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.

Brown Noddy

6 12 2014

There is something quite preposterous about going out into the Inner Gulf to twitch anything given that pelagic birds are so mobile and capable of covering such vast distances. So when news reached me that there was a Brown Noddy out, I knew it was a rarity but I was also well aware that finding it could be a bit hit and miss. We were able to arrange a seaworthy boat thanks to Phil Round and Mr Deang so  five us – Tom Backlund, Peter Ericsson, Dave Gandy and Jens Tøttrup –  set off at 0800h this morning with Mr Dearng and Loong Yoong.

But somehow, and I guess this is even more preposterous, we did find it today. In fact it was very obliging in that it appears to be flitting between two large buoys about an hour out into the Gulf and thanks to the excellent boatmanship of Loon Yoong we were on the bird for a couple of hours this morning once we had located it. He really got us in close too.

At first glance Brown Noddy is very ordinary looking, appearing black from a distance but as you get in closer its real colours emerge,a mix of brown and grey, dark chocolate brown to be precise, and and as you get nearer its most distinctive feature can be seen:  its forehead from the base of its bill to the crown….it’s almost like a dusting in places….and as you get nearer white crescents can be seen above and below its eye. It’s a reasonably large bird too, somewhat similar to Brown-headed Gull in size but an altogether different structure with a very distinct M shape when in the air. It really is sublimely and subtlely beautiful

While the sea was quite rough the weather stayed fair and we were blessed with lots of Common Terns, Whiskered Terns and White-winged Black Terns. On our return to the creek there was one Chinese Egret present. After lunch an early afternoon trip to the Abondonned Building failed to produce the reported Long-billed Dowitcher, but there must have been 20 or so Asian Dowitchers present, a more than adequate compensation.

A cracking day!

The Reservoir Never Fails to Deliver!

5 12 2014

When Brenda and Dave from England  advised they had booked three nights at the Lake Scene Resort in order to bird the reservoir, (on the strength of this blog – blush!), I actually felt a huge responsibility. Well, the birds delivered today and when I left our guests they were purring as the Pied Harriers, perhaps as many as six, came out to play – there were definitely five, three of which were males. The presence of perhaps 350 Small Pratincoles was an added bonus as was the sound of Rain Quail and a few very obliging Indochinese Bushlark.

So today I simply showed Brenda and Dave how to access the various nooks, that I take for granted, so they can bird the site over the next two days. Tomorrow I am out on a  pelagic in search of Brown Noddy and with some unsettled weather in the region courtesy of Typhoon Hagupit and some moderate high pressure over China, well anything is possible in the Gulf Of Thailand.

So I hope Brenda and Dave have fun and I am pretty sure our pelagic is going to be interesting too. Watch this space!

Footnote: my friend Guide Paan photographed a Dunlin at the reservoir at the beginning of December, an amazing spot and a great record : check out this link. He’s also got some amazing photos of Pied Harriers at the reservoir such as this and this. I told you the reservoir is kicking!

Reservoir besieged by Birder Onslaught!

29 11 2014

The best thing about birding today at Huay Mai Teng reservoir was just being there reasonably early in the morning. There were no Pied Harriers in the roost but I didn’t get there until 0700h so I imagine they had already gone out for the day! The presence of two other birders staking out a Bluethroat was also a very pleasant surprise. I have seen Bluethroat here before too and this would be about the right time for it to reappear here.

I usually have this place all to myself so great to see these guys. The worst thing was being suckered by an Eastern Stonechat which had me thinking I was on to a female flycatcher of some description! It was behaving like a flycatcher too, perching on a branch and then taking off after prey and returning to the same spot. I’m happy being suckered! Nearby a Thick-billed Warbler was deep in the scrub – it wouldn’t show long enough for me. However with this area now being fully accessible I fancy getting in among the reed beds to check out those little brown jobs.

The most important bird today was a Black-collared Starling in a freshly ploughed field near the road leading to the southern side of the reservoir. I’ve seen this species here before but it is not common in the area. Having checked the roost I felt comfortable for the first time in over a year heading out into the vast area of flat land that forms the southern reservoir. The roads were dry and drivable and I was rewarded with masses of Rain Quail calling (none seen), a female Barred Buttonquail and its solitary brood having a dust bath on the track, and further along toward the water, two Oriental Skylarks, 32 Small Pratincoles, 4 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, 2 very large Grey Herons and lots of Wood Sandpipers and Oriental Pratincoles. There were also decent numbers of Richard Pipits as well as one Red-throated Pipit and two Olive-backed Pipits.

I have some guests next week who have booked up at the new hotel on the north shore of there reservoir so I’m going to try and spend Saturday with them. It will be wonderful to have a whole day birding here and it will be really interesting to see what is about.

I should add a brief foray to the Laem Pak Bia sandpit last Sunday with my nephew and my family was joyful bit a little bit disappointing from a birding perspective: three Chinese Egrets, a handful of Malaysian Plovers and a Whimbrel. My nephew swears he saw whales further out in the Gulf  which wouldn’t surprise me altogether as I know up to eight Bryde’s Whales have been seen in the area in recent weeks. We also stopped at the beach at Ban Bang Gao where there were lots of Sanderlings and Malaysian Plovers on the sand and the first Brown-headed Gulls had arrived.

Urban Birding

8 11 2014

By virtue of my son’s football training I finally managed to get round to checking out a bit of interesting habitat bang in the centre of Ratchaburi, between Tesco Lotus and Daruna School. The football pitches are at the far end of the site and there are a couple of decent access roads to them so it’s possible to walk a kind of loop around the middle of the site:  a large plot of derelict land, much of it overgrown  with a fair amount of shallow water in it. In fact it is so overgrown there are some parts of it which are virtually inaccesible.

This afternoon the place was teeming with drongos and barn swallows but I also picked out Oriental Reed Warblers and by sound Black-browed Reed Warbler and Thick-billed Warbler. A rail or crake flashed in front of me as I drove in this afternoon and the only thing I can be sure of is that it wasn’t a White-breasted Waterhen; the latter are present along with good numbers of Little Egrets and Chinese Pond Herons. A Yellow Bittern briefly hovered over over the phragmites reeds and a small flock of White-rumped Munias were happily working their way around the site. In the final light of the day I heard the high pitched ululation-like call of a Red-legged Crake. There were also a couple of Eastern Stonechats present.

Benny trains twice or three times a week in the late afternoon so I reckon I’m going to get about the site and try and see what I can find. There was enough there today for me to think this site could have real potential with the possibility of some raptors and owls too.


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