Thursday, 4 February 2010

Laem Pak Bia & Wat Norng Blah Lai

Tuesday 2nd February 2010

An early finish saw me jumping in the car at 15:20h and heading to Laem Pak Bia, shorebird heartland, right on the gulf of Thailand, due east of Phetchaburi town. The area is world famous  as a favoured wintering site for the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. Alas this bird did not get into my sights today! 

I generally head straight for the sea front, to the mudflats at the end of the village of Pak Thale unless, of course, there are thousands of birds in the salt pans and aquaculture ponds on either side of the road leading to the sea. I do this because it is always worth checking the state of the tide. More seasoned campaigners have advised me that the spoon-billed sandpiper will only be in the ponds and pans if the tide is in. So today the tide was out. However I counted approximately 380 curlews on the mudflats. There is normally a significant flock of these guys here. I counted an additional two whimbrel nearby. There were no terns or plovers or any other shorebirds except for egrets and pond herons. Sometimes a chinese egret can be seen here but alas, like spoonbill sandpiper, not today. The curlew took off so I managed to get a few good shots.

Eurasian curlew, numenius arquata, Laem Pak Bia, 02.02.10

Inland this little cormorant obliged with a pleasant silhouette against the distant setting sun. This is a very common bird in the area and there are usually indian cormorants in the area too. I am indebted to Phil Round for explaining to me how to separate the two species: basically the size of the bill. The little cormorant has a smaller bill which lacks the slight downward tip of the Indian. Talking of which, Phil Round called me last night to invite me to go bird ringing at The King's Project. Alas I am busy. 

little cormorant, numenius arquata, Laem Pak Bia, 02.02.10

If there are thanks for the next bird's identification then they are due to Smith Sutibut of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand. He did a great job on distinguishing the brown and  black-headed gull at the recent Asian Waterbird Census training. The black-tipped outer wing primaries are the key diagnostic here containing what Craig Robson, The Birds of Thailand, refers to as "up to three white mirrors". Of course these birds are fairly common during the winter. 

Brown-headed gull, larus brunnicephalus, Laem Pak Bia, 02.02.10

Unfortunately I disturbed them as I encroached on their space in a fruitless effort to get a shot of what looked like more exotic fry. There were about 70 gulls in the flock and they soon settled back down.

Nearby there were plenty of spotted redshank, greenshank, curlew sandpiper, kentish plover, lesser sand plover etc. Alas none of the rareties were visible. I ventured on my curlews once more, relocated from the shore in a pond, just before the light went completely.

Wednesday 3rd February 2010

Unexpectedly I had a few free hours this morning and hit the Petchkasem Highway and 40 minutes later I was in the Wat Norng Blah Lai area looking at eagles and other raptors. I am one of the luckiest people on the planet to have such an abundance of bird life on my doorstep.

Greater spotted eagle, aquila clanga, Wat Norng Blah Lai, 03.02.10

I am completely open to being told this is a steppe eagle but I think the smallish tail, smaller wings and the absence of what Craig Robson calls "full trousers", mean it is a greater spotted eagle. If you look closely at the wings you can see the trouser effect and the split at the knee, especially the upper wing; remember each wing is a separate trouser so to speak! I would say the "trouser" effect in this picture is more akin to what is commonly referred to as "cargo trousers", those ghastly three-quarter length strides! 

Black-shouldered kite,  elanus caeruleus, Wat Norng Blah Lai, 03.02.10

This black-shouldered kite was hanging around and there were many black kites and a few harriers in attendance. The black-shouldered kite is really quite scary looking especially if you see its ruby irises! However they are fairly common in this area. 

Finally an eastern stonechat. There are plenty of these little birds in the area at present. I checked this with Phil Round because I wasn't sure and was curious as it appears to be in breeding plumage and it is only early February. 
Eastern stonechat, saxicola maurus, Wat Norng Blah Lai 03.02.10


  1. Nice catch for a hard working dedicated guy. Is there any particular spot that one must go to in Laen Pak Bia?

  2. Hi wondersf. I don't know how familiar you are with the area but it is a fairly large area and consists mainly of salt pans and fish ponds. The maon road runs Ban Laem in the north and towards Chao Had Samran in the south. You can join it at either end; basically it runs parallel to the sea. As you drive south from Ban Laem just keep checking the saltpans on either side of you and after about 15 km you will come to Pak Thale; it is signposted and there is actually a couple of green SHOREBIRD SITE signposts in Thai and English with a Spoon Bill Sandpiper on them. There is one pointing straight into a narrow road leading to the sea; follow that slowly and you will eventually get out to the mudflats and there is a car park too. Your drive should be eventful with shorebirds and seabirds on all sides. You can continue south and head for The Kings Project, signposted, and it is always worth driving round; basically a water recycling centre; a bit further down on the right, after the village, you may see a deserted unfinished hotel building on your right; this too is a good spot to drive into. run by Nick Upton has very good information and maps for the area and most of the other key birding areas in Thailand.