It was on my mind to pursue Long-billed Dowitcher at Laem Pak Bia this morning but I just couldn’t get out of bed. Not sure an early start would have made any difference – these creatures have wings and do move about so the search for a single bird is equivalent to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack……..and I am seriously committed to drive-up birding!
We finally did hit the track just after 0930h and in view of my four year old son’s company I decided to head for Bang Kao, to the north of Cha-am, the plan being to work our way northwards. There is a nice beach at Bang Kao with fishing boats so something for Benny to enjoy. It was an excellent choice because on arrival we were greeted by a juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagle, an absolutely massive bird, which even flew over us to check us out. I was truly astonished by its size! I’ve never seen this bird in this area before so a very pleasant surprise. The juvenile plumage threw me a little – but if it was not a Sea-eagle then what? The only alternative appeared to be an Osprey but it really was too big. I watched it head out to sea and when it flexed its wings to turn itself into its distinctive projectile shape I had no doubt that this was a White-bellied Sea-eagle. At this point a Kestrel flew into a palm tree ten metres from us but legged it as soon as it realised our proximity, allowing a nice if rather fleeting view.
Malaysian Plover and Sanderling can be seen here with as much certainty as is possible in birding. Today was no exception. In addition I counted 38 Brown-headed Gulls which were enjoying the surf, a solitary Arctic Tern but no Great Crested Tern, normally fairly reliable at this time of the year. The tide was highish, however, so the terns may have been out fishing or perched on a pole somewhere else. Lots of Sandplover and a couple of Kentish Plovers thrown in for good measure. A solitary Curlew had my heart racing as one bird I want is Far Eastern Curlew; this looked a possibility, darkish and big. When it flew it revealed a large white rump, dashing my hopes.
In the grass area between the beach and the scrub the predominant bird was Richard’s Pipit – out in numbers today and clearly recognisable on both call and flight. These ones were also remarkably erect in their posture and I also noted lighter lores. Amazing really – I cannot see how I would have been able to separate Richard’s and Paddyfield in the field less than two years ago.
As we left Bang Kao a very large flock of ducks took to the air on the other side of the road. They quite literally appeared from the scrub. Fortunately a dirt road gave access to some well concealed ponds where there was one large group of approximately 500 Lesser-whistling Ducks. Of course I was looking for something more exotic. The big pond in Bang Kao has thrown up a number of duck species in previous years, including Ruddy Shelduck, so always worth knowing where other nearby freshwater is located.These ponds will be worthy of further exploration, especially early in the morning.
So northwards we drove and made a cursory detour into the Abandoned Building. A Temminck’s Stint, a regular in the ponds around the building, was there. Likewise some Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. As I say, it was cursory, so no surprise that so little to report. We had lunch at the harbour and then went north again to Laem Pak Bia proper in the hope of finding Long-billed Dowitcher.
I didn’t make out any dowitchers whatsoever, no Asian and nothing resembling a Long-billed. Good numbers of Asian have been reported in the last few days. I did note a few Broad-billed Sandpiper, 17 Nordmans’s Greenshanks in the usual place, 7 Pied Avocets, a lot of Great Knot including one bearing Green/Black flags to indicate it was banded in Thailand, presumably a returnee, good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and the default pipit in the gravel paths was Richard’s. I bumped into one of the Nong Pla Lai regulars and he advised there was a Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagle present there. With my little boy in tow I really didn’t feel inclined to sit it out in Laem Pak Bia. I thought he’d like the Kings Project so we headed off their next but couldn’t get in with the truck as there was some sort of fair on. I wasn’t for walking so on the spur of the moment decided to head north to Wat Khao Takrhao.
There were an enormous number of Painted Stork out in the middle of the big pond at Wat Takrhao, 700 – 800. In fact there was a lot of everything. Unfortunately the sun was in the wrong place so it was impossible to get a sense of waterfowl numbers – presumably lots of Garganey and Northern Pintail but they were far, far away just possible to make out the two majority species. Nearer to hand I counted 19 Black-headed Ibis; in addition there were a lot of big gulls present, once more mainly in the distance and presumably Brown-headed; there were also a lot of Caspian Tern too making their presence felt by their raucous squabbling. Idyllic really just standing at the road head scoping the site in the late afternoon sun.
A quick dash got us to Khao Yoi in the dark. Impossible to say how many Black Kites, as most of them were tucked up for the night. But there were lots in the trees and there were a few flying around. An amazing atmosphere really. But it was dark.
I rather fancy and indeed hope there will be many more days like this with Benny and in time his wee sister.