Having survived the worst of the Songkran water fighting I was joined, on the 15th April, by Mark Thomas, Jenny Atkins and Jason Goodwin for a day of general birding around Petburi province. After a little trouble finding it, I collected them from the Twin Towers Hotel near HuaLompong station at a little after 5am and we headed off to Laem Pak Bia.
On arrival we stopped at the spot which has been favoured by a pair of Black-faced Spoonbills all winter, not sure if they would still be around at this late time in the season. At first very little was to be seen at this spot; Indochinese Bushlark, Plain-backed Sparrow, Green Bee-eater, Collared Kingfisher, a Painted Stork and many egrets but just as we were about to move along, Jason spotted a Spoonbill in flight. Unfortunately, although we could clearly see it was a Black-faced Spoonbill it landed way out of sight. As we waited for it to emerge again we added White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Curlew Sandpiper and Blue-tailed Bee-eater to our tally before some workers flushed the spoonbill again. This time we had longer flight views but again it landed way beyond where we could see.
Although the Spoon-billed Sandpipers seemed to have moved on some weeks back we headed to Pak Thale for an outside chance that one might be lingering. It was not to be but we did see 5 Red-necked Phalaropes coming into breeding plumage along with Gull-billed Tern, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Curlew. Little Terns seemed to be nesting on a dry salt pan which to me didn’t seem to be a good choice as it could get reflooded at any time.
With the sun beating down on us a Dusky Warbler and Common Tailorbird weren’t enough to detain us any longer and we headed to the boat yard for a drink. After some ice cold water we hired a boat to take us out to the sand spit in search of “White-faced” Plover. First of all though we landed on the sand bar to view the roosting terns. We had a great selection of species here with a single Caspian Tern, around 20 Great Crested Terns, 3 Lesser Crested Terns and many Common and Little Terns – great opportunities for photographers! Further out to sea we could also see Whiskered and White-winged Terns and we were lucky enough to get 3 White-winged Terns land on the sand bar to bathe. One bird was in complete breeding plumage and stood out beautifully amongst the other species.
On to the sand spit we easily found Malaysian Plover nesting and spotted a Grey-tailed Tattler, an uncommon passage migrant in Thailand. Also present were Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Terns. Out on the mudflats Jenny spotted 2 Pied Avocets in flight – another very uncommon species in Thailand – and Javan Pond Herons were nice in their breeding plumage. Amongst the other species a Chinese Egret was spotted, its distinctive behaviour helping separate it from the similar Pacific Reef Egret – subtle structural and plumage details such as the shape of the head plumes and the bill structure could also be seen when it came into close range.
As we proceeded to leave I spotted a Greater Sand Plover in breeding plumage and as I looked at it through my telescope I saw what seemed to be a “White-faced” Plover in the background. Whilst we watched this bird Mark noticed that it had a black ring on its left leg and a yellow/green ring on its right leg. Although this bird had a white-face (all white lores) and was quite striking when it turned face on, I later found out from Phil Round that this combination had been fitted to Malaysian Plovers from the nest – thus this bird was a Malaysian Plover and not a “White-faced”. Indeed, the genuine “White-faced” Plovers are so distinctive that I really should have ruled this bird out beforehand: take a look at photos of the “real thing” – “White-faced” Plover.
After a welcome lunch at the boatyard we drove to Tung Bang Jak, an area of rice agriculture and reedy areas in search of waterbirds. We spent and hour and a half birding along the quiet road finding a good number of birds including Asian Golden Weaver, large and numerous flocks of Baya Weaver, Green Bee-eater, Brown Shrike, a lingering Siberian Stonechat, Indian Roller, Plain-backed Sparrow, Chestnut Munia, Purple Heron, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Watercock, hoards of Asian Openbill Storks and Cattle Egrets and Bronze-winged Jacana amongst many other species. This area is always good for birds and a large number of species can be seen quickly, particularly in the early morning, but as our visit proved, it is also worth a look at any time of the day. The traditional styles of agriculture in this area make for a patchwork of habitats and as in many parts of the world, where extensive agriculture occurs, biodiversity remains high. The sight of a herd of ducks being shepherded around by a couple of herders was pleasant and some photos were almost obligatory. The herder told me that he had 4000 ducks under his care!
With time pressing on we went back to Laem Pak Bia to spend some time in the King’s Project area. This spot is really good at dusk as many birds come in to roost in the mangroves. In the reeds we found Oriental Reed Warbler and Black-browed Reed Warbler. White-breasted Waterhen was easy but Ruddy-breasted Crake only gave us fleeting views. However, the roosting birds were good; large numbers of Black Drongo and Mynas came in as usual but a surprise was 1500-2000 Bee-eaters, most of which were Blue-tailed Bee-eaters with a few Green Bee-eaters. It was an amazing sight with clouds of birds circling before they chose their roosting spot. At the same time we enjoyed a very nice sunset.
As this proceeded large numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons were exiting the magroves and after seeing a few huge fruit bats we got into the car to search for nightjars. After a brief drive we found 2 Indian Nightjars on the road and got excellent views of them at close range. Always a good ending to a day birdwatching in Thailand!