Thursday, May 26, 2016

A whale (and shearwater) of a time

On Sunday 22nd May I finally got around to taking one of the Wildlife Encounters Thailand trips to look for Bryde's Whales in the inner Gulf of Thailand.

The boat goes out from Khok Kham, just about a ten minute drive from where Bangkok's closest Spoon-billed Sandpipers usually spend the winter (and given that the boat trips run through from now until January, birders could probably combine  the two).

Before jumping on the boat I had an hour checking for waders at Khok Kham - most areas I looked at were pretty quiet, but the Mangrove Research Centre held a flock of at least 16 Asian Dowitchers, plus four Whimbrel, a few Common Redshank  and Black-tailed Godwits.

On the boat I met Aussie-based birder Andrew Sutherland and Khun Tour, a dynamic young Thai mammalogist and birder who has established this as the only company offering whale watching in the inner gulf.  We spent much of the journey out sifting through flocks of terns - Little, longipennis Commons, and Whiskered dominated closer to shore, but as we got further out we encountered  larger numbers of White-winged Black Terns and a couple of unexpected bonuses in the form of one or two Lesser Crested Terns and three Bridled Terns and also came across a couple of pods of Irrawaddy Dolphins.


Bridled Tern

Whiskered Tern


Eventually, after some six hours searching we located our main quarry - a Bryde's Whale mother and calf.  They were a long way off, and bizarrely as we watched them through our binoculars we could see the distant skyline of downtown Bangkok in the background!

open-mouthed Bryde's Whale (far left) with Bangkok skyline

The boat was duly pointed in their direction and we headed towards them. Whilst scanning to look for the open-mouthed mother re-surfacing I noticed what looked like an all dark "duck" on the water... I thought it must just be a piece of wood coincidentally positioned to look like a bird, but as we got a bit closer I could see that it was indeed a bird.  I was trying to figure out what it was, being reminded of an all-dark juvenile skua, and so called to Andrew to get onto the bird.  I banged off a couple a very distant record shots and zoomed them on the back of my camera where I could see a tell-tale tubenose: it was a shearwater, and thus whatever species it was it was a pretty rare bird in Thai waters!!!

The boat detoured towards it, and within a couple of minutes we were alongside what was identified as a Short-tailed Shearwater, only the 8th record for Thailand!

Short-tailed Shearwater

dusky underwings exclude Sooty Shearwater

foot projection is also an important ID feature

We eventually caught up with the whales, who showed pretty well too.

1 comment:

Lee Dingain said...

Excellent post matey. This boat trip is firmly added to the list for when Rachel and I eventually make it to your neck of the woods. Hope you are well.