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!

IMG_5064

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

IMG_4917-1

Mostly seen foraging along scrubs and grassy area near water.

IMG_5100

IMG_0155

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

IMG_5125-1

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

IMG_4988

Note long and pointy primary projection

IMG_5136

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.

IMG_3315

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

IMG_4035

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

IMG_4053

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

IMG_9411

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

IMG_9406

But that might depend on the angle!

IMG_9396

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.

DSCN5962

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.

DSCN5959

DSCN5976

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.

DSCN5977

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.

IMG_0552

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

IMG_0474

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.

IMG_0401

IMG_4056

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

IMG_4093

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.

IMG_9469

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

IMG_9472

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

IMG_9478

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

IMG_9463

IMG_7596

Note the long P1 that extends beyond primary coverts

IMG_7594-1

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

IMG_7584

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.

IMG_7514

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

IMG_7553

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.

IMG_7564

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

IMG_7487

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

IMG_7484

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

IMG_7503

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.

IMG_7533

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

IMG_7477

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

IMG_5334

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.

IMG_5352

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

Advertisements

Kloss’s Leaf Warbler at Khao Yai

It’s been more than 2 months since my last blog post. I’ve been very busy with many things but should be able to dedicate more time to this blog soon. Anyway, this morning Wichyanan Limparungpatthanakij, Ingkayut Sa-ar and I went up to Khao Kheow checkpoint, the highest accessible point in Khao Yai National park to seek one of the least known resident Phylloscopus warblers in Thailand, the Kloss’s Leaf Warbler (P.ogilviegranti), of which Ingkayut recently found just around the checkpoint.

img_9599

Habitat looked similar to hill evergreen forest that I’m familiar with in northern Thailand.

img_9601

View from the view point; a couple of Great Hornbills were heard but not seen

We arrived at the checkpoint around 7AM. The weather was brilliant. The forest seemed lush against bright blue sky and warm morning light… but it was strangely SILENT. We almost didn’t hear or see any bird along the way up to the checkpoint. As we arrived, a Barred Cuckoo Dove was heard cooing deep in the forest along with a Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

After a while, we spotted a mixed species flock which seemed interesting and might contain our main target, the leaf warbler, but turned out it didn’t. We wandered fruitlessly around the checkpoint for about half an hour. Finally, Ingkayut and I heard a Phylloscopus leaf warbler singing from roadside forest. We tried but couldn’t locate the bird. It took us another long while to finally hear, probably, a different bird.

img_9392

Kloss’s Leaf Warbler (most likely subspecies P. ogilviegranti intensior)

img_9249 img_9260

img_9265

Check out the undertail pattern! I’ve never seen such pattern before. Looks intermediate between Davison’s and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler.

img_9243

Note faint yellowish wash on underparts

img_9250

Tail pattern when spread

We had to use playback in order to see the bird, otherwise it wouldn’t come out to visibility. Interestingly, the bird didn’t respond so much to the song of P. ogilviegranti that we had but responded more to the song of P. davisoni. We also got some recordings of the song while the bird was singing up close. However, songs of both species sound identical to our ears but we might see some differences when analysed in sonograms.

img_9274

Like other birds around the checkpoint, the Kloss’s Leaf Warbler also enjoyed the high concentration of moths and other insects that were attracted by nightlights from the checkpoint.

img_9279 img_9280

img_9305

It was very actively singing.

img_9308

There are about 27 species of Phylloscopus warblers in Thailand. Only 5 of them are resident! 3 out of 5 are found in northern Thailand, i.e.Ashy-throated Warbler, Davison’s Leaf Warbler and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, while Kloss’s Leaf Warbler is a very range-restricted species of north-east and south-east. The last one is Mountain Leaf Warbler which can only be found on high mountains in the southernmost part of the country.

Among these resident Phylloscopus warblers, Kloss’s is the least known taxon. Khao Yai is by far the most accessible location to see this species, even though it’s proved to be scarce. Another place where Kloss’s Leaf Warbler is known to occur and even said to be common is Khao Soi Dao which is way more difficult to access. Because of this, we felt blessed to have observe the bird so well and obtained some photos and voice recordings.

img_9313

Adult Dark-sided Flycatcher (ssp. sibirica), the second record for this autumn passage

img_9395

img_9387

Another shot showing the distinctive undertail pattern

img_9331

The bird liked to hang upside down searching for insects under branches and twigs but didn’t show any nuthatch-like behaviour as exhibited so strongly in Claudia’s/Hartert’s group.

img_9415

Showing faint yellowish centre to belly, a bit more pronounced than in Davison’s

After seeing the bird and checking the photos that I took, several identification features can be summarised as follow;

  • very distinctive undertail pattern; sort of intermediate between Davison’s and Blyth’s
  • habitually more similar to Davison’s than Claudia’s/Hartert’s as it mostly sticks smaller branches and twigs rather than staying close to major trunks; also didn’t show any nuthatch-like behaviour
  • relatively more yellow on centre of belly than Davison’s; otherwise, other than undertail pattern, very marginally different
From left to right: Davison’s, Kloss’s, Blyth’s, Claudia’s and Hartert’s

From left to right: Davison’s, Kloss’s, Blyth’s, Claudia’s and Hartert’s

But the easiest way to identify is to see the undertail pattern! Finally, I have a complete collection of undertail view for each member of this complex in Thailand. Ranging from the one with most white on undertail (Davison’s on the far left) to the one with least white (Hartert’s on the far right), the image above should give you some idea of where to look when encountered with these birds.

Two-barred Warbler

Last weekend (21-22 Feb), I visited Khao Yai National Park for the first time in 8 years for the annual Khao Yai Bird Census held by the BCST (Bird Conservation Society of Thailand). I was responsible for surveying around Haew Suwat Waterfall area. The morning around the car park was quite birdy. There were several phylloscopus warblers flitting around in the middle story. Most of them were Yellow-browed Warblers but at least 2 birds appeared to be Greenish-type.

IMG_0076

The first individual; note slightly darker and duller crown than mantle and moulting greater coverts

IMG_0084

Greater coverts are also moulting on another side

IMG_0091

Very little dark smudge on the tip of lower mandible

Both individuals were in worn plumage. Most greater coverts were missing, leaving only 1-2 greater coverts with pale tip. The crown seemed slightly darker and duller than mantle similar to most Greenish Warblers I’ve seen in the north, but probably less greyish. If I see these birds somewhere in Chiang Mai, I’ll probably wouldn’t hesitate to identify them as Greenish Warblers.

IMG_0228

Second individual; note pale yellowish wash to supercilium, face and breast side and very little dark smudge on the tip of lower mandible

IMG_0227-2 IMG_0233

IMG_0190

Also very worn wing coverts like the first individual; note slightly less greyish crown compared to Greenish Warbler

IMG_0253

Considering the bird is in worn plumage, it seems to be a brighter-looking bird than Greenish Warbler (ssp. trochiloides)

IMG_0252 IMG_0276-2 IMG_0269

IMG_0212

Enjoying a stick-like caterpillar!

IMG_0206 IMG_0207

IMG_0173

The light was terrible when it came close and out in the open.

IMG_0189

IMG_0282

Again, very pale lower mandible

I wasn’t sure of the identity of both birds, although people say Two-barred Warbler is the one regularly found at Khao Yai. It was only until I heard the second individual’s call that I could identify it as Two-barred Warbler. Before this, I never though I’d be able to tell the difference between Two-barred and Greenish Warbler calls, but when the bird called out, the difference was more significant than I expected. It was strikingly lower pitched than the call of Greenish Warbler which I’m familiar with in northern Thailand and sounded like the call of Eurasian Tree Sparrow as described in guide books indeed.

10633891_818814944828720_68682840225586515_o

Fresh plumage Two-barred Warbler © Phil Round

To accompany the post, here’s a photo of Two-barred Warbler caught and ringed by Phil Round originally posted in The Wetland Trust in Asia facebook page. Unlike the 2 individuals above, this bird is in a striking fresh plumage with neat and bold wing bars, broader than anything I’ve seen. Also note how it lacks any grey tinge on the crown with yellowish face and almost no dark smudge at the tip of lower mandible. Hope I’ll see a bird as smart as this sometimes soon.

Blyth’s & Davison’s Leaf Warblers at Doi Inthanon

On the weekend of 7-8 February, I joined the annual Doi Inthanon Bird Census held by Lanna Bird and Nature Conservation Club. The place is particularly good for leaf warbler lovers like me since 3 species (as far as we know) can be seen here easily. These include the range-restricted resident Blyth’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus reguloides), the more widespread resident Davison’s Leaf Warbler (P. davisoni) and the widespread winter migrant Claudia’s Leaf Warbler (P. claudiae). During this recent trip, I observed all 3 species at different altitude of Doi Inthanon and could particularly get good images of the Blyth’s Leaf Warbler.

IMG_9833

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler (presumably subspecies assamensis)

IMG_8750

Davison’s Leaf Warbler (formerly called White-tailed Leaf Warbler)

I’ve written a series of how to identify this Blyth’s/White-tailed Leaf Warbler complex which can be access here. In general, Davison’s has more yellow hue to its plumage than Blyth’s and Claudia’s, particularly on supercilium, face and median crown stripe. However, this can be very variable. The best way is to check for the undertail pattern, of which Davison’s shows completely white inner web to the outermost pair of tail feathers. Blyth’s and Claudia’s are almost identical plumage-wise. Unlike Davison’s, both species show grey undertail with thin white edge to the inner web of outer tail feathers with Blyth’s having more white than Claudia’s.

IMG_9846-3

Undertail pattern of Blyth’s Leaf Warbler (same individual as above)

IMG_8747

Undertail pattern of Davison’s Leaf Warbler (same individual as above)

At Doi Inthanon, Davison’s Leaf Warbler can be found throughout a wide range of altitude from ca. 1,000 m to the highest summit (2,565 m above sea level). Claudia’s Leaf Warbler can also be found through a wide range of altitude from lower foothills to at least about 1,500 m above sea level. So far, I still haven’t seen this species around the summit. On the other hand, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler is almost exclusively found above 2,000 m above sea level, but might move down to lower altitude (ca. 1,500 m) in winter (see this post).

IMG_8531-2

Davison’s Leaf Warbler with nesting material

IMG_8512

It didn’t show any left-right wing flicking behaviour exhibited in nesting Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. Instead, it rapidly flicked both wings constantly.

IMG_8532 IMG_8590-2 IMG_8547

IMG_8506-2

The plumage looks particularly yellowish in strong light.

IMG_8500

Note the undertail pattern

IMG_8608

On the morning of Feb 7th, I visited Doi Pha Tang area (ca. 1,300 m above sea level) and found a nesting pair of Davison’s Leaf Warblers. They were busy building a nest located on a slope right on the roadside. The nest was only about 1 ft. above the ground but was well concealed by grass and fallen leaves. This is probably the earliest nesting record of this species for me. Compare to this nest I found at Doi Lang in March.

IMG_9535-2

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler generally has less yellow tone to the plumage.

IMG_9511

First time for me observing a displaying Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. The bird was whirring its wings and puffing up its crown feathers while singing actively.

IMG_9499

IMG_9539

Even though Blyth’s Leaf Warbler doesn’t share the ‘nuthatching’ behaviour in the same degree as in Claudia’s and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, it appears to favour hanging vertically while foraging through small branches and vines.

IMG_9516-3 IMG_9655

IMG_9544

Sometimes it shares the same impression while foraging as in Claudia’s and Hartert’s, i.e. stretching its head to look out for food.

IMG_9478

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler with insect in its mouth.

IMG_9561

Undertail pattern confirming the identity

At the summit, there seemed to be more Blyth’s Leaf Warblers than Davison’s, which made me feel strange because I remember visiting in rainy season and couldn’t locate any Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. I also started to be able to recognise the songs of Blyth’s and Davison’s Leaf Warbler. Throughout the morning, I heard and observed many Blyth’s Leaf Warblers singing in the summit trail. The song of Blyth’s seems to have clearer notes and less slurred than Davison’s.

IMG_9681

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler from the summit trail

IMG_9675

Stretching to look for food

IMG_9676-2

IMG_9684

The median crown stripe is generally much less yellowish than in Davison’s.

IMG_9698-2

IMG_9707

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler singing

IMG_9729-2 IMG_9733

IMG_9738

Sometimes it also clings on vines.

IMG_9792

Looking for food

IMG_9770

IMG_9809

Clean greyish median crown stripe

IMG_9820

Showing the undertail pattern

There’s a particularly tame pair of Blyth’s Leaf Warblers around the entrance of the summit trail boardwalk. They might be looking for a nesting site since they were staying very close to the ground unlike most foraging Blyth’s Leaf Warblers that I’ve seen. Despite the very dim light inside the trail, I managed to get many close up shots of the birds.

IMG_9051-2

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler

IMG_9088

IMG_9089

Showing undertail pattern

IMG_9834

Before leaving the summit, I found another pair of Blyth’s Leaf Warblers close to the car park, so I could finally photograph this species in good light.

IMG_9840-2

Showing wing formula

IMG_9852

Sometimes it’s hard to see the real undertail pattern. A slight change of angle can totally distort the undertail pattern.

IMG_9873

Sometimes the undertail of Blyth’s can even look similar to Davison’s, so take lots of photos and from many different angles.

IMG_9869

IMG_9863

Even in strong light, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler appears to be less yellowish than Davison’s Leaf Warbler.

IMG_9859

IMG_9879

More greyish median crown stripe and mantle

IMG_9882

Showing the undertail pattern

Thailand’s First “Hartert’s Leaf Warbler”

On January 17th, a photographer found an unusual leaf warbler at Suan Rot Fai (Wachira Benjathat Park), a park located north of central Bangkok. According to him, he only took one picture of it (which I find very unusual) and the bird showed nuthatch-like behaviour. From that single photo, I suspected that it might be the nominate subspecies “goodsoni” of Hartert’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus goodsoni) which has never been recorded in Thailand before. David Gandy, a local birder in Suan Rot Fai area, later relocated the bird on January 31st and took many more photos of it which helped confirm that it is most likely a “goodsoni” Hartert’s Leaf Warbler indeed.

IMG_8031

Hartert’s Leaf Warbler (ssp. goodsoni) is a striking bird with bright yellow supercilium and contrasting crown stripes.

IMG_8033

Another angle showing the highly contrasting crown stripes

IMG_8027

It was mostly silent throughout the observation but briefly gave a few variably high pitched calls. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to record the calls of it before it went silent again.

IMG_8020

Apart from the supercilium, it has subtle yellow streaks on upper breast as well.

IMG_8022

IMG_8039

The undertail coverts are pale yellowish, slightly contrasting to the whiter belly.

I visited the park on Monday morning (2 February 2015) before going to work. Only about 5 minutes after arriving at the location where the bird was found, I could locate the bird foraging through the canopy in a nuthatch-like behaviour. There was also a highly vocal Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher foraging nearby which was a good thing since it helped me locate the leaf warbler easily. It is suspected that the canary-flycatcher follows the leaf warbler to catch the insects which are disturbed by the foraging movements of the leaf warbler.

IMG_7849

My first view of the Hartert’s Leaf Warbler foraging through the main branches resembling Claudia’s Leaf Warbler or a nuthatch.

IMG_7851

Showing underwing and wing formula

IMG_7865

Climbing, looking, hopping

IMG_8017

Showing undertail pattern; note very thin white edge to the inner web of outer tail feathers

IMG_7999

The yellowness of plumage seemed to be very light-dependent. Even with bare eyes, the bird appeared variably yellowish depending on the light.

IMG_7993

David sent some of his photos to seek opinions from Paul Leader, an expert on Asian Phylloscopus warblers, and here’s what he quoted.

“I would agree that this is nominate goodsoni. Within the ‘Blyth’s complex, only nominate goodsoni shows this degree of yellow and yellow streaking on the underparts, such that it resembles a washed out Sulphur-breasted Warbler more than other members of the Blyth’s complex. All of the other members of the complex have clean white underparts with limited yellow streaking (central breast/belly), and this includes Ph. g. fokhiensis.

However, the nuthatch-like behaviour is shared by other members of the complex, at least by claudiae, and therefore is not diagnostic.”

IMG_8044

Showing the subtle yellow streaks on breast

IMG_8065

IMG_8064

The striking crown stripes

IMG_8070

Again, the undertail pattern

I followed the bird from around 8.00-8.45 as it foraged through the main branches high up on tree tops and occasionally came down to just about 1.5 m above the ground and disappeared into the canopy again. It was totally an amazing observation and the bird didn’t seem to be particularly skittish, probably because I was the only one there. I guess it would stay around in the same area throughout the winter.

IMG_8117

A confiding Radde’s Warbler

IMG_8077

A female/immature Asian Paradise Flycatcher

IMG_7827

Male White-rumped Shama

Apart from the leaf warbler, there were actually quite a good number of species in the area. There was one Radde’s Warbler which was unusually confiding. I also spotted a female/immature Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarchs, a very confiding male White-rumped Shama, a pair of nesting Brown-throated Sunbirds, Yellow-browed Warbler, a fly-over Stork-billed Kingfisher and an Asian Barred Owlet. I guess I’ll be visiting this area of the park more often.

Doi Inthanon: 19-20 October 2014

On the night of October 19, Yann Muzika of The Wilderness Alternative and I drove up to Doi Inthanon, one of the most popular places for birding in northern Thailand. Our first mission was to look for the famous Brown Wood Owl family that was showing around the 2nd Checkpoint.

IMG_0018

Adult Brown Wood Owl from the 2nd Checkpoint

IMG_0017

It wasn’t all that easy. The wood owls usually come out to feed on horned beetles that only appear after the rain. It had been completely dry for several days before our arrive. There was no beetle around the checkpoint at all. Needless to say the wood owl wasn’t there. We tried using playbacks but still didn’t work. Instead, we heard several Mountain Scops-Owls calling, so we turned our attentions towards them. But the scops-owls weren’t easy neither. We had one bird perching in the open and really close for a second but couldn’t manage to take any photo even after that.

After more than an hour of struggling with the scops-owls, we walked back to the checkpoint and tried for the wood owl again. As earlier, there was no response, but then I decided to walk around a bit and was shocked to find one bird sitting really close to the road just a few metres from where we were standing. It might have been there all along but it made completely no sound. It sat there for about 5 minutes then flew out towards the checkpoint where I spotted another bird circling and disappearing into the forest.

IMG_0053

A very obliging Black-throated Parrotbill at Km. 34.5

IMG_0044

IMG_0039

IMG_0024

A Blyth’s/Claudia’s Leaf Warbler; note very thin white trailing edge to undertail feathers

IMG_0023

Another photo showing the undertail pattern and median crown stripe

IMG_0077

This Blyth’s/Claudia’s Leaf Warbler was attracted to the song of Blyth’s Leaf Warbler that I played, but it didn’t sing to respond. I observed it for several minutes and it didn’t show any trunk-climbing behaviour regularly exhibited by Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, so I concluded that it is most likely a Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. It’s the first time for me to see this species outside Doi Inthanon summit.

IMG_0075 IMG_0074 IMG_0071

IMG_0082

Showing the undertail pattern; note thicker white trailing edge than the previous individual

IMG_0079

After our successful night with the wood owls, we headed down to Muang Ang village at the foothill of Doi Inthanon to look for the globally threatened White-rumped Falcon but it was nowhere to be found. We then moved up to Km 34.5 trail instead and luckily, the place was very birdy. We encountered a big bird-wave consisting of a pair of male and female Clicking Shrike-babbler, Yunnan Fulvettas, Mountain Tailorbird, Grey-throated Babblers, Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers and lots of Phylloscopus warblers. But the best was undoubtedly a flock of about 10 Black-throated Parrotbills that was very responsive to the playback and gave us unusually good photographic opportunity.

IMG_0105-2

Unknown butterfly found along the trail

IMG_0100

IMG_0110

Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, the trunk-climber!

IMG_0109

Showing undertail pattern; note very thin white trailing edge

Most Phylloscopus warblers we found in the trail were the Blyth’s/Claudia’s/Davison’s Leaf Warbler group. For Davison’s, it wasn’t so difficult to identify since it has striking white undertail. However, it was much trickier when trying to identify Blyth’s and Claudia’s. I observed 1 bird which was most likely Blyth’s Leaf Warbler due to its behaviour and the width of white trailing edge to the undertail feather. It was the first time for me to see a Blyth’s Leaf Warbler outside the summit of Doi Inthanon.

IMG_0114

Unidentified juvenile falcon, probably Amur Falcon or Eurasian Hobby

IMG_0147

Blyth’s Leaf Warbler; most likely subspecies ‘assamensis’

IMG_0144 IMG_0143

IMG_0141

Much greyer median crown stripe than the abundant Davison’s Leaf Warbler

IMG_0155

IMG_0150

Note undertail pattern of the outer tail feathers

IMG_0164

Showing white trailing edge to the inner web of tail feathers

We headed up to the highest summit around noon. It was still quite birdy when we arrived. Yann had a nice time with the extremely confiding White-browed Shortwings and a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher which are the regulars around the entrance of Ang Ka Nature Trail. I also had a chance to photograph a Blyth’s Leaf Warbler that was responding really well to the playback. Doi Inthanon summit is one of the very few places and the most accessible one in Thailand where this species is regularly found.

IMG_0175

As usual, the Snowy-browed Flycatcher was extremely confiding.

IMG_0210

Another very confiding bird, a Buff-barred Warbler from around the parking lot

IMG_0204 IMG_0198

IMG_0189

It must have been feeding on a lot of nectar. Note how the bill base is all covered up with pollen.

IMG_0217-2

IMG_0223-2

Bar-throated Minla was abundant as ever.

IMG_0253

Even though it is a very common bird, I couldn’t resist taking photos of this group of Flavescent Bulbuls. They were just adorable.

IMG_0242

Sadly, we could only bird just until a little after 12 o’clock because of the rain. However, we had a nice relaxing time while waiting in a coffee shop watching the birds that came to feed on bananas that the shop owner put out for them. These birds were really tame and we could take photos of them just with our phones. We drove down around 4pm and visited Muang Ang for the falcon again but still had no luck, so we continued down to Chiang Mai before heading to our next destination, Doi Ang Khang.

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.

IMG_9568-2

The road to Ban Arunothai just before sunrise

IMG_9587

The peaceful atmosphere around Doi Ang Khang foothill

IMG_9577

Adult Crested Serpent Eagle (ssp. burmanicus)

IMG_9588

Silhouette of a lone Rufous-winged Buzzard

IMG_9593

They also like to perch together in a loose group.

IMG_9608-2

Another view of a different Rufous-winged Buzzard

IMG_9635

IMG_9602

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

IMG_9606

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.

IMG_9617

More landscape shots along the way to Ban Arunothai

IMG_9645-2 IMG_9647

IMG_9648

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

IMG_9707

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

IMG_9768

A confiding Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor)

IMG_9763

IMG_9789-2

An unusually tame male Burmese Shrike

IMG_9792 IMG_9860

IMG_9849-2

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

IMG_9850

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.

IMG_9895

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

IMG_9909 IMG_9913-2

IMG_9948

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

IMG_9955

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

IMG_9964

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

IMG_9951

IMG_9954

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.

IMG_0002

One of the many Black Bulbuls (ssp. concolor)

IMG_0025

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

IMG_0032

IMG_0036

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

IMG_0050

Greenish Warbler was abundant!

IMG_0137

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

IMG_0140

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

IMG_0129

A relatively grey-crowned Yellow-browed Warbler

IMG_0130

IMG_0158

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.

IMG_0159 IMG_0160 IMG_0161 IMG_0154

IMG_0151

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!

IMG_0084

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.

IMG_0180 IMG_0221 IMG_0223 IMG_0265 IMG_0169

IMG_0105

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

IMG_0258

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

IMG_0533

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.

IMG_0220

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

IMG_0217

IMG_0269

A fork-tailed swift? No.

IMG_0283

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.

IMG_0522

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

IMG_0475 IMG_0503 IMG_0416 IMG_0408 IMG_0407

IMG_0520

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

IMG_0505

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

IMG_0478

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

IMG_0424 IMG_0423

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.

IMG_0369

A colourful male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

IMG_0370 IMG_0378

IMG_0354

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.

IMG_0439-2

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.

IMG_0401

A very confiding juvenile Grey-backed Shrike

IMG_0387

One of the two Buff-throated Warblers

IMG_9105-2

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.

IMG_9151

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

IMG_9150 IMG_9152 IMG_9174

IMG_9188

First time for me getting 2 birds in one frame.

IMG_9211

They were also quite curious!

IMG_9221