Bird Watching for Pleasure
Barbets and a Cuckoo
By Mike Gilman
Intrigued by what appeared to be a yellow ball of fluff high in the
trees, we stealthily approached for a closer look. Our beach side, shady
grove setting was likened to Somerset Maughan’s short stories, ‘ The
Casuarina Tree’. The long needle shaped leaves were tinged brown as they
came slowly spiralling down to the ground, signaling a changing season. The
copse of tall, strong rooted Casuarina trees, commonly known as ‘ Whispering
Pines’, had stood firm against the 2004 tsunami wrath, and looking up the
first rays of sunshine pierced their skyward forms.
Billed Heron standing in beach surf at Toa Island.
The fluff ball was closer and clearer to the eye now, so with binoculars
raised the brilliant yellow plumage, blackish tail and primaries identified
the Black-Naped Oriole. This migratory 27cm long beauty sported a red bill
and black eye mask. It flew from branch to branch trying to satisfy it’s
hunger pangs by diligently searching for insects. What an enchanting way to
begin our day.
Coastal rocky inlets and shore lines have stood the test of time in birding
memoirs. Our recent experience found us thigh deep in surf, looking for
something unusual, in the early morning. Then, quite unexpectedly, a pair of
greyish birds directly ahead, looked to be rock-dancing just above the surf
washed rocks. We inched closer, ever mindful not to be engulfed by larger
waves. The birds were not at all shy, and at 20m distance their Thrush-like
profiles presented a new bird for our listing. The Blue Rock Thrush, a 23cm
migratory species, was seen to be mainly grey, with hints of blue. They
stood still now, on rocks close to the shore looking for their insect prey.
Once spotted, the catch and snack was by second-nature, an enjoyable
precision task, performed over and over again.
Reef Egret on a rock at Bat Island.
Talking about the sea, two birds which display expert skills in catching
aquatic delicacies are the Great Billed Heron and Pacific Reef Egret. We saw
the former bird standing statue-like in the early morning shore surf, it’s
powerful long grey bill ready for the next lightning strike. This shy, 115cm
tall Heron has mainly grey plumage, and seems to prefer it’s own company. In
contrast the 58cm tall Reef Egrets were more numerous, with grey plumage,
hints of amber on the bill, and prominent yellow feet.
Our sightings of these four birds have been along the Andaman coast, and on
the isolated islands of Chang, Wai, Klum, Lao Ya, Toa and Bat.
The dull start to the day slowly gave way to whisper cloud, through which
the sun’s rays illuminated variegated green foliage. In the semi clearing
ahead a group of tall trees stood proudly, awaiting the new day. Suddenly
their upper most branches moved and revealed a pair of log tailed birds, a
species not yet seen by us. Despite their size and gymnast agility the
Rufous Treepie birds were clearly at home searching for fruit and
invertebrates amongst the leafy clusters. The slightly curved bill, grey /
black head and throat, contrasted well with the orange / brown underparts.
These birds possess a long tail of irregular shape, which was not
appreciated whilst they were searching for breakfast. However, within a
short space of time both birds were airborne seeking another food source. It
was during their flight that the tails became so detailed and impressive.
Once seen, never forgotten, the adage is certainly true of this Crow family,
43cm long acrobat.
We were delayed for some minutes en route to viewing the Treepies, because
of the emergence of a woman from the forest carrying fresh mushrooms. The
opportunity to re-stock our larder was simply too good to miss. Had we not
bumped into this woman the sighting of the Treepies may have been a
non-event. Whilst this foray happened a few weeks ago here in Chiang Mai,
it’s certainly one that’s worth mentioning.
Our Chiang Mai village has a pleasant park in which an abundance of palm
tree species grow. That said, there is one tall deciduous tree also, known
as the ‘flame of the forest’, which as yet retains some of it’s foliage. At
around noon time, mid last week, a monotonous bird song came from the park
area. We guessed this belonged to one of the Barbet family. As the plumage
of the majority of this family is green, pin pointing species in healthy
foliage is difficult. We made our way toward the song’s location and scanned
the branches. The song had now stopped, so we sought shady cover. Then
alerted by movement near the tree top, red and yellow shapes appeared. The
Coppersmith Barbet is the smallest within it’s family at 15cm long. With
streaky underparts, short stumpy tail, red forehead, patches of yellow above
and below the eyes, and prominent yellow chin, this bobby-dazzler was a joy
to observe. At up to one hundred times a minute the resonent ‘poop poop poop
poop’ call of this bird identifies the species. But clear sightings are
It was whilst scanning the Barbets tree that a much larger, dark brown,
skulking form could be seen. No song, obscure, and strong bill, what was
this bonus.? With lenses trained within the shaded greenery, a heavily white
spotted mantle and back, with long zebra barred tail was observed. The
female Common Koel is like it’s male partner, shy and secretive. Commonly
known as a large Cuckoo, it is a parasite, preferring Crows to raise the
fledgelings. The male is all black, it’s loud two tone denoting call can be
heard from afar, especially before dawn. Enjoy the gifts of nature.
Join the Tour De Chang charity bike ride
for the survival of Thai elephants!
The weekend of the 6th and 7th of February 2010 you are
invited to join the ‘Bike for Elephants’ tour in Northern Thailand. Two days
of adventure and fun biking through the Mae Tang valley, in Chiang Mai
province. This event will raise much needed funds for the Elephant Nature
Park and create awareness about the plight of Thai elephants. The Elephant
Nature Park set in a beautiful mountain range north of Chiang Mai is a safe
home to rescued elephants that were previously abused and neglected.
of the charity riders on the trail to raise funds for the Elephant Nature
The tour departs from a resort on the Samoeng road on February 6, following
an irrigation canal through the rice fields and cycle off road to join the
road to Pai. Cycle through the mountains towards the Elephant Nature Park,
where riders will camp on Saturday night. Here you will not only have a
chance to refresh in the river while washing liberated elephants, but also
to learn about natural elephant behavior and to see how their money will be
spent. We will set up our tents in the Elephant Nature Park, have an early
night and wake up with the sounds of elephants!
After breakfast on the 7th, riders will climb one hill to get out of the
Elephant Nature Park valley. A shortcut leads to the rice fields near Sri
Lanna National Park. After passing some villages, bikers reach Mae Ngat
reservoir where, after lunch, they will take long tail boats to the Echachai
houseboats. You can stay overnight in a houseboat or take the boat and
minibus back to Chiang Mai.
Join this event by starting a team with any of your social network. It’s a
great team building event and fun and healthy way to do something good for
the world! A team needs to have at least 4 and maximum 10 members. Teams
will receive their own page on the Tour De Chang website to help with online
fundraising. A minimum amount of 5,000 baht per person is required for
Register at www.bring-the-elephant-home.org. The cost of the event is 2,500
baht pp – excluding mountain bike (or 3,300 baht pp including mountain bike,
helmet and water bottle) and raise a minimum of 5,000 baht per person to
support the Elephant Nature Park.
This fee includes insurance, safety instructions, a sponsor book, meals and
drinks, camping at the Elephant Nature Park and the boat ride on Mae Ngat
reservoir. Also included: elephant feeding, bathing, elephant morning walk,
a lot of new impressions, friends and an experience you won’t forget.
Bike for Elephants registration
Sponsor a team: The teams will try to find their own sponsors, but all
support is very welcome! Support the Bring the Elephant Home Bike Team with
an online donation.
Elephants at the nature park
enjoy a peaceful existence.