The Acrocephalus Issue

When talking about Little Brown Jobs or those small birds that are difficult to identify, most birders in Thailand would immediately think of the Phylloscopus warblers because there are so many species of them. They’re definitely one of the birders’ ultimate nightmares. But for me, I’d say there are something even more frightening than identify the Phyllocs, the Acrocephalus warblers!

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Oriental Reed Warbler is the commonest and most widespread Acros in Thailand.

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Mostly seen foraging along scrubs and grassy area near water.

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Frequents perching in the open to dry itself up in the morning. Note pale tip to tail feathers.

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Can be rather showy and perch on grass top for a look out or to sing before spring migration

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Note long and pointy primary projection

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Often shows hint of greyish streaking on breast (more prominent in spring)

There are 8 species of Acrocephalus warblers, or generally called “reed warblers”, in Thailand. They can be divided into 2 main groups, the large and the small reed warblers. Only 2 species are considered as large reed warblers; the Oriental Reed Warbler and the Clamorous Reed Warbler. These two are approximately 20 cm in length or about the size of a bulbul. The latter is an extremely rare vagrant OR a highly overlooked species in Thailand with very few accepted records, while the former is the commonest and most widespread reed warbler in the country. The identification of these two species is extremely challenging (definitely more challenging than what it seems in the guide books!). I still haven’t been able to scrutinize all the large reed warblers that I’ve seen, so I assume that all of them are Oriental Reed Warbler for the meantime.

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Among the small reed warblers, the Black-browed Reed Warbler is the commonest species.

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It’s about the same size and at times can resemble a Phylloscopus warbler like Dusky Warbler or Radde’s Warbler.

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Most of the time, the black eyebrow is thick and obvious enough to separate it from other similar species.

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But other times, the black eyebrow can appear faint and thin.

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But that might depend on the angle!

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Or the angle plus lighting

What about the other 6 species of reed warblers in Thailand? They’re all small-sized reed warblers which are approximately about the same size as a sparrow, or just a little larger than most Phyllocs. The commonest and most widespread species among these small reed warblers is the Black-browed Reed Warbler.

With a prominent black eyebrow over the pale supercilium, you might think that it’s quite straightforward to identify this species. Most of the time, it is indeed, but every once in a while, you’ll come across odd individuals that look like it might be a different species.

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Manchurian Reed Warbler is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. I photographed this bird in my local patch in Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai on 18 September 2004. It is still by far the only record of this species in the north.

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Note completely pale tip to lower mandible (mostly blackish in Black-browed RW). For Manchurian RW, this can turn blackish only in spring and summer.

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Structurally, it is more similar to Paddyfield Warbler (which was once treated as the same species) than Black-browed RW. The tone of plumage is also warmer and more rufous-tinged like Paddyfield Warbler rather than Black-browed RW as well.

The species that is most often confused with Black-browed RW is the globally threatened Manchurian Reed Warbler. It is a  range-restricted breeder in China that winters in South-East Asia. In Thailand, it is reported to be a passage migrant in the north and central part of the country and spend winter along the eastern coast of southern Thailand. Recently, it was also found to be wintering in Malaysia and Cambodia too.

When compared to Black-browed RW, the Manchurian RW generally shows a different structure by having longer tail and longer bill. The lower mandible also lacks dark tip unlike in Black-browed RW which shows dark tip to lower mandible throughout winter. In Manchurian RW, the dark tip is only developed in spring and summer. The plumage is also warmer and more rufous-tinged similar to Paddyfield Warbler, which it was once treated as the same species. The black eyebrow is often faint and thin and the pale supercilium tend to be thinner and more pointy at rear end than in Black-browed RW.

Note: be aware that some Black-browed RW can also show faint/thin black eyebrow too! Better photos and more identification notes on Manchurian/Black-browed RW can be read from Dave Bakewell’s post here.

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Paddyfield Warbler is a rare winter visitor to small areas of northern Thailand.

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This adult bird was ringed at Nam Kham Nature Reserve in February 2014 and was found to be a regular visitor at the Rubythroat Hide in 2016.

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Bill is rather short and shows prominent dark tip to lower mandible throughout winter.

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Plumage is warm rufescent-brown with rather short primary projection

Things get even more confusing with the small reed warblers that lack black eyebrow. Let’s start with the Paddyfield Warbler, a bird that is quite widespread in Europe and Asia but is a rare winter visitor in Thailand. The Manchurian Reed Warbler was once treated as a subspecies of Paddyfield Warbler and it’s no surprise. They share many similar characteristics like warm rufescent-brown plumage and very similar wing formula and length of primary projection. The Paddyfield Warbler can often show a hint of dark eyebrow over the pale supercilium as well, but never as black as in Manchurian/Black-browed RW. However, unlike in Manchurian RW, the Paddyfield Warbler always shows dark tip to lower mandible throughout the winter. The bill is also shorter and more pointy at tip than in Manchurian RW. In Thailand, it can only be found in several locations in northern part of the country including Nam Kham Nature Reserve in Chiang Rai where these photos were taken.

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Blunt-winged Warbler is one of the trickiest birds to see and even trickier to identify!

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It’s one the small reed warblers that lack any trace of dark eyebrow, which makes it look rather plain-faced.

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I probably wouldn’t be able to identify this bird without this lucky, even though blurry shot that shows the wing formula.

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Note the long P1 that extends beyond primary coverts

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Structurally, it’s a small Acros with long tail.

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Supercilium is short and not as prominent as in Paddyfield Warbler.

But the most challenging group of all reed warblers, or probably all LBJs, is the plain-faced small Acros! There are 3 species recorded in Thailand; the Blunt-winged Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Large-billed Reed Warbler. All three species share some very similar characteristics including the lack of dark eyebrow, long bill and shortish supercilium which is not so prominent making them look rather plain-faced.

The commonest and most widespread species among the 3 is the Blunt-winged Warbler which is a winter visitor to wetlands throughout northern and central Thailand. Despite its abundance, it’s never easy to see one because it’s a very shy and skittish bird. Even though you finally get to see it, the bigger challenge would be to identify it!

It’s almost impossible to identify these small plain-faced reed warblers without seeing the wing formula.

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Left: Blyth’s Reed Warbler; Right: Blunt-winged Warbler

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Left: Blunt-winged Warbler; Right: Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Note the short and blunt primary projection as suggested by the name in Blunt-winged Warbler.

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The long P1 which extends beyond the primary coverts is another main ID feature for Blunt-winged Warbler.

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Blyth’s Reed Warbler is a rare winter visitor in Thailand. Note the much shorter P1 and shorter tail than in Blunt-winged Warbler.

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Primary projection is much longer and more pointed than in Blunt-winged Warbler.

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Blyth’s Reed Wabler (left) tends to have colder brown and often grey-tinged plumage than in Blunt-winged Warbler (right). The supercilium is also more obscured in Blyth’s RW.

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Blunt-winged Warbler in profile; note rather warm brownish plumage and short but distinct supercilium.

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Blyth’s Reed Warbler in profile; note cold greyish-brown plumage and less prominent supercilium

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When seen in the field, the Blyth’s Reed Warbler is generally a long-billed and short-tailed bird.

The Blyth’s Reed Warbler is a rare winter visitor that has only been recorded several times from 2 locations in Thailand; i.e. Nam Kham Nature Reserve in Chiang Rai and Bung Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan. Compared to the Blunt-winged Warbler, it has colder and overall more greyish-brown tone to the plumage with much longer primary projection and shorter tail. Its P1 is also shorter and doesn’t markedly extend beyond primary coverts like in Blunt-winged Warbler. Behaviour-wise, the Blyth’s RW prefers dryer areas with scrubs or forest edge near wetlands, while Blunt-winged Warbler is a strictly wetland bird that can only be found in reed beds.

Finally, the most challenging identification among all reed warblers (and LBJs, in my opinion) is between the Blyth’s and Large-billed RW. The Large-billed Reed Warbler is an extremely rare and very little known species which has only been recently rediscovered in 2006 by Philip Round at Laem Phak Bia in Phetchaburi and followed by another record from Nam Kham Nature Reserve in 2008. Basically, the Large-billed RW has longer bill and warmer tone to the plumage, but these two can overlap in almost every morphological aspect. There was even one bird at Nam Kham Nature Reserve that we weren’t able to identify even after measuring it in hand, so DNA test was required! In the end, the DNA result revealed that it was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. I’m not going to touch on how to identify these two, so here’s a photo of a true Large-billed Reed Warbler from Nam Kham Nature Reserve instead.

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The second record of Large-billed Reed Warbler in Thailand from Nam Kham Nature Reserve. Photo by Woraphot Bunkhwamdi.

Bang Pu: 20 December 2015

Last Sunday, I was invited to join a small talk called “Gull 102” at Bang Pu, Samut Prakan province. The talk was intended to introduce birders into gulls identification. I gave a talk on gulls in Japan where many species overlap with Thailand. After the talk, we went out to test our identification skills immediately in the field. Bang Pu is no doubt, one of the best places to watch gulls in Thailand. Hundreds of Brown-headed Gulls can be seen around Saphan Sookta bridge where visitors regularly feed them. Odd species can occasionally be found in the mix including rarities and several country’s first records.

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The tide was extremely low when we arrived.

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Brown-headed Gull is the commonest species of gulls in Thailand, particularly at Bang Pu.

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First-winter Brown-headed Gull

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While Black-headed Gull is a rather scarce winter migrant. I found several birds mixing in the flock. This one is an adult.

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It didn’t took us long to finally pick out a rarity, a first-winter Slender-billed Gull!

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It shares similar upperwing pattern with Black-headed Gull but with less black markings on the tip in first-winter plumage.

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It was interesting to see that the bird was highly aggressive despite its smaller size.

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Apart from the abundant Brown-headed Gull, we managed to spot several immature and adult Black-headed Gulls and at least 2 first-winter Slender-billed Gulls. The Slender-billed Gull is a rare but regular winter visitor in Thailand and Bang Pu is one of the best places to see it. One of the birds was joining a noisy group of Brown-headed Gulls begging for food just around the start of the bridge.

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Another first-winter Black-headed Gull; note slender bill and more delicate built

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An adult Black-headed Gull being chased by a first-winter Brown-headed Gull; note differences in size and upperwing pattern

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Then someone spotted something interesting! Can you see what’s in the flock?

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It’s a second-year large white-headed gull with very pale appearance. It soon flew in to join the hungry flock close to the bridge.

The evening ended amazingly with a second-year large white-headed gull showing up just before sunset. It was first seen wading through the low tide in the distance then flew in to join the flocks closer to the bridge. Overall, it has very pale appearance making it blend well into the flock of Brown-headed Gulls.

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We concluded that it’s clearly a second-year Mongolian Gull (Larus (cachinnans/vegae) mongolicus)

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It also enjoyed the easy food provided by tourists.

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Upperwing shots show that it has almost completed the post-juvenile moult on the coverts, as well as the very pale and apparent ‘windows’.

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Mongolian Gull is known for its pale and whitish appearance and very apparent ‘windows’. This shot also shows the contrast between the old juvenile feathers and the new second generation of feathers on the coverts.

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It was also quite aggressive and vocal. Its call was surprisingly thin and not as loud as Heuglin’s or Vega Gulls that I’ve heard. The call was also recorded in this video clip.

After watching the large gull up close, we were confident that it was a second-year Mongolian Gull, another rarity in Thailand. Since the taxonomy of these large white-headed gulls is still not fully settled, the Mongolian Gull is sometimes considered as a subspecies of either Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) or Vega Gull (Larus vegae) or even a full species of its own, Larus mongolicus. It differs from the more regular Heuglin’s Gull (Larus heuglini) by strikingly paler and more whitish appearance. Even in this second-winter plumage, the difference is very apparent. Apart from the overall plumage, mongolicus also has very striking ‘windows’ on the inner primaries unlike heuglini, and even more apparent than in vegae. The black tail band is also narrower, even though it is hard to tell in this case since its tail feathers are moulting. I was really glad to see this bird since it’s an addition to my life list. We stayed and watched and photographed it until there was not enough light before happily said goodbyes and went on home.

Turnix suscitator ‘blakistoni’?

Yesterday morning saw me visiting my local patch, Cho Lae since very early morning. I intended to look for snipes and other migrants which might show up around the open, recently ploughed plots close to the road which had been attracting some interesting birds. However, I found only 1 “Swintail” snipe which flew out quickly and didn’t come back after I tried to approach and no new nor interesting migrant. I did, however, find a nice pair of Barred Buttonquails feeding in the open ground along with Spotted and Zebra Doves. The pair was generous enough to let me approach with my car slowly until I was only about 10 metres away from them.

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First view of the Barred Buttonquails pair feeding with a Spotted Dove

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Then I could get some really nice close up views. Here’s the female.

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Female shows large black patch on throat and breast.

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Male lacks the large black patch but has slightly more rufous-tinged upperparts.

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The female showing the back side. Note bluish-grey legs which have no hind toe.

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I photographed the pair as they moved along the open ground and disappeared into thick dry grass, then I realised that there was another female Barred Buttonquail calling from the other side of the road. Then, funnily, I spotted a lone male came running hopelessly across the vast area of open ground looking for the calling female. It took me quite a while to finally spot the calling female. Turned out it was standing pretty close to the car.

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The second female Barred Buttonquail; possibly ssp. blakistoni

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Note the more rufous-tinged upperparts, particularly on the hind neck.

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The neck is inflated when calling, a very interesting behaviour to watch.

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Another shot showing the back side which is noticeably more rufous than other female Barred Buttonquails I’ve seen in Thailand.

After checking photos that I took of the second female bird, I was curious to see how the upperparts seem to be noticeably more rufous-tinged than the first female, particularly on the hind neck. The first female, as same as any other female Barred Buttonquails that I’ve photographed in northern Thailand (subspecies T. s. thai), shows greyish-brown hind neck and colder brown upperparts than the second female.

According to Craig Robson’s guide to birds of Thailand and South-East Asia, the subspecies T. s. blakistoni, which has been recorded in NW Thailand and found in northern Indochina, has more rufous-chestnut above and buffier below in both sexes than the subspecies thai which is the most widespread subspecies in Thailand. Looks very much like the second female belongs to this taxon.

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The ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail while calling

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It even stopped and posed for a while before continuing to walk further along the corn field. Note the pale buffish wing coverts contrasting greatly to the dark flight feathers and darker, more rufous scapulars and mantle.

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Showing the plain underwing. Not sure if the underparts are more buffy as described by Robson or not.

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Again, showing a nice profile view

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Right: most likely subspecies blakistoni; left: subspecies thai. Note the more rufous-chestnut hind neck and upperparts in blakistoni and colder greyish-brown in thai.

I checked images of female Barred Buttonquails photographed in Thailand which I have collected throughout the years and found that nearly none of them shows the same shade of rufous-brown upperparts as in the second female that I saw, except one (probably immature) odd-looking female from Chiang Rai. This individual from Chiang Rai also shows very buffish underparts including the breast, similar to what Robson describes.

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Most likely another ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail from Chiang Rai. Black markings on the throat suggest female-type, probably an immature. No idea why it has much more black markings on the head and upperparts than usual though. Photo by Wattana Choaree.

While I was watching the second female walking further away into the corn field, it suddenly stopped and began to fluff its feathers up and spread the wings to make itself look bigger. Out of the blue, an immature Long-tailed Shrike dropped in to catch the buttonquail! Luckily, the buttonquail was slightly faster and flushed quickly before the shrike could grab it. I was stunned by the scene as I never thought a shrike would be so brave enough to prey on buttonquails which are roughly about the same size or even larger than the shrike itself.

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Fluffing up to make itself look bigger before the shrike dropped in!

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The foolishly brave immature Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor) that tried to catch buttonquails. Note pale juvenal feathers on the crown and dark scales on mantle.

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Another stunned male Barred Buttonquail which was flushed by the shrike.

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A closer look of the immature Long-tailed Shrike

The shrike didn’t just stop there. It then flew to the other side of the fields where the first pair of buttonquails was staying. It perched briefly on a look-out branch then swooped down quickly on the grassy area where a pair of Barred Buttonquails immediately flushed up and fled in different directions. Another lone male buttonquail also flushed and landed shortly on the open ground nearby. It looked completely stunned and seemed undecided whether to run for cover or try its best to stay still. Finally, it slowly crept into the grass and stay under the shades until the shrike decided to move further away. It was such an exciting and very interesting scene to witness!

The Firethroat Tetralogy (4): 22 April 2015

It’s been a long while since the last post for this series, so here’s the final post. After my last 4 attempts to visit the male Firethroat at Nam Kham Nature Reserve, little did I know that I’d be heading for the fifth one! After coming back from my trip to Nam Kham on 12 April, photos of the bird kept coming up daily on the internet showing continuous moulting progress. By 19 April, the bird seemed to have fully completed its moult into its first breeding plumage (or first-summer). Without conscious, I had already booked another flight to the north!

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Huge flock of Asian Openbills roosting at Nam Kham Nature Reserve

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Just about 10 years ago, there was completely no Asian Openbill in northern Thailand.

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A view from the Cettia Hide where the male Firethroat showed up

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Waiting for the bird to show up in the middle open area

By the morning of 22 April, I found myself arriving at Nam Kham Nature Reserve as early as 6AM. It was a very quiet and peaceful morning. There was no one to be seen but hundreds, maybe thousands of Asian Openbills were roosting on large bare trees all around the reserve. They noisily flushed with their heavy wing beats as I walked in along the narrow path through the tall reed bed leading to the Cettia hide where the male Firethroat had been staying.

I waited and waited inside the dark hide, listening to songs of birds which were starting to become more lively. There was, however, no song of the Firethroat to be heard! I began to feel very frustrated since the bird was very actively singing on my last visit. It’d be a huge waste of time and money, if the bird doesn’t show up. The bird still didn’t show up at 7:30AM when I checked for the time. I continued to wait and wait. Then around 8AM, I spotted something glowing and moving in the dark reeds in front of the hide. There it was, my only target of the trip! Needless to say how relieved I was as I watched the bird with its fiery throat and breast hopping out into the open as it often did to look for food.

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One of the first views I had of male Firethroat as it hopped out from the dark reed bed into the open ground in front of the hide.

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As usual, it came hopping really close to the hide.

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It’s certainly one of the best looking birds in the world!

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At times, it’d come so close to the hide that it almost filled the frame completely.

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I like how this shot actually shows the vegetation in the habitat where the bird was found.

After the first round, it disappeared for about 10 minutes then showed up again in the same manner. It kept coming back and forth like this for every 10 minutes or so until around 10AM when it began to show up less frequently. It would either show up by hopping out from the dark reed bed or flying in from behind the hide. The after arriving at the hide, it would hop around the open area with a small waterhole in front of the hide. At times, it would come really close to the hide and wouldn’t mind the shutter sound at all.

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Showing the white patch at tail base, a characteristic found in Firethroat and Blackthroat

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The white neck patch can be very prominent when the bird stretches its neck.

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Standing up straight when curious

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First-summer bird still retains the brownish juvenile wing feathers. Adult male would have the same shade of bluish-grey wing as the back and crown.

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The orange throat and breast was almost glowing in the dark habitat where it lived.

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No need to say how happy and satisfied I was while sitting alone in the hide watching and photographing this rare beauty for hours. Then around 10:30AM, two other birders arrived. It was getting brighter and also hotter and the bird began to disappear for a longer period. But then it came back and gave us a few more shows until I left around noon for lunch.

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Finally, it began to sing its unique melodious song.

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Also perching on low branches around the hide

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Hard to find a bird to beat its colour!

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It was more actively singing from 10:30-12:00 before I left.

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Light became very strong around noon making the photos highly contrasted.

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Showing the back side

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A kind of damselfly seen perching close to the Firethroat

Pardon me if this post contains way too many photos of the same bird, but I really couldn’t resist taking loads of photos of this wonderful bird. No one knows when will it show up in Thailand (and in full breeding plumage like this) again, so it’s better to take as many photos as I could!

After leaving the nature reserve for lunch, I drove back to Chiang Mai and took a flight back to Bangkok. On the following day, another group of birders went up to look for the bird but turned out that the bird had already left! It didn’t show up at all from 6AM to 6PM. The means I was one of the last persons to see the bird before it left. I felt super lucky for a moment but then also felt sorry for the poor guys. I really hope it would come back again to Nam Kham in the upcoming winter.

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To finish this post, here’s a really nice image showing the same bird from the very first day it was discovered (7 December 2014) until the last day before it left (22 April 2015). The original image was uploaded by the official Nam Kham Nature Reserve facebook page. It’s amazing to see such transformation and certainly another reason to feel astonished by nature’s wonders.

Khao Yai: 15 September 2015

I made a short visit to Khao Yai National Park with my family on September 15. We first drove up to Khao Kheow check point since very early morning hoping to find some pheasants along the way but we saw exactly zero bird. It was a very dark overcast morning but birds were better than I expected around the check point. The reason was pretty obvious, the surrounding trees were full of moths that were attracted by lights from the check point.

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The first bird to show up at the check point was this male Blyth’s Shrike-babbler which was calling from a pine tree not far from where I parked. Not sure which subspecies it was but it seemed to have darker grey throat and underparts than the one I’m familiar with in the north-west.

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Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike was among the friendliest birds up here. Here’s a female perching almost at eye-level.

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Here she caught a nice-looking moth for breakfast.

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A rather friendly pair of Red-headed Trogons was attracted by the moths around the check point too. Here’s the stunning male.

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The subspecies found here as described in literature is ‘klossi’. Not really sure how it differs from any other subspecies but I noticed that it has very restricted white breast band.

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The female was even more confiding! Also note how the red on underparts seems to less saturated than in the male.

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You can’t really hide with such colour!

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Pin-striped Tit-babblers were also numerous. It’s one of the common birds which I haven’t got any decent photos.

The star of the morning was a rather friendly pair of Red-headed Trogons which came around the check point looking for moths just like many other small birds. At times, they would come perch really close and at eye-level but were always easily flushed, so it wasn’t too easy to photograph them. Other birds that came around the check point included Black-throated Laughingthrush, Hill Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Erpornis, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Common Green Magpie, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.

I also spotted Kloss’s Leaf Warbler twice joining a fast-moving mixed species flock but couldn’t manage to take any photo of it. In case you wonder what it looks like, visit this blog entry. I also found a few interesting migrants including this season’s first Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Dark-sided Flycatchers and several Pacific Swifts. My dad also found a single Tiger Shrike.

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We came across this male Red Junglefowl was standing motionlessly on the roadside while leaving Khao Kheow. It was on its way moulting out of the eclipse plumage.

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Interestingly, we found a small flock of 4 Grey-headed Lapwings! I never expect to find this species up here in Khao Yai before.

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There was only 1 adult (middle) with 3 other immatures.

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The adult showed traces of black breast patch which was lacking in the immatures.

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Scratching!

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Unlike most lapwings/plovers, Grey-headed Lapwing has short but clearly visible hind toe!

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It also deploys the walk-stop-look-snatch technique used so frequently among most lapwings and plovers.

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Regularly checking for danger from above

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Immature Grey-headed Lapwing is a neat bird with clean brownish-grey plumage. Note how it lacks the adult’s black breast patch.

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The last view of the flock before they all disappeared.

But the biggest surprise of the day was a flock of 4 Grey-headed Lapwings foraging on the open lawn near a helicopter landing pad next to Nong Khing reservoir. At first glance, I thought they were Red-wattled Lapwings which are so abundant in the area but then I noticed the yellow bill and plain greyish head. Normally, I wouldn’t expect to see this species up here in Khao Yai but anything can happen during the migration period. One of the birds was an adult with traces of black breast band, while others were immature. Surprisingly, they were very cooperative and allowed me to approach at a very close range even for a 300mm lens unlike any other Grey-headed Lapwings I’ve seen.

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Black-winged Kite sitting and looking out for prey on a distant tree

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One of the many Red-wattled Lapwings. They all showed variable amount of white on the chin, probably a sign of non-breeding plumage?

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Female Sambar Deer at Kong Kaew Campsite

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Male Sambar Deer happily feeding in the drizzling rain

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Long-tailed Shrike subspecies ‘longicaudatus’

We birded until around 11am when it began to rain and didn’t stop at all, so we decided to leave around 1:30pm. Before driving back to Bangkok, we stopped by at Pak Pli briefly and managed to find a single male Asian Golden Weaver and a nice ‘longicaudatus’ Long-tailed Shrike sitting alone in the rain.

Pak Pli: 23 May 2015

I’ve heard of Pak Pli fields in Nakhon Nayok for so long, but haven’t got the chance to visit the place until 23 May 2015. The area holds one of the biggest roost for Black Kites in Thailand including both the migratory lineatus and the nationally endangered govinda races. The place also serves as winter ground for the scarce Rosy Pipit and Thailand’s first Greater Short-toed Lark was also recorded here in 2013.

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One of the abundant Oriental Skylarks performing its song flight over the colourful grassland

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Asian Golden Weavers were nesting along the small irrigation canal. Here’s a brightly coloured male.

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Female lacks the bright golden plumage, but is still a pretty smart bird.

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Male Cinnamon Bittern trying to blend into the surroundings.

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Another pair of Cinnamon Bitterns; male on top and female bottom

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Soaring male Red Turtle Dove

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Bronze-winged Jacanas were quite common along the roadside canals, but proved to be difficult to get good shots of.

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I left Bangkok very early in the morning and arrived at the area around 7AM. It was a very birdy morning. Songbirds were singing from literally every direction, particularly the larks. Oriental Skylark was the most abundant species, followed by Indochinese Bush Lark and Horsfield’s Bush Lark being the least abundant. The road leading into the field was aligned by a small irrigation canal which was filled with Asian Golden Weavers‘ nests. They could be photographed extremely easily just from the car.

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A pair of Bronze-winged Jacanas; note how small the male (bottom) is compared to the larger female

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White-breasted Waterhen was also seen foraging along the canal.

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A pair of Lesser Whistling Ducks

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Adult Black Kite race M. m. govinda, a rare resident in Thailand

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Note the lack of large whitish patch on base of primaries and yellow cere and feet

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Another adult govinda Black Kite perching on a Eucalyptus tree.

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A flying over Oriental Darter

The dirt road that goes around a large area of grassland, rice fields and Eucalyptus plantation is also aligned by small canals with lush Lepironia grass. Many birds were seen along the canals including many Bronze-winged Jacanas, White-breasted Waterhens, Plain Prinias, Zitting Cisticolas, Javan Pond Herons, Lesser Whislting Ducks and Cinnamon Bitterns.

Several Black Kites were seen perching and patrolling over the fields. They were all M. m. govinda which is a resident and nationally endangered bird in Thailand. Pak Pli is most likely the largest stronghold of this declining taxon. In winter, they come to roost altogether along with the migratory M. m. lineatus of which some authors split as Black-eared Kite. According to the Thai Raptor Group, 1,998 lineatus and 101 govinda Black Kites were counted at this roost on 22 November 2014.

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Striated Grassbird was one of the commonest birds and one of the most vocal.

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Striated Grassbird proudly performing its loud melodious song in flight

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It’s much harder to spot them while foraging through thick grass.

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I was glad to come across a lone Long-tailed Shrike race longicaudatus, another endangered bird of the central plains.

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Paddyfield Pipit with nesting materials

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The least abundant lark in the area, Horsfield’s Bush Lark

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Great (or White-vented) Mynas like to follow buffalo herds and prey on insects that are disturbed by the animals.

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Little Cormorants were seen easily along the road.

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I was really surprised to come across this male Watercock moulting into breeding plumage standing in the open completely unaware of my presence.

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It stood motionlessly for a while, probably undecided about what to do nest, before slowly walked further into the open field and across the road into a small canal on the other side.

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Then it behaved like a normal Watercock i.e. always hiding in thick vegetation.

At one point, I felt like there should Watercocks since the habitat looked so good for this species which is one of my favourite birds. Suddenly, I actually came across an unbelievably showy male Watercock standing motionlessly on the open ditch next to the road. It didn’t flush as the car approached but stood still for a moment before walking into a canal on the other side. I have no idea why it was behaving like that since it is normally an extremely shy bird. But as it went into the canal, it began to act more like a normal Watercock and didn’t show up again.

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Many Oriental Skylarks were feeding in the newly ploughed fields.

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Most of the birds were in worn plumage.

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When birds were quiet, Asian Golden Weavers were always there for me.

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Female at the active nest

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Oriental Pratincoles were also abundant but difficult to approach.

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Juvenile following and begging for food from its parent

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But it was sad to see rows of mist nets over a large fish pond. Many birds were trapped in the nets and they weren’t even fish eaters; for example, this poor Oriental Pratincole.

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On the other hand, this fish-eating Whiskered Tern seemed to be well aware of the nets and successfully avoided them. There were some 6-7 of these terns flying around over the pond. They’re probably over-summering in Thailand.

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Striated Grassbird singing against the drizzling rain

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Intermediate Egret against the many coloured grassland

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One of several Oriental Skylarks that decided to forage on the road

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There were many lotuses in the canals. Here’s the sweet coloured Sacred Lotus.

Failed Mision

On 26 August 2015, I decided to go and twitch for the Blue-breasted Quail, a very scarce bird that recently showed up in Suphan Buri. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough. The bird didn’t show up at all at the stake out from dawn to dusk. At least, I’ve got photos of some nice birds that I haven’t photographed before.

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The first male Rain Quail calling from open dirt track

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When seen from behind, the plumage blends well with dry grass.

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Black-winged Kite hovering with flock of Feral Pigeons in the background

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Another calling male Rain Quail showing the unmistakable black breast patch

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The area was largely corn and sugar cane plantation with Kraseo Reservoir in the east. It was actually quite birdy in the morning. Before sunrise, many Large-tailed Nightjars were seen along the way into the plantation. Rain Quails were literally calling from every direction. The first male that I saw was even standing and calling from an open dirt track in the middle of corn plantation.

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This was the most cooperative male Rain Quail that I’ve seen.

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I really like its black and white facial pattern.

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It has a loud unmistakable call consisting of 2 hight pitched notes.

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Various calling position of the male Rain Quail

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The same male while foraging in roadside vegetation

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Showing the cryptic pattern on the back

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Despite occasionally coming out to call in the open, it can disappear very quickly into the grass where its upperparts pattern blends in very well with the surroundings.

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Probably an immature male showing scattered black markings on the breast

There were more than 10 Rain Quails in just a small area where I parked my car. One of the males were more cooperative than the others. It showed up very well and even called in the open for few minutes. I didn’t take any video of the bird since I was photographing it hand-held, but you can see how it’s like when calling in this video taken at Huai Mai Teng Reservoir, Ratchaburi. Seems like this species strongly prefers grasslands near large water bodies.

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Habitats where Rain Quails and other birds were found.

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One of several Yellow-eyed Babblers

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Showing the backside

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Other birds that were also seen including a noisy flock of Yellow-eyed Babblers, lots of Red Avadavats, Paddyfield Pipits, 2 Black-winged Kites, Golden-headed and Zitting Cisticolas, Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and a Long-tailed Shrike (subspecies ‘longicaudatus‘).

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The subspecies ‘longicaudatus’ of Long-tailed Shrike is an endemic to the central plains of Thailand. It is recently going through a serious decline due to an unconfirmed cause, most likely habitat loss. In the past, it can be found throughout Bangkok but has now become nearly extinct. Every record of this subspecies is now being collected, so I was very glad to see one in this area.

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Female Rain Quail visiting the stake out intended for the Blue-breasted Quails

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It was trying its best to ‘stay low’. Instead of walking with its head up, it was always squatting tightly close to the ground.

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There was almost no bird coming to the stake out except for one female Rain Quail which showed up for several minutes at noon before, as the name suggests, heavy rain arrived. It reminded me of why I like the name “Rain Quail” a lot. It implies so much about this bird. In places where this remarkable species is found, they start to appear as soon as the monsoon season starts. Under the overcast weather, their unmistakable calls can be heard throughout the day like insects. Females can be more tricky to see and photograph because they don’t come out to call in the open. At least, I got to photograph both sexes nicely so it wasn’t a completely waste of a trip.

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Before leaving the area, I found a flock of Oriental Pratincoles coming to roost in new corn plantation. Most of them were first-winter birds and some adults in non-breeding plumage.

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Pratincoles and the dog!