Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lineated Barbet

Lineated Barbet

I visited Suan Rot Fai this morning to search for what is increasingly looking like an Ogilvie-Grant's Leaf Warbler that was photographed there on 17th January.  This obscure phyllosc is, I believe part of the "Blyth's complex" but the taxonomy and distribution seems to be somewhat confused (at least, I feel confused by it). There was no sign of the warbler, but I managed to pull out a patch tick in the form of a Lineated Barbet, a mid-winter wonderer, and my first mid-winter record of Siberian Blue Robin. The only other notable bird was a Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Siberian Blue Robin

Monday, January 26, 2015

Doi Lang weekend

Doi Lang (west side) looking into Shan State

I had a great weekend on Doi Lang, one of the northern peaks in Chiang Mai province. I'll update this post with more text soon, but here’s a quick summary of notable birds:

Saturday (24th Jan)  - East side: 1 Long-tailed Broadbill, 1 Pale Blue Flycatcher, Large Wood Shrike, 7+ White-rumped Munia, 2 Eye-browed Thrush, 1 White’s/Scaly Thrush, 5 Mountain Bamboo Partridge, 3+ Rufous-throated Partridge, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, White-browed and Chestnut-fronted Shrike Babblers, 1 Hume’s Treecreeper, 3 Himalayan Bluetail, 2 Slay-blue Flycatcher, 10+ Black-throated Tit, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, 1 Pallas' Leaf Warbler, 1 Rufous-bellied Niltava.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon

Pale Blue Flycatcher

Eye-browed Thrush

White-browed Scimitar Babbler

Long-tailed Broadbill

Paddyfield Pipit

Cook's Swift

Yellow-bellied Fantail

Blue-throated Barbet
Sunday: (25th Jan) - West side: 1 male Humes’ Pheasant, 3 Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, 3 Giant Nuthatch, 1 female Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, 1 Lesser Shortwing, 1 male Himalayam Bluetail, 1 male Ultramarine Flycatcher (staked out bird), 2 Aberrant Bush Warbler, 2 Buff-throated Warbler, 2 Spot-breasted Parrotbill, 1+ Grey-headed Parrotbill, 5+ White-browed Laughingthrush, 1 Scarlet-faced Liocichla 1, Spectacled Barwing 3.

Aberrant Bush Warbler

Giant Nuthatch

Golden-fronted Barbet

Rusty-cheeked Scimirat Babbler

White-gorgetted Flycatcher

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mae Sot Magpies

I am working in Mae Sot today and tomorrow so this morning visited the arable land close between the airport and the Myanmar border.  This area is very dry at this time of year, and bird activity was relatively low, but highlights included a group of 5+ Red-billed Blue Magpies and two Pied Harriers (adult male and adult female).  I heard several Siberian Rubythroats but the only one I tried to coax out of the dense undergrowth was not playing ball.

The open fields held several Eastern Yellow Wagtails and Amur Wagtails, plus the usual Brown Shrikes, Paddyfield Pipits and Eastern Stonechats.

Amur Wagtail

Brown Shrike

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sunday 18th January

Excellent day out with Andy Pierce, focusing on Nong Pla Lai rice fields in the morning. This area of single-crop, low intensity farmland is well known for its wintering raptors and soon after sunrise we picked up Osprey, Peregrine, Kestrel, Black, Brahminy and Black-winged Kites! The thing I was really interested in targeting was an area where Andy had found a flock of circa 100 Yellow-breasted Buntings last winter and had already been noted to be holding 50 or so individuals this winter. After a short drive down a dirt road and a stroll through the fields we located a flock of 50+ Red-throated Pipits feeding in a recently harvested ricefield, then located the Yellow-breasted Bunting flock, at least 30 birds strong and frequenting a hedgerow.

Yellow-breasted Bunting
I have lived in SE Asia for more than 12 years but this was the first time that I have seen Yellow-breasted Bunting in Thailand. Indeed the only other time I had seen this species was in Cambodia in 2007. This lack of familiarity with Yellow-breasted Bunting is surely in part due to my typical modis operandi when birding (I typically do my city centre patch, or salt pans for waders, or the forests of Khao Yai or Kaeng Krachan, none of which encompass much pro-bunting habitat). However I do regularly spend a few hours per month birding rice paddies around Mae Sot, on the Myanmar border, but I have never had a sniff of any kind of bunting there. The sad fact is that Yellow-breasted Bunting is now hugely threatened, indeed it is listed by BirdLife International as globally endangered. Round (2008) talks about roosting sites in Thailand that used to hold tens of thousands of individuals that have been systematically hunted as food by commercial operations that would follow the birds all winter.

Yellow-breasted Bunting
After watching these fantastic buntings for a while we followed the path further out into the dry paddies for several hundred meters in different directions, hoping to find additional buntings as the habitat seemed to look pretty similar  wherever we looked, but all we found were a few Plain-backed Sparrows and a Wryneck. Last winter Andy stumbled upon this bunting flock completely by accident whilst looking for raptors and I really think that trying to locate wintering flocks of buntings here is looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Thanks go to Andy for agreeing to show me these birds.

Our next stop was a short drive to the well known Nong Pla Lai raptor view point. On arrival in this area we picked up an Aquila eagle about 50 meters above the road. The light was shocking (with the sun now getting pretty high in the sky, and little shade to speak of). Andy determined that the Eagle had a pale head and eventually through better views and reviewing photos we confirmed that it was a near-adult Eastern Imperial Eagle. It was then joined by a Greater Spotted Eagle, allowing direct comparison of size, structure and plumage. We then drove further north a few kilometers to where I had seen Steppe Eagle a few years previously - upon arrival I picked up three more Aquilas - two Greater Spotted Eagles and a juv Steppe Eagle! There are other raptors in this area which we missed today, including both harriers and Booted Eagle, so clearly Nong Pla Lai deserves it's reputation as a magnificent raptor habitat.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Eastern Imperial Eagle

juv Steppe Eagle
Eventually we pointed the car south and headed for the wader-rich coast around Laem Pak Bia. On our way to a lunch stop we  paused to check a gull flock which contained a juv Heuglin's Gull, then after lunch checked out the best area for Nordmann's Greenshank, picking up just three sleeping individuals (it was low tide, so most waders were out on the mud flats), then on to the Abandoned building which gave us many of the common waders that can be expected at this time if the year. On the way back to the main road we stopped for a "dirty twitch"...very dirty in fact as it was for a Brahminy Starling ( rare in Thailand) at the stinking rubbish tip. After a short wait Andy picked up the bird which we watched for the minimum amount of time possible given the less than beautiful surroundings.

sleepy Nordmann's

Common Greenshank

Common Redshank

Spotted Redshank (digiscoped)
Pacific Golden Plover

Brahminy Starling

A quick look at the Kings Project revealed no surprises, but as usual gave nice views of species such as Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, plus an obliging White-throated Kingfisher. We then headed  for Pak Thale for some more wader action, with Andy keen to get a Thai tick in the form of Dunlin! We scanned the pools often frequented by Spoon-billed Sandpipers and eventually Andy realise that the bird closest to us was a Dunlin (joy!) whilst I picked up a flock of 19 Red-necked Phalaropes spinning in ever decreasing circles (we didn't run into any Spooners).

White-throated Kingfisher

Dunlin (digiscoped)

After dropping Andy back at the Kings Project I decided to check the Nordmann's Greenshank pool again in the hope of getting a larger count and some better photos but they were absent, however the same pool ow held a group of eleven Asian Dowitchers, which I watched as the sunset. A very nice end to an excellent day.

Asian Dowitchers

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mae Sot paddies

I'm in Mae Sot for the last couple of working days of 2014.  This morning  I took my usual route into the rice paddies and mixed cultivation close to Mae Tao village, a few hundred metres from the border with Myanmar.

I drove out to my favoured area pre-dawn, flushing a Buttonquail spp. off the road. The weather was pleasingly cool and the birding produced some nice Sibe action, with a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler calling from a thicket in the twilight whilst the first of the morning's four Thick-billed Warblers appeared soon after. I searched the area which is reliable for Red Avadavat, picking up two individuals but my hopes of finding a Yellow-breasted Bunting in this area were (as ever) not realised.  However this area did hold several Dusky Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas

Chats were well represented this morning with two Bluethroats seen, three Siberian Rubythroats (one male seen, the others heard only), at least ten Siberian Stonechats and at three Pied Stonechats.

Raptors seen comprised three Black-winged Kites roosting together, a female Pied Harrier and a Common Kestrel

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting the Nod

A couple of days ago I heard that a Brown Noddy had been seen off Laem Pak Bia sandspit (that's the site for White-faced Plover and Chinese Egret, about 13 km south of Pak Thale). Brown Noddy is a mega rarity here, and a bird I had not seen anywhere in the world, but as a bit of a (passive) anti-twitcher these days who's more interested in finding my own stuff I didn't really pay much attention to this news.

That was until I got a call from Gerry Brett who was putting a boatload together to go an look for the Noddy, which seemed to be hanging around the rich fishing grounds about 8km offshore.  It seemed like a bit of a long shot, but given that I was already planning a full day's birding and that I had been meaning to get myself on a boat in the Inner Gulf to look for seabirds, this seemed like a good excuse for a day out.

Saturday morning (6th Dec) saw our group (Gerry, Deang Manit, Jens Tøttrup, Tom Backlund, Peter Ericsson and myself) heading out on a relatively small fishing boat which bounced around a fare bit in the moderate sea conditions and once we got out to the the first of the buoys that the Noddy had been seen on, Tom Bucklund picked up the bird on another distance buoy, and once we had made our way over to it, a serious photo session ensued.

Brown Noddy

Brown-headed Gull, Noddy, WWBT, Whiskered Tern

Having never previously seen either Noddy spp. I was impressed by this bird's considerable size (somewhat larger than common tern, with considerably broader, blunt-tipped wings and with a big wedge-shaped tail), and its direct flight of low arching tracks reminded me of a skua. I also thought the bill was also remarkably long.

After we had had out fill of the Noddy we headed back to shore, picking up a superb immature Purple Heron and Chinese Egret on the way.

I spent the afternoon exploring the area around the abandoned buildings (with the hightlight being a flock of 21 Asian Dowitchers), and the Royal Project, which held a lone Spot-billed Pelican and good numbers of co-operative terns for photography.

Chinese Egret

Spot-billed Pelican
Asian Dowitcher

Friday, December 5, 2014

Monarch's Day

Today was a public holiday in Thailand as it is the King's birthday.  As such it was rather fitting that Black-naped Monarchs were a feature of my walk around Suan Rot Fai, with at least three individuals seen, as well as three Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers.

Black-naped Monarch

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

 I had been hoping that the unseasonal, heavy overnight rain might produce something interesting, but alas it was all a bit run-of-the-mill, with a single Dusky Warbler, three Thick-billed Warblers, two Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and two Brown Shrikes the passerine highlights.  There may have been an increase in Yellow-browed Warblers, with about 10 seen/heard.

The Cinnamon Bittern, first seen about 10 days ago ws also still present this morning.

Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler

the largely pale lower mandible may suggest PLLW