Sunday 4 March 2012

T-land: Day 0 & 1

After landing in Thailand more than an hour late, barely making it through customs (we were prepared - prepare to see birds, not prepared to cross borders...) and waiting surprisingly long for our rental car, Mira and I took to the road and drove South.

I read lots of warnings online about driving around Bangkok, the policemen enforcing bribes and wild drivers. So I was rather surprised (and relieved) to experience some very 'tame' driving. The only unusual sighting was an Elephant on a pick up truck!!!!! I wish I got a picture of that, but it was well after dark and the enormity of the situation only became clear after we passed the truck. And for whatever reason I totally thought it was normal and there would plenty more opportunities to photograph elephants riding pick up trucks...

Eventually we made it to our destination (the village of Pak Thale) around midnight, found a place to pitch our tent on the edge of the village and went to sleep.
You may remember from previous stories/trips (i.e. Spain) that I tend to camp in some random locations. I've slept on airport grounds, next to highways, on cliff edges and now I can add random villages to that list.

I was impatient for the sun to rise just to see what was around us. It was mostly salt pans and a few houses:

We got started right away with the shorebirding. At first we were enthusiastic to check out every Marsh Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank but eventually they became boring.

Marsh Sandpiper:

A Brown Shrike was nice to see - eventually they became mundane too:

I was prepared to commit the next 6 days entirely to finding a Spoon-billed Sandpiper if it was needed (I didn't tell that to Mira). So I was thoroughly relieved to find within our first hour of birding! I was actually a bit disappointed because the task seemed too easy.

Many trip reports made it seem like they were difficult to find. "You have to look very closely at every Red-necked Stint, and then double check. You'll probably be searching through thousands of Stints. Don't rely on seeing the bill - you have to find the bird by its whiter colour than a Red-necked Stint" A daunting task it seemed.

Well, over the 3 day period of near constant shore-birding we saw less than 300 Red-necked Stints, and many of those are repeats. So about 100 individuals in total.

This first flock of Stints that we encountered was a bit distant so I was considering walking right by them and heading straight for the Curlews that we could see in the other direction. And besides, there were less than 20 stints so it probably didn't contain anything interesting...

Nevertheless, I looked and a few seconds later I caught a glimpse of the distinctive bill of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Wow, that was easy. It was disappointing. I wanted to have to work for this, not have it as my first life-bird for the trip! Especially not after looking through a mere 5 Red-necked Stints. All the warnings and prior studying of the bird seemed unnecessary - or maybe we were just lucky.

Our first Spooner with RN Stint to the left and Kentish Plover to the right:

That was our 'only' Spoon-billed Sandpiper for the day. After finding that bird we committed the rest of the day to becoming acquainted with the region. Finding all the hotspots and 'cleaning up' on the easy species so that we could decide what to focus on for the next couple days.

Kentish Plovers were in abundance:

I triple checked every Greenshank we came across hoping for a Nordmann's Greenshank without success:

Red-necked Phalaropes are considered rare in the area so I was surprised to see 15 at one spot on our first day:

That covers the first 2 hours of birding in Thailand. Another 70 hours to go!