I have decided to concentrate my current efforts on the local rice paddy in Ratchaburi; after all it virtually backs on to the small estate where we live and recent visits have really been very promising: warblers of the acrocephalus genus are present in numbers and perhaps a few rarer species are skulking with the Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers.
The rice paddy covers a very considerable area and is criss-crossed with roads,paths, the main north-south railway line and a considerable number of irrigation canals or klong. These are lined with reeds, scrub and quite an array of other bushes and trees and are the main action area at the moment – great habitat for warblers and cuckoos, as I have recently discovered. Overall the rice paddy has thrown up a lot of good birds for me over the last couple of years and today, Saturday, and yesterday, Friday, were no exceptions.
One disappointment, however, is that I haven’t seen any harriers. In previous years Marsh and Pied have been very reliable. I am quite surprised that I haven’t bumped into one in the last few days. The only evidence there has been of raptors in the last two day was a Black-shouldered Kite from Friday, which puts on a very distinct “hover” show before plummeting on some unsuspecting prey.
The undoubted highlight was a very brief glimpse of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo as it broke cover from the scrub and flew off up the irrigation canal. In fact I have seen three species of cuckoo in the same area over the last two days: add in Plaintive and Banded Bay. So as well as Warblers this is good habitat for cuckoos too and I rather fancy the elusive Pied Cuckoo will be here or hereabouts.
Saturday morning I spent a few hours first thing in the hide. I initially thought I had photographed an Oriental Reed Warbler, see above photograph, but it is in fact Black-browed! It’s all in the supercilium, that distinct line above birds’ eyes. In fact I have just checked out Oriental Reed Warbler images, as I wasn’t completely happy identifying this bird as Oriental. The supercilium is all wrong for Oriental. A closer examination shows it must be Black-browed due to the thickness and length of the supercilium and , of course, I should mention the black brow! All I can say in my defence is the little bird was moving around a lot,the black brow is a little subdued and I didn’t manage to get a clean capture of the bill. Who cares?! My education continueth! I used the time in the hide to photograph a Brown Shrike and Spotted Dove which perched nearby. As I packed up a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo flew up the klong – my wife first drew my attention to this species in this area last year; she said something about it “only being a bee-eater”…….. thank you, Luna, it was a truly great find and good to know this species appears to be resident here.
I returned later on Saturday afternoon and after a brief scout around decided to set up near some reeds growing on the side of a water pool. The warblers that dropped by were too quick for me as they were dropping into a short green bush behind the reeds. I decided to sit it out saying to myself that something will come along. It certainly did. A Yellow Bittern flew in and perched precariously on the reeds and I managed to get it in the frame and focused. What a beautiful bird, another skulker which would have been off had it known where I was and what I was doing. It soon flew off and next a Ruddy-breasted Crake emerged from the reed stems and walked rapidly across the vegetation mixed up in the water. Its brown back and read legs were very visible but it was too quick for me to get on it and get a picture. I was not surprised to see this bird in this location but it nevertheless represents a tick for the patch. I got ready just in case the crake came out again. It did briefly, for long enough for me to see its ruddy breast, and to clinch the ID, but it went straight back into the reeds never to be seen again…..well not for that day.
A few moments later I picked up the movement of another Yellow Bittern, it was walking along the reed bed looking for prey. I realised it would inevitably enter my target zone if it kept going; first it got into my sights and then it started moving quite gently. I was shooting when out of nowhere a Common Kingfisher perched on a nearby reed. For once I was able to get on it quickly and managed exactly one shot before it flew off. I am reasonably pleased with this as I was unable to fine focus.
The kingfisher flew off which left me alone with the Yellow Bittern which had proceeded to the corner of the pool, right in the line of the setting sun, and it had perched on a branch close to the water and was busy surveying its prey: it was motionless or as near to it as possible. I was using the self-timer to eradicate any shake as it was after 17:00h and the light quality meant shutter speeds were down to 1/80 and lower. I even shot a brief video clip which I will try to link to: my wordpress package does not support video. I love the clip but am hitting myself because a few seconds after I stopped shooting the bittern reached out and gingerly plucked a small fish out of the water which would have made a great clip. As I say my education continueth!