Friday, March 30, 2007

An Avian Stand-Off!

Almost every morning this White-throated Kingfisher can be seen in the same spot

(March 26th HTT) T. 0645 19c plus more virulent smog. But the birds were getting on with their lives even if it was in some cases confrontational. The first one was between a Rufous-winged Buzzard and about 15 other birds, including 5 Black Drongos, 3 Eurasian Jays and a couple of lightweight Olive-backed Sunbirds. They had this buzzard cornered in a tree, what I mean is that they had it surrounded. What was eerie about this confrontation was that it was a static and silent one. They all just stared at the victim until it lost its nerve and flew off.
Another case of an attack, and this one was completely unwarranted, was between a lone Intermediate Egret flying overhead and a gang of bullying Ashy Wood-swallows. The egret is a most inoffensive bird and there they were, these bullying wood-swallows, diving on it from all directions. Completely flustered the egret dropped out of the sky and landed on the edge of a small pond whereupon the bullies lost all interest in it, it had left their sky.

(March 27th Mae Hia) Just before leaving home my attention was caught by a male Blue Rock-Thrush bobbing up and down squeaking and churring on top of my neighbour’s roof. It wasn’t long before I spotted the cause of the uproar, a cat sitting in a gutter close to the bird.
The Eurasian Jay once more causing me to almost make a misidentification of a call. This time it was doing two imitations, one of the Crested Serpent Eagle and the other of the Rufous-winged Buzzard.
A female Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker seen feeding its young in a hole in a dead tree. It was the same dead tree that has caused problems between it and those bullying wood-swallows, this time the woodpecker won the right to make it its home.

(March 28th HTT) T. 0645 19c. a low count this morning 51-13 seen and heard. But still an interesting morning. The place was alive with Plaintive Cuckoos calling, three seen sitting on telegraph wires, one was a hepatic morph.
At least four Crested Honey-Buzzards seen, three of them in the sky at the same time and one was calling with its single note ‘wheeew’ call. Managed to get a fair recording of it.
Two Intermediate Egrets seen at the lakeside feeding, don’t get to see them very often.

(March 30th HTT) T. 0640 23c a good count this morning 61-14. I got a good look at an Oriental Cuckoo, hepatic morph, this morning as it lit on a branch of a small tree about 5 metres from me. It has a larger smudge of brown on the chest than the Common Cuckoo hepatic morph and the black tail barring is more pronounced.
Heard the deep booming call of the Barred Buttonquail for the first time this year. It is said that it is only the female that makes this call, I’ve yet to confirm this.
Asian Brown Flycatcher also seen, haven’t seen one for ages. The Stonechat population has decreased dramatically to one this morning, usually I see 7 or 8 in the rice stubble, they must be heading north.
A friend of mine makes a habit of trespassing on the ‘forbidden Army Zone (no names, no pack drill) and this morning reported seeing two Grey Herons and two Little Grebes.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Eurasian Jay photo by John Moore

(March 21st HTT) Today the smog had definitely lessened due to the arrival of what we call the ‘Mango Rains’. I hope that we get a few more days of it to really clear things up. It came too late for one Plaintive Cuckoo, it has been wheezing away with its descending call and half the notes don’t quite make it out, a sort of squeaky sound is the result.
The Red-throated Flycatchers are beginning to regain their red throats in preparation for their migration north. This red throat, or lack of it when it’s here, causes embarrassment when I show the bird to clients and the inevitable question arises ‘why is it called a Red-throated Flycatcher?’.
A Common Snipe seen probing, beak deep, in the newly exposed mud of the shrinking lake – I’m looking forward to seeing more waders taking advantage of this situation.
Another Osprey seen again sitting on the top of a dead tree over in the ‘Army forbiddenZone’ (sic). I really would like to get in there as many birds are to be seen descending into that area in preference to our big lake, birds that we don’t see very often in our area now, Grey Herons spring to mind.
A Chinese Pond-Heron was seen sitting proudly (anthropomorphism again) in a tree in its maroon, black and white breeding plumage, it will be off north soon.
I was trying to find the Crested Serpent Eagle that I was hearing quite close by, eventually I located the caller which turned out to be a Eurasian Jay doing an amazing imitation of this raptor.

(March 22nd Mae hia) Still some smog about but not as bad as it has been, maybe the locals are taking the warnings to heart, we’ll see.
Today the grey-backed Long-tailed Shrike was remarkable by its absence. I have seen it every visit since it came back last year, maybe it has migrated.
A mixed flock of Chestnut-capped Babblers and Yellow-eyed Babblers seen and heard calling. I kept on getting quick glimpses of them as they skulked on by through the thorny mimosa.
Three Plaintive Cuckoos seen, two hepatic morphs and one in its more normal plumage. Also a much larger Oriental Cuckoo, hepatic morph, was seen diving into a tree. My first thought was that it was a falcon of some sort, possibly a kestrel, but on getting a closer look it turned out to be the cuckoo. It looked so much like a falcon that it also fooled the birds and they scattered like a sunburst, shrieking, when it arrived in the tree.
Strangely enough I didn’t see one Chinese Pond-Heron even thinking about changing plumage compared to most at Huay Tung Tao, I wonder why?

(March 24th KMP) Another new bird for the Ka Mu Phuket road, the Rufous-winged Babbler and I’m not apologising for it being a common bird, bringing the number for the area to 186spp. Still quite a bit of smog up there in the mountains! Came across two Grey-headed Flycatchers using rocks in a rushing stream as landing spots between their aerobatic flights to catch insects. I can’t say that I have seen them using that sort of behaviour and habitat before, more the habitat of the Plumbeous Redstart that I have seen there before. It was quite windy this morning and that is the reason that we didn’t see as many birds as usual.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Paradise Road

Top. Coppersmith Barbet's nesting hole
Bottom. Scaly-breasted Munia's nest

(March 15th 2007 Mae Hia) Count for the morning 63-7. One new bird today an Asian Paradise Flycatcher bringing the number to 208 spp. This bird heralded its presence with its rasping call and warbling trill. It’s an easy bird to spot with its elongated central tail feathers lashing around behind it as it dodges about catching insects. In this case the tail feathers had only reached about half the size they would eventually be. This male bird loses the two central feathers after breeding and grows them again in time for the next breeding season.
This stretch of road turned out to be very productive this morning. As I was watching the flycatcher a male Junglefowl burst out of the woods behind me, there was a great clattering of wings as it flapped its way over my head, it gave me quite a start. At the same time a pair of Puff-throated Babblers were rooting around on the ground looking for food. In mid-canopy a flock of Striped Tit-Babblers were busy chattering as they moved by in a wave. A mixed flock of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos and Racket-tailed Treepies gathered around and generally showed their curiosity if not displeasure at my presence. Presiding above this activity was a Great Barbet sitting at the top of a tree minding its own business. During all this I hadn’t moved, only to turn around, and stood there for the best part of 30 minutes with binoculars swivelling to all points of the compass. 24 species were spotted from that one spot in those 30 minutes. Sometimes that road can be the quietest of places but sometimes, as this morning, it can really keep one on one’s toes, literally.

(March 16th HTT) Things a little better pollution-wise. We had a light breeze overnight and the smog has lessened to a more bearable degree. I hope the locals don’t take this as a signal to light more fires!
A Coppersmith Barbet seen feeding its young in a hole in a tree. It’s amazing how symmetrical the hole is.
The 5 or 6 Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers that call the area home seem to have found sounding boards suitable enough to broadcast their messages, they were all at it this morning drumming away like mad.
There was an invasion of Black-collared Starlings, I haven’t seen quite so many at one time before, up to 100 in 3 or 4 trees. Later on a pair of them were seen building a nest and wouldn’t you know it a female Common Koel came to see how they were progressing. They gave her short shrift and sent her packing, for the time being. I hope their work isn’t going to be wasted and they find themselves rearing a monster.
Both the Thick-billed Warbler and the Siberian Rubythroat have become much less the skulkers and more the on-parade types. One Rubythroat came hopping towards me on a grassy track, leading with its blood red throat, and virtually ignored me. The Thick-billed Warblers can be seen in the lower branches to mid-canopy of trees hopping from branch to branch feeding, they do become more daring just before migrating. I’m expecting both species to break out into their delightful , if scratchy, low key warbling songs soon.

(March 17th HTT) The Smog is back with a vengeance this morning, smelling of wood fire mostly – the eyes are back to stinging and the chest aching. The locals obviously did take yesterdays let-up as a signal to start again! The bird count was also low 52-8, seen and heard. Three Purple Sunbird nests watched as parents raced back and forth feeding their young, also two Olive-backed nests with the parent birds doing the same.
Correction to my remark about the Thick-billed Warbler, one seen today at the top of a tree, 60-70 feet high.
Another fruiting tree drew my attention this morning, it was stuffed with birds, Black-collared Starlings, White-vented Mynahs, Common Mynahs, Common Koels, Coppersmith Barbets, Lineated Barbets and a host of different Bulbuls.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Female Purple Sunbird feeding young in nest

(March 9th 2007 HTT) A new bird for the area, a single Great Iora. It is down in the book as common but I must admit that when I saw this one it elicited a ‘Wow’ from me. You will gather from that that I don’t see it very often. The number for the area is now 245spp.
Two Streak-eared Bulbul seen building a nest and two Wire-tailed Swallows seen flying under the Sala at the big Buddha. They were carrying downy white feathers which indicated to me that they had finished the basic nest and were finishing off with a lining. For the last 3 years I have watched pairs building nests in the same place but each time they have disappeared and not followed through.
The lake is shrinking at last and today a Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper were seen feeding in the mud that has been exposed. It has come at the right time as we will have a few more passage migrants passing through soon (waders) and they will have somewhere to feed.
I know now that we have at least 3 Ruddy-breasted Crakes in the area as they were trilling away at each other this morning. I used to hear only one trilling and it sounded quite lonely, there never was a reply until now.

(March 12th 2007 HTT) A lone Pompadour Pigeon seen sitting high up in a tree and suddenly it gave a burst of weird whistles as I was watching. Needless to say the moment I got out my recorder it never gave another peep.
A Purple Sunbird seen feeding its young in the nest just 2 metres up in some bamboo. Both parent birds were doing the feeding but as soon as we brought out the camera the male became camera shy.
A Blue-winged Leafbird was seen and heard singing, not a patch on The Golden-fronted Leafbird’s song but a pleasure to see as it doesn’t appear too often in the area.

(March 14th 2007 HTT) Both the Lesser Coucal and the Chinese Pond Herons are now changing into their breeding plumage. Most of the Pond herons have already left for their breeding grounds in the north but we can look forward to the displaying and calling of the coucal with its hoots and hiccups.
I was surprised at seeing 20+ Red Turtle Doves a few weeks ago but today I saw 70+. They were jinking and swooping through the air as they went from one tall tree to another.

Pollution. I caught one of the workers lighting two small fires this morning. I said to her in my limited Thai ‘mai dai’ ( you can’t do that), her reply was to say ‘nitnoy-nitnoy’ (little, little), then I pointed to various points of the compass and said nitnoy, nitnoy, nitnoy, nitnoy and then threw my arms heavenwards and said mak, mak (a lot, a lot – of course referring to the smoke). She grinned sheepishly and carried on setting fire to more heaps of leaves.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Burning Question? Tell it to the Birds.

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to mention the smog anymore but it really has to be publicised so that people know what they’re letting themselves in for if they come to Thailand, especially the north. Above is a satellite picture of Thailand and surrounding countries. The grey is the smoke resulting from thousands of fires. The red dots are the fires themselves and they must be whopping fires to be seen from the satellite. Burma and Laos appear to produce more fires, thus smoke, than Thailand but if you live here in north Thailand the effects on one’s respiratory system is devastating.

The photo above is one of the fires we produce in Thailand and it might not look so big and dangerous but when you get hundreds of these fires in close proximity the result is a virulent smog. This picture was taken at Huay Tung Tao and it was, as the local firefighters said, a controlled burning. Have you ever heard anything so daft? They said it as if, because it was controlled, it wouldn’t produce any harmful effects. Controlled or otherwise the resulting smoke produces the same effects as the illegal fires and that is a poisonous smog. There are areas all around the lake that have suffered ‘controlled burning’ and I honestly can’t see the reason for it. It’s not as if they are going to grow anything and within a few months the area will look the same as before, beautiful. Thais just don’t seem to like things that grow naturally, brown is the colour of choice! In the meantime people with respiratory ailments will be dying off, and Thais seem to be alright with that, it’s the natural way of things. Well it may be but look at the longevity figures for Thailand, they don’t even reach their seventies, and that is not the natural way of things, that is due to gross negligence on the part of the Government and local officials.

And to end on a happier note, you can turn the beast into a beauty and imagine a morning mist where there is nothing but poison in the air

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Little Heron takes a dive

Little Heron before the dive

(March 1st HTT) I keep on hearing about ‘early morning mist’ this is a euphemism for the virulent smog that lasts all day and it was particularly virulent today. Fires burning on the Suthep range in about a dozen different places. The Hilltribes are busy with their slashing and burning.
But life goes on and the birds are still there in their numbers. This morning a Grey Bushchat turned up, I don’t see this bird too often only when it passes through on migration, so maybe it is preparing to go north.
I’m always happy to see the Siberian Rubythroat, especially the male. Its scarlet throat makes something of an otherwise ordinary bird. Two males appeared this morning and sat for a moment on the top of some Mimosa bushes and then quickly dropped out of sight.

(March 3rd HTT) I'm not going to mention the smog again, suffice to say that it will be with us for many months to come. Watched a flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes harassing a Shikra which was sitting in the mid-level of a leafy tree minding its own business. It wasn’t allowed to do this for long, the laughingthrushes were making individual dashes at until it flew off to find peace and quiet elsewhere. Included in this flock was at least one Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush.
A female Olive-backed Sunbird was seen building its very untidy hanging nest. You really wouldn’t be able to find it unless you knew it was there, and that’s the whole idea, it looks like a piece of rubbish thrown into the tree.
I watched a Little Heron sitting on a tree stump some way into the lake. Now it was about one metre above the water and there was no way it could reach down to pluck out a fish. Finally it dived, not completely under water, and scooped up a fish. I had seen this once or twice before and it seems most unheron-like behaviour.

(March 5th HTT) Count for today 63 species seen and 13 identified by call – temperature at 0700 16c. A solitary Intermediate Egret seen flying overhead, they don’t very often put in an appearance in the area so it’s nice to know they are still around.
Another bird I don’t see that often is the Large-tailed Nightjar and one, a female, showed up this morning. It flitted around for about 15 minutes, flying a short distance and then dropping to the ground. Very hawk-like in appearance and quite a large bird at 30 centimetres. The female has a yellow splash near the tips of its wings.
I had almost given up seeing a Little Grebe on the big lake but one appeared this morning. They don’t like all the activities that have been generated around the lake and stick to the more secluded ponds. Incidentally I haven’t seen the Great-crested Grebe again, it stayed around for three days and then not a sign of it.

(March 7th KMP) Now I’m not going to mention smog but as we drove up to Ka Mu Phuket in the dark the mountainside was alight with fires. They were dotted all over the place which again points to the Hilltribes and Thai villagers who live in the vicinity. There are also newly placed signs along the road saying ‘Don’t light fires, you’re burning our country’ and all along that road workers were busy burning the mountainside, the mind boggles!
Anyway, we got three new birds, A Green Magpie which I was surprised that we hadn’t got before, a Rosy Minivet and a Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike which was brought to our attention by its call, wii-wii-teew-teew. This brings our checklist for the area to 185 species. We also came across a flock of 6 or 7 White-necked Laughingthrushes which isn’t an everyday occurrence for me. They thrust themselves upon us with their maniacal laughter. They kept on popping up from the undergrowth into the lower branches of the trees to get a good look at us. Finally they thought we weren’t worth the effort and left.