At the Mic: Rick Simpson
Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion.
He previously wrote about Wader Quest at the ABA Blog here.
The first major trip of Wader Quest, I suppose inevitably, was to Thailand in pursuit of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, supporting that species being the reason the project was created in the first place.
We were ably assisted on the first day of this trip by ex-pat Swede Peter Ericsson whose intimate knowledge of the Pak Thale and Lampkbia region of the gulf coast of Thailand was to prove invaluable.
Naturally concentrating on seeing the spoonies first we headed for Pak Thale. Inevitably though we saw many waders along the way and as wader lovers it was impossible to simply drive past large flocks of Great Knot and Broad-billed Sandpipers, we had to stop. In doing so we also saw our first Long-toed Stint, Common Greenshank, Greater Sandplover, Black-winged Stilt, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers and Red-wattled Lapwings… you see what I mean? You couldn’t simply by-pass that lot with a clear conscience.
On arriving at Pak Thale we were really tense and nervous. Would we see the spoonies? Today was our best hope if we were to see them we reasoned, with Peter’s help, what if we miss them? Would we be able to find them ourselves? Looking across the salt pans at the thousands of shorebirds including many Red-necked Stints that were a similar shape, size and colour, we realised that looking for these diminutive waders was a ‘needle in a haystack’ situation. Careful scanning and identification was obviously what was required, or, alternatively a good guide who knew where to start looking! We had an anxious half hour scouring the flocks when the birds were not where Peter had last seen them, but returning to the same spot a little later, we noticed a bird photographer out at the next salt-pan along. We walked out to where he was and joy of joys he indicated that he could see the spoonies. The only problem was, we couldn’t, we’d have to move closer to see them and risk disturbing them. Bravely and perhaps selfishly we moved closer, the birds were unconcerned, now Peter and Elis could see them, but I couldn’t. As birders you will all know how this situation feels, everyone has seen the bird but you, a nightmare. I scanned and scanned and in the end admitted defeat and asked where the hell these birds were. Elis pointed at the nearest bird! Well, who’d have thought of looking there?
With this success under the belt we moved on to look for more species, vowing to return to see more of these little beauties another day.
Next stop revealed another sought after species, Grey-headed Lapwing, I love Vanellus lapwings and then, although not the greatest of views against the light, another mega Nordmann’s Greenshank. Stopping at various spots in Peter’s itinerary we added Curlew Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff before catching a boat ride out to the famous sandy spit at Lampakbia.
This is another must-do destination for visiting birders, especially those with waders on their mind. This is the best spot, probably on earth, to see the newly rediscovered White-faced Plover. This bird has had a chequered career taxonomically, but now is considered a true species again, especially by us that have seen one! In addition to this lovely little bird there are the equally lovely and almost as rare Malaysian Plovers. These two gems shared the beach with Kentish Plovers, Mongolian Sandplovers, Sanderling and a single Terek Sandpiper.
As we enjoyed these birds a large flock of Eurasian Curlews flew over, I noticed something odd among them, a darker looking bird. Through the bins it was obviously a curlew, but it appeared darker. As they turned in the light it was clear that it had no white back and was a warm cinnamon colour, we had found our first and, in the end, only Eastern Curlew of the trip.
After that initial day of a thousand delights new birds were difficult to come by. We added Common Redshank for the trip the next morning on our way to the King’s Project ponds that we had visited the day before with Peter. Here we found Temminck’s Stint that we had not been successful with the day before and were delighted when a couple of snipe we flushed proved, by their lack of white trailing edge to the wing, to be Pintail Snipe.
Another spot that Peter had shown us was, we were told, good for Greater Painted-Snipe. So we trudged up and down looking for them, but to no avail. There was a drivable track alongside the boggy area from which I reasoned we would possibly see these birds on the deck from the car, sadly dodgy parking by an unknown motorist rendered this plan unworkable so we walked the track instead and sure enough we flushed a Greater Painted-Snipe. Good enough views but I was still convinced my plan would work.
The rest of our time at Pak Thale and Lampakbia was spent divided between passing time with the spoonies, often hours at a stretch simply enjoying the privilege of being in their company, and driving around allowing Elis to get photographs of as many waders as we could get close to, it was most enjoyable and relaxing.
We then had to return to Bangkok, but before setting off I was doggedly determined to have a go again for the Greater Painted-Snipe from the car. This time no impediment. I drove as far as I safely could, but we saw nothing. As we were driving out again Elis simply said,
“Stop the car!” Who was I to argue? I backed up a little and there, underneath a small scrubby bush was our target. I love it when I’m right! (Doesn’t happen too often.)
Back at Bangkok we had two more target birds to see, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. To me Jacanas don’t really feel like waders, more like gallinules, but they are grouped in with the others so we had to see them. It was very hot, still and muggy at the Fish Farm, but we did see both before hastily retreating from the intensity of the local climate.
After this we visited the Asian Bird Fair in Bangpoo and our time in Thailand was done, next stop the United Arab Emirates!