The Weekend that Was: Huay Mai Teng, The Inner Gulf and surrounds

Chinese Egret
Chinese Egret

I had the pleasure of showing David Bruce from the UK around this weekend. David is a stalwart of the Essex county scene (Old Hall, RSPB reserve) and is one of those wise people, unlike myself, who started birdwatching when his age was still in single digits. Sixty years later Dave is still at it and his experience shows.

On Saturday we made a gentle, early start at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir. I was very surprised that there wasn’t so much as a whisper of Rain Quail on the south side of the site. This would be the first time in living memory that I have failed to hear Rain Quail calling in this particular location. I had rather fancied Rain Quail would be as close to a nailed on certainty as there can be.

Our first bird of the day was a Taiga Flycatcher and it proceeded from there with most of the usual suspects barring Rain Quail. As on recent visits there were many Richard’s Pipits on the ground and in the air and a few Oriental Skylarks. We noted an abundance of Zitting Cisticolas and there were good numbers of  Eastern Stonechat. The highlights were probably an Oriental Reed Warbler and a pair of Yellow-eyed Babblers.

Malaysian Plover
Malaysian Plover

A refreshing cool breeze took the edge of the increasing temperature. In real terms a very pleasant walk around the marsh which enabled Dave to see quite a few different species: Bronze-winged Jacana, Black-shouldered Kite, Eastern Marsh Harrier, White-throated Kingfisher, Lesser Whistling Duck, Hoopoe and the normal range of common waterbirds: the egrets and the herons.

A mid-morning work commitment brought us back to Ratchaburi but we headed back early afternoon. I estimate in the region of 22o Small Pratincoles in the usual place, well a little bit further up and out of sight if truth be told, but they announced their presence by a quick fly past and then landed out of sight but nearby. These birds never fail to rouse my spirits. I was also encouraged to hear the insistent calling of Rain Quail in this northern part of the reservoir.

I then decided to take Dave into the western sector in search of Darter; alas not in evidence today. But we had a good view of an Indochinese Bushlark and also had a good look at a female Common Kestrel perched high on a tree. I was also gratified that Rain Quail were calling and we managed to stop reasonably close to three and first of all had fleeting snatches of them as they rummaged around and then they flew. Dave got sight of the three of them as they  flashed away. As we headed out of this area we chanced upon a reasonably sized flock of Baya Weavers.

Not a bad start to Dave’s briding trip. I  must say how I was impressed by Dave’s interest in an enthusiasm for  Red-collared and Peaceful Doves, both new birds for him, and birds which I rarely look at these days.

Sunday an early start and on the road at 0530 to Pak Thale,winter home to Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Every visiting birder comes here for this remarkable little bird which always impresses with its effervescence and sheer. It’s not a bird that I have a great record with and the word on the street, so to speak, is that this year it is not so reliable. We bumped into Games Petsri and Ian Dugdale of South Thailand Birding  soon after our arrival at about 06:55h. In fact  they located one Spoon-billed sandpiper almost immediately. I felt mightily relieved for Dave and of course for myself. I must say it eased the pressure on me, all of which,I hasten to add, was entirely self-imposed. 

There were also three female Northern Shovellers nearby; ducks in general are few and far between at Pak Thale and courtesy of their huge, striking bills these ducks were unmistakable. In much the same way the male Northern Shoveller is a very striking and distinctive bird so identification as female was effortless. We drove out towards the mudflats in the hope of finding Asian Dowitcher which have been present in numbers in the salt pans near the sea. No sign of them today but we did  add two Pied Avocets which were in a group of Black-winged Stilts and other waders.

We then drove down to Laem Pak Bia and below Bang Kaew there were noticeably large groups of gulls, terns and waders in the salt pans. We made a couple of brief stops which didn’t produce any surprises. A perfunctory scan with the scope showed Brown-headed Gulls and more Brown-headed Gulls; fortunately most of the other species of gulls stick out prominently, usually because they are significantly bigger; lots of Great Knot; Black-tailed Godwits and smaller waders like Lesser Sand-plovers.Dave added a second kingfisher species on this drive: Black-capped perched on the telephone lines. At Pak Thale he had a Collared Kingfisher – I was a little surprised by this as he has birded in India and Sri Lanks and I was under the impression Collared was common in those parts.

So we proceeded into the salt pans and our search for Nordmann’s Greenshank was soon productive – I picked out 4 resting on the bund in amongst some Great Knot; it’s all in the legs which, at a distance, appear a much brighter, yellowish green whereas the Greenshanks legs are much more of a washed out grey/green; the bill is also distinctive and I am learning about its head too. Nordmann’s is probably the second most sought after wader in this area so I was very happy to get the big two out of the way before 09:00h.

We had a scout around but this produced northing so we went into the King’s Project and had a good look around. Dave snatched a Ruddy-breasted Crake in the reed beds; this would have been a lifer for me but I just missed it. There were some Green Sandpipers and a couple of Common Snipe in the swamps; the latter distinguishable by the white trailing edge on its wings. Add in a few Richard’s Pipits.

Rosy Starling - juvenile
Rosy Starling – juvenile

Next we headed to the Abandonned Building. Two Painted Storks appeared to be have been our highlights but on our way out we bumped into Peter Ericsson who put us on to a juvenile Rosy Starling. Lo and behold, a lifer for me, no less. After lunch we went back to the Abandonned Building in an attempt to enable me to get a shot of the Rosy Starling. I succeeded but not the best shot. Thank you, Peter. Peter also advised that Ruddy Shelduck were in Laem Pak Bia so we went back there to have a look but couldn’t see it. While scanning for the Nordmanns I picked out an Asian Dowitcher, really recognisable on account of its long black bill; it also is more black and white in appearance. I managed to pick out four in the end. Another biggie for Dave. Possibly the third most sought after wader in the region.

We then went back towards Bang Kaew to check out Wat Kamnoram. This did not disappoint – 15 Grey-headed Lapwing and 3 Black-headed Ibis. These were exactly what I had hoped for and I am very glad we made the detour. I expect Garganey will appear at this site imminently.

Finally we headed to Mr Daeng’s where once more we bumped into Peter Ericsson and his party  and were able to put them onto the Dowitchers. The sand spit was just perfect: one White-faced Plover, 2 Chinese Egret, 4 Sanderling and lots of Malaysian Plovers; add in lots of Great Crested Terns and at least one Lesser Crested Tern. I love being on the sand spit late in the day, there is something wonderful about the light as the sun starts to drop towards the horizon.

A bonus was getting back on terra firma with enough time left to dash to Khao Yoi. There we had the Black Kite roost to ourselves.I would have to say there must have been at least 500 birds, many of which were on the ground in a recently cut rice paddy. An impressive sight and a nice finishing touch to a great days’ birding.

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