Laem Pak Bia 12.03.12
Thanks to school holidays I was able to meet up with Dean Nicholson from British Colombia, Canada yesterday who contacted me as a result of reading this blog. In the end we decided to hit Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia, Thailand's premier wader sites. Dean brought Hans Matheve, from Belgium, whom he met in Kaeng Krachan a few days earlier. Hans brought his non-birding girlfriend along too. So in real terms we were mob-handed! Much more importantly we managed to meet up in Phetchburi on time and at the agreed location - no mean achievement!
Our first target was Black-faced Spoonbill, two of which have been reported regularily and appear to favour salt pans near the gas holders at Pak Thale. We had a good look but couldn't locate them. We did see good numbers of Painted Stork however and we had some debate about whether a whitish bodied bird, with black fringing at the base of its wing edges as it stood up, was a Milky Stork, another regularily reported rarity from the same area. We agreed it wasn't. I have to say that having just reviewed the photos on Oriental Bird Images I think we might have got this wrong and that it was in fact a Milky Stork!
In Pak Thale we had to work to find Spoon-billed Sandpiper but we did in the end see one in salt pans towards the mudflats. Hans called it and he and Dean walked in a little bit to get better views. Phew! Always a relief to sight this fellow and I was delighted for our visitors. Lots of Lesser Sand-plovers, some Greater Sand-plovers, good numbers of Kentish Plovers, a fair few Broad-billed Sandpipers, a handful of Great Knot, and the resident flocks of Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits.
Next up we headed to the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia. I had arranged beforehand that Mrs Daeng would serve an early lunch at 1030h and I have to say it was perfect. Mr Daeng got us onto the sand spit and the undoubted highlight was a Pallas's Gull, identified by Hans as first winter. In fact Hans gave a mini-lecture on why it was a first winter and its key diagnostics: grey streaking around the eye, long thin bill with black tip, streaking on the neck, white upper tail covert....... So helpful to have such expertise to hand when this type of bird is in front of you. No less Thai lifer ⌗322 for me. I have to say this gull is huge and dwarved the Brown-headed Gulls and Crested Terns which were keeping it company; a brief aerial display confirmed other key diagnostics not to mention its comparative enormous size.
Five Lesser Crested Terns were in a mixed flock of Greater Crested Terns, Brown-headed Gulls and Little Terns. Abundant numbers of plovers with 6+ Malaysian Plovers but no White-faced. One solitary Chinese Egret and on the way back we had a Heuglin's Gull on a small sand flat opposite the sand spit: once more a massive bird, dwarfing the four Brown-headed Gulls which it was with.
We decided to keep our focus on waders so next we went to the Abandoned Building and Dean got very lucky here with a number of lifers including Ruff, Indian Nightjar , Indochinese Bushlark and Plain-backed Sparrow.. It was good to see birders putting themselves out to get a decent view of Plain-backed Sparrow because as I have often said before, it isn't plain. Dean flushed the nightjar which left a fledgling behind. I hope they manage to reconnect
We then decided to head north back to Pak Thale for the final chapter in our day's birding. Even though it was low tide there were still good numbers of waders in the ponds near the mudflats. Here we were excited by the possibility of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper but after exhaustive enquiry and observation, we decided we couldn't claim it and that it was more likely a Long-toed Stint! Our cause was not helped by distance and the fact that the bird was onnly showing its rear quarters. We also took a lot of time observing Curlews feeding on the mudflats and were drawn into the possibility of one being Eastern: it appeared darker, had a longer bill which seemed to start straight and only curve downwards at about three-quarters of its length. We looked, looked and looked but it wouldn't give us a sight of its uppers or unders so we had to give up on it as a "curlew species". A number of very busy Terek Sandpipers were seen busily feeding on the mudflat.
A great day's birding indeed. Thanks to Dean and Hans for their expertise and good company. As we drove into Phetchburi town I stopped the car to view an unfamiliar shape in the sky, quite low down. Mmmmmmm, a kite! As in a toy kite!
So few photographs? Yup! On Wednesday I went to the Eastern Seaboard, alternatively the Pattaya overspill, where I bought a second hand Panasonic GF1. It was such a good offer I could hardly refuse it. The package included an Electronic View Finder. Well I managed to leave the EVF at home! So I decided not to bother with photography today. Not an auspicious start but I have high expectations that once I have learned the camera.
I did fiddle with a loupe and managed a usable shot of Spoonbill Sandpiper. In this instance the bird is of no consequence. What is significant from a photographic perspective is even though the bird was 60 - 70 yards away, the focus and sharpness is a significant improvement. I doubt whether I would have been able to produce a usable image with old faithful, the Nikon P6000. To underline this check this two shots of a Yellow-vented Bulbul taken Wednesday at Bang Phra Non-hunting Area, Chonburi province.
The above is uncropped and I haven't tweaked it in anyway. It's an unremarkable, bland shot of a bird that is a bit out of reach. However the focus is sharp. So look at the same image cropped below. Not a great image either but the detail is good and as far as I am concerned it is a significant improvement on old faithful. The crop would have been much more blurred. The new camera enables finer focus.
So upwards on the learning curve I proceed and I hope there will be a corresponding improvement in the quality of my images, once of course I have learned the new camera and system and so long as I remember to bring the EVF!