Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hell in Paradise

The recent split of Asian Paradise Flycatcher into three species caught me and a fair few others unawares and has sent us scurrying off to figure out if we have seen all three, which are:

Amur Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei (monotypic)

Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone affinis 
(includes burmae, indochinensis, affinis, nicobarica, madzoedi, australis, borneensis, procera, insularis, sumbaensis, and floris)

Indian Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi 
(includes leucogaster, paradisi, ceylonensis, and saturatior)

I was fortunate to be aware that most of the Paradise Flycatchers that I see passing through Bangkok are incei (= Amur), but had also seen a indonchinensis (= Blyth's) there in winter 2014/15, with another in Feb 2016.  It seems that saturatior Indian Paradise Flycatcher winters in southern Thailand (Round, 2008), although there is some debate about whether saturatior should be considered to be part of the Blyth's group, rather than Indian.   My interpretation is therefore that in Bangkok Amur is an autumn passage migrant, whilst Blyth's is the common Paradise Flycatcher in Thai forests year-round, with mid-winter wanderings further afield, eg.into Bangkok.  Saturatior (Indian?) needs to be looked for in peninsular Thailand in winter and on passage.

adult female Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Sept 2008
adult female Amur Paradise Flycatcher (same individual as above)

The bird in the two images above was the first Paradise Flycatcher I saw when I started working my patch, eight years ago.  At the time Phil Round commented: "The blackish throat contrasting with the grey breast and belly tells you that this is the migrant race, incei. Clearly bluish bill and orbital indicates an adult (greyish, bill flesh-based in 1Y), so presumably a female."

2nd Calendar Year Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, Feb 2016

The Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher above is a 2nd calendar year (ie, 1st winter), aged by its flesh-coloured base to the bill. The grey throat, with black limited to the crown identifies it as indochinensis.

It is important to note at this point that the upperpart colouration is pretty similar in both these birds, but in adult males, Amur is distinctly brighter than Blyth's.

From memory, I have never seen a Paradise Flycatcher in Bangkok on spring passage, and if I were to do so I would examine it very carefully as it seems that this is by far the best time of year to find Japanese Paradise Flycatcher -  a scarce migrant in eastern Thailand, and pretty much a vagrant elsewhere in the country. Round (2008) notes that (at that time) Japanese Paradise Flycatcher was "only known from one record in the Bangkok area, and relatively few others nationwide" and called it "a very rare spring and autumn passage migrant", furthermore noting  that many claims of Japanese might be erroneous. Recent migration studies on Koh Man Nai have demonstrated that Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is actually a more regular spring bird than thought back in 2008, but I am only aware of one more Bangkok record (also in spring).

So, I was happy with having determined that both Amur and Blyth's Paradise Flycatchers occur on my patch, and that I'd need to look carefully at any spring Paradise Flycatcher to see if I could snag myself a Japanese scarcity.

Then on 19th September last year I photographed the bird below.  It was the second of two sightings I had of Paradise Flycatchers in the park that morning, but both were very brief encounters, with this bird offering itself for these images and then promptly disappearing.

At the time I figured: September  = Amur and thought no more about it.  However a few months later Dave Sargeant was reviewing his and other images of Paradise Flycatchers to try to work out which ones he has seen, and contacted me to ask if I thought this bird might be a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher because he considered it to be rather dull.  To my mind the ID criteria of 1st winters was that Japanese should have significantly duller upperparts than Amur or Blyths, and whiter under parts, but knowing that this was a tough bird to claim I was extremely cautious. In due course I posted the images on a couple of forums, where other well-respected birders, including Andy Pierce and Dave Bakewell were supportive of a Japanese diagnosis, though one experienced ringer was less convinced.  However, with ringers on Koh Man Nai having handled more JPFs this spring there is now a unanimous consensus that this is indeed a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, based upon the combination of non-rufous upper tail and what can clearly be seen to be uniform sooty blackish primary coverts (compare the primary coverts with the Amur at the top of this post).

Needless to say, I will be looking extremely carefully at all the (spring, autumn, mid-winter) Paradise Flycatchers I see in future!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A whale (and shearwater) of a time

On Sunday 22nd May I finally got around to taking one of the Wildlife Encounters Thailand trips to look for Bryde's Whales in the inner Gulf of Thailand.

The boat goes out from Khok Kham, just about a ten minute drive from where Bangkok's closest Spoon-billed Sandpipers usually spend the winter (and given that the boat trips run through from now until January, birders could probably combine  the two).

Before jumping on the boat I had an hour checking for waders at Khok Kham - most areas I looked at were pretty quiet, but the Mangrove Research Centre held a flock of at least 16 Asian Dowitchers, plus four Whimbrel, a few Common Redshank  and Black-tailed Godwits.

On the boat I met Aussie-based birder Andrew Sutherland and Khun Tour, a dynamic young Thai mammalogist and birder who has established this as the only company offering whale watching in the inner gulf.  We spent much of the journey out sifting through flocks of terns - Little, longipennis Commons, and Whiskered dominated closer to shore, but as we got further out we encountered  larger numbers of White-winged Black Terns and a couple of unexpected bonuses in the form of one or two Lesser Crested Terns and three Bridled Terns and also came across a couple of pods of Irrawaddy Dolphins.


Bridled Tern

Whiskered Tern


Eventually, after some six hours searching we located our main quarry - a Bryde's Whale mother and calf.  They were a long way off, and bizarrely as we watched them through our binoculars we could see the distant skyline of downtown Bangkok in the background!

open-mouthed Bryde's Whale (far left) with Bangkok skyline

The boat was duly pointed in their direction and we headed towards them. Whilst scanning to look for the open-mouthed mother re-surfacing I noticed what looked like an all dark "duck" on the water... I thought it must just be a piece of wood coincidentally positioned to look like a bird, but as we got a bit closer I could see that it was indeed a bird.  I was trying to figure out what it was, being reminded of an all-dark juvenile skua, and so called to Andrew to get onto the bird.  I banged off a couple a very distant record shots and zoomed them on the back of my camera where I could see a tell-tale tubenose: it was a shearwater, and thus whatever species it was it was a pretty rare bird in Thai waters!!!

The boat detoured towards it, and within a couple of minutes we were alongside what was identified as a Short-tailed Shearwater, only the 8th record for Thailand!

Short-tailed Shearwater

dusky underwings exclude Sooty Shearwater

foot projection is also an important ID feature

We eventually caught up with the whales, who showed pretty well too.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Laem Pak Bia - 17th May

On my way back from Cha-am I visited Laem Pak Bia, focusing my time on the Royal Project.

On my way into the project I came across a showy group of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, and soon afterwards I located a full breeding plumaged Indian Pond Heron which was flushed by a motorbike before I could get any photos of it.

Blue-tailed Beer-eater

I spent a long time looking through the herons trying to relocated the IPH, but actually ended up finding a second IPH (in less pristine breeding plumage), after photographing a few Javan Pond Herons.

Javan Pond Heron

Javan Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron (bird number 2)

The ponds in the Royal Project were also very productive for terns, with 20 or so Caspian Terns feeding and 40-50 Whiskered Terns, plus a lone White-winged Black Tern.

Whiskered Tern

Caspian Tern

Passerine interest came in the form of an "Arctic-type" Warbler, which given the late date could well have been an Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, but remained stubbornly silent. I also found a late Oriental Reed Warbler.
Arctic Warbler (probably Kamchatka?)

On the way home I checked the area where I had seen the Australian-flagged Curlew Sandpiper and indeed it was still present in the company of more than 100 Red-necked Stints and a group of at least 200 Painted Storks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Driving to Cha-am

On Sunday afternoon I had to drive to Cha-am which is about 35km south of Laem Pak Bia.  Given this proximity it seemed rude not to stop off for a spot of birding along the way!

My first stop was at KM 55 on Rama 2 Road (the main road heading south west out of Bangkok).  This road has saltpans right next to it in this area and I have explored here several times in recent months, having found a flock of a couple of hundred Great Knots and a handful of Asian Dowitchers in the past. This time I chose a random track to explore, not really expecting to find many waders, given the date and the fact that I knew that the state of the tide was less than ideal - but I had to work with what I had.  I eventually found a pool that hosted a reasonable number of herons and a few Sandplovers, and a amongst the 20 or so Javan Pond Herons I was pleased to find  two Indian Pond Herons (a vagrant to Thailand) and a late Chinese Pond Heron.

Indian Pond Heron (bird 1)

Indian Pond Heron (bird 2)

Chinese Pond Heron

 I then headed on to Pak Thale (the wintring site for Spoon-billed Sandpipers and thousands of other waders) which was pretty much devoid of birds, save for a single pool which hosted about 100 Marsh Sandpipers, 10 or so Black-tailed Godwit and a party of 11 Spotted Redshank. Passerine interest came in the form of a late Black-browed Reed Warbler.


Further south, towards Laem Pak Bia I was fortunate enough to find an impressive flock of 160+ Painted Storks feeding close to the road,  joined by seven Spot-billed Pelicans.  A look in a saltpan behind this flock revealed a small group of Red-necked Stints and encouraged by this I scanned further to find a couple of Pacific Golden Plovers and a party of seven Curlew Sandpipers including one brandishing a bright orange flag above the right knee.  I knew that this was not a local bird (inner gulf flags are a combination of black and green), so I banged off a few record shots as "evidence".  Looking at various resources on line it seems that this bird was ringed in the Australian state of Victoria!  This means that if the bird travelled in a straight line it would have covered a minimum of 7,300 km to get to where I was watching it, but that would mean a direct flight traversing the outback (I've no idea how likely that is).  If the bird were to have travelled along the coat from Melbourne to Perth and the north to Thailand it would have had to cover a total of about 10,000 km to reach me.

G'day, mate!

Painted Stork

6th May 2016

One of my last bashes of the spring around the patch produced only two migrants - the first being a splendid and very showy Dark-sided Flycatcher (pix below), with the other an Arctic Warbler in song.

Having latterly examined my sound recordings of this bird and the one I heard singing on 15th April and comparing them (by ear) with various recordings on Xeno Canto it seems to me that they are clearly closest to Phylloscopus borealis transbaicalica (recorded at Khasanskiy rayon, Primorskiy kray in Russia, north of the Korean Peninsular) rather that Phylloscopus borealis borealis recordings from Finland.

I am unsure if it is generally accepted that P.b. transbaicalica is the main (only?) sub-species of Arctic Warbler passing through Thailand on passage (obviously excluding the separate species of Kamchatka and Japanese Leaf Warblers which are now confirmed on the Thai list).
But I have found literature that indicates that P. b. transbaicalica breeds in "Transbaikal" also known as "Dauria". Is there any likelihood that future studies will identify P.b.transbaicalica as a distinct taxon? "Daurian Leaf Warbler" perhaps?!