Monday, 27 February 2012

Cambodia - Ang Traepang Thmor

We spent the day at Ang Traepeng Thmor which is a huge area of low lying fields, marshes, open forest and a huge reservoir which is home to a wide selection of very good species. We began with the usual views of several Lanceolated Warblers as they fled from cover as we walked along the ditches near the road, and one would occasionally offer a few seconds glimpse before it scurried in mouse-like fashion into cover. Moving on we had Pintail Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Bluethroat, and a nice male Plain-backed Sparrow perched beside a pair of Zebra Doves on the telegraph wires, whilst overhead Red-throated Pipits called as they flew, the first of many Oriental Pratincoles appeared and a cracking male Pied Harrier flew past us. We took our packed breakfast overlooking a marsh and were served up a few Sarus Cranes in the distance, along with loads of Asian Openbills and Painted Storks in a feeding frenzy some distance away. After picking up our local guides from the Wildlife Conservation Society HQ where we saw our first White-browed Crake and Plaintive Cuckoo, we made our way towards a nice open patch of forest and along the way found Green-billed Malkoha, Thick-billed Warbler, a pair of Greater Painted Snipes out in full view next to a Watercock in a roadside marsh, as well as a Spotted Owlet. A little later we found a small herd of the endangered Eld’s Deer, and at the same place a fine male Pied Harrier gave even better views than earlier. By now it was getting really warm and raptors were much in evidence, so adding to numerous Eastern Marsh Harriers we had a couple of Greater Spotted Eagles, Black and Black-shouldered Kites, as well as what may well have been an Indian Spotted Eagle – a very rare bird in Cambodia. Possibly the best bird of the morning was the confiding Spot-breasted Woodpecker, a relatively recent split from Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. Returning to HQ for lunch and a bit of a rest, along with some very bad old tunes from Bennie Hill and George Formby we set out again in the afternoon and checked out a huge marsh full of both jacanas and Black-backed Swamphens, and where flocks of Lesser Whistling-ducks and Comb Ducks flew around after being disturbed by the harriers. Also here were Pied Fantail, a pair of confiding Oriental Reed-warblers and one or two Dusky Warblers. Other species seen today included Cotton Pygmy-goose, Red Collared-dove, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Baya Weaver and Scaly-breasted Munia amongst others. Finally back out in the wide open landscape of dried rice paddies and arable fields 8 Sarus Cranes strode majestically across the landscape with a setting sun behind them to round off a fine day’s birding. 

This will be the last post for a few days as we leave very early tomorrow to Tmatboey and a secluded lodge where we hope to see White-shouldered and Giant Ibis amongst others....

Eld's Deer

Spot-breasted Woodpecker

Pied Harrier

Had a couple of really nice views of male Pied Harriers today and although the images are not that sharp due to the heat haze, it is a simply stunning bird.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Prek Toal

We visited the core area of Prek Toal Reserve situated beside the huge Tonle Sap Lake today, which involves a two hour boat crossing followed by a shorter journey in small, 2-person boats. Our main reason for visiting here is to see Milky Stork and upon arrival it was apparent there are no visible nests from the viewing platform which is located 30 feet up in a tree. From this vantage point we could see the marsh and numerous ‘bushy’ islands where Painted Storks were nesting, along with a few Spot-billed Pelicans. So over the course of the next five hours we managed to get a couple decent views of a Milky Stork soaring in front of us, but the worrying thing was the presence of a couple hybrid birds which are a trap for the unwary! The other major highlight of the day was at least two pairs of Greater Adjutants seen soaring over the marsh, their huge size literally dwarfing the accompanying other storks! We also saw numerous other species here as well including Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Black-capped Kingfisher, Indian Cormorant, Black-backed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Blue-tailed Bee-eater,  and plenty of Asian Openbills. It was a long and tiring day but well worth the effort to see some rare species and we celebrated with copious beers in Siem Reap later in the evening.

Spot-billed Pelican

Painted Stork

Asian Openbill

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Cambodia - 25th Feb 2012

Took my group to a 'new' area this morning called Kbal Spean. It is the highest ‘hill’ in the region at 450m and as such holds a number of interesting species. Along the way we stopped to view a couple of Orange-breasted Green-pigeons and a mixed group of Silver-backed and Brown-backed Needletails that flew repeatedly very low over the road for several minutes and made for spectacular viewing. Very close to the parking area is a small stream with a nice unobstructed view across the hillside above us and we spent quite a while here enjoying good views of numerous new birds. First up was a party of Striped Tit-babblers, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Dark-necked Tailorbird and a close Two-barred Warbler. As we had our picnic breakfast a Puff-throated Bulbul became the first of several of this genus to be seen, along with Streak-eared, Yellow-vented and Stripe-throated from this one spot. Then a Crimson Sunbird flew in and was quickly followed by Green-eared Barbet and Great Iora. Walking up the hill gave us brief Grey-eyed Bulbul and Pale-legged Leaf-warbler, White-rumped Shama, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher and a small group of White-crested Laughingthrushes. Rather frustratingly both White-browed Scimitar-babbler and Banded Broadbill were just heard in the distance. At the base of the hill is an animal rescue centre which kindly opened to let us look around and we scored with a pair of White-throated Rock-thrush, Brown-throated Sunbird, Hainan Blue Flycatcher and a flock of Olive-backed Pipits. After a great lunch at a nearby restaurant we drove to a couple of temple sites, the first one was called the Pink Temple - a bit dubious if you ask me but we had our first Red-breasted Parakeets, Indian Roller and Black-collared Starling. At a large lake just down the road some Cotton Pygmy-goose were present and a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker was perched nearby before we reached the the last temple, made famous by a Lara Croft movie which was full of parakeets, with Alexandrine being new. Several Lineated Barbets were also seen and quite a few Pale-legged Leaf-warblers called from the dense forest. Not a bad day but very hot and humid - the joys of birding in SE Asia!

Dark-necked Tailorbird

White-throated Rock-thrush

Great Iora

Friday, 24 February 2012

Cambodia - Angkor Wat

An early flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia saw us reach our hotel, the wonderfully named Golden Banana by 9am. Soon after we visited the nearby Angkor Thom temple and indulged ourselves in our first taste of culture! Along the way we found a flock of Ashy Minivets, Black-naped Oriole, Yellow-browed Warbler and in the process of calling in an Asian Barred Owlet discovered an Indochinese Cuckooshrike mobbing the owlet – a very surprising find here. The temple ruins are a truly fascinating place to wander around, although probably the highlight for most of us was a fine Black Baza drifting slowly overhead and a Brown-backed Needletail. After lunch and a siesta we visited the incomparable Angkor Wat temple and spent some time here before heading into the surrounding forest for the last couple of hours of daylight. Our first target, Hainan Blue Flycatcher appeared quite quickly and we also found a Shikra, Lineated Barbet, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, a pair of Forest Wagtails, and several Asian Barred Owlets and a pair of Brown Boobooks

Angkor Wat Temple

Black Baza

Brown Boobook

Asian Barred Owlet

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Cambodia Tour February 2012

So now Nick is in Kuala Lumpur and off on the early doors flight to Siem Reap tomorrow morning. The blog will only have current info from now on, so apologies for some 'older' stuff from Thailand. But we wanted to put some diary excerpts on there before they get to our website at which might be a while!

Bits n Pieces from Thailand

So we ended up with over 450 species on the 3 back-to-back trips. It really is a popular destination for us and we've already filled 2 tours to Thailand in 2013. Might arrange a couple more in the near future....

Some other photo highlights follow:

Banded Kingfisher

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Blue Pitta (female)

Collared Babbler

Malaysian Plover

Siamese Fireback

Orange-headed Thrush

Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush

Green Magpie

Chinese Blue Flycatcher

Chinese Egret

White-throated Rock-thrush

Central Thailand 2012

We also scored with some nice broadbills during the second tour.... Long-tailed and Black-and-yellow  showed particularly well. Banded and Dusky were also seen but were high in the canopy and not good for pics.

Long-tailed Broadbills at nest

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Long-tailed Broadbill

Central Thailand 24th Jan 2012

Kaeng Krachen is the largest national park in Thailand and the focus of our birding for the next three days. We began by working the area between the entrance and the campsite which under the hot conditions (with the temperature much hotter than two weeks ago) turned up some decent birds with the best being a pair of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters hawking for insects on the hill above the road. A pair of Dollarbirds showed well near a water hole, and the same area held Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Crimson Sunbird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Asian Brown and Taiga Flycatchers, Black-headed Bulbul and Dark-necked Tailorbird, whilst overhead we saw Grey-rumped Treeswift, Fork-tailed and House Swifts, Ashy Woodswallow, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows and several Brown-backed Needletails. A large fruiting tree over the road held several Common Hill-mynas as well as a pair of  Golden-crested Mynas, Coppersmith, Blue-eared and Green-eared Barbets, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Thick-billed Green-pigeon, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-naped Oriole, several Sultan Tits and Black-winged Cuckooshrike, We then spent the rest of the day at a special site only used by very small groups which consists of a large blind where you can view a couple small drinking pools. Almost immediately we had the strange-looking Kalij Pheasant and a quick view of a Scaly-breasted Partridge, quickly followed by Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes. After lunch we returned to the blind and spent the whole afternoon watching an amazing variety of shy forest dwellers from just a few metres away. The laughingthrushes were present most of the time and for a few minutes a Large Scimitar-babbler flew in and landed in the open before scooting off into the trees where it was just visible for a couple of minutes. A pair of Black-naped Monarchs spent some time bathing, followed later by a male Chinese Blue and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher before the star of the show appeared. Walking quietly out of the dense forest to the edge of the clearing before us was a pair of Bar-backed Partridges, a normally extreme shy and skulking bird which has been visiting here recently. In fact they made several appearances here during the course of our vigil and we had numerous photo opportunities! Also seen were Abbott’s Babbler, Racket-tailed Treepie, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, two Siberian Blue Robins, Black-crested, Stripe-throated and Streak-eared Bulbuls, White-rumped Shama and a pair of Puff-throated Babblers which later came round to our side of the blind and rooted in the leaf litter by our feet! Told you! 

Bar-backed Partridge

Scaly-breasted Partridge

Kalij Pheasant - apparently?

Siberian Blue Robin

Siberian Blue Robin (female)

Central Thailand 23rd Jan 2012

We left Bangkok early and headed to the world famous wader hotspot of Pak Thale, home of what is probably the most wanted bird in the world right now – Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Upon arrival it was apparent the main congregation of waders was located in a different area of salt pans than on our previous visit a few weeks ago. But a quick scan from beside the minibus revealed a ‘spoonie’ almost immediately which promptly flew off, although another two birds were located just a few minutes later.  Over the next 20 minutes we enjoyed amazing scope views as they fed in company with numerous Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. The duller bodies and more dumpy size was often the most apparent feature when scanning through the stint flock, especially when the ‘spoonie’ was side on or facing away from us. A decision was then made to leave here and search for the next ‘most wanted’ wader, Nordmann’s Greenshank. And after driving down the road a few kilometres we found a large flock of Great Knot and then there they were, 20+ Nordmann’s Greenshank. By now we had also located Greater Sandplover, Red-necked Phalarope and Long-toed Stint as well, so we decided to return for a second helping of the ‘spoonie’. Along the way we followed up on a hot tip-off and promptly scored with the major sighting of a pair of Black-faced Spoonbills. They were a little distant so we walked out across the saltpans towards them and halved the distance which produced nice views. A good selection of waders were also here including side-by-side comparisons of Common Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper, loads of Black-winged Stilts, Lesser Sandplover, Spotted Redshank and lots more stints. Back at Pak Thale the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was still present and we also nailed a Broad-billed Sandpiper as well before heading to some different pools and salt pans which produced much the same assortment of waders. Lunch was taken at the riverside where we later boarded a boat and headed out to Laem Pak Bia sandspit. A few Malaysian Plovers were quickly located, followed by a pair of White-faced Plovers, which according to recent DNA analysis should now be lumped with Kentish Plover. A flock of Greater Crested Terns held a few Lesser Crested Terns and we also saw Pacific Reef Egret and Striated Heron as well. Unfortunately no Chinese Egrets were on show like on our last visit a few weeks ago. On our return to the minibus we drove across the road and found a few Indochinese Bushlarks that required a bit of effort to see and in doing so flushed 3 Indian Nightjars from the scrub. We ended the day at the Royal Project where a Watercock was a surprising find. Ruddy-breasted Crake, Yellow Bittern and Pintail Snipe were more to be expected, whilst a couple pools full of waders held Pacific Golden Plover, Wood Sandpiper and loads of stilts. We finished with thousands of Lyle’s Flying Foxes heading out across a beautiful red sunset to end proceedings nicely.

Giant Nuthatch

We'd also found a pair of Giant Nuthatches giving remarkably prolonged views at Doi Ang Khang....

North Thailand 20th Jan 2012

Another day and another mountain – this time Doi Lang. The continuing feature of this tour is the availability of feeding stations and there were two here today, the first of these was behind some huts strung along the road. At first just groups of noisy Dark-backed Sibias arrived, but soon after a superb Spectacled Barwing appeared and began to tuck into the fruit put out for the birds. Then a female Himalayan Bluetail flew in, and a male Large Niltava followed soon after. Just a few hundred metres further along the road at another feeding station, two normally shy, retiring and extremely skulking White-gorgeted Flycatchers fed out in the open, along with a pair of Himalayan Bluetails. Overhead a few Cook’s Swifts (recently split from Pacific Swift) flew over. Then Chestnut-crowned Warbler and Black-throated Tit were found which gave nice views and then we birded along the road for several kilometres finding a fruiting tree with Crested Finchbill, Rufous-backed Sibia and Striated Bulbul present. Other birds seen included groups of Grey-cheeked and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Streaked Spiderhunter, Whiskered Yuhina, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, Shikra and Mountain Hawk-eagle. A Black-eared Shrike-babbler was found before we stopped at a scenic spot along the ridge where we could look over into Myanmar and countless forested ridges stretching to the horizon. The afternoon was a little slower so we headed down the mountain, stopping to view a male Rufous-bellied Niltava at a stake-out before reaching an open area of paddyfields half way down the mountain. Here we saw Himalayan and Grey-faced Buzzards, as well as our first Oriental Turtle-doves. Further down we found Bronzed and Spangled Drongos, Grey Treepie and
then did battle with a group of Mountain Bamboo-partridges that despite calling incessantly for 40 minutes only showed to me - but got some cool recordings.

White-gorgeted Flycatcher

Himalayan Bluetail

Spectacled Barwing

North Thailand 19th Jan 2012

We began on the ridge after a later breakfast with the sun creeping over the distant ridges providing us with some welcoming warmth, as well as a couple of White-browed Laughingthrushes feeding on the grassy verge beside the road. Just along the road a short distance we keyed in on an Aberrant Bush-warbler that eventually showed quite well and then a Siberian Rubythroat fed along a narrow track. From here we drove over to the border post and tried to boost our Myanmar list, but only succeeded in finding Yellow-streaked Warbler and Grey-breasted Prinia to add tour list, but there was also Olive-backed Pipit and Daurian Redstart here as well. From here we went down to another trail and slowly walked down into a superb valley with excellent habitat. A flock of Silver-eared Mesia were much appreciated and are truly a stunning bird. As we watched them a pair of Mountain Tailorbirds and Yellow-bellied Warbler appeared and then we had an amazing half an hour display from 4 Bay Woodpeckers as they called, flew over, called some more and perched in various trees around the car park. Not something you see very often! And then we headed down into the valley. Only hearing White-necked Laughingthrush was a bit disappointing but the views of 4 Speckled Piculets which were part of a mixed feeding flock were great. There was also Small Niltava, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Himalayan Black Bulbul, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, and Davison’s Leaf-warbler seen.  After lunch back at our lodge, during which time we saw 2 Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Slaty-backed Forktail, Hill Blue Flycatcher and White-capped Water-redstart we headed down to the lowlands and visited the fields near Thaton. Driving along we saw Blue Rock Thrush and Black-winged Cuckooshrike before reaching the lowlands where Black-shouldered Kite, Paddyfield Pipit, Black-collared Starling and Grey-faced Buzzard were seen.  A female Jerdon’s Bushchat was scoped at a stake-out and along the river and tall grasses we also saw Yellow-bellied Prinia, Dusky Warbler, Bluethroat and a couple of Barred Buttonquails were flushed from the a scrub-covered field. 

Speckled Piculet

North Thailand Jan 18th 2012

We began another exciting day in the mountains parked along the road waiting for the sunrise and our date with Mrs Hume’s Pheasant. Sure enough a rustling in the leaf litter near our parked vehicle resulted in good views of a superb male and a little later a female as well. Leaving here we drove back up to the ridge and as the sun’s rays slowly lit the hillside more and more birds were on the move, beginning with a few Little Buntings that flew into a bare tree and several Brown-breasted Bulbuls. Across the road a fine male Daurian Redstart was found and then several Pallas’s Warblers appeared in a close tree. An abrupt alarm call from the dense vegetation beside us was made by an extremely skulky Aberrant Bush-warbler which never really gave us a good look. So we walked along the road to scan a much warmer and very scenic sun-drenched hillside where we were privileged to get close views of a calling Spot-breasted Parrotbill that used a small leafless sapling for his song perch. As well as this superb bird, we also saw Greater Yellownape, White-browed Scimitar-babbler and a pair of Grey Treepies.  Then we hit the trails and almost immediately came across a Himalayan Bluetail on the path in front of us before finding a bird wave that held a White-browed Piculet and Rufous-backed Sibia amongst more common species. We also had a Grey-backed Shrike, calling Pygmy Wren-babbler, Rufous-bellied Niltava. Then we drove a short distance and visited a special site in one of the tourist complexes where a small feeding station had been set up so we made our own contribution with some mealworms and sat on the ground and waited patiently. Well for five minutes at least! As all of a sudden a White-tailed Robin flew in and perched right out in the open just a few metres away and we were all suitably stunned. As if that wasn’t enough a Black-breasted Thrush then came in and scared the robin away and began feeding. To cap it all off a male Hill Blue Flycatcher appeared and just sat there looking at us! Behind the nearby restaurant we again waited for a few minutes and this time a Scaly Thrush appeared and began to feed amongst the leaf litter allowing the most extraordinary views. So after an oversized lunch which we spent watching white-eyes, a quick walk nearby produced Blue-winged Minla and Yellow-bellied Warbler before we headed back to some trails and at the first one found a large bird wave below us but it was moving away, although we managed to pick out a Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill before the flock disappeared. Then everything went quiet and our walk only produced Striated Bulbul, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher and another Rufous-backed Sibia so we drove to a new trail. Immediately we found Slender-billed and Maroon Oriole which we watched at eye-level as we were standing at the top of a steep slope. Also here was Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Moving on down the light wasn’t so good as the sun had dipped over the surrounding hills but found a nice Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Bianchi’s Warbler, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls and heard a Bay Woodpecker before returning to the vehicle.

White-tailed Robin

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

Excerpt from North Thailand Diary 15th Jan 2012

Following an early morning flight to Chiang Mai we picked up the hire vehicle and drove to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. After dropping our luggage off at the Inthanon Highland Resort located at the base of the mountain we made our way towards this famous birding site, stopping to search for a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker along the way. A Black-naped Monarch, Racket-tailed Treepie and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker showed well, and a nearby flowering tree held a large flock of Chestnut-tailed Starlings. On entering the National Park we drove ever upwards, but unfortunately our progress was delayed when our vehicle was hit by a minibus. With several hours delay promised we didn’t hang around and promptly flagged down a passing truck which kindly took us several kilometres further up the mountain to Mr Daeng’s restaurant – a famous birder’s location. Having seen Japanese Tit earlier, we were eager to kick start out birding and settled down at his viewing area where after a short wait both Lesser Shortwing and Asian Stubtail appeared below us. A very close Little Spiderhunter and Black-throated Sunbird, Pallas’s Warbler, and a mixed flock of Chestnut-flanked and Japanese White-eyes were also much appreciated. After lunch we hopped into a local bus which took us right up to the summit and after buying some snacks in a shop were treated to point blank views of Silver-eared Laughingthrush and Bar-throated Minla. Then we explored the famous Summit Boardwalk across the road where the first of three Dark-sided Thrushes to be found today was observed feeding in the leaf-litter below the trail. It was pretty quiet along the boardwalk yet we found the treasure at the end of the rainbow when a Purple Cochoa was spotted perched high up in a tall tree above the trail. Leaving here totally elated we continued our good fortune with 6 Rufous-throated Hill-partridges feeding quietly in the forest understorey. From the nearby car park a burst of activity resulted in Flavescent Bulbul, Dark-backed Sibias, extremely confiding Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Leaf-warblers, as well as a single Yellow-browed Tit. Driving back down the mountain in our recently arrived vehicle we visited the campground and after a short wait a Black-tailed Crake appeared at the appointed time and gave astonishingly amazing views as it fed right out in the open just a short distance away from us. A pair of Grey Bushchats and flock of Grey-cheeked Fulvettas were also present here to round off a rather unexpectedly adventurous day’s birding.

Black-tailed Crake