Sunday, January 27, 2008

Things are just ticking over

Long-tailed Broadbill - photo by Chatree Pitakpaivan

(January 14th. HTT) I was just coming to the conclusion that the Black-capped Kingfisher which, in previous years, has stayed with us instead of passing through on its way south had abandoned us. Well, I spotted one this morning. As you might have gathered this bird is a passage migrant up here in the north. In the previous three years it was regularly seen during the winter months until it was time to migrate back north.

A flock of Crested Treeswifts was spotted this morning. The first indication of this bird’s presence is usually its kee-kyew call as it flies overhead. Even knowing it’s there it can sometimes be difficult to spot, like all swifts it is built for speed with narrow body and wings.

As nothing much else happened this morning I thought it worthwhile mentioning some of the birds that inhabit the overgrown lot at the back of my house. Two or three Siberian Rubythroats can be heard ‘cherking’ and ‘squeaking’ in the early morning in the thorny mimosa bushes, two Brown Shrikes sitting on vantage points spend quite a lot of time ‘churring’ at each other, no doubt defending their territory. Plain Prinias and the Grey-throated Prinias are often seen lurking in the undergrowth together with unknown numbers of White-breasted Waterhens. A Blue Rock Thrush (male) can usually be found perched on our rooftop carrying out its usual bobbing and tail-cocking posturing. In fact one could spend a morning looking out of my bedroom window and not get bored at all. The calls of the Asian Barred Owlet, the Greater Coucal, the Coppersmith Barbet, and various Bulbuls form a background orchestra to all this activity.

(January 22nd. HTT) Took out a party of four this morning and managed a count of 53 species seen and 5 identified by call. One bird of note seen was an Osprey flying low over the lake – having guests with me it was a good bird to come across. Others seen were a flock of 12 Blue Magpies feeding in a Silk cotton Tree (Bombax Ceiba). This is the time of year when many of the trees start flowering and these flowers attract many different species of birds. One could spend hours just watching as the different species come and go from these trees.

(Saturday 26th. KMP) Up in the mountains today at Ka Mu Phuket with friend John and we added another two species to our list bringing it to 197 species. These were the Great Tit and the Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. The latter bird I almost mistook for the Blue Rock-Thrush (M..s. philippensis) It wasn’t until I saw the female on the next branch with its scaly belly and distinctive pale throat and neck markings that I realised it was the male Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush.

Another pleasant surprise was to see a flock of 10+ Long-tailed Broadbills flying across a gap in the trees, an amazingly colourful bird and with such clear delineation between the colours that it could have been dreamt up by Walt Disney for one of his animated films. Finally, the ever present Silver-eared Mesias were there, in fact we were hearing flocks of them every 100 metres or so.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Winter happens at night in Thailand

Mae Hia - at 7am the temperature was 9c.

(January 8th. HTT) Now I know where all the Common Moorhens have gone, there was a dearth of them on the big lake but today I discovered at least 8 on a distant pond on the other side of the causeway. Obviously they find it quieter in that distant pond. At the other end of the lake a not often seen Striated Warbler was observed preening whilst sitting in the long grass.

Just around the corner from there is my ‘Breakfast Tree’ and it produced as usual. In addition to those regulars was a male Long-tailed Minivet and a hunched up Asian Barred Owlet trying to keep a low profile. When it finally flew off there was a great diving about and protesting shrieks from the other birds in the tree and then they settled down as if nothing had happened. They must have known it was there so why all that fuss when it decided to leave?

Seven Grey Herons were seen flying overhead. Normally they would have distributed themselves around the lake but recently they have taken to ignoring our lake and carrying on into the military area where there is another lake which is forbidden to us civilians! How do I know they are there? Because I have sneaked into that area to confirm it. I did a stint in the Royal Marines, 45 Commando, plus I was in my jungle greens so my infiltration was carried out with comparative ease, with my long Sennheiser microphone plus pistol grip at the ready for any outburst of bird-calls!

(January 11th. Mae Hia) Number-wise not a bad morning, 64 species seen and 9 identified by call. An exceptionally cold morning, 9c at 7am. But it soon warmed up as it always does. I have to admit, rather sheepishly after my recent outburst, that the burnt out area of mimosa bushes and undergrowth produced this morning. Two Red Avadavats, male and female, were spotted along with a few Baya Weavers, 6 or 7 Plain Prinias were busy feeding along with various warblers, Thick-billed, inornate and dusky. A couple of Stonechats, a flock of Chestnut-capped Babblers, a Lesser Coucal, a White-breasted Waterhen and various bulbuls.

Others seen was a lone Cattle Egret scurrying around the feet of ten Friesian cows, two Rufous-winged Buzzards, a lone male Eurasian Kestrel and a Black-shouldered Kite. On one stretch of road five Asian Barred Owlets were heard calling from all points of the compass. Common Koels have become more noticeable with their resounding kow-wow calls which generally means that they will soon be on the lookout for suitable mates. Four Hair-crested Drongos were seen in the distant foothills in their usual tree with large white flowers. Finally four different species of shrikes were seen.

Back to the ‘slash and burn’ around the ponds and other places at Mae Hia. This area is the Agricultural Training Centre for the Chiang Mai University and by their actions they are telling the students that it’s okay to farm this way. This is in contradiction to the laws laid down by the Thai government. The latest tightening of these laws was brought about by last years devasting clouds of smoke that covered S.E. Asia causing the deaths of the elderly and children and they are still being ignored by the University. I pick them out as they are a state university and should therefore set the standard for others to follow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A shrinkage of birds ?

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker by Yurie Ball

(December 24th. HTT) This year there seem to be a drop in numbers within the species seen. For example the Common Moorhen down to 2-3 whereas we we used to see 10+. Both Kingfishers, the common and white-throated are always there but in lesser numbers. no Little Grebes have been seen on the lake this year compared to 3-4 in previous years.A lone Common Sandpiper was seen today which again leads me to mention that the waders are also in short supply – not as many Common Snipe seen as in usual years along with the, normally solitary, Green Sandpiper. The Richard’s Pipit and the Rufous-winged Bushlark are also sparse on the ground. But, today produced a fairly respectable count of 56 species seen and 10 species identified by call, go figure! (I always wanted to use that expression).

(December 31st. HTT) My ‘Breakfast Tree’ was fairly busy this morning. The Yellow-vented Flowerpecker made its usual entrance at the top of the tree and then disappeared into the dense foliage. A Verditer Flycatcher put in a brief appearance, A flock of 15+ Japanese White-eyes made there way busily through the tree, a male and female Black-naped Monarch were also seen giving their pwish-pwash call. A Grey-headed Flycatcher entertained us with its usual aerobatics in the lower branches plus 3 or 4 Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, a few Inornate Warblers were also present and sundry Bulbuls. All this in the time it took me to eat my thick pea and ham soup.
In one patch of woodland there was a mobbing scene going on but I couldn’t see what was being mobbed. Obviously a flock of 20+ White-crested Laughingthrushes could as they were cackling away, taking no notice of me. Along with them were 2 male White-rumped Shamas churring away and a whole host of smaller birds adding their shrieks of indignation.
Another fruiting tree was taken over by 10+ Lineated Barbets. By fruit we imagine apples, oranges, pears etc. but these fruit were clumps of small unappetising looking brown berries, but each to his own.

(January 3rd. 2008 Mae Hia) Rather a shock to find that one of my popular ponds had its surrounding mimosa bushes and reeds cut right down to the bare earth. Contemplating my navel would have been more productive than trying to find a bird around that pond!! Also a lot of the other wild patches have been burnt but just enough was left to make it worthwhile for the birds to visit. So the count wasn’t bad at 61 species seen and 9 identified by call.
Some of the birds seen in the burnt out area were a flock of 40+ Baya Weavers, male and females indistinguishable at this time of year. The Long-tailed Shrike, nominate race, was still persevering against all odds to eke out a living in this burnt patch. Yet another exhibitionistic male Siberian Rubythroat put in an appearance and churked and squeaked in indignation at us for daring to get so close to it. Another fruiting tree produced a splash of bright yellow which turned out to be a Black-naped Oriole and it was accompanied by a host of mixed bulbuls. Farther on a Banded Bay Cuckoo was heard calling using its ascending series of notes. A Ruddy-breasted Crake was seen skulking in some overhanging undergrowth in another pond and what stood out were its bright reddish/orange eyes and the black and white barring under its tail. And finally but in fact the first birds of note we came across was a flock of Lesser-whistling Ducks in the Office Pond. I say they were in the pond but as we put in an appearance they all took off together and I estimated that there were 400+ in the flock. At least that pond has been left alone but one wonders for how long!