Pak Pli: 23 May 2015

I’ve heard of Pak Pli fields in Nakhon Nayok for so long, but haven’t got the chance to visit the place until 23 May 2015. The area holds one of the biggest roost for Black Kites in Thailand including both the migratory lineatus and the nationally endangered govinda races. The place also serves as winter ground for the scarce Rosy Pipit and Thailand’s first Greater Short-toed Lark was also recorded here in 2013.

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One of the abundant Oriental Skylarks performing its song flight over the colourful grassland

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Asian Golden Weavers were nesting along the small irrigation canal. Here’s a brightly coloured male.

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Female lacks the bright golden plumage, but is still a pretty smart bird.

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Male Cinnamon Bittern trying to blend into the surroundings.

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Another pair of Cinnamon Bitterns; male on top and female bottom

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Soaring male Red Turtle Dove

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Bronze-winged Jacanas were quite common along the roadside canals, but proved to be difficult to get good shots of.

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I left Bangkok very early in the morning and arrived at the area around 7AM. It was a very birdy morning. Songbirds were singing from literally every direction, particularly the larks. Oriental Skylark was the most abundant species, followed by Indochinese Bush Lark and Horsfield’s Bush Lark being the least abundant. The road leading into the field was aligned by a small irrigation canal which was filled with Asian Golden Weavers‘ nests. They could be photographed extremely easily just from the car.

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A pair of Bronze-winged Jacanas; note how small the male (bottom) is compared to the larger female

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White-breasted Waterhen was also seen foraging along the canal.

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A pair of Lesser Whistling Ducks

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Adult Black Kite race M. m. govinda, a rare resident in Thailand

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Note the lack of large whitish patch on base of primaries and yellow cere and feet

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Another adult govinda Black Kite perching on a Eucalyptus tree.

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A flying over Oriental Darter

The dirt road that goes around a large area of grassland, rice fields and Eucalyptus plantation is also aligned by small canals with lush Lepironia grass. Many birds were seen along the canals including many Bronze-winged Jacanas, White-breasted Waterhens, Plain Prinias, Zitting Cisticolas, Javan Pond Herons, Lesser Whislting Ducks and Cinnamon Bitterns.

Several Black Kites were seen perching and patrolling over the fields. They were all M. m. govinda which is a resident and nationally endangered bird in Thailand. Pak Pli is most likely the largest stronghold of this declining taxon. In winter, they come to roost altogether along with the migratory M. m. lineatus of which some authors split as Black-eared Kite. According to the Thai Raptor Group, 1,998 lineatus and 101 govinda Black Kites were counted at this roost on 22 November 2014.

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Striated Grassbird was one of the commonest birds and one of the most vocal.

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Striated Grassbird proudly performing its loud melodious song in flight

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It’s much harder to spot them while foraging through thick grass.

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I was glad to come across a lone Long-tailed Shrike race longicaudatus, another endangered bird of the central plains.

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Paddyfield Pipit with nesting materials

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The least abundant lark in the area, Horsfield’s Bush Lark

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Great (or White-vented) Mynas like to follow buffalo herds and prey on insects that are disturbed by the animals.

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Little Cormorants were seen easily along the road.

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I was really surprised to come across this male Watercock moulting into breeding plumage standing in the open completely unaware of my presence.

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It stood motionlessly for a while, probably undecided about what to do nest, before slowly walked further into the open field and across the road into a small canal on the other side.

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Then it behaved like a normal Watercock i.e. always hiding in thick vegetation.

At one point, I felt like there should Watercocks since the habitat looked so good for this species which is one of my favourite birds. Suddenly, I actually came across an unbelievably showy male Watercock standing motionlessly on the open ditch next to the road. It didn’t flush as the car approached but stood still for a moment before walking into a canal on the other side. I have no idea why it was behaving like that since it is normally an extremely shy bird. But as it went into the canal, it began to act more like a normal Watercock and didn’t show up again.

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Many Oriental Skylarks were feeding in the newly ploughed fields.

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Most of the birds were in worn plumage.

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When birds were quiet, Asian Golden Weavers were always there for me.

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Female at the active nest

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Oriental Pratincoles were also abundant but difficult to approach.

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Juvenile following and begging for food from its parent

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But it was sad to see rows of mist nets over a large fish pond. Many birds were trapped in the nets and they weren’t even fish eaters; for example, this poor Oriental Pratincole.

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On the other hand, this fish-eating Whiskered Tern seemed to be well aware of the nets and successfully avoided them. There were some 6-7 of these terns flying around over the pond. They’re probably over-summering in Thailand.

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Striated Grassbird singing against the drizzling rain

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Intermediate Egret against the many coloured grassland

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One of several Oriental Skylarks that decided to forage on the road

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There were many lotuses in the canals. Here’s the sweet coloured Sacred Lotus.

Asian Golden Weavers

After finding the nesting site of the Asian Golden Weavers for the first time in this post, I discovered another small nesting colony right by the main road on July 13th. It’s hard to believe how they have stayed undiscovered until now. I saw 4 males perching on branch tops and located 2 active nests.

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Male Asian Golden Weaver

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The recently weaved nest on the right.

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One of the 2 active nests. Note the brush-like grass on the right, that’s the entrance to the nest.

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Male bird with another recently started nest.

From the road, I could observe 2 males easily while another 2 were hidden in the tall giant mimosa trees. Each of the male was already having a completely weaved and active nest, which the female occasionally visited, but they still kept weaving new ones. Each of them seemed to have started at least 2 other new nests.

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Female bird looks totally different from her stunning plumaged partner.

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Female bird feeding the chicks inside the nest. Unfortunately, this nest later disappeared for reasons unknown.

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Another female of a different nest looking a bit scruffier.

One of the females was actively feeding the chicks inside the nest, while another female still seemed to be incubating. Few days later, the nest with chicks disappeared from the branch. I have no idea what happened. It could be some kind of predators, most likely snake, which attacked the nest and made it fall into the water underneath.

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Food was not far away. Here’s one of the males enjoying his meal.

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Whenever the females came back to the nests, the male birds went crazy. They’d constantly give exciting call while fanning and flapping their wings and tails. Sometimes they’d get so excited, they’d fly and jump around the females.

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Otherwise, they had very little activities. They’d spend their time resting, then eat a little bit and sometimes continued weaving new nests.

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New Hot Spot

I was recently informed about a particular area of paddy fields which seems to be good for birding. The area is just about 15 minutes from my house, so on July 11, I paid a visit and was greatly surprised about how good the birds were.

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Adult (top) and juvenile (bottom) Blue-tailed Bee-eater

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Juvenile Blue-tailed Bee-eater with prey

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Flocks of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters welcomed me as I drove along the muddy track which leads through the fields. These birds are breeding visitors in northern Thailand and are normally quite shy. I’ve never had a chance to photograph them nicely before. Surprisingly, they were quite tame here as you can see from the photos which I took right from my driving seat.

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Adult (left) and juvenile (right) Blue-tailed Bee-eater

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Juvenile Blue-tailed Bee-eater

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There were many exposed branches which were perfect for bee-eaters to perch on and were also perfect for photography. I don’t remember finding Blue-tailed Bee-eaters which are this easy to photograph before.

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Male Cinnamon Bittern in ‘bitterning posture’

Bitterns were also numerous, particularly Cinnamon Bittern which I saw constantly flying across the fields. One of the males was feeding by the roadside and as I stopped my car to photograph, it immediately did the ‘bitterning posture’ trying to camouflage as dry grass. Obviously, it failed. Another species of bittern which was seen was the Yellow Bittern which was less common.

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Male Asian Golden Weaver

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Then I spotted a bright yellow bird flashing up from the grass. I was stunned to see that it was a male Asian Golden Weaver in full breeding plumage. This bird is a new comer for Chiang Mai since there had been no record of it until the last 3-4 years when few stray individuals turned up in different places.

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Female Asian Golden Weaver

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The surprise didn’t end there. It turned out that there were at least another 4 pairs of them building nests along the canal which parallels the road. It’s interesting to see that they have started to build up the population.

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Because the nests were built on low hanging branches along the canal, it was really easy to photograph them. I could just photograph them from my car. They were much easier to photograph than their native relative, the Baya Weaver, which has the taste of nesting on tall trees. There was a big nesting colony of Baya Weavers on a coconut tree nearby as well.

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Male Red Avadavat in non-breeding plumage

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Female Red Avadavat

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Non-breeding male (top) and female (bottom) Red Avadavat

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Female Red Avadavat

Then out of the blue, a pair of Red Avadavats showed up right where I was photographing the weavers. They seemed to be looking for nesting materials. Too bad the male was still in non-breeding plumage, so it was not as colourful as it is when in full breeding plumage.

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Then I spotted a male Greater Painted-snipe landing in a rice field in front of where I was parking. I quickly drove to the area where it landed and found it sitting on an open lump of straws. It didn’t seem to be much disturbed by the car as it slowly stood up and walked down to the water and stayed there until I decided to move on to photograph other birds. The call of the females were heard constantly throughout the area too but I couldn’t locate any.

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Then before I decided that it was too dark and I should get going, I heard a booming and croaking call of the male Watercock coming from my left. As I looked out for the source of the call, I immediately spotted a large blackish bird standing among the swaying green grass. It was such a beautiful scene that I missed so much. I haven’t seen this bird in my local patch for so many years. Last year, I didn’t even hear its call. I decided to drive a little closer to the bird but it disappeared into the grass. I waited for a while but it didn’t show up again. Two other males showed up flying across the fields as I was waiting though. It was a perfect ending for my first visit to this new hot birding spot which I’ll sure be visiting very often from now on.