Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thailand Nov-Dec 08: 1st - 3rd Dec - The Golden Triangle

Burma/Myanmar on the right of the river, Thailand on the left.

Due to my daughter's ambition to set foot in Laos and my ambition to catch up with some good waders around the Mekong, we spent 2 nights in 'The Golden Triangle'. I hadn't realized that this has become the actual name of a town - not sure what its original Thai name was.

The Golden Triangle - so named because at this point three countries meet - Laos on the right, Burma straight ahead, and Thailand on the left (oh, and the rest is the mighty Mekong river!). Also probably so named because it was formerly the area where 'black gold' aka opium poppies were grown, and is now the area where 'pink gold' (aka western tourists) is still enriching the area.

A short boat ride took us to Laos, where you can buy an assortment of health drinks containing pickled creatures - in this case a Pangolin, a lizard and a large snake. There was also a captive bear available for the tourists to gawp at, and shops sold an assortment of products made from elephant ivory. These sad sights reminded me of southern China in the 80s, although I had hoped never to see them again.

On our first morning in the Golden Triangle, we came across a fruiting tree in the middle of the tourist shops.

It attracted several Black-crested Bulbuls...

...a very obliging Plain Flowerpecker

...a female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker for comparison

...and, briefly, a bee-eating Yellow-browed Warbler, as well as numerous Olive-backed Sunbirds.

But it was the waders I was really hoping for, in particular Small Pratincole and Long-billed Plover, so the next morning we found our way down to a sandbar on the Mekong to see what we could see.

Dawn on the Mekong - a little chilly, but breathtakingly beautiful.

There were a number of plovers around, including this interesting pale-legged Kentish, but not a Long-billed in sight.

Amazingly, after my first South-east Asian Common Ringed Plover in Sabah just a couple of months ago, we found another on the banks of the Mekong, defending territory aggressively against all-comers, in this case, a Little Ringed Plover.

Covering all the angles!

The early morning chill was enlivened by the arrival of several small groups of River Lapwings, with their odd, distinctive stiff-winged, heads-up flight.

On arrival they would energetically display to each other.

Morning formalities completed, they then flew off elsewhere.

The spot we had chosen turned out to be a fine one for observing snipe - in this case, a Pintail Snipe.

I confess I find snipe on the ground very difficult to identify - I just don't see enough. This is another Pintail I believe.

There's quite a range of colour tone between the front and back birds. After much pondering, I have tentatively identified the front bird as a Common Snipe, on the basis of the rather thick dark loral stripe, longish bill and tail, and the dark background colour to the scapulars.

A couple of Pintail Snipe in flight, showing the typically deep chest and round wingtips of Pintail and Swinhoe's and toes projecting beyond the tail tip, which favours Pintail over Swinhoe's.

I was able to confirm their identification as Pintail Snipes when the rear bird obligingly fanned its tail, revealing the pinlike outer tail feathers.

Feeding snipes are very aggressive toward other snipes invading their space, giving me a good chance to see birds in flight. Identification in flight is much more straightforward than when they are on the ground. Here a Common Snipe (left) shows its largely white underwing and white trailing edge to the secondaries. The wings are narrower and sharper than the Pintail Snipe's (right). Pintail and Swinhoe's Snipe have almost crake-like rounded wingtips, lack the pale trailing edge to the wing, and have rather brown upper primaries and secondaries. In addition, the buff edged wing coverts usually create a prominent pale upperwing patch which contrasts with the flight feathers.

Pintail (and Swinhoe's) Snipe have uniformly barred underwings, as can be seen here.

...compared with the more contrasting underwing pattern of Common Snipe.

The white trailing edge of the Common Snipe's wing is well seen here.

And the lack thereof on Pintail Snipe here.

In flight, Swinhoe's might be expected to show more white in the outer tail region than Pintail, by virtue of its broader, paler outer tail feathers. This Pintail Snipe shows very little.

This is a Common Snipe (though I only know that because I saw the wing pattern before it flew in front of the sun!)

I was really pleased to photograph this Green Sandpiper. It's a vagrant to Peninsular Malaysia, and is often mistaken for the much commoner Wood Sandpiper. The upperparts are really dark, making the white rump really stand out. Note also the thick black tail bars, quite different from Wood Sandpiper.

The underwing is blackish too, as opposed to the pale barred underwing of Wood Sandpiper. If you use your imagination you can just about make out this feature here!

And finally, a Temminck's Stint doing its best impression of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper (anyone who thinks Spoon-billed Sandpipers are unmistakable reckon without the fairly frequent occurrence of Muddy-billed Stints - see another example here).

So, no Small Pratincoles or Long-billed Plovers but a pleasing selection all the same!


Unknown said...

Great story on the Golden Triangle critters, Dave! I was at that very same spot just last week, but not really for birding. :D

johntynycoed said...

Thanks for the Green Sandpiper in flight. Some years ago I saw a bird like a large House Martin come up out of a ditch in my fields. Thought it was a type of Sandpiper and now I know which one.

John Tynycoed