Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Visiting Pittas!

Wet season visitors!

The dry season of the year, Nov – March, sees a great influx of western tourists to Thailand as well as thousands upon thousands of migrating birds, fleeing the cold Northern Hemisphere. Once winter in Siberia and Northern China has ended these birds return to their breeding grounds. This migration follows a North – South, South – North pattern. Some of the migrating species simply pass through Thailand and continue on to the Islands of Indonesia whereas others settle for the ‘winter’.

This time of year, Nov– March , also sees a steady stream of foreign bird watchers visiting Thailand to not only see the resident birds but the added bonus of many a sought after bird from Northern Asia.

Then in April, when migratory birds have left and with them the foreign visiting bird watching community, something exciting happens. In a reverse migratory pattern the Blue-winged Pitta and the Hooded Pitta start to inhabit many a forested area of Thailand.
Where do they come from?
They leave their feeding grounds of Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia to come and breed in Thailand where during the wet season food sources are abundant.

These birds are spectacular and colorful. They like to hop around on the forest floor while turning leaves over in search of invertebrate. They are notoriously difficult to see but as they arrive they announce their presence with their characteristic calls and thus become much easier to stalk.

The family of Pittas is called Dtaew Laew in Thai and invariably most of the pittas call with a variation of an intense sounding burst of ‘tdaew laew’.

There are currently 32 recognized species of Pittas in the world, the overwhelming majority of them found in SEA. Fourteen species have been recorded in Thailand to date. These birds are considered the ‘highest priced’ for any a birdwatcher and are much sought after on a bird watching trip.
I.e. during 2009, a British birder, Chris Goodie, made an attempt to see all Pitta species of the world in one year. Through careful planning, skillful field crafts, networking and a sizeable budget he was successful. A book of his travels is about to be released at the renowned Bird Fair in England in August.

Some of the larger parks around Bangkok will host these birds temporarily as they pass through to their breeding grounds. The birds have very short tails with compact bodies which give them a very direct flight on hurried wings and presumably lead them to stop for rest and refueling fairly regularly.

For a couple of years now the Hooded Pitta has been seen at Phuttomonton Park in Thon Buri. It likes it in the bamboo stands of the park. These birds have attracted many bird photographers as the park is so accessible and the birds fairly easy to find. Once a bird has been located, and they are pretty territorial, the following takes place. A handful of meal worms are placed strategically not far from where the bird was seen. A spot that receives good light but still is close enough for the birds to retreat to the cover of the bamboo is chosen. A bird hide is set up and the photographer takes his seat. As the bird comes back for more ‘free worms’ the camera card is filled. Through this method many wonderful photos have been obtained.

Hooded Pitta can be seen primarily at lower levels of evergreen forest but also occur at moist secondary forest in places like Khao Yai, The Western Forest Complex, and Kaengkrachan National Park.

The Blue-winged Pitta is by far the easiest Pitta to see once it is here. The Military Academy grounds at Nakorn Nayok is a favorite area for many to see this bird though there are records of the bird nesting within Bangkok area.
The forests at the Academy ring out with several pairs of Blue-winged Pittas staying in contact with each other and proclaiming their territories.

Once the bird has built a nest and the chicks have hatched a frenzied feeding begins. The chicks need a lot of protein to grow quickly and be able to leave the nest where they are vulnerable for predators (snakes, birds, lizards etc).

After a night of rain the lawns and adjoining forest is full of earth worms. The parent bird will collect a bunch and deliver to the hungry chicks. This feeding frenzy pretty much takes place throughout the day. The area of the Academy has many paved roads and sometimes simply sitting in the car using it as a hide can bring very close encounters with these birds.

Blue-winged Pitta can be seen up to 800m level of many a National Park in Thailand. Its habitat preference is mixed deciduous and more open evergreen forest, bamboo as well as secondary growth. Once movement has been detected, with the help of binoculars good views can usually be obtained.

Once Hooded and Blue-winged Pitta have bred and the chicks are able to fly they will start on their journey back to Peninsular Malaysia and the Islands of Indonesia.

Peter Ericsson

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