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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2021



  Parit Jawa  
    ... a haven for the lesser adjutant  



A fisherman sets his nets at low-tide. 

Tucked away on the western coast of the State of Johor, Malaysia, lies a small town called Parit Jawa. Comprising little more than a few dusty streets with crumbling colonial shophouses, Parit Jawa may one day be a mecca for local bird enthusiasts. For if you follow the one-kilometre road that leads down to the fishing village, and walk to the end of the wooden jetty, there is a high chance that you will be able to see one of the rarest storks in the world, the Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus.




At the jetty, salted fish laid out to dry in the hot midday sun.  

Fishing Village

For visitors unfamiliar with the laid-back charms of rural Malaysia the fishing village of Kuala Parit Jawa serves as a fine example. The tidal inlet is crowded with wooden vessels which fish the muddy waters of the Straits of Malacca, and there are a number of open-air seafood restaurants specialising in spicy fish recipes. Add to that a couple of brightly coloured Chinese temples and modest Malay kampung houses surrounded by banana, papaya and durian orchards and you have a scene of rural tranquility.

Mud and Mangroves

Beyond the rickety wooden jetty at the mouth of Kuala Parit Jawa is a wide expanse of mud, which is exposed at low tide. The coastal mudflats of the Straits of Malacca are rich in organic content, supporting an abundance of invertebrate life including worms, snails, bivalves, crabs and prawns. In turn these food groups support a rich web of higher species including fish such as mudskippers, reptiles such as water snakes and monitors, and a wide range of bird species.  Mammals too live in the adjacent mangroves; groups of Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis regularly venture out of the mangroves and onto the mudflats, probably to feed upon crabs - hence their other name 'Crab-eating Macaque'. The Oriental Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinerea can also be sighted here. 



Like vultures at a kill, Lesser Adjutants perch on the remains of an abandoned  fishing vessel


The main attraction of Parit Jawa, especially during the October-March migration season, is the birdlife. Though there is a regular traffic of fishing boats winding its way through the muddy channels, and though there are local people going about their business near the jetty the bird fauna seems unperturbed. The most noticeable of the birds are the Lesser Adjutants, by sheer virtue of their size. Standing at 120 cm tall, with a white body and dark grey wings this species is unmistakable. Comically, its head is virtually bald, apart from a sparse covering of fine hair-like feathers.  

Active during the day, these storks feed on fish and amphibians such as the Crab-eating Frog. Once seized, the prey is subjected to a series of stabs with its powerful beak, before being swallowed whole. At nights the storks roost in mangrove trees along the coast. Nesting occurs mainly during the dry season, either in small colonies or as single nests. 


The Lesser Adjutant in flight and feeding.

Other shorebirds not commonly seen in Malaysia but which may be sighted at Parit Jawa include the Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and the Grey-tailed Tattler Heteroscelus brevipes.  

Egrets and smaller herons are easily seen, including the Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus. The Striated Heron Butorides striatus is very common, and is often seen perched close to the jetty or stalking small fish around the moored fishing boats. 

Flocks of terns are often seen following fishing vessels back to harbour, swooping down to pluck small fish from the waters churned up by the boats' propellers. Kingfishers are common too, including migrants such as the Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis and the Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata; there are numerous sticks or posts close to the jetty where they like to perch.  


Common Shorebirds of Parit Jawa ...

Left to right : Striated Heron, Common Redshank, Little Egret, Great Egret.


Life on the Mudflats


The Blue-spotted Mudskipper fiercely defends its burrow and territory from intruders.

Birds are not the only wildlife worth a look on the mudflats of Parit Jawa. Smaller vertebrates are in abundance, fighting a constant battle for their own few square metres of mud. The Blue-spotted Mudskipper Boleophthalmus boddarti is common in the near-shore zone, seemingly engaged in a constant squabble to prevent rival mudskippers from trespassing into its territory. Reaching a maximum length of 22 cm, this well adapted species lies concealed in an air pocket in its burrow at high tide. At low tide it emerges to feed on the marine algae covering the mud surface, sweeping its head from side to side much like a grazing buffalo. When a rival comes too close a fierce battle may ensue; with mouths open and dorsal fins erect a brief showdown takes place, and the loser retreats to its own burrow. 

Water Snakes inhabit burrows excavated by mudskippers, and these are often eaten by the larger birds. The snakes manage to keep smaller wading birds at bay, but the huge bill of the Lesser Adjutant can easily probe a burrow and extricate any snakes which it will quickly devour. 


A Mongolian Plover thinks twice about tackling a water snake emerging from its burrow (left), and a Striated Heron feeds on a dead fish (right)

The Johor State government has expressed an interest in promoting Eco-tourism in the area, a move which will finally convince the local people of the value of their natural heritage. Bird numbers in the area are reportedly on the increase. Plans are afoot for the area to be designated a Nature Reserve.