HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Inspiring children to help themselves; Sam’s story

Bird Watching For Pleasure 

How to attract birds to your garden

Songs of Memory concert at 3 Kings Monument

Inspiring children to help themselves; Sam’s story

By Shana Kongmun
For those who despair that today’s youth are not what they once were, for those who find themselves muttering “kids these days”, for those who, when confronted with today’s trendy teenagers, there exists a shining example of selfless giving and initiative in the person of 16 year old Bangkok native and Chiang Mai transplant, Samsuda Khem-Nguad.

Samsuda Khem-Nguad and Jeannette Kelly show off some of the creative cards that children from the Ton Han Luang School have made at the 200 Club Citylife garden party.

She moved here late 2007 with her family, just a young teenager. By the end of 2008 she and a friend, Erika Reagan, had started the Strong Will Seed Project to help poorer schools with limited funding to provide their students with nutritious lunches on more than just the 10 baht a day per student government budget.

The girls came up with the idea of teaching the students to make cards, thus enabling them to help themselves. They presented their idea to the Baan Hua Kuang School, a 50 year old public school with 78 primary students and just 6 teachers. The school needed funding to help supplement the vegetable garden and fish pond that helped provide food for the students. The school enthusiastically agreed to the girls plan. By June 2009, they started the program, teaching 20 enthusiastic students how to make greeting cards. The girls helped them get started and marketed the cards.

Six months later every student in the school takes time out to make cards. The project expanded to include the Ton Han Luang primary school and now more than 100 students spend their free time making cards for sale.

One of the added benefits that teachers have noticed, in addition to encouraging creativity among students who have no art teacher, is that those students with learning disabilities and difficulties paying attention in school have developed better concentration, more creative skills and a more positive attitude towards school. The children have, as Sam said, seemed to realize their own value.

Toys for Thailand is helping to market the cards, as are several other interested people. For further information, please visit www.strongwillseed. wordpress.com.

Children from Ton Han Luang School make cards for sale.


Bird Watching For Pleasure 

Red Billed Blue Magpies and a Bird Bath

By Mike Gilman
From your yesteryear school days you will no doubt remember the poem by English poet J. Milton Hayes, whose famed, colourful, opening line loosely begins, “There is a green eyed yellow idol to the north of Katmandu”. Well, we didn’t have to go quite so far to see the even more colourful Red Billed Blue Magpie. This raucous, crow family bird, which is supposedly uncommon, is 65cm long, (inclusive of 40cm long tail) which has been seen and heard quite regularly within the forested areas on the outskirts of Chiang Mai.

The bright orange / red bill contrasts sharply with the white central head band, which separates the black head, neck, and breast. The grey underparts blend in nicely with blue primaries, white tipped blue tail, red legs and feet. The underside of the elongated tail is akin to the zebras stripes. Both male and female look alike, and whilst we have seen them in groups of four, tail-gating each other from tree top, to tree top, the maximum group number we have seen is ten. They are active feeders whose eating delicacies include snakes, invertebrates, seeds and fruit. Their flight habits are interesting to observe too, in that one of the group usually flies ahead to check out another gathering / feeding area. If all is safe and well its squawking call attracts other members of the group, who come tail-gating to the new drop zone. Recently, on our sojourn to the isle of Koh Toa, we saw this same species Magpie, so sad eyed, in a ghastly small cage, one just practical for a Myna. The Magpie was bedraggled, and it was horrifying to see such a long acrobatic bird boxed into a space, where it displayed difficulty turning around. Had the owner been present, a few selective words in his ear would have been appropriate.

At the other end of the scale is the common Olive Backed Sunbird. A non-shy daily visitor to our village’s greenery, a species seen in local forest edges too. This micro-light 11cm long beauty displays a purple / blue throat and breast, (male), with yellowish underparts. The black, thin curved bill blends perfectly with it’s slender proportioned body and tail. The female of this species has an olive / yellow throat and breast. This delicate bird, and its other family members are often mistaken for Humming birds, these species are not represented in Thailand.

If there is one bird which Asian people can identify and associate with their gardens, lawns and local parks, it is the Magpie Robin. Its firm stance and cocked tail present a profile which is unmistakable. The black / white male, and grey / white female are also seen in forest clearings, and even scavenging in ‘out of the way’ rubbish dumps. Being 23cm long, with an attractive melodious song, and non-shy friendly nature, it also appears to be a bird of habit too.

Several months ago we placed a bird bath in our garden so as to attract different bird families. The bath is sited in a shady, semi wild area, with good viewing vantage. To date, of all the different families which visit our garden only three alight on the bath rim.  The Magpie Robin, Sooty Headed Bulbul and Spotted Dove. Whilst they all take drinks from the water, only the Magpie Robin stands thigh deep to take a bath. The bathing procedure is a ritual, which never changes. First the head is submerged, and then with both wings beating, the body experiences the splashing, cleansing, cooling effects. Then, to dry-off, a short flight to the near-by bamboo frame to flap the wings, and shake the body feathers. Such a joy to observe, sit awhile, and let nature unfold before your eyes.

Both male and female come each morning and afternoon, and one can almost set the clock as to their time-keeping. Enjoy the gifts of nature.

How to attract birds to your garden

By Eric Danell,
Dokmai Garden

Birds provide action, beauty and music in your garden, and they help you to control pests. Their presence shows you have a healthy garden. On the 10th of February, I had the honour of going bird watching at Dokmai Garden with Mr. Tony Ball, who has produced three famous CDs on Thai bird calls. We saw 42 bird species in a couple of hours, expanding Dokmai Garden’s wild bird list to 63 species. Here I present some advice from Mr. Ball, regarding how you can make your garden a bird sanctuary, safe from cats, poachers and bird collectors, who all seriously endanger Thai wild birds. A long bamboo corridor is beautiful, and attracts birds like the White-rumped Shama, a master singer! A pond rich in Mekong fish of different sizes, preferably with floating plants such as Neptunia oleracea (Water mimosa, pak kracheet), is a heaven for bitterns, herons, kingfishers and water-hens. In a small garden, just a pot of water will attract thirsty birds. Shrubberies and hedges, even of the hated Mimosa pigra (Giant sensitive plant, Maiyarap ton), provide shelter for many birds. Fruit trees such as Flacourtia indica (Governor’s plum, Ta khop pa) and Protium serratum (Jungle drop, Mafaen) may attract orioles, parrots and bulbuls. Nectar trees, especially Bombax ceiba (Red kapok, Ton ngiu), attract sunbirds and flowerpeckers. Owls, hoopoe and rollers favour old large trees with hollows, and so does many wild bees, which attract bee-eaters. Tall grass gives shelter to quails, and grass seeds are attractive to sparrows and munias. Moist leaf litter will not only benefit your soil, but also constitute a nice restaurant for thrushes and fowl. If you want ioras, flycatchers and nightjars, do not spray against insects. Many of Thailand’s 36 species of woodpeckers eat ants. Open grazed areas with buffaloes appeal to pipits, wagtails and mynas. If you have many birds, then you will get hunters and parasites like hawks and cuckoos. Additional advice can be shared with Mr. Tony Ball, who will guide a bird excursion at Dokmai Garden on the 21st of March (www.dokmaigarden.co.th). [email protected]

Songs of Memory concert at 3 Kings Monument

Hill tribe musicians performed traditional music at the Walking Street market Sunday, February 21. The exhibition, “Songs of Memory”, featuring the music and culture of the hill tribes people of the Golden Triangle, is currently running at the Arts and Culture Centre behind 3 Kings Monument. Construction of a traditional hut around the courtyard begins in the first week of March. March 13 will feature artisans demonstrating basket weaving, silversmithing and embroidery skills in the Courtyard. That day will also have a conference entitled “From the Hands of the Hills: The Richness of Traditional Craftsmanship” from 10 am in the meeting room in the Centre.