Where have The Rain Quail Gone?

30 01 2013

On Sunday morning I managed a couple of hours at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir. I really wanted a walk and I chose the south side, a large flatland area of grass,vegetation and swamp. Over the last year this has thrown up some great birds including loads of Rain Quail and other quail. At this time last year, however, most of it was under water. There was not so much as a whisper of a Rain Quail on Sunday. They do have a very distinctive and easy-to-recognise call. This time last year these quail were on the northern side of the reservoir and were present in numbers. I need to make an early morning visit to check if they are present again on this northern side. They weren’t there the last couple of times I checked. There was a flash of light yellowish quail which I suspect was a Small Buttonquail, but no claims as it was too quick for me.

But a stellar morning, beautifully bright with a breeze and the unmistakeable call of Chinese Francolin reasonably nearby. I am in the privileged position of being able to be indifferent to this other than for the record. I set forth with a spring in my step and was greeted by most of my friends: a few Richards Pipits, about 10 Oriental Skylarks, an Oriental Reed Warbler, lots of promising noises from the scrub; I rather fancy I heard a Siberian Rubythroat but it didn’t come out. There were heaps of Zitting Cisticolas, a solitary Small Pratincole announced itself from the air and I fancy a couple of Greater Painted Snipe flew over too. However the highlight was a count of 31 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas near the water edge, in swamp type habitat. The males were starting to show breeding plumage, bold yellow on the upper neck, with the Pheasant-tail still to emerge; I imagine in the next few weeks they will become the picture of sartorial elegance. The very common Little Green Bee-eater was also looking very elegant.

I hope to solve the mystery of the Rain Quails’ whereabouts in the next few days. I am sure they are present and in numbers. I just wish I could walk into them so to speak. Nevertheless a very pleasing trip.

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A Gentle Afternoon at The Reservoir

21 01 2013
Oriental Reed Warbler

Oriental Reed Warbler

Sometimes I find it difficult to summon the wherewithal to go out birding. I am by no means on auto-pilot in the sense of free-time meaning birding-time. I work hard and long hours and I have the not insignificant matters of two small kids and a dear wife. I have many reasons for staying home! Moreover the driving can be a bit wearisome at times too. So Saturday afternoon I was pleased to head up to Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, a gentle 30 minute spin from home. I took it nice and easy. I checked out the Small Pratincoles, quite literally a shufti. There were about about 90 birds, down from a last count of about 300 but as I say this was nothing more than the briefest check. As always I was pleased to see the birds and there were also two Richard’s Pipits in attendance nearby.

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

In the west of the site I set up the hide to try and capture some shots of warblers in the reeds and grass. As I drove in a female Kestrel was perched on a tree but didn’t take kindly to my arrival. She took to the air and did a bit of circling and hovering and then headed to quieter surroundings. I set up the hide with a view to getting some images of warblers but alas, with the exception of an obliging Oriental Reed Warbler, I drew a blank. The Oriental Reed is interesting as the image clearly shows a new field characteristic for me: the whitish tail tips. For this I am indebted to the excellent guide to Reed & Bush Warbler Taxonomy published in the BCST web site at this link. The Black-browed, of which I noted three, would not perform for the camera. The best bird from a photographic perspective was a rather worn Common Kingfisher.

Twelve Pheasant-tailed and three Bronze-winged Jacanas were nearby  in amongst a fair few Common Moorhen. As I was packing up in the beautiful, golden light that characterises late afternoons here, a pair of Oriental Darter took to the air in the distance and put on a kind of fly past. In the “usual” place I didn’t get so much as a whisper of Rain Quail but at least six Savanna Nightjars were calling. One of them very obligingly perched  closeby and allowed good views; the two distinct white patches on its neck were clearly visible.

A most relaxing and stress-free way to pass a few hours in the afternoon which allowed me to drive home and play with my kids before the football.





Waterfowl at Wat Khao Takrao

16 01 2013
Gadwall

Gadwall

A few days ago Dave Gandy asked if I knew whether anybody was covering Wat Khao Takrao during the Asian Waterbird Census [“AWC”];I don’t know and I was oblivious to the fact that it is AWC time. This nudged me into action. Today, Wednesday, is Teachers Day in Thailand and for once we were given the day off. So I forced myself out of bed and headed south to Phetchburi province  just after 06:30h. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the big pond at Wat Khao Takrao: I hasten to add that it is several kilometres from the pretty temple perched on the rock that is called Wat Khao Takrhao. I am glad I made the effort.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shovelers

The highlight was two Gadwall, comparatively rare ducks this far south in Thailand. Of course the real story is finding them in amongst everything else. I would estimate there were in the region of 2,500 Northern Pintail and an estimated 1,500 Garganey; add in the fact that they were at least 500m away. So I was pleased to get a couple of images for the record, as it were, and indeed to enable me to get the ID confirmed. Dave Gandy has confirmed they are Gadwall and Phil Round has also done so and now Tom Backlund has too – thanks. The key feature that stands out in these ducks is the smallish white patch that can be seen towards their tails; this is in fact on the wing and is much more visible when the bird is in flight. As I scoped the two of them dabbling away I also thought the bills were different from everything else nearby, just a sense as opposed to a specific detail. If anything I thought the bill tip was a little rounder and that overall it was quite slender. Fortunately I was able to get a shot.

Black-headed Ibis

Black-headed Ibis

In additon there were 3 Eurasian Wigeon and 2 Northern Shovelers with their diagnostic huge,”shovel” bills; the wigeon are lovely ducks with a reddish brown head and a yellow centre.

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

I had a good scan but couldn’t pick out anything else. However the ducks were a distance away and I would not be surprised if there were some other rarities in there. There is considerable concern in birding circles about the fate of Baers Pochard; its numbers appear to have declined dramatically in recent years. The odd vagrant often appears in Thailand usually in the north but they have been recorded historically in the central area too.

IndianCormorants2

Indian Comorants

Waterfowl apart the bird of the day was Black-headed Ibis of which I counted 32. This must be the most I have ever seen in Thailand apart from Bueng Boraphet. I also saw four species of Kingfisher: Collared,White-throated, Black-capped and Common. There were two Pied Harriers and also one Osprey. In among the hundreds of egrets, herons and ibis a solitary Painted Stork really stood out! I also noted 22 Indian Cormorants today. I don’t usually pay much attention to cormorants as here they are usually Little. This Indian species is much more exotic: note the aqua-marine coloured eye and the long slim bill with its downward-pointing tip. Beautiful birds. On the approach road I counted one Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

Osprey

Osprey

A lovely way to spend a couple of hours in the morning and there was a little surprise for me when I returned to Ratchaburi. I was driving through the Muang Torng market area when I saw a rather skittish wagtail on the cement surface. I managed to stop and it was a White Wagtail, the first I’ve seen in these parts. Unfortunately there was a bit of traffic passing through so it flew off rather too quickly. I’ll need to check out this bird’s range.

Collared Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher





The Yellow Bittern

6 01 2013

A brief, unedited video clip of a Yellow Bittern captured Saturday 05.01.13 in the local rice paddy in Thailand





On My Doorstep or Thereabouts

6 01 2013
Black-browed Reed Warbler

Black-browed Reed Warbler

I have decided to concentrate my current efforts on the local rice paddy in Ratchaburi; after all it virtually backs on to the small estate where we live and recent visits have really been very promising: warblers of the acrocephalus genus are present in numbers and perhaps a few rarer species are skulking with the Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers.

The rice paddy covers a very considerable area and is criss-crossed with roads,paths, the main north-south railway line and a considerable number of irrigation canals or klong. These are lined with reeds, scrub and quite an array of other bushes and trees and are the main action area at the moment – great habitat for warblers and cuckoos, as I have recently discovered.  Overall the rice paddy has thrown up a lot of good birds for me over the last couple of years and today, Saturday, and yesterday, Friday, were no exceptions.

Brown Shrik

Brown Shrike

One disappointment, however, is that I haven’t seen any harriers. In previous years Marsh and Pied have been very reliable. I am quite surprised that I haven’t bumped into one in the last few days. The only evidence there has been of  raptors in the last two day was a Black-shouldered Kite from Friday, which puts on a very distinct “hover” show before plummeting on some unsuspecting prey.

The undoubted highlight was a very brief glimpse of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo as it broke cover from the scrub and flew off up the irrigation canal. In fact I have seen three species of cuckoo in the same area over the last two days: add in Plaintive and Banded Bay. So as well as Warblers this is good habitat for cuckoos too and I rather fancy the elusive Pied Cuckoo will be here or hereabouts.

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Saturday morning I spent a few hours first thing in the hide. I initially thought  I had photographed an Oriental Reed Warbler, see above photograph, but  it is in fact Black-browed! It’s all in the supercilium, that distinct line above birds’ eyes. In fact I have just checked out Oriental Reed Warbler images, as I wasn’t completely happy identifying this bird as Oriental. The supercilium is all wrong for Oriental. A closer examination shows it must be Black-browed due to the thickness and length of the supercilium and , of course, I should mention the black brow! All I can say in my defence is the little bird was moving around a lot,the black brow is a little subdued and I didn’t manage to get a clean capture of the bill. Who cares?! My education continueth! I used the time in the hide to photograph a Brown Shrike and Spotted Dove which perched nearby. As I packed up a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo flew up the klong – my wife first drew my attention to this species in this area last year; she said something about it “only being a bee-eater”…….. thank you, Luna, it was a truly great find and good to know this species appears to be resident here.

Yellow BitternIxobrychus sinensis

Yellow Bittern
Ixobrychus sinensis

I returned later on Saturday afternoon and after a brief scout around decided to set up near some reeds growing on the side of a water pool. The warblers that dropped by were too quick for me as they were dropping into a short green bush behind the reeds. I decided to sit it out saying to myself that something will come along. It certainly did. A Yellow Bittern flew in and perched precariously on the reeds and I managed to get it in the frame and focused. What a beautiful bird, another skulker which would have been off had it known where I was and what I was doing. It soon flew off and next a Ruddy-breasted Crake emerged from the reed stems and walked rapidly across the vegetation mixed up in the water. Its brown back and read legs were very visible but it was too quick for me to get on it and get a picture. I was not surprised to see this bird in this location but it nevertheless represents a tick for the patch. I got ready just in case the crake came out again. It did briefly, for long enough for me to see its ruddy breast, and to clinch the ID, but it went straight back into the reeds never to be seen again…..well not for that day.

A few moments later I picked up the movement of another Yellow Bittern, it was walking along the reed bed looking for prey. I realised it would inevitably enter my target zone if it kept going; first it got into my sights and then it started moving quite gently. I was shooting when out of nowhere a Common Kingfisher perched on a nearby reed. For once I was able to get on it quickly and managed exactly one shot before it flew off. I am reasonably pleased with this as I was unable to fine focus.

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

The kingfisher flew off which left me alone with the Yellow Bittern which had proceeded to the corner of the pool, right in the line of the setting sun, and it had perched on a branch close to the water and was busy surveying its prey: it was motionless or as near to it as possible. I was using the self-timer to eradicate any shake as it was after 17:00h and the light quality meant shutter speeds were down to 1/80 and lower. I even shot a brief video clip which I will try to link to: my wordpress package does not support video. I love the clip but am hitting myself because a few seconds after I stopped shooting the bittern reached out and gingerly plucked a small fish out of the water which would have made a great clip. As I say my education continueth!

yellowbittern02

 





The New Year

3 01 2013

2013 has begun very gently on all fronts though Margaret, my daughter, took her first steps on the 2nd, barely 10 months into her life! The first bird that registered in the New Year was a Common Myna, outside my house. On New Years Day I took a spin up to Huay Mai Teng reservoir to try to photograph Black-browed Reed Warbler, again. Some one had driven their truck into my spot – I was most put out! So I had a look around and soon found an Oriental Darter perched up with some Little Cormorants. This is really becoming a regular up at the reservoir. A male Pied Harrier, always an impressive sight,  buzzed the cormorants briefly.

I was back at work on 2nd January but managed to squeeze a quick hour in the local rice paddy, the final hour of daylight. As reported earlier the rice has been harvested in the last few weeks; thousands of domesticated ducks are now feeding on the stubble, no doubt being fattened for the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities. The real bird action, however, was in the reeds and vegetation next to the irrigation canals.

My current interest is acrocephalus warblers: Black-browed and Oriental are fairly common in reeds nearby and at the reservoir. I also know Thick-billed is about from Phil Round’s visit here in October, when he recognised the call. I feel quite confident identifying and separating the afore-mentioned two warblers. So when I heard a repetitive tch tch tch I assumed it must be either Black-browed or, in the alternative, Thick-billed. When I eventually got a look at the bird, and it wasn’t such a bad view either, in the final light of the day, I noted a whitish supercilium extending a little behind the eye; too little to make it Oriental, but an unmistakeable reed warbler; it definitely could not have been Black-browed as it did not have its prominent white supercilium   enhanced by the very striking black brow above it. This bird’s bill was long and the lower mandible was lighter. In my bumbling, non-scientific way I concluded it must be Thick-billed because it definitely wasn’t Black-browed or Oriental: so what else could it be?! I didn’t have a clue about any Thick-billed characteristics and I didn’t have a field guide either. I went home excited by the prospect of claiming a first lifer of the year, especially as all I had to do was match my notes with the field guide.

Alas more seasoned campaigners will appreciate that it couldn’t have been Thick-billed because this species has no supercilium and in fact is significantly bigger than the default acrocephalus warblers. I went onto xeno.canto.org to check sounds. There was a recording of a Blunt-winged calling that I reckon was very close to my bird, but this also struck me as being close to Thick-billed. I called Phil Round as I wanted his opinion on the similarities of Thick-billed and Blunt-winged’s calls. I just don’t know and also I don’t know anything about Blunt-winged in terms of distribution. But that’s what I reckon my bird was, a Blunt-winged Reed-warbler though I am not making any claims at this moment. Its taxonomic name is acrocephalus concinens; the second Latin word, concinens, the species descriptor, means “harmonious”, and while what I heard was a call as opposed to a song, it most certainly wasn’t harmonious!

But this is how I have learned about birds over the last few years. This is what gets me studying field guides, taxonomic descriptions, distribution maps and habitat detail. Increasingly I can understand how important a bird’s call is. I was far from disappointed that I wasn’t  able to call this bird. On the contrary I got such a buzz that I went out again tonight for a mere 30 minutes.

In that brief period I picked out two beautiful Yellow-bellied Prinias and one Rufescent Prinia in the scrub; a Common Kingfisher perched up briefly and there were also a couple of skulkers too, one of which was slightly bigger than usual, more olive backed and with a very prominent whitish supercilium; it didn’t look like an acrocephalus warbler, more like a  phylloscopus, but too big! There were also some familiar calls but no sightings. When I got home tonight I told my wife I had some bad news for her – that I would be moving out to live in the rice paddy! Happy New Year to you all.