Sunday, 30 December 2012

dudeing at Doi Inthanon

Sometimes you pack loads of things in each day, so much so that you're totally shattered by the evening. That's how it has been recently. So I'll take you back a couple of days to a leisurely day at Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain. You're not going to read about White-rumped Falcons and Black-tailed Crakes here, as this was a kind of dudey smash and grab/reacquaint myself with the place type of trip, as I did the place thoroughly a decade ago. But Karen and I still got up there for dawn and sunrise.
There was a queue for the summit car park, as this is holiday time of year and also when Thais get excited about the phenomenon of frost, a rare event that demands copious amounts of photos apparently. Birds quickly started to show, with sunbirds ever present - both Green-tailed and Mrs Gould's.
Mrs Gould's Sunbird

Green-tailed Sunbird
A walk around the mossy boardwalk Lord of the Rings style was punctuated by a White-browed Shortwing, a few phylloscs including Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler but most bizarrely was a bird that flew in calling. I must admit that, at the time I didn't realise the true significance but when I heard a Brambling calling, that's exactly what I got as it flew in to the bushes just a few yards away. A nice female, apparently c.6th for Thailand! I never realised that finding rare birds could be so underwhelming. Give me a pitta any day!

Chestnut-tailed Minlas and Dark-backed Sibias showed nicely too - the latter coming to flowers in the botanical gardens near the two chedis.
Chestnut-tailed Minla

Dark-backed Sibia
Enjoyed seeing Snowy-browed Flycatcher again, while a walk along the jeep track at km 37.5 revealed some nice bits including a Chestnut-crowned Warbler, a couple of Rufous-winged Fulvettas amongst the much commoner Grey-cheeked Fulvettas as well as a Blyth's Leaf Warbler, a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and a couple of Short-billed Minivets. Lower down the mountain, a Slaty-backed Forktail showed briefly at Wachirathan waterfall and we had a nice bit of a chill out at Mr Daeng's. Time has passed that place by!
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta

We got ourselves back into Chiang Mai for the evening, ready for the hordes at the night market. A strange contrast to a day up the mountain.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

More from Thailand's wetlands and parks

When I finished my notes for the day around Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale, they were 6 sides long. Of course it abounded with those quality waders mentioned in my previous post, but there was much more 'regular' stuff that isn't actually that regular to us northern Europeans. So here are a few shots: -
Asian Openbills

Little Cormorant

Marsh Sandpiper

Red-wattled Lapwing (race atronuchalis) - note more extensive black nape and just a white cheek surround compared to Middle Eastern birds

Whiskered Tern

Paddyfield Pipit
And a couple of shots from Lumphini Park - it's Bangkok's equivalent to Hyde Park just with a fair bit of outdoor dancing, tai chi and the whole place stopping on the hour for the national anthem. Here are a couple of bits of Thai dross from there: -
Pied Fantail

Oriental Magpie Robin
I'm now in Northern Thailand, all templed out after a couple of days in Chiang Mai. Looking forward to a bit of Doi Inthanon in the morning.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Wader heaven at Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia

It's Christmas Day here in Bangkok - so Merry Christmas to everyone. Though with a Prawn Green Curry for dinner, sunshine and visits to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho temple it was distinctly unfestive. Just how I like it!

Yesterday, however, is the main reason for this post as to put it simply it was pure wader delight. On my previous visit to Thailand in 2002, I'd been fortunate to visit Khok Kham where I saw a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper but since then they've been found further down the coast at Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia usually in greater numbers, a site where Nordmann's Greenshanks overwinter too - a species I'd not seen and a real target of this (non-birding!) visit to Thailand.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Pak Thale 24th Dec 2012
Huge numbers, quality species and excellent views in nice light is all I can say. Saltpan birding is real easy, as most of you'll know - find the flocks of birds and then target the individuals. Peter Ericsson took me out of Bangkok for the day, and knowing the area well, the first flock of Red-necked Stints produced cracking views of 3 Spoon-billed Sandpipers (with another nearby)
Nordmann's Greenshank Laem Pak Bia 24th Dec 2012
I hadn't actually thumbed through the book until a few moments ago, but I saw a quite unbelievable 32 species of wader - including 4 Spoon-billed Sandpipers, 15 Nordmann's Greenshanks, 2 'White-fronted Plovers', several Malaysian Plovers, and large numbers of quality rares (from a Euro context) such as Great Knots (including a colour flagged bird; I'll be emailing you Simon!), Long-toed and Red-necked Stints as well as just nice species to see in good numbers like Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers.
male Malaysian Plover Laem Pak Bia 24th Dec 2012

Great Knot flock Pak Thale 24th Dec 2012

Red-necked Stints Pak Thale 24th Dec 2012

Perhaps I should write the answer on a postcard and send it to the BBRC?
Loads more photos to go with the day, but it's late at night and I want to be up early in the morning. Enjoy the Christmas leftovers everyone.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Urban birding thai style

Having arrived in Bangkok late last night, I was out before dawn this morning with Dave Gandy who'd kindly agreed to show me his local park Suan Rot Fai - a large, former golf course area with various scrubby and marginal areas that passage and wintering migrants lap up. Even if my eyes were a little bleary first thing, the first Asian Koels piping up could hardly be missed, and first birds noted were Spotted and Asian Barred Owlets both showing and zipping about in the park. And it wasn't long after first light that the first 'common' Asian species were being seen - Black-naped Orioles, Scaly-breasted Munias, Common Mynas, Pond Herons (presumably either Javan or Chinese),  Coppersmith Barbets, Oriental Magpie Robins and Yellow-browed Warblers calling from everywhere too. Further Sibe offering included a couple of Dusky Warblers (one seen), the odd Brown Shrike and half a dozen or so Taiga Flycatchers, as well as a vocal but elusive Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.
male Thick-billed Green Pigeon Suan Rot Fai
However, for Dave, the highlight of the trip was this male Thick-billed Green Pigeon that was only his second ever patch record; a Chinese Blue Flycatcher was a decent record too by all accounts while birds such as Asian Openbill, Night Heron, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Olive-backed and Brown-throated Sunbirds, Scarlet-rumped Flowerpecker, a handful of Small Minivets and at least a couple of Indian Rollers were all nice to see.

Having said goodbye to Dave, I headed back into town and had breakfast before heading off with Karen into Lumphini Park where in the heat of the day there were predictably less birds than first thing - highlights included a couple of Asian Brown Flycatchers, a Long-tailed Shrike and some rather showy Pond Herons including this one that, despite showing well, still can't be identified to species level...
Pond Heron sp. Lumpini Park
I did think about starting this post with some gull action from this evening, but I'll save that for another time and leave you with this bad boy: -
Monitor Lizard, Lumpini Park

Monday, 17 December 2012

Showing well day part 2 - up the queen mum

Perhaps it's just me, but for some reason I seem to always remember where I was when I hear about mega rares. So back in the day, late September 1996 during a French lesson, the pager vibrated with news of an American Buff-bellied Pipit on St.Agnes. Proper sh*t the bed time for an enthusiastic teeny ticker and with there having only been one bird before, this was proper news and kicked off what is still rated by some as the best autumn ever. Roll on a week, and my ultra kind mother drove me all the way down to Penzance where I then travelled to Scilly for the day - kicking off with a Black-and-white Warbler on The Garrison before moving onto Tresco where, pride of place, there was Britain's second twitchable American Buff-bellied Pipit feeding in a bulb field on Tresco (the same bird having relocated from St.Agnes). A proper mega show!

Fast forward 16 years and, remarkably, I'd managed to evade all interim sightings in Britain and Ireland where this species has turned into an expected part of every autumn (and to some extent winter) due to increased identification awareness - not a surprise given how north and east rubescens breeds in North America, and also that pipits are hardy little birds too. Though I'd seen the species in the US just this summer and on Corvo last autumn (as well as japonicus in Kuwait too), the thought of one showing to literally less than a metre on the outskirts of London was too good to miss. Nice to also hear it call too.

American Buff-bellied Pipit Queen Mother Res, Berks December 2012
A Great Northern Diver that dropped in, as well as a showy Long-tailed Duck, added to the action at Queen Mother Res. And so that'll probably be my last bit of birding in the UK for 2012 (not because the world is going to end, despite the rumours). A decent way to end with a great day with a couple of excellent, showy birds within a couple of hours of London.
Pipit watchers at Queen Mother Res (photo by Andy L). First outing for my handmade woolly hat - thanks Mum!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Showing well day part 1 - shooting snowballs

Yesterday was a write off birdwise as I was at a wedding in Taunton. Arriving back in London during the early hours, the lack of sleep didn't deter me from getting up before the first rays of sun, and heading up to Suffolk with John A and Graeme S. The only Hornemann's Redpoll I'd seen previously was one on Shetland in early October 2008, so having my usually cynical set of mates recommending this 'mainland twitch' wholeheartedly, it was difficult not to be enthusiastic. And what a morning it proved to be.

Arriving just prior to nine, there were a few lost souls walking around on the beach to the south of this pretty town. No sign of the bird, and to be honest this wasn't exactly what I'd expected - you don't go for a bird a week into its stay in mid-December and expect it to have done one. Not to worry though, as within half an hour or so, the hands were waving and this cute and robust snowball of a bird was found. Initially perched up by the yacht club, then munching away on poppy seeds. Totally mindblowing views in good company.

Hornemann's Redpolls are relatively straightforward to identify, much more so that exilipes Arctic and Mealy Redpolls.There's little overlap in biometrics, but the shots above show some obvious structural features such as the deep based bill, long tail and also a noticeably long primary projection. That rump was dazzling, and when puffed out, particularly unstreaked.

On the way back down the A12, James H, John T and Andy L were kind enough to call to let us know that a handful of these bad boys were munching away in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Ipswich: -

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Fox Sparrow in Estonia

Late last Sunday, news filtered out of a Fox Sparrow at Haapsalu, Estonia - the third for the WP and the first for 51 years so with it lingering through the week, the trip was a bit of a no brainer with reasonable flight prices going Friday evening, coming back Sunday morning. So I teamed up with Josh J, Lee G and Ernie D and caught a flight to Helsinki Friday evening (yeah, I know this isn't Estonia - just wait a sec...).

Having negotiated our way through Helsinki to the ferry terminal, it was brass monkey time as we tried pretty unsuccessfully to sleep in the car in the sub zero conditions. But true to form with Finnish efficiency, the 7.30am ferry left bang on time and we docked at Tallinn at 9.30am (shortly after first light!). The drive southwest was rapid, and uneventful, bar the odd comment about how pretty the place was and how great our winter tyres were in these icy conditions...
Driving through the Estonian countryside - winter wonderland style
As we arrived on site at Haapsalu water treatment works, Chris B and Andy C were just leaving saying that the Fox Sparrow was showing on and off every few minutes. And, true to form, it didn't take long to get some quality views of this ultra rare WP bird - in fact, the only other Red Fox Sparrows I'd seen were in equally snowy conditions near New York a few years back. This chunky long-legged and long-tailed sparrow was continually scraping for food, pretty bullish except for when the resident Blackbird came in. A juvenile Goshawk in the adjacent conifer plantation was pretty stonking too.
Fox Sparrow Haapsalu, Estonia 8th December 2012
Site shot of the sparrow feeding area - lots of seed deposited in the alley straight on
With fingers and toes getting a little numb and the views as good as we were going to get, thoroughly happy we headed the short distance to Vonnu Park - as it was just shy of two o'clock, we knew in these lands there was only an hour or so of light left. Highlight for me here were a couple of white-breasted Nuthatches - always nice to see - plus a group of 25 or so Mealy Redpolls that allowed some nice views of their undertail coverts (variable but no surprises), a trumpeting Northern Bullfinch and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, while Josh was fortunate to have some decent views of a Black Woodpecker flying past.
We weren't sailing back to Helsinki until 10.30pm, and so with it dark by 3.30pm we headed into Tallinn's old town to do the tourist thing in what seemed to be a really pretty, decent city. A nice pint of beer, and some Estonian sausages and mash completed the experience before we headed to the ferry, got our heads down, and then back to Helsinki airport. Early morning flight back to London, and it was just shy of midday that I was reacquainted with the ghetto superstar: -
Med Gull, Burgess Park 9th December 2012
Once again, remarkable how much you can cram into a weekend.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ghetto superstar

Arriving back from an enjoyable time with my parents in Hants, and with Karen off to Westfield, there was an opportunity for me to hit the local area hard this afternoon. Glorious sunshine and a walk in Russia Dock Woodland produced a nice, pale looking Chiffchaff (an abietinus-like bird) as well as a nice male Siskin along with a few active Goldcrests. The berry bushes were, unfortunately, pink punkless.

Southwark Park held 6 Shoveler and a few raucous Ring-necked Parakeets, while going more ghetto-style with my cap on (avoids kids I teach recognising me), I ventured deeper into the urban jungle to Burgess Park, between Peckham and Walworth Road - scene of the odd Giggs video as well as gangstas, wannabe gangstas and pikey alcoholic white trash that have been known to hurl abuse at me. All worth it though today, as my Ghetto superstar was back: -

adult (6th-calendar year) Med Gull, Burgess Park 2nd Dec 2012
I first found this bird as a second-winter in November 2008, and I was a little worried that it had died, as I didn't see it after the cold snap last winter and this is the latest it has returned (I've been checking this site pretty much weekly recently too). So happy days - if you fancy seeing it, just park in Cobourg Road just off the Old Kent Road and chuck out some bread on the newly landscaped lake.

You'll also be familiar that when the birding is on the quiet side, I always try and read BTO rings by taking photos of them in the field. So at Canada Water and Southwark Park this afternoon, I did just this. Name that foot...

Remarkable what you can cram into a winter afternoon's birding in southeast London, a place many wouldn't even contemplate looking around for birds.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Pink punks and casps at Rainham

What a difference a week makes, and it wasn't just the weather! The low cloud and dreary conditions that hung around last weekend had gone, and the lack of birds had disappeared too. This was the first cold(ish) weather movement of the winter. I headed to Rainham with Josh in the hope that we'd see a few bits, while giving my coat a decent airing to get rid of the rather pungent smell that clung to it from the curry house last night.
Adult Caspian Gull Rainham 1st December 2012
The morning session was in fact pretty productive. Not huge numbers of gulls on the tip, but enough to keep us busy despite the main tipping activity going on out of sight. Kev and Mick were about, like last Saturday, and it wasn't long before the first Caspian Gull of the day showed up - a nice adult-type bird. Just look below though at how the jizz of this bird changes in a couple of shots, just seconds apart. Photos never lie apparently...
Caspian Gull (same bird as above) - nice pale tongue to underside of P10 visible on this pale-eyed individual 

Look how just a couple of shots later the whole head profile of the bird changes, with the bird now exhibiting a pixel thin eye and rounder head.
Two other Casps - a first-winter and a third-winter - were also seen on the tip during the morning which were both rather distant, while a vocal Waxwing decided to fly in a couple of times, pose for us before heading off north over the tip mid morning. A nice bonus...

If anyone's visiting this site, be aware that directions always come out as 'by the stone barges'. This isn't the case - walk east 500 metres or so from the car park, along the Thames path, where you'll see the tip on the left. Look from here (at the tip as well as birds on the foreshore). 

All of my good mood from the morning's birding was taken away after a two hour journey back home - yeah, it is only a few miles too.