Friday, April 27, 2007

To migrate or not to migrate? that is the question!

Chinese Pond-Heron in breeding plumage

Chinese Pond-Heron in non-breeding plumage

(April 25th HTT) An Oriental Magpie-Robin seen building a nest in a hole in tree. From the size of the hole I would guess that it was dug out originally by a Lineated Barbet.
A lonely Barn swallow seen sitting on the telephone wires and at the same time, just above our heads, a Rufous-winged Buzzard was circling with a foot-long snake dangling from its beak. A Red-wattled Lapwing was diving on it and at the same time screaming a repetitive ‘did-he-do-it - did-he-do-it’, hardly a dull moment!
Just one Chinese Pond-Heron seen this morning and it hadn’t even started to change its plumage. My feeling is that the change of plumage triggers off the urge to migrate, I have come across the odd pond-heron during the summer and they have always been in non-breeding plumage. It could of course be the other way round, it doesn’t have the urge to migrate so doesn’t change plumage, was that confusing?
Migrant birds not there: The Stonechats all seem to have disappeared, haven’t seen one for the last five days. There used to be 6-7 perching in the rice stubble or low bushes. Haven’t seen a Red-throated Flycatcher for the same length of time and also the Dusky Warbler. This report only applies to Huay Tung Tao where I’m concentrating my efforts.

(April 26th HTT) It was certainly cooler this morning, we had a storm last night and a little rain this morning. I take it back about there being no Dusky Warblers, one was seen at the lakeside ‘tick-tick-ticking’ merrily away, that’s how I got onto it.
A Puff-throated Babbler came to my ‘we miss you’ call, doesn’t very often do that, and that’s why I don’t very often see it – I hear it all the time. It has three ways of expressing itself, the above call, a chuckling and churring call and an out of tune meandering whistle. The solitary Chinese Pond-Heron is still hanging about, I wonder if it gets lonely on its own? As a matter of interest the latest figure of birds documented for Thailand is 995 species, quite a jump from the 962 species I have been working on. Also interesting is that I have documented around a quarter of those for Huay Tung Tao.

(April 27th HTT) Another short-lived storm this morning, ended at 6am but after, the sky was clear, clean and the air air crispy cool for a while, by 0940 the temperature was 35c.
The Plain-backed Sparrows are hard at work building their nest in that hole in the tree. Now they are using more conventional material, straw and grass.
I have found a nice wooded area behind a campsite and this is where I came across the Yellow-bellied Warbler for the first time, I saw it again today along with a male Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a female Black-naped Monarch, a flock of White-browed Laughingthrushes, 5 male Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers all with their own territories, a male Shikra and a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo that was imitating 4 or 5 different birds. I sat there on the ground just listening and watching, quite a treat.
A Cinnamon Bittern was seen stalking fish. Most of the time its body was stretched forward and level with the water, it was high-stepping carefully through the water and then a sudden stab and it had an inch-long fish in its bill.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The April heatwave is upon us!

Common Koel (male) photo by John Moore

(April 19th HTT) Was out with two clients, Paul and Pauline and it was a fairly successful morning number-wise, 57 species seen and 9 identified by call. A Forest Wagtail did what it is supposed to do, flew up from the ground when we disturbed it onto a low branch and proceeded to show itself off. It paraded along the branch so that we could get a good look at all of its markings but wagtail is rather a misnomer as it wags its whole body from side to side.
Two Cinnamon Bitterns were seen flying across a small pond. We will see more of them as the breeding season progresses, they become less shy as they ply to and from their nests to feed their young. Also they will become more vocal, clucking and croaking, as they vie for mates.
Odds and Ends. The Ruddy-breasted Crake is still promenading on its own stretch of shoreline. A little Egret has shown up regularly in the last few days, the Little Heron is still with us and the easily identified Black-capped Kingfisher was seen as it was chased out of a tree by a pair of Ashy Wood-Swallows. A Black-naped Oriole was heard calling and then seen sitting in a dead tree.
My assistant Suk as usual provided many birds with her great aptitude on the telescope. She also produced her usual outstanding breakfast of a thick pea and bacon soup, ham and cheese sandwiches, honey cake and bananas, all set out on a table and us seated in comfortable chairs. One really doesn’t have to suffer when looking for birds, more often than not the birds will come to you.

(April 20th HTT) A new bird today the Yellow-bellied Warbler. Another case of ‘why haven’t I seen it before’. This bird has a preference for a bamboo habitat and we have plenty of that at Huay Tung Tao, but better late than never. It was its high, tinkling, short and fast call, of course in the bamboo, that brought it to my attention. That brings the numbers to 248 species for the area.
The pair of Plain-backed Sparrows are still waiting patiently for the Coppersmith Barbet family to vacate their nesting hole. I’m just wondering how many young there are, only one at a time can appear at the entrance to receive food. Usually they produce 2-4 young.
Two more migrant species that are still with us are the Common Snipe and the Eurasian Kestrel. Three Brown Shrikes, also migrants, were seen in their individual territories as opposed to none being seen there yesterday. The Black-capped Kingfisher was seen again as a bright splash of colour, black, red, white, chestnut and blue, against the green mountain as it flew along the shoreline of the lake. Beautiful!

(April 23rd HTT) A new bird for the area, a male Daurian Redstart a really flashy bird and in good plumage (249spp). I had seen one in the vicinity before but that was before I decided to make the area a project site. Another poor day number-wise, either I was flagging or the birds were keeping undercover due to the heat. Heard the ascending call of the Drongo Cuckoo but couldn’t spot it. The Ruddy-breasted Crake still parading in the same spot, this time alongside a Common Sandpiper. The Common Koels are still keeping up their incessant shrieking, mostly the males but also abetted by the females.

(April 24th HTT) Another poor day and this time I decided to take the temperature twice. At 0600 it was 24c and by 0840 it was 42c, no wonder the birds went undercover and that I was flagging! But there was some activity, the Coppersmith Barbet family had vacated their nesting hole and two young were seen being fed by two adults. The Plain-backed Sparrows that had be waiting in line to take up residence moved in. Some of the rubbish they were using to furnish the nest was quite amazing. Most of it was bits of plastic bags, straw and I swear I saw a piece of wire going in. No Pond-Herons seen around the lake but two seen on the way in, most seem to have headed north, I wonder if the hot weather has anything to do with it?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Four Wagtails and a Funeral

Views on Ka Mu Phuket (KMP) by John Moore

(April 18th HTT) A new bird for the area bringing the total to 247 spp. This was the spectacular Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (46cm.). I’ve only seen this bird 5 times before so I was quite excited at this meeting. It does a sort of migration in reverse, it comes here to breed while all the other migrants are going the other way. I say it comes here to breed but in fact it is a parasitic cuckoo so it searches out host parents. Every time I have seen it, it has been following a flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes and obviously this is its preferred host, at least up here in the north.
A pair of Plain-backed Sparrows seen investigating a Coppersmith Barbet’s nesting hole, the only problem was it was already occupied by a family of these barbets. The female sparrow was clinging to the hole and peering in at one of the already fledged young. I suppose that these sparrows will be taking up the next tenancy of this nesting hole.
One Burmese Shrike seen, probably not a regular but just passing through. The last of the regulars left their territory on the 2nd April and this one was seen in a place where we don’t usually see them.
Another bird I don’t see that often is the Yellow-legged Buttonquail. The one I saw this morning was a female with more chestnut on the upper back and, of course, yellow legs which tells it apart from the Barred Buttonquail.

(April 17th KMP) Today was remarkable due to the fact that we didn’t get a new bird for the area. We always do! We were stunned and started looking for excuses and the only one we could come up with was that it was windy. We all know that birds don’t like wind, don’t we? That’s not to say that it wasn’t an enjoyable trip as you can see from the photos above, we pass through some beautiful scenery.
But all was not lost, I got a good recording of that great songster the White-rumped Shama. It was a call that had me fooled at first, the bird is rather a good mimic and it was doing a pretty good imitation of a Maroon Oriole to start with.
Also I saw my first Forest Wagtail of the year (a passage migrant) and we have at times seen three other species of wagtail up there, plus the fact that the traffic was pouring past us on their way to a funeral being celebrated in the middle of the road. Now that was a bit disjointed but the upshot was that my friend, Entomologist John, suggested that I call this blog “four wagtails and a funeral”, so you can blame him! The funeral party really was in the middle of the road, a marquee and around twenty tables with four chairs at each. We passed it with suitably solemn faces.

(April 16th HTT) Didn’t go out on Saturday and Sunday as it was Songkhran, The Thai New Year. Huay tung Tao becomes packed with Thais celebrating, the noise (music) is enough to make the local migrant species migrate early.
Last night we had some rain so this morning was just about clear of smog, how long will that last I wonder. Temperature at 0630 a cool 19c and for some reason another low count 52-9.
I don’t often see the White-rumped Munias but today a small flock was seen in a dying but seeding stand of bamboo. They were mixed in with their more common relatives the Scaly-breasted Munias.
The Barn Swallow population has diminished and just a few seen this morning. I have a feeling that these are the one’s that have changed their status to ‘resident’ birds, at least I’m hoping so. The resident swallows started off a few years ago in the mountain villages near Fang over a 100 kilometres from Chiang Mai and they have been working their way south ever since. Also there are not so many Chinese Pond-Herons about, most of them have gone north.
A Black-capped Kingfisher (passage migrant) was seen and I’m sure it wasn’t the one that wintered here as it had a more extensive white front. The one that wintered here disappeared a few weeks ago. Also a Common Kingfisher was seen, this one had bright orange/rufous underparts. It is said that these brightly coloured one’s are river birds and the fish they feed on eat more small crustaceans than the lake fish, thus producing this brighter colour in the bird, or so it is said. It is the same process as the flamingos.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Chinese Ballet?

A refurbished Purple Sunbird's nest

Doi Suthep in an unsmogged condition due to last night's rain

(April 11th HTT) Temp. at 0630 24c. More fires on Doi Suthep.
Spotted a Red-throated Flycatcher with its new red throat it is certainly living up to its name now.
All the migrant warblers were singing their understated songs today, plus a Siberian Rubythroat added its song, a song that one really has to strain to hear. The Common Koels are still letting us know they are around, their strident calls and bubbling calls drowning out all others, except for, maybe, the Black-collared Starling, only a female Black-collared Starling could fall for this earsplitting screech! Four Black-naped Orioles seen, heard and recorded. Another six Crow-billed Drongos seen and this time I had my recorder ready but they wouldn’t oblige, I don’t have much luck with them.

(April 12th HTT) A pleasant surprise to hear the 5 note ascending whistle of the Drongo Cuckoo, a few minutes later, after I had imitated its call, it flew into a nearby tree and showed me the white chevron markings on the undertail to confirm it. As its name suggests it is very drongo-like in appearance.
Also spotted a Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, another bird that is always a pleasure to see. In the same tree a group of Common Ioras were flashing their white rumps and in addition when they flew their wings produced a very noticeable ‘brrrup’ sound, this is part of their display.
Odds and ends: A Violet Cuckoo seen. The Ruddy-breasted Crake is now parading the same piece of shoreline most mornings and finally a display that will forever remain in my mind. This was an aerial ballet performed by 12 Chinese Pond-Herons, in their new gaudy plumage, as they dropped down to the edge of a small pond. I’m sure that they didn’t consciously choreograph this but it was all done with great precision and grace, weaving and swerving and crossing each others path as they descended to the ground, it really deserved more of an audience than just me.

(April 13th HTT) ‘Friday the 13th’ but nothing more sinister happened than an Asian Barred Owlet making an indecisive dive at me when I got too close to its nesting hole. The same owl and same nesting hole I described the other day.
Some weeks ago I mentioned a Purple Sunbird and its nest, well after bringing up the young it abandoned the nest. Today I saw another female, or maybe the same one, working on it. This architect decided it wanted something neo-modern to improve on the old nest and added a blob of what looked like cotton wool to the bottom of the nest (see photo). What did surprise me was that the nest was being re-used, I can’t say that I have come across that before, nesting holes, yes but old nests?
Odds and ends: An Asian Brown Flycatcher seen, they always seem to have a ‘gaunt’ look about them compared to the Red-throated Flycatcher. A Black-throated Laughingthrush seen singing in a tree, not the most melodic rendition I have heard but I’m sure it will improve as the breeding season progresses. A young Coppersmith Barbet seen peering out of its nesting hole. A Crested Serpent Eagle seen and heard calling as it soared skywards and finally a Yellow Bittern seen skulking in the reeds. We had some rain last night and this morning the sky was clear and we could see Doi Suthep in all its beauty.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

As the Crow flies

Asian Barred Owlet by Yurie Ball

(April 4th HTT) Heard the low, scratchy, warbling song of the Thick-billed Warbler for the first time this year. This indicates that it won’t be long before it migrates north to its breeding grounds.
Also heard a Raddes Warbler singing its low key song, also an indication that it will be on its way soon. Why I don’t know, there seems to be mountains of food in Thailand with its temperate climate, I must be missing something. Possibly there is an infestation of insects like mosquitoes wherever it is going which will provide a more than adequate supply of food for the young.
Olive-backed Pipits are also gathering in preparation for their trip north. There is plenty to keep me busy at this time of year, what with these migrants and the resident birds getting into full swing with their breeding.
One female Barred Buttonquail seen taking a dust bath and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. Lying on her side, feathers ruffled and scratching away with her legs.

(April 6th HTT) A Rosy Minivet spotted but this time it was a cantonensis similar to the female of the more usual one but with a brighter buff rump and virtually no wing bar in this particular one.
It was nice to see a Ruddy-breasted Crake (22cm), I usually only hear them as they skulk in the reeds and long grass. It was feeding out in the open on the lakeside. Also a White-breasted Waterhen (33cm) was feeding nearby and it was interesting to compare the difference in size, the crake really is quite small.
Another lone Little Egret flew overhead and was later seen feeding in shallow water. I watched it through my telescope and it was plucking fish out of the water varying in size from 3 to 4 inches down to 1 inch.

(April 7th HTT) A new bird for the area the Crow-billed Drongo, there were four of them and they were calling with their musical and sometimes harsh calls and, wouldn’t you believe it, the moment I pointed my microphone at them they stopped. The only recording I have of this bird contains only the harsh part of their call and this time they were adding the harp-like sounds, darn it!
A male and female Plain-backed Sparrow were building a nest in a hole in a dead tree, they were both arriving with beaksful of downy feathers.
A Large-billed Crow was seen flying from north to south and back again, it was on the northbound flight that it was carrying something bulky in its beak. I couldn’t make out what it was but it was obviously feeding young and had obviously found a good source of food as it was passing me every few minutes with its beak full of whatever it was.
An Asian Barred Owlet (23cm – it looks bigger than that as it is a bulky bird) was seen clinging to a nesting hole just like a woodpecker and a few minutes later was seen diving on something in some dead leaves, I couldn’t make out exactly what it was but it looked suspiciously like a big beetle.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Nesting - above and below water

Ashy Wood-Swallows nesting

(April 2nd HTT) A cool start to the morning for this time of the year at 19c but it soon warmed up. The density of the smog has declined which is very welcome but a large plume of smoke was seen erupting from the top of Doi Suthep, someone’s not listening!
The Common Ioras are getting excited and their downy white rump feathers were in full display. It seems that they were all doing it so both male and females get excited.
Heard the fruity/fluty whistle of the Black-throated Laughingthrush, this must be one of the best songsters, if it can be called that, I have heard, it’s variety and richness is amazing.
Got a good view of the Large Hawk-Cuckoo, it really does look like a hawk in flight.
Six different Chinese Francolins heard calling from all points of the compass, it’s a harsh and grating ‘ti tat taak ta taa>’ . If you get close to this bird you might also hear a softer buk haw haw between the main call.

(April 3rd HTT) Again a cold morning for this time of year at 19c. The smog which seemed to have cleared yesterday came back with a vengeance today.
A Violet Cuckoo presented itself this morning, quite tame no skulking for this bird. It showed as much interest in us as it did in feeding, later on I heard its distinctive shee wiz call.
Two Little Herons, again, were seen sitting on tree stumps in the lake , in close proximity, both were leaning down and were prepared to dive if a fish strayed into their immediate area. Unfortunately no fish came within their reach so I didn’t actually see them dive. While they were waiting a Little Egret flew slowly overhead.
Two Ashy Wood-Swallows (Artamus fuscus) were watched as they built a rather flimsy nest, they each kept diving on me as the other continued building the nest. The ‘Swallow’ in the name is misleading as they are not swallows at all, not even related. They are of the family Artamidae as opposed to the true swallows Hirundinidae. I could write a book on bird misnomers!

Fish nesting
This next item is not about birds but it is about nests. These were fish nests and they were made by sucking the sand and spitting it out at the perimeter of the nest. They then dug smaller holes within the larger one, the photo shows the result. Today I saw one that had produced young and, boy, had they produced young, there were literally hundreds of them, each little bigger than a grain of sand. The two parent fish, one on either side of this cloud, kept other would-be diners away.