birds other than the ubiquitous crows are seen occasionally around the estate. The intermittent visitors have included; Racket-tailed Drongos, Coppersmith Barbets and the swift-flying Pacific Swallows that occasionally rest on perches after their incessant, high-speed hunting.


Racket-tailed Drongo

Coppersmith Barbet

Oriental Magpie Robin (male)

Oriental Magpie Robin pair  (male on the left)

Pacific Swallow pair (female on the right...of course)

There are number of 'true grassland species' on the wasteland. Zitting Cisticolas...zitting around in the warm days at the beginning of the year and Paddyfield Pipits striding around on the grass and observing their territory from lofty perches. They build their nests precariously on the grass but are hyperactive and doting parents. Brown Shrikes are migrants and they stake out a piece of ground and swoop down on insects from a raised perch. Munias gather in small flocks and eat the seeds from various grasses. White-breasted Waterhens are relatively common in wet grasslands and we have even had some in our garden in the wet season.

Zitting Cisticola

Paddyfield Pipit

Paddyfield Pipit feeding a nest

Brown Shrike (migrant)

Black-headed Munia (male)

White-breasted Waterhen

I often walk along the Promenade in the pre-dawn hours and have had many encounters with a Barn Owl. Like a pale wraith it flies noiselessly from perch to perch. It seems to like sitting on the lights along the promenade. Another surprising sighting, initially by a fellow enthusiast, was a lovelorn male Red-billed Blue-winged Magpie. It would fly from trees at the northerly end of the estate while calling for potential mates. The nearest location where these birds are wild is in central Thailand. This fellow has either escaped from local incarceration or has lost his GPS.

Barn Owl

Red-billed Blue Magpie (likely escapee)

I love Bee-eaters as they are the colourful masters of flight and capturing insects while airborne. There are three species present in greater Penang at certain times of the year. Two species have been seen briefly on the estate; the endemic Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and the migrant Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. Both species have been sighted briefly hunting insects from the trees that are at the edge of the sea.

 Chestnut-headed Bee-eater hunting

Blue-tailed Bee-eater (migrant)

Blue-tailed Bee-eater (migrant)
Kingfishers
I have seen four species of Kingfishers on the estate; The local species are the White-throated Kingfisher with the azure blue and chocolate-brown feathers and the Collared Kingfisher which appears to be more common. Not to confuse matters I have seen two migrant species the Common Kingfisher (which comes down from Europe and the frozen north) and the sneaky Black-capped Kingfisher. The latter species is very difficult to photograph and I swear they know how long your lens is because they perch at a distance just beyond its capability.

White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher

Black-capped Kingfisher (migrant)

Black-capped Kingfisher (migrant)

Common Kingfisher (migrant)

Shorebirds and sea-hunters
There are a wide variety of shorebirds and many forage along the shores of the estate. I am not an expert of these species and it is a specialised area within the birding community. A lot of the shorebirds are migrants from the Northern Winter and are therefore seasonal here. The most common local species are the Little or Striated Herons. They are they species that finds a stick or a rock and waits poised above the water to strike any hapless fish that swims by. There are a number of varieties of Egrets and these can be well represented.  There are Small, Intermediate and Great Egrets in a size classification. The great Egret is the one with the yellow bill and elegant long neck....and capable of doing balletic pirouettes. I have represented other species by the curve-billed Whimbrel and the Wood Sandpiper.


Little Heron

Little Heron

Little Heron

Little Heron

Great Egret

Great Egret

Chinese Egret


Whimbrel (migrant)

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

The raptors are represented commonly by the Brahminy Kites and the White-bellied Sea Eagles. The former pretend to be hunters but they prefer carrion to feed on. The latter species are excellent hunters and a drop into the sea is often fruitful. They nest in the shoreline in a Westerly direction and can often be seen heading in that direction after catching some prey. My wife once while walking our dog found a fish in the middle of the road. She realised that it was an eagle's cargo and the hunter had been mobbed by the numerous crows in the area and had dropped his prize.

Brahminy Kite

Brahminy Kite

White-bellied Sea Eagle

Other water creatures
When the tide is out and the muddy bottom and rivulets are exposed you can see Mudskippers finning and wriggling around to claim territory and partake in skirmishes with others of their species. Fights appear to be resolved by having a 'face-off'...where the one with the biggest mouth wins the battle...and territory. On the rocks or paths Sun skinks bathe in the suns rays.
On a bigger scale there are a number of different-sized Malayan Water Monitors. They can be seen sunning themselves on the rocks or swimming in the tide. Their swimming relies on their large tail and a wriggling movement. The front legs are usually stowed on their backs. Sometimes, like the mudskippers, they fight for territory and have a stand-up grapple with another lizard in a Greco-Roman match that would easily grace the Olympic Games.

Mudskippers

Sun Skink

Malayan Water Monitor

Malayan Water Monitor

Malayan Water Monitor

Malayan Water Monitors wrestling

Smooth-coated Otters
I was really elated when I first saw otters along the rocks by the Promenade. Early one morning I saw nine of them ranging in size from adults to small babies. Over the last four years I have had a number of encounters with the 'Ottos', Sea-dogs or Sea-lions...as the locals can call them. The local media mistakenly calls them Sea Otters. Unless California has translocated in a large overnight earthquake that species is some distance away. I have encountered Otters in various locations around Penang and have seen them at play, robbing nets and fish farms. One local artist has tried to promote their cause but currently without success. They seems to represent a vestige of wildlife that we are likely to lose with further development of a reclaimed offshore island. Instead of the squeaks of an otter family we will have the clank, bonk and grind of industrial machinery.

Smooth-coated Otter

Smooth-coated Otter

Smooth-coated Otters

Smooth-coated Otters

Smooth-coated Otters

Smooth-coated Otters