Chiang Saen Lake really touched something inside me. I feel I owe it to myself to spend some more time there and I have little doubt I will return sooner as opposed to later. It’s such a peaceful place with wonderful birds and real possibilities of very unexpected birds and also of seeing very rare ones too.
On Saturday I took a spin along the shore road around the non-hunting area and on some of the roads leading off from this. There were Grey-headed Lapwing and Pintail Snipe, as yesterday, and the Burmese Shrike was also on the wire. Lots of good birds – Black-headed Bulbuls, Racket-tailed Treepie, an Ashy Drongo whose calling and ensuing replies confirmed the presence of at least two more birds in the area, a Lineated Barbet, a few Copppersmith Barbets and an Ashy Bulbul.Yup, an Ashy Bulbul which I didn’t really expect to see here. A Great Cormorant flew over head, absolutely massive, and the pair of Long-tailed Ducks from yesterday were still feeding on the lake. An unexpected surprise was a pair of Mallard pairs. These are the birds of ponds in public parks back in Europe but are in fact very rare here. Too easy, thought I, as these birds were bang on the shore and really didn’t seem to be too worried about me. See below.
Enter Mick Davies. There is probably no one on the ground with better knowledge of this site and what is in it, than Mick. If you want to read about how this area has been adversely affected by human activity over the years then head to his webpage. Over lunch we compared notes and I asked him about the possibility of Ashy Bulbul and he looked at me and asked me to say more. I told him that in amongst a small number of very active Black-headed Bulbuls, one quite distinct bulbul froze for a split second on a branch and allowed me to make out a black-crested head and yellow wing feathers framed in black. The only species I felt able to attribute this to was Ashy Bulbul. It most certainly wasn’t Black-headed. Mick asked me to take him to the location without providing further details, which I did,and when we got there he explained to me that at exactly the same spot a few weeks prior he had seen what he thought might have been either an Ashy or a Black Bulbul. He said he my sighting confirmed the record. Intriguing. Mick also said he had seen a Eurasian Bittern on wetlands earlier in the day. If you are considering a visit to Chiang Saen I would recommend contacting Mick.
I also queried Mick on the status of the Mallards I had seen earlier – his view was that a number of Mallards had been put down by humans on the lake a few years ago and that the ones I saw were probably from that intervention. He said real wild Mallard do show up on the lake but are a major rarity. So no claims on these, beautiful as they were.In the afternoon I went in pursuit of Indian Spot-billed Duck. I wanted to try to get a decent image of this beautiful bird but, alas, the places I tried had plenty of Lesser Whistling Duck but not the target.
In the afternoon I took a short drive to Nam Kam where there is a private reserve, which Phil Round had recommended. To be honest I didn’t see much here: a Dusky Warbler, a Ruddy-breasted Crake and a Common Kingfisher, but I left this place thinking I had probably come at the wrong end of the day. Rarely in Thailand or elsewhere have I come across a place like this which is evidently run for the benefit of the birds. It is full of free growing, dense reeds and these, at the right time, must be full of goodies; there are also a number of hides and viewing areas in the reserve so possible to see some interesting birds. This is definitely a place I shall return to in the early hours and maybe I’ll have to bring food and spend the whole day there. I don’t know why this reserve doesn’t feature more in reports: I am sure they will welcome visiting birders although I understand there is usually no one about!
So that was my twitch to see the Baer’s Pochard. It is a great area and I do hope to be back soon.