23 02 2014

Caspian Tern
Bang Ban Kao

I had no real intention of birding today but a family day out in Hua Hin allowed me to head to Bang Ban Kao on the way home. Lots of Terns – Caspian, Common and Little – and about 50 Brown-headed Gulls. Lots of Plovers too – Pacific Golden, Malaysian, Lesser and Greater Sandplover, and Kentish and of course some Sanderlings. As always ideal conditions for digiscoping especially in the afternoon when the sun helpfully is perfectly positioned.

littletern 030

We went into the Abadanoned Building on the off-chance but the birds must have been out on the mud flats. Then as we drove past Wat Komnoram, I could make out some big lenses and thought maybe the Collared Pratincole was showing so, opportunist as ever, I drove in. Alas it had been seen and photographed but had flown 30 minutes earlier. Good to know it is still there.

Common Tern

Common Tern


Huay Mai Teng Reservoir: Habitat Meltdown

22 02 2014

I was genuinely excited by the prospect of going to the reservoir this afternoon and on arrival it was wonderful to drive into four Small Pratincoles at the launch area. The water level is very high so there wasn’t much of the launch area available. Furthermore we’ve had a bit of rain here this week in Ratchaburi so it is now in the balance if there will be a significant reduction in the water level , especially if it continues to rain.

My excitement and happiness soon turned into frustration. More habitat is in the process of being turned into farmed land. Most of the western side of this extensive site has been reclaimed in the last couple of years and a large industrial pig rearing facility has been built in this area; the latter stinks to such an extent that my son even commented on the smell.

The real story is the decline of Rain Quail in this area. Over the last couple of years I’ve directed people to this sought after species with simple directions or GPS done so in the finest traditions of drive-in birding. There was one patch where 20 – 30 Rain Quail were feeding two years ago: not a sign or sound of them there today or in the last year. There was another patch where 5-6 Rain Quail could be seen – now it has been cultivated. In the course of the afternoon I heard three distant calls. Good to know there are still some present and for all I know there may be a lot more but I am concerned about the impact of the high water level and continuing reclamation of habitat.

There were good numbers of Richard’s Pipits still present. An Osprey perched up in the outlying western pond – here too huge development going on and the burners have also been out in force setting fire to the scrub. A fair few Indochinese Bushlarks. On the east side in an area I had ear marked as a likely spot for warblers and flycatchers, the scrub has been cleared and an irrigation system installed. 

The highlight came at dusk – three Savanna Nightjars announced their appearance with their amazing call and as we drove out we put up two Indian Nightjars that were parked on the road.

Great to get to the reservoir but sad to see such extensive human intervention.

On the Road: Highs and Lows

15 02 2014
Brown-headed Gull Bang Pu

Brown-headed Gull
Bang Pu

On Thursday we took Lola, Luna’s mother, to the airport in Bangkok and with the Friday being a public holiday we decided to stay over. This enabled me to hit Suan Rot Fai, the Railway Park, armed with Dave Gandy’s excellent map; my target was the Northern Boobook, a rare, migratory brown hawk owl, which has been reported here over the last few weeks. The presence of half a dozen birders indicated that I was in the right place and the appeal of this particular bird. It didn’t show although some of my fellow birders were saying that it usually arrived between 0900 and 1000h. I left at 0915h and was a bit sad. However the bird may well have flown. Who knows? Such is birding.

Lesseradjutant 026

Lesser Adjutant
Bang Pra

I have always been against the clock on each visit I have made to this park and in truth today was no different. It warrants considerably more than a couple of hours. On this occasion I walked in from the sky train station and I am glad I did this: a good test for my foot but also an opportunity to take in what this park has to offer. Most importantly there is a lot for kids – play areas, bike & boat hire, a miniature car track – and so I think next time we are in town we’ll make it a family day. My wife will enjoy the birds and also the beautiful plants and shrubs. Something for everybody.

Black-collared Starling Suan Rot Fai 14.02.14

Black-collared Starling
Suan Rot Fai

Still, lots of birds: a male Plaintive Cuckoo showed well, lots of Jungle Crows, a Black-naped Oriole and a number of juveniles, a handful of Black-collared Starlings, a few female Koels, Indian Rollers and Coppersmith Barbets and all the usual suspects. This really is an outstanding public park, remarkably well put together in terms of layout and shrubbery and we must all be grateful for those public spirited individuals who are responsible for making it what it is today. A cursory google indicates it was once  the State Railway of Thailand’s golf course; thank goodness it didn’t become high rise concrete.

Black-headed Gull Bang Pu 15.02.14

Black-headed Gull
Bang Pu

In the afternoon we drove down to Sri Racha via lunch at Bang Pu. Northing much to report at the latter but the usual plethora of Brown and Black-headed Gulls. One of these, a Black-headed I believe, was already sporting its breeding plumage and in view of the numbers of people on the pier feeding the gulls I took the opportunity to dispense with the digiscope and use the camera for “normal” photography. Fortunately the gulls were coming in really close. I really don’t know how to operate my camera unless it’s attached to a telescope!

A traffic jam on the Bangkok-Chonburi highway next to the Bang Pakong Power Plant provided an opportunity to pick out a Darter and what looked on size to be a Great Cormorant in an extensive area of marsh. An unexpected bonus in an otherwise difficult drive.Our journey took much longer than planned due to traffic jams so an intended trip to Bang Phra reservoir did not materialise. A very disturbed night’s sleep put paid to Saturday morning’s planned sortie.

Instead I sat on the veranda of our room, with a cup of coffee, and had wonderful views of an Ashy Drongo, a bird I would classify as skittish. A joy to be able to concentrate on the bird: beautiful forked tail, black-tipped flight feathers standing out from the otherwise grey uppers and tail, and a black face becoming grey with whitish lores.

A number of Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers were also around when another grey bird perched on a tree. It grabbed my attention; this was much darker and a look at its tail confirmed it was not a drongo; it was similarily sized and its tail was reminiscent of a Plaintive Cuckoo; however where there should have been an orangey pink belly on this bird it was whitish; black bill. “Cuckoo-shrike” I thought on account of the tail, but I must say I really didn’t know which one. It didn’t hang around for long but long enough to get a good look at it.

This, in fact,was a Large Cuckoo-shrike, a lifer no less and I attribute its identification to being able to spend time on the Ashy Drongo. I rather fancy I might have thought it was a drongo and moved on save for this encounter with the Ashy Drongo and being certain of the Ashy Drongo helped me frame the cuckoo-shrike’s size as almost the same.

In the end we went out en famille to Bang Pra late morning. As with Suan Rot Fai I’ve been here before but under time pressure. This time we drove into the Non-hunting Area and our first bird was a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, minus its right side racket and streamer. We drove south and recorded six White-crested Laughing-thrush, truly amazing looking birds which had Luna purring. We drove on and picked out an Osprey perched on a tree and then as we progressed, in among some Open-bills perched on a dead tree was a huge Adjutant Stork. Once I got my bins on it,it was clearly a Lesser Adjutant. However celebrations were dampened by the near certain likelihood that this is an introduced bird. Khao Kiew Open Zoo is nearby and apparently they have bred Adjutants in captivity there which have either escaped or been released and taken up residence in Bang Pra. The presence of a ring on the right tibia  of my chap confirmed that humans have had their hands on this bird – therefore not a real wild bird. So no tick, but what the hell, it is as good as the real thing. It really doesn’t detract from this bird’s almost hideous, primordial appearance. we were both purring this time and our kids couldn’t understand the fuss about being quiet as I scurried about trying to get a photograph.

Nearby we picked out a Black-headed Ibis, a new bird for Luna, which very kindly flew at the point at which I was ready to shoot!

We then drove north and then west back to Sri Racha but went into the water works which contain the Bang Pra Dam. Not much in terms of birds but a Plaintive Cuckoo with its pink/orange belly showed well for us in an empty car park.

Bay-backed Shrike

8 02 2014


Two new species have been added to the Thai list in the last two weeks: Bay-backed Shrike and Collared Pratincole. My own view was that getting to see Baer’s Pochard was more important than either of these so when everyone was scurrying around Laem Pak Bia I went north. I went for the new birds today. In addition I had arranged to meet up with Mike Bruce who’s here from the US of A. I had a very enjoyable few days’ birding with Mike and his father, David, last year.

Greater Painted Snipe

Greater Painted Snipe

I think I was very lucky today because the Bay-backed Shrike was performing when I arrived and I had a brief five second dalliance with it before it went off. On three occasions during the day when we returned to the King’s Project it wasn’t to be seen. It was the call that drew me to the bird and there it was perched on a tree stump in the gardens adjacent to the main toilets in the King’s Project. A big tick. A very elegant shrike.

When Mike arrived soon after we went off in search of Collared Pratincole at Wat Komnoram, via the Laem Pak Bia salt pans; very few birds present there, except for some Richard’s Pipits on the road. Finding the Collared was a much more challenging proposition and in the end we had to accept the dip. Basically it looks very similar to Oriental. We thought we had it, certainly I did, as we got on a very light coloured Pratincole but as the day unfolded  a comparison of Mike’s photographs with the accepted record shots showed two very obviously different birds. The Collared is in fact a pretty scruffy bird in comparison to the Oriental, but at a distance very hard to separate. We had a look again later in the day but there was no sign of it then.

From Wat Komnaram we headed to the big pond at Wat Khao Takrhao – it was rammed with birds including large flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Garganey. It was inaccessible today as the road was under lock and key so really impossible to tell what was in the distance apart from saying there were lots of birds. There were about 10 Black-headed Ibis and 1 Osprey. It was also good to finally connect with Neil Lawton who was here with some friends. On the drive to the big pond, the umistakeable colours of a Stork-billed Kingfisher was our fourth  kingfisher species of the day. Of these Black-capped was the most prevalent.

After lunch, during which we compared Pratincole images, we reached the sad, but necessary,  conclusion that our claims were groundless. We then made a brief detour to Norng Blah Lai where other than a few Black Kites we were restricted to one distant Greater Spotted Eagle.

Back to Wat Komnaran for another go at Collared Pratincole but  no joy. So down to the Abandoned Building. Lots of waders of which the highlights were a Ruff and a Red-necked Phalarope

Finally back into the King’s Project where we had a number of Ruddy-breasted Crakes and where a beautiful male Greater Painted Snipe posed and allowed me the best digiscoped image I have taken for ages. I have added a head on shot as some have enquired about exactly where the bird was coming from.Finally three White-shouldered Starlings flew in around dusk to round off a really excellent day.

The Rice Paddy; Eurasian Wryneck

7 02 2014

The highlight of the final thirty minutes of light in the rice paddy was a Eurasian Wryneck skulking deep in scrub. A beautiful bird, and a patch tick. An as yet an unidentified skulker in the same scrub whose distinguishing feature was its cocked tail – and it most certainly wasn’t a Taiga Flycatcher. There were also lots of Black-shouldered Kites, perhaps as many as ten and a female Pied Harrier flew past in the final light of the evening. A combination of my schedule and my foot has meant I have necessarily neglected the local stuff for some time.

More Chiang Saen

5 02 2014

Long-tailed Duck

Chiang Saen Lake really touched something inside me. I feel I owe it to myself to spend some more time there and I have little doubt I will return sooner as opposed to later. It’s such a peaceful place with wonderful birds and real possibilities of very unexpected birds and also of seeing very rare ones too.

On Saturday I took a spin along the shore road around the non-hunting area and on some of the roads leading off from this. There were Grey-headed Lapwing and Pintail Snipe, as yesterday, and the Burmese Shrike was also on the wire. Lots of good birds – Black-headed Bulbuls, Racket-tailed Treepie, an Ashy Drongo whose calling and ensuing replies confirmed the presence of at least two more birds in the area, a Lineated Barbet, a few Copppersmith Barbets and an Ashy Bulbul.Yup, an Ashy Bulbul which I didn’t really expect to see here. A Great Cormorant flew over head, absolutely massive, and the pair of Long-tailed Ducks from yesterday were still feeding on the lake. An unexpected surprise was a pair of Mallard pairs. These are the birds of ponds in public parks back in Europe but are in fact very rare here. Too easy, thought I, as these birds were bang on the shore and really didn’t seem to be too worried about me. See below.

Lineated Barbet

Enter Mick Davies. There is probably no one on the ground with better knowledge of this site and what is in it, than Mick. If you want to read about how this area has been adversely affected by human activity over the years then head to his webpage. Over lunch we compared notes and I asked him about the possibility of Ashy Bulbul and he looked at me and asked me to say more. I told him that in amongst a  small number of very active Black-headed Bulbuls, one quite  distinct bulbul froze for a split second on a branch and allowed me to make out a black-crested head and yellow wing feathers framed in black. The only species I felt able to attribute this to was Ashy Bulbul. It  most certainly wasn’t Black-headed. Mick asked me to take him to the location without providing further details, which I did,and when we got there he explained to me that at exactly the same spot a few weeks prior he had seen what he thought might have been either an Ashy or a Black Bulbul. He said he my sighting confirmed the record. Intriguing. Mick also said he had seen a Eurasian Bittern on wetlands earlier in the day. If you are considering a visit to Chiang Saen I would recommend contacting Mick.

I also queried Mick on the status of the Mallards I had seen earlier – his view was that a number of Mallards had been put down by humans on the lake a few years ago and that the ones I saw were probably from that intervention. He said real wild Mallard do show up on the lake but are a major rarity. So no claims on these, beautiful as they were.In the afternoon I went in pursuit of Indian Spot-billed Duck. I wanted to try to get a decent image of this beautiful bird but, alas, the places I tried had plenty of Lesser Whistling Duck but not the target.

In the afternoon I took a short drive to Nam Kam where there is a private reserve, which Phil Round had recommended. To be honest I didn’t see much here: a Dusky Warbler, a Ruddy-breasted Crake and a Common Kingfisher, but I left this place thinking I had probably come at the wrong end of the day. Rarely in Thailand or elsewhere have I come across a place like this which is evidently run for the benefit of the birds. It is full of free growing, dense reeds and these, at the right time, must be full of goodies; there are also a number of hides and viewing areas in the reserve so possible to see some interesting birds. This is definitely a place I shall return to in the early hours and maybe I’ll have to bring food and spend the whole day there. I don’t know why this reserve doesn’t feature more in reports: I am sure they will welcome visiting birders although I understand there is usually no one about!

So that was my twitch to see the Baer’s Pochard. It is a great area and I do hope to be back soon.

Baer’s Pochard: The Doomed Duck

2 02 2014


At 1400h Friday on Chiang Saen Lake, in Thailand’s far north, a single Baer’s Pochard graced me with his presence. He was sitting up on the lake, out in open water and every so often doing a bit of diving. This made it a little difficult to keep on him continously and it was by no means simple to distinguish him from the Ferruginous Ducks with whom he was hanging out. At a distance the very dark head (mainly black but close up a dark green) of the Baer’s and the dark ruddy brown of the Ferruginous were very difficult to separate. We didn’t encroach and did our utmost to  ensure we didn’t cause any disturbance. So no photographs.

So a successful twitch. But in truth little cause for celebration. This twitch was the equivalent of paying a visit to a terminally ill loved one.  This species is tragically doomed, extinction beckons. A very succinct account of the species’ decline and imminent fall can be read here. I hope even at this late stage that some sort of initiative is launched to try and do something to save this species from the brink.

As it is this could well be the last Baer’s Pochard to be seen in Thailand. I believe it is the first one to be seen in two years. In his seminal field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Thailand,  published in 1991, (and IMHO still the best English language field guide to Thailand’s avifauna despite needing a lot of updating) Philip Round describes Baer’s as “an uncommon winter visitor”;  interestingly he describes Ferruginous as a “rare winter visitor”. I would estimate about 30 Ferruginous were present on Friday, so a complete reversal.

Thanks to Mr Bonpop for getting me out onto the lake and then putting me onto the Baer’s in among some  Ferruginous. Mr Boonpop knows his ducks and he knows his way around the lake and its nooks and crannies.

Prior to the Baer’s the day was already a rip roaring success. I fell out of bed lakeside to three each of Grey-headed Lapwing and Pintail Snipe and a pair of Black-collared Starling. I don’t get to see these species very often down south.  Lots of Purple Swamphen and good numbers of Little Grebe and Common Moorhen and a little bit further out several hundred Lesser Whistling Ducks, Chiang Saen’s default duck. A noisy lot giving off their high pitched shrill. White Wagtail and a solitary Pied Bushchat, both common in the North, made for pleasant and different viewing. The Pied Bushchat was game and didn’t appear too worried about my getting close.

A pair of white and black ducks further out in open water had me flummoxed.  I wondered whether they were juvenile Cotton Pygmy-goose but these were diving and one had quite distinct black markings around the ear coverts. I also reckon that if they were Cotton Pygmy-goose there would have been a lot more than a solitary pair.

Long-tailed Duck was also a possibility except neither had any suggestion of, errrr, a long tail! Plus both bills looked black and this is not how they appear in the book…. and I’m one of these birders who finds it difficult dealing with birds that are not exactly as they are described and portrayed in the field guides. So I made a little drawing in my notebook and took a couple of very fuzzy digiscoped images to assist with identification.

I asked Mr Bonpop later if there was Cotton Pygmy-goose on the lake. No. I described what I had seen and where and that I wanted to eliminate the pygmy-goose. He smiled and advised : Long-tailed Duck- a first lifer of the trip and a major rarity to boot. The excellent Thai language field guide describes this duck as  นกพลัดหลง หายากมาก….my translation. … “a very rare vagrant”. In fact I think it has only ever been seen at Chiang Saen lake and has only been added to the Thai list in the last few years.

My drive along the lake shore also threw up one Burmese Shrike perched on wires, and quite indifferent to my proximity.  Lots of Sooty-headed Bulbuls of the Klossi subspecies showing their distinctive red vents; a pair of phylloscopus warblers flashed through which I took to be Arctic but Dave Sargeant has rightly cast doubt on this; possibly Pale-legged, who knows? And prior to lunch a White-rumped Shama perched up fifteen feet away from me as if giving me the once over. In real terms I know nothing about species distribution in Thailand ( but I’m learning!) so this shama surprised me.

In the afternoon it took an hour to find the Baer’s Pochard and I must confess I was anxious until, while scanning a group of Ferruginous, Mr Bonpop announced “Baer” . Before that we had nine beautiful Ruddy Shelducks and a few Ferruginous Ducks in pockets plus some Garganey and a pair of Gadwall. We also noted five Eurasian Wigeon.
The bird, however, that really stood out for me was the Indian Spot-billed Duck, the second most common duck on the lake – a real beauty. The Baer’s, Ferruginous and Indian Spot-billed were all lifers.
On our return to the pier the presence of an Osprey perched atop a tree on the island seemed anti-climactic.

On return I dashed up the Mekong river to the Rim Kong restaurant overlooking a large sand bank. Over dinner I counted 30 Small Pratincoles and a handful of White Wagtails.

After dinner I headed to the Harrier Roost on the Yonok Wetlands ….. got lost but still made it with plenty of time and what a perfect way to end the day.  Scores of harriers, either Pied or Eastern Marsh, all over the place.  At one point I counted 23 male Pied Harriers on the ground – this doesn’t include the ones perched on trees or in the air. It’s a truly impressive sight and very atmospheric with huge flocks of Lesser Whistling Ducks cascading close by.

What a day!