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.


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!

Rose-ringed Parakeets at Photaram

9 12 2015

I got to see  the recently reported Rose-ringed Parakeets at Wat Ban Khong   ( วัดบ้านฆ้อง)  in Photaram, Ratchaburi, this evening. They were clearly audible and in fact it took about twenty minutes of waiting before a pair came into view. What a beautiful sight especially as the rose ring on the male was clearly visible as he stretched his head forward. They really do have perfect camouflage agains the trees in the temple. Finding the temple was simple, a twenty minute drive from work, and a very helpful monk knew exactly what we were looking for as he said ‘nok gay-o’ to us which is the bird’s Thai name.

It looks as if a feral population is in the process of establishing itself here. Parakeets of any kind make popular caged birds and there can be little doubt these are the offspring of ‘escapees’ or ‘releasees’, birds freed as an offering as part of merit making. There are some significant populations of feral Rose-ringed Parakeets in some big cities, for instance in London, specifically in and around Richmond Park. That they can survive the European winter is indicative of how highly adaptable Rose-ringed Parakeets are. This article is highly informative about populations in California and makes the point that Rose-ringed Parakeets  have little difficulty in finding each other because they are so vocal!

This small population needs monitoring so that its status can be evaluated. The vocalisations suggest there were more than the two I saw today. Interesting to have this situation on my doorstep. Of course this goes into my records as a tick and a review of the list shows this is my first lifer in 2015!




Pied Harriers at the ready

7 12 2015

My recent walking forays into the rice paddy here in Ratchaburi have been a cause of great concern, specifically the absence of male Pied Harriers. It’s been the same at the reservoir – no evidence of any action in last year’s roost or elsewhere, but I’ve hardly been persistent at this site in recent months so no matter.

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a single female and a juvenile but not until this evening, a glorious sun-drenched evening with a very pleasant cooling breeze, has the male been good enough to put in an appearance. In fact there were two close together so no possibility of them being the same bird. Four Easter Marsh Harriers were on the premises too, plus one female Pied.

Last week my harrier hopes were boosted as I was caught short at the beginning of an almighty storm. Unfortunately light conditions were awful but it put seven harriers up into the sky at a distance though I was unable to make out any species. This was simply a signal that harriers were back in numbers. Tonight was final confirmation.

One solitary Brown Shrike was conspicuous by it being the only instance of this species seen today. They are normally ubiquitous. This is really a reminder to keep my eyes open in future visits.

News reaches me this evening via Facebook of three Rose-ringed Parakeets in nearby Photoram. Should be less than a thirty minute drive so there might be an after school twitch en famille. There’s also a Northern Lapwing up north, where else (!), and I am hoping this bird sticks around as I would love to add it to my Thai list. I have happy memories going back twenty-five years when I tagged along with a birder friend to Valley in Anglesey, Wales. There we watched huge flocks of plain Lapwing, as they are known in the UK. A memorable visual feast for this then non-birder. If memory is correct we headed later that day to see Chough at South Stack.

Back in the Field

25 07 2015

Back in the Field.

Back in the Field

25 07 2015

The story this morning was being back out in the field. What joy! River Lapwing were on my mind and have been since the middle of May but I haven’t been able to check them out due to other commitments. They did not disappoint. In all likelihood there were eight on view this morning at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, but the record will show only six as I saw one small cluster of six and I could not be sure if two I had seen earlier, several hundred yards aways, had joined this group or remained distinct. My gut reaction is the latter as I was not aware of any flight into the area of the cluster given these lapwing are quite distinctive in the air. That made the early start and the trip well worthwhile. But there were also Rainquail calling, heard but not seen, a distant airborne warble of a Small Pratincole; a Green-billed Malkoha was unusually confiding to such an extent that the streaking around its red eye patch was highly visible; a female Koel also caught my eye: a beautiful bird definitely one of the few which bucks the trend of the males in the aves kingdom being the eye catchers.

Evidence of Thailand’s current drought quandary was palpable – despite a fair amount of recent rain the reservoir level was the lowest I have ever seen. Let’s hope we get a lot more rain in the weeks ahead.

‘Look, Daddy, there are two birds walking’

5 04 2015

With temperatures hitting 38 º C the last thing we needed was a power outage this afternoon. We don’t use air-con   but we do need fans. There was a loud pop outside followed by all appliances coming to an abrupt halt so we reckoned the problem wasn’t going to get fixed in a hurry.  We decided to pile into the truck and headed to the reservoir. A good move as there was a strong breeze there taking the edge off the heat.

I wasn’t expecting anything today, especially with two lively youngsters in the truck and an initial scan in the usual place drew a blank. I was happy to sit in the truck and wait and feel the breeze. Then Benny piped up:”Look Daddy there are two birds walking” And sure enough about twenty feet from the truck two Barred Buttonquail were slowly making their way across the road totally oblivious to us. What a brilliant spot for a five-year old! The quail put on a good show and we all got views of them with the black on their throats prominent and rufous bellies and rumps  So now Benny has another bird species name to add to his list. A brief spin around the area yielded four Small Pratincoles and an Indochinese Bushlark and in keeping with the quail theme I made out the call of at least two Rain Quail.

We took a drive to the water edge and I doubt I have ever seen so many Pheasant-tailedJacanas as there were here today. The males were starting to sport breeding plumes but only yellow napes were visible, with the exotic tail feathers mere smidgeons today. But loads. The reservoir must be an important breeding site for this species. Heaps of Little Cormorants strangely clustered on two mounds. For good measure a pair of female Pied Harriers were quartering the flats making a wonderful spectacle and a distant Osprey was also visible against the hills.

As we drove out of the area the ‘wood’ was being watered with two people present so I didn’t really expect to see anything but this in part explains the presence of the rubythroats and other birds in this spot. Further down the lane I stopped to look at a woodpecker in the gloom. It flew before I could get on it with the scope so I couldn’t say for sure what it was. I assume it was Fulvous-breasted but it seemed quite small. So some food for thought and something to come back for. We were able to d rive over the road which has been submerged for the last couple of years and crosses the middle of the reservoir. On the ‘other’ side we picked out some Oriental Skylarks always a nice bird to look at.

But what a memorable moment with Benny starting to emulate his mother in finding great birds. He already knows the names of quite a number of species. He can even call ‘Openbills’ and knows that ‘egrets’ are white;  he was confused however by the cattle egret’s rufous head and neck. But I am very encouraged by Benny taking an interest in birds and getting his eye in.