Thursday, 27 November 2014

27th November 2014 Lam Pak Bia Sandspit

After making a last-minute booking with Emirates we arrived on time into Bangkok's Suvearnabhumi's airport to an overcast morning with some light rain. We quickly changed some currency and collected our vehicle from the Thai-Rent-A-Car desk inside the terminal and were on our way. After initially heading towards downtown thanks to an unhelpful GPS satnav setting, we realised its mistake, and were quickly back on course. We drove for nearly 3 hours on dual-carriageways to Hat Chao Samran seeing a circling flock of Painted Storks just before reaching the seaside town. We booked into our very reasonably priced accommodation at the Ban Bang Resort where a loud recording playing from a building opposite was attracting Germain's Swiftlets as their nests are still harvested for the preparation of soup. We were shortly driving north along the famous coastal road working its way through the saltpans that play host to huge numbers of wintering waders. At the small Lam Pak Bia estuary full of fishing boats we quickly found Mr. Deang's house where we hoped to book a boat trip for the following day. Mr. Deang was taking a nap. Awoken by his daughter, he said the current afternoon's hide tides were best so after he took a motorbike trip to get some diesel for his boat, we headed straight out to the sand-spit, seeing a feeding Chinese Egret in the mangrove-lined channel and some Crested Terns perched upon fishing stakes in the open sea en-route. An obvious high-tide roost was visible on our approach to the sand-spit comprising mainly of Sand Plovers and Terns. After jumping off the boat onto the sand-spit small numbers of Malaysian Plovers were found around some driftwood on the highest part of the sandspit, before the birds of the day in the form of a couple of 'White-faced Plovers', were found on nearby sandy beaches. Despite genetic-sequencing revealing that its DNA places it firmly amongst the other forms of Kentish Plover it looks strikingly distinctive... We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on the sand-spit before leaving as evening approached, returning to our chalet in the dark.

Painted Stork 50
Night Heron 1 adult
Striated Heron 1
Pond Heron sp. 10
Eastern Cattle Egret 10
Great Egret 15
Little Egret 1
Chinese Egret 1
Little Cormorant 5
Osprey 1
Brahminy Kite 1 adult
Peregrine 1
Black-winged Stilt 30
Kentish Plover 20
'White-faced Plover' 2
Malaysian Plover 10
Lesser Sand Plover c.400
Greater Sand Plover c.100
Black-tailed Godwit 20
Whimbrel 1 white-rumped
Curlew 30
Common Greenshank h
Common Sandpiper 1
Sanderling 25
Red-necked Stint 1
Brown-headed Gull 6
Gull-billed Tern 6
Crested Tern 10
Little Tern 100
Common Tern 10
Whiskered Tern 15
Red Turtle Dove 1
Spotted Dove 1
Peaceful Dove 2
Asian Koel h
Germain's Swiftlet 50
Black Drongo 5
Large-billed Crow 2
Swallow 2
Common Myna 2
Magpie-Robin 2

Colourful fishing boats moored at the Lam Pak Bia estuary
 Mangrove-lined creek leading to the sea
Non-breeding Great White Egrets E.a. modesta seen from Mr. Deang's boat
Not that these appear to be anything other than Great White Egrets the diagnostic pointed extension of facial skin just below/behind the eye that can be used to separate this species from Intermediate Egret can just be seen in these images
Adult Chinese Egret seen from Mr. Deang's boat
The head plumes helpfully age this as an adult and effectively rule out the most similar confusion species being Pacific Reef Egret that often shares this species greenish legs and facial skin albeit less slender-billed. Chinese Egret's total population is estimated at 2,600-3,400 individuals, and is classified as Vulnerable, the biggest threat being habitat loss.. Chinese Egret is considered a very rare winter visitor to Thailand's intertidal mudflats and mangroves with its main wintering range being to the east as below:
Range of Chinese Egret

Whiskered Tern near the Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
Part of the enjoyment of foreign trips is being faced with familiar species being encountered in unfamiliar plumages. Non-breeding plumaged Terns present plenty of opportunity for learning or should that be headaches? Our first day and the first Tern seen comes into view perched on a fishing stake observed from a tiny boat being powered by an outboard motor. Nothing around to compare size it appears to have a stout short black bill and legs, obvious white forehead, dark ear-coverts and is clearly short-tailed but something about it doesn't look right for it to be a Gull-billed Tern. There are less familiar species to consider and whilst superficially recalling Black-naped Tern its bill doesn't look nearly long enough and it lacks the overall whiteness of the species. As we approach its head-pattern appears more complex than first seen with narrow grey streaking covering its rear crown and a new contender enters the frame - Whiskered Tern...


Non-breeding Crested Terns near the Lam Pak Bia Sandspit
Far less of an identification challenge this superb species is considered an uncommon and local resident but possibly also a non-breeding visitor to Thailand
part of the high tide roost at Lam Pak Bia Sand-spit
Non-breeding Crested Terns on the Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
Non-breeding Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns on Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
... when seen side by side with the differences in overall size, bill size and head pattern suddenly the identification seems straightforward!
Non-breeding Gull-billed Terns on Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
considered a fairly common winter visitor to Thailand
Non-breeding first-winter Common Tern, Whiskered Tern and Greater Sand Plover on Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
Common Tern presents less of a challenge too but is of an unfamiliar form S.h. tibetana. It is considered a very common winter visitor to Thailand with some birds remaining throughout the year.
Common, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns on Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
Arriving at Lam Pak Bia Sand-spit

back on dry land at Lam Pak Bia sand-spit

Lesser (foreground) and Greater Sand Plover at Lam Pak Bia Sandspit

Non-breeding Lesser Sand Plovers on Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
The variation in the leg colour evident in the two individuals above might be age-related as the pale fringed upperparts and wing-coverts and less pronounced supercilium indicate that the lower individual is a juvenile

Greater Sand Plovers at Lam Pak Bia Sandspit

Female Malaysian Plover at Lam Pak Bia Sandspit
Two male Malaysian Plovers at Lam Pak Bia Sandspit
Considered a local and uncommon resident in Thailand not having a non-breeding plumage makes them straightforward to pick out at this time of year albeit their distinctly mottled upperparts and pinkish legs are evident enough.
Juvenile Malaysian Plover at Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
This bird shared its long-legged jizz and mottle upperparts with the Malaysian Plovers, so I assume it is a juvenile
Non-breeding Kentish Plover at Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
The white nuchal collar separates this species in non-breeding plumage from the surprisingly similarly-sized Lesser Sand Plovers.

 Non-breeding 'White-faced Plover' at Lam Pak Bia sand-spit
Whilst this individual was ticking all the correct boxes - its sandy tones to its upperparts, broad white nuchal collar, restricted breast patches, pale fringes to its lesser coverts, pale legs and it even 'sat down with its legs folded beneath it' as described I was hoping that if I was fortunate enough to see one it would be a more distinctive looking individual when I suddenly noticed the male below that was much closer to us as well...

Male 'White-faced Plover' at Lam Pak Bia Sandspit
Being only erratic in appearance at this site and not having seen any reports this Winter I didn't really dare to hope to see this enigmatic Plover whatever its taxonomic status. It only came to the attention of birders comparatively recently here:

 A Peregrine arrived flushing all the waders from Lam Pak Bia sand-spit

Lam Pak Bia Sandspit and Mr. Deang's boat
Whilst returning to Lam Pak Bia many birds including Drongos and Starlings were seen arriving to roost in the mangroves
Mr. Deang looking pleased to have more satisfied birders aboard!