The Search

28 10 2013

My mindset changes, unfortunately, when I go out looking for specific species. This morning I was looking for Hen Harrier and it completely changed the game. To be honest I prefer being laid back and lackadaisical, taking my luck and simply enjoying being out. It’s not that I become a monster and knock babies out of their prams as I scurry around…….. It just changes everything. So I stopped for a few moments and made a point of appreciating the cool morning air as the sun started to burn through the clouds.

The only raptor was a definite Eastern Marsh, male, with white and brown upper wings, the white like a dusting of icing sugar on a dark coloured cake; it also showed prominent white uppertail coverts, but I didn’t get a look at its underside. I am glad I can unequivocally say this was Eastern Marsh. I also saw what appeared to be a Grasshopper Warbler, looked like a big Zitting CIsticola, with a lot of russet on its back and a curved, thickish end of tail; it appeared to fly in from the rice plants, and then it perched in the open for a split second and then dived into the scrub aligning the irrigation canal. Maybe it was just that, a big Zitting Cisticola! There were a couple of Oriental Reed Warblers making their presence known by their clack clack clack. No sign of Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. It is going to be a nice day here. The case against Hen Harrier is building.

In the afternoon I snatched a brief hour on either side of other commitments. Three Pied Harriers showed, two females and a juvenile, but no sign of anything that might resemble a Hen Harrier; also no sign yet of the mighty male Pied Harrier. The case against Hen Harrier gets stronger. However I should manage to snatch an hour or so during the week so I won’t dismiss Hen Harrier cmpletely.


Laid Back

26 10 2013

My laid back, lackadaisical approach to birding might cost me a Hen Harrier. My mindset restricts possible harriers species in the local rice paddy in Ratchaburi to two species: Pied and Eastern Marsh. I would allow Western Marsh if something totally unexpected appeared.

Last post I mentioned a mystery raptor, a harrier of some kind or possibly even a baza as it appeared to have rounded wings. On Wednesday I saw a harrier with white/buff underwings and black primaries; it was the gloomy end of day and hard to make out  much more; its movement appeared familiar and to be that of a harrier. I assumed it must be either Pied or Eastern Marsh. When I checked my field guides Wednesday night at home I realised white/buff underwings with black primaries didn’t fit with any of the male, female or juvenile descriptions of either Pied or Eastern Marsh. I regret to say I didn’t give it much thought at the time.

This afternoon I noted a harrier with the same underwing pattern, basically white with black primaries. It was soaring high and circling but I could make out a prominent white patch on its upper-tail coverts and a lot of gray on the upper wings, but also thought there was some brown. Certain it wasn’t Pied and still am, but thought it was Eastern Marsh. However having had a look through the field guides Hen Harrier now jumps off the page at me. That large white rump patch really makes me think it can’t be Eastern Marsh. If only…….

Well if this is the same bird then in all likelihood it is going to be there tomorrow and now I know what I am looking for. So I know where I am going to be tomorrow.

It was very pleasant in the rice paddy this afternoon: a juvenile Cinnamon Bittern, a Yellow Bittern, a few Oriental Reed Warblers, two Black-browed Reed Warblers, the chack of a Thick-billed Warbler revealed its presence but it didn’t show and lots of Zitting Cisticolas; a Common Kingfisher periodically darted across, a Black-shouldered Kite hovered nearby. Very pleasant, almost cool.

I took a spin on the west side of the paddy this afternoon and was rewarded with a Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, the first I have seen here for a long time. On exactly the same wooden pole as I saw it before. A real beauty. Ironically I took a full description down as I was able to get the bird in the scope and I thought it would be a good exercise to compare my notes with the descriptions in the field guides. If only I had been as careful with the harrier!

Fascinating really. Here’s hoping the bird is there tomorrow and that I can get on it. That’s why I said “might” – I haven’t given up on this bird yet and I think I’ll be a bit focused tomorrow!

Harriers, Reed-warblers and the humble Eastern Stonechat back in the Ricepaddy

20 10 2013

As expected two species of harriers, Pied and Eastern Marsh were strutting their stuff this afternoon in the local rice paddy; a male Eastern Marsh and two female and a juvenile Pied. Sadly no sign of the magnificent male Pied Harrier but I expect he’s around. There was also  one unidentified raptor in the distance which was circling and hovering, circling and hovering: not like the harriers which tend to move in low flying straight lines, not a Black-shouldered, too big and not a Black Kite, it wasn’t an aquila eagle; rounded outer wings, broad enough to rule out Grey-faced Buzzard and a large fan shape tail spreading from its tertials. I wonder what it was!? A baza? 

There were at least two Oriental and one Black-browed Reed Warblers in the vegetation that has taken over the irrigation canal. This year it hasn’t been cut, slashed or burnt yet so lots of great habitat for these guys. I rather fancy there were other reed warblers but I’ll spare you the details. Simply a self note to get back soon and check it out.

With such riches it would be easy to overlook the reappearance of the humble Eastern Stonechat, a rather sociable little bird.  Many of them are now present in the rice paddy. As I sat, waiting, watching and listening, a Common Kingfisher flashed past and a Brown Shrike took up its vantage point about twenty metres away to check out what I was doing. The noises suggest that there are rather a lot of different species in the vegetation. However I am using my truck as a hide and I am sure if I got out to try and get a closer look I would scare them all away.

Whatever, great fun and excitement in the rice paddy and much more to come.

Family Birding

20 10 2013
PiedKing01 (1)

Pied Kingfisher – a shot from an otherwise uneventful trip to Huay Mai Teng reservoir on 16.10.13

On Thursday 17th October 2013  we piled into the truck and headed south to Cha-am, the well-known seaside resort in Petchburi. Before our marriage, when we were conducting an international relationship, Luna and I used to spend a lot of our limited time together there. Friday was our fifth wedding anniversary, so where else could we celebrate it? We took the scenic route to get there. As well as our two children we now travel with Lola, Luna’s mother, Jona;  for Lola read “nan” or “gran”: it is Ilonco for “grandmother”.

Our first stop at about 1500h was the Khao Yoi Black Kite roost site where there were between 500 – 600 Black Kites present, most perched in the palm trees but there was a small kettle and a few were soaring high in the sky. Lola was suitably impressed and could be heard uttering superlatives in Ilonco. It’s always an impressive sight and I expect numbers will increase into the thousands over the next few weeks.

As time was of the essence we made a quick dash to the big pond at Wat Khao Ta Khrao. It was raining heavily so we didn’t stop until we got there. However en route I ticked off five species of kingfisher: Stork-billed, Black-capped, Common, Collared and White-throated.  A bit of a record for me. Six may be possible with the addition of Pied, but I am not sure I have ever seen it in this area.

The highlight at the big pond was 18 Garganey, the first migratory waterfowl of the winter;  there were lots of Painted Stork and two Spot-billed Pelican, pelecanus philippensis, the Philippine Pelican; understandably the big waterbirds were of much more interest to Lola, especially the pelican with its taxonomic name inidcating its Philippine origins. Sadly the Philippine population of Spot-billed Pelicans is now extinct. Onwards we went in an effort to have a brief look at Laem Pak Bia where we arrived at 1750h with very little light – enough to make out a flock of about 200 Great Knot and 100 Black-tailed Godwits in the salt pans; there were a further three Spot-billed Pelicans, unmistakable in the gloom, floating about another salt pan.

As we headed south to Cha-am, just past The King’s Project, I hit the breaks as lots of huge “birds” were crossing over the main road, from the project in the direction of the “abandoned” building. Once I got the binoculars on them I could see they were bats, huge bats, bigger than I have ever seen before. A Google search,  “Large bats Laem Pak Bia”  landed me on Nick Upton’s  which confirmed these to be Lyle’s Flying-foxes, Pteropus Lylei. These are listed in Mammals of Thailand and South-east Asia, (Francis,2008), as “vulnerable” and the IUCN Red List confirms this: in Thailand, as elsewhere, they are considered a serious pest due to their love of fruit orchards and are therefore subject to persecution.

We had a very pleasant wedding anniversary and as a civilised, family sort of man I didn’t slope off and do any birding!

On Saturday 19th October we headed home and made a stop at the fishing village of Bang Khao about 15 kilometres north of Cha-am. It didn’t look very promising at first until a flock of terns went up – they had hidden themselves on the other side of a gentle gradation on the sand flats. I went back to the car for the scope as I wanted to show Lola some new species – we picked out 3 Great Crested Terns with their big, yellow bills; we had really good views of them, as they sat, almost playfully, in the surf.

I then took some time on the large flock of about 250 terns sitting on the ground. These birds had longish, thin black bills, very prominent black scapular feathers, like a thick black line, black crown, head and nape but white foreheads and lores, darkish gray flight feathers and very dark red legs; I would have mistaken these for black without the scope; when the flock took to the air their white rumps were visible as was a white leading edge on their upperside wings. Tern identification strikes terror into my soul but I would confidently assert these were Common Terns of the longipennis sub-species,  longipennis, meaning long-feathered.

Nearby I noted 8 Sanderlings scurrying about and 5 Malaysian Plovers as well as lots of sand-plovers and a handful of Pacific Golden Plover. There were no gulls, a surprise, as there are usually lots of Brown-headed Gulls here.  A Japanese Sparrowhawk flew over in pursuit of some very anxious sparrows.

Rain had us scurrying back to the truck and we headed north to the big pond at  Wat Khao Ta Khrao  arriving at 1300 – no evidence of waterfowl when I was expecting to see an increase on Thursday’s Garganey. There were lots of Black Kites in and around the area, up to ten, with  5 parked in the trees; I also picked out a large Osprey perched in the middle of the pond on a distant post which had  Lola purring again; perhaps 60 Painted Stork in the distance.

And then home. There is only so much birding I can inflict on the family, especially hungry,restless kids!

Bang Poo and around Bang Pli, Samut Prakhan

13 10 2013

Benny and I took a late morning drive from our hotel in Bang Pli down to the seaside resort of Bang Poo in Samut Prakhan province, Bangkok’s equivalent to Essex, being the east side of greater Bangkok; it is by no means as vast. We didn’t see anything other than what we would expect to see: water birds: cormorants, little grebes, open-bill storks, the egrets, lots of hirundines and lots of whiskered terns. It was impractical to spend much time on the pier as we got there at 12 noon and it was roasting hot as one would expect: a few Brown-headed Gulls, but not much else.

With a car and GPS visiting birders could really have a lot of fun basing themselves in a hotel similar to where we parked for a couple of nights, close to the airport. We stayed at Sanam Wan Hotel in the Bang Pli area, to the south of the airport. Really friendly, family run hotel, a  kind of “pension”. We had two rooms due to our configuratiom, a connecting twin and a double which cost 650 THB and 750THB respectively; the hotel suited all our needs, with a small swimming pool with a kids area, very child friendly indeed, clean and comfortable, ( really firm beds), edible food and situated in a real community with easy access to supermarkets and everything else.

We used the Maps programme on my wife’s tablet and it really worked perfectly: “Bang Poo Recreation”, “Sanan Wan Palace” and “Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park” are all place marked on the Maps and we used the route finder with audio – so get yourself a local 3G sim card for your phone or tablet, hire a car and off you go! Add in places like Phutthamonthon Park,  Suan Rot Fai ( probably best reached by public transport), Kok Kham and a few other excellent locations in and around Bangkok, and it should be possible to see a lot of different species. My only gripe this time was that the tolls on expressways have increased! 

But Bangkok and the surrounding area has some great birds!

Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, Bangkok

12 10 2013

By virtue of being in Bangkok with wheels for a few days I was able to put my big toe into a new location, Sri Nakon Khuean Khan Park (ศรีนครเขื่อนขันธ์ ). First up, a big thanks to Nick Upton’s for bringing this location to my attention and helping me to get to the place. Nick rightly waxes lyrical about the site especially its potential for throwing up migrants and the ease with which it is possible to see some otherwise hard to see species: Stork-billed Kingfisher, Vinous-breasted Starling and Pink-necked Green Pigeon. I didn’t see the first two but I saw a lot of Pink-necked Green Pigeons: the presence of a couple of raptors, searching for a spot of breakfast, wreaked terror among the pigeons and kept them on the move.

I was in the process of attaching my camera to my telescope to get a shot of one of the raptors, which had perched about 80 meters away in the treetops, when some joggers came up to where I was in the birdwatching tower. They were very interested in the raptor and I could hardly deny them a view of it. Four of them had good views of the raptor which of course flew when I got my scope back! I suspect a Common Buzzard which I believe would be a bit of a rarity. It was simply  too big for the more common accipters like either of the sparrowhawks, or either Besra or Shikra. Plus its upper flight feathers, a grayish brown were fringed in white, a yellow cere, it had a thin dark eyeline and whitish supercilium; its face was lacking gray which makes me rule out Grey-faced Buzzard; it also had a light coloured breast with fine streaks; when it flew its wings did not seem thin which also helped me rule out Grey-faced.

So I missed a great photo and a potential lifer! But I feel I have a responsibility to encourage non-birders to get interested and these folks were positively purring; plus I often carry a Thai language field guide, which I had today so they were able to get the names of the species in Thai read a little about them.  A photo, however, would have enabled identification. I’m simply not able to make any claims but I do wonder! The other raptor was a Japanese Sparrowhawk based on flight and its very small size. There were other big raptors far away, too far away to see, though one may have been a Brahminy Kite as a white head and upper body with dark brown lower parts could be made out.

I probably missed out on the first hour of daylight as I got lost. It is not an inherently difficult place to find and once I connected with the sign posting there wasn’t a problem; it becomes very well sign-posted but the first few kilometres on exiting the expressway were a little bit confusing. I am glad I persevered!

In real terms this is a swamp turned into a public park and it has been done very well. There are small lakes, lawns and a lot of wild stuff. It even has a bird watching tower, which has been well constructed and is safe. I was surprised it had no seats as benches are liberally scattered throughout the rest of the park. From the bird tower I got decent views of the mystery raptor and lots of Pink-necked Green Pigeons, a fair few Black-naped Orioles and lots of Flower-peckers, mainly Scarlet-backed; the first birds I saw were two Black-capped Kingfishers. Apart from a Taiga and Asian Brown I didn’t see any  flycatcher species nor any phylloscopus warblers. I did see a number of Ashy Drongos, lots of Green-billed Malkohas and Indian Rollers. There were also a lot of drongos in the park including several Greater Ratchet-tailed, another species which falls into the “elusive” category.

However I was taking it easy as I had the additional weight of a scope, camera and tripod for the first time during recovery. I have to confess this was pushing it – my foot swelled up a bit and that tends to focus my mind a little! So I didn’t want to cover too much ground and kept to the good quality tracks. I also didn’t know where I was going! However the  park is compact and it has a good variety of habitat. A plus is that there are plenty of interpretative boards with English language information.

Sri Nakorn Kuen Khan Park is undoubtedly a little gem of a place……check out what Nick Upton recorded there last April. I also believe it would be possible for more adventurous birders to get there by a local ferry crossing the main Chao Phaya  river at Klong Toey, near Sukhumwit; this may not however be conducive with an early start. I believe bikes are for hire cheaply on the park side of the river and it could be made into an interesting day…….the signage indicated a Thai fighting fish museum nearby, if that takes your fancy! Visitors might also like the locale – it is very much real Thailand and the road in winds through a rather built up, congested market area bustling with people and lots of temples, positively Zolaesque, (Émile as opposed to Gianfranco!). There are few facilities in the park but with a bike or car food is nearby.

Bangkok really is an amazing place for birds! I’ll say that again: Bangkok is am amazing place for birds!