On Thursday 17th October 2013 we piled into the truck and headed south to Cha-am, the well-known seaside resort in Petchburi. Before our marriage, when we were conducting an international relationship, Luna and I used to spend a lot of our limited time together there. Friday was our fifth wedding anniversary, so where else could we celebrate it? We took the scenic route to get there. As well as our two children we now travel with Lola, Luna’s mother, Jona; for Lola read “nan” or “gran”: it is Ilonco for “grandmother”.
Our first stop at about 1500h was the Khao Yoi Black Kite roost site where there were between 500 – 600 Black Kites present, most perched in the palm trees but there was a small kettle and a few were soaring high in the sky. Lola was suitably impressed and could be heard uttering superlatives in Ilonco. It’s always an impressive sight and I expect numbers will increase into the thousands over the next few weeks.
As time was of the essence we made a quick dash to the big pond at Wat Khao Ta Khrao. It was raining heavily so we didn’t stop until we got there. However en route I ticked off five species of kingfisher: Stork-billed, Black-capped, Common, Collared and White-throated. A bit of a record for me. Six may be possible with the addition of Pied, but I am not sure I have ever seen it in this area.
The highlight at the big pond was 18 Garganey, the first migratory waterfowl of the winter; there were lots of Painted Stork and two Spot-billed Pelican, pelecanus philippensis, the Philippine Pelican; understandably the big waterbirds were of much more interest to Lola, especially the pelican with its taxonomic name inidcating its Philippine origins. Sadly the Philippine population of Spot-billed Pelicans is now extinct. Onwards we went in an effort to have a brief look at Laem Pak Bia where we arrived at 1750h with very little light – enough to make out a flock of about 200 Great Knot and 100 Black-tailed Godwits in the salt pans; there were a further three Spot-billed Pelicans, unmistakable in the gloom, floating about another salt pan.
As we headed south to Cha-am, just past The King’s Project, I hit the breaks as lots of huge “birds” were crossing over the main road, from the project in the direction of the “abandoned” building. Once I got the binoculars on them I could see they were bats, huge bats, bigger than I have ever seen before. A Google search, “Large bats Laem Pak Bia” landed me on Nick Upton’s Thaibirding.com which confirmed these to be Lyle’s Flying-foxes, Pteropus Lylei. These are listed in Mammals of Thailand and South-east Asia, (Francis,2008), as “vulnerable” and the IUCN Red List confirms this: in Thailand, as elsewhere, they are considered a serious pest due to their love of fruit orchards and are therefore subject to persecution.
We had a very pleasant wedding anniversary and as a civilised, family sort of man I didn’t slope off and do any birding!
On Saturday 19th October we headed home and made a stop at the fishing village of Bang Khao about 15 kilometres north of Cha-am. It didn’t look very promising at first until a flock of terns went up – they had hidden themselves on the other side of a gentle gradation on the sand flats. I went back to the car for the scope as I wanted to show Lola some new species – we picked out 3 Great Crested Terns with their big, yellow bills; we had really good views of them, as they sat, almost playfully, in the surf.
I then took some time on the large flock of about 250 terns sitting on the ground. These birds had longish, thin black bills, very prominent black scapular feathers, like a thick black line, black crown, head and nape but white foreheads and lores, darkish gray flight feathers and very dark red legs; I would have mistaken these for black without the scope; when the flock took to the air their white rumps were visible as was a white leading edge on their upperside wings. Tern identification strikes terror into my soul but I would confidently assert these were Common Terns of the longipennis sub-species, longipennis, meaning long-feathered.
Nearby I noted 8 Sanderlings scurrying about and 5 Malaysian Plovers as well as lots of sand-plovers and a handful of Pacific Golden Plover. There were no gulls, a surprise, as there are usually lots of Brown-headed Gulls here. A Japanese Sparrowhawk flew over in pursuit of some very anxious sparrows.
Rain had us scurrying back to the truck and we headed north to the big pond at Wat Khao Ta Khrao arriving at 1300 – no evidence of waterfowl when I was expecting to see an increase on Thursday’s Garganey. There were lots of Black Kites in and around the area, up to ten, with 5 parked in the trees; I also picked out a large Osprey perched in the middle of the pond on a distant post which had Lola purring again; perhaps 60 Painted Stork in the distance.
And then home. There is only so much birding I can inflict on the family, especially hungry,restless kids!