Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Black-winged Cuckooshrikes on migration

Birding around the Ministry of Public relations and Suan Rotfai in the last week has produced a few notable records, the best being the first Black-winged Cuckooshrikes that I have ever seen in Bangkok during the month of October (one male on 12th at the Dept Public Relations and a female/imm at Suan Rotfai on 15th).  Other highlights included a pair of Peregrines at Dept Public Relations on 7th Oct.

Suan Rotfai provided a few interesting phylloscs on 15th with my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn and an Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler feeding together (the PLLW ID's in the field based on call, with confirmation coming from a sound recording and spectrogram).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kamchatka Leaf Warbler in autumn

This morning I took a stroll around the grounds around the Dept of Public Relations, a small area of parkland which serves as the best migrant trap near my house.

Whilst checking a patch of trees where I had seen a male Siberian Blue Robin last week I heard an unfamiliar call - a rather flat, nasal "tik" repeated several times. I was really unsure what might be making the call, but knew that it was probably something unusual as I've pretty much mastered the calls of the common residents and migrants that I encounter in Bangkok.  I soon located the bird making the call and was a bit surprised to find that it was a phyllosc! The bird initially gave very poor views - making me think that perhaps it was one of the species I encounter rarely (such as Claudia's Leaf Warbler), but once I got a proper look at it I determined that it was "just an Arctic Warbler".

But what about that call?! It really didn't sound like the explosive, buzzy "tzik" of an Arctic, but from memory it didn't sound much like either Kamchatka or Japanese. The bird promptly shut up, just as I got my iPhone out to make a sound recording (!) so instead I checked the calls in my playlist - it was clearly not the frog-like call of Japanese LW, but actually sounded much closer to Kamchatka than I remembered, although this bird seemed to be giving just the first part of the call (rather than the full "loose" or "dribbly" call found on the recording I had from xeno-canto).  After some pishing the bird showed again and when I played the xeno-canto recording to it, it quickly moved from the high canopy of a tree some 10 meters away to the lowest branches less than two meters in front of me.  It then started calling with the full version of the call, as if to confirm that I was playing it the right tape!

Whilst identification of Kamchatka vs Arctic based on plumage remains very much in its infancy, one thing that I noticed about this bird was how strikingly white the undertail coverts appeared compared with the flanks (and some of my images suggest a very light suffusion of yellow on the undertail coverts, see below).

There is still lots of work to do on these phylloscs, but some useful resources can be found in the links below:





Craig Brelsford from Shainghai birding  has commented:

The research is out there. All we need to do is apply it. 

Birders fall into habits. They often either get into the habit of attempting IDs on the wrong criteria (plumage and bare parts, for ex., in the case of Pale-Sak and Arctic-Kamchatka), or they get into the habit of throwing up their hands and giving up. 

Neither mistake is necessary anymore in the case of Pale-Sak. The research is out there, and it is saying call is diagnosable. All that is left is for is birders to use that new knowledge.

Monday, October 2, 2017

1st October

A walk around Suan Rotfai early morning produced a good sprinkling of migrants including my first Sakhalin Leaf Warbler of the autumn (one, possibly two birds  seen in the field and identified on call), a female-type Stejneger's Stonechat,  a Black-capped Kingfisher, 4 Brown Shrikes (one of which was lucionensis), one Arctic/Kamchatka Warbler (probably Arctic), one Eastern Crowned Warbler and a Taiga Flycatcher.

cristatus Brown Shrike

Black-capped Kingfisher

Stejneger's Stonechat

September summary

Time has been limited for birding and writing up notes - I've been posting more on Twitter and have started recording me records on eBird.

With travel away from Thailand during late August, my first autumn passerine migrant was an Asian Brown Flycatcher on 10th Sept (actually if truth be known my first passerine migrant of Autumn 2017 was was a Red-eyed Vireo in Panama on 26th August!), and this was followed with earliest dates as follows: a male and female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and a Brown Shrike on 19th Sept, Eastern Crowned Warbler on 21st Sept, Common Kingfisher, Arctic Warbler and Taiga Flycatcher on 27th Sept,  and Siberian Blue Robin (a fantastic male!) and Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher on 29th.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wedding Bells (and Bellbird)

The last couple of months have been quiet on the birding front, with various travel and family commitments keeping me from getting into the field.

The highlight was an all-to-brief-visit to Panama for a friend's wedding in late August,  travelling via Florida to see my in-laws.  Florida in August (two weeks before Hurricane Irma hit) was extremely hot, humid and birdless, instead being filled with jet lag and family time - birding highlights there were limited to the usual suspects, but this being Florida the "usual suspects" are quite spectacular birds in very suburban settings -  so a Loggerhead Shrike in a neighbours front yard, a family of four Sandhill Cranes in next door's hard and a Limpkin in the in-laws front yard were about all I could muster - but given that I've only seen the latter I think once before on four trips to central Florida, that's I guess not a bad garden bird!

Our time in Panama was  focused on catching up with long lost friends, but with the wedding taking us to the remote Bocos del Toro archipeligo there was always hope of snagging a few birds along the way, and with this being my first trip to the neotropics in more than a decade, I was keen to make sure of it.  the wedding was on Isla Popa and we took over the only resort on the island (Popa Paradise) which proved to be an excellent destination.  The birding highlight was doubtless me finding a femal-type Three-wattled Bellbird from the balcony of our cabin - not only an iconic Central American bird, but apparently rare and hard-to-find in Panama (so much so that the other Panama-based birders at the wedding never seen one...and didn't get to see this one...ooops!).

Three-wattled Bellbird

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Stoned on the patch

A Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) field trip to Suan Rotfai and adjacent Queen Sirikit Park pulled out a massive shock on Sunday (9th July) when they photographed an Indian Stone-Curlew in Queen Sirikit Park.

Whilst this was indeed a shock to read about, Indian Stone-Curlew is a species that i have pondered turning up on the patch - there seems to be a pattern of July-August records in central and western Thailand, presumably some kind of post-breeding dispersal, or failed breeders wandering from the birds usual range.  There is also a record of a River Lapwing being seen in the park in July several years ago - so weird waders occuring in mid summer is not unprecedented.

Yesterday (10th) I spent a few hours checking the patch and of course hoping to re-find the Stone-Curlew, but to no avail - of course there is the chance it is still present: the park is big and these birds are masters of camouflage, so I live in hope it'll be refound.

Being mid-summer there were otherwise slim pickings to be had in the park, the best being a moulting adult Chinese Pond Heron (presumably an oversummering bird) amongst the Javan Pond Herons, and a pair of Barn Swallows - perhaps early returning migrants?

Chinese Pond heron

Thursday, July 6, 2017


An overnight work trip to Mae Sot on 4th & 5th July gave me a chance to go and check out my regular rice paddy patch early morning.  Whilst the rainy season is pleasantly cool in this part of Thailand, the birding is a little slow and so after a short time it became apparent that the paddy patch didn't have too much to offer, through a pair of painted snipe were a nice adition to the list of species I have seen there.

When I got back to the hotel car park I found a pair of Hoopoes busily feeding in the gravel.  Given the heavily worn state of both birds' plumage, and the fact they they repeatedly flew off in the same direction whilst carrying their favoured cockroach preys, I'm guessing they had a nest close by occupied by hungry mouths!

The photo above and the first two below illustrate the paler pink female, whilst the bottom image shows the more intensely coloured male.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

UK in late June

A short visit for work and a few days seeing family & friends in East Anglia afforded some opportunities for birding, especially given the long summer days and a dose of jet lag which meant very early mornings were no problem!

Sandwich Tern on Brownsea

Med Gull

After working in Oxford for a couple of days a mad dash to Dorset resulted in dipping the Elegant Tern that had graced various points along the English south coast in previous weeks, but alowed me to add Brownsea Island to my list of "islands I have visited".  Seeing a Red Squirrel whilst on the island was a bonus and several Mediterranean Gulls around Sandbanks during an inelegant evening seawatch made me realise just how common this once-scarce bird has become.

Leaving Dorset I drove overnight to Norfolk to meet up with friends there.  Titchwell RSPB at dawn was a pleasure, with the place pretty much to myself, save for several Spoonbills, more Mediterranean Gulls, an Arctic Skua and small numbers of waders including several islandica Black-tailed Godwits that offered an instructive lesson in size variation.

phoneskope'd islandica Blackwit

islandica Blackwit with Nikon V1 & 300mm PF

The particularly instructive Blackwit that I watched was the breeding plumaged bird below (partially obscured by an Avocet in the first two images). Note that the bird actually looks smaller than the two Bar-tailed Godwits on the far right of the first image, and is dwarfed by the preening non-breeding plumaged Blackwit.

head up and it proves to indeed be "just" a Blackwit

Having done some reading on the ID of islandica and nominate limosa Blackwits it seems that islandica is shorter-billed and shorter-legged, with males being smaller than females.  It seems that nominate limosa is rare away from its UK breeding grounds in the East Anglian fens, so I take it that both these birds are islandica with the breeding plumaged bird being an exceptionally small male.

An afternoon and overnight with the family Lowen included a visit to Potter Heigham  and Hickling to see some of the UK's rarest breeders and specialities including a pair Black-winged Stilts and third adult and three of their four chicks, a pair of Common Cranes, at least thirteen Spoonbills and exceptional views of several Swallowtail butterflies along with bonus White Admiral.  A visit to Cley with Mr Barbato a couple of days later produced yet more Spoonbills plus a Yellow-legged Gull.

Black-winged Stilt, Potter Heigham


White Admiral
Spoonbill, Cley
Yellow-legged Gull with Nikon V1 & 300mm PF +1.7 tc

Yellow-legged Gull with Nikon V1 & 300mm PF +1.7 tc

Yellow-legged Gull with phoneskope'd

A visit to my boyhood local patch, Holmethorpe Pits in east Surrey yielded four "patch ticks" as a sign of the times - with Common Buzzard and Red Kite  seen, and a Peregrine chasing Ring-necked Parakeets!  None of those species were there in the late 1980s or early 1990s when I was birding there, but nowadays they seem reasonably unremarkable.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Khao Yai quicky

A work retreat near Khao Yai gave me a welcome break from the hubbub of Bangkok city life last week, and a few avian highlights.

Driving along a quiet country road near my accommodation I came across a Barred Buttonquail with a half-grown chick crossing the road - when a vehicle came in the opposite direction the adult ran for cover but I was surprised to see the chick take to the wing to avoid an untimely demise.

The grounds of my accommodation hosted several Red-breasted Parakeets and Spangled Drongos each morning, but the main birding highlight was the journey back to Bangkok with a detour into Khao Yai National Park for a few hours.

Even a short trip to KYNP can produce some exceptional wildlife, with the highlights in my three hours being a male Siamese Fireback and a male Silver Pheasant feeding together on the Radar Road, with a Blue Pitta calling at the same spot. I also heard a further two Blue Pittas, plus a Hooded Pitta elsewhere on the same road.

The park also offered Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied Hornbills, and I may have heard the contact calls of Austen's Brown Hornbill (my Khao Yai bogey bird!).

One other highlight in the park was a close encounter of the needletail kind, with a Brown Needletail passing so low and fast overhead as it departed its drinking pool that I could hear the air whizzing through its wings.

A slow spring

Family commitments have kept my birding at bay over the spring, with occasional visits to Suan Rot Fai and the grounds of the Dept of Public Relations during April and early May.

There were no real stand-out highlights in terms of rarities, but a nice trickle of Mugimaki Flycatchers throughout April (my first one actually on 31st March).  The undoubted highlight of the spring was making a short visit to Suan Rot Fai and finding a single tree that simultaneously held a male Blue-and-white Flycatcher, a female Mugimaki Flycatcher, two Eyebrowed Thrushes, a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, a Taiga Flycatcher, five Asian Brown Flycatchers and a Brown Shrike

Perhaps the most satisfying bird of the spring was finally nailing a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler in sub-song and calling regularly at the Dept of Public Relations on 5th May.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I've spent the last couple of days in Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar - a strange city indeed which is mostly made up of huge conference centres  for the Myanmar government to hold negotiating meetings with donors and investors.

The resort where I have been staying has extensive grounds, which offered a few birds before breakfast on both my mornings here.  The highlights were three endemics, all pictured below:

White-throated Babbler

Burmese Bushlark

Burmese Bushlark

Irrawaddy Bulbul

Other notables included Oriental Reed Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler and Thick-billed Warbler all in song, a Wryneck and a small Reticulated Python swimming across one of the resort lakes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Winter on the patches

Non-birding commitments have meant that my forays to Suan Rotfai and the grounds of the Dept of Public Relations in recent months have been irregular and all too brief, and consequently I've had no time to post updates on sightings.

Generally the birding has been quite slow, with no really interesting records - a product of my limited field effort for sure, but also we have been having an extremely warm "winter" with few days of cool weather that might have pushed birds southwards. The best has been a male Verditer Flycatcher at the Dept of Public Relations that graced a fruiting fig on the last day of 2016, whilst 6th January produced an Eye-browed Thrush and a pair of Hair-crested Drongos in Suan Rotfai.

Below are a few images of my recent encounters.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

leucogenis Ashy Drongo

Brown Shrike

This unfortunate Brown Shrike was present from late Oct until early Jan

All my recent mid-winter PLLW/Saks have proven to Sakhalin on call

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mae Sot

I worked in Mae Sot (on the Thai-Myanmar border) on Monday and Tuesday this week.  This gave me the opportunity to check out the fields behind Mae Sot Airport, giving a nice selection on wintering migrants.

These included three Brown Shrikes, at least four Siberian Rubythroats (heard), three Bluethroats in one area of recently burnt stubble that also held a flock of at least six Amur Wagtails and five Eastern Yellow Wagtails.

I also came across three Red-throated Pipits and Paddyfield (at least four birds) and Richard's Pipits (two birds). The latter two species offered opportunities for photographing and comparing them - Richard's being substantially bigger, longer tailed, heavier billed and generally more robust.

adult Brown Shrike


Amur Wagtail

Paddyfield Pipit

Richard's Pipit