by Nick Upton
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"White-faced Plover" sightings and some advice

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"White-faced Plover" sightings have become something of a regularity in Thailand now that birdwatchers know what to look for. This migratory species returned to Thailand in early October 2008, with a leg-flagged bird appearing at the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia.

Since then many observers have seen the plover, although the leg-flagged bird seems to have moved on. I have seen "White-faced Plover" on at least a dozen occasions on the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia since the end of October with the highest count being a total of 3 birds in early January 2009.

In addition to being present on the sand spit, the birds have been found on salt pans at Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia on a few occasions by a number of different observers. However, it is on the sand spit that I have had most success - the birds are usually roosting on rocks or amongst beach debris at high tide on the island part of the spit. At low tide the White-faced Plover is often seen foraging and chasing other birds around on the exposed sand, frequently favouring a spot on the part of the spit which is joined to the mainland.

A number of birders seem to have had trouble locating White-faced Plover on the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia; perseverence usually turns up at least one bird, but don't make the mistake of misidentifying one of the resident Malaysian Plovers with worn lores which can look remarkably white faced in appearance.

Nick Upton, 12th January 2009
"White-faced Plover" photographs
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On the 19th February 2008, at around 4.30pm, in the company of Michael and Mandy Buckland, I found the White-faced Plover" which seems to have made the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia its home.

After observing this quite recognisable bird for some time Michael managed to take some very nice photographs of the bird which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce here for all to see.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Michael Buckland)

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Michael Buckland)

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Michael Buckland)

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Michael Buckland)

Further information on sightings are welcome as it would be very interesting to know the date at which this bird departs, if indeed it does migrate.

Nick Upton, 7th March 2008

"White-faced Plover" at Thai Muang

On the 22nd February 2008 Craig Thomas reported 4 "White-faced Plovers" at Thai Muang beach, Phang Nga province. Whilst numerous reports of this new form/subspecies/species have been made from Laem Pak Bia, this is the first record of the bird from the south of Thailand that I am aware of. Of course, with a number of sightings from Malaysia and Singapore, this sighting is hardly unprecedented, but interesting and further observations from southern Thailand are awaited.

Nick Upton, 7th March 2008 from information supplied by Craig Thomas.

"White-faced Plover" at Laem Pak Bia

The sand spit at Laem Pak Bia has long been recognised as an excellent birdwatching location but now there is the added attraction of "White-faced Plover" which may or may not be a new species or subspecies of either Kentish or Malaysian Plover. Whatever its taxonomic status, it is easily recogniseable due to its snowy white face and I have seen it on the sand spit, amongst other shorebirds, at Laem Pak Bia on 19th and 25th February 2008.

Many other observers have seen this bird at the same location and Peter Ericsson obtained some very nice photographs of it in January 2008.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)

Peter's photographs of the plover in flight can be seen here: "White-faced Plover" in flight 1, and here: "White-faced Plover" in flight 2.

The plover seems to behave in an unusual fashion, running almost diagonally, with its head lowered and the individual at Laem Pak Bia appears quite aggressive to other shorebirds.

The unusual poise of the bird can be seen here in this photograph taken by Johan Svensson on 4th November 2007, also at Laem Pak Bia sand spit.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Johan Svensson)

More of Johan's photographs of the "White-faced Plover" in comparison to Malaysian Plover can be seen here: "White-faced" & Malaysian Plovers.

Another "White-faced Plover" has been seen by many and photographed on the salt pans at Laem Pak Bia. Tony Broome sent me this photo of the bird, taken on 15th February in the company of Mr Tii.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Tony Broome)
Nick Upton, 7th March 2008.
"White-faced Plover" photographed in March 2007 at Laem Pak Bia

Whilst a number of sightings of "White-faced Plover" have been made from the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia over the last few months, I have been alerted to some photographs taken on 3rd March 2007 by Garry Bakker and Rinse van der Vliet, from The Netherlands, which show a "White-faced Plover", once again at Laem Pak Bia. Garry mentioned to me that he and Rinse realised at the time that it was an unusual bird and that is why they photographed it - and now the identification has been verified by other parties.

This shows that Laem Pak Bia is a reliable site for this bird, and it would appear that it has been so for some time.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Garry Bakker) 

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by Garry Bakker) 

Nick Upton, 18th February 2008 from information supplied by Garry Bakker.
Look out for "White-faced Plover" in Thailand

Many of you will have read about the Charadrius plovers that have been labelled "White-faced Plover" in the absence of any difinitive classification of these birds. Most of the sightings of this form, which resembles Kentish Plover closely but has a number of plumage and structural differences which make it identifiable in the field, have come from Malaysia and Singapore but with the supposition that they are migratory comes the possibility that they occur, at least as passage migrants, in Thailand.

"White-faced Plover"
(Photo by David Bakewell ) 

Birdwatchers observing shorebirds in Thailand would be well advised to read the article which outlines the plumage and structural details which allow ornithologists to separate these birds from other plovers such as Kentish, Malaysian and Sand Plovers.

The article makes interesting reading and compares the "White-faced Plover" form to all the known subspecies of Kentish Plover, concluding that it cannot be any of them. Whilst these birds are mysterious, I personally feel that the difference between some of the structural points and plumage of these birds and the known subspecies of Kentish Plover is somewhat overstated.

The conclusion of the authors, on these birds, is that proper analysis and classification can only come after DNA analysis; a conclusion which I think most birdwatchers will agree with. Whatever the eventual classification of these birds is, it remains that birders can relatively easily identify them in the field and sightings from Thailand are surely just a matter of time.

Anyone who thinks they have sighted these birds in Thailand is encouraged to contact the authors of and of course I would be interested to hear about it too.

Latest News

As I was preparing to upload this file to the website I was alerted to the fact that the "White-faced Plover" was indeed seen and photographed at Laem Pak Bia on the weekend, 5-6th January 2008. Further sightings are awaited.

Nick Upton, 9th January 2008

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