Doi Ang Khang: 21 October 2014

So here’s a throwback post about my trip with Yann Muzika throughout northern Thailand in autumn. After a successful visit to Doi Inthanon, we had one full day at Doi Ang Khang, one of my favourite birding destinations. We reached the foothill of Ban Arunothai just a little after sunrise. Our first target was the Indochinese near-endemic Rufous-winged Buzzard which we spotted several individuals easily just along the road.

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One of the few pairs of Rufous-winged Buzzards we spotted

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There was a flock of Chestnut-tailed Starlings in the same area as well.

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Some of them showed faint rufous wash on underparts suggesting that they might be the scarcer migratory race ‘S. m. malabaricus’.

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Male Burmese Nuthatch

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Female Burmese Nuthatch

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As we were watching the buzzards, I spotted a pair of nuthatches foraging on a bare tree close to the road. I immediately followed the birds and was glad to see that they were Burmese Nuthatches, a species of deciduous forest. I once saw a pair of nuthatches around Ban Arunothai many years back but thought that they were the much rarer Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches. Some birders were doubtful about that record since Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch is a bird of hill evergreen forest, so it’s great to finally find them again and settle the identification.

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The same male Burmese Shrike was still staying in the exact same area.

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Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor)

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A colourful male Grey-chinned Minivet

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And the more confiding female

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I was really happy to find this immature Grey-headed Parakeet, a bird which seems to be decreasing in recent years.

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Male Stripe-breasted Woodpecker

We made brief stops along the way up to Doi Ang Khang and saw many interesting species. At one point we came across a nice bird-wave consisting of Grey-headed Parrotbills, Grey Treepies, Grey-chinned and Scarlet Minivets, Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, Martens’s Warblers, female Pale Blue Flycatcher and a female Rufous-bellied Niltava which was the first record for the season. We also found an immature Grey-headed Parakeet sitting quietly nearby. Other notable species included a family group of 2 males and 1 female Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and a calling Giant Nuthatch which we failed to locate.

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Himalayan Swiftlet showing striking long tail

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Showing the pale rump patch which seems to be very variable

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Note longish wings and tail

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Cook’s Swift

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Note how narrow the rump patch is compared to other taxa of the ‘Fork-tailed Swift’ complex

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Of course, there were lots of swifts. I tried to photograph them as much as I could. I was particularly interested in the Himalayan Swiftlets which were less abundant than the larger Cook’s Swift.

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The skulking Aberrant Bush Warbler

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I’ve never seen one so exposed like this in Thailand.

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One of the two Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers found at about 1,500 m above sea level.

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Immature Thick-billed Flowerpecker

We spent some more time around the Chinese cemetery near the large landfill before reaching Ban Luang. There were many small birds flitting around in the garden. I could pick out a few Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, Davison’s Leaf Warblers, a calling immature Thick-billed Flowerpecker and a pair of Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers, which was really unusual. I’ve never seen this species at Doi Ang Khang before and the altitude also exceeds the range mentioned by guide books. I also found an unusually showy Aberrant Bush Warbler (ssp. intricata) which is another confusing taxon. Some authors treat it as a subspecies of Sunda Bush Warbler while some maintain it as an Aberrant Bush Warbler.

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A funny looking immature Ruddy-breasted Crake

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Female Common Kestrel

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Adult Peregrine Falcon (ssp. calidus)

We drove down to Fang in the afternoon and went to look for roosting Amur Falcons which were seen during this time last year but failed to located any. We did find a pair of Common Kestrel and an adult Peregrine Falcon though. Other birds seen in the evening included a pair of Ruddy-breasted Crake, one looking funny in transitional plumage from immature to adult, another flock of Chestnut-tailed Starlings with probable ssp. L, several Richard’s Pipits and at least 1 Bluethroat in the rice fields.

Doi Ang Khang: 12 October 2014

I made a solo journey to Doi Ang Khang on 12 October to check for winter migrants which should have already mostly arrived. I reached the foothill of Doi Ang Khang, around Ban Arunothai, just before sunrise. The place was as scenic and serene as ever.

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The road to Ban Arunothai just before sunrise

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The peaceful atmosphere around Doi Ang Khang foothill

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Adult Crested Serpent Eagle (ssp. burmanicus)

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Silhouette of a lone Rufous-winged Buzzard

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They also like to perch together in a loose group.

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Another view of a different Rufous-winged Buzzard

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Either a juvenile or adult Changeable Hawk Eagle (ssp. limnaetus) in pale morph

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Surprisingly, the morning was particularly good for raptors. I encountered 3 species of raptors just by the roadside. The first one was an adult Crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a dead tree top before sunrise. The second was the locally scarce Rufous-winged Buzzard which I found in total 7 birds in just one morning. The last species was the Changeable Hawk Eagle, which was found calling very loudly from the roadside. I’m not quite sure whether it was a juvenile or adult in pale morph. This was only the second time I found this species in this area.

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More landscape shots along the way to Ban Arunothai

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A very blurry record shot of an adult Grey-backed Shrike, first for the season!

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There were lots of Striated Swallows with a few Red-rumped Swallows in the mix at Ban Sin Chai.

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A confiding Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor)

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An unusually tame male Burmese Shrike

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The crown seems to be very dark slate-grey, almost looking concolorous with facial mask from some angles.

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It was quite a birdy morning. I came across 2 Grey-backed Shrikes (1 adult and 1 juvenile) which was the first sighting for this season, and a very confiding male Burmese Shrike which has a striking dark crown. I’m still curious about which subspecies this one actually is. Read more about my speculation in this post.

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It’s a rare occasion to see Striated Swallows perching against forest background!

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The resident subspecies stanfordi’ has bold streaks on underparts, particularly this individual.

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Adult Red-rumped Swallow (ssp. japonica) is noticeably smaller with much thinner streaks.

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Juvenile Red-rumped Swallow has even thinner and fainter streaking on the underparts with dull blackish crown and upperparts.

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Showing the pale reddish rump

There were many Striated Swallows perching here and there. I also picked out a few Red-rumped Swallows in the mix too. Most of them were juveniles with at least 1 adult. When perching side by side, Red-rumped Swallows are noticeably smaller, being almost about the same size as Barn Swallow.

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One of the many Black Bulbuls (ssp. concolor)

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Female Ashy Minivet found mixing with a flock of Grey-chinned Minivets

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The brightly coloured male Grey-chinned Minivet (ssp. rubrolimbatus)

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Greenish Warbler was abundant!

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Note the slightly greyer crown contrasting to the more olive mantle similar to Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler

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But beware of the lighting condition. The same bird can appear to be totally different.

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A relatively grey-crowned Yellow-browed Warbler

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Hume’s Leaf Warbler (ssp. mandellii); note dark bill, legs and feet, greyish crown contrasting to mantle and smaller median covert bar. The ID was confirmed again by call.

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Note the white fringes on tertials

I came across a nice mixed flock of birds along the road including many Grey-chinned Minivets, 2 female Ashy Minivets, lots of Black, Mountain, Flavescent and Grey-eyed Bulbuls, Crested Finchbills and a nice pair of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters. There were also lots of Phylloscopus warblers everywhere. Most of them were the common Yellow-browed and Greenish Warblers but with some Claudia’s Leaf Warblers and a rather confiding Hume’s Leaf Warbler too!

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I’m happy to get this photo showing the typical jizz for the Himalayan Swiftlet. Notice how long the wings are. The tail also looks longer than Germain’s Swiftlet.

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Rump patch can be quite variable though. This one shows a darkish rump patch looking almost concolourous with the back and uppertail coverts.

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Most birds showed a quite contrasting pale rump patch but not as pale as in Germain’s Swiftlet.

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But beware of the lighting condition. I think this bird has the same shade of rump patch as the previous one but strong light makes it look paler and more contrasting.

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It’s interesting to see that many birds were moulting their tail feathers making the tail comes in various funny shapes.

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A fork-tailed swift? No.

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Never thought that it could resemble an Apus swift!

There were lots of swifts everywhere. I tried to focus mainly on taking photos of the Aerodramus swiftlets which should all be Himalayan Swiftlets. They all show quite a consistent jizz which is being noticeably larger with longer wings and tail than Germain’s Swiftlet of central and southern Thailand.

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Cook’s Swift has a very dark blackish plumage and narrow rump patch.

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The tail is deeply forked hence the former named Fork-tailed Swift.

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In good light, you can see the bold white scales on the underparts clearly.

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Some birds looked a bit plainer because of the feather wear.

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Another species of swift that was regularly seen was the huge Cook’s Swift. It is a recently split species from what used to be called Fork-tailed Swift which has now split into 4 different species. Cook’s Swift is a very dark one, looking very plain blackish from above with the narrowest white rump patch. Dave Bakewell has a nice blog post on the identification of Cook’s and Pacific Swift which is a widespread winter migrant in SE Asia here.

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A colourful male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

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Not sure about the sex and subspecies of this White Wagtail. The black breast patch looks good for breeding male leucopsis but it has grey back, so it might be a female breeding instead? The black rump and uppertail coverts rule out baicalensis.

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It was interesting to see a flock of migrating Black Drongos flying overhead. This should be the subspecies D. m. cathoecus which is described to be the wintering race.

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A very confiding juvenile Grey-backed Shrike

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One of the two Buff-throated Warblers

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Adult Mountain Hawk Eagle

Other interesting birds seen during the afternoon included a nice pair of Buff-throated Warblers which was the first sighting of the season and a huge adult Mountain Hawk Eagle which glided by at eye level. A beautiful male Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird also came to feed on flowering tree and gave a nice close up view too, but the highlight of the day came during the late afternoon just when I was driving back home, a nice 30+ flock of Grey-headed Parrotbills just by the roadside! The birds gave exceptional views while moving along the roadside before disappearing into the dense forest.

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Despite its large size, Grey-headed Parrotbill is probably the trickiest one to see and photograph well.

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First time for me getting 2 birds in one frame.

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They were also quite curious!

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The Flower Issue

Whenever I go birding, I always try to look for wild flowers too, especially orchids. Even though I’m not an expert on flowers at all, I really do enjoy seeing and photographing them. Luckily, I have friends who are interested in wild orchids, as well as flowers in general, whom I can ask for advice on the identification. Here are some of the photos that I took recently from different trips.

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Bauhinia variegata or Orchid Tree is one of the flowers that mark the arrival of summer.

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Lower foothills of Doi Angkhang is one of the best places to enjoy the beauty of blooming Orchid Trees. Here, even an Ashy Woodswallow enjoys the hanami (“flower watching” in Japanese).

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Here it is again getting all pumped up among the fiery Scarlet Sterculia (Sterculia colorata) or the more appropriate name, Bonfire Tree.

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Erythrina subumbrans bloomed unusually late this year. It is one of the most popular flowers among forest birds.

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To see the fallen bright scarlet petals on burnt ashes is something different. It normally blooms way before the first fire roams the forest.

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Dendrobium heterocarpum from Doi Angkhang

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Nervilia infundibulifolia is amazingly tiny and cute. I found them growing from tree apiphytes on a medium-sized tree at Doi Angkhang.

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Dendrobium thyrsiflorum, one of the common orchids in montane forest.

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Dendrobium devonianum from Doi Lang

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Dendrobium gratiosissimum is another common species at Doi Lang but always such a delight to see.

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Another Dendrobium gratiosissimum

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Dendrobium cariniferum, a montane forest specialist.

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Eulophia zollingeri, a colourful ground orchid from Doi Pui

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The last flower to finish this post, Schima wallichii, another montane evergreen species of northern Thailand from Doi Lang.

Doi Angkhang: 8 March 2014

On the morning of 8 March, I visited Doi Angkhang with my dad as usual. Along the way, we saw forest fire caused by the locals in order to get rid of dry leaves and expand their agricultural area. At least the sky was still generally clear and the air on the mountain was still fresh and cool.

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Adult male Common Rosefinch (ssp. roseatus)

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Second calender-year/first-summer male

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Second calender-year male with orange-brown breast

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Female

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Second calender-year males

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Second calender-year male

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Female

We stopped at our usual birding spot where I always get to photograph the Common Rosefinches. A flock of about 10-15 birds was still staying in the area. The ground below the bamboo platform where I lied down to photograph the finches was more open than usual allowing me to see why they always gather around this area. They were coming to for the salt lick!

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Adult male non-breeding; most likely ssp. roseatus

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Note large bill with slightly decurved upper mandible

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Actually the surrounding wasn’t very pleasing at all.

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Male bird on the right has very short and stout triangular bill, probably ssp. grebnitskii? But it also has equally extensive amount of pink on the plumage.

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Again, I’ve noticed the differences in bill shape among the birds that were showing. At least one of the males had very obviously shorter and stouter bill. I’ve written a long post about different subspecies of Common Rosefinch here. The one with stouter bill might be the subspecies grebnitskii of NE China.

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Female Chestnut Bunting

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Note the distinct chestnut rump and uppertail coverts

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While I was photographing the Common Rosefinches, a female Chestnut Bunting also came up from the bush and gave me quite a good view too. I waited to see if there would be any male bird around but didn’t see any. This is one of the common birds that I’ve never got the chance to photograph nicely.

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One of the two Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers that showed up while I was photographing the rosefinches

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There are 4 Mountain Bamboo Partridges in this photo. Can you spot all of them?

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Mountain Imperial Pigeon

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A displaying pair of Brown-breasted Bulbuls

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Male Burmese Shrike ssp. nigricapillus or just a breeding male collurioides?

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Female bird from a different location; note very indistinct pale lore

Along the way uphill, I came across 3 Burmese Shrikes. The first one was a female bird which looked very different from what I normally see. At first sight, it looked almost exactly like a male bird of the subspecies L. c. collurioides which is the only subspecies confirmed to be found in Thailand, but at a closer look, a very indistinct pale lore is visible suggesting that it is actually a female.

I then came across another pair around Ban Luang. This time I could photograph the male bird. It had very dark head, almost completely black but with dark slaty nape and hindcrown. According to Craig Robson’s guide to birds of Thailand and South-East Asia, this is the characteristic of the subspecies L. c. nigricapillus which is found only in C, S Annam and Cochinchina. Plumage of the female bird that I photographed earlier also fits to the description of female nigricapillus. Since Doi Angkhang is way out of the range of confirmed nigricapillus, it would be extremely interesting to know what subspecies these birds are. For now, I can think of 2 possibilities. The first is that these are indeed nigricapillus and NW Thailand is the new distribution range. The second is that this is actually some kind of a breeding plumage of collurioides which looks similar to the (non-breeding?) plumage of nigricapillus. I’m working on getting more photos of breeding Burmese Shrikes in northern Thailand now.

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Female Siberian Blue Robin

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Looking super cute while sunbathing

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Adult male Rufous-bellied Niltava

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Second calender-year/first summer male; note pale gape and brownish wing feathers

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Before going back home, I spent some hours in the Royal Project area. I visited one of the photography stakeouts and had a great time photographing some tame colourful birds. There were 2 male Rufous-bellied Niltavas showing extremely well. One of them was an adult male with completely black bill and another was a young first summer with pale gape and brownish wing feathers. A beautiful male Hill Blue Flycatcher was also staying in the area but was constantly chased by the niltavas. Other birds showing at the stakeout including a pair of White-tailed Robins, a male White-rumped Shama, a very tame female Siberian Blue Robin and a passing by Green-billed Malkoha.

‘Siberian’ Stonechats in Thailand

There are 2 taxa of stonechats in Thailand; the wintering race Saxicola (maurus) stejnegeri, and the resident race S. (m.) przewalskii. The former is found throughout the country from the highest summit to lowlands, while the latter is found mainly on high mountains with very few records from lower altitude (ca. 300 m). Here I want to compile photos of both taxa photographed in Thailand in as many plumage as possible.

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‘stejnegeri’ male in breeding plumage

Male Stejneger’s Stonechat approaching full breeding plumage. It is now considered as a full species apart from Siberian Stonechat (S. maurus) by many authors.

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‘stejnegeri’ male in breeding plumage

Another photo of the same bird. Main characteristics include buffish-rufous breast contrasting to the whiter belly and undertail coverts.

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‘przewalskii’ male in breeding plumage
© Peter Ericsson

Male S. (m.) przewalskii in full breeding plumage. This is a very little described taxon which can be found from Tibetan plateau through C China and NE Myanmar down to northern Thailand. In breeding plumage, it can be told from stejnegeri by deep rufous-chestnut breast extending down to undertail coverts.

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‘przewalskii’ male in breeding plumage

Male przewalskii in breeding plumage. This individual has paler lower belly and undertail coverts but still notably darker than stejnegeri.

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‘przewalskii’ male in breeding plumage

White rump is also another characteristic of breeding bird. In non-breeding plumage, the rump is pale rufous.

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‘stejnegeri’ male in non-breeding plumage
© Narongsak Phajharoen

In non-breeding plumage, it is much trickier to identify the two. Here’s a non-breeding male stejnegeri showing extensive buffish-rufous underparts but still with whitish undertail coverts.

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‘przewalskii’ male in non-breeding plumage

Here’s a non-breeding male przewalskii. It looks very similar to non-breeding stejnegeri, but with slightly darker tone of rufous on the underparts and colder, darker brown fringes on the head.

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‘przewalskii’ male in non-breeding plumage

Non-breeding male przewalskii showing pale rufous rump, a characteristic of non-breeding plumage.

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‘przewalskii’ male in non-breeding plumage

This shot shows that the underwing coverts of przewalskii is jet black contrasting to the pale greyish-white flight feathers. This proves that it is more closely related to the maurus clades but whether it should be put under maurus or stejnegeri is still a pending question.

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‘przewalskii’ female in non-breeding plumage

Interestingly, it is very easy to identify female przewalskii in non-breeding plumage. It differs from stejnegeri by having striking dark head with no obvious supercilium. The underparts are also more rufous than female stejnegeri.

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‘przewalskii’ female in non-breeding plumage

So far, I have not seen a female przewalskii in breeding plumage yet but it is described to have even darker head, especially on the throat which makes it look very similar to non-breeding male.

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‘stejnegeri’ female in non-breeding plumage

Female stejnegeri in non-breeding plumage has a much paler head and underparts. It also shows distinct pale supercilium which is lacking in female przewalskii.

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‘stejnegeri’ female in non-breeding plumage

There’s still a lot more to learn and to be discovered about these stonechats, especially the race przewalskii. Now it’s the breeding season for them in northern Thailand. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find and photograph them when I get back to Thailand in the next 2 weeks.

Spot-throated Babbler

Being one of the most elusive and overlooked species of babblers in Thailand, the Spot-throated Babbler is rarely photographed or even seen. Despite its dull look, it is one of the most amazing songsters in the mountains of northern Thailand. Here I decided to compile as many photos of this babbler that I have taken so far. All of which were taken only at Doi Angkhang, my most favourite place for birding.

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This was the first photo I’ve ever taken of this babbler and I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to photograph it like this again. It was taken on May 2005 and I even took this with a digiscope! The bird somehow popped out of the bush and decided to stay on that perch for few seconds but long enough for me to manage this shot before it flew back into the bush. It is the clearest shot I’ve ever got. You can clearly get the impression of the bird; fairly long tail, greyish face with faint spots on whitish throat. It can somehow resemble Streaked Wren Babbler when not clearly seen.

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I got a chance to photograph a pair of them again in spring of 2012. This time with a DSLR which is way more equipped for babblers photography. However, this time the birds were much shyer and I couldn’t get any shot as clear as the previous encounter.

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The brown spots on the throat can be difficult to see at some angles especially when the throat is puffed up while singing.

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Some more shots showing the general impression of the bird. It is classified within the genus Pellorneum along with some other more common species such as Puff-throated and Buff-breasted Babbler, but I think it looks structurally much different from any of them.

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Some more shots of the same bird while singing. You can listen to its amazing song here. It’s really an amazing experience sitting and listening to this dull little bird singing continuously for minutes. As you can hear from the link, the recorder had to stop recording after 1:23 minutes because the bird would go on and on without stopping!

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Some very typical views of this bird. Always staying deep behind the bush.

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The plain greyish face is probably the most striking feature and that’s why some people confused it with the more common Streaked Wren Babbler which also has striking grey face, but with a much more heavily streaked plumage.

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And here’s the photo from my latest encounter in September 2013. The photo above shows a pair of them while resting and preening for each other. A lot of imagination might be needed!

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The last photo from my latest encounter to finish this post. It is actually not as scarce as it may seem but because of its elusive behaviour, most birders in Thailand still haven’t seen it. Hopefully, next time when I go back to Thailand, I will have some more chances to photograph it again.

Identifying Common Rosefinches

The other day I was going through ID-Notes on Birds Korea website, another place where you can find great discussions about East Asian birds identification. I was struck by the discussion about subspecies identification of Common Rosefinch founnd on Eocheong Island. It reminded me of my own curiosity about Common Rosefinches I’ve observed in Thailand. After reading through the discussion and followed to some referenced links, I quickly went through my old images to see what I might come up with. The result was surprising, interesting and very confusing!

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Following The IBC website, 3 out of 5 subspecies of Common Rosefinch can be found in Thailand; C. e. erythrinus, C. e. grebnitskii and C. e. roseatus. The other 2 subspecies are C. e. kubanensis which breeds in the west and only migrates to N India, and C. e. ferghanensis which breeds from Kashmir westwards and migrates to NW India.

Obviously, field identification of subspecies can mainly be made only among male birds. From the Birds Korea website, I found an informative source where differences among ‘erythrinus / grebnitskii / ferghanensis’ are briefly described. The website sited “The Birds of Kazakhstan” by Gavrilov, E. I. and Gavrilov, A. E. (2005) as its reference. According to this source, it is said that:

C. e erythrinus — has less developed red on mantle, throat and breast, and lighter pink on belly and flanks than in other races
C. e. grebnitskii — has darker mantle, throat, breast, belly and flanks than in erythrinus but lighter than in ferghanensis, and has thicker and massive bill unlike other races
C. e. ferghanensis — has brighter and more intensive red on mantle, throat and breast, and pink on belly and flanks than in other races

However, it doesn’t mention C. e. roseatus which is most likely the commonest subspecies wintering in Thailand according to its breeding range which ranges from C & E Himalayas to C and S China. With a little trick, I searched for photos of Common Rosefinch in Google using its Chinese name and could finally find many photos from different parts of China which seem to be within the breeding range of C. e. roseatus. I found that it looks very much like C. e. ferghanensis of W Himalayas, but with lighter and brighter red mantle and lesser coverts.

So let’s see what I’ve found after going through my old images…..

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The first and the most obvious difference that I noticed was the mantle colour. Three male birds in the picture above represent the main colour types that I’ve noticed after going through all my photos of Common Rosefinches. The one on the left has darkest mantle and lesser coverts. It also shows a pretty striking dark eye stripe, a characteristic which seems to be present in some ferghanensis and roseatus. Even though it seems to be a second calender-year bird due to its whitish fringes on the median coverts and somewhat brownish scapulars, with such dark mantle and particularly lesser coverts, I think it can actually fit into ferghanensis quite well, even better than in roseatus.

After comparing to many photos of Common Rosefinches breeding in central and southern China, I’m pretty sure that the bird in the centre is C.e. roseatus. This is the type of birds that I photographed the most. This proved my hypothesis that the majority of Common Rosefinches wintering in Thailand is of this race. It has overall pinkish-red plumage with darker mantle and a faint dark eye stripe, but obviously not as dark as in the first individual. Another interesting feature is the brighter lesser coverts which slightly contrasts to the darker scapulars. I haven’t seen this feature among photos of ferghanensis that I could find on the internet nor the photos of the first individual.

The last colour type is the least reddish one. Generally, it looks pretty much similar to roseatus but with duller red on mantle (more mixture of orange and brown). The flanks and belly also seem to be whiter. I think this can be safely classified as C. e. grebnitskii.

None of the bird that I photographed showed a strong characteristic of C. e. erythrinus, even though it is mentioned in literatures that it winters in Thailand. Even the palest bird that I found still has darker and redder mantle and lesser coverts than normal erythrinus that I found on the internet.

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‘Large-billed Group’

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‘Stout-billed Group’

Another interesting difference that I noticed among the birds I’ve photographed was the bill length and shape. I found that there are at least 2 different bill shape; the larger and heavier-looking one with slightly more decurved upper mandible, and the shorter stout bill with more pointed tip and a noticeable angular bend at the base of lower mandible.

After noticing this difference, I reminded of the note about C. e. grebnitskii that it has thicker and massive bill. If comparing these 2 bill shapes, the first one obviously looks more massive. But when I compare this to other images of any subspecies other than grebnitskii, I found that there is no difference, so this ‘large-billed group’ can’t be or shouldn’t be grebnitskii, if this subspecies is described as having a different bill shape from other races. But finding a decent photo of true grebnitskii is such a big challenge. After hours of searching, I could finally find some photos of what should be grebnitskii taken in NE China where it is described as a breeding range of this race and thanks God, they have the same stout bills!

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Male C. e. grebnitskii from Liaoning; note the mantle colour (brownish-red) and the stout bill!

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Juvenile C. e. grebnitskii from Shandong

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Some female grebnitskii I photographed at Doi Angkhang. Note exactly the same bill shape as the ones from NE China.

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Male grebnitskii from Doi Angkhang; the same bill shape can be seen. Thick but not massive.

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Despite being very pale, this individual still shows more characteristics of grebnitskii than erythrinus. Not only that it has a distinct stout bill, it also has deeper red mantle and lesser coverts and more pink on the belly than normal erythrinus in the same age (second calender-year) such as this one from Russia.

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I also found another individual which seems like a good candidate for C. e. ferghanensis (left) photographed at Doi Chiang Dao in November. It has a striking dark reddish back and possibly lesser coverts too. The median and greater coverts fringes are deep pinkish-red meaning it’s already an adult. It looks very similar to this adult ferghanensis from Karnataka, India except that it has fresher plumage.

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Comparing to another C. e. roseatus photographed at the same time, my suspect has a much darker back and doesn’t show any contrast between scapulars and lesser coverts.

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Another photo of a roseatus taken at the same time; note that bill shape greatly changes according to angle, so be sure to evaluate only when in profile.

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Classic male C. e. roseatus in non-breeding plumage taken at Doi Chiang Dao during November; note large bill with slightly decurved upper mandible and no angular bend on the base of lower mandible.

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Male roseatus in breeding plumage taken at Doi Inthanon in February; note the deep red mantle but not as dark as ferghanensis. This one also shows a faint dark eye stripe.

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To give more example, here’s a male roseatus in full breeding plumage at its breeding site  in Guizhou, China.

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Two more photos of a breeding male roseatus from Doi Angkhang during mid February

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Can’t be sure about the subspecies of these females but at least they’re definitely not grebnitskii because of that bill shape! Probably also roseatus.

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This one somehow has an unusual plumage, to me at least. Not sure which sex or age it is, but it has one large bill for sure.

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I think this is also a non-breeding male roseatus. Even though it has more greyish feathers than the ones from Doi Chiang Dao, other characteristics still seem good for roseatus.

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Male roseatus (left) with male grebnitskii (right); you can see how different their bills look and also the extent of pink on the underparts and the redness of the back.

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A showy second calender-year(?) male roseatus enjoying warm sunlight at Doi Angkhang, one of the best places in Thailand to see this beautiful bird.

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A couple more shots of another most likely second calender-year male roseatus from Doi Angkhang. Note how there are still some olive-brown feathers on the scapulars as well as olive-brown fringes to the wing and tail feathers.

In conclusion, C. e. roseatus seems to be the commonest subspecies in Thailand and C. e. gribnetskii is the second most common. Despite having recorded as winter migrant in NW Thailand, I haven’t photographed any C. e. erythrinus. However, at least 2 individuals which look most similar to C. e. ferghanensis have been photographed. This subspecies has a western distribution range and hasn’t been recorded in Thailand. It’d be interesting to have some comments on this!

As the New Year’s Eve is approaching, I guess this would be my last post of the year. Wish you all a happy new year and see you again in 2014!