Unlike last year, this was primarily a shopping trip to Bangkok for all the things I cannot get in Vietnam (shoes in particular). However, I had agreed with my girlfriend that I could sneak away for a short time to get some bird watching in. Below a brief outline, "*" indicates lifers.
Lumpini Park on the 6th of May 2004
This is the largest park in Bangkok, right in the center and close to a Sky train station. Even at 05:30 in the morning, and with the occasional downpour, the place was humming. Literally hundreds of people jogging, practicing Tai Chi and sword fighting, or just chilling out. My first thought was "no way are you going to see any birds here!" However, within a few steps, I was proven wrong. Magpie Robins where everywhere, and tame as you please, even if they had a hard time making themselves heard against the constant Bangkok noise. The handful of Large-billed Crows where quieter, but still very evident.
Common and White-vented Mynas were all over the grass, joined by the odd Black-collared and Asian Pied Starlings. A Common Koel gave excellent views in a bare tree, even better were the numerous Coppersmith Barbets. Whilst the latter are fairly common here in Vietnam, I do not believe that I ever had such magnificent views as I did in this park. A couple of Alexandrine Parakeets* were very conspicuous. I first dismissed them as escapes, but heard later from Peter Ericsson that they might truly be wild birds, seeking a last refuge in an area where there are still some tall(ish) trees left. A Little Egret looked somewhat out of place in the middle of an artificial pond, whereas the Zebra Dove appeared to be more at home. Streak-eared Bulbuls were plentiful, but still outdone by the Eurasian Tree Sparrows. Regrettably, it started pouring in earnest, so I beat a retreat to the hotel for a much-deserved cup of coffee.
Greater Bangkok on the 7th of May 2004
I had arranged to meet Peter Ericsson near his house. Peter is a missionary, and an excellent birder. He is not a bird guide per se, but for a contribution to his charitable work, and time permitting, he will take birders out (Contact him at [email protected]). We had agreed to meet at 05:30, yet another early start. Encountered a few problems getting there: I had trouble waking up, even more trouble to wake up my girlfriend, and then get transport to the meeting point. A taxi was in theory organized, but when the driver got to the hotel, he decided that he didn't know where to go. We hailed a second taxi, this particular driver decided in the middle of nowhere that he was lost, and chucked us out!! Finally managed to get a third taxi, and that actually took us where we wanted to go. And all that without coffee. Ah, the joys of birding!!!
Well, we did manage to meet Peter in the end, and set off for our morning's birding. One of the species I did want to see was Asian Openbill. There are still a few around in Vietnam, but I had never seen one. (Stop press: Finally added Openbill to my Vietnam list when I saw one at my local patch a week after my Thailand trip). Peter was confident of seeing quite a few of those and sure enough, we had hardly left Bangkok when we saw the first Asian Openbills* flying over the Highway. Other birds that were busy early in the morning were Little Egrets, Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons.
Our first stop was at Bangpra No Hunting Area. Target species here was Chinese Francolin. Sure enough, as soon as we got out of the car, we heard two calling right in front of us. Regrettably, we never managed more than a frustratingly short glimpse of one Chinese Francolin*. However, there were some other good birds all around us, many of them sitting very exposed, trying to dry out after a recent downpour. A Long-tailed Shrike gave us excellent views, as did the Greater Coucals, it seemed like there was one sitting on every bush. Red-wattled Lapwings were their usual noisy selves. We also saw a number of Hoopoes, a couple of Green Bee-eaters, Streak-eared and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Indian Roller and Red Collared Dove.
Peter suggested that we should go on to our next destination, a patch of forest near Bangpra (sorry Peter, forgot the name). Our arrival coincided with the arrival of a number of kids, who were obviously on some seriously mind-altering substances. So much for a peaceful morning. We took off straight away, trying to stay ahead of that noisy bunch. We had come to look for Blue-winged Pitta, which Peter had seen the previous week. No such luck this time; we only heard them calling. Other birds heard (by Peter, really) were Blue-eared Barbet*, Linneated Barbet, Emerald Dove, Puff-throated Babbler and White-crested Laughingthrush. As usual in this sort of habitat, birds were frustratingly difficult to see, but we did get views, in order of sightings, of Black-crested Bulbul, Green-billed Malkoha, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Grey-eyed Bulbul*, Dollarbird, Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, and White-throated Kingfisher.
We headed back to Bangpra to take another shot at Chinese Francolin. Whilst they were still calling, we completely failed to see them. We walked a bit further into the brush, and this is where some really good birds showed up. First was Bright-capped Cisticola*, followed by Chestnut-capped Babbler*. A little pond hosted Little Cormorant, White-breasted Waterhen, Yellow Bittern, and Yellow Wagtail. Another target bird, Baya Weaver, was seen just before we moved on a little further to where we could actually access the lake. Most waders had already disappeared, but there were a few Pacific Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, and a solitary Common Greenshank. We did look for Crakes, but the single glimpse we got was too short to clinch identification.
By now, the early start, and birding for the first time, took its toll on my girlfriend, so we decided to slowly head back to Bangkok, looking for more Openbills on the way. Those we duly saw, and a stop by a small, and very smelly pond, rewarded us with great views of Bronze-winged Jacana, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, and ca. 25 Lesser Whistling Ducks. A bit further we found Oriental Pratincole behaving like waders; standing knee-deep in water.
River Cruise on the 8th of May
Time to do the tourist bit today, with an organized trip up-river. The weather was pretty bad, but I still managed to add a few birds to the trip list: Collared Kingfisher, Small Minivet, and Olive-backed Sunbird.
All in all, not a bad trip, seeing how the main focus was actually shopping! We saw a total of 85 species, 10 of which were lifers for me.
P.S.: I found shoes on the last day. If you have large feet (like me) try the MBK mall.
List of birds seen, Thailand 04/05/04 - 10/05/04 ("*" denotes lifers).