Friday, April 24, 2009

Andaman adventures, 14-18th April

Took my niece away for her 18th birthday present – a 4-day liveaboard diving trip, taking in the very best dive sites in Thailand (and allegedly some of the best in the world). Our boat, the MV Andaman, run by the excellent Seadragon Dive Center (who taught me to dive in 2002) went to the little-dived Koh Surin, the world famous whale shark hangout Richelieu Rock, the stunning Koh Ta Chai, the uninhabited Koh Bon, and the more popular but beautiful Koh Similan. These groups of islands are, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Thailand, both above and below the water.

I’ve been to these island groups several times before, but have always managed to dip Nicobar Pigeon, Whale Shark (though I have snorkeled with them in the Philippines) and Manta Ray…so there were some special targets to hope for.

Between dives I tried to spend as much time as possible birding, either from the boat or on land when we had the chance to explore the islands, and on the dives I crossed my fingers and kept looking into the blue for something very big to appear.

Beautiful Koh Surin - rainforest right down to the beach *sign*

White-bellied Sea-Eagles are common and conspicuous around these islands - I saw one take and bird (Emerald Dove?) in mid-air on out first morning, but this was the best photo I got (bit disappointing really).

Long-tailed boats shuttled us to the islands from our dive boat

The MV Andaman, our home for four days

Seabirds were in typically short supply (on my previous trips I've struggled to see much). This was the only Lesser Frigatebird seen in 4 days.

Small numbers of bridled terns were seen, often resting on drift wood (or drift polystyrene, as in the case of the 2 cy bird above)

Occasional Crested Terns were also seen at sea.

Other things seen whilst sea watching included plenty of flying fish

The recession isn't biting everyone, this huge, beautiful yacht shadowed us on our way from the Surins, down to the Similans, and back towards the mainland.

Wildlife seen on the islands included noisy roosts of Flying Foxes.

"Super-tramps" on these islands include Pied Imperial Pigeons (easy and numerous) and Nicobar Pigeon (seemingly rather difficult, but I finally saw one on Similan island no. 4, although it was too quick for the camera)

Sunset on Koh Similan

Best bird of the trip was not seen by me at all - after our last dive, at lunchtime on Koh Similan, I went for a shower and was busy cleaning up my dive gear. Once I had finished I went up stairs to the sun deck and found my niece who asked me if I'd seen "the bird" - she showed me the picture above, which she took with her point and shoot - a migrant female Grey Nightjar, which was trying to land on the boat (thanks to Phil Round for confirming the ID).

We were joined by a school of spinner dolphins on the way home, a perfect end to a perfect trip.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009

0600-0800 hrs at Suan Rot Fai, after a night of extremely violent thunderstorms, and in the hope of picking up some migrants.

The main evidence of migration was a flock of 30+ Black-naped Orioles, including a number of singing males.
This oriole was busy hassling an Asian Koel.

I heard what sounded like a phyllosc, but never got onto it - call sounded like a yellow-browed, but richer and less harsh in quality (?). Wintering spp still present included 3 Asian Brown Flycatchers (no Taiga Fly), one Black-capped Kingfisher and a Brown Shrike (confusus) seen battering a large cicada into the afterlife.

Brown Shrike (post-cicada meal)

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Chinese Pond Heron, breeding plumage - lots of these seen today, plus one Javan.

This Indian Roller was rather upset because its barely-flying fledgeing had left the nest and was tumbling around in the trees along one of the waterways.