Sunday, January 31, 2016

Samut Songkhram waders

Free time this morning offered various options, but I decide to head back to the salt pans where I has undertaken my Asian Waterbird Census last weekend to do the area (north of route 35) that I had not done last week. My aim was to look for waders, with the (slim) hope of finding a Spoon-billed Sandpiper or one of our other local star species (take your pick from Nordmann's Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher or Great Knot).

The area I checked had limited numbers of waders, but I'm glad I finally took some time to visit as I have driven past it many times without stopping and wondered if it has much potential. There was the usual suite of waders, which it is easy to get too blasé about - about 10 Long-toed Stints, 70+Red-necked Stints,  a couple of Pacific Golden Plover, multiple small flocks of Marsh Sandpipers.

Afterwards I returned to the pools on the south side of the highway where I had seem the Asiatic Dowitchers and Great Knot last week, with today the highlight being 22 Great Knot (but no Dowitchers).

Long-toed Stint

Common Greenshank

Black-tailed Godwit

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Warming up

Temperatures in Bangkok are now returning to normal for the time of year, but this morning was still pleasantly cool during a short visit to the patch.  I was hoping to make some new interesting discoveries following the cold snap, but interesting passerine activity was limited to single Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Black-naped Monarch, Black-capped Kingfisher two Taiga Flycatchers and an Asian Brown Flycatcher.

On the (ex) fairways the party of three Asian House Martins was still present, feeding over the canopy of large trees with a group of Asian Palm Swifts and at least one Red-rumped Swallow (this followed another R-r Swallow near home early morning on my way back from the supermarket!). The wintering Intermediate Egret dropped in to a pool closeby where I was photographing the hirundines, so I grabbed a few shots before going to work.

Asian House Martin

Intermediate Egret

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Asian House Martin

I visited Suan Rot Faid again this morning to see if there were any more refugees from the cold weather. On arrival I checked the hirundines in the area where yesterday's Sand Martin had been and was very happy to see a small hirundine with a big white bum - Asian House Martin, another new patch bird!

The Asian House Martin was feeding low over freshly cut grass with at least two Red-rumped Swallows and several Barn Swallows (no sign of the sand Martin, sadly).  I spent a considerable amount of time trying to get photos of the Asian House Martin - not an easy task at all, so only ended up with a couple of record shots:

Asian House Martin

After a while I moved on to see what else I could find, and eventaully came across another hirundine flock which consisted of at least THREE more Asian House Martins and two Red-rumped Swallows! These Asian House Martins gave better photographic opportunities, enabling me to get the dark underwing for comparison with Norther House Martin.

Asian House Martin, showing dark underwing (cf. Northern HM)

I am a bit unclear what the status of Asian House Martin is in the Bangkok area, though it seems to be entirely absent from Round (2008), which suggests that it may have only been added to the local avifauna in recent years (I have seen them at Kaho Dinsor during raptor migration last October, but have rarely encuntered them elsewhere in Asia, so this is a welcome and unexpected addition to the patch list).

Another notable record on the patch today, given the date was two Chinese Pond Herons in well-advanced breeding plumage (see picture below).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sand Martin

Since Sunday morning central and northern Thailand has been hit by an unusually cold front, with unseasonal rain and (by our standards) very low temperatures - when I woke up early on Monday morning it was just 15 Celsius, which is about half what it was 24 hours earlier , and just three Celsius warmer than London!

Normally I'd expect this kind of weather to produce some notable irruptive species and so I took a quick look at the patch this morning where the highlight seemed to be hirundines feeding at very low altitudes. These included  the first Sand Martin I have seen there and a Red-rumped Swallow (a scarce passage migrant in the city under normal circumstances).

Sand Martin -  a new patch bird!

Unfortunately a lot of the hirundines seen appeared to be rather lethargic in the flight patterns, flying just above the ground and coming very close to me. Indeed I have seem several reports today on social media indicting that quite a few hirundines have succumbed to the weather.  I would guess that at this time of the year, when they are still a long way from starting their northbound migration, they have low fat scores, so a sudden drop in temperature and reduced foraging opportunities must be making it hard to maintain energy supplies.

As I write this I can hear a cold wind blowing around our house, so it seems that we will have a few more days of cool conditions.

Asian Waterbird Census

I did my AWC sites on Saturday(23rd), with by far the best being the saltpans between KM 51 and KM 60 on Rame 2 Road (that's the main highway between Bangkok and Cha-am. This is an area I have driven passed very regularly, but I have never made time to stop, so it was good to have a motive to stop and explore the area thoroughly.

Highlights included 22 species of wader, including a flock of 16 Asiatic Dowitchers and at least 275 Great Knot as well as 500+ Black-tailed Godwit and three species of stint. I only explored the (very big!) area to the south of the highway, but the north side also has saltpans and is certainly worthy of investigation.

Asiatic Dowitcher

Great Knot

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Expect the unexpected

January in Thailand tends to throw up some strange records of birds. Two years ago the country's first records of Collared Pratincole and Bay-backed Shrike were found wintering within a few kilometers of one another, whilst last January my local patch, a park in central Bangkok, hosted the country's first Hartert's Leaf Warbler.

The depths of "winter" mean that long-staying birds comprising extralimital records get stumbled upon by birders, and irruptive species from further north may appear in unexpected places. In short January is a good time for anything to turn up anywhere.

And so it was on Sunday whilst driving back from Bueng Borophet, giddy with my Baer's Pochard overdose that I decided to take a break and look for raptors in an area of dry rice paddies about 40km south of Nakorn Sawan. Having seen a couple of Black Kites from the main highway I found a track that took me into the fields and just followed my nose, stopping and scanning regularly, staring into the raging heat haze. I picked up more Black Kites as well as a Common Kestrel, several Black-shouldered Kites and a female Eastern Marsh Harrier, whilst Red-rumped Swallows sallied over the paddies.

I ended up taking one final randomly chosen track before heading back to the main road, but soon after getting onto this track I flushed a large passerine from the thin line of small trees and bushes on a field margin. The bird landed and when I got the binoculars on it I was astonished to see that it was a Turdus thrush, rear end on with its head to the side - it immediately looked like an Eye-browed Thrush! I switched to the camera to try to get a photo of it - this would be a rather unusual record, given that all Turdus thrushes wintering in Thailand usually favour extensively forested hills and mountains, rather than baking hot, parched lowland rice paddies. Before I could get a photo the bird flew further up the line of trees and out of sight, but on reflection I realised that this bird didn't look quite right for an Eye-browed. There was something about the intensity of the face pattern that just "felt wrong" and it reminded me very much of a photo I had seen a few weeks ago of a Grey-sided Thrush - a much rarer bird that is typically restricted to Thailand's northern mountains as a winter visitor from it's breeding grounds in north eastern China.  Confusion reigned for the next hour as I moved up and down the bird's favoured  line of cover getting brief views that only helped to reinfoced my conviction that this was indeed a Grey-sided Thrush.  I was about to give up, having lost the bird, when a final walk back along the track and flushed not one but two individuals, and eventually secured some very poor record shots that confirmed the ID as Grey-sided Thrush -  a very bizarre record of a species that BirdLife International classifies as being globally threatened!

Grey-sided Thrush

The other strange record on Sunday, initially dismissed but perhaps worthy of mention here was a Greater Flamingo spotted by our boatman at Bueng Borophet in between sightings of Baer's Pochards! This was presumed to be an escape though it was fully winged and unringed and it had never been seen before by the boatmen. After a bit of web surfing I learned that Greater Flamingo has an extensive winter range acros much of the Indian sub-continent, making it less sedentary than Bay-backed Shrike and so arguably there is some scope for a genuine vagrant...maybe!

anybody lost a pinkie?


Baer's Pochard is one of the world's most threatened ducks.  BirdLife International's website states that it is classified as Critically Endangered as it is apparently undergoing a extremely rapid population decline, as measured by numbers on both the breeding and wintering grounds. It is now absent or occurs in extremely reduced numbers over the majority of its former breeding and wintering grounds and is common nowhere. It is thought that hunting and wetland destruction are the key reasons for its decline.

In the 1980s and early 1990s there were still counts of 400+ Baer's Pochards at Bueng Borophet, but the rapid decline in the population has seen records collapse in Thailand. Before this year there were confirmed records of Baer's Pochards in Thailand in only one of the last three winters (winter 2013/14 saw them recorded from at least two sites). Having not seen any before, I was starting to think that had really missed the chance to see this species in Thailand, and would need to visit China to stand any realistic chance of catching up with them.

However at the beginning of last week a female was reported at Bueng Borphet and a few days later it was established that in fact two birds were present.  Needless to say, I made arrangements to book a boat to go out to look for these birds, so yesterday (17th January) myself and Gerry Brett spent the morning with a local guide to look for this remarkably rare duck. Our journey out through the lake's heavily vegetated margins gave us great views of many water birds including Striated Grassbird (Bueng Borophet seems to be THE site for this species in Thailand) Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Oriental Reed Warbler, Purple Heron, Little and Indian Cormorants.

Purple Heron

Little and Indian Cormorants

There were only small numbers of duck present in the area that the Baer's have been frequenting, including about 10-15 Ferruginous Duck, five Tufted Duck and three Common Pochard.  We located the pair of Baer's Pochards, innitially with the Common Pochard and a couple of Ferruginous Ducks.

Baer's Pochards (drake far left, duck far right) with Ferruginous Ducks

drake Baer's Pochard

Having watched this pair for a while we decided to take a look for other birds elsewhere around the lake and soon found a drake Baer's Pochard with a group of Ferruginous Duck.  We initially assumed that we had relocated the same birds, but the female was nowhere to be seen, and our discussion with the boatman established that he and one of the other boatmen had thought that there were in fact three birds present and this indeed seems to be the case.

2nd drake Baer's Pochard

2nd drake Baer's Pochard (second from right)

Common Pochard

The journey back to dry land was uneventful, but did give us good views of a male Pied Harrier that was hunting overhead.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A pelican, brief.

Happy New Year!

Yesterday (3rd January) I did my first bit of 2016 birding at Suan Rot Fai.  There were a few common winterers around (five Asian Brown Flycatchers, 7 Taiga Flycatchers, at least four Brown Shrikes and a single Thick-billed Warbler) plus a couple of bonus birds. The first of these was a patch tick in the form of a Spot-billed Pelican that flew over the park a couple of times as the sun rose.

Spot-billed Pelican

The other bonus bird was a Seicercus warbler spp. that was calling regularly and gave prolonged but rather poo views.  This bird was obviously part of the "Golden Spectacled Warbler" complex, which in Thailand is made up of four species (Alstrom's, Bianchi's, Grey-crowned, and Marten's). Whilst these species are nightmarishly inseparable on plumage, they are pretty straight forward to ID on call, so a quick in-the-filed check of each species on Xeno Canto confirmed this bird as an Alstrom's Warbler (also known as "Plain-tailed Warbler").  I have seen Alstrom's in the park before, but always on passage in September, so a mid-winter record is notable, though a bit disappointing not to be of one of the less expected congeners.

Alstrom's Warbler