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
15.02.14

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
14.02.14

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
15.02.14

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.

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Bay-backed Shrike

8 02 2014

Image

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.





Racket-tailed Treepie #384

12 01 2014

(Edit: My thanks to Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok for pointing out my very obvious error: originally this was named Ratchet-tailed Treepie, an altogether much rarer species, when in fact I meant Racket-tailed – thanks Tun. ) With four Himalayan Vultures recently in Phetchaburi province I was very hopeful of something interesting during the two nights  of the school camp in a resort, the Thanattichaburi Lake Resort and Spa,  to the east of Kaeng Krachan National Park. In the end no raptors but one unexpected lifer in Racket-tailed Treepie. The long, slim tail with its “distinctive broad, spatulate tip”, ( The Birds of the Bangkok Area, Round) is what enabled me to identify this bird. Otherwise easily mistaken for a Drongo, especially when viewed at a distance.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Some Richards Pipits, very erect stance, lots of Olive-backed Sunbirds, a couple of Common Tailorbirds and some Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters – and lots of interesting calls in the dark. A Coppersmith Barbet was noteworthy simply because it was the first seen in over a year. Once a bird I saw very regularly.

Unfortunately my foot is playing up a bit at the moment so limited mobility. Hence little birding.





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