Turnix suscitator ‘blakistoni’?

Yesterday morning saw me visiting my local patch, Cho Lae since very early morning. I intended to look for snipes and other migrants which might show up around the open, recently ploughed plots close to the road which had been attracting some interesting birds. However, I found only 1 “Swintail” snipe which flew out quickly and didn’t come back after I tried to approach and no new nor interesting migrant. I did, however, find a nice pair of Barred Buttonquails feeding in the open ground along with Spotted and Zebra Doves. The pair was generous enough to let me approach with my car slowly until I was only about 10 metres away from them.

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First view of the Barred Buttonquails pair feeding with a Spotted Dove

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Then I could get some really nice close up views. Here’s the female.

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Female shows large black patch on throat and breast.

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Male lacks the large black patch but has slightly more rufous-tinged upperparts.

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The female showing the back side. Note bluish-grey legs which have no hind toe.

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I photographed the pair as they moved along the open ground and disappeared into thick dry grass, then I realised that there was another female Barred Buttonquail calling from the other side of the road. Then, funnily, I spotted a lone male came running hopelessly across the vast area of open ground looking for the calling female. It took me quite a while to finally spot the calling female. Turned out it was standing pretty close to the car.

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The second female Barred Buttonquail; possibly ssp. blakistoni

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Note the more rufous upperparts, particularly on the hind neck.

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The neck is inflated when calling, a very interesting behaviour to watch.

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Another shot showing the back side which is noticeably more rufous than other female Barred Buttonquails I’ve seen in Thailand.

After checking photos that I took of the second female bird, I was curious to see how the upperparts seem to be noticeably more rufous than the first female, particularly on the hind neck. The first female, similar to any other female Barred Buttonquails that I’ve photographed in northern Thailand (subspecies T. s. thai), showed greyish-brown hind neck and colder brown upperparts than the second female.

According to Craig Robson’s guide to birds of Thailand and South-East Asia, the subspecies T. s. blakistoni, which has been recorded in NW Thailand and found in northern Indochina, has more rufous-chestnut above and buffier below in both sexes than the subspecies thai which is the most widespread subspecies in Thailand. It looks very much like the second female belongs to this taxon.

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The ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail while calling

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It even stopped and posed for a while before continuing to walk further along the corn field. Note the pale buffish wing coverts contrasting greatly to the dark flight feathers and darker, more rufous scapulars and mantle.

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Showing the plain underwing coverts. Not sure if the underparts are more buffish as described by Robson.

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Again, showing a nice profile view

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Right: most likely subspecies blakistoni; left: subspecies thai. Note the more rufous-chestnut hind neck and upperparts in blakistoni and colder greyish-brown in thai.

I checked images of female Barred Buttonquails photographed in Thailand that I have collected and found that nearly none of them show the same shade of rufous-brown upperparts as in the second female that I saw, except for one (probably immature) odd-looking female from Chiang Rai. This individual from Chiang Rai also shows very buffish underparts including the breast, similar to what Robson describes.

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Most likely another ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail from Chiang Rai. Black markings on the throat suggest female-type, probably an immature. No idea why it has much more black markings on the head and upperparts than usual though. Photo by Wattana Choaree.

While I was watching the second female walking further away into the corn field, it suddenly stopped and began to fluff its feathers up and spread the wings to make itself look bigger. Out of the blue, an immature Long-tailed Shrike dropped in to catch the buttonquail. Luckily, the buttonquail was slightly faster and flushed quickly before the shrike could grab it. I was stunned by the scene as I never thought a shrike would be brave enough to prey on buttonquails which are roughly about the same size or even larger than the shrike itself.

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Fluffing up to make itself look bigger before the shrike dropped in!

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The foolishly brave immature Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor) that tried to catch buttonquails. Note pale juvenal feathers on the crown and dark scales on mantle.

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Another stunned male Barred Buttonquail which was flushed by the shrike.

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A closer look of the immature Long-tailed Shrike

The shrike didn’t just stop there. It then flew to the other side of the fields where the first pair of buttonquails was staying. It perched briefly on a look-out branch then swooped down quickly on the grassy area where a pair of Barred Buttonquails immediately flushed up and fled in different directions. Another lone male buttonquail also flushed and landed shortly on the open ground nearby. It looked completely stunned and seemed undecided whether to run for cover or try its best to stay still. Finally, it slowly crept into the grass and stay under the shades until the shrike decided to move further away. It was such an exciting and very interesting scene to witness!

Khao Yai: 15 September 2015

I made a short visit to Khao Yai National Park with my family on September 15. We first drove up to Khao Kheow check point since very early morning hoping to find some pheasants along the way but we saw exactly zero bird. It was a very dark overcast morning but birds were better than I expected around the check point. The reason was pretty obvious, the surrounding trees were full of moths that were attracted by lights from the check point.

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The first bird to show up at the check point was this male Blyth’s Shrike-babbler which was calling from a pine tree not far from where I parked. Not sure which subspecies it was but it seemed to have darker grey throat and underparts than the one I’m familiar with in the north-west.

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Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike was among the friendliest birds up here. Here’s a female perching almost at eye-level.

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Here she caught a nice-looking moth for breakfast.

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A rather friendly pair of Red-headed Trogons was attracted by the moths around the check point too. Here’s the stunning male.

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The subspecies found here as described in literature is ‘klossi’. Not really sure how it differs from any other subspecies but I noticed that it has very restricted white breast band.

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The female was even more confiding! Also note how the red on underparts seems to less saturated than in the male.

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You can’t really hide with such colour!

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Pin-striped Tit-babblers were also numerous. It’s one of the common birds which I haven’t got any decent photos.

The star of the morning was a rather friendly pair of Red-headed Trogons which came around the check point looking for moths just like many other small birds. At times, they would come perch really close and at eye-level but were always easily flushed, so it wasn’t too easy to photograph them. Other birds that came around the check point included Black-throated Laughingthrush, Hill Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Erpornis, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Common Green Magpie, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.

I also spotted Kloss’s Leaf Warbler twice joining a fast-moving mixed species flock but couldn’t manage to take any photo of it. In case you wonder what it looks like, visit this blog entry. I also found a few interesting migrants including this season’s first Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Dark-sided Flycatchers and several Pacific Swifts. My dad also found a single Tiger Shrike.

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We came across this male Red Junglefowl was standing motionlessly on the roadside while leaving Khao Kheow. It was on its way moulting out of the eclipse plumage.

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Interestingly, we found a small flock of 4 Grey-headed Lapwings! I never expect to find this species up here in Khao Yai before.

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There was only 1 adult (middle) with 3 other immatures.

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The adult showed traces of black breast patch which was lacking in the immatures.

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Scratching!

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Unlike most lapwings/plovers, Grey-headed Lapwing has short but clearly visible hind toe!

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It also deploys the walk-stop-look-snatch technique used so frequently among most lapwings and plovers.

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Regularly checking for danger from above

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Immature Grey-headed Lapwing is a neat bird with clean brownish-grey plumage. Note how it lacks the adult’s black breast patch.

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The last view of the flock before they all disappeared.

But the biggest surprise of the day was a flock of 4 Grey-headed Lapwings foraging on the open lawn near a helicopter landing pad next to Nong Khing reservoir. At first glance, I thought they were Red-wattled Lapwings which are so abundant in the area but then I noticed the yellow bill and plain greyish head. Normally, I wouldn’t expect to see this species up here in Khao Yai but anything can happen during the migration period. One of the birds was an adult with traces of black breast band, while others were immature. Surprisingly, they were very cooperative and allowed me to approach at a very close range even for a 300mm lens unlike any other Grey-headed Lapwings I’ve seen.

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Black-winged Kite sitting and looking out for prey on a distant tree

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One of the many Red-wattled Lapwings. They all showed variable amount of white on the chin, probably a sign of non-breeding plumage?

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Female Sambar Deer at Kong Kaew Campsite

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Male Sambar Deer happily feeding in the drizzling rain

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Long-tailed Shrike subspecies ‘longicaudatus’

We birded until around 11am when it began to rain and didn’t stop at all, so we decided to leave around 1:30pm. Before driving back to Bangkok, we stopped by at Pak Pli briefly and managed to find a single male Asian Golden Weaver and a nice ‘longicaudatus’ Long-tailed Shrike sitting alone in the rain.

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.

Failed Mision

On 26 August 2015, I decided to go and twitch for the Blue-breasted Quail, a very scarce bird that recently showed up in Suphan Buri. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough. The bird didn’t show up at all at the stake out from dawn to dusk. At least, I’ve got photos of some nice birds that I haven’t photographed before.

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The first male Rain Quail calling from open dirt track

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When seen from behind, the plumage blends well with dry grass.

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Black-winged Kite hovering with flock of Feral Pigeons in the background

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Another calling male Rain Quail showing the unmistakable black breast patch

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The area was largely corn and sugar cane plantation with Kraseo Reservoir in the east. It was actually quite birdy in the morning. Before sunrise, many Large-tailed Nightjars were seen along the way into the plantation. Rain Quails were literally calling from every direction. The first male that I saw was even standing and calling from an open dirt track in the middle of corn plantation.

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This was the most cooperative male Rain Quail that I’ve seen.

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I really like its black and white facial pattern.

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It has a loud unmistakable call consisting of 2 hight pitched notes.

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Various calling position of the male Rain Quail

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The same male while foraging in roadside vegetation

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Showing the cryptic pattern on the back

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Despite occasionally coming out to call in the open, it can disappear very quickly into the grass where its upperparts pattern blends in very well with the surroundings.

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Probably an immature male showing scattered black markings on the breast

There were more than 10 Rain Quails in just a small area where I parked my car. One of the males were more cooperative than the others. It showed up very well and even called in the open for few minutes. I didn’t take any video of the bird since I was photographing it hand-held, but you can see how it’s like when calling in this video taken at Huai Mai Teng Reservoir, Ratchaburi. Seems like this species strongly prefers grasslands near large water bodies.

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Habitats where Rain Quails and other birds were found.

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One of several Yellow-eyed Babblers

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Showing the backside

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Other birds that were also seen including a noisy flock of Yellow-eyed Babblers, lots of Red Avadavats, Paddyfield Pipits, 2 Black-winged Kites, Golden-headed and Zitting Cisticolas, Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and a Long-tailed Shrike (subspecies ‘longicaudatus‘).

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The subspecies ‘longicaudatus’ of Long-tailed Shrike is an endemic to the central plains of Thailand. It is recently going through a serious decline due to an unconfirmed cause, most likely habitat loss. In the past, it can be found throughout Bangkok but has now become nearly extinct. Every record of this subspecies is now being collected, so I was very glad to see one in this area.

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Female Rain Quail visiting the stake out intended for the Blue-breasted Quails

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It was trying its best to ‘stay low’. Instead of walking with its head up, it was always squatting tightly close to the ground.

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There was almost no bird coming to the stake out except for one female Rain Quail which showed up for several minutes at noon before, as the name suggests, heavy rain arrived. It reminded me of why I like the name “Rain Quail” a lot. It implies so much about this bird. In places where this remarkable species is found, they start to appear as soon as the monsoon season starts. Under the overcast weather, their unmistakable calls can be heard throughout the day like insects. Females can be more tricky to see and photograph because they don’t come out to call in the open. At least, I got to photograph both sexes nicely so it wasn’t a completely waste of a trip.

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Before leaving the area, I found a flock of Oriental Pratincoles coming to roost in new corn plantation. Most of them were first-winter birds and some adults in non-breeding plumage.

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Pratincoles and the dog!

Doi Ang Khang: 21 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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Male Burmese Nuthatch

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Female Burmese Nuthatch

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

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

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Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor)

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A colourful male Grey-chinned Minivet

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And the more confiding female

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

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Male Stripe-breasted Woodpecker

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

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Himalayan Swiftlet showing striking long tail

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Showing the pale rump patch which seems to be very variable

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Note longish wings and tail

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Cook’s Swift

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

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

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The skulking Aberrant Bush Warbler

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

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

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Immature Thick-billed Flowerpecker

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

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A funny looking immature Ruddy-breasted Crake

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Female Common Kestrel

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Adult Peregrine Falcon (ssp. calidus)

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

Doi Ang Khang: 12 October 2014

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

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The road to Ban Arunothai just before sunrise

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The peaceful atmosphere around Doi Ang Khang foothill

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Adult Crested Serpent Eagle (ssp. burmanicus)

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Silhouette of a lone Rufous-winged Buzzard

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They also like to perch together in a loose group.

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Another view of a different Rufous-winged Buzzard

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

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

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More landscape shots along the way to Ban Arunothai

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

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

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A confiding Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor)

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An unusually tame male Burmese Shrike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Showing the pale reddish rump

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

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One of the many Black Bulbuls (ssp. concolor)

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

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

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Greenish Warbler was abundant!

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

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

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A relatively grey-crowned Yellow-browed Warbler

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

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Note the white fringes on tertials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A fork-tailed swift? No.

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Never thought that it could resemble an Apus swift!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A colourful male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

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

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

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A very confiding juvenile Grey-backed Shrike

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One of the two Buff-throated Warblers

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Adult Mountain Hawk Eagle

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

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

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First time for me getting 2 birds in one frame.

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They were also quite curious!

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Early Winter At Doi Lang

On September 10, I had a chance to visit Doi Lang, one of the major birding sites in Chiang Mai. I was hoping to see some interesting early arrivals but it didn’t turn out to be a quite productive day. We started from the San Ju side. The weather was just perfect. The sky was clear and calm. It was one of the most beautiful mornings, but it was also perfectly silent. I totally had no idea where had all the birds gone.

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The landscape of San Ju area looks incredibly similar to Doi Chiang Dao.

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A view towards the valley. I just love the fresh atmosphere of late rainy season/early winter.

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And this was taken along the way from Fang to San Ju hill.

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In the mist, we came across 2 Oriental Turtle-Doves, a pretty scarce residence that is more frequently seen at Doi Lang than any other places that I know.

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It was extremely quiet. Apart from the above turtle-doves and this juvenile male Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, we didn’t see anything much. So we decided to drive further to the old side of Doi Lang.

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After we passed the San Ju military checkpoint, we found this obliging Long-tailed Shrike (race ‘tricolor’ with pale grey upper mantle) and decided to enjoy taking photos of it even though it is such a common bird in northern Thailand.

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Luckily, birds started to become more active as we moved further towards the old side. This male Barred Cuckoo Dove was calling from the road side. The female was also nearby but we didn’t manage to see it before it flew away. We also came across a small bird wave consisting of a female Clicking Shrike-Babbler, Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Yellow-browed Tits, Chestnut-vented Nuthatches and a pair of Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds.

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I also found these 2 male Little Pied Flycatchers aggressively chasing each other.

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We made a stop at the open grassy area which has become one of the major stops for birding at Doi Lang. There was a small family group of Chestnut-capped Babblers which showed up briefly before flushing away. A pair of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babblers was also perching on a bare tree preening and drying themselves. There was also a small group of White-browed Scimitar-Babblers passing by as well.

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Then we moved on to the Pha Hom Pok military camp and I decided to spend some time walking around the area. I came across a shy male Snowy-browed Flycatcher and several Golden-throated Barbets. One of them was perching on a pretty low branch.

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A pair of Striated Bulbuls was also seen perching on bare treetop trying to dry themselves. This is one of the common birds that are really difficult to get a decent photo of, so I was pleased to get these shots.

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After a while, things got really quiet so I walked back to the military camp and there I found these 2 Scarlet-faced Liocichlas coming out to get some rice put out by another friend of mine. The soldiers at the camp also regularly put out some leftover rice and fruits for these birds as well, so they have become much familiar with human beings.

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Even though they are extremely tame and easy to see and photograph, I don’t think I can get tired of those colours.

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A pair of Dark-baked Sibias also joined the feast later on. They are like the Oriental Magpie Robins of montane forest.

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More Scarlet-faced Liocichlas. I later found out that they were raising another 2 fully fledged chicks that were hiding in the nearby bush.

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How close do want it to be?

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After getting hundreds of photos of the liocichlas, we then moved on by driving back to San Ju area. Along the way, we came across a fruiting tree where several Golden-throated Barbets were visiting.

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I was later informed that the fruit is called Tetrastigma serrulatum and the barbets could only eat the ripe blackish ones because the unripe fruits are extremely hard.

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Then it got interesting when a new barbet entered the tree. I snapped few shots before it later moved into the thicker vines. From the plumage, it looked like an integration between the subspecies ‘franklinii’ and ‘ramsayi’. The problem is that, so far, we know that only ‘ramsayi’ occurs in north-western Thailand (Chiang Mai, Mae Wong NP, etc.) and ‘franklinii’ only occurs in the north-eastern (Nan, Loei, etc.) area.

However, I later found several other photos of the similar barbets taken also at Doi Lang and this kind of bird hasn’t been photographed from any other mountains in northern Thailand. Indeed, there are few other species at Doi Lang including Striated Yuhina and Grey-breasted Parrotbill that show some integrated characteristics of the north-western and north-eastern subspecies. It’s certainly interesting to investigate further on this topic.

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Many small bird waves were found along the way back to San Ju area. This male Yellow-cheeked Tit was also joining one of the waves but decided to spend almost 5 minutes singing on this branch allowing me to get some pretty nice shots.

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Then I heard the unmistakable soft, hight-pitched calls coming along the wave and there they were, the incredibly lovely Black-throated Tits.

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There were about 10-15 birds in the flock. Even though they came really close at times, it was extremely difficult to get a decent shot because they were extremely fast.

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This one got a spider for lunch! It’s interesting to see how such tiny bill can catch a spider that big.

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Catching a camouflaging worm! They surely have extremely sharp eyesight!

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Who wouldn’t fall in love with such cute and tiny little creature!

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And those were pretty much all the acceptable shots that I got of this incredibly fast moving bird. Will need to come back and take some more for sure!

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Big surprise! We came across a pair of Yellow-throated Martens as we were reaching San Ju military check point. Too bad, I couldn’t manage to get any good shot of them.

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We passed San Ju hill and it was still really quiet. As we were reaching Fang, we had a nice view of this Crested Goshawk soaring right above our head and that was the last bird that I photographed for the day.