Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher

A look around the patch yesterday morning (9th Feb) produced three Brown Shrikes, four Yellow-browed Warblers, two Taiga Flycatchers and two Asian Brown Flycatchers as the standard fare.

However a couple of interesting birds were in the mix as well - these included a calling Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (by ear it sounded dead on for Sakhalin rather than Pale-legged), a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (one of few records that I have recorded on the patch), and a 1st winter Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher which provided some excellent photo opportunities. 

Below I have also included for comparison a shot of a 1st winter Amur Paradise Flycatcher, seen on the patch on 19th September last year.  Whilst lighting may be responsible for the difference in the tone of the rufous upper parts, the pattern of black on the head enables the identification to be clinched: 

Blyth's has black restricted to the top of the crown, with the rest of the head, face and throat grey.

Amur has an entirely black head, face and throat.

There seems to be an obvious difference in the extend of black in the tertials, but I am unsure if this relates to sex, or may be in is useful as an ID feature? Need to do some reading.  Both birds exhibit a pale base to the bill, indicating that they are 1st winters.

 1st w Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, February
 1st w Amur Paradise Flycatcher, September

Chiang Saen, Fang & DAK

I spent 5th-8th February birding northern Thailand with Dave Sargeant, who's excellent and extremely comprehensive is an invaluable guide to many of the sites that we visited.

We started on Friday afternoon at Chiang Saen lake in the hope of connecting with a recently reported drake Baer's Pochard, so spent a few hours 'scoping distant ducks. We found no sign of the Baer's but did catch up with a splendid drake Falcated Duck hat had been seen over the past week and it was unite a novelty for me to spend time liking at ducks as we have few opportunities to do so around Bangkok. The most numerous duck on the lake were Indian Spot-billed, with other dabblers including c.50 Pintail, and c.15 Garganey. We grilled the diving ducks and got c.25 Ferruginous Duck, one Common Pochard and three Tufted Duck. Other notable species here included two Pied Harriers and several Great Cormorants.

During the late afternoon we checked various areas for flocks of starlings (including flocks of Chestnut-tailed which at very common here) which might hold rarities as both White-cheeked and Red-billed Starlings have been seen in this area in recent week, but the highlight was hearing several Black-faced Buntings that had already gone to their roost, and glimpsing one of them.

Saturday was dedicated to Nam Kham Nature Reserve in the hope of seeing the wintering Firethroat - Thailand's only record of this species, which was first seen last winter. Unfortunately despite spending a total of 6 hours in the tiny hide in from it's favoured watering hole the bird did not show, but it was difficult to be dissappointed when a couple of Siberian Rubythroats  offered multiple, fantastic photo opportunities as a form of compensation.  Dave meanwhile visited another hide and saw two Paddyfield Warblers (very rare in Thailand).

Sunday started around the town of Fang, where a visit to the Hot Springs produced a Grey-faced Buzzard and three Eye-browed Thrushes, but not the hoped for Spot-winged Grosbeaks.  Our luck too a major turn for the better however when we checked out an area of paddyfields nearby which Dave had seen Chestnut-eared Bunting last winter and sure enough we found one  of these cracking birds in a ditch between two paddies - making me very happy as this was a much wanted world tick! This area also held a couple of Bluethroats and two Pied Harriers.

later in the morning we drove up to Doi Ang Khang ("DAK") where the target birds fell into place very quickly with a superb Black-breasted Thrush at the Royal Project, coming to food in the company of a Large Niltava, White-tailed RobinSiberian Blue Robin and Streaked Wren-babbler.

Black-breasted Thrush

Siberian Blue Robin

Streaked Wren-babbler

White-tailed Robin

Slaty-backed Flycatcher

We checked into our accommodation and Baan Luang Resort where we added Crested Finchbill to the list (another tick for me, having missed them on oi Lang twice!) as well as Brown-breasted Bulbul. Visiting the KM 21 trail produced another target bird - Bianchi's Warbler, with no less than three seen.  We also connected with an Aberrant Bush Warbler in this area and then a huge mixed flock that included  a pair of Clicking Shrike Babblers and a pair of Blyth's Shrike Babblers, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Claudia's Leaf Warbler, Rufous-backed Sibia and Chestnut-sided White-eye.  This was followed by a visit to the Chinese Cemetary area which provided excellent views of a male Daurian Redstart plus Large Hawk Cuckoo and (resident Maurus) Siberian Stonechat.

Daurian Redstart

After a very cold and noisy night (it was Chinese New Year!) we spent Monday morning checking for a reported Grey-winged Blackbird that did not show up, but instead we secured views of Scarlet-faced Liocichla, White-browed Laughtingthrush, and Silver-eared Laughingthrush and this area also allowed me to get some nice images of Dark-backed Sibia.

Dark-backed Sibia

A visit back to the Royal Project gave us a lucky break as some bird photographers there had baited  an area with mealworms and the star of the show - a Rusty-naped Pitta - was happy to perform in exchange for a snack!

Another check of various points around DAK for Black-headed Greenfinch failed to produce the goods, but we ran into  three Pallas's Warblers, a party of Grey-chinned Minivets in one area and a group of three male Short-billed Minivets in another area, plus good views of a calling Yellow-streaked Warbler and several Grey Bushchats.

Pallas's Warbler

Grey-chinned Minivet

Yellow-streaked Warbler

We finished the trip with lunch back at the resort and an hour staking out the garden which held Grey-sided, Eye-browed, Black-breasted and Blue Whistling Thrushes, as well as an Amur Wagtail.

Grey-sided Thrush

Eye-browed Thrush

Grey-sided & Eye-browed Thrush

Brown-breasted Bulbul

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Samut Songkhram waders

Free time this morning offered various options, but I decide to head back to the salt pans where I has undertaken my Asian Waterbird Census last weekend to do the area (north of route 35) that I had not done last week. My aim was to look for waders, with the (slim) hope of finding a Spoon-billed Sandpiper or one of our other local star species (take your pick from Nordmann's Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher or Great Knot).

The area I checked had limited numbers of waders, but I'm glad I finally took some time to visit as I have driven past it many times without stopping and wondered if it has much potential. There was the usual suite of waders, which it is easy to get too blasé about - about 10 Long-toed Stints, 70+Red-necked Stints,  a couple of Pacific Golden Plover, multiple small flocks of Marsh Sandpipers.

Afterwards I returned to the pools on the south side of the highway where I had seem the Asiatic Dowitchers and Great Knot last week, with today the highlight being 22 Great Knot (but no Dowitchers).

Long-toed Stint

Common Greenshank

Black-tailed Godwit

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Warming up

Temperatures in Bangkok are now returning to normal for the time of year, but this morning was still pleasantly cool during a short visit to the patch.  I was hoping to make some new interesting discoveries following the cold snap, but interesting passerine activity was limited to single Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Black-naped Monarch, Black-capped Kingfisher two Taiga Flycatchers and an Asian Brown Flycatcher.

On the (ex) fairways the party of three Asian House Martins was still present, feeding over the canopy of large trees with a group of Asian Palm Swifts and at least one Red-rumped Swallow (this followed another R-r Swallow near home early morning on my way back from the supermarket!). The wintering Intermediate Egret dropped in to a pool closeby where I was photographing the hirundines, so I grabbed a few shots before going to work.

Asian House Martin

Intermediate Egret

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Asian House Martin

I visited Suan Rot Faid again this morning to see if there were any more refugees from the cold weather. On arrival I checked the hirundines in the area where yesterday's Sand Martin had been and was very happy to see a small hirundine with a big white bum - Asian House Martin, another new patch bird!

The Asian House Martin was feeding low over freshly cut grass with at least two Red-rumped Swallows and several Barn Swallows (no sign of the sand Martin, sadly).  I spent a considerable amount of time trying to get photos of the Asian House Martin - not an easy task at all, so only ended up with a couple of record shots:

Asian House Martin

After a while I moved on to see what else I could find, and eventaully came across another hirundine flock which consisted of at least THREE more Asian House Martins and two Red-rumped Swallows! These Asian House Martins gave better photographic opportunities, enabling me to get the dark underwing for comparison with Norther House Martin.

Asian House Martin, showing dark underwing (cf. Northern HM)

I am a bit unclear what the status of Asian House Martin is in the Bangkok area, though it seems to be entirely absent from Round (2008), which suggests that it may have only been added to the local avifauna in recent years (I have seen them at Kaho Dinsor during raptor migration last October, but have rarely encuntered them elsewhere in Asia, so this is a welcome and unexpected addition to the patch list).

Another notable record on the patch today, given the date was two Chinese Pond Herons in well-advanced breeding plumage (see picture below).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sand Martin

Since Sunday morning central and northern Thailand has been hit by an unusually cold front, with unseasonal rain and (by our standards) very low temperatures - when I woke up early on Monday morning it was just 15 Celsius, which is about half what it was 24 hours earlier , and just three Celsius warmer than London!

Normally I'd expect this kind of weather to produce some notable irruptive species and so I took a quick look at the patch this morning where the highlight seemed to be hirundines feeding at very low altitudes. These included  the first Sand Martin I have seen there and a Red-rumped Swallow (a scarce passage migrant in the city under normal circumstances).

Sand Martin -  a new patch bird!

Unfortunately a lot of the hirundines seen appeared to be rather lethargic in the flight patterns, flying just above the ground and coming very close to me. Indeed I have seem several reports today on social media indicting that quite a few hirundines have succumbed to the weather.  I would guess that at this time of the year, when they are still a long way from starting their northbound migration, they have low fat scores, so a sudden drop in temperature and reduced foraging opportunities must be making it hard to maintain energy supplies.

As I write this I can hear a cold wind blowing around our house, so it seems that we will have a few more days of cool conditions.

Asian Waterbird Census

I did my AWC sites on Saturday(23rd), with by far the best being the saltpans between KM 51 and KM 60 on Rame 2 Road (that's the main highway between Bangkok and Cha-am. This is an area I have driven passed very regularly, but I have never made time to stop, so it was good to have a motive to stop and explore the area thoroughly.

Highlights included 22 species of wader, including a flock of 16 Asiatic Dowitchers and at least 275 Great Knot as well as 500+ Black-tailed Godwit and three species of stint. I only explored the (very big!) area to the south of the highway, but the north side also has saltpans and is certainly worthy of investigation.

Asiatic Dowitcher

Great Knot