Some Science

24 03 2014
Malayan Night-heron (in the hand) Ko Man Nai, Rayong District

Malayan Night-heron (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong District
21.03.14

An unexpected benefit of being on a long school break was being able to join Phil Round and Andy Pierce for four days netting and ringing birds on Ko Man Nai during 17 – 22 March 2014. This really was field biology as opposed to birding and for me it was a huge learning opportunity.

Malayan Night-heron (in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong District21.03.14

Malayan Night-heron (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong District
21.03.14

Ko Man Nai is a small island situated a short boat ride off the coast of Rayong province in Thailand’s south-eastern seaboard. It is the first landfall for migratory birds whose north bound trajectory during “spring” takes them across the Gulf of Thailand from Malaysia and Sumatra, Indonesia. (“Spring” in Thailand and South-east Asia is in fact the beginning of hottest part of the year.) From a bird watching perspective I and many other birders have been salivating at the list of new and rare birds found on the island during “spring”migration over the last two years. Mid-April is generally considered to be the peak migration period so this visit was scheduled in mid-March to enable study of early migration.

 

White's Thrush (in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province21.03.14

White’s Thrush (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province
21.03.14

The island comes under the management of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources so it has not been developed for tourism, and more pertinently the island hasn’t been degraded by it. Its  raison d’être today is it provides a home to an extensive captive turtle breeding and release programme.It’s a very peaceful,relaxing sort of place – a joy to land at the pier and proceed onwards without having to wade through a throng of touts intent on redistribution.

Ruddy Kingfisher (in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province19.03.14

Ruddy Kingfisher (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province
19.03.14

For four days we caught birds in fixed mist nets, extracting and moving them to a processing station where we ringed them by fixing a small, lightweight band to their tarsus, and then measuring and recording their biometrics before releasing them back into the forest and in most cases their onward, northbound migration. So what is this all about?

Zappy's Flycatcher(in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province20.03.14

Zappy’s Flycatcher(in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province
20.03.14

In the first instance catching the birds is a far more reliable method of establishing the true diversity of species in a given area. That is, more reliable than sight records.  This is, if you like, an interface between conservation and ecology. Secondly there are species which are very difficult to separate from each other in the field, for example, those in the phylloscopus or acrocephalus genera. Thirdly it is possible to create a dataset: birds were sexed and aged and a range of other biometric data was recorded:  weight and measurements of bill, wing and feathers, etc. This data, inter alia, informs conservation and ecological considerations. Fourthly every bird is fitted with a band with a unique numeric identifier and geolocation details. A sort of ‘message in a bottle’ : “I want to know if you find this bird”. This is where it gets particularly interesting as this enables the possibility of “retraps” to be identified. This, inter alia, provides comparative data. Every now and then a banded bird is trapped in another part of the region or, vice versa,  a bird is “retrapped” that has been banded or flagged elsewhere. This provides information about bird movements and migration.

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Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province
20.03.14

The British Trust for Ornithology (‘BTO’) website offers a very succinct summary of ringing:

Blue and WHite FlycatcherKo Man Nai, Rayong District20.03.14

Blue and WHite Flycatcher
Ko Man Nai, Rayong District
20.03.14

“Ringing aims to understand what is happening to birds in the places they live and how this affects population increases and decreases, this knowledge is vital for conservation. It also gives information on the movements individual birds make and how long many live for.”

Himalayan Cuckoo (in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province18.03.14

Himalayan Cuckoo (in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong Province
18.03.14

I guess I am becoming a reasonably competent ringer: I am reasonably confident handling small to medium sized birds. The most difficult part of the whole process for me is extracting the birds from the mist nets. Sometimes a fair amount of unfankling ( Scots for undoing!)  is required. Birds trapped in nets can understandably get very agitated and so this is an area I gladly leave to the experts. I should add that everything I do is supervised.

Sakhalin Leaf-warbler(in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong District18.03.14

Sakhalin Leaf-warbler(in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong District
18.03.14

It is important to stress that at every stage of the process the bird’s welfare is paramount. Furthermore the nets are constantly checked to both minimise the amount of time birds are in the nets and to minimise predation from other birds like raptors. I doubt whether any of the 83 birds we trapped were in captivity for longer than 40 minutes during our session.

malayannight01 056From a birding perspective the highlights of the trapped birds were: a Malayan Night-heron, a Ruddy Kingfisher,  Siberian Thrush (3), a White’s Thrush and a number of Eye-browed Thrush, Sakhalin and Pale-legged Leaf Warblers, Eastern Crowned Warbler, a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, a Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo, a Himalayan Cuckoo, Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Crow-billed Drongo, an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a Zappy’s Flycatcher, a Blue and White Flycatcher and a Hainan Flycatcher. These are all migrants.

White's Thrush(in the hand)Ko Man Nai, Rayong District21.03.14

White’s Thrush(in the hand)
Ko Man Nai, Rayong District
21.03.14

Of course there were great birds at large which included a Red-billed Starling (third Thai record thanks to Andy Pierce), Daurian Starling, Grey-headed Lapwing, a number of Dollarbirds, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Blue Rockthrush, Grey Wagtail and Forest Wagtail.

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I added fourteen (!) lifers to my list so very productive in this respect.

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From a scientific perspective the main finding was that Sakhalin Leaf-warbler appears to be the default species passing through the island on migration. I’ll spare the details here but I think the data will enable some scientific papers to be written in due course.

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Finally grateful thanks to Phil Round and Andy Pierce for allowing me to tag along.

 

ruddy02 049

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dollarbird01 046





Kaeng Krachan and Lung Sin Hide

14 03 2014
Bar-backed Partridge Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Bar-backed Partridge
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

School holidays mean Kaeng Krachan and another opportunity to meet up with Tom Backlund accompanied by Bill Woods, a Canadian resident half the year in Hua Hin. We also ran into Dave Sargeant and Peter Ericsson, so a very sociable morning’s birding.

Racket-tailed Treepie Lung Sin Hide Phetchaburi Province 13.03.14

Racket-tailed Treepie
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

Kaeng Krachan is still “quiet” and we restricted our activities to its lower parts around Bang Krang camp and the three streams. We were slightly disappointed as no sign yet of broadbills. A couple of Pied Hornbills were my first birds of the day soon after entering the park. I always feel lucky if I can see hornbills in the wild. These were quickly followed by Ashy Drongo, an Emerald Dove and three Great Slaty Woodpeckers flying across the road.

Large Scimitar Babbler Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Large Scimitar Babbler
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

At Bang Krang Camp there were a few Spangled Drongos and Pied Hornbill was flying around. I managed a first lifer of the day – Blue-bearded Bee-eeter. Now I’ve seen Blue-bearded Bee-eater before at this time in Kaeng Krachan but for some reason it’s not on my list – you can tell how serious I am about listing! There were a pair in the canopy above the camp site. I tried hard to get a shot but just couldn’t manage.

Red Junglefowl Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Red Junglefowl
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

A Blue-throated Barbet preoccupied by nesting activity did allow some shots. Sneaked a glimpse of Tickell’s Brown Hornbill at the well known nest hole near the third stream – it quickly vanished and did not reappear. I guess I should adjust my list to reflect the taxonomic split with Austen’s Brown Hornbill, which I believe is found in more northerly parts, specifically Khao Yai. We then went up to the dam above the third stream where I missed getting some shots of an easy Drongo Cuckoo; an Ochraceous Bulbul had me wondering if I was looking at a laughing-thrush species. Tom and Bill saw a Vernal Hanging Parrot and some Scarlet Minivets.

Striped Tit Babbler Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Striped Tit Babbler
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

On the way back to the camp we stopped to try for the Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, no sign, and met with with Peter Ericsson and his party. We got onto a malkoha which eventually displayed for long enough to enable identification as a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, a second lifer for the day. A leaf-warbler next grabbed our attention and the general consensus appeared to be Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. This was on the basis of the flicking action of its wings. Now I didn’t get on it for long enough to see this and since returning home I’ve had a look at Ayuwat’s Blog which has an excellent three part review of the Claudia/Blyth/Davison leaf warbler split. Conclusion: no claims and a better view definitely required.

Blue-throated Barbet Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Blue-throated Barbet
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

After lunch I decided to head to Lung Sin hide as Tom and Bill were heading back to civilisation – wow, what an afternoon as great birds seemed to drop in at regular intervals and lots of decent images. Highlights were: Bar-backed Partridge ( lifer), Large Scimitar Babbler, Striped Tit Babbler, Brown Cheeked Fulvetta, Black-naped Monarch and up to five Racket-tailed Treepies. Close-up the Racket-tailed Treepie is a truly amazing spectacle as the photos show. Plus all the usual suspects: White-rumped Shama, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughing Thrush, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul and loads of Streak-eared Bulbuls.

Racket-tailed Treepie Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Racket-tailed Treepie
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

Such a perfect day!

Bar-backed Partridge Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Bar-backed Partridge
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

Black-crested Bulbul Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Black-crested Bulbul
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

Streak-throated Bulbul Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Stripe-throated Bulbul
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

Greater Necklaced Laughing-thrush Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

Greater Necklaced Laughing-thrush
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

White-rumped Shama Lung Sin Hide Phetchburi Province 13.03.14

White-rumped Shama
Lung Sin Hide
Phetchburi Province
13.03.14

There are no prizes for working out why this one is called white-rumped – see that white bit? That’s its arse!





Double Bubble

10 03 2014

Image

Well no sooner had I dropped off the wife and kids than I was heading south to Norng Blah Lai to meet up with Tom Backlund; first time we have birded together in a year so great to see him. Tom had seen a Greater-spotted Eagle and was waxing lyrical about a new area on the other side of the railway line. On arrival I was greeted with some Black Kites but what really stuck out in this new area was the volume of Grey-headed Lapwing – in one field I counted 43. I reckon we saw as many as 200 overall. The above Purple Heron posed irresistibly.It was very hot so a little impractical being out in the open. In one pool there was another sizeable flock with lots of juvenile Pheasant-tailed Jacanas as well and couple of Osprey hovered nearby. I headed over to Wat Khao Takhrao where the roads were closed so no access but I did see 2 Black-headed Ibis. A slow drive home through the Khao Yoi area produced a few more Black Kites and not much else. Great to be on holiday.





Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

10 03 2014

The joy of school holidays and not having to go to work! So I took a stroll in the rice paddy early morning and flushed a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, the undoubted highlight of the morning. In its own way the cuckoo performed for me – very skittish but it kept moving along the irrigation canal and perching. What I noticed was the white band on the bird’s neck is not visible when it flies and the length of its tail. I can now see why Craig Robson reckons it could be confused with Lesser Coucal though in truth it is much slimmer with a much longer tail. The rice paddy was a real picture this morning; it is under water and there are lots of waders about and huge numbers of Openbills. I was hoping for a few Grey-headed Lapwing but couldn’t make out any. I noted one Arctic Warbler and two Thick-billed Warbler without really making any effort. Nice start to the day, refreshingly cool before the sun kicks in: we are rapidly approaching what I refer to as the “hottest” season.





Rain Quail News

9 03 2014

For most of this afternoon’s trip to Huay Mai Teng Reservoir I was depressed from taking stock of the habitat destruction and connecting this to, at best, being able to hear the occasional Rain Quail calling in the distance. This was compounded by the complete absence of Small Pratincoles. I am sure the praticoles are there or thereabouts: the question is where and the supplementary question from this is whether they are breeding.

At times it felt like being in a war zone, a scene of devastation really, with land cleared where once there had been thick scrub, that hacked down and set alight, in effect razed to the ground. This scrub supported lots of Ioras, Prinias, Indian Nightjars, Munias, Sparrows, Green-billed Malkoha and Flycatchers……and there have been sightings of Rain Quail, Chinese Francolin, Long-tailed Shrike, Burmese Shrike, Chestnut-headed and Yellow-eyed Babbler and even Maroon Woodpecker and Eurasian Thick-knee in and around this area. There was even an excellent drive-in location for Rain Quail. The venerable Little Green Bee-eater is the volume species now.

Yet there were still some good birds today – an Osprey, a couple of Darters in the air, a Kestrel floundering around in a ploughed field, a Eastern Marsh Harrier did a bit of quartering, an nearby a Black-shouldered Kite was doing its famous hover and plunge routine. A Taiga Flycatcher flirtatiously cocked its black tail at me and flew off and a Long-tailed Shrike circled around. Late in the afternoon I got great views of a Thick-billed Warbler in the scrub and a solitary Oriental Pratincole flew over. There were also some interesting sounds, possibly a Black-browed Reed Warbler.

A flash of a Kestrel jumping around in the furrows got me out walking butit scarpered before I could get on it. An Eastern Marsh Harrier doing a bit of quartering was a surprise. Over the reservoir I watched an Osprey eye up a late afternoon snack but It didn’t plunge due to disturbance. So as the afternoon progressed my spirits lifted as there were plenty of good birds about.

My mission today was to try to get a location for Rain Quail and the good news is that I managed this late in the day. I flushed five of them from where I used to see them regularly. That really pleased me and so I know to approach this area much more gingerly from here on in. As if by cue a pair of Savanna Nightjars started to “twerp”. This development really helped to lift my depression. I should stay there is still a lot of untouched habitat here so I think we have some way to go yet.

So some time soon I’ll try to get some shots of these fine birds presuming they are going to stay in the same area.

that seems to be hanging





Barn Owl

5 03 2014
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Barn Owl
Ratchaburi
05.03.14

Barn Owls are quite common locally; in fact they periodically perch on overflow pipes in our soi and their distinct screeching and hissing is frequently heard. I’ve never seen one during the day so was very surprised when this one appeared at school while I was having lunch. I was drawn by the movement of other birds attempting to mob it. What a beautiful bird. This was at midday. My limited knowledge of owls is that they like to perch and roost and are not too easily bothered by human presence within certain limits. So i went home for my kit and wasn’t really surprised to find it still in the same place when I got back 10 minutes later. Many of my colleagues and students came out to check out the owl…….many had never seen an owl before. The owl was still there at 1730h when we went home. I wonder if it  has been injured, possibly hit by a catapulted missile. In the local culture it is considered as a harbinger of death and so is often persecuted. Hence Barn Owl is often easiest to see in Buddhist temples. We had one here in the soi about two years ago which had been grounded due to injury and then was killed by the soi dogs. I wonder what fate awaits this one if it is injured. I do hope it has flown come tomorrow morning.

Update: the owl was not present today so must have flown.





Great Bittern Twitched

2 03 2014
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Great Bittern
Kasetsart University Kampaengsaen Campus
02.03.14

During last week I managed to decipher a Thai language report of a Great Bittern on the Kasetsart University Campus at Kampaengsaen. It’s just to the north of Nakhon Pathom so it’s about an hour away. Its continued presence was confirmed from a further report yesterday so I thought I better give it a go.

Image

Great Bittern – bitterning posture
Kasetsart University Kampaengsaen Campus
02.03.14

This must rank as a very lucky twitch because with the help of some other birders I got the bittern. How I even got into the right area is a minor miracle because the campus is huge. But I did. I knew it was reported to be in reedbeds in marshy swamp near the Department of Animal Science but there are quite  a lot of reedbeds there and the area is still huge. However the presence of other birders was confirmation that I was in the right area.

I spent a couple of hours scanning the reed beds to no avail. For my efforts I was blessed with the wonderful spectacle of a male Pied Harrier doing a bit of early morning quartering, and lots of weavers and Zitling Cisticolas, and a male and female Plaintive Cuckoo.

Then the other birders attracted my attention so I went over. Many thanks . Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe was also a huge help with its description of behaviour being spot on: “….rarely seen on the ground, (stays hidden in the reedbed)……adopts camouflage posture with bill pointing up, (‘bitterning posture’)”. So when I went over to join the other birders I caught a glimpse of its bill and then down it went. I could hardly make a claim on a bill so I hung around, knowing where it went down and confident that in time it would show again. About thirty minutes later it did and stayed visible for about five minutes before flying a short distance into reeds. That was enough for me …….. I had had a good view of the bird through my scope, had seen it fly and had even managed a couple of shots – little photographic merit but records.I didn’t think getting in close and disturbing the bird was warranted so I was delighted to take the tick and move on, in my case, home!

A truly beautiful bird, a lifer, and another หายาก (“ha yak”). It’s certainly a rarity but not a mega – there are a handful of records most years. So a successful and very fortunate twitch.








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