Back in the Field

25 07 2015

Back in the Field.

Back in the Field

25 07 2015

The story this morning was being back out in the field. What joy! River Lapwing were on my mind and have been since the middle of May but I haven’t been able to check them out due to other commitments. They did not disappoint. In all likelihood there were eight on view this morning at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, but the record will show only six as I saw one small cluster of six and I could not be sure if two I had seen earlier, several hundred yards aways, had joined this group or remained distinct. My gut reaction is the latter as I was not aware of any flight into the area of the cluster given these lapwing are quite distinctive in the air. That made the early start and the trip well worthwhile. But there were also Rainquail calling, heard but not seen, a distant airborne warble of a Small Pratincole; a Green-billed Malkoha was unusually confiding to such an extent that the streaking around its red eye patch was highly visible; a female Koel also caught my eye: a beautiful bird definitely one of the few which bucks the trend of the males in the aves kingdom being the eye catchers.

Evidence of Thailand’s current drought quandary was palpable – despite a fair amount of recent rain the reservoir level was the lowest I have ever seen. Let’s hope we get a lot more rain in the weeks ahead.

‘Look, Daddy, there are two birds walking’

5 04 2015

With temperatures hitting 38 º C the last thing we needed was a power outage this afternoon. We don’t use air-con   but we do need fans. There was a loud pop outside followed by all appliances coming to an abrupt halt so we reckoned the problem wasn’t going to get fixed in a hurry.  We decided to pile into the truck and headed to the reservoir. A good move as there was a strong breeze there taking the edge off the heat.

I wasn’t expecting anything today, especially with two lively youngsters in the truck and an initial scan in the usual place drew a blank. I was happy to sit in the truck and wait and feel the breeze. Then Benny piped up:”Look Daddy there are two birds walking” And sure enough about twenty feet from the truck two Barred Buttonquail were slowly making their way across the road totally oblivious to us. What a brilliant spot for a five-year old! The quail put on a good show and we all got views of them with the black on their throats prominent and rufous bellies and rumps  So now Benny has another bird species name to add to his list. A brief spin around the area yielded four Small Pratincoles and an Indochinese Bushlark and in keeping with the quail theme I made out the call of at least two Rain Quail.

We took a drive to the water edge and I doubt I have ever seen so many Pheasant-tailedJacanas as there were here today. The males were starting to sport breeding plumes but only yellow napes were visible, with the exotic tail feathers mere smidgeons today. But loads. The reservoir must be an important breeding site for this species. Heaps of Little Cormorants strangely clustered on two mounds. For good measure a pair of female Pied Harriers were quartering the flats making a wonderful spectacle and a distant Osprey was also visible against the hills.

As we drove out of the area the ‘wood’ was being watered with two people present so I didn’t really expect to see anything but this in part explains the presence of the rubythroats and other birds in this spot. Further down the lane I stopped to look at a woodpecker in the gloom. It flew before I could get on it with the scope so I couldn’t say for sure what it was. I assume it was Fulvous-breasted but it seemed quite small. So some food for thought and something to come back for. We were able to d rive over the road which has been submerged for the last couple of years and crosses the middle of the reservoir. On the ‘other’ side we picked out some Oriental Skylarks always a nice bird to look at.

But what a memorable moment with Benny starting to emulate his mother in finding great birds. He already knows the names of quite a number of species. He can even call ‘Openbills’ and knows that ‘egrets’ are white;  he was confused however by the cattle egret’s rufous head and neck. But I am very encouraged by Benny taking an interest in birds and getting his eye in.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!

2 04 2015

A few years ago Nick Upton advised that he had heard a Sibe calling at Huay Mai Teng. I thought I had caught a glimpse of one a few years earlier. Today on my first visit this year I had fantastic views of three, two males and one female.  Both males were unmistakable showing red on the throat and I just sat in the truck and watched.

Initially I thought the bird, which flew up from the ground to a nearby branch was a Taiga Flycatcher as this is an area where they are usually plentiful and easy to see. It cocked its tail as if to confirm it was a Taiga but this was not right. There was no black to be seen on the trail nor the usual white sides.  I had a side view at this point and noted the white supercilium and the ends of the black and white moustache.  Reasonably long thin bill holding prey. Then it turned and showed its rather washed out red throat. I was thrilled.

I stayed and watched and noted a lot of Yellow-eyed Babblers coming in to feed on a fruiting tree. A Grey-breasted Prinia came in very close to the truck with a fair amount of activity from Common Ioras. As I scanned the ground I picked out another male Siberian Rubythroat this one sporting a much darker red throat and closeby a rather plain female emerged.

A couple of Vinous-breasted Starling then put in an appearance, a new patch record for this otherwise common species. This had me positively buzzing as I thought there might be possibilities of rarer ground foraging starlings and thrushes on migration. I was startled by a Common Snipe which touched down about twenty feet away and did a fantastic job of hiding itself by standing motionless.

The three Small Pratincoles on the water edge were almost inconsequential.  In fact Oriental were present in much greater numbers with lots of Little Ringed Plovers, Yellow Wagtails and Wood Sandpipers. There was a distinct absence of any evidence of Rain or other quail.

I had to get back to the small wood and on the drive back noted one Blue-throated Bee-eater, presumably a passage migrant.   Another beautifully plumaged bird. Overhead an unidentified smaller raptor hovered.

There was no evidence of any raptors on the ground in the roost area. There was not much happening in the Rubythroat area so a quick spin brought me to the spectacle of a female Pied Harrier being very effectively mobbed by a small number of Black Drongos. This led to me switching back to the roost area where other than an Oriental Pratincole and a few Red-wattled Lapwing there were no other birds in view.  And then a magnificent male Pied Harrier flew over – always a great moment.

On the way out I had a great view of a juvenile Lesser Coucal and close to it a pair of Yellow-rumped Bulbuls were tending a nest.

The water level today was probably the lowest I have ever seen. It’s extremely hot here right now with highs approaching 40° C. There’s been rain but we really need a sustained downpour. Unfortunately I noticed a floating platform made of oil drums which is now moored in the quieter, less accessible side of the reservoir. This is also where most of the good birds can be found.  A concern.

But no complaints today. Simply stunning.

The Rice Paddy Ablaze

25 01 2015

The Rice Paddy Ablaze.

The Rice Paddy Ablaze

25 01 2015

It’s that time of the year in Thailand when rice farmers set fire to the remnants of the recently harvested rice crop. They have started the job in the Ratchaburi rice paddy but fortunately there were no ill effects as I took a stroll this morning. It’s such a problem that General Prayuth, the generalissimo , appealed for restraint on his Friday night talk to the nation – in the north, in particular, the consequences of this needless ritual are verging on ecological disaster.

The issue for me is whether the rich scrub which lines the rice paddy’s irrigation canals will be decimated or allowed to flourish. It’s currently home to significant numbers of reed-warblers, warblers, prinias and cuckoos and first thing today at every step I took I could hear the calls of Oriental & Black-browed Reed Warblers, mixed up with calls of Thick-billed Warbler and possibly Dusky Warbler too; in recent weeks I have also got my eyes on a pair of Lanceolated Warblers too. I hope the scrub is not burned because it really is wonderful habitat.

Top bird this morning was a Wryneck but I was also pleased to see a lot of Red-rumped Swallows. Even more pleased to be able to add this species to my Thai list because when I checked, it wasn’t there. I thought I had recorded it at the reservoir but obviously not. Anyhow what made recognition possible was its highly visible whitish rump which on closer attention had faint hints of a very light peachiness. In winter its red rump appears white. This makes it possible to distinguish it from Barn Swallow which has what appears to be uniform black/dark blue upper parts and no white or red rump; both have tail streamers so these don’t help. So a first addition to my Thai list for 2015! Elsewhere a female Plaintive Cuckoo popped up and flew off and lots of Plain-backed Sparrows. In recent weeks I’ve also seen Black Kites, Eastern Marsh Harriers,a solitary Greater Spotted Eagle and lots of Black-shouldered Kites.

It was also interesting to note that some farmers had started to irrigate their fields. This will undoubtedly draw in waders and who knows what might drop in. Interesting times ahead in the blazing rice paddy!

I’m pretty busy due to a combination of family, work and study commitments, a most fortunate state of affairs I hasten to add, but sadly, one which really limits the amount of birding I can do. Personally I am very happy stretching my legs in the rice paddy which tends to be the extent of my birding at present so no complaints.

Huay Mai Teng Reservoir: Location

7 12 2014

A recent request for information caused me to check out “Huay Mai Teng”  (“HMT”) on Google maps where, in English, it is listed as Samnak Maiteng. “Samnak”, as you may know, means “office” in Thai and is often used in the nomenclature of buildings and premises under official control. It does not mean “reservoir” as far as I know and has no possible linkage with water in Thai! I presume that because there is an official waterworks (ประปา)  office at the reservoir that this is why “samnak” wrongly features in the Google map. So if you want to find the reservoir on Google try entering “samnak Maiteng”.

In real terms you can find HMT the way I did. I opened up an electronic map a few years ago and started looking for lakes and the like in the Ratchaburi area. HMT stands out! On this basis alone I drove out there one day, took a left and kept going and finally arrived at the water edge where I inadvertently came upon some River Lapwing, a seminal moment in my birding experience.

If you simply want to get to HMT then in most cases you will need to drive to Ratchaburi Town, a truly delightful place, offering the best of Thailand, really worth a visit. That means using Highway 4, the Phetchkasem Road; then you need to take Highway 3208, going east, it can only go east from Ratchaburi Town, which leads to the burgeoning and grotesquely fascinating mountain resort of Suan Phueng – a must for sheep lovers!

HMT is about 23 km along Highway 3208 on the left side. It is actually signposted in English as “Huay Mai Teng Reseryoir”. As you drive along the main highway you will eventually come to a long, sharp right bend with a smaller road from it  leading to the left; take this road and it will deliver you to the launch/landing area in about 1.5 kilometres. Be advised at weekends and public holidays this area can be quite busy, especially in the afternoon/evening with locals picnicking and swimming; people launch boats here mainly for fishing and sometimes there are jet skis making a terrible racket. You might also venture upon an event here. However once you are here you can get your bearings and from here you can explore the site. Most roads/tracks going left after the sharp right bend lead to the reservoir.

HMT is  a very considerable size and of course the level of the water varies in the course of a year – there is a road across the reservoir which has remained underwater for the last two years due to high water level. As I write the bridge in this road has now emerged and is making an excellent platform for local anglers! I would suggest you explore. There are many roads and tracks. The terrain is largely flat but roads get very muddy in the rainy season and rutted when dry. It is easy to get stuck in mud so take care when driving.

In the short period I have been visiting this area it has been subjected to a huge amount of development. More and more habitat is being lost to agriculture including the construction of a large commercial piggery in what was one of my favourite bits. This latter included the installation of electric mains and you can see the concrete pylons as you drive in. Access to this area is now impossible as it has been fenced off: Siberian Rubythroat have been heard in this same area and I have seen Yellow-rumped Flycatchers here on migration. It also provided a popular berth for Oriental Honey Buzzards migrating southwards in September. Fields which are now growing cassava and pineapples were once scrub. I saw and heard Chinese Francolin in this area. I fear for the future of the habitat.

There is now a resort near the reservoir, the Lake Scene, with rooms costing about 500 THB which can be booked via the usual booking sites. There is also a new 24 hour garage and convenience score a few kilometres before you reach HMT and Ratchaburi is a 20 minute drive away. So it’s not exactly venturing into the wilds.

Finally I’d like to know what you see so please email your observations and indeed your experiences. Let me know if you plan to visit because if I am free I’ll happily meet up with you and show you around.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 180 other followers