Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Hill Blue Flycatcher by Yurie Ball


(October 27th Mae Hia) Spotted a Crested Honey buzzard today, which isn’t unusual but this time it was a dark morph. They are so much easier to identify with their white underwing patch against a background of dark brown underparts. I don’t very often see this variation.

(October 28th. HTT) Another new bird for the area, a White-shouldered Starling, it’s not that common up here in the north, now 240 species for HTT. By road the area covers about five kilometres in all, forming a loop. One returnee also this morning, an Inornate Warbler. It’s lucky that I don’t suffer from a weak heart, I was walking through some fairly short grass and from right under my foot a Common snipe took off. A great whirring of wings and a grating call that comes across as scarrrp set my heart thumping. Normally they don’t wait that long to take off and we both usually suffer from just a mild surprise not a near coronary as was the case this time.

(October 30th Mae Hia) Another returnee today and it was also a new bird for the area, an Ashy Minivet, in fact it was a flock of 10+. Not seen too often by me up here in the north but maybe I’m just missing them. Caught a Ruddy-breasted Crake trying to sneak across a grassy track but when it realised the game was up it rushed the last few feet into a rice field. Birds do know when they have been spotted. Quite a few Eurasian Wrynecks around at the moment but I think they will soon scatter and find territories farther afield. Most of the Lesser Coucals I’m seeing now have donned their less showy winter plumage.

(October 31st HTT) And yet another returnee, an Eastern Marsh Harrier. It caused quite a stir as it quartered the rice fields putting up all sorts of birds. 7 or 8 Common snipe, 2 Green Sandpipers, some Zitting Cisticolas and the ubiquitous Chinese Pond Herons amongst them. A Hill Blue Flycatcher was also spotted, I don’t often see them this low, we are at about 350m above sea-level here in Chiang Mai.

A Grouse (more like the size of a Capercaillie) I should have realised there was something devious behind the building of that road at the top end of the lake at Huay Tung Tao. It wasn’t to save my tyres from puncturing on the rough track of yesterday as I naively thought. They have now brought in more heavy machinery and are hacking down anything that is green, undergrowth, bushes and trees. They have more or less completed an ATV (all terrain vehicle) circuit and paintball battleground and what little is left they are turning into camping sites. It’s like a disease creeping around the lake. So bang goes my favourite lowland birding site. I suppose that even a negative can be made positive and I am now looking forward to documenting the effect that these various activities will have on the bird-life – if there is any left by the time they finish.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm having difficulty fitting them all in

Eurasian Jay by John Moore

(October 26th HTT) Well this can’t wait – three new birds today and good ones at that. First was the uncommon Red Avadavat next The Siberian Blue Robin, I got onto this one when I heard its squeaky se-ic call and after a few minutes searching spotted it. Finally the Garganey (a duck), twenty were first seen flying and I had a fair idea what they were at that stage but then thankfully they landed not too far away and were clearly identified. The surprising thing was that all three species were seen from one spot at the top end of the lake. The Garganey and Blue Robin also count as returning migrants. The figure now for HTT is 239 spp. 69 of which are migrants, so as you can see we lose quite a percentage when they go north to breed.

After all that kerfuffle the Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers seem to have lost their nesting hole to a pair of Plain-backed Sparrows (this change of tenancy happens quite often). This morning the sparrows were seen busily bringing grass and building a nest in the hole. A pair of woodpeckers were seen in the immediate vicinty but were showing no interest in the proceedings. Another note of interest was a pair of Eurasian Jays who were communicating in what I can only call a foreign language. They were using the calls of the Crested Serpent Eagle and the Shikra (trilingual no less). This is not unusual and the danger is that if you don’t see the bird making the call you might misidentify it. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is another bird guilty of this mimicking but usually gives itself away by throwing in some of his own calls. Also another 6 Black Bazas were seen circling overhead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Birds of a feather flock together - and how !

Silver-eared Mesia by Yurie Ball

(October 25th KMP) Today a pleasant change from my two lowland sites, a trip with John up to our new road at Ka Mu Phuket (up to 1600m). Added two more species to our list and they were the Slender-billed Oriole and the Lesser Coucal, nothing special about the two birds but we just hadn’t spotted them before. Other birds we saw were special and that was another uncommon Green Cochoa, a Long-tailed Broadbill and some Silver-eared Mesias. I say some but what made these one’s special was their numbers, there must have been close to a hundred of them in the flock. We had been watching them on one side of the road in thickly leaved bushes, thinking there were about 10-15 of them, as usual, and then they decided to change sides. The stream seemed never-ending, we stood there, jaws dropped, confounded at their numbers. The broadbill is an amazingly colourful bird, it could have been dreamed up by Walt Disney, a black helmet on its head, a yellow face, upperparts and underparts two shades of green and a blue tail. It is almost unreal.

It is also interesting to hear the calls of birds other than the lowland one’s that I hear mostly, spending six mornings a week at Mae Hia or Huay Tung Tao. Which then brings me to the Dawn Chorus. There is very little of one in the open lowland areas but in the higher forested levels and especially on the roadside it is much more spectacular. I have recordings of as many as 15 species, or more, all giving thanks, at the same time, for having survived the night and proclaiming to others that they are still in charge of their territories.

(October 23rd HTT) A new bird for HTT an Eastern-crowned Warbler, it also counts as a returning migrant, now bringing the figure for the area to 236 spp. Another good sighting was a flotilla of 10 nearly fully grown Lesser Whistling Ducks together with one adult. Quite an amusing sight as they swam away from us with their heads cocked sideways to make sure we didn’t try anything underhanded. I came across two pairs of Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers fighting over a nesting hole. It’s difficult to say which pair started the excavation of the hole but there was a lot of buffeting going on and birds diving at each other. Finally one pair appeared to give up their attempt to claim ownership and flew off. The other pair went to work diligently, bringing out beaksful of wood chippings. This woodpecker normally nests between December and June so they are pretty close to the mark.

(October 21st MH) A new bird for the area, the Asian Brown Flycatcher bringing the Mae Hia total to 192 spp. The Long-tailed Shrike of the Chinese/Vietnamese Nominate race (L.s. Schach) is still with us. It has confined itself to quite a small area,within about a 100 metre radius, and can be found there just about every morning. It will, no doubt leave us eventually to breed somewhere in north Asia unlike the Lanius Schach which is a resident bird.


Friday, October 20, 2006


Red-whiskered Bulbul by Yurie Ball

(October 20th HTT) Well, I take it all back, Huay Tung Tao has shot back into ascendency over Mae Hia. Of course there are always going to be ups and downs but today was certainly on the upswing for HTT. It was helped by a mobbing scene, I never got a look at the cause of this unruly behaviour but it was probably an Asian Barred Owlet. Some of the more interesting participants of the mob scene were the Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Black-naped Monarch, Violet Cuckoo and Golden-fronted Leafbird. There were about another 10-12 more common species taking part, it was bedlam. The Red-whiskered Bulbul is usually the bird that alerts me to this blatant harassment of owls. He has a very distinctive mobbing call and is usually the first on the scene.

One returnee today and that was the Two-barred Warbler and on checking last years result it returned on the same day. Another migrant warbler that proved interesting today was the Dusky Warbler. It was singing. Usually it saves its voice for when it gets to its northern breeding ground but just sometimes it will sing just before leaving and for a short while on getting back. It’s a simple song but very pleasing to the ear. Otherwise it just has a monotonous tik-tik tik call varying in pitch and separation, a little softer than the Thick-billed Warbler’s call. Another familiar call to be heard around HTT is the call of the Lineated Barbet. It starts off with resounding bubbling notes and then will burst out into a loud repetitive koh-tob, always a pleasure to hear.

Some other birds seen today were the Eurasian Jay, Blue Magpie, Indian Roller, Crested Honey-Buzzard, Pompadour Pigeon, Black-capped Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Eurasian Wryneck and the Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. Total count for the morning was 62 seen and 6 identified by call.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Chestnut-headed Bee-eater by John Moore

New bird for the area: This was at Huay Tung Tao and would probably rate as my bird of the year – it was the Water Rail. Okay it doesn’t sound exotic, in fact it doesn’t even look exotic but it is rare here. Its outstanding feature and I mean outstanding, was its long reddish/orange beak tipped with black, it is longer than any of the other Rails or Crakes. This now brings the total number of species for HTT to 235

One group of migrants that are still missing are the Leaf Warblers (Phylloscopus) and on checking back on previous years I find that they are comparatively late arrivals. But they should be around in the next week or two, looking forward to seeing them.

(October 16th MH) Another nice surprise was the sighting of four Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. The books don’t do them justice, they are altogether brighter especially the blue that can be seen on their backs (not on the amazing picture above, I’m afraid, taken by my friend “Entomology” John). I have only seen them at Mae Hia once or twice before. A Thick-billed Warbler was heard with its soft warbling song emanating from a thick clump of mimosa bushes on the edge of Ant Bite Pond. It is a beautiful if somewhat understated song and I record it everytime I hear it. One solitary female Baya Weaver was seen which reminds me that all but one of those ten abandoned weaver nests have disappeared. This may have been due to the rather dramatic weather we have been having recently or been collected for sale.

(October 17th HTT) Besides the Water Rail, two Black Bazas were seen on a dead tree and a Grey-faced Buzzard in another dead tree and a Crested Serpent Eagle was seen circling overhead giving its melancholy cry . All this on a nice sunny morning for a change – I think the cool and sunny season has set in, I hope.

Friday, October 13, 2006


The Chinese Pond-Heron - Before and after

Besides Smelly Field and Stench Bend we now have Ant Bite Pond. It’s usually a very productive walk around this pond but beware the army ants. They are not the large one’s you see in the nature documentaries that would strip you to the bone in five minutes, but the smaller one’s which make them all the more difficult to see. You are most likely to be attacked when you see an exciting bird and don’t check to see where you are standing. But it’s worth the pain and it doesn’t last long. Suk, my assistant has her own early warning system, no socks! I often hear the stamping of feet and her muttered imprecations and incantations against these murderous insects, that’s her view of them..

At Mae Hia the Chinese Pond Herons are around in great profusion. They float ghostlike out of the paddyfields as you pass by, the rice is already high enough to conceal them. They are all in their non-breeding plumage, but other years some of them have returned from the north still in their breeding plumage. In their present state they have this amazing form of camouflage. When they are flying they are white but the moment they land they become brown, this is due to the dropping down of long brown feathers which when flying are pushed along the back. They almost disappear on landing.

(October 5th MH) A family of four Black-naped Orioles seen in the area of Stench Bend. Luckily they were giving their diagnostic kyerr call which meant that I didn’t have to work at distiguishing them from the Slender-billed Oriole. Disgustingly 3 Junglefowl, 1 male and 2 females, were seen feeding off the over-ripe cabbages in Smelly Field, they can’t have any sense of smell.
(October 6th MH) What a coincidence, this time it was a family of four Slender-billed Orioles seen at Stench Bend, the adults are more greenish yellow on the back. Also seen a juvenile Asian Emerald Cuckoo. Two returnees, the Eurasian Kestrel and a Raddes Warbler.
(October 10th MH) Two new birds for the area, 15 Black Bazas were seen circling above, the other bird was a solitary Blue Rock Thrush bringing the figure for the area to 192. They also count as returnees, being migrants.
(October 11th MH) One returnee, a Common Moorhen, it was being harassed by two Little Grebes on Little Grebe Pond. I think they must have taken me seriously when I gave it that name, they certainly acted as if they owned it.
(October 12th MH) Excuse my spelling but it was a raptorous day today. Two Rufous-winged Buzzards, one Crested Serpent Eagle, one Crested Honey Buzzard, one Common Buzzard and one Peregrine Falcon were seen. A single Olive-backed Pipit has returned
(October 13th HTT) I decided to check out the progress on the road at Huay Tung Tao, it is now well graded and a pleasure to travel on. A single Forest Wagtail was spotted and a flock of 20 + Red-rumped Swallows were seen roosting in a dead tree, I can’t recall seeing that many together. Another bird of interest was the Grey-headed Flycatcher, interesting because as far as I can make out it is an altitudinal migrant. It seems to disappear from the lowlands, around here, to breed in the foothills and higher elevations.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stench Bend

Grey-headed Lapwing by Yurie Ball

I can’t keep calling that place which has the dead trees and great surrounding woodland which really produces good birds, that place…….. One thing against it is that it smells of rotting vegetables that the farmers feed to their cows, cabbages etc. It also encourages flies that feed on the leftovers, so what short name can I call it? Maybe Stinky Corner would fit or Stench Corner or Pesky Flies Bend. Whatever I call it it continues to produce. This morning (October 6th Mae Hia) one dead tree held an immature female Asian Emerald Cuckoo, light chestnut crown , coppery barred upperparts and black and white barred underparts. It was a new bird for the area bringing the figure of species seen to 190. As you can see from the title and the map above I have decided to call that place...... Stench Bend, for the time being.

(October 3rd HTT ) Two returning migrants, a Grey Heron circled majestically overhead and landed in a dead tree in the middle of the Huay Tung Tao lake. This tree is favoured by these herons and it’s good to see the first one back. The tree has also found favour with the monks as it has worn a saffron robe as long as I’ve been going there, a little faded now.. The other returnee was a Black-capped Kingfisher. The track around the lake is still in a state of disrepair but eventually we will be able to look forward to clean wheels at the end of the morning.

( October 4th Mae Hia) Not a good morning weatherwise, had to call it a day after thirty minutes as the rain came lashing down but not before I spotted a pair of adult Grey-headed Lapwings.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Black-collared Starlings by Yurie Ball

(September 30th Mae Hia) It’s not really a case of “it never rains but it pours” though seeing two more Black-capped Night Herons comes close after seeing one juvenile a few days ago. This time there was an adult with a juvenile. It was years since I saw my last one, so there is a very happy man sitting here in front of his computer. But that was all of note that happened this morning.

(October 1st Mae Hia) Two new birds for the area and they also happen to be migrants so come under the heading of 'returning migrants'. One solitary Intermediate Egret and the other one is the Ashy Drongo (D.l. leuconensis). This latter bird is a sub-species quite a lighter grey than the original, the main distinguishing feature are the white patches surrounding the eyes and cheek, it's a bird that is not too often seen. (189 spp to date). On the subject of migrants, the Brown Shrike is back in amazing numbers at Mae Hia this year. I must have seen at least 15 individuals on my rounds this morning. This in comparison with 1 Long-tailed Shrike and 2 Burmese Shrikes. We will have to ask these migrants to apply for visas before too long to limit their numbers.

And yet another interesting morning besides those to new birds. I was very pleased to see a flock of Racket-tailed Treepies, I counted 15 as they very conveniently flew in line across the road. I haven’t seen a flock of this size for ages, usually it has been 4 or 5 at a time. Now we’re back to those dead trees , it wasn’t the dead trees themselves that were producing but the immediate surrounding area. The first surprise and it was a surprise for both me and the bird in question. I was just turning around a bend in a track and there, about ten metres in front of me, was a male junglefowl (or more popularly, a cockerel). I froze but the bird did exactly the opposite, it shot straight up in the air and then landed in an untidy heap and finally scuttled off into the undergrowth. This was also the place I saw the new Ashy Drongo. Other birds in that area was a Slender-billed Oriole, a Banded Bay Cuckoo, a Crested Honey Buzzard and a Crested Serpent-Eagle flew overhead. In future I will make that my breakfast spot. I usually breakfast at a small pond while I watch for a pair of Little Grebes and a Common Kingfisher to present themselves.

One unhappy event this morning was the death of a Black-collared Starling under the wheels of the car in front of us. This was on the road immediately after entering the project site. These starlings and their cousins the Common Mynahs and the White-vented Mynahs seem to find food on the road but usually manage to fly off before being hit. This particular starling must have found a juicy worm and was prepared to defend its meal to the death. That’s exactly what happened, it got squashed.