Saturday, 22 August 2015

Patch Walk- Langley to Surlingham Ferry

I had been meaning to do this for some time, and with a clear day forecast and little migrant activity on the coast I set off from Langley Dyke at 9.30am on the 21st with the eventual aim of having a late lunch at Surlingham Ferry. The route followed the Wherryman's Way to a large extent, and much of it was riverbank walking, taking me through every inch of the patch bar Church Marsh at the other end. Church Marsh itself threw up a flyover Greenshank on the 15th, but I did not intend to do the circuit here today.

I added many common species to my day list at Langley, including Green Woodpecker, Stock Dover, Kingfisher, Kestrel and Pied Wagtail. An early fillip came in the shape of not 1 but 3 Little Egret resting in the grazing field, a patch record (maximum 2 birds at Church Marsh briefly a few years ago). Heading away from the marsh and walking through rural residential areas I was pleased to see 3 separate House Sparrow colonies and the odd group of Greenfinch. The Beauchamp Arms in Claxton was my first obvious stop, and en route I ticked off Coal Tit, Song Thrush and best of all a calling Willow Warbler. It was here I discovered the camera had no battery, complete lack of planning.

10.30 seemed a little early for a pint, so I pushed on with the river now directly on my right. A few fisherman were chancing their luck, AI understand the swims here can be productive. With the day warming up, not many species were added between here and Rockland Broad, save for a Reed Bunting, Linnet and a late family of Reed Warbler making a racket from deep in the phragmites.

I positioned myself in the hide, lamenting the lack of wildfowl to myself when a female Marsh Harrier cruised by and a Common Tern alighted from a boy. Two expected, but nonetheless decent birds for the day list. The Tern then made an almighty noise, alarm calling and flying higher above the tree line. It's target? An Osprey! A massive bird, even compared to the female Harrier who joined the Tern on harassing the fish-eagle. The 3 jostled for around one minute before the Osprey headed off east. Wow. I knew I had seen the bird of the day and indeed one of the birds of the year on the patch. I have contrived to miss Osprey in the previous 2 years here, and the year in which it appears scarcer than ever in The Broads is indeed the year I connect! I left the hide on 49 species, a patch lifer, and keen for a beer to celebrate.

Pint of Trawlerboys at the New Inn, second only to the irrepressible Little Sharpie as beer of the day. It was now approaching midday, and so followed a lean spell in terms of new birds. Heading across country towards Wheatfen, Bullfinch and Great-spotted Woodpecker were welcome additions. Little activity at the fen, so I headed on to the next scheduled stop at Coldham Hall. Here I enjoyed a nice pint of Fatcat Bitter, saw a Kingfisher and heard a Cettis' Warbler. By now the birds had taken a back seat to the beer and the idea of finishing the patch walk, so I dumped my bag at home and headed down to The Ferry. Fully expecting the day to be done as I tucked into a Bacon baguette and pint of said Sharpie, 2 Common Sandpiper flew low upstream. A patch year tick! With a Wader species in the bag for the day, I was content to head home for a kip, only for a group of the local House Martins to alert me to the presence of a male Sparrowhawk as I neared the house. Day done, 54 species, and what about that Osprey!

Looked back over my notes for the day, and noticed an absence of both Great Tit and Starling? Presumably down to time of year because both species are often present in or around my garden which of course I passed on route to The Ferry. Mistle Thrush didn't show today, but I find they often don't at this time of year. Skylark have stopped singing but will be present, and I perhaps could have tried for Nuthatch in Surlingham Wood. 60 species certainly do-able in August, and I hope to compare today's outcome not just with next year but in Winter and Spring too. Using Buckenham (birds seen from the patch) maybe 70 species is possible in the Autumn?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 3

A final round-up now, focussing on a trip to the beach but also other wildlife we encountered.

Thailand seems quiet for seabirds, and this was confirmed by our guide Ike who after many hours watching has turned up very little (bar Thailand's first Zino's Petrol!). Fishermen report that 2 miles out, their ships become mobbed by seabirds including Frigates and Storm Petrols. Stuff is out there, but it rarely approaches the shore. We therefore felt lucky to see a Crested Tern species head south past our beachside resort on the 8th.

On the 9th, we took a taxi to Pakarang Cape, around 10 minutes drive from Khao Lak. Ike had told us this spot could be good for Waders, including Malaysian Plover. The beach here was wide, allowing the tide to play more of a role. We instantly struck gold upon arrival, a flock of 20+ Sandplovers were feeding along the tideline! A bird I have always wanted to see. Some individuals had a narrow orange breast band, but these guys stayed further away from the camera. This feature and the longer tibia and bill confirmed them as Greater Sandplover. The juveniles allowed close approach, and we spent sometime walking the beach scanning the flock and learning about these Waders. Now to find one along the Happisburgh coast this Autumn! Also here, 2 of 'our' birds: 2 Whimbrel and 1 Curlew.

Back at our resort, the lifers didn't dry up, with Pied Fantail displaying beneath our balcony and a Common Tailorbird finally nailed! Common Myna, Scaly Breasted Munia, Olive-backed Sunbird and Eurasian Tree Sparrow were common here. In the evenings, Brahimny Kites flew over to roost, giving way to Bat species that hunted the resort grounds.

In other wildlife, we came across a variety of Lizards. Our favourite was the flying Lizard the Draco, encountered in the rainforest, flying, before camouflaging itself against tree bark. I initially thought I had seen a large Dragonfly land! Geckos were common in rural and urban areas (smooth backed gliding possibly) and at La Flora we stumbled across a Common Butterfly Lizard sunning itself. on particularly dry days, I saw a couple of Many Lined Sun Skink.

Butterflies were both hugely varied and impressive. I have not yet gotten round to completing a list, so a few photos below will have to suffice, some identified, others not. We must have seen in excess of 20 species, so a great destination for the Butterfly enthusiast.

My final bird list comes in at 106, although v1.2 will be out soon with the odd correction and amendment I expect. Birds are everywhere in Thailand, from Black-winged Stilts and Egrets at Bangkok airport, Flowerpeckers and Broadbills in the rainforest, Sandplover on the beach at Barwings up a mountain. I have to choose the Spectacled Barwing as bird of the trip. A real specialist at altitude, the only Barwing species in Thailand and a bird I did not know existed until I went on this trip. That for me is what it is about, learning and experiencing new things with great company in phenomenal habitat. Here is a video which I believe was uploaded by our first guide Uthai of 2 birds in action:

And finally, a few pictures. Thanks for reading, especially if you got this far!

 Great Mormon
 'Draco' Flying Lizard
 Not sure
Common Punchinello
 Common Butterfly Lizard
 Greater Sandplover
 Sandplovers DO make you happy
Pied Fantail

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 2

Day 2. August 7th. Sri Phang Nga National Park.

It has to be said for any birder planning a trip to Sri Phang Nga or Khao Sok at this time of year, rain would usually be an expectation. We were very lucky today as in or out of rainforest we were dry, and infact back at our resort in Khao Lak (the excellent La Flora) we had a dry run for a couple of days. One could be unfortunate and have a day or two wiped out by rain, but on the whole we found the showers came in bursts and cleared quickly.

We were picked up around 6.30am by our guide Ike and headed straight to one of the many National Park substations in Sri Phang Nga, passing some rough looking weather and a human trafficking checkpoint on route. Although the start was slow, the sun shined and slowly the birds emerged. Crimson Sunbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter and a Chestnut-bellied Malkoha showed briefly. I had enjoyed collecting a 'list within a list', the Bulbul family. Here was saw our rarest representative, the smaller Scaly-breasted Bulbul. My records state a total of 9 Bulbul species; awaiting confirmation from my 2 guides on this! Having already seen a mixture of 2 birds, a Shrike-babbler, here was another: a Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. A cracking little bird which unfortunately was a little too high in the tree to take a photo of.

Upon moving on, we pulled over to watch a large raptor displaying over a small plantation. Consulting the ID books confirmed this a Crested Goshawk, what a beast! We than ran over a Cobra, which had been thrown into the road by a gentleman protecting his caged birds! Worth a stop to look at the corpse.

Our next stop took us deeper into the rainforest, at a site where Pittas have been seen recently (not to be by us sadly) but where Broadbills and Barbets were frankly abundant. We enjoyed the frolics of a family of Blue-eared Barbet, and Ike was able to call in a pair of rare Red and Black Broadbill, which left me open-mouthed when I stumbled across a single bird with Ike behind calling them in! Wow. Other birds here included Asian Fairy Bluebird, Large Woodshrike and Red-billed Malkoha.

Our next stop, a site where Tiger sightings are rare, (enough to send a tingle nonetheless) bought us to the doorstep of the Gibbon, for we could hear calling from perhaps a mile away. A frustrating glimpse of a Hornbill species left me knowing I would not be able to tick Hornbill on that view alone.......until 6 Bushy-crested flew past in tandem! Quality rainforest birding. Greater Green Leafbird, Greater Coucal (seen from the car drying off) and Sunbirds galore nipped in and out of the low lying vegetation.

Still in the rainforest, we headed to water to score some different species. By now it was mid to late afternoon and the forest in general had quietened somewhat. We still managed to connect with Chestnut-naped Forktail, a family of 3 feeding in a puddle on the track ahead of the car. As if we needed reminding from our first day out, Forktails are awesome! Great to catch up with some waterfall specialists here, in Grey-rumped and Crested Treeswift. Add to that my first ever Needletail, Brown-backed, and Pacific Swallow, and we enjoyed a stunning display from the masters of the sky. Chestnut-headed Bee Eater was a fine way to complete the day.
Gonna have to write a third and final post guys.......

Day list:

Red Junglefowl
Blue-eared Barbet
Red-throated Barbet
Bushy-crested Hornbill
Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha
Red-billed Malkoha
Germain's Swiftlet
Brown-backed Needletail
Crested Treeswift
Grey-rumped Treeswift
Crested Goshawk
Black and Red Broadbill
Greater Green Leafbird
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike
Large Woodshrike
Chestnut-naped Forktail
Pacific Swallow
Scaly-breasted Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Grey-eyed Bulbul
White-throated Kingfisher
Greater Coucal
Oriental Magpie Robin
Common Myna
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Plain Sunbird
Brown-headed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Streaked Spiderhunter
Grey Wagtail

White-rumped Munia

 Red-billed Malkoha
 Black and Red Broadbill
 Forest track, loads of activity down here
Greater Coucal

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 1

Although we returned to find a leaking water tank upstairs, there was no way this was going to dampen our spirits after a superb 2 weeks in Thailand. The birds of course are superb, and we were able to devote to full days to birding with guides which will be described both here and in part 2. It is however the food and the people that make this country what it is, and we were taken aback by the service and hospitality we received wherever we went. Buddhist temples and monks, palaces, Elephant treks, cooking classes, seafood; all and more will live long in the memory.
A few logistics: we flew with EVA airlines (decent enough) and stayed in The Rembrandt in Bangkok, U Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai and La Flora in Khao Lak. All superb and excellent bases for exploring the respective surrounding areas. On this, you would have to be fairly brave to hire a car out here (easier and less busy on the coast) and whilst the countryside is never far from your hotel, trekking alone is hard work and the best areas for birding are not within walking distance of any of the places we stayed. What I am getting at, is for us and our locations, a guide was essential for 2 days and we could not have been happier with the company and expertise of both Uthai at Doi Inthannon and Ike in Sri Phang Nga.

Day 1. August 4th. Doi Inthannon and Foothills.

Uthai picked us up from Chiang Mai bright and early at 5.15am, and the sun would not rise until we arrived in Doi Inthannon National Park an hour later. On the way we saw our only Duck species of the trip, Lesser Whistling. On arrival we paid our entrance fees (300 Baht per person as I recall, so around £6.00 in total for Debs and I) and began birding near the entrance gate in drizzle. We were still at a relatively low altitude and were searching for a Large Niltava which Uthai told us fed on the forest floor and could be elusive. Whilst searching, one of the first birds we encountered I instantly recognised, a migrating Grey Wagtail. Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and Mountain Bulbul are passed through in groups, but no sign of the Niltava. With the weather poor, we headed to lower altitudes to search for birds amongst pine, scrub and swamp.

I caught a glimpse of an Owl species on arrival at our next spot, and using playback Uthai was able to confirm this was an Asian Spotted Owlet which called back loudly. Other birds amongst the pines included the wonderful Shrike-babbler and Stunning Scarlet Minivet. We then tried a site for the rare Black-tailed Crake, and unprovoked the bird called from the swampy reedbed! Uthai was thrilled to know the bird was still present, and so this was enough for us too. At this site we also caught a glimpse of an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter and Speckled Piculet.

Heading back up the mountain, we stopped at a site for Spectacled Barwing and 2 birds responded to playback and gave delightful views preening and calling. One of the birds of the trip without question. At the summit, the birding was dark, misty and dank- perfect conditions for a Brit! Here we found more birds specialised to survive at this altitude and in these micro-climes. Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla and White-browed Barwing were yet more 'birds of the trip' contenders. We also enjoyed passing Phyloscs here; Ashy-headed and then either Blyth's or White-tailed, nipping in and out of vegetation, gleaning flies from tree trunks, fantastic! We also watched a Crimson Sunbird here, a proper Oriental bird, its bright colours contrasting with the gloom.

Having had a day punctuated with the calls of Barbet species, we finished by heading out of the National Park and into the foothills and surrounding countryside. Here, we were much luckier with Barbets- Coppersmith and Lineated both seen well. Asian Palm Swift, a delightful Indian Roller and an unexpected Burmese Shrike looking splendid as a sentinel on telegraph wires were more 'lifers' as we continued on through open countryside. I was initially lost for words when describing a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo I was watching, and further icing was piped in the form of a Cinnamon Bittern. Still not content, Uthai continued to show us some great birds not far from the road including Paddyfield Pipit, Red-wattled Lapwing and a flock of 40+ Asian Openbill. We finished the day around 5 and were back at our hotel just before 6.

Uthai was great fun and full of local knowledge, not just regarding the birds either. Without him we would not have seen one-tenth of what we achieved today, so we were extremely grateful. A few pictures of birding day one follow, before post two.

First, day list:

Lesser Whistling Duck
Speckled Piculet
Lineated Barbet
Coppersmith Barbet
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Greater Coucal
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
Indian Roller
Asian Palm Swift
Spotted Owlet
Rock Pigeon
White-breasted Moorhen
Red-wattled Lapwing
Common Buzzard
Hawk sp
Great Egret
Little Egret
Cinnamon Bittern
Asian Openbill
Silver-breasted Broadbill
Burmese Shrike
Black Drongo
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Eurasian Jay
Racket-tailed Treepie
Scarlet Minivet
Fantail sp???
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
White-browed Shortwing
Black-backed Forktail
Pied Buschat
Ashy Woodswallow
Swallow Sp?????? 
Black collared Starling
Common Myna
White-vented Myna
Great Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Flavescent Bulbul
Hill Prinia
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Ashy-throated Warbler
Blyth's/White-tailed Leaf Warbler
Oriental White-eye
Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush
White-browed Shrike-Babbler
Chestnut-tailed Minla
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Yuhina sp???????
Spectacled Barwing
Dark-backed Sibia
Crimson Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Little Spiderhunter
Paddyfield Pipit
Grey Wagtail
Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia

Scaly-breasted Munia

 Spectacled Barwing
 Chestnut-bellied Minla
 Chestnut (a different shade_ crowned Laughing Thrush
 Uthai and I admiring some Warblers
 Crimson Sunbird
 Female White-browed Short Tail
 White-bellied Moorhen