Baer’s Pochard: The Doomed Duck

17 01 2016

With reports of two Baer’s Pochards on Bueng Boraphet this week there really was only one place for any self-respecting birder to be this weekend. I joined Dave Gandy early Sunday morning at the Waterbird Park where we boarded a boat full of hope and anticipation. Last time I was here the boats were next to the main entrance but those famous floods that besieged Bangkok a few years ago wiped out the buildings. So after a short detour we found Mr Panom’s new home and off we went with his nephew.

On the outward journey a large Striated Grassbird was the highlight, not really that common a bird in Thailand these days as it is in other parts of the region. It is strikingly big! Into the main area the first ducks to appear were two Common Pochards and then five Tufted Ducks. The Common Pochards are real rarities too and for me were Thai lifers. Dave then pulled out one and then two Baer’s Pochards from a small group of ducks which included some Ferruginous Ducks and the Common Pochards. The tally at this point was two Common Pochards, two Baers, in all likelihood a male and a juvenile, and five Tufted Ducks all mixed up with good numbers of Coot.

Now I didn’t let on but when, this time two years ago, I twitched the Baer’s Pochard on Chiang Saen I was actually quite disappointed as my view of it was really distant. That’s why I went for these ones and I have to say our views today, thanks to Dave’s scope and the boatman’s switching off the engines just in time for the boat to drift onwards effortlessly, really afforded us some excellent views of all the ducks. I am sure some excellent photos will appear imminently on Dave’s blog or elsewhere.

With the pressure off, we sat and simply watched and it was during this spell that Dave first realised there were three Common Pochards and then he pulled another Baer’s from a mixed group of Ferruginous Ducks and Coot. We were both certain this was a different duck from the ‘pair’ we had seen earlier; the pair seemed inseparable and flew off together and then we picked them up together in all subsequent sightings. The third bird was a solitary bird in a group of other ducks. So two amazing records really: three Baer’s Pochards and three Common Pochards and, of course, five Tufted Ducks are not to be sniffed at either. The Common Pochards are also a real rarity here in Thailand though unlike the Baers are not facing imminent extinction.

To end our morning a bit of pure theatre: a Greater Flamingo flew in, gracefully circled about the duck pond a few times before dropping down into the lake where it sat as if it was a swan! In this pose it really looked like something out of a cartoon book. This must be an escapee, but from where? It reminded us of the regular presence a few years ago  of another Greater Flamingo at Pak Thale. Could it be the same bird? After all captive birds are known to live for many years. We were all really surprised by this bird’s arrival – not what we were expecting – but a nice way to end an outstanding few hours’ birding.

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Eagles & Kites

17 01 2016

Saturday 10th January 2016: My son’s recent interest in eagles, aroused by watching Fergus Beeley’s outstanding BBC documentary *about a pair of Harpy Eagles and their new baby in the rainforest of the Orinoco river in Venezuela, meant it could only be a trip to Nong Bla Lai to see the real thing. Amazing really to think that about 40 minutes from home we have a site where  eagles of the aquila genus can be reliably seen from December through to early March. Of course I have occasionally seen Greater Spotted Eagle in the local rice paddy and out at the reservoir and I have one record of a Steppe Eagle as well. However they take up residence in Nong Pla Lai, quite literally next to the main north-south highway and indeed there have been many sightings over the years from said highway.

There was a  lot of raptor action at Nong Bla Lai including a Greater Spotted Eagle which was being mobbed very effectively by a solitary Jungle Crow and one Booted Eagle; add in a few Black Kites and loads of harriers, mainly Eastern Marsh but there was also a female and juvenile pied. A timely reminder also about how birdwatching pays if you keep your hand in – I had a fair few birds I couldn’t call. Of note were two Bronze-winged Jacanas near the main road in a bit of bog; towards the railway line the Cheddar cheese ( Red Leicester?) of about 15 Painted Storks’ facial skin announced their presence, not a species I have seen in this particular spot though it is common enough in the surrounding area.

Benny was fairly unimpressed as one might expect of a six year old. This was not helped by there being a Children’s Day fair in the  local community association featuring a large inflatable  Ben 10 slide! So a little bit of work needed!

On the way home late evening we headed into the Khao Yoi Black Kite roost, as always an amazing spectacle, where the kites appear to be thriving not withstanding reports of the Boys in Brown using them as target practice and the presence of a construction site. What chance does our bird population have? It’s always hard to estimate the number of kites as they are spread out over a number of fields and a significant number of palm trees.  My guess would be between there were between 400 – 500 kites present. For me they remain hideous looking huge creatures but they are nevertheless very watchable and it is fascinating watching them come in from all directions.

* This documentary can be viewed in its entirety on youtube. Unfortunately its titled suggests its about the Philippine monkey-eating eagle, which is totally wrong!