Friday, December 27, 2013

Neighbourhood birding

The last couple of days have been spent doing the family thing with my wife's relatives in Kissimmee, so birding has not really happened beyond taking short walks around the neighbourhood.  That said however, Florida is so stuffed full of avian megafauna that it is ludicrously easy to see impressive-looking birds such as Bald Eagle (one over the house and another on the way back from the neighbourhood supermarket), Great Blue Heron (two highly approachable birds seen in central Orlando), Roseate Spoonbill (two over the highway between Orlando and Kissimmee), White Ibis (regularly seen in the neighbourhood), Wood Stork (often seen plodding about in roadside fields), whilst a single scruffy ditch next to a house a few doors a way held a pair of Sandhill Cranes, a pair of Glossy Ibis, a Snowy Egret, two pairs of Wood Duck and a female Hooded Merganser.

In additional to these the Pileated Woodpecker has been frequenting the garden, whilst an open field at the end of the street held a flock of at least 23 Killdeer this morning.

The biggest grip came on Christmas evening over dinner when a friend of the family told me he's seen a Florida Panther on his land a few times.

Berry 'pecker

Great Blue Heron

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Grasshopper Sparrow

Some very laid back and easy birding this morning at the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee, with the highlight being a world tick in the form of a Grasshopper Sparrow which sat up in the open for a prolonged period.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Other goodies included a White-eyed Vireo, a crispy Common Yellowthroat, two Pine Warblers, about 30 Myrtle Warblers, American Kestrel, Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Harrier and Bald Eagle.

Eastern Meadowlark

White-eyed Vireo
Eastern Phoebe

 Northern Harrier (adult female)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome to Florida!

Arrived at my in-laws' house in Kissimmee, Florida in the early hours of this morning.  The first bird I saw when I got up and poked my head out of the door was this Pileated Woodpecker!

Recent bird news from Thailand

BCST has posted a summary of bird news from sept-Nov here.  There are a couple of interesting records from my personal point of view - firstly a Greater Spotted Eagle photographed at my patch, Suan Rot Fai in October (whilst I was stuck st home working on my masters thesis!), and secondly a couple of records of Von Schrenk's Bittern (a scare migrant) seen elsewhere in bangkok - a species  which I have hopes of finding on the patch sometime.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rosy Pipit - Status in Thailand

I had some correspondence with Phil Round regarding the status of Rosy Pipit in Thailand. There is a 1930s specimen that was labelled "Bangkok" and Phil first saw the species in at Thaton and Fang in December 1981. There are just a handful of records away from Thaton-Fang.  It is considered  uncommon or rare, even though it has probably been overlooked to some degree.

Rosy Pipit is usually associated with wet paddies of mashy areas (the birds I saw were in a wet, recently ploughed paddy), but there is evidence (such as the recent Nakhon Nayok birds) that they use drier habitats as well.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mae Sot wagtails

Before photographing the Rosy and Red-throated Pipits discussed in my previous post, the first birds I saw included three species of wagtail: two Eastern Yellows (too distant for photos), one Citrine  and several Amur Wagtails.

Citrine Wagtail

male Amur Wagtail

Amur Wagtail

Amur Wagtail

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A lesson in pipit ID

Whilst photographing the "red-throated" pipit on Thursday I was struck by how boldly marked it appeared and the idea of Rosy Pipit briefly crossed my mind, but was soon forgotten as I was busy trying to get the pictures and watching the clock as I had to get to work.

There have been a few photos published on Facebook in recent weeks of a couple of Rosy Pipits at Nakhon Nayok.  This is a species I have no previous experience of, and my knowledge of it was very poor, other than to say that in Thailand I thought it was only known from the extreme north, with just a couple or records elsewhere (see Lekagul & Round 1986, Robson 2004). The images of the Nakhon Nayok birds were interesting as I'd never carefully looked at the ID of Rosy Pipit, but it seemed from these images that it was more heavily marked  on the underparts and showed some olive tones on the upperparts. That was as far as I had got.

When I uploaded my "red-throated" pipit photos to my laptop I was immediately struck by the rather olive-grey tones exhibited in the bird's upperparts. My problem was that I rarely get to study Red-throated Pipits in detail, so I didn't have much to compare it I had left all my fieldguides in Bangkok (this was after all a short business trip).

After some web-trawling I figured out that there were a few more features on my bird that were pro-Rosy:
  • boldly streaked underparts, and a thick malar patch
  • broken eye-ring
  • greyish-olive tones to upperparts, with heavy streaking
  • distinct olive tones to the primary fringes
  • photos indicated that Rosy shows much less streaking on the rump than I would expect for a Red-throated Pipit, but I could not find any text on-line that noted this as a feature
 Other features that I read about on-line (but wasn't convinced I could see) included:
  • a pale patch below the eye
  • the supercilium is sometimes disconnected at the rear (making it look like a 'drop').
I was starting to convince myself that this could be a Rosy Pipit, especially after seeing a nice selection of recent Red-throated Pipit shots by Dave Bakewell.  By this time it was very late in the evening and so I posted a message on BirdForum's ID Q&A, and planned a pre-breakfast trip back to the rice fields.

When I woke up yesterday morning I checked BirdForum and was heartened to see that those who had responded were all in agreement that this looked like a Rosy Pipit! A world tick no less!

Rosy Pipit (bird 1)

My trip back to the rice fields gave me more photo opportunities with at least two more Rosy Pipits, and also a number of Red-throated Pipits for comparison.  Having photographed the birds below all in the same light, just 30 metres apart, I am left in no doubt about the identification.

Rosy Pipit (bird 2) - note poorly streaked rump, overall olive-grey tones.
Red-throated Pipit - note the bird's overall buff tones
Red-throated Pipit - note the well-streaked rump.

Rosy Pipit (bird 3) - very heavy thick black streaking on underparts
R-t Pipit, much finer streaking on underparts

Rosy Pipit (bird 1)

R-t Pipit

R-t Pipit

I also noted a feature that I have not seen mentioned in the literature - the colour of the base of the bill is pink in Rosy, but yellow in Red-throated:

Rosy Pipit - pink bill base

Red-throated Pipit - yellow bill-base

On returning to Bangkok I read in Robson (2004) that Rosy only shows faint/no mantle "braces", but as the images below demonstrate, this may not be true:

Rosy Pipit (bird 3) exhibiting mantle "braces"

Rosy Pipit (bird 3)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mae Sot Rice Fields

I'm on the Thai-Myanmar border again for work, so spent the first hour of today checking the rice fields just on the Thai side of the border.

Things were a bit less productive than my visit last month, but I bought my camera this time so made the most of the oppotunity to get some shots of a couple common farmland species - Red-throated Pipit** and Sibe Stonechat.

** initially thought to be RT Pipit, but later re-ID'd as Rosy (see above)

Other, less camera-cooperative species included Eastern Yellow (2), Citrine (1-2) and White Wagtails (10+), plus Oriental Skylark. The bushes held the usual Thick-billed and Dusky Warblers.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Super skulkers!

This morning was one of those mornings that makes me grateful to be a regular patchworker, and reminded me that there is always a surprise around the corner and more to learn about somewhere that seems so familiar.

After a relatively uneventful hour (Taiga Fly, Ashy Drongo, Thick-billed Warbler) I headed to the isolated bushes that had held the Pallas's Gropper and Ground-thrush on Tuesday. I started playing my sound file of Rubythroat contact call which seems to be effective at pulling out inquisitive passerines and after a few minutes a Thick-billed Warbler came to investigate, quickly followed by the 1st winter Pallas's Gropper.

Given that the Gropper was was still present and the light was OK I decided to sit still and see if it would perform for the camera. The iPod kept playing, and after a few minutes the Orange-headed Ground Thrush appeared, showing for a minute or so.

I continued waiting for the Gropper to show well, but after a few minutes of getting poor views in deep cover I turned the iPod off as it didn't seem to be having the desired effect. Once I looked up from the iPod to where the Gropper was I noticed it had been joined by another bird, also in deep cover. To my surprise it looked like an imm. female Rubythroat! The views were terrible, but the bird moved in my general direction so I waited for it to pop out of the scrub closer to me. However what eventually appeared in the area I was concentrating on was ANOTHER Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, this time an adult bird!

I was a bit confused - was this the bird I had thought was a Rubythroat? It showed a clear supercilium and a pale throat, and it was coming from the same direction as that bird. The original views had been bad, so I guessed that I'd got a bit overexcited, what with the iPod blasting out calliope contact calls. The adult PG Tips came closer and closer (to within about 2 meters), scurrying about on the ground and low branches before turning around and heading back in the direction it had come from.

A moment later and I picked up more movement in the farthest bit if cover, where the first Gropper had been feeding. I lifted the bins to to find them filled with an imm. female Rubythroat!

As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared, but I was pretty happy - a new patch bird and the epitome of what a "Sibe" conjures up in my mind - skulking and subtly beautiful, and really hard to see. I have been watching my patch for five years and have often thought that it might hold a Rubythroat, but have always drawn a blank. Now with this bird and two PG Tips I was starting to realize that these isolated bushes, which I have paid scant attention to in the past could actually be a gold mine for quality skulkers!

The Rubythroat appeared again, showing well briefly, before being chased out of view by another bird, which I glimpsed and thought that it looked structurally similar to the bird it chased turned was MALE RUBYTHROAT !!!

A bit more time and the 1st winter PG Tips eventually gave itself up for some record shots, whilst the male Rubythroat came frustratingly close... 

1st winter Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Locustella & Zoothera

Excellent session at Suan Rot Fai from 06.30-0930 hrs. The biggest surprise was discovering that a clump of isolated bushes held a good number of passerines that had probably roosted overnight - these included at least three Thick-billed Warblers and two Dusky Warblers but pride of place went to my first Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on the patch, and my third Orange-headed Ground-thrush.

I entered the clump and sat down in the hope of pulling in a Rubythroat using a recording of that species' contact call, but instead it pulled in the PG Tips which proceeded to scuttle along the ground, circumnavigating me twice before disappearing.  Upon entering another section of the same area of bushes I flushed the Ground-thrush, which reappeared a couple of minutes later to perform for the camera.

Other notable species this morning included a mohouti Ashy Drongo, single White-rumped Shama, two Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers, one Brown Shrike, at least 10 Taiga Flycatchers, two Asian Brown Flycatchers, eight Yellow-browed Warblers, one Black-capped and two Common Kingfishers. One other notable record was a partially breeding plumaged Chinese Pond Heron.



Asian Brown Flycatcher