Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Crazy Crake

A couple of days ago I was told of a report of a Red-legged Crake at the unlikely venue of Chulalonkorn University's down town campus, slap bang in the middle of Bangkok, next to the shopping malls of MBK and Siam Square.

Looking at a map, it is easy to understand why this site has a bit of a track record when it comes to good birds - it is one of very few green spaces in the centre of the city and has a  bunch of student birders on site. In fact it has actually hosted a Fairy Pitta, a Slaty-legged Crake and various Mugimaki Flycatchers in the past few years!

I saw a photo of the Red-legged Crake and made an early morning trip to see if I could find it, however being unsure exactly where it has been seen left me using guess work, and with another appointment at 9am I couldn't stick around too long, and consequently drew a blank.  That evening I was told that in fact the bird was still present, and in roughly the area I had been checking.  Yesterday I found myself downtown running some errands and remembered that it might be worth another go, but I didn't have any optics with me, so would be reliant on other birders who I expected by now would be on site. 

Sure enough I found a small group of enthusiastic young Thai birders staking out  small ornamental maze and we eventually got views of the bird creeping about in the undergrowth and it popped into full view a couple of time before flying to thicker cover, out of site.

This bird apparently has a "floppy wing", but was able to fly so I'm unsure if there is any need to catch it and hospitalise it (which was being attempted as I left).  Given that it has god food supply and adequate cover it may be best left in peace.

Below are a couple of daft photos taken on my iPhone!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Petchaburi province

The weekend was spent with my old friend Tom Brooks, who was keen to connect with Spoon-billed Sandpipers.

Afer arriving, dinner and beers on Friday night, we wee off to Pak Thale for dawn on Saturday and the waders didn't dissapoint, with two Spoon-billed Sandpipers (the first of which was leg-flagged, though too far away to read and too brief to photograph), 10 Red-necked Phalaropes and a single Dunlin, with another highlight being no less than four Slender-billed Gulls. The usual array of waders was present, with a particularly confiding Long-toed Stint the first birds of the day.

Long-toed Stint

Slender-billed Gull

We then checked Laem Pak Bia salt pans which held 74 Nordmann's Greenshank (my highest personal count), 800-1000 Great Knot, one or possibly two Little Stint, 14 Avocet, 129 Grey Plover (quite a notable count I think) and 41 Bar-tailed Godwit.

 After this we headed inland to Nong Plaa Lai rice fiends to look for raptors, quickly scoring an imm. Imperial Eagle, then 2-3 Greater Spotted Eagles, a single dark phase Booted Eagle and a party of 8+ Yellow-breasted Buntings.

Sunday was spent at Kaeng Krachan where the highlights were an Asian Emerald Cuckoo (a well overdue tick for me), excellent views of a pair of Scaly-breasted Partridge and a pair of Green Magpies nest-building.  Other notables included hearing Bamboo Woodpecker and Great Slaty Woodpecker as well as at least three Grey Peacock-Pheasant, whilst sightings included Great Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Swinhoe's Minivet two Great Eared Nightjar. Heard only nightbirds on Saturday evening included two Large-tailed Nightjar, four Brown Hawk Owls and two Collared Scops Owls.

In terms of mammals Banded Languars where very much in evidence, and we encountered a large group of Stump-tailed Macaques on our way out of the park.

Banded Languar

Khao Yai National Park

I spent last Wednesday/Thursday visiting Khao Yai with my friend Guy Anderson who has been surveying Spoon-billed sandpipers in Myanmar for the past couple of weeks.

Khao Yai lived up to expectations, offering some excellent forest birding in the short time I had available (a late afternoon and a full day).  Highlights included four Siamese Fireback, at least three Blue Pitta (heard only), Orange-breasted Trogon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, two Heart-spotted Woodpecker, two Black and Buff Woodpecker, one Large Scimitar Babbler, one White-browed Scimitar Babbler, one Asian Stubtail, three Great Eared Nightjar, Banded Broadbill (heard only), Puff-throated Babbler and a single Silver-backed Needletail with a flock of 14 Brown Needletails.  Mammals were in evidence with an Elephant seen on a salt lick and both White-handed and Pileated Gibbons vocal.

Siamese Fireback


Sambar fawn

Monday, February 15, 2016

A day of waders

I didn't have any birdy expectations yesterday (14th Feb).  A colleague of mine had asked me to help him figure out the basics of using his recently purchased DSLR, so I took him to Suan Rot Fai  for a walkabout with cameras. However things turned a bit birdy whilst explaining f-stops and ISO numbers, as we walked over a bridge in the park and I laid eyes on a Red-wattled Lapwing standing next to the khlong spanned by the bridge - this was the easiest patch tick ever!

Red-wattled Lapwings are a ubiquitous part of the central plains landscape (and elsewhere besides), but I have never seen one in the city before (compare that with three records of the much less numerous migrant Grey-headed Lapwing).

After dropping my colleague off I went home to do some chores, but by early afternoon started thinking about the fact I hadn't had a "Spoony" for a while and thought I could make good use of the afternoon by heading to Khok Kham to try my luck.  I arrived about 4pm, just as the heat of the day was very slowly starting to wane.  The tide was low and so the salt pans were pretty empty of birds, but after a hour  I found a pool holding about 30 Red-necked Stints. I checked a couple of other areas then I returned to this pool to find that a single Great Knot and Pacific Golden Plover had dropped in, so I decided to settle down and see if more birds would appear, and if they'd come a bit closer if I sat quietly below a large bund.  The sun was dropping by this stage giving a lovely golden light, a gentle breeze was making the temperature very agreeable, and though there was no sign of Spoony it was a rare pleasure to sit alone on the edge of a scrape, listening to waders calling and watching their numbers gradually swell as birds came in from the foreshore.  As I started one more left-to-right scan of the flock the first bird I got onto was a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, offering excellent scope views!  In fact this was the leg-flagged female "green 05" which has wintered at Khok Kham for at least the last two winters. I watched her for about five minutes but as I switched back from Camera to scope I looked back and found that she had gone, so I was left to watch a couple of flocks of Great  and Red Knot buzz the pools, and a few Broad-billed Sandpipers that had dropped in to join the other waders.

Spoony & friends


Red-necked Stint

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher

A look around the patch yesterday morning (9th Feb) produced three Brown Shrikes, four Yellow-browed Warblers, two Taiga Flycatchers and two Asian Brown Flycatchers as the standard fare.

However a couple of interesting birds were in the mix as well - these included a calling Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (by ear it sounded dead-on for Sakhalin rather than Pale-legged), a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (one of few records that I have recorded on the patch), and a 1st winter Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher which provided some excellent photo opportunities.

Below I have also included for comparison a shot of a 1st winter Amur Paradise Flycatcher, seen on the patch on 19th September last year.  Whilst lighting may (?) be responsible for the difference in the tone of the rufous upper parts, the pattern of black on the head enables the identification to be clinched:

Blyth's has black restricted to the top of the crown, with the rest of the head, face and throat grey.

Amur has an entirely black head, face and throat.

There seems to be an obvious difference in the extend of black in the tertials, but I am unsure if this relates to sex, or may be in is useful as an ID feature? Need to do some reading.  Both birds exhibit a pale base to the bill, indicating that they are 1st winters.

 1st w Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, February
ad. female Amur Paradise Flycatcher

Chiang Saen, Fang & DAK

I spent 5th-8th February birding northern Thailand with Dave Sargeant, who's excellent and extremely comprehensive is an invaluable guide to many of the sites that we visited.

We started on Friday afternoon at Chiang Saen lake in the hope of connecting with a recently reported drake Baer's Pochard, so spent a few hours 'scoping distant ducks. We found no sign of the Baer's but did catch up with a splendid drake Falcated Duck hat had been seen over the past week and it was unite a novelty for me to spend time liking at ducks as we have few opportunities to do so around Bangkok. The most numerous duck on the lake were Indian Spot-billed, with other dabblers including c.50 Pintail, and c.15 Garganey. We grilled the diving ducks and got c.25 Ferruginous Duck, one Common Pochard and three Tufted Duck. Other notable species here included two Pied Harriers and several Great Cormorants.

During the late afternoon we checked various areas for flocks of starlings (including flocks of Chestnut-tailed which at very common here) which might hold rarities as both White-cheeked and Red-billed Starlings have been seen in this area in recent week, but the highlight was hearing several Black-faced Buntings that had already gone to their roost, and glimpsing one of them.

Saturday was dedicated to Nam Kham Nature Reserve in the hope of seeing the wintering Firethroat - Thailand's only record of this species, which was first seen last winter. Unfortunately despite spending a total of 6 hours in the tiny hide in from it's favoured watering hole the bird did not show, but it was difficult to be dissappointed when a couple of Siberian Rubythroats  offered multiple, fantastic photo opportunities as a form of compensation.  Dave meanwhile visited another hide and saw two Paddyfield Warblers (very rare in Thailand).

Sunday started around the town of Fang, where a visit to the Hot Springs produced a Grey-faced Buzzard and three Eye-browed Thrushes, but not the hoped for Spot-winged Grosbeaks.  Our luck too a major turn for the better however when we checked out an area of paddyfields nearby which Dave had seen Chestnut-eared Bunting last winter and sure enough we found one  of these cracking birds in a ditch between two paddies - making me very happy as this was a much wanted world tick! This area also held a couple of Bluethroats and two Pied Harriers.

later in the morning we drove up to Doi Ang Khang ("DAK") where the target birds fell into place very quickly with a superb Black-breasted Thrush at the Royal Project, coming to food in the company of a Large Niltava, White-tailed RobinSiberian Blue Robin and Streaked Wren-babbler.

Black-breasted Thrush

Siberian Blue Robin

Streaked Wren-babbler

White-tailed Robin

Slaty-backed Flycatcher

We checked into our accommodation and Baan Luang Resort where we added Crested Finchbill to the list (another tick for me, having missed them on oi Lang twice!) as well as Brown-breasted Bulbul. Visiting the KM 21 trail produced another target bird - Bianchi's Warbler, with no less than three seen.  We also connected with an Aberrant Bush Warbler in this area and then a huge mixed flock that included  a pair of Clicking Shrike Babblers and a pair of Blyth's Shrike Babblers, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Claudia's Leaf Warbler, Rufous-backed Sibia and Chestnut-sided White-eye.  This was followed by a visit to the Chinese Cemetary area which provided excellent views of a male Daurian Redstart plus Large Hawk Cuckoo and (resident Maurus) Siberian Stonechat.

Daurian Redstart

After a very cold and noisy night (it was Chinese New Year!) we spent Monday morning checking for a reported Grey-winged Blackbird that did not show up, but instead we secured views of Scarlet-faced Liocichla, White-browed Laughtingthrush, and Silver-eared Laughingthrush and this area also allowed me to get some nice images of Dark-backed Sibia.

Dark-backed Sibia

A visit back to the Royal Project gave us a lucky break as some bird photographers there had baited  an area with mealworms and the star of the show - a Rusty-naped Pitta - was happy to perform in exchange for a snack!

Another check of various points around DAK for Black-headed Greenfinch failed to produce the goods, but we ran into  three Pallas's Warblers, a party of Grey-chinned Minivets in one area and a group of three male Short-billed Minivets in another area, plus good views of a calling Yellow-streaked Warbler and several Grey Bushchats.

Pallas's Warbler

Grey-chinned Minivet

Yellow-streaked Warbler

We finished the trip with lunch back at the resort and an hour staking out the garden which held Grey-sided, Eye-browed, Black-breasted and Blue Whistling Thrushes, as well as an Amur Wagtail.

Grey-sided Thrush

Eye-browed Thrush

Grey-sided & Eye-browed Thrush

Brown-breasted Bulbul