Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Japanese lessons

Whilst reviewing photos of the male "Chinese Sparrowhawk" that I saw on Saturday I became a bit less certain about the ID - looking at various on-line resources I realised that there was more overlap in the features of male Chinese and Japanese Sprawks than I had previously appreciated (yes, I need to spend some time next autumn doing some serious sessions on Khao Dinsor to get my skills honed!). One thing that I realised was that when the bird flew I didn't get any white flash of underwing which would probably be apparent on Chinese.

As such I posted the image below on "LBJ lovers Thailand " forum to get second opinions on the ID and almost imediately got confirmation that I was right to question my initial ID, with Ayuwat, Phil and Khemthong all calling it Japanese Sprawk.  Phil stated "Chinese has luminous orange-yellow cere combined with grey orbital ring. Whereas in Japanese both cere and orbital ring are the same dull yellow".

...always learning! 

Japanese Sparrowhawk

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Japanese Thrush again

The female Japanese Thrush was present again this morning, enabling me to get another couple of very poor record shots. This bird is very shy, sticking to a shady bamboo-covered slope and needs a fair bit of patience to see well.

Other birds in the park this morning were a bit of a re-run from yesterday, although numbers and variety were fewer, with 2-3 Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, a small party of Ashy Minivets and one of the Indian Cuckoos still present. The only new migrants that I did not encounter yesterday but were present today were a Thick-billed Warbler and this sibericus Dark-sided Flycatcher.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Japanese, one Chinese and two Indians

This morning was mad, I mean, really mad, even by the standards of my patch in arguably this, the best month of the year...and after yesterday's Pitta-in-the-hand experience (which seemed unsurpassable), this morning had a damn good try at topping that.

I ended up with no less than three new patch birds, one of which was national rarity, and these were accompanied by another national scarity which I have only seem once before on the patch!

The morning did look good, but also hard work - I woke up before the 5.30am alarm that i had set and there was a thunderstorm brewing. By the time I left the house it was raining lightly, which might have offered the promise of dropped migrants but actually just gave me the first hour of the day seeing not very much and getting rather soggy.  Given the awful light and rain-soaked foliage I elected to focus on looking for interesting birds that might be flying over the park, or water birds that would be easier to see.  My only previous record of Indian Pond Heron on the patch was in late April a few years ago, and so this was a species that I had at the front of my mind, and I eventually found one on the last bit of open water that I checked ("Lotus Lake").

Indian Pond Heron - nationally scarce and only my second patch record

With the rain still falling (and indeed getting heavier) I almost quit whilst I was ahead, but I was close to the Ramble - not such a great area in recent years, but it has provided me with some great birds in earlier years so I thought I'd give it a whirl before heading home.  As expected it produced nothing, but once I had circumnavigated it the rain had all but stopped so I decided to have a go at some areas of woodland in the hope of  picking up some passerines.  The first area I checked produced a cracking male Chinese Sparrowhawk (EDIT, see ID corrected here) which was feeding on some kind of unidentifiable avian prey, and soon afterwards I picked up my first patch tick of the morning in the shape of an Indian Cuckoo - an uncommon passage migrant and one that I have been hoping to find for a while.  This bird was very wet from all the rain, so sat out in the open for a while, allowing me to get a few shots.

Indian Cuckoo

Shortly after this I found another cuckoo-patch tick in the form of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo.  My only previous encounter with this species in Bangkok was near my house during the autumn 2011 floods, so again that was firmly on my radar - but it was nice to finally score these two species within five minutes of one another!

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
Now that things were drying out and passerines becoming more active I decided to make a systematic check of all the well-wooded areas of the park, starting off with the Secret Garden - however after a few minutes on the edge of this area, which produced a stunning male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, the same or another Indian Cuckoo, a Drongo Cuckoo and Ashy Minivet, I got  brief views of of an unidentified female Ficedula spp. which I tried to follow up on.  Whilst looking for the said flycatcher I tried squeaking it out using my "Audubon Bird Call" but instead of relocating the flycatcher my attention was drawn to a larger, much more distant passerine perched on a piece of bamboo.  Once I got my binoculars on it, rear-end on, I realised that it was a Thrush and started thinking that it was perhaps a female Siberian Thrush. The bird turned around and immediately "looked wrong" and I found myself feeling very lost!  The bird dropped to the ground, showing only its back and then disappeared into cover. What the f*ck was that!!!!!

I tried to figure out why it looked wrong - there appeared to be some spotting on the breast and orange colour on the breast sides, and it looked more Turdus than Zoothera.  The only Turdus species that I have seen in the park before is Eye-browed Thrush, which this clearly was not.

I abandoned my plans for a thorough check of the Secret Garden and headed over to were I had seen the Thrush - fortunately it was very close to where my car was parked, so before heading in to look for the bird I went to the car to grab my (rarely used) pop-up hide. Upon entering the area where the Thrush was, I set up the hide and waited as calmly as possible.  The first bird to appear was this...

male Siberian Blue Robin

...not a bad start! Then another bird appeared more distantly -  a Forest Wagtail, another migrant!  I sat and waited for what felt like an eternity and then the Sibe Blue Robin reappeared, this time accompanied by the Thrush.  The views I got this time were brief by excellent, at less than 10 metres.  It was clearly NOT a Siberian Thrush! The spotting on the breast was obvious, as were the orange sides to the breast, black malar stripe and white throat contrasting with the buff wash to the breast. The crown, nape and mantle were dull brown, with a slight greyish caste.  What was it?!  I knew that I had seen pictures of this species before, but that there were two species that could be confused - it was either a Japanese Thrush or a Black-breasted Thrush!  I knew that Japanese was a vagrant to Thailand and has occurred in places such as Khao Yai (where I have seen a male), whilst Black-breasted is resident on some of the northern mountains which also receive mid-winter irruptions from further north. Surely this is more likely to be the long-distance migrant, Japanese? A quick look on google made me think that Japanese was more likely, based on what I had seen, but I really wanted to secure some photos to be certain.  I made some notes and watched as the Thrush tantalised me with occasional glimpses.  I put the news out that I was pretty sure I had a Japanese Thrush and eventually the bird showed long enough for me to secure the images below, one of which I posted on Facebook and immediately received confirmation from Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok and Dave Sargent that the bird was indeed a Japanese Thrush!

Japanese Thrush

By this time I had been on site for seven hours - by far the longest time I have ever spent on my local patch - I was hot and sticky and needed to get home, so despite the fact that there may well have been more to find, I bailed.  But with such high quality I was happy, and there is always tomorrow...

Friday, April 24, 2015


My and my bird (photo: Professor Nick Day)

As I arrived at work late morning, having just dropped Amalee off at the airport, I was greeted with the incongruous sight of one of the car park attendants wondering around with this Blue-winged Pitta  in his hand!

It had presumably either hit a window or was simply exhausted, so I extracted it from the said attendant and took it into my office to show a few of my colleagues before taking it across the road to a small woodlot in the grounds of the adjacent hospital.  It few off strongly, hopefully to continue it's northward migration.

Photo: Pat Hannay

Monday, April 20, 2015

Asian Dowitcher survey

On Sunday (19th) I participated in an impromptu survey to simultaneously count Asian Dowitchers in the inner Gulf of Thailand. The survey was initiated after Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang had posted some photos on Facebook of the 120 Dowitchers he had seen earlier in the week, and Phil Round suggested that a survey was long overdue, which prompted a small group of us to volunteer to undertake an early morning survey as the tide receded and waders started to forage on the mudflats. 

I was given Mahachai Mangrove Forest Research Station as my site, a little under an hour from my house. Arriving whilst the sea was just starting to drop I found migrant Forest Wagtail, Dusky Warbler and Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf Warbler in the mangroves before reaching the viewing platform where a group of Whimbrel were using bamboo posts as a roost. As soon as the mud was exposed they dropped to start feeding and were quickly joined by Common Redshanks and Curlew Sandpipers.  As the tide continued to recede more and more waders came in, with other flocks whizzing past me to reach  other feeding areas along the coastline. One problem however was the I was looking directly into the early morning sun, which made it very hard to identify the fast-moving flocks.  

Eventually I found my first Asian Dowitcher, a splendid bird in near full breeding plumage, but unfortunately missing the lower half if its right tarsus. I went on to locate more Dowitchers, in groups of no more than five birds and usually in close proximity to groups of Black-tailed Godwits.  Over all I estimated a maximum count of 50 Dowitchers, with the movement of birds back and forth  along the coatline making it hard to be certain of an exact number.

Other volunteers picked up varying numbers of birds and our combined total was only 231, which is disappointing given that  the highest single site count ever made in Thailand was over 600 birds in late April.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Top Dollar!

Whilst April is an excellent month for migration, this year I am taking it a bit easy to focus on spending time with my wife whilst she is back from the UK for a few weeks.  The only birding I have done so far this month has been a quick look at the Ministry of Public Relations on 11th, which produced a two Mugimaki Flycatchers (one 1st summer male and a female), and this morning I spent 2 hours at Suan Rotfai.

This morning's visit offered a taste of what might be on offer to a more ardent patchworker with me securing two new patchbirds -  an Oriental Dollarbird and a very long overdue Olive-backed Pipit.  Other highlights included a flock of 8-10 Eye-browed Thrushes, 10+ Ashy Minivets, a very dapper adult male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and two Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoos.

Oriental Dollarbird

overdue OBP

Eye-browed Thrush

Drongo Cuckoo (bird 1)

Drongo Cuckoo (bird 2)