Split fairly recently (and now widely accepted as a distinct species), Siberian Stonechats were well scattered around the fish ponds, and like their European counterparts, were easily ushered over with a little
We returned to a Bangkok apparently functioning just as chaotically as before, but with walls of sandbags along lower lying streets, many shops and official buildings still boarded up (and sometimes armed-guarded), and the bizarre sight of endless thousands of tightly parked, temporarily abandoned cars on all available flyovers and motorways above the anticipated flood levels.
juvenile Scaly-breasted Munia (another one for the photographic shit-list)
The following morning, and a few hours birding were scheduled in before heading on again soon after, at two local sites; one new, and one familiar. First up, Neil and I visited an urban wetland known as Muang Boran fish ponds, hidden behind a particularly claustrophobic and disadvantaged neighbourhood.
Asian Pied Starling
A lack of research on my count meant I was unprepared for the conditions - locals gunning down the only (very narrow) path on mopeds, the disadvantageous morning light, and the constant attentions of barking stray dogs didn't exactly make for a holistically pleasant experience; and when the mist nets containing birds in various states of decay out on the marsh came into view, it was time for me to leave.
In the limited time spent there, the site did, however, provide some good birds (and even a couple of lifers), including Asian Golden Weaver, Lesser Coucal, Yellow-bellied Prinias, Ruddy-breasted Crake, both Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, numerous Siberian/AsianStonechats (see following post), White-browed Crakes, Yellow Bitterns, Striated Grassbird & Black-headed Munias.
immature Black-headed Ibis
Which was a silver lining, and the variety of species was impressive for a place so close to the urban wastes; but for similarly sensitive souls in town with time to spare for birding, it's probably best omitted from the short-list (next time I'll most likely stick with Suan Rot Fai and Bang Poo).
And with a final hour to spare, we dropped in at Bang Poo once again - the first time being way back in early October, before our southern Thailand and Malaysia travels - located conveniently close to the fish ponds, and once again there was plenty of interest there.
A good variety of expected species (including Golden-bellied Gerygones, Oriental White-eyes, Painted Storks and Asian Open-bills) were on show, and a scarcity in the shape of a Black-headed Ibis, feeding on the main pool in front of the hide, was an unexpected bonus. Just before leaving, a skulking Phyllosc eventually gave itself up, revealed as a Dusky Warbler (which turned out to be the only one of the trip); a nice duo to bookend our Bangkok adventures.
As well as scanning shimmering, expansive saltpans, we also squeezed in a couple of brief but productive sessions at a nearby freshwater marsh, tucked away down a dusty track and lined by scrub and sedge.
Highlights here included great views of a Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker hammering at a fencepost, a Cinnamon Bittern, the first Two-barred Greenish Warbler and Oriental Reed Warblers of the trip, a Black-browed Reed Warbler and Black-headed Munias in the rank trackside vegetation, Black-collared, Asian Pied, White-shouldered and Vinous-breasted Starlings....
Asian Open-billed Stork
....Indian, Little and Great Cormorants, Little Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters on the wires, Plaintive Cuckoos and White-vented Mynas in the trees, Painted and Asian Open-billed Storks, hundreds of Black Drongos, plenty of marsh terns and many other expected species.
And a few shots from back at Khao Dinsor - or more accurately, the area immediately around our guest house - taken on a couple of local ambles while not up the hill or on the beach....
Ashy Drongo (of the very distinctive endemic subspecies)
Which also produced a good selection, including Black-capped Kingfisher, Green-billed Malkoha, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, the first Taiga Flycatchers of the trip, Lineated Barbets, Stripe-throated Bulbuls, Vinous-breasted Starlings and Striped Tit-babblers, as well as many commoner species.
A land crab (based on the fact in was a very long way from water...)
Pacific Reef Egret on the beach
Vinous-breasted Starlings (on the guest house)
Olive-backed Sunbird, beginning to build a nest on the telephone wire outside the guest house
Two-barred Greenish Warbler
and a pair of very smart Plain Backed Sparrows from the abandoned buildings.....
Come the morning, and an early start saw Neil and I briefly revisiting the nearby marsh (see following post), before arriving at the abandoned buildings just as the morning light reached it's sharp, clear peak.
After a few hundred metres, we were very happy to come across a loose flock of mainly small waders feeding at the closer side of the second salt-pan from the track (ie, luckily within easy range of binoculars); well worth a stop and a careful scan through.
In this small group of around thirty birds, there were a couple of Long-toed Stints, a sprinkling of Curlew Sands, plenty of Red-necked Stints, assorted plovers, a Broad-billed Sand or two, and at the right-hand end of the group, a small, pale sandpiper with an obvious, near-comically spatulate-shaped bill.
Almost unbelievably, and with the aforementioned odds against us (on top of the existing risks of failure even at peak time), we'd a beautiful Spoon-billed Sandpiper feeding at close range, in perfect light, by the side of the track.
For the following forty minutes and outside the confines of the vehicle, we watched the bird feeding mainly in the company of Red-necked Stints (which it had no problem elbowing around when required) before the pack were eventually spooked by an approaching worker. It could hardly have worked out any better.
We spent the next couple of hours enjoying the plethora of other waders on display (as well as Plain-backed Sparrows by the buildings) until the increasing heat of the day forced us back to base and into the pool in celebratory mood.
And then the drive back to a Bangkok that had tentatively been given the all-clear, but not before a few more stops nearby. Several wetland (mainly saltpan-dominated) sites were reasonably productive, without being as satisfying as our morning session at the abandoned buildings.
They did, however, provide a new species (albeit a distant one) in at least 200 Great Knot - as well as five tern species, plenty more waders, and numerous Painted Storks, Little Cormorants and Brown-headed Gulls. Ospreys, Japanese Sparrowhawks and Kestrels represented a pretty modest raptor presence.
Pak Thale (pronounced Pak Ta-lay) was, after the morning's adventures, somewhat of a come-down; this despite it being by far the most famous and well-visited site in the area, as evidenced by a large, out-of-place Birdlife International interpretation shelter (used as a ready-made scooter park by the locals).
No complaints of course, and we even scored a second Spoon-billed Sandpiper at close range (!) - but the views were brief and the area was heavily disturbed, with most of the birds in poor light and at some distance. The wonderful views and circumstances of the morning's bird remained the default memory of this charismatic, arguably doomed, but hopefully rescuable little shorebird.
Wader species observed in the area, evening and morning: Eastern Black-tailed Godwit - Spotted Redshank - Common Redshank - Marsh Sandpiper - Common Greenshank - Wood Sandpiper - Common Sandpiper - Sanderling - Dunlin - Red-necked Stint - Temminck's Stint - Long-toed Stint - Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Broad-billed Sandpiper - Red-necked Phalarope - Great Knot - Black-winged Stilt - Little Ringed Plover - Kentish Plover - Malaysian Plover - Common Snipe - Ruff - Pacific Golden Plover - Grey Plover (total - 24)
After our unforgettable raptorama at Khao Dinsor, we made our way back north to Bangkok, via Laem Phak Bia (partway between the two) - well-known as a globally important area for wintering waders, with one species in particular recieving justly special attention.
A vague plan to visit the area towards the end of our stay in the country was looking less and less likely to come off, and so Neil and Eunice's offer to make an overnight stop in the area en route was a godsend to say the very least.
Our target - the critically-endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a beautiful and slightly absurd little shorebird, with the odds of survival sadly and increasingly stacked against it. The area - a vast expanse of saltpans just inland from the gulf coast, completely innocuous to the untrained eye, and with pretty much zero protection from development.
Eastern Black-tailed Godwits
Again with our friend's invaluable local knowledge, we checked into a peachy little seaside resort (complete with a shady pool five paces from the ocean), which turned out to be less than a couple of kilometres from one of the key areas, known as the abandoned buildings.
We were resolved to the fact that our chances of connecting with the glittering prize were somewhat lessened by our circumstances; firstly, we had no 'scope - a near-essential piece of kit in such conditions - and secondly, it was still very early in the season. The peak period for both SBS and many other waders was still many weeks away, and we were likely to encounter only a fraction of the wintering hordes.
Red-necked Phalaropes (and Marsh Sandpiper)
And so it was with a healthy dose of realism that a visit to the area in the evening - somewhat of a recon mission for the following morning - was encouragingly productive. Plenty of birds, of plenty of species - including an unexpected bonus in the shape of a very smart Malaysian Plover amongst a gang of Kentish (nice work Neil) made for a very entertaining session, and a busy party of Red-necked Phalaropes were equally welcome.
The site is both easy and frustrating to watch: it can only be birded from the track (most sensibly from a 4x4, for the terrain and for cover), and to have good (especially 'scope-less) views of the birds, they need to be both close to the track and on the right side of the sun. If either is lacking, you're effectively screwed; but if both happen to work out, the birding is wonderfully sedate and the birds are perfectly lit (especially early morning and late evening) .
An additional obstacle is the landscape - the saltpans are spirit-level flat in all directions, and hence, the birds are very easily spooked. A careless movement from us (or even the gentle clunk of a car door), or the routes taken by site the random sprinkling of site workers, can spell an aborted mission at any given time.
Moth sp. in the mangroves (the size of an adult human hand....)
In truth, it wasn't such a huge disappointment to fail in finding an SBS amongst its commoner brethren during the evening, especially knowing our hand was hardly the strongest; we retired back to our base (via a Indian Nightjar calling nearby) having enjoyed the session immensely. The birding was excellent, and tomorrow was another day.