Just after noon today the steering wheel in my car was too hot to handle! But at 05:30h this morning it was comfortable as I left the house en route for Huay Mai Teng reservoir in the dark. I had barely traveled 100 m when I saw the unmistakeable silhouette of a barn owl perched on a neighbouring roof against the slowly lightening sky. It was 90% black but there was a trace of its white, heart-shaped face. This was the footballing equivalent of a first minute goal.
So I had a spring in my step so to speak, pleased that I had made the effort to get out of bed, and off I went wondering what other excitement might be waiting for me. As I drove I wondered when River Lapwing might return to the reservoir; probably some time in July. Would the Small Pratincoles still be present and what else might there be today? I was on a tightish schedule today because I teach from 10:30 to 12:30h and the deal with my wife is I have to bring breakfast back before I go to work. So it was in my mind to target Chinese Francolin.
I don't know how these things happen but I drove into the main reservoir staging area. There's nothing much there, some dirt roads and lots of gravel in front of a vast stretch of water. There are often some good birds around this area early in the morning before human disturbance drives them off..... notably the Black Kites in the above banner were photographed here. It was 05:55h and right next to the water I see a solitary, unmistakeable River Lapwing! I didn't manage a photograph and even if I had been set up I doubt I would have been able to get close enough to get a decent shot; the light was poor as the sun was still covered by clouds. Vanellus duvaucelii , for me a sort of benchmark bird, probably the first species I think I ever reported seeing just over two years ago and a reminder of what extraordinary fun I get out of birding.
Little Ringed Plover
I wasn't in any way bothered about not getting a shot. I have no doubt a small number of River Lapwing will gather again: last year I think there was one occasion when I counted eleven. What is interesting is even though the reservoir level has lowered it is still high by comparison with each of the last two years. The road which crosses the reservoir is still submerged by water at the moment and it is in this area that I have most consistently seen the lapwings over the last two years. So I wonder what the lapwings will do and if they will find alternative quarters nearby or seek out new pastures. In the same wondering mode I wonder where this fellow has come from.
I proceeded to the scrub area where pratincoles and rain quail can be seen. Some interesting pipits and larks, but no evidence of rain quail or nightjars. Abundant Small and Oriental Pratincoles and a very delicate looking Little Ringed Plover chick. I bumped into a couple of photographers, a very unusual experience here and they were very excited about having just seen the River Lapwing. They said that there had been a report posted on a Thai web site during the week to the effect that River Lapwing had been seen here. I felt most miffed that someone else had beaten me to it on my own patch! Just joking. I am delighted other people are covering this site because it is big and it is important.
I knew I was running low on fuel so I decided to head to the nearby garage which was en route to the small pond whose trees of late have been providing a perch for some good birds. They did not disappoint today. A Darter was waiting with wings outstretched, a truly splendid sight.....hung out to dry so to speak. I decided to attempt to get in close and drove my vehicle off the track, a risky business so close to water. I stopped at a point where I couldn't see the Darter. What I could see was what I thought was a small raptor in the trees which was being harried by a very determined Pied Fantail. As I looked more closely I saw it was in actual fact a female Asian Koel, a really elegant bird, revealed by its red eye and bill, but this one behaving in true psychotic fashion, intent on getting in amongst the Fantail nests in the lower part of the trees. The Darter then flew into range and I started cursing under my breath because I thought it was on its way. But to my pleasure it perched on a nearby tree and as you can see it was very obliging. What a beauty, what incredible lines and curves.
Satisfied with my work I was able to turn the rig on a pair of Lesser-whistling Ducks that slid past and I managed a shot of one of a pair of Pied Kingfishers perched near the Darter. More than satisfied I headed off to my next location to try to coax out Chinese Francolin.
Alas no sight of the Chinese Francolin despite playback but one was audible. Two Yellow-eyed Babblers briefly showed. I decided to head back to the staging area to see if the River Lapwing had returned. Alas no, but I took the opportunity of photographing a few of the more common birds which were present. The Little Grebe is a very hard bird to photograph. The above shot is by no means perfect. Work to be done.
So that was the first four hours of my Saturday and by 0900h it was scorchio as we say. So I headed home with breakfast, chao mun gai, a very happy camper indeed! Not a bad start to a Saturday. As ever the reservoir never disappoints.
As a postscript we headed out to our favourite restaurant tonight for dinner at about 1900h and the Barn Owl was perched on an abutting pipe next to where it was this morning.
All images digiscoped 21.05.11 at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, Ratchaburi Province, Thailand.