Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Too much, two spoon

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)