The day the trip really started, as we were off to the wader Mecca of Laem Bak Pai and Pak Thale. We were met just after 5am by Nick Upton, our guide for the next 6 days, and were quickly speeding south out of the city.
First stop was Pak Thale, and we quickly piled out of the minibus, set up scopes and wondered where to start as there were birds everywhere. Almost every pan was filled with Black-winged stilts and Marsh Sandpipers, with Lesser Sand Plovers, of both subspecies, and Red-necked Stints covering the pan banks. A couple of toggers were already on site, but had not yet found the main prize. Working one of the even more bird filled pans, Bell quickly found the number one target, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper working the far bank. After getting everyone on to this rarest of waders, a further two were located closer to where we stood. Wow, 3 Spoonies, more than 1% of the entire global population. With the main target in the bag, we could start to really take in the other species. Great Knot, Black-tailed Godwit’s, Bar-tailed Godwit’s, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin (a scare bird in Thailand), Redshank, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, filled the pans while Whiskered, Gull-billed, Little and “longipennis” Common Terns hawked overhead.
2 Osprey’s flew over while we settled into to scrutinise the large flock of Curlews, looking to see if we could pick up one of the endangered Far Eastern Curlews from the numerous Eurasian Curlews. Close observation eventually revealed one preening, showing off its dark rump and darker underwings. Before we could all get onto it, it decided to resume its nap, but eventually at least 4 Far Eastern Curlews were found, without a single bird being flushed.
Making our way to the mangrove view point, Temmincks and Long-toed Stints and Common Sandpipers were added to the list. It didn’t take long to get 2 Golden-bellied Gerygones and a Radde’s Warbler was a slight surprise, though the calling Dusky Warbler could not be located. It took a bit of work, going inside the mangroves to catch up with Mangrove Whistler, not helped by this particular individual giving a call that Nick was unfamiliar with.
Leaving Pak Thale after some 3hrs of excellent birding we slowly cruised the road down to Laem Bak Pai, stopping and checking over the working salt pans. A small group of Painted storks didn’t contain the Milky Stork that had been seen the previous day. A stop along a side “road” produced 77 Nordmann’s Greenshanks, and 3, distant, Terek Sandpipers. The wader list was boosted by LRP, Pacific Golden Plover, Greenshank and Avocet. A fly over accipiter defied identification. Eastern Yellow Wagtails and Richard’s pipits put in appearances while Bevan found our first Common Birdwing butterfly, somewhat incongruously, flying over the salt pans.
With Asiatic Dowitcher missing from our target wader list, we headed towards the famous “abandoned” building were Nick had found a small group a couple of weeks earlier. Unfortunately, these had vanished, but a lone Long-billed Dowitcher provided some compensation.
It was then off to Mr Dueng’s for lunch and a boat trip out to hunt for the remaining missing wader species. After a delicious meal we boarded the small boat and set off down the river with gigantic Water Monitor Lizards crossing in front of us, Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers in the mangroves. It wasn’t long before we found our first Chinese Egret – going on to see at least 5 of these rarer herons. A Striated Heron which was flushed as we passed turned out to be the only one of the trip.
After passing family groups of fishermen gathering shellfish from the bay, we waded across onto to the spit. Working through the throng of Gulls and Terns roosting on the outer bar produced several Pallas and Heuglins Gulls amongst the Brown-headed, with the terns represented by Greater and Lesser Crested, Common and Little. A Greater Sand Plover provided a good opportunity to check out the differences between it and the more numerous Lesser Sand Plovers. A whimbrel was found, before attention was focused on the Kentish, Malaysian and the “White-faced” Plovers.
A single adult gull on a half submerged sandbar drew our attention. A very dark back, and bright yellow legs suggested that it could be the Black-tailed Gull that had been wintering in the area, though the bill did not seem to fit for that species. This impression was increased when it was joined by a Heuglin’s which was larger and paler backed. Our return boat trip took us past the sandbar and when the gull flew, any notion that it was a Black-tailed was quickly discounted as there wasn’t as much as a smudge on the all white tail. Posting pictures all brought the response of Heuglin’s, but it didn’t look like any of the other Heuglin’s in the area.
Back on land, we stopped off at a small fish pond, which produced 2 Baillion’s Crakes and several Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacana’s. Eventually a couple of White-browed Crakes were found and at least 3 Yellow Bittern’s gave varying quality of views. A stop, about 500m up the road, produced better views of a Yellow Bittern along with excellent views of a Cinnamon Bittern. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters hawked from overhead wires while we called in a stonking Stork-billed Kingfisher.
From there it was off to Kaeng Krachen NP. The bird list for the day was over 100 species with almost all of the wader targets found.