Thursday, November 26, 2015

Rosy Pipit

Whist in Mae Sot yesterday (25th Nov) I visited my local paddyfield haunt again, checking one particular field for pipits.  This field has recently been harvested and is currently full of rough, dry stubbles, and it happens to be the same field where I found three Rosy Pipits in early December 2013.

Rosy Pipit is a rare (probably overlooked) bird in Thailand, so I wanted to dedicate a bit of time to checking this area again as it is pretty much the same time of year, with the field in a similar condition.  The first 10 minutes checking this field at sunrise produced only a couple of Paddyfield Pipits.  The rough stubbles made it hard to keep track of birds as they would often disappear  into depressions in the ground, but soon I located a party of four Eastern Yellow Wagtails, including a couple of smart juveniles, and I heard a Red-throated Pipit call...things were looking a bit more interesting.

Soon after this I moved the car a few meters to get a different angle of view and suddenly noticed a pipit drop vertically out of the sky into the field. Thankfully it landed in view and as soon as I got my binoculars onto it I confirmed that it was a ROSY PIPIT!  The bird immediately struck me as being a "small pipit" which was heavily streaked on the underparts, with a greyish wash to the head and a broad whitish supercilium.  The mantle also appeared heavily streaked, with the upperparts having on overall olive tone. The bird soon disappeared into a depression, but showed twice more until I completely lost it whilst switching from bins to camera (school boy error!). On the views I got I think it may have had a very pale pinkish hue on the throat, but could not be sure.  I spent the next 45 minutes grilling the field but could not relocate it, though I did get nice views of an adult  Red-throated Pipit and several more Eastern Yellow Wags.  I took a drive along to my next set of favoured fields for a few minutes before heading to work, and was rewarded with excellent, brief views of an adult male Pied Harrier.

So, it seems like this area might be a regular haunt for Rosy Pipit at this time of year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mae Sot paddies

I am in Mae Sot for a couple of days this week, so this morning visited the paddies to see what I could find. Best bird was a Rufous-winged Buzzard, with other raptors seen being a Black-winged Kite and  Common Kestrel.

Warblers included several Thick-billed and at least three Black-browed Reed Warblers, whilst wagtails were limited to a flock of about 10 Amur Wagtails, and the pipits consisted on just a couple of Paddyfield Pipits. I had poor views of a couple of Strawberry Finches and several Plain-backed Sparrows, plus several Sibe Stonechats and a three Pied Bushchats.

Amur Wagtail

Paddyfield Pipit

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hooded Pitta on the patch!

I have had no free time in recent weeks for making visits to Suan Rot Fai, however when news broke that other birders had found a migrant Hooded Pitta in "The Clump" I had no choice but to get myself over there!

I short visit this morning was rudely successful, with the bird showing several times in the 45 minutes that I was there...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Khao Dinsor: Raptor Heaven/Accipiter ID hell!

One of the big challenges of my trip to Khao Dinsor in late October was getting to grips with Accipiter identification, one of my most confounding ID conundrums in Thailand because most of my encounters with Accipiters are when I flush them from cover on my local patch and they invariably disappear without me getting much of a view; secondly and more importantly there are at least five key species involved, which have at least 3 main plumages (adult male, adult female and juvenile, so that is 15 different plumages to learn); and thirdly there can be HUGE variation...especially within juvenile birds.

So, how do you do them?  Well, I feel like I am still learning a great deal, but the first step seems to be to count the number of "fingers" on the open wing as this helps to narrow down the field:
  • 4 fingers = Chinese Sparrowhawk
  • 5 fingers = Japanese Sparrowhawk, Shikra and Besra
  • 6 fingers  = Eurasian Sparrowhawk (and Northern Goshawk)
As a migration watch point, Khao Dinsor allows observers to get relatively prolonged, often close views of the majority of raptors passing, and this includes Accipiters. Taking photos is a good way of helping make sure you get the ID correct - counting "fingers" in the field can be a bit of a nightmare, especially given the large numbers of birds passing and the fact that you are dealing with extremely bright light and seriously hot weather, which can make observations challenging.

Here are a few images of the protagonists:

Adult Accipiters

Adult female Chinese Sparrowhawk
On this adult Chinese Sparrowhawk note the very black primaries that make 4 "fingers", the lightly marked underparts, and the richly coloured breast.  The yellow iris makes this a female (males have orange eyes).

Adult make Shikra

Adult female Shikra

Adult Shikras are typically pale grey, with lightly barred underparts.  They wing shows five fingers which are greyish. The sexes are told by iris colour (yellow in female, orange in male). Shikra also lacks an orbital ring (present on Besra and Japanese Sparrowhawk), though personally I find this hard to judge on many photos (and pretty much impossible to discern under most field conditions).

Adult male Japanese Sparrowhawk
Japanese Sparrowhawk shows five "fingers", with no dark tips. Male shows a rufous wash on the breast with rather diffuse barring; upperparts are darker than Shikra.

Adult female Japanese Sparrowhawk
Adult female Japanese Sparrowhawk
Japanese Sparrowhawk female looks very similar to Eurasian Sparrowhawk with brown upperparts and brown barring on underparts, but shows only five "fingers" and appears generally more compact and shorter-tailed.

female Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk is rare at Khao Dinsor, and indeed in much of Thailand.  This bird (note six fingers) was only ID'd from photos.

Juvenile Accipiters

1st calendar year Chinese Sparrowhawk

1st calendar year Chinese Sparrowhawk

On juv Chinese Sparrowhawk the combination of heavily marked belly, uniformly pale underwings and four blackish "fingers" is diagnostic.

1st calendar year Shikra

1st calendar year Shikra

1st calendar year Shikra
Juv Shikra is highly variable, as you can see from these images above and to my mind, as a result provides the biggest pitfall amongst the Accipiters encountered in Thailand. Things to look for are the five fingers, absence of an orbital ring, tear-drop shaped spots on the belly, quite lighlt marked underwing coverts and a rounded tail tip.

1st calendar year Japanese Sparrowhawk

1st calendar year Japanese Sparrowhawk

1st calendar year Japanese Sparrowhawk

1st calendar year Japanese Sparrowhawk

Juv Japanese has an orbital ring present, five fingers, v-shaped or heart-shaped spots on the belly, a more square-ended tail and heavily spotted underwings.

The teasers

So after a lot of editing my images, I was left with these three that really messed with my head. They all show 5 fingers, so are either Shikra, Besra or Japanese Sprawk...

Teaser 1

Teaser 2

Teaser 3

Teaser 1 - Shikra
This one I posted on a the "raptor mania" facebook page, which Thai birders use to share info on raptors.  The comments I got back included "It's a Shikra because of the lack of yellow orbital eye ring. That's the easiest way to tell Shikra apart from Japanese/Besra"...."Shikra - The underwing covert is quite clean, sparsely spotted. It looked heavy-chested"..."the spots on the breast /belly are of different shape [arrow-shaped] on juv Japanese".  

Teaser 2 - Japanese  Sparrowhawk
This one I initially got right, ID'ing it as a Japanese Sprawk, but a few days later I looked again and suspected that it looked rather broad-winged and heavily built, so started to suspect Shikra.  However when posted on Raptor mania my initial ID of Japanese was confirmed by others (note the arrow-shaped markings on the belly).

Teaser 3 -Besra
I posted this one on "raptor mania" too, thinking it was a Japanse though I had wrestled with the idea of Besra. I was informed  that it was a "Besra because of the longish tail compared to Japanese, also with cleaner underwing coverts (not always clean though)." Besra is a rare bird at Kaho Dinsor, and this was the only one I encountered during my two days there.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Strawberry fields

Strawberry Finch

A return to the paddies in Mae Sot this morning produced a similar selection of birds to yesterday, though one notable addition was a large raptor spp which looked like an Oriental Honey Buzzard, based on the brief, distant looks that I got.

There were at least five Strawberry Finches in song in the same place where I always see them, and the moulting male above decided to show off for a few minutes in front of the camera.

Other notables were five Grey-headed Lapwing, a group of at least three Eastern Yellow Wagtails and four Amur Wagtails, several Paddyfield Pipits, a male Pied Harrier and a small party of Chestnut-tailed Starlings. Rubythroats were calling in several places - at least six birds heard.

Grey-headed Wagtail

Paddyfield Pipit

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The fields are alive with the sound of Rubythroats

vocal and widespread

I'm working in Mae Sot for a few days this week. November seems to be a great time to go birding in the rice paddies here, with Siberian Rubythroats calling all over the place, and many other freshly arrived wintering birds very active.

This morning's tally on a pre-breakfast wander produced at least five Rubythroats, four Black-browed Reed Warblers (presumably still on passage as this was the first time I've seen them in this area), two Thick-billed Warblers, two Dusky Warblers, four Grey-headed Lapwings, one male and one juv Pied Harrier, four Brown Shrikes, one Eastern Yellow Wagtail, at least ten Amur Wagtails and six Siberian Stonechats.

Notable resident birds included  three Strawberry Finches (a much better name than "Red Avadavat"!) and a Black-shouldered Kite.

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Sibe Stoner

Satanic Strawberry Finch

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blue Whistling Thrush on the patch

The discovery of a Blue Whistling Thrush in the "Secret Garden" at Suan Rotfai on 30th October presented me with an immediate quandry - was it a genuine migrant, or an escapee from the nearby Chatuchak Market?

The bird was found  by a very keen and competent local birder, who managed to secure a large number of images of it.  Clearly it was of the nominate, black-billed race M. c. caeruleus which is a migrant to Thailand (rather than the resident M. c. eugenei).  I did a bit of searching on-line and found that the modest amount of wear on the bird's tail feather tips was pretty normal.

I saw the Whistling Thrush early on Saturday morning (31st Oct), still in the Secret Garden, and giving excellent views, but the very early hour meant photos were not possible, and I could not stick around due to other commitments - so it was effectively a dirty twitch, on my own patch!