Inner Gulf 22 & 23 December 2012

Caspian Tern© How Pang
Caspian Tern
© How Pang

For a second consecutive weekend I had agreed to show some visiting birders around. This time How Pang and Moira Mitchell from London, although Moira is a Glaswegian like myself. These guys were finishing off a major birding trip to South East Asia having just been birding at Ang Trapang in Cambodia. We started early and headed through Petchburi province  to Wat Khao Takrhao; en route we stopped at a pond in the Phetchburi area which held at least 4 Eurasian Coot and good numbers of Cotton Pygmy-goose, Moorhen and Little Grebe. Two Oriental Darters flew over and one actually came down in the pond for an early morning splash.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon© How Pang
Pink-necked Green Pigeon
© How Pang

On the approach road to the very large pond in the Wat Khao Takrhao area we had great views of 8 Pink-necked Green Pigeons.Green pigeons have always been very skittish around me but today they didn’t seem too bothered. Moreover, on account of this, I had never really been satisfied with previous views, so I had never claimed this bird. A lifer no less, though at the time I had no idea I hadn’t listed it yet.

An added bonus was a small flock of Painted Stork and Howard & Moira also managed to get Collared & Black-capped Kingfisher. At the large pond there were thousands of ducks, huge flocks of Garganey and Northern Pintail, a conservative estimate being 2,000 of the former and 1,ooo of the latter. Always a brilliant sight especially when these birds take to the air. I managed to pick out two female Northern Shovellers, courtesy of their massive bills, and we also managed to see one Black-headed Ibis. Not such a bad start to the day.

Greater Sand-plover
Greater Sand-plover

I had scheduled the day in order to arrive at Pak Thale before high tide, predicted today at about 1100h. We got there at about 0930 and I was rather surprised by the comparative dearth of waders. Sure there were waders but not as many as I had expected. The usual suspects were present – Eurasian Curlew, Lesser Sand-plover; there was a small flock of Great Knot.  We checked the usual places but there was absolutely no sign of Spoon-billed Sandpiper and there wasn’t much evidence of its favourite associate, Red-necked Stint. We had a good look around and picked out two Pied Avocets in the pans on the road to the mud flats; plenty of Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, a few Long-toed Stint, good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, but no Spoonie. Most depressing, bothersome – I want everybody I take out to see the “big” birds if possible. It’s a fact, however, that we didn’t today and it is equally a fact that birds are not “available on demand” creatures.

Spoonbilled-sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Reluctantly we headed on but agreed to return early on the following day without reference to the tide. We headed south and  stopped off at Wat Kamnoram for Grey-headed Lapwing and Black-headed Ibis; again,another no shows. So we went on to Laem Pak Bia, heartened by a call from Mike & Dave Bruce, from last weekend, who had sighted a Nordmann’s Greenshank. Phew! Again I think it would be fair to say the salt pans here were not exactly loaded with waders. If Spoon-billed Sandpiper is number one target for most visitors then Nordmann’s is second on the list. One solitary Nordmann’s stood on the bund,surrounded by a handful of Great Knots but unmistakeable on leg colour and bill base toning. It is undoubtedly the case that I have much more success with Nordmann’s than I do with Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

We then went into the King’s Project where we reconnected with the Bruces and here we had a lot of fun calling out Ruddy-breasted Crake; there were three in the shallow pools. There were also at least three Painted Snipe in the same area. Unfortunately they reeds in the reed beds had been hacked down so little to observe in that area. I have only realised that Ruddy-breasted Crake is a lifer as I had never listed it previously on account of only snatching fleeting glances, just like Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

Malaysian Plover
Malaysian Plover

Then we combined with the Bruces and headed to the sand-spit with Mr Daeng. There really is something quite special about sitting in Mr Daeng’s little boat and heading to the sand-spit. It is so atmospheric, especially mid-afternoon onwards, which is my preferred time when the sand-spit catches the setting sun and the quality of the light is brilliant. The sea breeze normally counters the effect of the heat. Today was no exception and the birds obliged: Chinese Egret, Lesser Crested Tern, two White-face Plovers, 10 Malaysian Plovers and 2 Sanderlings. On the way back the dominant bird in the creek was Collared Kingfisher – I think our party counted 30 plus and we let out a cheer when finally we saw a solitary Black-capped Kingfisher.

Pacific Reef Egretdark morph variant
Pacific Reef Egret
dark morph variant

On Sunday we started early and after a delicious, and unexpected, breakfast in Phetchburi’s main market, we headed straight for Pak Thale.  I was delighted for How and Moira that we scored immediately with a fantastic count of 4 Spoon-billed Sandpipers – effortless, really. Drive-in birding at its best; drive-in, park the car, walk 200 metres and bingo! I have learned something from this – the tide theory, two hours before and two hours after high tide as the best time to watch waders, doesn’t necessarily apply to Spoon-billed Sandpiper. I suspect Spoon-billed Sandpiper is best seen first thing in the morning. Whatever I was delighted that we got this most sought after species in the bag and a good count too. We then headed to Wat Kamnoram where the Grey-headed Lapwing also obliged – at least three sighted. On to Laem Pak Bia where there wasn’t much of note: I counted a flock of 30 Pied Avocets but beyond this little else.

We then headed over to the dipterocarp forest at Wat Khao Look Chang, about a 50 minute drive. I have to say this was a bad move; we saw some Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, a few sun birds but nothing else. Perhaps this was because of the time of the day but I was disappointed and was disappointed for my guests as this site has been reliably good for species like Black-headed Woodpecker and Spotted Owlet. We headed on to Wat Norng Blah Lai and I am gad to say the eagles obliged: two Eastern Imperial Eagles, (likely juveniles), at least 1 Steppe, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle and 1 Booted Eagle, all fairly high in the sky plus a couple of Black Kites. We finished off with a brief look at the Black Kite roost at Khao Yoi but got there much too early in the afternoon – nevertheless there were a few Black Kites on the ground.

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