Friday, December 31, 2010

A big bird to end the year

I took a young Australian birder out for the day yesterday (30th).  As it was his first day birding in SE Asia he managed to get more than 60 ticks!  The quality was pretty high, ending the day with a vagrant CINEREOUS VULTURE at the raptor watchpoint to the west of Petchaburi.  This excellent area also produced GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE, OSPREY, at least ten BLACK KITES, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, BRAHMINY KITE and  two EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS.  Other birders have also seen Steppe and Imperial Eagles in this area in recent days.  I have marked the location of the viewing area on this GoogleMap.

 Cinereous Vulture dwarfing a lineatus Black Kite

Earlier in the day we visited Pak Thale, which gave us an excellent selection of waders including 1-2 SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPERS, 15 NORDMANN'S GREENSHANK, and perhaps a thousand GREAT KNOT.  We also picked up a rather smart adult winter PALLAS'S GULL.

Pallas's & Brown-headed Gulls

Long-toed Stint

 Pacific Goldie


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Knot a lot!

Pak Thale/Lae Pak Bia area again today - very productive with one SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER, a flock of 45 NORDMANN'S GREENSHANK, and two Thailand ticks for me in the form of three RED-NECKED PHALAROPES and five PIED AVOCET (both quite rare in Thailand).

Also the largest number of GREAT KNOT I have ever seen, with a single flock estimated at 600-800 birds.

A large flock of waders, predominantly Great Knot, 
but with Nordmann's taking the front row.

BirdLife International estimates the population of adult Nordmann's 
at 500-1,000 - so a flock of 45 birds is rather significant!

Sunrise Spooner

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black-faced Spoonbill'd Sandpipers

Just back from a long, tiring but rewarding day at Pak Thale, which produced a BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL (a rare straggler here) 3 SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPERS, as well as 5 NORDMANN'S GREENSHANKS.  I also got an uninspiring tick in the form of at least three HEUGLIN'S GULLS.

The only thing better than a Spoon-billed Sandpiper is...

 ...two Spoon-billed Sandpipers

 That's a lot of Marsh Sandpipers

 Brahminy Kite

Open-billed Storks

Male and female Malaysian Plovers, Laem Pak Bia

a nice comparison between Malaysian and Kentish Plovers

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

 Paddyfield Pipit

A wander around Mae Sot Reservoir this morning produced a nice selection of birds including five or six CHESTNUT-TAILED STARLINGS which I don't get to see  too often, plus a selection of typical wintering warblers including at least four THICK-BILLED WARBLERS and two DUSKY WARBLERS, as well as three BROWN SHRIKES and several PADDYFIELD PIPITS.

Brown Shrike

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cyornis headache

I'm in Mae Sot this week, working each day but sneaking in a bit of birding at the reservoir before work. A nice selection of birds today included BLUE MAGPIE, four PURPLE SUNBIRDS, several PIED BUSHCHATS, one or two RADDE'S WARBLER and this tricky female Cyornis flycatcher... 

This flycatcher twice gave a sharp, almost scolding "tak" call, which (according to Robson 2004) reduces the options to either Blue-throated, or Hill Blue Flycatcher.  Given the bird's rather greyish lores and relatively pale, non-uniform breast with orange restricted to the breast (not extending onto the flanks), I think this bird is a female BLUE-THROATED FLYCATCHER.  However the top photo shows no evidence of a "strongly refescent" tail, which is noted as a feature by Robson.  This may be simply because the photo was taken in deep shade and the tail is out of focus, or possibly because this bird is of the race glaucicomans (split by some authorities as "Chinese Blue Flycatcher") though I'm struggling to reconcile the other features of that race (strongly orange breast with contrasting pale throat, brown-washed flanks - see this image) with the subject bird.  I've seen females of both Hill Blue and Blue-throated before, but not recently, so thoughts/suggestions/confirmation welcome!

EDIT, 3rd Oct 2011:  After seeing another migrant Cyronis at Suan Rot Fai I feel more comfortable with the idea of the mae Sot bird being Chinese Blue, most notably because of the pale throat.  I believe the bird linked to in the post above, seen by another observer in Suan Rot Fai in Sept 2008, is actually a Hill Blue, rather than a Chinese Blue Flycatcher (due to the lack of contrast between breast and throat).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get your Rocks off....

Productive morning on the patch, with some different (but expected) migrants/winter visitors showing up. The best being a THICK-BILLED WARBLER and a BLACK-NAPED MONARCH.  

I had given pride of place  to a male WHITE-THROATED ROCK THRUSH that I discovered feeding in a secluded shelter belt, however upon returning home I looked at the record shots that I had taken of the bird and I am rather devastated to see that it appears to have a damaged right leg and foot.


The fact that this stunning bird is seriously injured is very upsetting. It also throws significant doubt on the origin of the other two WTRT that I found in the park last year. At that time I considered the risk of captive origin, but I had no evidence so gave the birds the "benefit of the doubt".  However I now see no alternative but to remove this species from the patch list.  I just hope that this particular individual is able to survive. I often think about visiting Chatuckak weekend market to see what birds are being sold, but it is such a depressing experience that I have avoided doing so for a long time.  However, given this situation I will probably pay a visit in the near future.


Paddyfield Pipit

EDIT:  Phil Round has commented as follows...

"I don't think we have seen White-throated Rock Thrush in trade and on balance, notwithstanding your bird with damaged foot, I would guess these are genuine migrants. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I would count them [as wild]....the timing is spot-on for migrants. We have also seen females at other sites around Bangkok."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Harrier hunting

 Sometimes, I wish I was a rice farmer...

After being asked for my opinion on an odd Marsh Harrier in the UK, and realising that I'd rarely looked closely at any harrier in Asia that wasn't a stonking male (!), I decided to use my free Sunday afternoon to go looking for harriers to improve my own knowledge.  I headed up towards Ayutthaya to the area where I had glimpsed a harrier spp as I whizzed past on the southbound journey from Mae Sot a few weeks ago.

I made a couple of stops en route and picked up a few interesting things including three distant BLACK KITES (too far off to tell if they where migrans or lineatus), three WOOD SANDPIPERS, a group of seven GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS, several BLACK-SHOULDERED KITES, large numbers of EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAILS, and a few PLAIN-BACKED SPARROWS.

When I got to the area where I had seen a single harrier last month, I soon picked up a very smart, but distant male EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, which was quickly followed by a two females quartering fields a little (but not much) closer, then a female PIED HARRIER.  A look further along this road produced brief but very nice views of a stunning male Pied Harrier as it belted over the road in front of me, hanging around just long enough for a couple of record shots.

Returning at dusk to the area where I had seen the other harriers it became apparent that I had found a roost - in the fading light a large number of harriers could be seen over one field - I counted at least 16 birds, most of which appeared to be Eastern Marsh (the light was very poor by this time). So a great afternoon - finding a harrier roost just 40 minutes drive from my central Bangkok home!

Sadly the views I got today were mostly of adult birds, so not very informative with regard to the bird in the UK, but I least I know where to look next time...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dusky, and Dicks?


 Dusky Warbler

I did the patch for an hour or so this morning.  Cool, dry weather and a NE breeze means that the dry season has arrived, making birding much more comfortable.  Best birds this morning were three DUSKY WARBLERS (the first I've seen this autumn) with two in The Ramble and one elsewhere in the park.  Also seen were a single ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER, and three or more TAIGAS, plus at least four YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS. Also seen were a pair of ASHY WOODSWALLOWS - nice to see since I only added this spp to my patch list a few weeks ago.

The same Dusky Warbler - in strong sunlight it looks completely different!

Frustration came when I found a group of PADDYFIELD PIPITS, with four visible in long grass - I started scanning through them to check for Richard's.  As I was doing so they got flushed by an Accipiter sp (probably Shikra) and at least six pipits went up, with one giving a far stronger and more strident, rasping call than the unseen RICHARD'S PIPIT, with the call matching this one on Xeno Canto, but I'm loathed to patch tick it under these circumstances.  Let's call it a "probable"...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Suan Rot Fai this morning for a couple of hours, in much more agreeable weather, with a first taste of dry season cloudless skies and fresh breeze.

Birding produced small numbers of migrants - a couple of TAIGA and ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHERS, plus an obvious movement of BLACK-NAPED ORIOLES.  Highlights of the morning were two ASHY DRONGOS, inlcuding one leucogenis, and a late YELLOW-RUMPED  FLYCATCHER.

 Asian Brown Flycatcher

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher - the black upper-tail coverts 
mean this bird is either an adult female of a first winter male.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get your boots on!

I made a few stops on the drive back from Mae Sot yesterday, these included an hour looking for migrating raptors in the range of hills between Mae Sot and Tak, in the extreme west of Thailand.  Since the weather was less than perfect (lots of cloud, threatening rain and only a few patches of sun) there wasn't too much action, but what there was was quite interesting, with two separate ORIENTAL HONEY-BUZZARDS, one of which was behaving rather strangely as it seemed to be displaying whilst migrating: it would pick up a thermal and start circling, then would break into  series of strong, very labour-intensive wing beats (so intensive infact that it would trail its legs downwards) to gain altitude and would then drop on semi-closed wings in an undulting fashion at a 45 degree angle, ending in an upwards peak where it would close it's wings fully and stoop and high speed, then it would start flapping again until it picked up a thermal to circle on.  It did this four or five times over the course of 10 minutes, even continuing to do so whilst being mobbed by an accipiter spp.

The other interesting raptor I saw was much closer (see photos below). It looked to me like a Black Kite on structure (note the long tail and angular wings)  but seemed to have some plumage anomalies (relatively uniform dark brown underparts, reduced whitish patches on the inner primaries (not extending to outher primaries).  The tail was splayed as the bird was circling, and the tail appears to be heavily worn, so no fork is evident.  This bird had me confused for a while  - after initially thinking Black Kite I started to wonder if it was actually an Aquila eagle, but the tail is clearly too long and the bird too "dainty",  the carpel bars on the upperparts (see the poor quality pic below) are also consistent with Black Kite, however, in the same picture note the white "landing lights" on the shoulders and the narrow white rump. This bird is actually a dark phase BOOTED EAGLE, a species I have very little experience of, and only ever in light phase.  Interesting bird...ok, let's be honest..."confusing bird", but a good lesson learned!  I have to thank Sacha Barbato for inadvertently alerting me to the possibility of this bird being a booted eagle - I had forgotten that Booted occurs in Thailand,  Robson (2008) considers it to be a vagrant or rare passage migrant in much of Thailand, though Robert Candido  reports it as regular at raptor watchpoints on the Thai-Malay peninsular (eg Chumphon). Thanks also to Phil Round who has confirmed the ID.

Dark phase Booted Eagle

Further along on my journey back I stopped briefly at Bung Boropet, which was heaving with birdlife including BRONZE-WINGED JACANA, PURPLE SWAMPHEN, and STRIATED GRASSBIRD, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE, ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE, and a few YELLOW BITTERNS.

female Yellow Bittern

Whilst driving further south it was evident that migrating hirundines (especially RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS) and BLACK DRONGOS were being forced down by the frequent heavy rain showers.  The icing on the cake at sunset was a Harrier spp (probably Pied) quartering a field about 30kms north of Bangkok, but I was charging down the dual carriageway, looking into the sun so couldn't clinch it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mae Sot

A work trip to the Thai-Burma border means that I have a chance to look around Mae Sot Reservoir again (my "patch away from patch").  The last few days have been very rainy, and I made the mistake of having a go at checking some fields along a dirt track which saw me almost get the 4WD horribly stuck in a mud pit and bringing back happy (!) memories of intense panic when grounding a hire car in the Moroccon Sahara many years ago.

Having extracted myself and the car, I managed to do a bit of birding before work, with THICK-BILLED WARBLER being the highlight.  Other migrant interest included 20+ RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS, a COMMON SANDPIPER, and a SIBERIAN STONECHAT cavorting with a resident PIED BUSHCHAT.

Friday, October 15, 2010

For anybody interested, I have added some more photos to my post about visiting Fraser's Hill back in March this year.  Click here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Answering the call of nature

Just had a very bizarre, but great experience in my office toilet!

The urinals look out of over the roof tops of the nearby office buildings, and whilst standing there I picked up three large birds on a distant thermal.  Thinking they would be feral Painted Storks, but worth a check, I decided to return to my desk and grab my carry-everywhere compact binos,  running the risk of being found in the lavs with my binoculars and trying to explain that away!  On my return to the bathroom I couldn't see the three birds in the distance, so looked directly up to see if they were circling my astonishment I found a flock of approximately 30 SPOT-BILLED PELICANS (a near-threatened species) circling directly over my office!

I ran outside and found them still circling, and gaining height, then they headed SW towards Rama 6 Road, where Phil Round's office is - I made a quick call to him when I got back to my desk but the flock must have already passed over.  Phil mentioned that he sees a few feral birds around the city, but that a flock of this size would be wild birds.

Whilst watching the pelicans I also had 3 drongo spp pass over in the same direction.  Gotta love vizmig!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Phylloscopus pitfalls

Went back to "The Ramble" first thing this morning to try to clinch the ID on yesterday's tentative pale-legged leaf warbler; after spending an hour watching it, mostly in poor light with obscured views I concluded that it was actually a poorly-marked ARCTIC WARBLER, and eventually got good views of it along with a better marked Arctic.  Why it was feeding at ground level I'm not sure, but is certainly wasn't a Pale-legged - though it took me a long time to confirm the ID.  Major headache!  Not much else in "The Ramble" other than one calling ASIAN BROWN FLY.  Elesewhere in the park I picked up a SIBERIAN STONECHAT (I've only seen one on the patch before), GREATER RACKET-TAILED DRONGO (a long overdue patch tick), 1st winter BLACK DRONGO, four TAIGA FLYCATCHERS   heard single BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE and YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER, and saw BLACK-CAPPED, WHITE-THROATED and COMMON KINGFISHERS.


Taiga Flycatcher

 Coppersmith Barbet (taken at the Skytrain station!)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The dawn of the confusing Phyllosc

A delicious Brownie at breakfast time - perhaps supercilosus flavoured...

This morning SRF produced fewer birds than yesterday, but still enough to keep me busy - BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE, EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER, BROWN SHRIKE, TAIGA and ASIAN BROWN FLYS in the first 10 minutes gave me hope.  I elected to try "The Ramble" for Sibe Blue Robin, but drew a blank (again), though whilst there I flushed a phyllosc which appeared low down in the understory, exhibiting a big super and no wing bars.  My instant thought was Dusky, but something felt wrong (too whitish on the underparts and it wasn't calling incessantly, or at all actually), further views made me think it was reminiscent of a wing bar-less Arctic - now I was confused, and I lost the bird!

After some more searching I got more views and concluded that it was probably a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. It remained low in the undergrowth and actually hopped along on the ground a couple of times, which is typical behavior for this species. I tried to get some photos but failed miserably.  I left feeling that it probably was a Pale-legged, but there was something nagging at me - it just didn't convince me.  Hhhm...

Also in the Ramble was a calling YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER, probably the same bird that I heard yesterday.

Keep looking up!

On the way back to the park entrance I had a couple of PAINTED STORKS overhead, which was another patch tick, though the provenance of this species in Bangkok is somewhat open to question as there is a feral population that draws in wild birds.

 Asian Pied Starling

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It pays to be thorough

Did Suan Rot Fai this morning for the first time since Thursday.  Lots of migrants around now with at least 8 each of ASIAN BROWN and TAIGA FLYCATCHERS and singles of YELLOW-BROWED, EASTERN CROWNED and ARCTIC WARBLERS.  There were huge numbers of POND HERONS, in excess of 100, compared with the dozen or so birds of last week - indeed I saw several flocks of 20 or more birds.

I worked the patch quite hard this morning, slowly doing several areas two or three times to feel satisfied that I'd done them thoroughly.  The second sweep of one rather birdy area produced nice views of YELLOW BITTERN, two or three BLACK-NAPED ORIOLES and then a big surprise in the shape of an adult ROSE-COLOURED STARLING (presumably the bird seen last month), feeding on grass in the company of a couple of Asian Pied Starlings.  I though to myself "it pays to be thorough"!

Just as I was leaving the park I saw a bird pass overhead, obscured by trees, and which I assumed to be a Blue-tailed Bee-eater.  As I've been looking - and failing- to add Blue-throated Bee-eater to the patch list I followed this bird and as soon as I got a clear view realised that it wasn't a Bee-eater at all, but actually an ASHY WOODSWALLOW, itself a patch tick!  Ashy Woodswallows are pretty common in rural areas, and I remember seeing one on a busy road in central Bangkok about 3 years ago, but I think they are generally pretty rare in the city, so I'm very happy to have added it to the patch list.  It pays to be thorough!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Should have done the patch this morning (overnight rain and winds have turned light NE, but busy working to a Monday deadline).  I went out for a quick walk at the Ministry of Public Relations near home, and was pleased to see a 1st winter BROWN SHRIKE, then rather shocked to find a single tree holding EASTERN CROWNED, ARCTIC and YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS and a 1st winter female YELLOW-RUMPED FLYCATCHER.

The Yellow-brow I actually heard yesterday in the same spot, but I only had a brief snatch of call and couldn't convince myself that it wasn't a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (which has a similar call). The Eastern Crowned Warbler was amazingly showy (it must have known that my camera was safely bagged up at home).

Things are moving but I'm stuck at my desk, on a Sunday.  Ouch.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taiga, Taiga, Taiga!

Late afternoon trip to Suan Rot Fai (1710 - 1805 hrs) was looking a bit birdless until I stumbled upon my first TAIGA FLYCATCHER of the autumn...then another, and another!  A little late compared to the last couple of years (first arrival dates being 25th Sept 2008 and 27th Sept 2009).

Today's three birds were all in one small area, with two birds giving strange, loud, nasal squeaking calls rather than the usual "purr" - I've looked on Xeno-canto but cannot find anything similar.  When I first heard the call I didn't even attribute it to being a Taiga (it sounded almost like it should have been coming from a squirrel!).

Other than these birds I saw no other migrants whatsoever.  There was an email posted on the Oriental Birding forum yesterday from somebody in India who was suggesting that maybe Taiga Flycatchers migrate in flocks - I thought that was rather a strange claim, but today's experience might support such a hypothesis (the two calling birds seemed to be calling to one another).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another early morning (0630-0830 hrs) bash around the patch provided a few migrants, but still only small numbers: ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER 1-2, EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER 1, BROWN SHRIKE 3.  This is all getting a bit repetitive - but I guess that's what patchwatching is all about and makes those special days very, um....special!  Overnight rain had again provided hopes of a fall, but failed to deliver - I'm thinking we need rain pre-dawn to force stuff down, rather than rain starting soon after dusk and going for much of the night, as has happened in the last few days. 

I dedicated a block of time to trying to detect Siberian Blue Robin (now is supposed to be peak passage for them) but drew a blank.  Two autumns ago I was practically falling over SBRs in Bangkok (two dead in the garden and at least two, possibly three on the patch), but I haven't seen one in the city since then - perhaps 2008 was an especially good year for them?

  One of a pair of Paddyfield Pipits (this Adult
and a 1st winter) encountered this morning

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SRF 0630-0815 hrs produced a few migrants, thankfully:  YELLOW-RUMPED FLYCATCHER (1 female type), ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER (2) and star bird of the morning was a FOREST WAGTAIL, which managed to melt into the undergrowth before my eyes!

 This Indian Roller posed, briefly...