The New Year

2013 has begun very gently on all fronts though Margaret, my daughter, took her first steps on the 2nd, barely 10 months into her life! The first bird that registered in the New Year was a Common Myna, outside my house. On New Years Day I took a spin up to Huay Mai Teng reservoir to try to photograph Black-browed Reed Warbler, again. Some one had driven their truck into my spot – I was most put out! So I had a look around and soon found an Oriental Darter perched up with some Little Cormorants. This is really becoming a regular up at the reservoir. A male Pied Harrier, always an impressive sight,  buzzed the cormorants briefly.

I was back at work on 2nd January but managed to squeeze a quick hour in the local rice paddy, the final hour of daylight. As reported earlier the rice has been harvested in the last few weeks; thousands of domesticated ducks are now feeding on the stubble, no doubt being fattened for the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities. The real bird action, however, was in the reeds and vegetation next to the irrigation canals.

My current interest is acrocephalus warblers: Black-browed and Oriental are fairly common in reeds nearby and at the reservoir. I also know Thick-billed is about from Phil Round’s visit here in October, when he recognised the call. I feel quite confident identifying and separating the afore-mentioned two warblers. So when I heard a repetitive tch tch tch I assumed it must be either Black-browed or, in the alternative, Thick-billed. When I eventually got a look at the bird, and it wasn’t such a bad view either, in the final light of the day, I noted a whitish supercilium extending a little behind the eye; too little to make it Oriental, but an unmistakeable reed warbler; it definitely could not have been Black-browed as it did not have its prominent white supercilium   enhanced by the very striking black brow above it. This bird’s bill was long and the lower mandible was lighter. In my bumbling, non-scientific way I concluded it must be Thick-billed because it definitely wasn’t Black-browed or Oriental: so what else could it be?! I didn’t have a clue about any Thick-billed characteristics and I didn’t have a field guide either. I went home excited by the prospect of claiming a first lifer of the year, especially as all I had to do was match my notes with the field guide.

Alas more seasoned campaigners will appreciate that it couldn’t have been Thick-billed because this species has no supercilium and in fact is significantly bigger than the default acrocephalus warblers. I went onto xeno.canto.org to check sounds. There was a recording of a Blunt-winged calling that I reckon was very close to my bird, but this also struck me as being close to Thick-billed. I called Phil Round as I wanted his opinion on the similarities of Thick-billed and Blunt-winged’s calls. I just don’t know and also I don’t know anything about Blunt-winged in terms of distribution. But that’s what I reckon my bird was, a Blunt-winged Reed-warbler though I am not making any claims at this moment. Its taxonomic name is acrocephalus concinens; the second Latin word, concinens, the species descriptor, means “harmonious”, and while what I heard was a call as opposed to a song, it most certainly wasn’t harmonious!

But this is how I have learned about birds over the last few years. This is what gets me studying field guides, taxonomic descriptions, distribution maps and habitat detail. Increasingly I can understand how important a bird’s call is. I was far from disappointed that I wasn’t  able to call this bird. On the contrary I got such a buzz that I went out again tonight for a mere 30 minutes.

In that brief period I picked out two beautiful Yellow-bellied Prinias and one Rufescent Prinia in the scrub; a Common Kingfisher perched up briefly and there were also a couple of skulkers too, one of which was slightly bigger than usual, more olive backed and with a very prominent whitish supercilium; it didn’t look like an acrocephalus warbler, more like a  phylloscopus, but too big! There were also some familiar calls but no sightings. When I got home tonight I told my wife I had some bad news for her – that I would be moving out to live in the rice paddy! Happy New Year to you all.

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