Friday, September 29, 2006


White-rumped Shama by Yurie Ball

I’m overwhelmed, I’m speechless, no I could never be accused of being speechless but Mae Hia is amazing me. It certainly has gained ascendancy over Huay Tung Tao birdwise. Over the last 8 days I have documented 10 new species for the area, half of them migrant species.

(September 29th) The two new species today are the Red-breasted Parakeet and a juvenile Grey-headed Lapwing (187 spp). The former bird raises doubt in my mind as it was a solitary bird and usually parakeets are to be seen in flocks, could it have been an escapee? I don’t know. But whatever it was it made a beautiful sight sitting at the top of a dead tree. The Grey-headed Lapwing being a juvenile didn’t actually have a grey head but it did have grey cheek patches and these would eventually grow to cover the head and breast. When it flew it had the black and white wings of an adult. The bill was yellow with a black tip. The lapwing is a migrant so goes down as a returnee along with a Dusky Warbler also spotted.

Other birds of interest today were a Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike facing off with an Oriental Cuckoo in a dead tree. Sitting above them was a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and when it felt it had had enough of their bickering dived on them and drove them off. I find some of these interactions between different species quite amusing and human-like. Another instance of this this morning was a juvenile Yellow Bittern which we put up from a lakeside reed bed. It started off across the lake and then suddenly a Barn Swallow made a dive, I’m not sure if it was diving at the bittern but the bittern thought so,lost its composure, and fell into the water. I was just beginning to feel sorry for this tragic end when it sort of bounced back out of the water into the air and carried on to the other side of the lake.

We are still hearing a lot of songsters singing although they will sing less and less the farther they get from the breeding season. Two today that were still going strong were the White-rumped Shama with its loud fluty whistle, always a pleasure to listen to. The other one is the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher with its tinkling four or five note song.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Dancing Dervish

Black Kite-by Yurie Ball

(September 25th. HTT)
I came across a Ruddy-breasted Crake displaying on the edge of a rice field. Very weird behaviour. It would arch its wings above its back and go into a sequence of ducking movements. Then when it got tired of doing that it would stretch its wings out and run in circles just like a child would when imitating the flight of an airplane. It would then go into a frenzied bout of preening and repeat the whole process again.I have to assume that it wasn't doing all this for nothing and that there was a female nearby, probably as bemused as I was by its antics. I watched it for about twenty minutes and then I got tired just watching it and left the bird still going at it. Numbers of species seen this morning was 58 and another 8 species identified by call.

Three more migrants have returned today, the Red-throated Flycatcher (2), Black Baza (4), and the Little Egret (5). The Black Baza is both a resident and a migrant species but when you see them in numbers it usually indicates that they are the migrant variety arriving back from the north. I’ve never understood the purpose of the ridiculous crest it sports, two long feathers sticking straight up from the centre of its head, again just like children dressing up as Red Indians or, to be politically correct, Native Americans.

(September 26th) Other returnees were three Eurasian Wrynecks, I first heard its very distinctive and loud kwee-kwee-kwee-kwee call and finally spotted the first one.

(September 27th) Two new species for the area, the Slender-billed Oriole and the Oriental Turtle-Dove (now 185 for the area). Count for the morning was 57 seen and 8 identified by call .

(September 28th) Another interesting bird, seen today, that I haven’t seen much of lately, and that is the Thick-billed Pigeon. It is one of the thirteen species of green pigeons to be found in Thailand. The surprising thing about today’s sighting was the number in the flock, 30+, and there were more males (with their purple wings) than females. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many together. On a par with that sighting was a lone Black Kite which " The Book" says is a common resident. This was only the third time I have seen one in Thailand. I specify Thailand because once when I was passing through Bombay (PC Mumbai) there were hundreds circling in the sky. Another place was Kamakura in Japan and there again there were hundreds circling in the sky.

Footwear: Suk my assistant has stuck the offending sole back on my left shoe with superglue. I view this with some foreboding as now both soles are singing songs every time I take a step. The cause is that the damp which has seeped in has combined with the air bubbles trapped there. We can only hope that these annoying sounds may attract the birds. Now I carry two extra pairs of shoes in the boot of the car just in case.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


White-crested Laughingthrush - by Yurie Ball

My left shoe literally disintegrated this morning in the field. I’m not surprised the amount of abuse I’ve made them suffer, plunging them ankle deep in mud and water. I suddenly found myself walking attached to the upper only and the sole buried in the morass behind me. I should have foreseen this as the left shoe had been giving off wheezy, birdlike squeaks for the last few day which made me think I had discovered a new bird. But this didn’t happen before I had another good day with the birds.

Three new birds for the area which included an Oriental Cuckoo, a passage migrant. Ten Cattle Egrets which were studiously following in the footsteps of those Friesian and Holstein cows that I mentioned before, picking off the insects that the cows disturbed. The final one was the best for me, a juvenile (all brown) Black-crowned Night-Heron (60cm.). When I first saw it it was taking off and looked very much like a fairly large raptor with its lumbering flight but then I spotted the long beak. This now brings the list of birds seen in the area to 183 spp.

The two rare Northern Hobbys are still hanging about and two more Black-naped Orioles were spotted. The Oriental Cuckoo was spotted again along with a Banded Bay Cuckoo. A flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes (12) was seen, raising Cain with their raucous, cackling calls. A Peregrine Falcon was also seen. Mae Hia is certainly producing better birds than Huay Tung Tao at the moment and as HTT is in a bit of a mess, what with the road building, I will be concentrating more on MH. I almost forgot, I was stymied by one bird this morning. It was about the size and shape of a Spangled Drongo (maybe a little bigger) but had curved white wing bars on the wings. When seen from the back these bars formed half an oval. When it opened its wings there was a lot of grey in them. Now after seventeen years here, birdwatching, it’s not often that a bird doesn’t get identified by me, but this one has got me foxed. The closest I could get to it was the Black Magpie but that doesn’t exist up here in the north.

Finally, the Coup d’Etat seems to be fizzling out here but there is a rumour floating about that Thaksin plans some sort of comeback/revenge, see my nasty Blog at: (copy and paste)

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Black-naped Oriole by Yurie Ball
Well, this day 21st. September deserves a report. It started off as a drizzly day and weatherwise didn’t improve too much but the birds made my day. First of all there were three new birds for the area and in order of importance they were the rare Northern Hobby (aka. Eurasian Hobby-2 juveniles), Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike (1) and Black-naped Oriole (1). This brings the number of species documented at Mae Hia to 180.

That dead tree also produced results today - 3 greater Racket-tailed Drongos, 3 Racket-tailed Treepies, 1 Black-naped Oriole (when looking at this bird through the telescope a big fuzzy shape in the background turned out to be a Crested Honey-Buzzard), 1 Black-winged and 1 Indochinese Cuckoo-Shrike (what are the odds of finding those two sitting almost next to each other in the same dead tree?), 3 Spotted Doves, 1 Green-billed Malkoha, 2 Green Bee-eaters, 1 Oriental Magpie-Robin and 6 White-vented Mynahs. Just as we were leaving that tree 12 Blue Magpies flew overhead.

Although I have recorded the Northern Hobby at Huay Tung Tao on two or three occasions at this same time of year there is always a thrill of excitement when getting another one. As I mentioned it was a drizzly day and the bird (one at that time) was not about to fly away and I studied the first bird for about 15 minutes and was easily able to pick out all the distinguishing features. The tail is a good indication of what you are looking at, the wing tips reach to the end of the tail when the bird is sitting, and it had that distinguishing moustache and white cheek patches. Being juveniles (I caught up with both of them later) they had two white patches on the back of the head. Also they had pencil-thin white eyebrows.

Two Little Grebes (aka Dabchicks) seem to have settled into a pond surrounded by reeds, tall grass and thorny mimosa bushes all of which provide ideal cover for these shy birds. Now although these birds are resident they seem to disappear at the same time as the migrants and reappear when the migrants do. I can only assume that they have even more private ponds somewhere to breed in. It was a good day for raptors too, five seen, besides the two already mentioned there was one Osprey, one Rufous-winged Buzzard and one Shikra seen. The last two are regulars.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Crested Serpent Eagle - By Yurie Ball

I hadn’t been to Huay Tung Tao for 6 days, there didn’t seem any point considering the muddy state of the track. But this morning I decided to see how far the military had got with it. It was in the best condition its ever been, widened and graded to a fairly smooth surface. Next step is asphalting so there may be another gap in my visits there, it depends on how they proceed with it.

And the birds were plentiful, all the returned migrants that I had found at Mae Hia in the last six days were at HTT plus two more. A flock of Intermediate Egrets planed down to the waters edge. This was exciting as at the best of times they are not regular visitors. The other bird or birds were three Little Herons. These two places MH and HTT complement each other, if a bird is difficult to find at one place it can often be found in numbers at the other so I’m going to alternate my visits to each in the future. This way I can keep an eye on more birds.

The returning Brown Shrikes at both places are having a bit of trouble settling in, the local Long-tailed Shrike doesn’t appreciate them moving into its territory. Being bigger it has the last word and it’s usually a loud screech and the smaller shrike moves into a less productive area. Even the Burmese Shrike is higher in the pecking order and also sees it off. But they will all eventually settle into their own territory for the coming winter and things will quieten down. Good for them but not for me, I enjoy watching this interaction between species.

Another local bird seen today and it was living up to its name was the Crested Serpent Eagle. It was sitting at the top of a dead tree and had a metre long snake dangling down from the branch. The Eagle had it firmly held with one talon and was tearing strips of flesh off it as the snake was frantically wriggling, or maybe you didn’t need to know that gory detail but it’s all part of Nature. Another welcome sighting was a flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes and as usual there was at least one Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush included in the flock. I hear the former bird most days but don’t often get to see them as they usually don’t come down close enough to the road.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Little Ringed Plover - by Yurie Ball

I can now report that the migrants are streaming in: (1st. September) Little Ringed Plover and the Stonechat. (4th. September) a juvenile White Wagtail. (6th. September) the rare grey-backed Long-tailed Shrike from China , also a juvenile Osprey. (8th. September) a Green Sandpiper. (11th. September) a Common Buzzard and 7 Wood Sandpipers. (14th. September) a Thick-billed Warbler and a 2 Brown Shrikes, and many more to come.

A new addition today to Mae Hia birds, the Red Turtle Dove, a solitary one in a group of Spotted Doves now 177 species to date. Recently the very colourful Coppersmith Barbets have been flying around in groups of up to 15 birds. This morning 12 were seen in that same dead tree I mentioned last time. They were all facing the sun (7am) I suppose they were warming themselves up, although I was already sweating by this time. Another gathering was that of about 100 Barn Swallows on the telephone wire. Casting my binoculars along the rows of them I suddenly came across a Wire-tailed Swallow. It really stood out, its underparts were whiter than white as the Daz detergent commercial use to say. I wonder if it thought it was a Barn Swallow, I also wondered if there would have been a language problem?

A Pygmy Tree Shrew caused a bit of a laugh, for me not for it, I surprised it on a track about 50 metres ahead, it saw me and tore off along the track. Ahead was a long puddle and it took to the air. Not only did it mis-judge the length of the puddle but also the depth, the depth it could be forgiven for. It landed, legs splayed, it knew it had mis-judged the distance, with a splash and disappeared. When it reappeared it looked like a drowned rat. Its size, in fact, is about the size of a fairly large rat and in this case a seriously wet rat.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Lineated Barbet (28cm) by Yurie Ball

The number of species seen this morning (11th. September) were only a little above normal (52 seen, 10 identified by call = 62) but it was what was seen and where. Dead trees are always worth a look and, of course, it’s made easier because there are no leaves to block the view. The worry though is that because they are dead the farmers may chop them down. There is one way to prevent this, and it is peculiar to this part of the world, and that is to get the local monks to ‘ordain’ the tree, they actually wrap a saffron robe around it. No one would dare to chop it down then in fear of losing merit. Some farmers have already noticed that I study the birds in these dead trees so they leave them alone for which I am grateful. There is a particular tree at Mae Hia which will usually produce one or two good birds but today the list was as follows: Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (2), Racket-tailed Treepie (3), Lineated Barbet (2), Black Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Green Bee-eater (3), Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul and a Common Koel. All within ten minutes.

At Mae Hia there is a mixed herd of Friesian and Holstein cows and in themselves they are not very interesting but it is what they attract that is. Common Mynahs will come spiralling down out of the sky and land on the cows backs. No reaction from the cows, they just carry on grazing. This is a symbiotic relationship, the mynahs will relieve the cows of their ticks and the cows will disturb the grass as they graze, insects are put up, which the mynahs will then pounce on.

Two more migrant species have returned today, the Common Buzzard and the Wood Sandpiper (7). The latter bird is a new species for Mae Hia bringing the numbers up to 176 species documented.

A GROUSE: Mae Hia and Huay Tung Tao are in a state of confusion, the former because they are holding a horticultural show there in 10 weeks time. They are chopping down the grass and undergrowth and with it the nests, nestlings and eggs of birds like the Grey-breasted and Plain Prinias and the Chestnut-capped Babblers. At Huay Tung Tao the military (they own the property) are turning the track at the top end into an asphalted road. This means that the area is unreachable for who knows how long, it’s a quagmire at the moment. It has cut me off from an area of paddyfields which at this time of the year is the arrival site of many migrant waterbirds and waders.

Friday, September 08, 2006

More from Mae Hia

White-throated Kingfisher
Illustration by Yurie Ball

September 6th : A very interesting bird has turned up again at Mae Hia. It’s the Long-tailed Shrike but this one is the Nominate race from China. The difference between this one and Lanius schach is that instead of a black head it is dark grey and the mantle instead of being sandy is also dark grey. I said again because it turned up about two years ago and today’s bird was found within the same small area as last time.

Another bird of interest, yesterday, was a juvenile Osprey sitting at the top of a tall tree which is also favoured by many other raptors (one at a time usually). For the first time I noticed that the tuft of feathers that stick out from the back of the head were spotted black and white. It wasn’t having an easy time as it was being buzzed by Ashy Wood-Swallows and Green Bee-eaters. It finally gave up the unequal struggle and flew off. Now this has nothing to do with birds but I thought it gave a hint of Thailand. It was just after the Osprey incident that I noticed this cat-sized furry animal squatting at the side of the track , it turned out to be a mongoose (thank goodness there was only one as the plural would have made me think). More interestingly it seemed to be chewing on something. As I got closer it ran across the track and it was dragging a snake behind it, the snake was about one metre long and brown, probably a young rat snake.

September 8th : Another migrant has returned to Mae Hia and it is the Green Sandpiper. At the end of the morning’s birding I realised I hadn’t seen or heard a White-throated Kingfisher (28cm). Now this is most unusual as they can always be heard with their loud cackling voice or their penetrating whinny, I wonder where they got to? Wherever, I’m sure it’s temporary. Normally I would see around 7 or 8 of them. Also seen today were 4 Indian Rollers and 2 of them were doing their aerobatic rolling display at the time. I haven’t seen that display very often. Finally an anomaly in a Common Kingfisher I spotted this morning. Instead of having the full orange/rufous belly it was mostly grey. Normally the colour of the belly, I believe, would be related to its intake of shrimp or other crustaceans (said to be up to 30% of its diet), so I don't know what this one had been eating! The Common Kingfishers that inhabit streams tend to have a deeper colour which would suggest that they eat more shrimps etc..

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I actually wrote this one at the same time last year

Entry for 30 August 2006
Little Heron – by Yurie Ball

The rainy season is coming to an end, or so they tell me, and this month, September, is known to be the wettest month of the year here in the north. Well I can tell you that it is living up to its reputation. The Huay Tung Tao lake is overflowing its banks and trees that are usually on the edge of the lake are up to their knees in water. The sluice is flowing over and the water level in the lake is still rising. All this precipitation hasn’t stopped me going out, it has just made it a little more uncomfortable. I have my poncho but pity those poor birds, they only have the same lightweight feathers that they have all year round and so they just sit in the trees all huddled up and looking thoroughly bedraggled and miserable. There are exceptions to this and they are the wagtails, they always look alert and their name-giving tails are always on the move as are the birds themselves.

The Thai military at Huay Tung Tao keep on cropping up and this time they were on their shooting range and letting go with everything they’d got. From the sound of it they were only a few hundred metres away and it was quite deafening. But what was more interesting was the result it had on the birds. I happened to be watching a Shikra circling overhead looking for breakfast at the time and it took off like a scalded cat jinking and generally performing some really interesting aerobatics. Obviously this bird was dodging bullets that it must have thought were on there way. All its movements were choreographed to coincide with each fresh burst of gunfire coming one on top of the other. The more amazing result was the number of other birds that fled the paddyfields at this outburst. I always knew that there were quite a few pond-herons concealing themselves in the growing rice but I counted at least 100 as they beat a hasty retreat, scores of lapwings, mynahs and a lesser number of snipe, it was quite revealing the number of birds that were hidden in those fields.

Interaction between species: The following incidents are actually not as serious as the heading would indicate maybe they were even a little humorous. The most recent instance of this interaction happened today (Oct 5th) between two Kingfishers, the White-throated (28cm) and the Black-capped (30cm). The latter bird was sitting on a branch minding its own business when the white-throated version dived out of nowhere to the attack. I was watching the Black-capped through my binoculars at the time and there was a sudden blue blur and it fell off the branch, recovered and flew away. More or less the same thing happened about one kilometre away – whether they were the same birds I can’t be sure. The reason for this attack was that the Black-capped was poaching on the other bird’s territory. This victim of the uprovoked attack is in fact a passage migrant up here in the north and even though a bigger bird retreated as it was out of its territory.

The second incident took place a couple of days ago and it was between a Little Heron (46cm) and a male Shikra a small accipiter (hawk) approximately 30cm. in size. When I came upon them they were already almost head to head in a tree and the heron was obviously upset as its black crest was standing up, all spiky, and threatening the smaller bird with its dagger-like beak. The Shikra seemed to be teasing it, moving around it from branch to branch, the heron finally decided it had had enough and flew off and I carried on walking only to come across it a few hundred metres farther on. It was in a dead tree and was in even worse trouble. It had certainly picked the wrong place this time as it was on the ‘turf’ of a gang of Ashy Wood-Swallows. This tree was the hang-out for at least 20 of these birds and they were giving the heron a really hard time, dive bombing it from all directions. The heron was crouched down and was stabbing upwards with its beak, a useful weapon when used against slower moving birds, but in this instance hitting nothing but air as the wood-swallows flashed by. Again it ignominiously fled the battlefield.

Who said birds don’t have a sense of humour ? probably nobody but here’s evidence that they do. Again this one involves a Shikra and the other partner in the comedy was a White-crested Laughingthrush (the same size as a Shikra). I was watching a flock of them when the Shikra alighted on a branch a few feet away, it then made a half-hearted charge at one of the flock and it developed into a game of hunter and hunted each taking their turn in being chaser and the chased. You could see the mock indignation as the farcical chase went up, down and along the branches until both parties tired of the game and the Laughingthrush rejoined the flock that had moved on and the Shikra flew off in the opposite direction.

Finally quite an exciting little episode, a female Eastern Marsh-Harrier (56cm.) was spotted quartering the paddyfields looking for prey at the top end of the Huay Tung Tao lake. Panic-stricken birds were fleeing the scene as the harrier wafted its way back and forth acoss the fields, two to three metres above the ground. I didn’t realise how many snipe were actually feeding in these rice fields but pair after pair, close to twenty in all, would explode out of them as the harrier approached. Other birds had the temerity to attack it, these included White Wagtails, Stonechats and Barn Swallows, but it was incredible how quickly the tables were turned. The harrier would make an amazingly acrobatic turn and very soon the attackers became the attacked. I watched this scene for about twenty minutes until the harrier departed after an unsuccessful hunt. This sudden tide of activity then receded in the somnolent heat of the morning.

Returning Migrants: Black-capped Kingfisher (Sept. 7th), Brown Shrike (Sept. 7th), White Wagtail (Sept. 20th), Two-barred Warbler (Sept. 20th), Eurasian Kestrel (Sept. 22nd), Red-throated Flycatcher (Sept 22nd), Asian Brown Flycatcher (Sept. 22nd), Forest Wagtail (Sept 23rd), Eurasian Wryneck (Sept. 24th). Siberian Rubythroat (Oct. 5th). Eastern Marsh-Harrier (Oct. 10th).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Mae Hia - 1st. September

Returnees and bird nesting (or not) at Mae Hia

Asian Barred Owlet - by Yurie Ball

I still get a good feeling when I spot my first returnee of a migrant species. This morning (1st. September) it was the turn of the Little-ringed Plover (6) and the Stonechat (1) to give me that feeling. There has also been a greater influx of the Chinese Pond-Heron, fifteen of them rose from a rice paddy as I blundered by, blundered because last night the heavens had opened up and I was up to my ankles in mud and water. I wasn’t even in the flooded fields the water had just overflowed from those fields into the surrounding area. Another returnee spotted the other day was a Forest Wagtail. This one is a passage migrant and only passes through this area to winter farther south. Although it’s called a wagtail it is obviously not happy with the limitations of its name, it wags its whole body, not up and down but from side to side, quite comical.

I really think that the Baya Weavers have abandoned all those ten finished and half finished nests I mentioned before, there has been no sign of activity for the last five days. The other nest I mentioned of the Olive-backed Sunbird that also seems to have gone the same way. I don’t know what the failure rate in nest building is but I have seen nests of the Common Tailorbird where the tailoring was not so good. Sometimes the ‘sewing’ of the leaves together has succeeded right up till the last moment and then the weight of the material inside has proven too heavy and has fallen out of the bottom. That seems to happen more when the tailorbird sews two leaves together, the success rate is higher when they fold one leaf over.

At the moment there are three young Asian Barred Owlets that sit in the same tree every morning as I pass by. If they are not there all I have to do is give a bad imitation of their hooting call and they all come out onto a bare branch and give me a thorough scrutiny. They jerk their heads forward, eyes big and wide, sometimes they bob or push their heads from side to side. A most amusing performance and then when we have had enough they fly back into the safety of the leaves and I go on to my next spot. (If you want to see a nastier side of me visit my other blogsite