Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Monterrey, we did it!

Monterrey Nuevo Leon is only two and half hours south of Laredo, TX. We have wanted to go birding there for years, but because of the problems with drug cartels we didn't dare. There were two species in particular we were interested in, Worthen's Sparrow and Maroon-fronted Parrot. It was so close, but everyone told us it was way too dangerous. Then, our friend Martin Hagne told me about a guide named Rene Valdes. Rene was taking people to a couple of locations in northern Mexico again. In addition to Martin, our friends Michael Retter and Matt Hale went with Rene last year. We decided it was time.

We contacted Rene and set up a short tour. We made arrangements with Rene to pick us up in Laredo on Saturday, August 4th. We left San Antonio at about 5AM. Rene was meeting us at the long term parking lot at the Laredo Airport. (Secure parking is only $5 a day!) While waiting we found a pair of Tropical Kingbirds working the trees by the airport entrance. We figured it was a good omen. Rene was a little delayed getting through the border crossing, but arrived at about 9AM. After filling up with gas, we crossed the border. Going into Mexico is a snap. They didn't even check our passports.

We stopped for an early lunch on the way and headed to Rene's location for Worthen's Sparrow near San Rafael, south of Monterrey. This grassland sparrow is endemic to northeast Mexico and is listed as endangered, due to habitat destruction. There is a single historic record for the United States, a bird collected near Silver City NM. It isn't a flashy bird, resembling a Field Sparrow. As we drove into the habitat we saw a group of Mexican Prairie Dogs, also endemic to the area. A Burrowing Owl flushed from one of the holes. We turned on to a dirt road and started our search, with no luck. Rene said the birds often perch on the fence lines along the road we drove in on, so we went back and drove up and down, again with no luck. We returned to the dirt road and Martin spotted a distant bird sitting on a stalk of grass. We got in the scope and our efforts had paid off. We got in the car and drove down the main road, level with where the bird was and found a second one perched up. Both birds were farther off than we had hoped, but we were still very happy. The clouds rolled in off of the mountains and it started to rain.

Luckily the clouds were moving out of our next stop, Carretera de Monterreal. This road into a very posh resort area is great for montane species. We stopped just before the entrance gate and quickly found a couple of Colima Warblers, several Slate-throated Redstarts and a Russet Nightingale-Thrush. The pine forest reminded me more of Colorado than Mexico. There was even a ski run! We drove further in and found a Pine Flycatcher, a Black-headed Grosbeak, Brown-throated House Wren, a couple of Yellow-eyed Juncos, several Rufous-capped Warblers. and a gorgeous Gray Silky-flycatcher. A Pine Siskin joined a young Western Bluebird, sitting on the top of a pine tree.  Rufous-capped Brush-Finches were common. One of the best things for me was hearing Brown-backed Solitaires singing. It is my favorite bird song, sounding like a waterfall of broken glass. Martin and I were very impressed with the road. We drove back to Monterrey, where we spent the night.

Rene picked us up at the hotel a bit before 6AM to go look for Tawny-collared Nightjar and Blue-capped Motmot. He had a location where the nightjars have recently been found. We drove in and flushed a Northern Pauraque on the side of the road. We stopped and Rene played a tape of the nightjar calling, hoping it would respond. A couple of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls were tooting away. It was just starting to get light enough that we could see when the nightjar flew over our heads. It wasn't the best look, but it was enough. As soon as dawn broke Rene found a couple of motmots. We drove around the area and picked up a few more common birds, including an Eastern Screech-Owl.

We drove into town for some fabulous tacos. We had a fairly long drive ahead to our final destination for the night, Cabanas Mesa del Oso, up above Monterrey in Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. The road up has spots for our main target, Maroon-fronted Parrot. This is another endangered bird, endemic to northeast Mexico. They nest in holes in large limestone cliffs. Rene had studied this species extensively when he was in university and guaranteed us we would see it. I always shudder when someone says we will absolutely see a bird. That usually is the kiss of death, but we were hopeful. We made a stop at a small shop to get food for lunch, dinner and breakfast for the next morning, as there is no restaurant at the cabanas.  A large cliff loomed above where parrots are often seen, but none appeared while we waited for the food.

The drive up to the cabanas gets very rough. We were lucky in that it was not muddy. I can't imagine going up without high clearance, but we did see some cars on the road that were somehow getting through. There were a number of very loud ATVs, blasting music and roaring by. We parked on a pull off below a very high precipice. The sound of parrots echoed everywhere. Looking up, we could see small flocks circling high overhead. Rene delivered! As we stood there several birds swooped down to a ridge lined with pine trees. One pair almost took my hat off. The noise of their wings was awesome. We stayed and enjoyed the show for quite some time, taking mostly digi-scoped photos and even some video. I got a few very poor pictures of the birds at their nest holes.

We enjoyed birding the road very much. Painted Redstarts flitted around all along the road. More solitaires sang in the pines. Rene had told us that Golden-cheeked Warblers were the most common warbler, so when I spotted a bird moving through the pines with a black throat and a yellow face, I called out Golden-cheek! I was a little embarrassed when Rene corrected me and said "No, Black-throated Green!" It was very early for this species. Even in Texas it would be a rare sighting this time of year. There were actually two of them. The road led us over a pass and we dropped a bit to Mesa del Oso.

The setting of the cabanas is spectacular. Our cabin had an incredible view of a forested canyon between two high mountains. The temperature was delightfully cool. I ended up putting on a light jacket. it had been quite cloudy, but suddenly the sun broke through a little. A few butterflies started flying and I got a couple of photos. Wandering down from the cabin I found some govenia orchids. We did some birding around the area, but did a lot of just sitting and talking, enjoying the view. Later after dark we had three species of owls calling, Northern Pygmy-owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, and best of all, Mexican Spotted Owl. Spotted Owl has been my nemesis bird for years, so I was very excited to actually see one in a pine near the cabin.

In the morning we birded around the area until about 10AM. We had both Mountain and Elegant Trogons, Greater Pewee, Crescent-chested Warbler, more Painted Redstarts, Bridled Titmouse, Hepatic and Flame-colored Tanager, Audubon's Oriolesand a few other birds.  A Northern Pygmy-owl was singing right off of the road. One of the Elegant Trogons took a swipe at it, flushing it off of the tree. We saw a few butterflies, but nothing new. We were driving not only back to Monterrey, but to Laredo, so we started downhill. We made a few stops, including at the parrot cliff. Some butterflies were flying along the road and we photographed a few, including a very beat up Teal Beamer, a new species for me. We made one more stop in Monterrey looking for Golden-Olive Woodpecker, which we have seen before, but that form may be split into a new species in the future. Unfortunately, we didn't find one. After being up on the mountain, the heat was more than noticeable. We drove back through Monterrey and on to Laredo. The border crossing into the United States had a very long wait, with passport checks and a few questions. We got back to our car at about 8PM and were home by 1045PM.

The whole experience was incredible. Monterrey was so different than what we expected. The city is very nice. It is so hard to believe it is so close to the border. There is no where like this in Texas, or really, anywhere in the United States.
. We never felt unsafe. In fact I feel less safe in parts of San Antonio. I asked Rene if this was something we could do on our own. He said yes, but with a few caveats. He said it would be best to drive down on the weekends and to always travel during the day. He advised getting gas before crossing the border and not stopping until close to Monterrey. I would highly recommend Rene as a guide, but unfortunately, he is moving to the Yucatan peninsula for work, and probably won't be available in the future. I asked him if there were any other guides in the area, and sadly he said no. We really hope to go back, maybe with a few friends in the future.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Up a little higher at Kaeng Krachan, Thailand, Feb. 24, 2016

This day our plan was to get up much higher than the day before. After breakfast, (I was really getting into soup!) we left the lodge and headed to the park. We hustled up the lower elevation road. I spotted a large animal lurking in the brush a ways back from the road. I yelled "stop!" Dave asked ne what it was and I said it looked like a cow. He was very excited and said it was a Benteng, which he had never seen. We backed up just in time to see it disappear. Well, it wasn't a Bengteng, it was actually a Sambar Deer, which are a lot bigger than our deer in Texas.

The first spot we stopped at was very productive. A Mountain Imperial Pigeon perched on a branch off of the road. We heard Rusty-cheeked Hornbills calling. Dave said they were nesting nearby, but we never got a look at them. We took a trail a very short way into the forest. I was so excited to see one of my most wanted birds of the trip, Long-tailed Broadbill. There were at least four, calling and moving around. The light was awful, so my pictures were pretty awful, too, but I was still very happy! This species is a crazy mix of black, blue, yellow and green.

It was hard to tear myself away from them, but we had a lot of altitude to gain. We stopped for a mixed flock, feeding in some vines and trees. It was really hard to keep up with everything! Fulvettas, babblers, bubuls, flycatchers, and tailor birds zipped around. Deep in the under-story Dave identified a Bamboo Woodpecker, a difficult bird to see. Then a Red-headed Trogon flew in. We pushed on. There was a group of photographers shooting pictures of a nest, occupied by Long-tailed Broadbills. We stopped, as another flock was moving through. There were two species of piculets, which are tiny members of the woodpecker family. We tried to find one on of the specialties, Racket-tailed Treepie, but only heard it call.

We moved up to a high point in the road, where there was a campground. We sat and ate our lunches and scanned the over look for swifts. We were hoping for needle-tails, but had no luck. I excused myself to powder my nose and when I came back I found out that I had missed a Black-thighed Falconet. We saw a few drongos and bulbuls showing off.  Better than the birds was a mammal, a Giant Black Squirrel. This thing was a monster, almost as big as a dog! It draped itself on a branch, chomping away on something, letting its very long tail hang down.

There had been a couple of fabulous sightings a bit further on, a Pin-tailed Parrotfinch and a Blue Pitta. Both were very wanted by all of us. We got to the spot where the parrotfinch had been seen. They like seeding bamboo. There was quite a bit along the road, but the bird was no where to be found. We moved on to where the Blue Pitta had been seen the day before. We got to the trail. It was very steep and difficult. I realized that it was a bit much for me, so I decided to stay near the car. Martin joined me. Willie and Dave pushed on. Unfortunately, they did not see the pitta, but did hear it calling. I had a great time photographing butterflies. Then we were thrilled to see a Great Hornbill come in, investigating a tree cavity.

Willie and Dave finally slogged up the hill and we took off. We worked the seeding bamboo again, with no luck. We stopped at the overlook and scanned for needle-tails, but again, came up short.We drove back down to the lower camp ground, where we checked behind the kitchen for the Sun Bear, but he was also a no show.

We did quite a bit better, though, on the lower road. A gorgeous pair of Kalij Pheasants walked across, right in front of us. We had Bar-backed Partridge do the same. There was a birding tour group stopped at the tree where we had the Great Slaty Woodpeckers the day before; we were very happy to see them again! We saw another Sambur Deer by a small pond. Some Golden-crested Mynas perched up in a tree. We were exhausted by the time we got back to the lodge, but very content!

Photos for the day:

 Bird list for the day:
Bar-backed Partridge  1
Gray Peacock-Pheasant  2    Heard
Red Junglefowl  4
Kalij Pheasant  2
Cattle Egret (Eastern)  1
Chinese Pond-Heron  3
Mountain Hawk-Eagle  1
Crested Goshawk  2
Red-wattled Lapwing  1
Emerald Dove (Common)  5
Mountain Imperial-Pigeon  1
Banded Bay Cuckoo  1
Green-billed Malkoha  1
Himalayan Swiftlet  2
Asian Palm-Swift  20
Red-headed Trogon  1
Great Hornbill  3
Rusty-cheeked Hornbill  2    Heard
Oriental Pied-Hornbill  5
Wreathed Hornbill  3
Great Barbet  3    Heard
Blue-throated Barbet  1
Speckled Piculet  1
White-browed Piculet  1
Lesser Yellownape  1    Heard
Greater Yellownape  1
 Common Flameback  1
Bamboo Woodpecker  1
Greater Flameback  3
Vernal Hanging-Parrot  5
Long-tailed Broadbill  4
Silver-breasted Broadbill  5
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike  1
Scarlet Minivet  2
Brown-rumped Minivet  2
Black-winged Cuckooshrike  1
Blyth's Shrike-Babbler  1    Heard
Black-naped Oriole  2
Ashy Drongo  20
Bronzed Drongo  1
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo  3
Hair-crested Drongo  12
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo  1    Heard
Black-naped Monarch  1
Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher  2
Common Green-Magpie  1    Heard
Gray Treepie  2
Ratchet-tailed Treepie  1    Heard
Barn Swallow  3
Red-rumped Swallow  3
Black-crested Bulbul  12
Ochraceous Bulbul  10
Gray-eyed Bulbul  5
Mountain Bulbul  3
Yellow-bellied Warbler  1
 Radde's Warbler  5
Yellow-browed Warbler  6
Eastern Crowned Leaf Warbler  2
Claudia's Leaf Warbler  1
Sulphur-breasted Warbler  5
Plain-tailed Warbler  1
Martens's Warbler  1
Dark-necked Tailorbird  1    Heard
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler  1
Rufous-fronted Babbler  1
White-browed Scimitar-Babbler  1
Collared Babbler  3
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta  1
White-crested Laughingthrush  2    Heard
Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush  3
Asian Fairy-bluebird  2
Dark-sided Flycatcher  4
White-rumped Shama  3
Rufous-browed Flycatcher  1
Slaty-backed Flycatcher  1
Taiga Flycatcher  1
Golden-crested Myna  2
Common Hill Myna  1
Blue-winged Leafbird  2
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker  2
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  1
Streaked Spiderhunter  1
Gray Wagtail  5

Where are the elephants? Thailand Feb. 23, 2016

We were completely switching gears from shorebirds and waders to hornbills and barbets at Kaeng Krachan National Park. This fabulous national park, the largest in Thailand, has a wide variety of birds, being on the northern border of many southern species and the southern border of many northern species. It also has fabulous mammals, including many elephants, primates, and, even tigers! It is one of the best places in Asia to see leopards. I had seen videos of masses of butterflies at the stream crossing. We were very excited to be there. We had an early breakfast at the lodge, eggs and bacon for Willie and Martin, and a bowl of pork and rice soup for me, a typical Thai breakfast. The lodge packed us box lunches of fried rice or noodles and we took off.

The sun was rising on the drive to the lodge and we saw our first Oriental Pied Hornbills before we even got to the gate. Martin had told me he wasn't all that interested in hornbills, but this sighting changed his mind. There are several species of hornbills in the park. They are all spectacular and all in trouble as far as populations go in Thailand. Since elephant ivory is much more difficult to obtain now, hornbill ivory is being substituted. We got our tickets and drove through the gates.

I had read a blog from another birder who had recently been in Thailand that woodpeckers were extremely difficult to find. We were really pleased when Dave found a Great Flameback almost immediately after entering the park. A bit further down the road he heard a Great Slaty Woodpecker calling. We located a pair, which flew into a near by tree, screaming and displaying. This is a huge woodpecker and one I really wanted to see. We also had Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpecker.

Dave pointed out a very large pile of elephant scat. Unfortunately, this was as close as we got to any. Just beyond it, our first Red Jungle Fowl ran across the road. These birds are the progenitors of our chickens and are amazingly gorgeous. A Common Muntjac, a species of small deer, walked past a pond that we were scanning. We added more species of bulbuls, flycatchers and a Slender-billed Oriole. A Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, by far the prettiest nuthatch I have ever seen, eluded being photographed.  Masses of butterflies swarmed on the mud at stream crossings. The deeper we got into the park the more blown away we were by the habitat.

We couldn't linger long, as we had to reach the Ban Krang campsite. The road above this site is narrow and access is time limited. . We got to the camp grounds, did a little birding, seeing Asian Fairy Bluebirds, a beautiful Thick-billed Pigeon and a few flycatchers. A troop of Dusky Langurs, one with an infant, which are bright saffron yellow, came through. We used the rest rooms and started up the narrow road. This road is rough and requires high clearance. We were amused to see a French couple attempt it in a regular car. I can't imagine that they got very far.

We happened on a White-handed Gibbon, quite close to the road. We were lucky, as they can be very shy. I was able to get a little video clip of it eating. We also saw more Dusky Langurs. The French couple had made it in farther than we expected. We told them about the gibbon by the road, which was still nearby. They shook their heads and said "No! Langur!" as gibbons are difficult to see. They were very pleased to be proven wrong. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQt8Vf1ztB4

We expected birding in Asian forest to be very difficult. The birds are shier, no doubt, but with Dave's expert help, we did really well. One of the most wanted group of birds for us, was broadbills. Some of them are crazily colored and we were not too disappointed. We had three species, Silver-breasted, Banded and Dusky, but I was not able to get any photos, due to light conditions and poor photography skills. A Great Hornbill flew over, the flap of his wings sounding like a train passing by! Martin was becoming even more enamored. We heard Gray Peacock Pheasant calling, but Dave said you can be three free from them and not see them, they are so secretive. I count heard birds, but I was a bit disappointed to not see one.

We worked our way back down to the camp ground, where I realized just how good a very cold diet coke can taste. The park has very strict time restrictions, so we didn't have too much time. There is tent camping there, but after dark, campers must stay in that area, as roaming elephants are extremely dangerous. A woman who was walking alone at night on the road had been killed a few weeks prior. We did manage to see a Violet Cuckoo, a bird we had not thought likely, making us very happy! We drove out of the park to our lodge and enjoyed Thai beer and great Thai food.

Photos for the day:https://www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/albums/72157665597179441

Bird list for the day:
Gray Peacock-Pheasant  2 heard only
Scaly-breasted Partridge 3 heard only
Red Junglefowl  22
Asian Openbill 1
Cattle Egret (Eastern)  1
Chinese Pond-Heron  4
Oriental Honey Buzzard 1
Crested Serpent-Eagle  2
Black Eagle  1
Crested Goshawk  2
Red-wattled Lapwing 2
Thick-billed Pigeon  2
Emerald Dove 2
Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo  1    Heard
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo  1
Violet Cuckoo  2
Green-billed Malkoha  2
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha  2
Asian Barred Owlet  1    Heard
Orange-breasted Trogon  1
Great Hornbill  1
Oriental Pied-Hornbill  4
Asian Palm Swift
Dollarbird  2
Coppersmith Barbet heard
Blue-eared Barbet  1
Green-eared Barbet  10
Lesser Yellownape  1    Heard
Greater Flameback  1
Great Slaty Woodpecker  3
Silver-breasted Broadbill  6
Banded Broadbill  1
Dusky Broadbill  1
Ashy Woodswallow  5
Great Iora  2
Ashy Minivet  2
White-bellied Erpornis  1
Great Iora  1
Black-winged Cuckooshrike  1
Black-naped Oriole  2
Ashy Drongo  6
Ashy Drongo (Sooty)  1
Bronzed Drongo  1
Greater-racket Tailed Drongo 1
Black-naped Monarch  3
Amur Paradise-Flycatcher  1
Barn Swallow  5
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher  3
Sultan Tit  7
Black-headed Bulbul 47
Stripe-throated Bulbul  4
Ochraceous Bulbul  6
Radde's Warbler  1
Yellow-browed Warbler  1
Eastern Crowned Leaf Warbler  2
Sulphur-breasted Warbler  2
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler  4
White-browed Scimitar-Babbler  1    Heard
Asian Fairy-bluebird  3
Asian Brown Flycatcher  2
White-rumped Shama  1
Taiga Flycatcher  1
Eyebrowed Thrush  1
Blue-winged Leafbird  4
Golden-fronted Leafbird  1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker  1
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker  2
Olive-backed Sunbird  3
Gray Wagtail  1

White-handed Gibbon, Kaeng Krachan Park, Feb, 23, 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thailand- Getting the target bird early in the game, Feb. 22, 2016

There is always a sense of relief when you get the target bird. We were going to have a couple of chances to see the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but earlier is better! We left the hotel at dawn, stopping at Seven-Eleven for the first of many breakfasts. (If you go to Thailand, get the toasted ham and cheese sandwich, it was great!) After scarfing down our sandwiches we headed for the salt pans of Pak Thale. Salt pans are shallow ponds, filled with sea water, which evaporates down to salt. They are incredibly good for shorebirds. The pans at Pak Thale had at least one Spoonbilled Sandpiper all winter.

The number of shorebirds was overwhelming. We had 24 species at Pak Thale. It didn't take long to find the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Unfortunately, it was too far out to get a photo, but I was happy. Other species we saw included both Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Spotted Redshanks, Common Greenshanks, Great Knots, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, a huge flock of Eurasian Curlews, and Broad-billed Sandpipers. There were more Painted Storks, many egrets and herons and two species of cormorants. We had one more rarity, Nordmann's Greenshank, so we returned to Laem Phak Bia, where we found one pretty quickly.

We tore ourselves away and went looking nearby for raptors and wading birds. Yearly burning was going on, causing some uncomfortable breathing, but it seemed to bring out the hawks, kites and eagles. Some of the fields were flooded and were full of egrets and storks. One spot had both Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas. Black-eared and Brahminy Kites were common. A couple of Black-shouldered Kites, which are very similar to our White-tailed Kites, hovered over head. We had four Greater Spotted Eagle, a Booted Eagle, and best of all, a White-bellied Sea-Eagle. We added the first of many woodpeckers to our list, one with a great name- Freckle-bellied Woodpecker. A flock of Scaly-breasted Munias was in a weedy field. This species was recently added to the ABA list for North America, the population coming from escaped cage birds. It was great to see true wild ones!

We then set out for Kaeng Krachan National Park. This park is a fabulous spot for birds, butterflies and mammals. Both northern and southern species reside here. It has several species of monkeys, Sun Bears and wild Indian Elephants. We arrives late in the afternoon at the Ban Maka Resort and did a little bit of birding, right around the hotel. We had a great meal and made plans for the next day.

Here are my photos for the day:

Here is the bird list:
 Lesser Whistling-Duck  200
Little Grebes 25
Asian Open-bills 150
Painted Stork  3
Indian Cormorant  2
Little Cormorant  51
Gray Heron  10
Purples Heron 1
Great Egret  40
Intermediate Egret 2
Little Egret  6
Cattle Egret  14
Striated Heron 1
pond heron sp.
Black-shouldered Kite 2
Greater Spotted Eagle  4
Booted Eagle  1
Black Kite (Black-eared)  15
Brahminy Kite  15
White-bellied Sea-Eagle  1
Black-winged Stilt  127
Pied Avocet 2
Black-bellied Plover  72
Pacific Golden-Plover  20
Red-wattled Lapwing-5
Lesser Sand-Plover  50
Kentish Plover  15
Little Ringed Plover  2
Terek Sandpiper  18
Common Sandpiper  1
Spotted Redshank  20
Common Greenshank  12
Nordmann's Greenshank 1
Marsh Sandpiper  45
Wood Sandpiper  1
Eurasian Curlew  750    Huge flock
Black-tailed Godwit  17
Bar-tailed Godwit  10
Great Knot  201
Ruff  20
Broad-billed Sandpiper  10
Curlew Sandpiper  30
Long-toed Stint  20
Spoon-billed Sandpiper  1
Red-necked Stint  46
 Sanderling  2
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Pheasant-tailed Jacana  3
Bronze-winged Jacana  2
Oriental Pratincole  12
Whiskered Tern  4
Brown-headed Gull  120
Little Tern  30
Gull-billed Tern  1
Caspian Tern  15
Whiskered Tern  30
Great Crested Tern  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  20
Red Collared-Dove  6
Spotted Dove  2
Zebra Dove  1
Asian Koel  12
Germain's Swiftlet  10
Black-capped Kingfisher  1
White-throated Kingfisher  2
Indian Roller  1
Freckle-breasted Woodpecker  2
Brown Shrike  2
Black Drongo  10
Large-billed Crow (Eastern)  1
Malaysian Pied-Fantail  1
Barn Swallow  12
Streak-eared Bulbul  1
AOriental Reed-Warbler  2
Plain Prinia  1
Oriental Magpie-Robin  1
Siberian Stonechat (Stejneger's)  3sian Pied Starling  4
Common Myna  4
Great Myna  25
Eurasian Tree Sparrow  2
 Baya Weaver  15
Asian Golden Weaver  1
White-rumped Munia  1
Scaly-breasted Munia  4
Chestnut Munia  36

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hello Kitty! Hello Thailand! Februarly 21, 2016

I think every birder has a mental list of the birds they most want to see. Spoon-billed Sandpiper at the very top of my list. Unfortunately, this very endangered species has only been seen in North America five times, four in Alaska, and one time in Canada. I had pretty much resigned myself to only wishing. Then my friend, Ryan Shaw told me he was going to Thailand, where they winter in small numbers. He had gotten a really good deal on Korean Air from Houston. This got me to thinking. Martin is very focused on birding Central and South America, and had already seen Spoon-billed Sandpipers in Hong Kong before he moved to Texas, so I approached some other friends, thinking of going in mid March. I started looking for a guide, but had no luck, as that is a popular time of the year to go. I thought it wasn't going to happen.

Then Martin started getting the bug to go. He has a friend who he did a few birding trips with in the past, Dave Sergeant, who now lives in Thailand and does some guiding. He contacted Dave and found that he was available for some dates that would work for us. I checked air fares and found we could do it on Air China through Beijing for about $850! Our friend Willie Sekula decided to go with us. I booked the flights and we started making plans. Then what I though was disaster struck. A month after booking I found out Air China had discontinued the outbound flight. They had re-booked us for the following day to Beijing, but the flight from Beijing to Bangkok was sold out. Even if it hadn't been, we didn't want to lose a day. I started searching for new flights and found EVA Air, a Taiwanese airline had a comparable fare. I was able to cancel the China Air flights and get a refund. EVA has a very high rating, so we were pleased.

We left Houston on February 19 just before midnight. I was really amused to see we were flying on EVA's Hello Kitty 777! We arrived in Taiwan early on the morning of February 21, after a 16 hour flight. (The International Date Line caused us to lose a day.) We managed a very short eBird list for the airport, so we can sort of claim to have been in Taiwan. We then had a three hour flight to Bangkok, arriving just before noon.  I got my first life bird, Open-bill Stork in a water filled ditch by the runway. Dave met us after we went through customs and we took off for Laem Phak Bia to do some shore birding. 

We dropped off our things at a nice little hotel in Petchaburi.  We made a quick stop for lunch, where Martin's chicken soup turned out to be chicken foot soup. The broth was good, the feet not so much. Our first target was Asian Dowitcher, which we found pretty quickly in a salt pan with a good number of other shorebirds.  We had 19 species of shorebirds, including Lesser Sand-plover, Little Ringed-Plover, Kentish Plover, Spotted Red-shank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Long-toed Stint and Red-necked Stint. There were a couple of Painted Storks, which has a beautiful pink blush on its back end. The weather was hot, but there was a breeze of off the Gulf of Thailand, which is nearby.

We left the salt pans and headed to the picturesque garbage dump. Dumps often have great birds and this one was no exception. Green Bee-eater was as beautiful as the dump was ugly. Two Eurasian Hoopoes were there, another of my most wanted birds. Unfortunately, they flew before I could get a photo. I was "chuffed", as Martin would say, to see a Wryneck, an odd species of woodpecker, which was yet another of my most wanted. The sun was going down and we were feeling jet lagged, so we wrapped it up for the day, after an excellent meal at a local small restaurant. No weird chicken body parts were served, so we were very happy! By the way, Thai beer is really good! We returned to the hotel, where the beds were hard, as they were everywhere in Thailand. We were so thrilled at our first day of birding, we really didn't care! I fell asleep thinking of the Spoon-billed Sandpipers we hoped to see in the morning. 

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/albums/72157665546800336

Bird list for the day:

Asian Openbill  12
Painted Stork  2
Little Cormorant  15
Gray Heron  2
Great Egret  6
Little Egret  3
Cattle Egret  7
Black-crowned Night-heron 1
pond-heron sp.  1
Brahminy Kite  2
Black-winged Stilt  22
Pacific Golden-Plover  6
Red-wattled Lapwing  4
Lesser Sand-Plover  5
Kentish Plover  8
Little Ringed Plover  4
Spotted Redshank  4
Marsh Sandpiper  55
Wood Sandpiper  2
Common Greenshank 2
Black-tailed Godwit  70
Bar-tailed Godwit  3
Great Knot  7
Ruff  3
Curlew Sandpiper  12
Temminck's Stint  1
Long-toed Stint  23
Red-necked Stint  45
Asian Dowitcher  3
Common Snipe
Brown-headed Gull  55
Little Tern  35Caspian Tern  18
White-winged Tern  10
Whiskered Tern  90
Common Tern  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  50
Red Collared-Dove 12
Zebra Dove  1
Asian Koel  11
Germain's Swiftlet-3
Asian Palm-Swift 1
Eurasian Hoopoe 2
Green Bee-eater 10
Eurasian Wryneck 1
Ashy Woodswallow  3
Black Drongo  10
Malaysian Pied-Fantail 2
Barn Swallow  18
Streak-eared Bulbul 1
Asian Pied Starling 6
White-shouldered Starling 4
Common Myna  7
Great Myna  23
Eastern Yellow Wagtail  1
Paddy-field Pipit 2
Plain-backed Sparrow 1

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Morning in the Clouds, Oaxaca July 22, 2015

This was to be our last day to go birding. It was also Martin's most anticipated day. We were going up to La Cumbre, a beautiful area in the cloud forest about 24 kilometers from Oaxaca City. This site is where Dwarf Jays can be found, which Martin wanted in the worst way. Michael said he had never seen the jays before 9:00 AM, so there was no rush, but we did arrive quite a bit earlier than that. The valley below was shrouded in clouds.

We immediately found birds. Mexican Chickadees were a new species for the trip. Olive Warblers were feeding high in the trees. Red Warblers were fairly common, a bird I wish we got in Texas!  Band-tailed Pigeons flew by. We worked our way up hill along the road, stopping from time to time. Dwarf Jays associate with Gray-barred Wrens. They feed in small flocks together. Usually the calls of the wrens are what key you into the jays being around. That is exactly what happened. Michael heard the wrens, then quickly found the jays. They moved around mid-level in the trees and we all got good looks, though photos were impossible for me. Martin did get some shots. http://www.martinreid.com/Misc%20website/MX2015DwarfJay.html

I glanced down the hill below us and saw something moving on the trunk of a tree. I initially thought it was a huge lizard, but then as it came up into clear view I could see it was a woodcreeper, with a very large bill. Michael got on it and called out "Strong-billed Woodcreeper!"  This species has a huge range, but is difficult to find in Mexico. It flew up and across the road, calling. We then heard a second bird calling nearby. We all got great looks. I was pretty excited to have found a good bird.

We also found a number of butterflies and beautiful flowers, including a couple of orchids. A Red Warbler with a large worm, flew in very close to us. It seemed kind of nervous and kept moving around, but not far, and kept the worm in its beak. We all moved away, as we assumed it had a nest nearby. Michael actually saw it go into the nest from a distance. Russet and Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes were singing around us. We heard Collared Towhees, but never saw them. It was a very successful morning!

There was a place Michael wanted to take us to for lunch to Tlamanalli in Teotitlan de Valle. I am really glad we did go there! The restaurant was lovely. Our server, Rosaria, was a delight. She dressed in traditional clothing, with her hair done up in purple ribbons. She brought us each a shot of mescal to start the meal. I had never drank mescal and was surprised just how much I liked it. We asked how much a bottle was, but it was a little more than I wanted to pay. There was a spinning wheel and huge loom in the corner. There were woven items for sale. Teotitlan de Valle is known for its weavings.

After lunch we returned to the spot where we had glimpsed Ocellated Thrasher the day before. This day we were a lot luckier. We actually saw the thrasher perched up and singing! We didn't see much else and decided to head back into town. We stopped briefly at the Beautiful Hummingbird spot from the day before, but had no luck. We had more fabulous mole for dinner and headed back to the hotel to prepare for the trip home. It was an amazing time. We had way more birds than we expected, many thanks to Michael Retter. The company was great. I am totally in love with Chiapas and Oaxaca. If you have any interest in this area let me know. I will be happy to give you more information. I would highly recommend it!

Photos from the day:

Bird list for the day:
FAMILY          NAME                            
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture                  
Accipitridae    White-tailed Kite               
Accipitridae    Zone-tailed Hawk                
Columbidae      Band-tailed Pigeon              
Trochilidae     Blue-throated Hummingbird       
Trochilidae     Berylline Hummingbird           
Trogonidae      Mountain Trogon                 
Picidae         Hairy Woodpecker                
Picidae         Northern Flicker                
Furnariidae     Strong-billed Woodcreeper       
Furnariidae     Spot-crowned Woodcreeper        
Tyrannidae      Tufted Flycatcher               
Tyrannidae      Pine Flycatcher                 
Vireonidae      Hutton's Vireo                  
Corvidae        Dwarf Jay                       
Corvidae        Steller's Jay                   
Paridae         Mexican Chickadee               
Aegithalidae    Bushtit                         
Certhiidae      Brown Creeper                   
Troglodytidae   House Wren                      
Troglodytidae   Gray-barred Wren                
Troglodytidae   Gray-breasted Wood-Wren         
Turdidae        Brown-backed Solitaire          
Turdidae        Russet Nightingale-Thrush       
Turdidae        Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush 
Mimidae         Ocellated Thrasher              
Ptilogonatidae  Gray Silky-flycatcher           
Peucedramidae   Olive Warbler                   
Parulidae       Crescent-chested Warbler        
Parulidae       Rufous-capped Warbler           
Parulidae       Golden-browed Warbler           
Parulidae       Red Warbler                     
Parulidae       Slate-throated Redstart         
Thraupidae      Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer  
Emberizidae     Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch     
Emberizidae     Rufous-capped Brush-Finch       
Emberizidae     Collared Towhee                 
Emberizidae     Spotted Towhee                  
Emberizidae     Bridled Sparrow                 
Fringillidae    House Finch                     
Fringillidae    Lesser Goldfinch