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

1 comment:

Erik Forsyth said...

Hi Dave

I will be in Bangkok for a few days 18- 19 Feb and would like to visit Nong Pla Lai rice fields where you saw the Yellow-breasted Buntings. I would be very grateful for directions to this site, including distance and written in Thai Script. I plan to take a taxi. I will be staying at the BS Residence close to the airport.
Best wishes
Erik Forsyth