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.

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Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl

Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl was one of my most sought after birds. I’ve been to the area where it can be found regularly in Chiang Dao for more than 3 times but ended up with no luck. Until April 29th of this year, I got a phone call from one of my friends telling me that a pair of them is showing right now in daylight! I did not waste a single second and headed to Chiang Dao immediately. Lucky that it only takes about 30 minutes from my house to reach Chiang Dao.

As soon as I arrived, Thongdaeng, the officer who regularly checks for the birds, was already there welcoming me. He pointed out to the trees where the birds were staying and my heart raced as I had the first glimpse of the giants. They were huge!

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Recently fledged juvenile Spot-bellied Eagle Owl

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And the parent. Not sure if it’s the father or mother.

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It seemed to be panting a lot as the temperature rose.

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One of the birds was a recently fledged juvenile with overall whitish plumage and sparse barrings. Another bird was its parent but I can’t be sure if it was the father or mother. Thongdaeng said early in the morning before I arrived, the parent also caught a prey and fed to the chick. The prey seemed to be some kind of rodents.

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I’m now convinced that cats and owls are related.

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At first, they were perching on different trees but after about half an hour, the juvenile moved to perch with its parent. I was really lucky to see and photograph them together side by side since no one has photographed them perching together again after that. They spent time preening each other for almost an hour. As you can see, I couldn’t help but firing lots of shots.

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After some time, the adult decided to move to a different perch and spent time preening itself. I left the area around noon when the birds seemed to stop having any activity. From that day on, lots of birders and bird photographers visited the area regularly and the birds continued to show well for about a month before the juvenile began to venture out by itself.

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However, bad news arrived earlier last month when the corpse of the juvenile was found by the utility pole in front of the area where they were staying. It seemed to have died from electric shock. Last year, one of the juveniles also died from the very same cause in the same area. Actions have been taken to install insulators to prevent birds from being electrocuted. Hopefully the parents will still stay in the same area and we’ll see new chicks again next year.

Bluethroats at Cho Lae

During late March, I regularly visited my local patch, Cho Lae in the morning to take photos of the numerous Bluethroat. I first spotted several birds while wandering through the  new chilli pepper plantation, then I set up a feeding area on a track where they seemed to favour locating between the chilli plantation and rice field. The birds were quick to accept the presence of a hide and came to the feeding area just within half an hour or so. They then became regular visitors afterwards and I got to photograph them very easily from the hide.

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The birds were very active during early morning and occasionally sang their long and slightly weird song. The song is composed of high-pitched tunes mixing with some strange insect-like sounds similar to those of the Acrocephalus reed warblers’ songs. The call however was a loud, thin and hight-pitched metallic sound regularly heard throughout the morning.

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You can tell that it came really close!

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A different individual

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Even though it was already late March, none of the birds that showed up at the feeding area was in the beautiful breeding plumage. I saw one male bird in the field with complete blue and rufous throat though but it didn’t seem to be interested in coming close to the hide. Interestingly, when I visited Chiang Saen during the same week, most of the birds have already moulted into full breeding plumage.

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The feeding area didn’t only attract the Bluethroats, a pair of Pied Bush Chats was also one of the regular visitors and the most dominant. They’d chase away any bird that came close to the area while they were there. I still don’t get it why the Bluethroats had to be so afraid of the bush chats when they are much larger.

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Male Stejneger’s Stonechat assuming full breeding plumage

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Zitting Cisticola in breeding plumage

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Eurasian Tree Sparrow is one of the most abundant birds which I find really hard to get a nice shot of.

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Other birds which showed up around the hide included some wary Stejneger’s Stonechats which always got chased by the Pied Bush Chats as well, some Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Scaly-breasted Munias, a pair of Plain Prinias, a nesting pair of Zitting Cisticola, several Black-winged Stilts and a female Pied Harrier which often patrolled the area during early morning.

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Female Pied Harrier

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It’s a reward for getting up early to be among such beautiful atmosphere. I felt so much at home looking at the distant haystacks in the mist over the green rice fields. It’s the feeling that I’d been missing for 6 years while living abroad.

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A lone Black-winged Stilt in non-breeding plumage

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Another male Bluethroat in non-breeding plumage

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This individual was suggested to be a first-summer/second calender-year male due to the faint rufous breast band.

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This male bird was more active in singing than others.

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Black-backed Forktail

Black-backed Forktail used to be the least seen and photographed species of forktail in Thailand until a certain area in Ban Pang Yang, Chiang Mai was discovered to be its regular nesting site several years ago. On April 14, I had a chance to visit this area and take photos of the nesting birds. As soon as I arrived at the place, I could hear the distinctive high pitched call coming from the small stream and immediately spot a pair of them flitting around on the rocks.

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A video clip showing one of the parents before going to the nest to feed the chicks. Its distinctive high pitched call can be heard clearly here.

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The birds were amazingly tame and would come really close even without a hide, but they would be reluctant to go to the nest and feed the chicks, so using a photography hide was still a must. With a hide, they’d come really close. Sometimes they were even too close for the camera to focus!

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A video clip of one of the birds while taking a break from feeding the chicks.

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What I also love about this place was that the habitat that they were living in was extremely photogenic. As you can see from the photos, the water surface was completely still and you can almost see a perfect reflection in the water. The challenge was not just getting photos of the birds, but getting photos of them on the beautiful spots. The moss-covered rock with many tiny trees growing on it was my favourite.

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Variety of preys caught for the chicks; mainly winged termites

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This big spider makes the bird look like it has a long beard.

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It was interesting to see the variety of preys that the parents brought back for the chicks. The nest was located on the bank hidden under some foliage. It was the first time for me to observe the nest of this species. I’ve seen many nests of the larger relative White-crowed Forktail, which are also built in the same manner. There were 3 chicks in the nest and all of them seemed equally healthy. The parents would visit once every few minutes, being more frequent during early morning and less frequent around noon.

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Another short clip of the bird while preening and stretching

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I also got to observe one interesting habit which I’ve never seen in any other species of forktail before. One of the birds, presumably the male, started to flick the wings in a manner similar to the displaying female Greater Painted Snipe but much faster. It would also give the loud call while flicking the wings as well. It kept doing this for a while before another bird showed up and it seemed to be focusing on the other bird while flicking the wings. After some conversations with other birders, I found that some of them have also seen the bird exhibiting this habit too but none has seen similar thing in other species of forktail neither. I still have no clear idea to what this wing flicking habit could possibly mean.

Doi Lang: 23 March 2014

On March 23, I visited Doi Lang again with my dad. The weather was unusually overcast and we were completely surrounded by thick fog as we reached the mountain top. There was a car driving constantly up and down the hills with huge lens pointing from the window. I guess the driver was searching for the Mrs Hume’s Pheasants which I photographed earlier. I actually thought it wasn’t a good idea because the pheasants tend to shy away from the road if the cars keep passing once every 10 minutes or so.

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Male Hodgson’s Frogmouth still staying strong even after the fire. How surprising!

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As we arrived at our usual birding area, I was shocked to see that the whole area was burned down by forest fire. I quickly checked to see if the Hodgson’s Frogmouth was still there and surprisingly it was! I felt so relieved to see that it was still staying at the nest even though the area underneath was completely burned.

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I just love watching the frogmouth when it fluffs up its body feathers. It can totally switch from a skinny twig-like creature into an almost fully rounded feathery ball. It only fluffs up its feathers when it feels comfortable though, so in order to get photos of it while fluffing, I had to stand very still and wait for some minutes for it to feel relaxed.

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One of the two adult Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers

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The same Erythrina subumbrans still had some flowers left but less birds visited the tree compared to my earlier visit.

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One of the two juvenile Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers which came along with the adults. It looked extra cute with that short bill.

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One of the two Rufous-fronted Babblers which passed by the area while I was photographing the frogmouth. This is one of the common yet rarely well photographed species.

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A record shot of a female Himalayan Cutia

Then I heard someone spotted a female Himalayan Cutia feeding in a tall tree nearby. I quickly went to have a look and could get some brief glimpses of it before it moved further into the forest. This was my first sighting of this rare species this year.

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Second calender-year male Hill Blue Flycatcher

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Female Slaty-blue Flycatcher

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I spent some minutes sitting at the photography stakeouts near the frogmouth’s nest and the first visitor that showed up was a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher. It stayed around for some time before picking up a meal worm and flew back into the bush. A second calender-year male Hill Blue Flycatcher also showed up briefly afterwards but was too shy to come to the feeding area.

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Adult female Rufous-bellied Niltava

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Note the small glossy blue patch on the neck

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Adult male White-bellied Redstart

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Unusual to see it among burnt ashes

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Second calender-year female White-tailed Robin

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Showing why it’s called ‘white-tailed’

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Then I moved to another stakeout on the other side of the road where a male White-bellied Redstart was seen earlier. The first bird that showed up was a female Rufous-bellied Niltava. Then after a while the male White-bellied Redstart showed up. It was a bit shy at first but afterwards became very obliging. A second calender-year female White-tailed Robin also visited the area later on and constantly chased off the redstart. Other birds which came around the stakeout included a pair of Hill Prinias and a pair of Silver-eared Laughingthrushes. It was surprising for me that even after such serious fire, all these birds were still loyal to the feeding area.

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One of the two Hill Prinias in breeding plumage

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The same male White-bellied Redstart

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It has a habit of walking and running unlike other redstarts which normally hops instead of walking.

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Showing the orange patch which is normally well hidden

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The same male Hodgson’s Frogmouth from a different angle

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Second calender-year male Siberian Rubythroat

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Blackish lore suggests that it is a male bird rather than an old female which can show the same amount of red on the throat as well.

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I spent some more time at the stakeout near the frogmouth’s nest and photographed a very obliging second year male Siberian Rubythroat before moving on the other side of Doi Lang where a Chestnut-headed Tesia was reported to be showing.

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The abundant but extremely secretive Russet Bush Warbler

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After finding its comfortable perch, it would stay for some minutes singing its strange insect-like song.

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Along the way, I heard a singing Russet Bush Warbler just by the roadside, so I quickly stopped the car and went out to look for it. After a few playbacks, it showed up curiously and extremely close to where I was standing but was too fast for me to get any good shot. After a while, it seemed to have found its comfortable place to sing and stayed on the same perch for a couple of minutes but as you can see, the view wasn’t very good.

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I immediately heard the sharp unmistakable call of the Chestnut-headed Tesia as soon as I arrived at the feeding area where it was reported to visit. After setting up a hide, I spotted the bird came creeping out from the dense bush. Even though it later came out to the open to catch the meal worms, it was still incredibly difficult to photograph. Just like any other tesias (even though the Chestnut-headed Tesia is not a true tesia anymore), it was extremely fast moving, so most of the shots that I got were either blurry or out of focus.

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Male Slaty-blue Flycatcher (ssp. minuta)

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It has an unmistakable habit of cocking its tail up to 90 degree.

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Another bird which showed up at the same feeding area as the Chestnut-headed Tesia was the male Slaty-blue Flycatcher, another bird that I hadn’t had any decent photo of. It was slightly shy and wouldn’t come close if I wasn’t in the hide. Judging from the whitish throat contrasting to the duller buffish breast and underparts, I think it is the subspecies F. t. minuta which I’ve never seen before. The male bird that I photographed back in 2013 was another subspecies F. t. diversa which has more buffish throat and underparts.

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After a while, a male Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher also showed up at the stakeout. It was way more confiding than the Slaty-blue Flycatcher and I didn’t need the hide to get all these shots! Even though it is one of the commoner Ficedula flycatchers in northern Thailand, I really enjoyed the opportunity to photograph it nicely like this.

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Another Ficedula flycatcher from the same area, a female Slaty-backed Flycatcher

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One of the 3 male Slaty-backed Flycatchers near the Pha Hom Pok army camp

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A very confiding female Himalayan Bluetail

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Another big surprise of the day and a lifer for me, a male Jerdon’s Baza!

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We took a lunch break at Pha Hom Pok army camp which was just a few hundred metres from the tesia stakeout. There were quite many birds around the camp including at least 3 males and 1 female Slaty-backed Flycatchers, a male Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher, a female Little Pied Flycatchers, a very tame female and a shy male Himalayan Bluetails, a flock of Whiskered Yuhina, a breeding pair of Davison’s Leaf Warbler and a singing Slaty-bellied Tesia. Another big surprise also came while I was enjoying my lunch, a male Jerdon’s Baza (greyish cheeks) came gliding over the camp before disappearing beyond the tree line.

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The only shot that I got while it was calling. What a cute bird!

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The same male Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher while singing

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Also some more shots of the same male Slaty-blue Flycatcher

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Before returning to Doi San Ju side where we started our day, I spent another hour at the tesia stakeout and enjoyed photographing the same 3 colourful visitors until I felt like I couldn’t take any better shot of them.

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One of the many female Grey Bush Chats along the way

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An unusually tame female Mountain Bamboo Partridge. Its partner quickly walked into the bush and I couldn’t get any decent shot of.

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We were surprised again by a flock of 7-8 Assam Macaques which came crossing the road while we were driving down.

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Look how cute the baby is!

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And we didn’t forget to check the other Hodgson’s Frogmouth’s nest on our way back. The male bird looked super scruffy because of the afternoon shower.

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.

Nam Kham Nature Reserve: 28-29 March 2014

On the evening of March 28 saw me arriving at Nam Kham Nature Reserve in Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai Province with my friends who are also bird ringers. They had to prepare poles and nets for the following morning, so I went into one of the hides to see if there’s any bird at the pool made for birds to come and bathe. To my surprise, as I stepped into the hide, the rare Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler was already bathing, as well as a male Siberian Rubythroat. They quickly flew into the bush as they noticed me but came out shortly afterwards.

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The Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler came down to the pool 3 times until it got completely dark, but I could only get a few ok-ish shots. This is a rare and quite mysterious species that overwinters in northern Thailand. We only knew that it spends the winter in lowland reed beds just a few years back when Nam Kham was established. On the other hand, it moves up to high montane forest to breeding during breeding season.

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While the bush warbler was away, I was entertained by a family group of the colourful Chestnut-capped Babbler. Two parent birds and two juveniles came to enjoy evening bath for more than 10 minutes. Both of the parents were ringed just like the bush warbler and most birds here. Another bird which came to the pool was the lovely Baikal Bush Warbler, but it was already too dark for me to get any good shot.

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A ruin at the entrance from the main road to Nam Kham Nature Reserve

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Chestnut-capped Babbler looking really smart when seen up close

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Yellow-bellied Prinia was particularly brightly coloured.

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Male Siberian Rubythroat

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The throat somehow reminds me of an almost ripe strawberry.

On the following morning, I joined a ringing session where we caught some really nice birds. The first one that I saw was a smart adult Chestnut-capped Babbler followed by a very brightly coloured Yellow-bellied Prinia. A beautiful male Siberian Rubythroat was also caught as well.

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Blyth’s Reed Warbler, a Thai rarity and a lifer for me

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Long primary projection relative to the similar Blunt-winged Warbler

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Wing formula of Blyth’s Reed Warbler

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But the highlight of the session was a single Blyth’s Reed Warbler, one of the rare Acrocephalus warblers in Thailand. Few records have beeb reported from Nam Kham Nature Reserve and Bung Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan Province.

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One of the two Blunt-winged Warblers caught on that morning

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Blyth’s Reed Warbler (left) and Blunt-winged Warbler (right)

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Blunt-winged Warbler (left) has shorter primary projection than Blyth’s Reed Warbler (right).

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When compared closely, Blyth’s (left) shows paler and more rufous iris, while Blunt-winged (right) has a colder brown tone. However, iris colouration can be greatly varied.

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Focusing on the Blunt-winged Warbler

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Now focusing on the Blyth’s Reed Warbler

We also caught 2 Blunt-winged Warblers, a rather common but extremely difficult to see species, so we had a really nice opportunity to compare the two species closely together. The best way to distinguish the two is by looking at the primary projection. Blunt-winged Warbler has shorter primary projection than Blyth’s making the wings look shorter and rounder, hence the name Blunt-winged. Apart from the primary projection, I also noticed that the iris of the two species were slightly different; Blyth’s having a lighter and more rufous colouration than Blunt-winged which has a cold brown tone to it.

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The same Blyth’s Reed Warbler after being released

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At least the long primary projection is visible!

Since there had been no confirmed photo of Blyth’s Reed Warbler taken in Thailand in the wild, I prepared to take photos of it after being released. The above shots were already my best effort. Unfortunately some part of the bill is hidden in both shots but at least the long primary projection is still visible confirming that it is not a Blunt-winged nor Paddyfield Warbler.

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I then took a walk around the reed maze and came across 2 singing Acrocephalus warblers in tall reeds. Since one of them was so close, I tried recording the song using my iPhone and played back. Quite amazingly, despite the very low volume, the bird still responded and came out to perch on reed top for few seconds, enough for me to snap some shots before it flew out. One of the shots shows wing formula which seems to suggest that it’s a Blunt-winged Warbler (relatively long P1).

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Before leaving Nam Kham, I spent about an hour sitting in the hide waiting for birds to come and bathe. Only a Baikal Bush Warbler showed up briefly. I guess it was the same individual that showed up in the earlier evening. It was still in a non-breeding plumage, showing no sign of grey on breast nor dark lower mandible which are characteristics of breeding plumage.