Photo credit © Brian CasatelliWords even video, photohgraphs and sound simply cannot do justice to our day's birding in Laem Pak Bia, Friday 10th December 2010. Three of us ventured forth brought together by www.birdforum.net : Dave Gandy, Bangkok-based Brit, Brian Casatelli, a real American from NYC plus myself assembled at daybreak at the Spoon-billed Sandpiper site at Pak Thale. Brian and I had actually got a bit of a head start before Dave joined us and we were already happy with our list, headed by four Nordmann's Greenshanks and Dave pulled out another one to make it five. In the same flock there were sizeable numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, distinguished by their slightly upward pointing bill and once airborne quite distinct from the Black-tailed Godwits; this latter species can usually be seen in very large flocks of 500+ birds in this locale and make quite a spectacle when they take to the air for a short constitutional. There was also a very large flock of Eurasian Curlew, perhaps 250+ birds. Add in the usual suspects: red-necked stint, curlew sandpiper, lesser sand-plover, grey plover, pacific golden plover, one broad-billed sandpiper sporting its double supercilium, sanderling, marsh sandpiper, a few great knot (lifers for me), some common greenshank, a few whimbrel plus the bystanders:little and intermediate egret, little cormorants and many brown-headed gulls, black-winged stilts and a fair sprinkling of Caspian terns. Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia really have to be seen to be believed.
Prior to Dave's arrival we were taken by surprise by the unexpected arrival of a rail or crake of some description quite literally falling out of the sky and scurrying into one of the salt pan huts. As we tiptoed up to the bird it flew off and all I got was a very clear view of lengthwise brown and black streaks heading off in the direction of the sea. I would suggest a water rail on this basis but let me stress that is a suggestion, a possibility, no more. There was also at least one sand martin (a lifer for me) on the premises, looking like a worn barn swallow but completely lacking any red/orange around the face and neck.
But no Spoon-billed Sandpiper as we headed out into the saltpans extending our search. This produced more waders, including Common and Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Common Greenshank and thanks to Dave, Great and Red Knot, the latter a lifer for me. We saw lots of Lesser Sand-plovers but what we were looking for was Red-necked Stints, the normal play mates of Spoon-billed Sandpiper. So back to our cars and a short drive to the salt pans near the sea where the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is also regularily seen. Once more lots of bird activity including Gull-billed Terns, Curlews, Marsh Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and Dave sighted one Spoon-billed Sandpiper quickly followed by a second. What a sight to behold, these sparkling, spritely, small birds, so distinctively billed, quite carefree and feeding away in a very industrious, contented manner apparently indifferent to their fate. Entranced I was and in fact it seemed more important to look at the birds than to try to take photographs. A little bit later Dave found a third Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the next pool towards the sea, this one as happy as the others. What a great moment!
Soon after a Brahminy Kite flew over close enough to allow some good shots
Photo credit © Brian Casatelli
With the tide in there was no point heading to the sea shore mud flats so we decided to head to the other side of the main road in search of Black-faced Spoonbill and Pied Avocet. As we approached the salt pans what sounded like canon fire rang out and huge flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Marsh Sandpipers took to the air and promptly dispersed. Plan B was to drive south to Laem Pak Bia proper for lunch and a trip to the Sand Spit. No sooner had we got going than we stopped to check out a solitary gull, which on investigation turned out to be a first winter Heuglin's Gull and this bird flew into a nearby flock which consisted of Brown-headed Gulls and Caspian Terns. Scrutiny of this flock enabled us to identify a total of 3 Heuglin's Gulls, huge birds, dwarfing the Brown-Headed Gulls and Caspian Terns, not exactly small birds.
We then drove south but stopped close to the Kings Project where in the midst of a flock of about 30 Painted Stork Brian spotted the Black-faced Spoonbill, another great bird. Unfortunately it was some way in the distance but its features make it really quite unmistakable. Fortified by this sighting we headed to Mr Daeng's for a boat trip to the sand spit.
The Sand Spit gave us some Malaysian & Kentish Plovers, some Sanderlings but and a pleasant boat trip with Mr Daeng, followed by an excellent late lunch.
After lunch we went back to look at the Black-faced Spoonbill which was at the same location but hidden by the painted stork. In fact it was taking a rest and we headed up a few hundred metres to get a better shot of it. Distant, sadly.
Then we headed south to the Kings Project where there were no surprises. Some Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Golden Pacific Plovers and a few Common Snipe. I think it is fair to say we were wiped out and we headed home at about 5:30 pm in the fading light.
It really was a great day. We saw a lot of great birds.