Three weeks in Thailand 3. Shorebirds


After our return to Bangkok the next day would be the day of the shorebirds. We drove SSW out of Bangkok, close to the Gulf of Siam, through an area that now primarily seemed to be in use as salt-fields. Lots of people worked on the field, their most colourful clothes giving a bit of colour to the otherwise mostly black and white scenery; the people carried heavy loads of salt, seemingly just from A to B, often from a myriad of smaller piles to a much larger one. It was a hot day, and it must have been exceedingly hot and heavy work. Black-winged Stilts were very common here; their long legs allow them to exploit lagoons with more water than the other shorebirds.

initially, at our first stop, I was somewhat disappointed, as most of the shorebirds here were far away, and we had to look at them throught the telescope. A new swiflet, German’s Swiftlet, overhead, compensated: birders are never downhearted for long! But later when we walked along the narrow dams, and in to the area ourselves, we got much much better views, in the afternoon also in wonderful light. And this is a paradise for shorebirds!

Large numbers of dainty Marsh Sandpipers, and the somewhat confusing Greater and Lesser Sandplovers dot the lagoons, Curlew Sandpipers stand to their bellies in the water, while Red-necked Stints dribble around and Kentish Plovers run around, often along the dikes. We had the great pleasure here of the assistance of local guru Mr Tee, who knows these lagoons like the back of his hand, and he knew also a place where we could find and admire one of the grand prizes of any Thailand trip, the enigmatic and rapidly decreasing Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Somehow I had expected these birds not to be quite so small as they turned out to be; but we could see them well, and admire their strange spoonbill at length. In my youth I have participated in Holland in annual camps studying ‘Shorebirds and Bottom fauna’ (where I was the bottomfauna specialist while my bird observations always were received with a cetain scepticism by my ornithologist colleagues), and I tried therefore hard to see, whether these birds used their very specialized-looking bill in any special way—but I could discover nothing of the kind: the birds seem to obtain most of their food by surface picking and very shallow drilling.

Nor were these the only shorebirds here. I have never seen so many Broad-billed Sandpipers in one place, Great Knots were present in some numbers, somewhere a large flock of Eurasian Curlews flew in, and a little later a smaller flock of Terek Sandpipers whistled past. Common Greenshanks were indeed quite coomon., but Common Redshanks few and far between, even outnumbered by the still winter-pale Spotted Redshanks, as usual foraging in quite deep water. Here and there a Grey Plover, looking dispirited as always, a small group of the long-billed Barred Godwits, a lone Dunlin, already with its summer black-belly patch, and a few Ruffs, those still in full winter plumage. We also found one or two Turnstones and even a single Sanderling, far from its beloved sandy beaches

Of special interest for me were the Long-toed Stints, which I only ever had seen on their breeding marshes in Siberia; they turned out to be quite easy to identify, darker and ‘more upright’ than the Red-necked Stints. And a completely new bird for me was Nordmann’s Greenshank, a very light-coloured bird, and clearly different from the larger and sturdier Common Greenshank.

Whiskered Terns and Brown-hooded Gulls were the common larids here, but there were also a few Little and Common Terns, and mr Tee found us even an immaculate Slender-billed Gull. White-throated and Collared Kingfishers hunted from the wires, and of course the salt ponds also hold the usual herons, egrets and pond-herons; here we saw our first Javan Pond Heron in almost summer plumage, and a Black-crowned Night Heron in one of the few mangrove stands left; these also held the sweet-voiced little songbird that one can call either the poetic Golden-bellied Gerygone or the definitely more prozaic Flyeater. A very dark Peregrine flew lazily overhead.

We proceeded to an excellent seafood restaurant, where a dream came true for me, as they had a large tank with horseshoe crabs. I have since found that this is Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda, the Mangrove Horseshoe Crab, one of the only 4 species of extant horseshoe crabs, a group that are true ‘living fossils’, the rests of a once mighty and dominant animal group in the seas.

We had still another adventure to come this day, a boat trip to the by now famous sandspit of Laem Pak Bin. We started through the mangroves, not finding any rails, but in an area full of fiddler crabs, large mangrove crabs and mud skippers. As soon as we came out of the mangrove, we found many egrets on a mudbank, one of them an unmistakable representative of the quite uncommon Chinese Egret, again one of the birds everybody had hoped to see here. A lone Whimbrel also added to the impressive day list of shorebirds. We motored on to the sandspit, where a large group of loafing terns contained both Crested, Lesser Crested and Caspian Terns. Crested Terns followed our boat and hunted the small fish (probably Halfbeaks Hemirhamphus, that skittered over the surface in the shallower areas). On the sandbank itself, where I as always was heavily distracted by all the shells, Sepia-shields and other marine animals (Once a marine biologist , always a marine biologist), all attention otherwise was on the famous plovers of this sandspit, the uncommon Malaysian Plover and the only recently rediscovered White-faced Plover Charadrius dealbatus. These were duly found, and we could admire them in peace. Sanderlings ran along the waterline, and a few Eastern Reef Herons completed our heron list.

A very rich and long day, ending at the most luxurious hotel of the entire trip, in Hue Bin (Even so, we all got a present in our rooms, with the cmanagement’s excuses for not having us in an even more luxurious place!)

The last bit will be about the Kaen Krachang park, our last experience.

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum

9037 Tromsø, Norway ===============================

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1 comment to Three weeks in Thailand 3. Shorebirds

  • Graham Buchan

    Great stuff as always, Wim!


    Graham Buchan


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