Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Raptorama In Excelsis - Khao Dinsor (3)

Chinese Sparrowhawk

We ended up staying at our serene little guesthouse for five days, four of which were spent lapping up the ever-changing drama on the hill; up early, a few km drive to the small car park part-way up the slope (via breakfast at our favoured beachside cafe), followed by a blood-pumping hike through first sub-jungle and woodland and then mixed scrub, made somewhat easier by a rough concrete trail.

Booted Eagle

Then, a choice between several vantage points, all with purpose-built open-plan wooden shelters (essential for avoiding the worst of both spontaneous drenchings and sunstroke). We invariably chose the one nearest the top, which allowed enviable views of the birds at all levels - from far below us, to eye-level, to way overhead, and all points inbetween.

immature White-bellied Sea Eagle

another Booted Eagle, from above

Our chosen spot had become the ad-hoc domain of Bob (DeCandido), lead observer, affable New Yorker and source of perpetual efferversence and enviable expertees. Bob was in the home straight of an unbroken ten-week stint on the peak counting everything that happened to fly past, having not only kept a grip on his sanity but with enough to spare to keep us both entertained and educated. (Thanks Bob, it was a great pleasure.)

Crested Serpent Eagle

Other regular visiting bipeds included Marti and Matti, the quietly hardcore (and often hilarious) Scandinavians who usually chose the shelterless, exposed summit for masochistic but invaluable observations, and the various Thai birders, who were both great company and invariably very sharp. In retrospect, it would've been great fun even without the birds....

Greater Spotted Eagle

...which were breathtaking, in both variety and volume. Over the course of our four sessions on the hill, I was lucky enough to enjoy tens of thousands of raptors of no less than eighteen species, plus various other migrants gunning south around us; an amazing haul, and an unrivalled spectacle (with apologies to Falsterbo, Eilat et al).

Grey-faced Buzzards

Of those, perhaps the most impressive were Black Bazas. We'd arrived just after the peak movements, but it barely seemed like it from our perspective - witnessing clusters of birds appearing over the peaks to the north, out of the clouds above us or out of the trees below us was unforgettable.

Jerdon's Baza

Black Bazas accounted for the vast majority of individuals counted, but other numerous species included Shikras (hundreds per session) and Japanese Sparrowhawks (double figures per session); species recorded regularly in smaller numbers, meanwhile, included Crested Serpent Eagles, Chinese Sparrowhawks, Jerdon's Bazas, Grey-faced Buzzards, Eastern Marsh Harriers and Oriental Honey-buzzards.

Eastern Marsh Harrier, and a kettle of Black Bazas appearing suddenly in thick cloud

Greater Spotted Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine, Black Kite, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Booted Eagle, 'Common' (Eurasian) Kestrel, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea Eagle - all recorded on one or more occasion(s) - accounted for the remainder; relentlessly killer birding, underpinned by an always entertaining collective mood.

materialising Black Bazas and Oriental Honey-buzzard

A uniquely wonderful place which gave us unforgettable experiences with migrating raptors, with the additional attractions of great company, great weather (but for the last morning's dark deluges, and it was still good birding), a valuable purpose, and a feeling of something very positive evolving from modest beginnings.

(more to follow)