Thursday, 11 March 2010

Damned Shorebirds!

Tuesday, I ventured back to Laem Pak Bia, back to the deserted building and made it out reasonably early, getting to the site just before 07:30h. For starters I observed 10 painted stork messing around in a tree but just too far away to take a decent shot. There were plenty of birds, many black-tailed godwits, black-winged stilts, marsh sandpipers, little egrets, one pacific golden plover, two Nordmann's greenshank and a number of greenshanks. I managed one decent snap of this pacific golden plover, everything else was simply too far away or too small or a combination of both.

Pacific golden plover, pluvialis fulva, Laem Pak Bia, (DB), 09.03.10

There was a lot of birds: plovers, stints, small sandpipers and I have to confess to feeling useless as I really struggled to identify them. A number of factors: too far away, too much movement, change of plumage and so on. However there is no point beating myself up: shorebirds are really an art form in terms of identification and it comes down to patience and time. I am not the most patient person in the world! I am pretty happy with the progress made to date and no doubt this will continue.

I managed to get caught behind a truck on a single lane track in the salt pans. The truck was being filled  up with salt so I was held up for about 45 minutes. This process is manual and it was painful watching the graft, both men and women. Those people must be as tough and strong as anybody. I wonder what they make of us people of leisure driving around their work place looking at the birds. I won't share what I would be thinking if our roles were reversed!

Eventually I made it up to the main Laem Pak Bia site and once more I felt useless as the small birds all looked indistinguishable and there wasn't any sign of spoonbill sandpiper. Lots of red-necked stints, plovers and what looked like curlew sandpipers in transition to breeding plumage. On the mud flats as usual there were hundreds of curlew.

Wednesday we had some rain in the morning, a good down pour. We decided to head off to Khok Kam, salt pans situated at the top of the Inner Gulf of Thailand, immediately west of Bangkok. This is an important bird area, once more a major shore bird site, and the spoon-billed sandpiper has been recorded here every year. I had no expectation of seeing SBS but while out in the salt pans I took a call from Phil Round about some books he is going to lend me. When I told him where I was he advised me that two separate SBS had been recorded there last week; that they knew it was two different birds because one was ringed. Alas we didn't see any SBS but I managed some good photographs and this Indian Cormorant  Little Cormorant( see comment below, this is in fact a fine example of a little cormorant! GB16.03.10)  is the shot of the day. It is distinguished from Little Cormorant by the size (bigger) of its bill and the downward pointing tip. If you look carefully you will see this specimen has what Robson, Birds of Thailand, describes as "silvery peppering over eye" which indicates breeding plumage. ( This reads very well and it is indisputable except it is a little cormorant!!! and it still remains the shot of the day!)

Indian cormorant, phalacrocorax fuscicollis, Khok Kam, 10.03.10
Little cormorant, phalacrocorax niger, Khok Kam,10.03.10
Yellow wagtail, motacilla flava, Khok Kam, 10.03.10

This yellow wagtail was full of energy and, as you can see, was hardly camera shy! Elsewhere there was a flock of about 60 brown-headed gulls showing all their guises including the very striking brown head of their breeding plumage. In fact it was fascinating watching this flock form as each bird seemed to take its turn in descending and indeed appeared to quite literally fall out of the sky. 

Whiskered tern, chlidonias hybridus, Khok Kam, 10.03.10
(Photo: Luna Baradero)

I was really struggling to identify these terns, there were 20 of them. I thought maybe they were black-naped terns except there are no records of this species in this area! When I spoke with Phil Round he confirmed they would be whiskered terns! So I guess we could add pelagic birds to shorebirds: damned shorebirds and pelagic birds! 

Elsewhere I came across two articles online about how to count birds. Ebird: Bird Counting Part 1 and Ebird: Bird Counting Part 2. I really didn't have a clue what to do when confronted, as I often am, by very large flocks of single and mixed species  of birds.


  1. Hi Gerry,

    Pretty lot of birds in one outing. In numbers and species. I like the wagtail. Looks so different.

  2. Very kind of you to say so! Apparently the wagtail is pretty common at the site.

  3. I saw what I thought was a great cormorant at Laem Pak Bia on15.03.10 and in order to be sure I have done a little bit of a study of photographs and descriptions of the three types of cormorant found in Thailand. I remain happy that I saw a great cormorant but the cormorant here is definitely a Little Cormorant and this needs to be revised. I have seen a good photograph of an Indian cormorant in breeding plumage on The Oriental Bird Club Image Database and the "peppering" above the eye is wholly different in character to that in my photograph which might best be described as "notching". I am getting to know my way round cormorants!