Saturday, January 14, 2017

Morning chorous

Something I wrote 16 years ago!

A Bangkok Morning Concert, March 2000

"Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day,
Oh what a beautiful feeling, everything's going God's way"
These words from the familiar song I feel are very applicable to the sounds I encounter on a daily basis around our house here in the northern outskirts of Bangkok in the middle of March. As is the case everywhere else in this buzzing city full of people and noise, the sounds of roaring engines, be they motorcyles, cars, buses or airplanes are ever present in their quest to overpower one another.

Incredibly enough so are also the natural sounds and wonders of God's little creatures. One just need to listen and tune in!

It all started this morning at 4 a.m. Pied Fantail Flycatcher is starting its song way too early. Who changed its body clock? Whatever the reason may be, this active little creature with its ever fanning tail took charge of my day. The song is very distinct and easily recognized. A musical tune that I so far haven't been able to imitate despite its constancy.

The real morning chorus didn't start until a bit later around 6 o'clock when Mr and Mrs Koel, true to their nature, started sounding off. This is one of the bigger birds around the house. I have often enjoyed seeing a pair of Common Koels dashing from tree to tree in search for food. Even though male Koel from a distance perhaps could resemble a Large-billed Crow, its slender body and aerodynamic flight tells us that this is a more delicate piece of equipment and worthy of our respect. The name Koel is a give-away of one of the bird's sounds as it has a loud ko-el, ko-el call, stressing the second syllable. As is the case of other true cuckoos, this bird is also an intruder of others' property and I have seen with my own eyes little (in comparison) Black-collared Starling frantically working to keep up with feeding an unproportionally big fledgling.

Joining in in the symphony is the master himself; Magpie Robin. Thankfully enough this beautiful songster hasn't been swallowed up by the pet trade as of yet and can most readily be seen and heard throughout the year. It has a melodius variety of tunes along with a harsh one-tonal warning sound. It often perches from tree tops or the rooftop of surrounding buildings letting the world know who the master is. As the name implies the bird does look a bit like a Magpie when it comes to color and plumage. It hops like a Magpie but will take off quickly as one approaches a little bit too close. Size-wise it is much smaller and has the habit of keeping its tail sharply cocked. When dusk has set in, it has a peculiar habit of sounding off its alarm call while hopping around the mango trees in our garden. It also has a long one-tonal call that stays with us all day long.

Here is a favorite of mine. Common Iora. Brightly yellow underparts, olive-green upper parts and two white wing bars are the colors of this smaller sized bird. Mostly occupying the upper branches feeding on insects in the leaf foliage it is not an easy bird to view with the naked eye. It loves to sing though, and my favorite tune is the birds soft ringing sound like a gentle alarmclock going off. Otherwise it more commonly gives its combination of two drawn-out whistles, the second one being slightly lower in tone then the first. I had the joy of hand raising one of these lovely creatures as one was found on the ground and evidently would have ended up in our house cat's stomach unless rescued by well meaning hands. It had an incredible appetite for worms that the local pet shop happily sold for a penny. It also let us enjoy its musical vocabulary before it was time to return it to the wild.

Then the hoot, hoot, hooting sounds of the Greater Coucal comes rolling across the marsh next to our house. This big bird is an excellent survivor. Its size is a real give-away for the common practice of slingshot shooting still going on around Thailand. Still this bird is commonly found in the whole country. Its chestnut colored wings on a large black body along with a clumsy flight tells us who is moving about.

One welcomed if even sad sounding friend is the Plaintive Cuckoo. Hard to see but well worth the effort as the mature bird is rather colorful with its belly being rufous, eye bright red, head and throat grey and rest of body brown. Its song is unmistakable. Either 3-4 monotonous tones followed by rapidly descending notes or a hurried 3-note ascending sequence repeated over again. I have yet to see its young one in a nest even though juvenile birds frequently come around. It often sits on the top of larger weed grasses in the marsh singing away.

More and more birds are joining in the chorus. Next is the Zebra Dove or Peaceful Dove. This popular cage bird is known for its song best described as a hollow soft and high-pitched trill with a distinctive rhythm to it. It likes to feed on our playground along with Spotted Dove. Both these species will fly up and entertain from the surrounding coconut or mango trees. Spotted Dove is much larger in size and has a softer call, coo-croo-croo. It also regularly has young ones in our garden, and even the younger children can point out the two different birds by name.

Next is the loud 'tack' from Oriental Reed-Warbler, our first migrant to be heard for the day. Several warblers pass through during winter but rarely make themselves known by sound.

Then the metallic trrrrr from the Asian Brown-Flycatcher penetrates the air. One of our first visitors. In typical flycatcher manners it perches on a branch and makes sorties snatching insects in the air. Small and on the thin size but with an obtrusive eyering as a give-away trademark.

The Red-throated Flycatcher with its lower and shorter trr is another visitor. This bird likes to come down lower and is easier to see for little eyes. It likes to flick its tail and even fly down to the ground to feed on insects from the grass. Before it leaves in the spring the throat changes color to orange/red and along with its beautifully balanced shaped body it becomes as a precious jewel in our garden.
Then an explosive tic,tic,tic from the fast flying Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker sets in. This very small bird was the main spark that trigged my interest in our flying friends. Splendid bright red crown and nape stretching as a wide red band across its back with white under parts and remainder parts black. It feeds in the canopy and is a bit hard to see well. From time to time an individual will find our windows on the second floor appealing and will try to attack it with its beak. Probably interested in the prospect of a potential mate being reflected by its own image in the glass.

How many birds is that in our chorus? Wow, 12 already! Who ever said birds are hard to find in Thailand? Yes, I agree, they are not as conspicuous as garden birds in the west but nevertheless lots of them all around us.

The ever-present churring sounds from Ear-streaked Bulbul are next. Probably the most uninteresting bird in the Bulbul family. Dull and ungainly appearance. Loosely thrown together cup-shaped nest, but always having young ones. (I guess its desire to multiply is its strength). We have a rather vain individual in our garden who loves to come down to the side mirrors of our car and admire itself, leaving its gooey spill for me to wipe off.

Another Bulbul this morning is Yellow-vented Bulbul. With its more musical sounds and distinct white supercilium, contrasting with black lores and yellow rump, it makes it a more interesting bird. It seldom stays around for very long but is regular. It does respond to some delicious ripe bananas hung up for bird feed. It prefers habitat near to well-watered areas and thus is not found too far from the coast.

Slowly rising into a demonic roaring noise of chuckles is coming from inside the reed beds. It's a White-breasted Waterhen is sounding off. It feeds on aquatic creatures in the marsh and will quickly hide when being approached. Best is to use one of the little holes in our wall to peek through. This can give very close sights, and the bird will calmly keep on feeding with its tail raised. Its cinnamon colored underparts, red on bill, along with green legs and white breast makes it attractive in the binoculars.

The intense and monotonous one-tonal call of the Common Tailorbird reaches my ears. It penetrates all other sounds around as it calls for attention. This little warbler is a resident bird here and often comes down to the lower bushes in search for food. It can be approached to a very close distance as it actively moves about the tree branches. As it names indicates it is an expert tailor, and the nest is intricately woven into a cone shape.

'Tonk, tonk, tonk' echoes from a treetop. It's our friend the Coppersmith Barbet who comes to say 'hello'. Very small and often in the canopy of our Pink-trumpet Tree it is hard to see all the splendor of this bird. At closer range or through the binocs the deep colors of red, green, yellow and black are revealed thus letting us have a taste of one of the more colorful garden birds around. This small barbet successfully inhabits all of Thailand or anywhere there is a wooded area. It usually doesn't stay for long but regularly passes by. A temple or park area may be a good place to look for this bird without being disappointed. I have actually observed a parent bird feeding its young with regular flights in and out of its nesting hole in a tree right nest to a busy bus stop totally unbeknownst to all the people standing by. Barbets in general seem to overcome their fear of exposure during the nesting season as a true parent the bird is willing to risk danger in order to feed and care for its young.

From the marsh another sound sets in. It is the buzzing jirt-jirt-jirt from another warbler, the Plain Prinia. Yes, it is a plain looking bird but the sound blends nicely in to our symphony.
Then the diagnostic explosive rink-tink-tink of Black-browed Reed Warbler is being heard. Very hard to see but commonly heard during winter.

Then our two versions of sunbirds join in. Olive-backed Sunbird with its one-tone 'sweet' with rising inflection and Brown-throated Sunbird with its persistent and ongoing chiff-chiff-chiff. The latter has a bit of a misleading name. I would rather call it "Purple-shouldered Sunbird" as in the right light the iridescent purple is almost breathtaking. I could hardly believe such a thing existed when I first saw it. Definitely on par with some of the New World hummingbirds. It pierces a hole in the stalk of a flower and sticks its long tongue in to suck out the nectar. It also performs the art of hovering in the air reaching down to the nectar the conventional way even if not performing the hovering display as long as a hummingbird would. Olive-backed has raised young ones in our garden a few times, and the purse-shaped nest hangs on a thin twig swaying in the wind. A marvel of construction as it keeps its inhabitants safe and sound.
A bit later but daily Common Myna descend on our lawn in search for bugs and worms. Noisy but non-descriptive sounds easily recognized. The same goes for White-vented Myna that has a little more humble appearance than Common who likes to walk around with head held high and a fierce countenance.
Eurasian Tree-Sparrow wants its share of the orchestra, and its chirps are pretty continual throughout much of the day. Ever-present.
As is the case most days, there are always one or two more uncommon sounds joining in. Today it is the bubbling call from the Lineated Barbet. This beautiful bird does not come by very often even though it is common a bit further out of Bangkok. Easy to recognize by its big size and big bill. Closely related to woodpeckers they say.

Then the harsh 'kyak' causes me to lift my eyes upward. Sparkling blue wings are in the sunlight as the Indian Roller is flying by. It prefers more open areas but is readily seen in the outskirts of Bangkok.
Added to the scenario is a Chinese Pond-Heron taking off with a croaking sound from the marsh. Not a very vocal bird but definitely very common.

Then as an added surprise comes the loud laughter of the handsome Black-naped Kingfisher loudly proclaiming its existence. It doesn't usually stay around here but can be seen from time to time. Too much construction work going on for its likening.

So as you can tell from the descriptions above there are quite a number of participants in the concert performed around our house. Added to that there are of course a number of birds who are seen but remain on the more quiet side such as Barn Swallow, Asian Palm-Swift, Cormorant, Openbills, Arctic Warbler, Common Moorhen, Black-shouldered Kite etc.

Someone wisely said: "So much of what we see depends on what we are looking at!" To that I would like to add: "And so much of what we hear depends on what we are listening to!"
Return to trip reports.

This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; May 30, 2000

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand 25th Dec-2nd of Jan 2017
Tour leader and guide: Peter Ericsson
Participants: Steve, Peilin and Sierra Glassman from California

I was very pleased that the Glassman’s wanted to do another trip in Thailand after last year’s trip in the central parts.  See
Their daughter, Sierra, now 11, is a sharp and keen young girl with an aptitude for learning and just great to be in the field with.
Both parents enjoy seeing natural wonders as well as taking pictures howbeit without the pressure of long lists etc. Sierra however keeps record of sightings and had an amazing memory for all the things we saw or heard throughout the trip. She often taking charge doing the checklist.
The timing of the trip was probably worst possible in terms of encountering crowds on some popular destinations. Still, there was plenty for us to enjoy and that kept our attention.
Both Steve and Peilin enjoy spicy Thai food very much so it was a real pleasure to serve sumptuous meals though in the end the result showed when I stood on the weight scale once back home.

Day 1. Early pick up in Chiang Mai. I had flown up the night before and picked up a large spacious Toyota Commuter van. We drove straight to the summit of  Doi Inthanon  where most of the ‘good birds are’. Well, as you can imagine there were hundreds and hundreds of people doing the same. Finding a parking lot was no small feature. 

The mountain is a bit of a Mecca for the Thai people as it is not only scenic and tall but also plays historical role in the Kingdom. Either way, we spent the better part of the morning at the summit though some birds didn’t show as usual  we did see some real good ones with Green-tailed and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird leading the way in terms of color. Bar-throated Minlas in small busy flocks as well as Buff-barred, Ashy-throated and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers kept us entertained. Silver-eared Laughingthrushes were as obvious as usual and Dark-backed Sibias similarly so. 

Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker

Some of the more cryptic birds simply didn’t show. I think they were intimidated by the cheer volume of people with accompanied noise. The bog never the less gave good views of some things and Rufous-winged Fulvettas did their best to charm keen observers.

We managed to get a table at an eatery by the trail head to Kiew Maephan. The food is so delicious in this cool setting and everyone enjoyed the sticky rice, barbecued chicken and the papaya salad.
Wherever we had a chance we took a little time for ‘cultural visits’. The local fresh market run by the hill tribes had a lot of produce for sale. Some locally produced and other things from China.
I picked up some  avocadoes which is becoming more popular here now though not available year around. 

We did a little birding here and there and added some more regular things. To my great surprise we were not able to get on to Slaty-bellied Tesias as they were simply not vocalizing. That was a bit of a disappointment for me. 

The night was spent at Mr. Doings Homestay since we didn’t want to do the long drive down and then back up again the next day. 

Day 2. Up early and starting all over at the top again. The hot coffee at the summit is probably the best in the country so we headed for the coffee shop right away.
It was a bit colder this morning and we found some frost that thrilled the hearts of many locals plus Sierra. 

The main highlight was a striking Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker feeding in a flowering tree. This is a rather rare bird and often difficult to find. So half a minute of show time was good and gave us great opportunity for picture taking.

In the bog we also had great views of Rufous-throated Partridges and brief views of a male White-browed Shortwing but most of the morning was repeats from the day before. 

After lunch we descended Doi Inthanon and set our sails towards Doi Chiang Dao about an hour or so North of Chiang Mai  city. A total drive of 3 hours. We stopped at some fields along the way where many common lowland birds were present. 

Dinner was at a restaurant that had IPAs (craft beer) on the menu. Big surprise and oh so nice! 

Day 3. After a night at a rather plush resort we quickly went to the temple area of Doi Chiang Dao. Some nice birds around but generally not as birdy as I had hoped. We did walk all the way up to take in the view from the temple looking down into the gulley. There are good numbers of tourists in this area as it is scenic and nestled with picturesque settings. A good place for anyone interested in a few days of chilling out. 

We then set out towards Doi Angkhang, choosing the scenic route that gently takes one along a mountain ridge. Best bird along the way was an obliging Rufous-winged Buzzard perched on a pole. 

The Commuter is amazingly strong and scaling the hilly terrain was a breeze. Some stops for coffee and roadside birds added to a pleasant journey. 

Doi Angkhang is another flagship of Thai mountains. Years back some of Chiangkaicheck’s generals fled Mao Tse Tung and ended up here. When the Thai King found out about their opium crops fruit and vegetable orchards along with flower plantations were introduced instead. The Royal Project at DAK is simply a must as it shows off its many yields. The restaurant is also another must with many authentic local dishes on the menu. Just be mindful that the restaurant is only open 10am-1 pm and then again at 5 pm during this busy time of year. 

Buff-barred Warbler

Hume's Treecreeper

I didn’t really mind that too much as I knew a great place in the village. 

We checked out the regular stake out and did see White-tailed Robin, Black-breasted Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava and Hill Blue Flycatcher but it was definitely on the quiet side. 

DAK is a magnet for flocks of Bulbuls and we did see loads of Red-whiskered, Brown-breasted, Sooty-headed and White-headed Bulbuls, the favorite. Also Mountain, Black and Black-crested.
Loads of Chestnut-flanked and Japanese White-eyes were all over the place.
An obliging Siberian Rubythroat put on a show next to a pair of Hill Prinias.
The road down from DAK towards Fang is perhaps the steepest in Thailand. With lots of traffic one had to be extra cautious. I mean the many camping areas were jam packed with season revelers.
In Fang we stayed at a quaint resort adequate for our needs. 

Day 4. Up to DAK again to greet the morning. Just lovely to hear the sound of birds, feel the breeze and though it was misty get that feeling of pristine wilderness. 

 We checked out the border station to Myanmar which is open to tourists. Here there are bunkers and great views of the Burmese army outpost on the other side. To get there we passed through some hill tribe villages where people still dress in traditional clothing. 

With all the people around and the weather being misty birding was a bit slow going but as usual there are always a few things here and there. Daurian Redstart being the best.

This time we didn’t miss the opening hours of the restaurant but promptly parked ourselves in the best possible place with views of the adjacent trees. Quite nice to dine while viewing Blue-winged Minlas, Bulbuls and White-eyes all over the place.
Day 5. Two days were set  aside 2  for Doi Lang. Doi Lang is proving to be a precious pearl in Northern Thailand birding. The road is still not open for a full loop drive (which prevents tourists going through, on the flipside of things) and besides a few locals, army and bird photographers not many people are around. 

The mountain has a lot of attractive target birds. Sierra and her mom enjoyed photography a lot so we spent a fair amount of time at a number of stake outs. The beauty of tailored tours is that the clients can have a say so in the daily activities and as for me I am happy as long as they are happy! 

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Some great birds photographed: Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher, Eye-browed Laughingthrushes, Ultra-marine Flycatcher,  Rusty-naped Scimitar Babblers, Siberian Rubythroat, Yellow-bellied Leafbird, Spectacled Barwing, Crested Buntings and more.
A pair of Hume’s Pheasants was being photographed extensively in the early morning but no spot for us available so we carried on. We did spend 2 hours waiting for them to show in the afternoon but to no avail. We did see our only Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher while waiting which was nice.

Day 6. Best bird for the morning undoubtedly was Giant Nuthatch. A must see bird! Mountain Bamboo Partridges also showed on the road and we picked up things like Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Long-tailed Minivets, Mountain Tailorbird, Crested Finchbill, Rufous-backed Sibia and Grey-backed Shrike. Some other good ones seen: Bay Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker and Grey-capped Woodpecker. 

White-headed Bulbul

Crested Finchbill


Day 7. Today we set out to visit the lowlands of Tha Torn. These fields are just lovely in the early morning and in spite of being very misty we had good views of Yellow-breasted Buntings, a bird in rapid decline. 

Some culture was on the schedule and after we arrived in Mae Sai the Glassman’s crossed the bridge into Myanmar where they spend a few hours looking around and shopping. I stayed back looking after the vehicle and our belongings. 

We stayed the night in a nice resort at Mae Chan close to the Golden Triangle.

Day 8. Greeting the morning at Chiang Saan lake is something I always enjoy. The air fills with calling Whistling Ducks, while Moorhens, Swamphens, Egrets and Herons let themselves known in the lakeside vegetation. Reed warblers chuck in the reedbeds and sunbirds are heard from the trees.
Best birds were a lone Ferruginous Duck, Spot-billed Ducks, Gray-headed Lapwings, Pin-tailed Snipe and many Chestnut-tailed Starlings. 

A sumptuous lunch smack in the middle of the Golden Triangle followed and the afternoon held another Glassman visit across the border. 

The night spent back in Fang.

Day 9. The last day was to be decided and the vote fell for another try at the stakeout at Doi Angkhang. Everyone really wanted to see Rusty-naped Pitta but , alas, it was not to be! Birds will be birds and often if they show or not is entirely in their own making. 

Lunch back down in Fang at my favorite Issarn restaurant (Northeastern food)……Everyone that has been with me here knows what I am talking about! 

Afternoon followed with a long drive to the airport in Chiang Mai where I boarded my plane to Bangkok and Steve, Peilin and Sierra theirs to Beijing and on to California. 

It had been a great trip somewhat hindered by the huge crowds and the rather unusual change in weather. But it never affected the mood of the Glassman’s who enjoyed every bit of it. 

Hopefully we will meet again somewhere. Time will tell!

Sierra and Peter