Monday, 12 March 2012

Some Birding Sites in West Central Thailand

The highlight of a truly outstanding day's birding was sighting 2 pairs of Small Pratincoles on the ground in the usual place at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, Ratchaburi Province. This time last year there were more than fifty pairs and I had been able to watch their numbers build from Christmas Day 2010. They were a significant presence and it was quite clear they were nesting. I hope that as far as this year is concerned numbers will now increase.

But a truly outstanding day, a day of superlatives. I was joined by Dave Sargeant and we met up with Tom Backlund. It is a real privilege for a rank novice like myself to be in the company of such experienced birders, true lifelong devotees of the craft. I had agreed to show Dave around some of the local, "lesser" sites. Tom was able to join us. As Tom and I always wax lyrical about Wat Khao Takhrao in Phetchburi Province this seemed a good place to start.

Thanks to Dave's sharp eye and strong sound recognition skills respectively I started with two lifers, a Wryneck (⌗319) and soon after a Laced Woodpecker, ,(⌗320). I might have got the Wryneck but no way would I have got the woodpecker; at the very best I would have got "woodpecker sp." but sound enabled Dave to find it in the upper story of some tall trees adjacent to the big pond at Wat Khao Takhrao, and then to confirm the identity, notably to separate it from Streaked Woodpecker. We were all hoping that Tom's recently sighted Comb Ducks might show but alas,no sign today. Plenty of ducks, however, somewhere in the region of 1200 Garganey and lesser numbers of Northern Pintail. No other duck species. Lots of Brown-headed Gulls, a number with their very distinctive Brown-headed breeding plumage, lots of Caspian Terns, Whiskered Terns and a couple of Little Terns. We also had three aerial Black-headed Ibis and I managed to pick one out at ground level.

Next we decided to head south to the dipterocarp forest at Wat Khao Look Chang, about an hour's drive away. Almost immediately on arrival I managed lifer ⌗321 with a couple of Rufous Treepies. There were a lot of good birds: Red-billed Blue Magpie, (sound), Lineated Barbet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Indian Roller, Green-billed Malkoha, Lesser Necklaced Laughing Thrush, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo but no woodpeckers and no sign of Spotted Owlet. We also had a glimpse of a sizeable kettle of migrating raptors but they were too high to be able to identify.

After a pleasant lunch we bade farewell to Tom. Dave and I then decided to head north to Huay Mai Teng Reservoir in Ratchaburi province, just under two hours away. On arrival at the southern side of the reservoir we observed one Eurasian Coot and Dave picked out a notable new species for the reservoir, a Grey-headed Lapwing; the numbers of Oriental Pratincoles continues to grow in this area. There were also a few Red-throated Pipits

We had a little scout around the site during which Dave managed a Rufous Woodpecker which I  missed; it would have been another lifer. We had stopped to try and get views of a Small Buttonquail which had scrambled across the track and disappeared into the scrub. A nearby  perched Eurasian Kestrel moved as we closed in for a photograph and Dave had that experience every bird photographer has -  shot composed and about to release the shutter when the bird, in this case an Oriental Pratincole, legs it. We had to make do with Yellow-eyed Babbler - good to see this fellow as much of his habitat at the site has been destroyed to make way for planting.

Back at the main birding site for the last light of the day, we hit pay dirt. Four Small Pratincoles were on the ground in the usual place. It is usually possible to get quite close to these birds and get some decent shots and using Dave's car as a hideI managed some reasonable shots.  Rain Quail responded to a little playback and we estimated we sighted between 15 and 20 of these as we moved around in vain efforts to get a view of some of them on the ground. We also flushed a Savanna Nigthjar. In the final light of the day an Oriental Darter flew directly over us on its way to roost.

Notwithstanding the dark we were by no means finished. Dave got out his sound recording gear and I believe he managed to get good quality recordings of the Savanna Nightjar's call as a number of them exuberantly circled around us in full voice. Earlier efforts had been frustrated by the loud noise of jet-ski engines on the reservoir. There were also clear calls from at least two Indian Nightjars.

We hit the road at 0530h and finally made it home to Ratchaburi at about 1930h. A classic day's birding and I remain overjoyed at the return of the Small Pratincoles. I didn't do a lot of shooting today. It was quite overcast, with some light rain in the morning and with the exception of the Small Pratincoles I didn't really get close to any birds today. But I am not complaining! Good to be able to focus on the birds per se

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