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.


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


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.


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

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


Note faint yellowish wash on underparts


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.


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.

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It was very actively singing.


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.


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



Another shot showing the distinctive undertail pattern


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.


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.


The Firethroat Tetralogy (3): 12 April 2015

After my third visit to see the male Firethroat at Nam Kham on 4-5 April, people continued to visit the bird daily and witnessed the rapid change of the plumage. The fiery feathers on throat and breast seemed to develop very quickly each day, as well as the solid black face and breast sides. I just couldn’t help planning another trip to catch up with its new look. Finally, the date was set for my 4th trip to Chiang Saen!

On 12 April, my friends and I left Chiang Mai around 3:30am. We arrived in Chiang Rai around 6am and were welcomed with extremely heavy rain. It was raining so hard that I became worried that the bird might have left. Luckily, as we entered into Chiang Saen area, the rain had reduced into drizzle. It was 7:30am when we reached Nam Kham and was joined by Woraphot Bunkhwamdi who first recognized the bird in December. He said he just saw the bird singing loudly from the trail, so we were relieved that the bird hasn’t gone away.


Our first view of the bird, hopping out into the rain and singing



It was very actively singing and it looked really smart! Only some white shafts left on the throat.



You can see how wet the day was!

I was the one who went into the hide despite the drizzling rain. It was still quite dark and extremely wet. I even had to wear boots to get through the trail. Not to mention, there were tiny leeches along the way. As I went in, the bird was already singing next to the hide but didn’t come out from the bush. I waited for about 30 minutes listening to its song and the sound of the rain, then finally it slowly hopped out from the dark and stood next to the waterhole as usual. This time it was very actively singing and looking smarter than ever!

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This seemed to be its favourite perch for singing.

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The light was terrible and I had to push ISO higher than what I normally use. Lucky that this bird was unusually confiding even on the first day it was discovered making photography more bearable. Compared to my last visit, the bird came out more often and stayed around longer probably because the Siberian Rubythroat was already long gone. My friends came into the hide about an hour later and we all enjoyed its thrilling look completely different from what we saw in January and March.

Short video clip of the bird while singing its sweet warbling song in the rain


Dim light and the rain couldn’t stop the bird from singing from open perch!

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You can see how close it was!

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Among natural habitat with Khagra reeds (Phragmites karka), key plant species of Nam Kham wetlands

Rain kept falling throughout the morning while we were staying inside the hide watching the Firethroat. It began to get heavier around 9:30am and my friends decided to leave the hide and stayed inside the building at the entrance instead. I continued to stay at the hide until almost noon and was joined by Nick Diamond, a UK birder whom I’ve met once at Nam Kham last year. We both enjoyed a prolonged view of the bird after flying in from behind the hide and dropping right in the middle of the open ground as it often did. Before leaving, we saw it flying up to perch on reed top to sing then flew out.

Singing its sweet song in the middle of the rain

Funny moment when it seemed to be pecking for leftover meal worms or some other sort of food

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The rain finally stopped as we left around noon with big smile on our faces. It’s amazing to see how drastically it has transformed in such a short period of time. It looked stunning compared to when we first saw it. Just like the last visit, I didn’t think that I’d be coming to Nam Kham again since it seemed to me that the bird could migrate back to its breeding ground anytime. It had almost completed its moult and was very actively singing, so this could be my last time seeing it, but amazingly, I was wrong. Next post will put an end to this long series of photos and notes from my visits to Nam Kham for this male Firethroat and the last visit was also the most memorable one.

The Firethroat Tetralogy (2): 4-5 April 2015

After the successful visit to Nam Kham Nature Reserve on 4-5 March to photograph the first-winter male Firethroat, I didn’t think I would revisit the place to see the bird for the second time. However, on 27 March, Phil Round posted a couple of photos of the bird showing some signs of breeding feathers on the breast!

After that, birders continued to visit Nam Kham day by day posting photos of the bird showing its moulting progress. I was all hyped up and tried my best to find the time to visit the bird again. Finally, I could revisit Nam Kham on 4-5 April with my mum who recently started birding.

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We arrived at the hide around 11am and waited for the bird for about an hour when it finally hopped out from the dark undergrowth behind the waterhole and stayed around for few minutes before disappearing into the bush. It didn’t come out again for the next hour so we decided to leave for lunch instead. It looked totally different from when I last saw it just a month ago. The breast was fully on fire!

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The male Siberian Rubythroat was still showing as well and probably a bit too well. It came around to check the waterhole area more frequently than on my last visit. I guess meal worms were regularly put out making the rubythroat become more dominant in the area. It was also very actively singing both while perching in the middle storey and while standing on the ground.

What’s interesting was that on the next day, we didn’t see or hear the male rubythroat at all. Seems like it decided to migrate back to its breeding ground on the same day that we were watching it. It was quite a strange feeling to me to have watched it and then knowing that it has taken on its long journey on the very next day.

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On the following morning, we visited Nam Kham around 9am after some birding around Chiang Saen Lake. As we entered the hide, we were joined by two more birders who had never visited the place before. We chatted a bit and waited in silence for the Firethroat to come out. It was strangely quiet without the presence of the male Siberian Rubythroat. After a while, the Firethroat finally came out from behind the waterhole as usual. This time it decided to stay around in the open area in front of the hide for almost 5 minutes.

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Showing the white tail patch


The bird seemed to visit the hide more often during late morning. It showed up several times afterwards and stayed around longer than it did on the day before. It would either come out from behind the waterhole or fly in from behind the hide where it might be foraging along the track which leads to the hide. It also occasionally visit the waterhole to bathe but we were not lucky enough to see it bathing. At one point it was already sitting in the water but then decided to jump out instead. People told me that it would only begin to bathe when there were not too many people and not too noisy. We left the hide before 11am feeling satisfied with the result. Again, I thought that I wouldn’t have to visit the place again but as usual, I was wrong.

The Firethroat Tetralogy (1): 4-5 March 2015

Last Christmas, my friend Woraphot Bunkhwamdi made a big headline for birders in Thailand; he found what was then assumed to be a first-winter male Firethroat (Calliope pectardens) at Nam Kham Nature Reserve, Chiang Rai. Since there’s a big gap of knowledge about female and immature East Asian robins like Blackthroat, Firethroat and Rufous-headed Robin, we were not 100% sure about its identity, but experts including Phil Round and Andy Pierce who have ringed Firethroats in Bangladesh commented that it was most likely a Firethroat due to its buffish underparts including undertail coverts. If it really is a Firethroat, it would be the first record for Thailand.

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However, as the news broke out, it was later revealed that the bird was actually first seen and photographed by Suwanna Mookachonpan on 7 December 2014 but thought to be an odd Siberian Blue Robin despite the obvious white patch on tail base and dark coloured legs. Woraphot then caught and ringed the bird. Measurements seemed to fit well with Firethroat even though the differences are minimal between Firethroat and Blackthroat.

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Even though Firethroat is not considered to be as globally threatened as its close relative, Blackthroat which is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, it is considered to be Near Threatened due to habitat loss in its breeding ground in south China and is deemed to be very rare elsewhere. In south-east Asia, it was recorded from north Myanmar while majority of the population spend winter in Bangladesh and north-east India.


Male Siberian Rubythroat staying in the same area as the Firethroat

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First-winter male Firethroat


I made my first visit to Nam Kham to twitch for this rarity on the very first day of 2015. The bird was reported to be coming to an open area in front of the “Cettia Hide” located among the dense reed bed every morning. I arrived at the place just a little after 7am and went into the hide. About an hour and half as passed and there was no sign of the bird, I then left to join a group of birders who hired a boat to go around Chiang Saen Lake looking for ducks instead.

On the next morning, I arrived at Nam Kham around 6am and it was still completely dark. I went into the hide before the first ray of sunlight broke out. At 6.45, there it was, a darkish robin flew in from behind and dropped right in the middle of the open area in front of the hide! It was still very dark and I could barely fire a shot. The bird hopped around the open area for about a minute then flew out. It later came back again after a while. Interestingly, it didn’t seem to be slightly shy and would come around just a few metres from the hide but it was too dark for my camera to get a good shot.

My friends who were waiting outside the hide told me that it was also seen hopping along the open trail near the hide, so I came out and waited outside instead. At one point, the bird came perching just a few metres from where I was sitting but it was deep inside the bush so I could barely see it, but it was giving its loud alarming whistles before flying across the open trail and back to the hide. That was all for my first encounter with the Firethroat; without a single acceptable shot.

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I then returned to Nam Kham Nature Reserve again on 4-5 March 2015 hoping to get better views of the bird, and of course, to get some photos of it. Since the area also holds a male Siberian Rubythroat, a bird which often dominates the area once you start giving out meal worms, Dr. Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, the owner of Nam Kham Nature Reserve, kindly asked birders not to use meal worms at the hide fearing that the rubythroat would chase the Firethroat away. That was the case for the male White-tailed Rubythroat, another rarity and an icon of the nature reserve, which was found at the very same hide. People started to put out meal worms hoping to attract it, instead, it turned out that the Siberian Rubythroat became dominant over the area and chased away any bird that came close, not only the White-tailed Rubythroat.

We didn’t want the same thing to happen again, so the use of meal worms was kindly prohibited. However, we couldn’t control everyone. Meal worms seemed to have been used from time to time making both the Firethroat and rubythroat become more showy and visit the hide much more often than on my first visit. Good thing about it was that the amount and frequency of meal worms being put out were not too much and not too often, so the rubythroat didn’t really dominate the area like it did when meal worms were not controlled. Needless to say, I got much better photos of the Firethroat than on my last visit.

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Instead of coming to the hide even before sunrise like it did during the New Year, the Firethroat first made its appearance around 10am when the light was good enough to get some nice shots. It also stayed around longer and went back and forth several times before disappearing around noon. The Siberian Rubythroat was also seen coming to the hide frequently but didn’t seem to be very dominant. At one point, it was nearly chased by the Firethroat. That was interesting since the Firethroat is actually slightly smaller.

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On 5 March, I visited the hide around 2pm since there was pretty much nowhere else to go under the killing sun. Interestingly, the temperature inside the hide was quite cool. I lied around on the cool ground inside the hide for a while and was disturbed by the appearance of the Firethroat which came out to sunbathe! It sat still under the sun with its body feathers all fluffed up and wings and tail all spread. The moment was just magical. It sunbathed for over 5 minutes before disappearing into the bush.

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Another interesting behaviour of the Firethroat that I observed during my second visit was that it already started singing. Occasionally, it would perch on low branches and started to sing its subtle warbling song softly. I believe it would sing more loudly once it goes back to the breeding ground. It’s amazing to see how birds, particularly robins and chats, adjust the loudness of its voice while singing. I’ve also observed Daurian Redstarts singing softly during winter and much louder in spring.

Overall, it was a very successful visit and I was pleased to get these shots of the Firethroat. At that time, I thought I wouldn’t have to come back to Nam Kham again since I was pretty much satisfied with the results, but I did go back, and not just once but thrice! More to be explained in the next  3 posts.

Laem Pak Bia: 19 April 2015

I made a very short visit to Laem Pak Bia with my family on 19 April. It was the first time for me to shoot with my new Canon 7D Mark II. We arrived at the area quite late in the morning and the light was getting really strong. We first stopped at the royal project where birds are seen and photographed easily just from our car. As usual, birds were abundant and we had a good time inside the project for several hours.


Male ‘macronyx’ Eastern Yellow Wagtail

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Still hasn’t completed its moult



Common Sandpiper looking better in breeding season


As well as the Temminck’s Stint


Interestingly, there were lots of Indian Cormorants inside the project as well as in the salt pans nearby. I remember when I first started birding 15 years ago, it was a scarce and very local bird. Now, it can be found in good numbers around the inner gulf of Thailand including Khok Kham and Laem Pak Bia area. We also found a non-breeding Spot-billed Pelican, another species that used to be extremely rare in Thailand but has recently recovered.


Immature Indian Cormorant


Adult Indian Cormorant in non-breeding plumage



I always love the deep emerald iris.


Non-breeding Spot-billed Pelican


Little Cormorant almost in full breeding plumage


Big flock of Indian and Little Cormorants in a salt pan next to the project

Another abundant bird in the project was the Javan Pond Heron. Most of them have moulted into breeding plumage. In a good day, you can actually tick all 3 species of pond herons found in Thailand here within the royal project. Unfortunately, it was not one of those days. We found a few Chinese Pond Herons but none Indian Pond Heron was found.


Javan Pond Heron almost in full breeding plumage


Javan Pond Heron in breeding plumage


Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage


Whiskered Tern in full breeding plumage


This one still hasn’t finished the moult.


While this one had no sign of breeding plumage at all.


White-winged Tern was less common. This one has started to transform into breeding plumage.


More shots of the same Eastern Yellow Wagtail

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Fluffing it up!


There were also many terns foraging in over the ponds inside the project. Most of them were Whiskered Terns with few White-winged Terns. It seems that White-winged Terns are more abundant offshore while Whiskered Tern is a bird of inland and coastal waters. Most of them have begun to moult into breeding plumage and were photographed easily while resting on wooden poles around the ponds.

We stayed inside the project until around 11am and then left as it was getting too hot and the heat wave was preventing us from getting any clear shot.


One of the obliging Long-toed Stint in breeding plumage



Another individual with brighter plumage



This one seems to be a first-summer bird. Note the heavily worn wing coverts.

We made another very brief stop at a regular site for waders but there were not many waders left. Only a few Long-toed Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers and distant Spotted Redshanks were found. At least, the Long-toed Stints were coming really close to our car. We then left for lunch in Phetchaburi town and enjoyed the famous Khao-Chae (cooked rice in cold jasmine water), a dish best served in a hot summer day.

Suan Rot Fai: 26 April 2015

Suan Rot Fai (Wachira Benjathat Park) is probably the only good birding site in Bangkok accessible by public transportation. Following the news of a female Japanese Thrush, a rare migrant in Thailand, by David Gandy on Saturday, I made a brief visit to the park on Sunday morning.


Javan Pond Heron moulting into breeding plumage


The first male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher of the day


Adult Indian Roller


Immature Indian Roller begging to be fed

Only within 10 minutes after entering the park, I came across a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher near the area where Thailand’s first Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was found. This colourful bird had long been one of my bogey birds until the spell broke some years ago and now I see it every once in a while. A walk around the park didn’t produce anything much afterwards.


Female Japanese Thrush


Another male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher



The identity of Drongo Cuckoos in Thailand isn’t conclusive. This one could either be a Square-tailed or Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoo. Despite the names, the difference is only in millimetres.


Female Plaintive Cuckoo in hepatic morph

I later met David for the first time near the place where I initially found the flycatcher. He told me that the Japanese Thrush was still showing this morning but it was extremely skittish. We were later joined by Krit and Natthaphat who took me on a long walk around their usual birding spots. Later, David sent us a message saying that the thrush was now showing well. We quickly headed to the place where he was and as soon as we arrived, we spotted it foraging in the dark undergrowth in a bamboo grove. I didn’t put much effort on photographing it since I’ve seen and photographed this species several times before in Japan, but this is only my second time seeing it in Thailand.



Immature Indian Cuckoo enjoying the abundant worms and caterpillars


I was happy to get this shot showing the underwing pattern.

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Streak-eared Bulbul and the Golden Shower; look closer at the flowers, you’ll see what the birds were here for.


Another shot of the female Plaintive Cuckoo


An ugly Common Myna; I have no idea why it looked like this but it isn’t too unusual.

Next to the area where we watched the Japanese Thrush, there’s a flowering Golden Shower tree with lots of butterfly caterpillars and worms. The tree attracted many birds, particularly Streak-eared Bulbuls. A pair of male and female Yellow-rumped Flycatchers also visited the tree. Krit said that he saw an Indian Cuckoo coming to feed on caterpillars earlier in the morning but it was very shy. After Krit and David left, I decided to try and wait for the cuckoo. After a while, the Indian Cuckoo came dashing in. It seemed to be an immature bird judging from the rusty mottling feathers on neck sides and buffish fringes on the wings. Even though it was quite big, I could hardly get any clear views of it. Most of the time, it would hide among branches and leaves making photography very difficult. It stayed on the tree for over half an hour before flying out around 11am. It was also getting hot, so I decided to leave the park afterwards.


Wallcreeper is undoubtedly among the most unique birds of Asia and Europe. Being so different from any other birds, it is placed in its own family Tichodromadidae. In Thailand, it has only been recently found in 2012 at Phu Chi Fa, Chiang Rai by Thanarot Ngoenwilai and Manod Taengtum. This year, Rick Jacobs, a Belgian birder who lives in Chiang Rai encountered another bird at a road-side quarry on Highway No. 1129 connecting Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong district in January.



It was very actively feeding throughout the morning. Preys were mainly small insects living along the cracks.

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The brightly coloured wing patches are flashed constantly while foraging.

I was able to go and look for the bird on April 4th, almost 4 months after it was first seen. It was amazing and quite unexpected that the bird was still staying in the same area. Birders who have been there and saw the bird all mentioned about how friendly it was. This made me feel even more anticipated to see the bird even though I have seen it several times before in India.


It clearly didn’t care much about human presence!



In flight, it shows very broad and rounded wings with rather slow and graceful wing beat. The bright scarlet upperwings make it look beautiful and almost moth-like in flight.


A view of the quarry where the bird was found



It constantly flashed the bright wing patches while foraging.


I reached the quarry around 7.30 AM and met 2 other friends who were already there photographing the bird. It was first seen climbing really high up on the western slope of the quarry. We waited and the bird decided to fly down to the ground behind us. I was amazed by how confiding it was. It allowed us to approach and photograph at really close range, just like what many other birders said.


Behind the scene: In order to get these shots, I ran uphill and waited for the bird to climb up to me and it really was worth it. Photo © Wiroj Onganunkun


Looking for insects under the rocks and along the cracks

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It sometimes even cling along branches.



Enjoying an unidentifiable meal



I really like how it flashes the wings, looking very insect-like.

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It foraged on the western slope of the quarry under the warm morning light for about 15 minutes then flew off to the shady eastern slope. We then temporarily lost track of the bird. After a quite time-consuming scan through the eastern slope, I finally relocated it hopping along the open rocky ground. As earlier, it allowed me to approach and follow it while it’s creeping up the slope.

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Very moth-like both in shape and pattern

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Some people have been speculating on whether this bird can be aged or sexed. Phil Round suggested that it’s a first-winter bird judging from the heavily worn tertials (adults should be slightly less worn, but the difference may be difficult to judge). Hayman & Hume’s Complete Guide to the Birds Life of Britain & Europe (2001) mentions that female has slimmer bill than male’s. However, after going through photos on the net, I still don’t think it is very useful for the identification.

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Showing the normally hidden outer tail feathers which has the same pattern as what is labelled as “outer tail of adult male” in Hayman & Hume’s guide.

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At one point, the tail was spread and showed the normally concealed outer tail feathers with broad white tips. The pattern fits to what is illustrated and labelled as “outer tail of adult male” in the Hayman & Hume’s guide. The plate, however, doesn’t go on and say if female’s would be different. I guess we would have to leave the sexing and aging of this bird inconclusive for now, until we know more about it.