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Khao Dinsor Raptor Migration: 29 Sep - 12 Oct 2014


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29 Sep -12 Oct 2014.
Hot to very hot and humid at Khao Dinsor with some afternoon rains. Heavy rain on the west coast throughout.
Khao Dinsor, La-un Mangrove Forest, Ranong Biosphere Reserve, Laem Son National Park, Chumphon Stadium and Nong Yai Development Area.

With, in parts, Andy Pierce, Phil Round, Jonathan Murray, Tom Backlund and Robert De Candido. The timing of this trip, a third annual pilgrimage to Khao Dinsor, was chosen to coincide with peak raptor numbers, as well as a high probability of seeing the main target - White-throated Needletail. Both previous trips in 2012 and 2013 had been at the later timing at the end of October.

View northward from Khao Dinsor
View northward

Unfortunately, this year's raptor numbers had been their poorest since recording began; mainly on account of the weak weather systems characterised by clear skies and non-existent winds, resulting in far fewer raptors pushed toward the coast, and a significant downturn in observed migrants generally. Whilst the potentially large numbers of raptors daily can be impressive, after a few days of the same trudge up the mountain one's always hoping for that major rarity. A good example of the Thai expression "same same but different." However, the views from the top are some of the more spectacular in Thailand, especially when clouds and storms move in.

27 Sep. In order the break up the 1,200 kilometre drive to Chumphon, left Chiang Mai late afternoon and drove 300 kilometres to Tak, where stayed overnight at a simple roadside resort.

28 Sep. Awoken by Malaysian Pied Fantail in the resort garden. According to the literature this would likely be the most northwesterly record of this species in Thailand. A ten hour drive to Hua Hin where had another overnight stop in town, at the Manthana Hotel.

29 Sep. A leisurely start, to complete the drive to Thung Wua Laen just before 14:00, where checked into the Albatross guesthouse, one of many small guesthouses/resorts in this small beach village. Proceeded to Khao Dinsor where met up with various people raptor counting or ringing on the mountain. A really hot afternoon, with three hours spent at Shelter 3 observing a small movement of Japanese Sparrowhawk and Chinese Sparrowhawk. Late afternoon the threatening rain produced some really unusual clouds and colouration.

30 Sep. A blistering day, already hot by 07:00 whilst climbing the mountain. Got well and truly fried today even using a cover on the viewing platform. Early morning from 07:00 - 10:00 at the lower viewing platform with a few birds passing lower, but the majority high due to neither wind nor cloud. Up to Shelter 3 for most of the day, and the summit for the last couple of hours, with many Pacific Swift but no White-throated Needletail included. A steady stream of raptors all day with several thousand Chinese Sparrowhawk and Japanese Sparrowhawk. At least one Sakhalin Leaf Warbler netted.

Clouds over Khao Dinsor
Clouds over Khao Dinsor

Chinese Sparrowhawk
Chinese Sparrowhawk

1 Oct. Fortunately, somewhat cooler today, with rain showers from mid to late afternoon. Again started at the lower platform, with the first raptors appearing around 08:30. Then up to Shelter 3 around midday for a couple of hours followed by a repeat session at the top of the mountain from 14:00 - 17:00 where virtually nothing passed. In addition to the standard sparrowhawks, 300 Oriental Honey Buzzard, a few Eastern Marsh Harrier and a Peregrine Falcon. The first Ashy Minivet of the season passed over.

2 Oct. Another blisteringly hot day with no wind, so again managed to get burnt to a crisp, despite sitting in the shade all day - reflected UV light from the clouds really fierce here. A fairly typical day from 07:30 - 14:30 at the lower platform, followed by Shelter 3 until rain started at 16:45 making longer on the mountain of little use. The most interesting raptor today was Changeable Hawk-Eagle, a species rarely recorded from Khao Dinsor, no doubt on account of the surrounding sea of rubber and palm oil plantations.

3 Oct. For a change of scenery, the morning spent at the top platform, with Common Buzzard of the vulpinus race and a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher the best birds of the morning. By midday some light rain bringing in a few migrants like Pacific Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and Barn Swallow in good numbers, but still not the hoped for White-throated Needletail. At 14:00 heavy rain approached so down to Shelter 3 where stayed till 17:00.

4 Oct. Being a Saturday, with the Chumphon Raptor Festival scheduled for the weekend and the anticipated crowds, we elected to avoid the mountain and travel over the peninsula to check out a few infrequently visited sites. Set off with Phil, Andy and Jonathan, for the drive toward Ranong on the west coast. No sooner had we'd crossed the peninsula than heavy and constant rain hit us, making the driving rather slow. Our first stop was at La-un mangrove, where we walked the concrete boardwalk though good looking mangroves but saw absolutely nothing on account of the continuous rain. After lunch in Ranong town, headed south to Ranong Biosphere Reserve, where again we walked the mangrove boardwalk.

Chumphon Raptor Festival
Chumphon Raptor Festival

Despite the rain we did at least record a couple of species including White-chested Babbler. At this point, knowing poor weather was forecast for the next few days, we debated whether to return to Chumphon or try Laem Son National Park a little farther south, eventually opting for the latter by three votes to one. Arrived at Laem Son and drove to the beach just north of the village. Amazingly the rain had largely ceased and we had a good hour scanning the beach and flooded fields along the coast. A group of four Green Imperial Pigeon flying north were noteworthy, as were a number of waders in the fields, including Long-toed Stint and at many Grey-headed Lapwing. Overnight at Wasana Resort in the village, which appeared to be the only one of several resorts open at this time of year. Meanwhile back at Khao Dinsor the first White-throated Needletail flock passed through - talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Vinous-breasted Starling
Vinous-breasted Starling

Eastern Marsh Harrier
Eastern Marsh Harrier

5 Oct. Heavy rain all night continuing into the morning. We first visited the beach and mud flats adjacent to the park proper, but the many distant waders remained nothing more than blobs in the driving rain. A close Forest Wagtail was at least identifiable. Next we tried another beach to the north, where we found a number of waders, including several Terek Sandpiper and a disappearing flock of unidentified terns, but again rain made birding next to impossible. Reluctantly we returned to Chumphon where we visited the sports stadium, finding at least 60 Daurian Starling and an unexpected Rosy Starling. We finished the day at Nong Yai Development Area with a dark morph Booted Eagle and a Plain Prinia - the most southerly Thai record ever. And, after our weekend of miserable weather it was heartening to hear we'd missed yet more White-throated Needletail on Khao Dinsor.

6 Oct. An interesting start with Vinous-breasted Starling just outside the accommodation. Low cloud, fog and rain were a feature of most of the day, which was spent at the upper platform, where the most unusual sighting was a group of nine Oriental Pratincole flying over. Given the weather, unsurprisingly raptor numbers were well down with only 100 Oriental Honey Buzzard, a few Shikra, 200 Chinese Sparrowhawk, 30 Japanese Sparrowhawk and a single Eastern Marsh Harrier. Left after 17:00 with final bird of the day a Peregrine Falcon of the local ernesti race.

7 Oct. Some heavy rain overnight and still raining early morning, so a later start after 07:00. The rain eventually petered out around 09:00 to a warm and sunny day with variable cloud till 16:00 when it started raining again - hard after 17:15. A generally slow day with small numbers of Oriental Honey Buzzard, Shikra, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and about four Booted Eagle. Amazingly another flock of White-throated Needletail missed.

Japanese Sparrowhawk
Japanese Sparrowhawk

Oriental Honey Buzzard
Oriental Honey Buzzard

8 Oct. A usual kind of Khao Dinsor day, with good weather till 14:30 after which heavy rain washed out the rest of the day. Bird of the day was a Slaty-breasted Rail in puddles on the road en route to the local supermarket.

9 Oct. Another hot day with a great potential for sunburn. The most remarkable observation was a flock of five Pale-capped Pigeon heading north, close to the lower platform. In addition to the usual raptors, 3 Western Osprey, 2 Booted Eagle, 1 Changeable Hawk-Eagle, 2 Peregrine Falcon and 6 Eastern Marsh Harrier.

10 Oct. Blisteringly hot already by 07:30 whislt walking up the hill. The best day so far, with good diversity of species - Common Kestrel, Black-naped Oriole, Asian Openbill, Grey-faced Buzzard, Western Osprey, Booted Eagle, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Ashy Minivet and Black-eared Kite. An exceptional passage of at least 1,200 Blue-tailed Bee-eater and finally, with great relief, three groups of White-throated Needletail.

11 Oct. Being Saturday, and despite arriving early, had to leave the vehicle below the visitor centre due to large influx of visitors. All day spent at the upper platform, as the lower platform packed with photographers early on. Mainly cloudy with light rain. New raptors were Greater Spotted Eagle and Crested Serpent Eagle.

12 Oct. The first couple of hours spent again at the top platform. Mostly cloudy, ensuring a slow start with little migration, other than singles of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Dark-sided Flycatcher and Asian Brown Flycatcher. Left at 10:00 for the long drive north to Chiang Mai.

Species List

  Khao Dinsor 29 Sep - 3 Oct Count   Khao Dinsor 6 - 12 Oct Count
  Red Junglefowl 1   Asian Openbill 118
  Asian Openbill 3   Pacific Reef Heron 4
  Eastern Cattle Egret 60   Western Osprey 18
  Western Osprey 1   Oriental Honey Buzzard 4,000
  Oriental Honey Buzzard 6,000   Crested Serpent Eagle 2
  Changeable Hawk-Eagle 1   Changeable Hawk-Eagle 1
  Crested Goshawk 2   Greater Spotted Eagle 1
  Shikra 40   Booted Eagle 12
  Chinese Sparrowhawk 5,000   Crested Goshawk 2
  Japanese Sparrowhawk 1,700   Shikra 50
  Eastern Marsh Harrier 3   Chinese Sparrowhawk 2,200
  Black-eared Kite 4   Japanese Sparrowhawk 500
  White-bellied Sea Eagle 1   Besra 2
  Common Buzzard 1   Eastern Marsh Harrier 26
  Red-wattled Lapwing 1   Black-eared Kite 15
  Greater Coucal 2   White-bellied Sea Eagle 3
  Asian Barred Owlet 1   Grey-faced Buzzard 6
  Germain's Swiftlet 100   Common Buzzard 1
  Pacific Swift 300   Red-wattled Lapwing 1
  House Swift 18   Lesser Sand Plover 50
  Indian Roller 1   Oriental Pratincole 9
  Blue-tailed Bee-eater 500   Pale-capped Pigeon 5
  Blue-throated Bee-eater 25   Greater Coucal 2
  Lineated Barbet 6   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Peregrine Falcon 2   Germain's Swiftlet 200
  Black-naped Oriole 2   White-throated Needletail 37
  Black Drongo 2   Brown-backed Needletail 1
  Ashy Drongo 4   Pacific Swift 570
  Black-headed Bulbul 8   Cook's Swift 1
  Black-crested Bulbul 4   House Swift 4
  Stripe-throated Bulbul 10   Oriental Dollarbird 1
  Barn Swallow 500   Blue-tailed Bee-eater 2,500
  Asian House Martin 8   Blue-throated Bee-eater 10
  Red-rumped Swallow 100   Lineated Barbet 3
  Sakhalin Leaf Warbler 4   Common Kestrel 1
  Dark-necked Tailorbird 4   Peregrine Falcon 5
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 10   Ashy Minivet 13
  Abbott's Babbler 2   Black-naped Oriole 2
  Puff-throated Babbler 3   Black Drongo 8
  Siberian Blue Robin 2   Ashy Drongo 6
  Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 1   Black-headed Bulbul 8
  Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 4   Black-crested Bulbul 6
  Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 2   Stripe-throated Bulbul 6
  Olive-backed Sunbird 4   Barn Swallow 700
        Asian House Martin 3
  Laem Son Count   Red-rumped Swallow 40
  Striated Heron 2   Sakhalin Leaf Warbler 2
  Eastern Cattle Egret 20   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Great Egret 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 6
  Little Egret 2   Abbott's Babbler 4
  Brahminy Kite 3   Dark-sided Flycatcher 1
  White-breasted Waterhen 3   Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
  Grey-headed Lapwing 20   Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 1
  Red-wattled Lapwing 3   Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 3
  Pacific Golden Plover 5   Olive-backed Sunbird 3
  Lesser Sand Plover 200   Paddyfield Pipit 1
  Greater Sand Plover 100      
  Pin-tailed Snipe 2   Nong Yai Count
  Common Redshank 3   Lesser Whistling Duck 3
  Wood Sandpiper 4   Asian Openbill 4
  Terek Sandpiper 10   Yellow Bittern 2
  Common Sandpiper 2   Black-crowned Night Heron 5
  Long-toed Stint 1   Chinese Pond Heron 2
  Curlew Sandpiper 2   Eastern Cattle Egret 12
  Spotted Dove 12   Purple Heron 2
  Green Imperial Pigeon 4   Intermediate Egret 1
  Greater Coucal 4   Little Egret 2
  Germain's Swiftlet 6   Little Cormorant 10
  Indian Roller 3   Oriental Honey Buzzard 60
  White-throated Kingfisher 1   Shikra 1
  Black-capped Kingfisher 1   Japanese Sparrowhawk 4
  Collared Kingfisher 1   Black-eared Kite 1
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 1   Grey-headed Swamphen 4
  Vernal Hanging Parrot 5   Red-wattled Lapwing 2
  Common Iora 2   Pacific Golden Plover 1
  Brown Shrike 2   Bronze-winged Jacana 3
  Black Drongo 1   Spotted Dove 4
  Large-billed Crow 3   Greater Coucal 1
  Barn Swallow 10   Germain's Swiftlet 40
  Red-rumped Swallow 1   White-throated Kingfisher 2
  Jungle Myna 4   Common Kingfisher 1
  Common Myna 20   Black Drongo 4
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 2   Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 1
  Asian Brown Flycatcher 1   Barn Swallow 10
  Olive-backed Sunbird 1   Red-rumped Swallow 4
  Eurasian Tree Sparrow 8   Plain Prinia 1
  Scaly-breasted Munia 2   Great Myna 20
  Forest Wagtail 1   Common Myna 10
  Eastern Yellow Wagtail 10   Vinous-breasted Starling 2
  Paddyfield Pipit 1   Stejneger's Stonechat 2
        White Wagtail 1
  Chumphon Stadium Count   Paddyfield Pipit 2
  Purple Heron 1      
  Shikra 1      
  Japanese Sparrowhawk 2      
  Rock Dove 20      
  Spotted Dove 4      
  Germain's Swiftlet 10      
  Brown Shrike 1      
  Black-naped Oriole 5      
  Black Drongo 2      
  Yellow-vented Bulbul 2      
  Streak-eared Bulbul 2      
  Barn Swallow 4      
  Great Myna 10      
  Common Myna 4      
  Vinous-breasted Starling 3      
  Pied Myna 4      
  Daurian Starling 60      
  Rosy Starling 1      
  Yellow-vented Flowerpecker 1      
  Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 2      
  Olive-backed Sunbird 2      
  Eurasian Tree Sparrow 6      
  Paddyfield Pipit 4