Chinese Francolin

I visited an area close to Mae Ngat Dam where I usually go for birding on June 1, 2014 right after I arrived back from Bangkok. While I was taking photos of a family of Red-wattled Lapwings, I heard a Chinese Francolin calling from a forest edge not far away. I drove up to look for the bird and found the area where it seemed to be calling from. I tried the playback and the bird responded almost immediately but still kept hidden in a large tree. After a while, the call stopped and I waited for some minutes. I later noticed something moving in the grass not far from my car. It was the francolin! The bird came walking up to where I was waiting but it was impossible to take a photo since the grass was too tall. It later disappeared and mysteriously went back to call from the tree.

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Male Chinese Francolin calling from tall tree

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I tried using the playback hoping to lure it back again. This time, the bird flew up and perched on a tree right in front of me. It kept calling from that tree for almost 5 minutes before flying back into the bush. It was the best view I’ve ever got of this extremely shy species.

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I could actually hear 2 more birds calling from different directions. It is still quite a common bird in the right habitat which is grassland in or near deciduous forest. However, hunting still poses as the biggest threat because it is one of the most well known and popular game birds in Thailand.

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One of the two Common Hoopoes found in the same area

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A confiding Green Bee-eater

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Adult Red-wattled Lapwing guarding the fledglings

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2 of 3 Red-wattled Lapwing fledged chicks

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Other birds found in the same area included a pair of resident Common Hoopoes which was feeding on an open lawn along with a family of Red-wattled Lapwing with 1 adult and 3 fledged chicks. A pair of Yellow-eyed Babblers seemed to be nesting nearby too, as well as a pair of Cinnamon Bitterns which were seen flying back and forth indicating that a nest is located somewhere near.

Watercock

After my first encounter with Watercocks in many years, I came across another male bird in a different area of my local patch. I heard its loud unmistakable territorial call while I was birding from the main road. I tried using the playback and the bird responded but still kept a good distance from where I was waiting. After some minutes, I gave up and went on to photograph a nesting colony of Baya Weavers not so far away. But before I could get any photo of the weavers, I heard the Watercock’s call coming exactly from the spot where I played the call. I quickly drove back to that spot and noticed its long erecting red knob which was the only thing that stood out among the tall rice. I again used the playback from my car and this time the bird immediately showed its head up.

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Typical view of male Watercock popping its head up among the tall rice.

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Its bright red knob and yellow bill are the only thing that stand out. Here it is giving its loud territorial call.

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It slowly revealed itself little by little. First, it came up really close but stayed hidden among tall rice. Then it began to walk pass and through open tracks in the fields. Finally, it came out and stood in the open to look for the source of playback and briefly gave the territorial call.

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It’s always fascinating to see the bird while calling.

Here you can hear its territorial call and if you look close enough, you’ll see it moving while calling behind the tall rice straws.

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It was totally unexpected that the bird came out and stood in the open for several minutes!

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It later came out to feed in the open field along with this female Greater Painted-snipe.

After getting a series of pleasing shots in the open, I gave it a break and continued birding around the area. I later spotted the bird out in the open feeding along with a beautiful female Greater Painted-snipe, another bird which I’d really like to photograph, in the recently ploughed field. As expected, both of them quickly ran and disappeared into the rice field as soon as I started to approach. I decided to set up a hide at the corner of the open field and waited in hopes of the painted-snipe to come back.

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The painted-snipe didn’t come back but the male Watercock kept calling from the field, so I tried using the playback again and it slowly emerged from the tall rice. Unbelievably, it walked across the open field right in front of the hide and disappeared into the dense field on the other side. It kept calling for a while then flew back into the former field. After it was gone, I quickly packed my stuff and left since I was already too happy with the results. The bird was still calling from the field while I was leaving. I always have to make sure that the birds that I use playbacks with are still staying in their territories when I leave.

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I informed one of my birding friends who wanted to see and photograph Watercock so much, so in the afternoon I led him to the area where I found it. I used the playback but nothing responded at first. It was completely silent for about half an hour. We almost gave up but then I heard a call coming from afar. I tried the playback again but the call didn’t seem to come any closer. We finally decided set up our hides first and try our lucks again from the hides. The bird did finally came really close but kept hiding inside the field as usual. Again, when we almost gave up, it emerged from the field and stood on the open ditch for almost a minute giving us an excellent photo opportunity. It slowly disappeared into the field and kept calling from there. We left the area while it was still calling as usual. Needless to say, we were both exceedingly happy!