Sunday, 18 November 2012

Jacanas and Asian Bird Fair


Finding the fish ponds near the Ancient City in Samut Prakan would be very tricky if it were not for Nick Upton's detailed directions given on the excellent Thai Birding website.  
Ancient City Samut Prakan overlooking the fish ponds.
Once we arrived and parked up in the small rough area at the end of the road, we traversed the small concrete bridge and passed between the wooden huts that Nick describes which were occupied by various folk of varying ages, all greeted us with beaming smiles and a humble nod of the head, something that is so typical of these friendly people.

The air was heavy with moisture and the sun, scorching. I have no idea what the temperature was but I am sure I have never felt the like before, not even in the Amazon, where at least one was shaded from the sun by the trees. I had expected an open set of ponds covered with lilly pads and festooned with jacanas trotting about completely unabashed by our presence. In fact what greeted us was a large marshy area, heavily vegetated and not a single jacana in sight. I glanced along the hot track in front of me and was not overly sure that I wanted to venture any further, every stitch of my clothing was soaked in sweat, not pleasant, but we had to see those jacanas, so I set off.

I would say that it is highly likely that there are those that hunt for jacanas at this site, they were really wary of us and although we did spot them, both the Pheasant-tailed and the Bronze-winged Jacana stayed well away from us, however we had seen them and it was with much relief that we returned to the air-conditioned car.
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Bronze-winged Jacana
Although we were just a stone's throw from the Bird Fair site at Bang Poo, we decided that in view of our saturated apparel a shower and a change of clothing was in order, so we returned to the hotel and set off again shortly after. Of course we needn't have bothered, the moment we stepped from the car at Bang Poo the humidity and heat hit us again.
Asian Bird Fair logo featuring the spoonie (2nd from left).
We wandered up and down the two aisles of stalls and were mightily impressed by the number of people walking around, impressed that is until we realised that the stalls were set along a route to the gull feeding tourist attraction! When we looked closer we could see that few people were actually stopping to talk or discuss what was being exhibited, except maybe from the clothing stalls.
Birders? or just passing through?
We obligingly bought a couple of T shirts and handed out the Wader Quest stickers we had produced back in the UK, we also took the trouble to explain, when we found those that would understand us, what the quest was all about.
A couple of  girls on the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand stand
showing off their spoonie badges and Wader Quest stickers.
There were a number of stalls that mentioned the spoonie, but it was disheartening to learn that some of the local 'birders' dispute the number of spoonies left in the wild, claiming that there are 400 or more pairs. I tried to point out that the 100 pairs figure was scientifically arrived at by an international team of scientists, but this cut no ice. I then said that in fact even if the number were as high as 400 pairs, that was still too few and the bird would be no less in danger.

Apart from that, most folk welcomed us in the usual Thai way and were chuffed that the world outside Asia was as concerned as they were about their wildlife and birds in particular.

It was a welcome relief for me when we came across the Oriental Bird Club stand, three guys that spoke English!
The OBC stand.
Not sure how long this venerable gentleman had been sitting there? The sign over his head reads Young birders!
Young bird club?
So our time in Thailand draws to a close, it has been a marvellous experience in so many ways. Seeing a new country, meeting people from a different culture, wonderful sights and sounds and exotic food. We saw some great birds apart from the waders we had come specifically to see, and of course saw 28 new species of wader for the quest, leaving Thailand on 46 species. But the icing on the cake, and something that will stay with us forever was our close encounter with one of the world's most endangered, enigmatic and downright loveable birds ever, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers
The down side to our journey here was that although the Thai people are loveable in almost every conceivable way, they do not have a very advanced conservation mindset. We encountered the trap with a White-breasted Waterhen in it in Lampakbia; as we drove to Bangkok we came across a guy with a rifle waiting for some hapless creature to pass by. This was no poverty stricken, desperate subsistence gatherer, this was a guy with a 4x4 who was confident enough to park up along the road not 500m from a police station in broad daylight with a gun which, I am guessing, is probably not entirely legal.
The other distressing sight was the number of birds we saw in cages, mostly Red-whiskered Bulbuls which (not surprisingly I suppose) we didn't see in the wild. Worse still was the fact that these birds were invariably left in full sun all day with no shade.

We know that there are other areas in Thailand that are not often highlighted and that give cause for concern, National Parks being built upon, shrimp fishing being carried out in supposedly protected waters, the Krabi estuary is under threat despite being a Ramsar site. There is a long way to go but I suppose the fact that the Asian Bird Fair was held here at all gives us cause for hope, there is much to do but it is surely worth continuing the fight, we know the royal family of Thailand has been involved in creating mangrove restoration projects and they seem to be greatly influential among their people, so maybe, just maybe, this will begin a trend, let's hope so.
Poster showing that someone cares about the bulbuls.
Elis and I are off to celebrate a successful trip by going to down-town Bangkok, just to see what all the fuss is about!

See you in Dubai!

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