Yes folks, we did it! We actually saw, not one, not two but three living, breathing, teetering about in the mud, honest to God Spoon-billed Sandpipers!
But what a day in general we had, a total of 27 wader species, 21 of which were new for the list.
After a very early start (04:50) following a disturbed night due to worrying about missing the alarm clock, our friend Peter Ericsson, who lives here in Thailand, drove us down to Pak Thale. Once we arrived at the salt pans we started looking at the waders we found, we weren't earnestly looking for the Spoonies at this stage as they were not seen in the area. The most obvious bird was the Black-winged Stilts, they were everywhere in small groups and pairs with a few young birds scattered among them, Wood Sandpiper and Marsh Sandpiper soon were found, the delicate Marsh Sandpiper was abundant the whole day through. A Little Ringed Plover put in an appearance, a single Common Greenshank and a Long-toed Stint, the only one we saw all day.
|Little Ringed Plover|
Another very common bird on the pans was Greater Sand Plover, they were everywhere too, often in quite sizeable groups, many of the smaller Kentish Plover could also be found, although Lesser Sandplovers were thin on the ground.
We worked our way along the pans, stopping occasionally to scan the wader flocks, a couple of which held good numbers of Great Knot. Peter was surprised by the hundreds of Broad-billed Sandpipers that were present, many more than normal apparently.
Three species were then added to the day list that we had previously seen in the UK; Grey Plover, Eurasian Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. Another familiar UK bird was the Curlew Sandpiper, there was a small group of these and they were new for the WQ list.
Then came some anxious searching for Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Peter took us to where they are usually seen, his confidence was distressingly high, heightening our anxiety with stories of "I saw them here" and "I saw them there". We searched the whole area, nothing, we stopped to talk to a local Thai birder, he too had not seen them, Peter arranged for him to call us if he did, he didn't. At least he didn't call, he did find the spoonies though, but the first we knew about it was when we drove back to where his car was parked. Looking across the pans we saw him sitting with is camera a short way out on one of the small mud dykes. He waved at us, and then gave the thumbs up. My heart stopped, my legs trembled, my mind raced. Would it stay put until we arrived? Thankfully it did but my axiety levels hit an all time high as I stumbled along the slippery dyke towards where he sat with unseemly haste whilst trying very hard to maitian an air of composure. I had a difficult moment when we assembled by his side and everyone was "ooing" and "ahhing" about the bird but I couldn't find it. What if it flew? Where was it? Which of those dozens of small birds was it?
Then, there it was, what I had dreamed of seeing, an image that is so firmly etched on my brain after looking at so many photos of it in the past few months, that little spoon shaped bill, prodding away frantically at the mud, an overwhelming sense of relief and privilege over came me. We enjoyed the birds for some time, until it became necessary to go in order to seek out further waders, on this first day with Peter, time was of the essence to take full advantage of his knowledge of the birds and area.
|Two Spoon-billed Sandpipers|
|Relief or what?|
We visited some large ponds set back from the road behind an impressive and ornate temple, here we came across our first Red-wattled Lapwings and a couple of Common Sandpipers, at another spot we found a trio of Grey-headed Lapwings, these were a pleasnat surprise for me as I had thought them to be further north as per the literature that I had seen, although in Robson's book he does show them as wintering this far south.
Returning to the first area of salt pans along the main road we started to scan the flocks for Nordmann's Greenshank in doing so we found Pacific Golden Plover and a few Ruff to add to the swelling list. A lot of the birds were asleep, so searching through them was slow going. At one point we were scanning across some distant birds with our bins cowering from the increasingly strong sun on the shadows of one of the wooden salt hut along the road, when Peter said he thought a couple were with checking with the scope, so we did. A few moments watching a sleeping bird trying hard to decide if it was or wasn't in fact a Nordmann's, waiting for it to raise it's head to see the bill when quite suddenly we noticed two other birds nearby already with heads up showing the distinctive bill shape of our quarry, Another very rare and endangered wader, a bird that I had often dreamt of seeing, was there large as life in front on me. Fantastic!
|Nordmann's Greenshank (middle right)|
From there we headed for the fishing boat quay where we sought the Mr Deang, the boatman. We found him tending to his small boat and he readily agreed to take us out to the sand bar.
We crept out along the mangrove lined river to its month, the small boat chugging away and the scorching sun on our backs. As we approached the sand bar we searched through the many Kentish Plovers gathered there, me trying hard to remember the features of White-faced Plover as I studied each one intently. I needn't have worried, when a White-faced Plover did eventually get found, it stuck out like a sore thumb and was ver easy to tell from the Kentish Plovers that it was consorting with. In addition, right next to the White-faced was a few of the delightful Malaysian Plovers, which were every bit as pretty ass I had imagined them and not difficult to discern from the more familiar Kentish.
|White-faced, Malaysian and Kentish Plovers|
We spent a happy half hour or so watching these birds and a couple of Sanderling that were accompanying them, Mr. Deang steadily pushing the boat having alighted and now up to his waost in water. He gently pushed us in the direction of the birds so that we could photograph them. This whole scene was rather idyllic, us watching some rare and beautiful birds in a peaceful and magical setting and was enhanced still further when Elis found a Terek Sandpiper that had come to join the party. Peter couldn't believe our luck.
After a while it was decided that we should go in search of the Chinese Egret, although not a wader in the British sense of the word and thus not part of our quest, as birders we couldn't resist the cahance to look for one of these rare birds as we were so close. It took us a while but we did find one on one of the rocky sea breaks set off the beach, but more relevant to this quest was a large flock of Eurasian Curlews that flew over. As they went by I noticed one that was darker with no white rump, as they wheeled around overt he sand bar I realised that it was an Eastern Curlew, and another species hits the WQ list.
|Eurasian Curlews and in there somewhere and Eastern Curlew|
Happily we chugged back to the quay, thanked our boatman and headed for lunch. After a pleasnat meal and a cold beer to celebrate, we headed back to the salt pans to photograph some more of the shorebirds and perhaps see the spoonies again. When we arrived back at the spoony spot there were a number of Thai photographers gathered there, so we decided that we would return another day to look at them and instead head for Bangkok stopping along the way to look for jacanas, unsuccessfully, and Asian Dowitcher also unsuccessfully although we did add Whimbrel to the list at last light as we looked for them in vain.
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