what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day,
Oh what a beautiful feeling, everything's going God's way"
from the familiar song, I feel, are very applicable to the sounds
I encounter on a daily basis around our house here in the northern
outskirts of Bangkok in the middle of March. As is the case everywhere
else in this buzzing city full of people and noise, the sounds of
roaring engines, be they motorcyles, cars, buses or airplanes are
ever present in their quest to overpower one another.
so are also the natural sounds and wonders of God's little creatures.
One just need to listen and tune in!
It all started
this morning at 4 a.m. Pied Fantail
is starting its song way too early. Who changed its body clock?
Whatever the reason may be, this active little creature with its
ever fanning tail took charge of my day. The song is very distinct
and easily recognized. A musical tune that I so far haven't been
able to imitate despite its constancy.
The real morning
chorus didn't start until a bit later around 6 o'clock when Mr and
Mrs Koel, true to their nature, started
sounding off. This is one of the bigger birds around the house.
I have often enjoyed seeing a pair of Common
Koels dashing from tree to tree in search for food. Even
though male Koel from a distance perhaps could resemble a Large-billed
Crow, its slender body and aerodynamic flight tells us that
this is a more delicate piece of equipment and worthy of our respect.
The name Koel is a give-away of one of the bird's sounds as it has
a loud ko-el, ko-el call, stressing the second syllable. As is the
case of other true cuckoos, this bird is also an intruder of others'
property and I have seen with my own eyes little (in comparison)
Black-collared Starling frantically
working to keep up with feeding an unproportionally big fledgling.
Joining in the
symphony is the master himself; Magpie Robin.
Thankfully enough this beautiful songster hasn't been swallowed
up by the pet trade as of yet and can most readily be seen and heard
throughout the year. It has a melodius variety of tunes along with
a harsh one-tonal warning sound. It often perches from tree tops
or the rooftop of surrounding buildings letting the world know who
the master is. As the name implies the bird does look a bit like
a Magpie when it comes to color and plumage. It hops like a Magpie
but will take off quickly as one approaches a little bit too close.
Size-wise it is much smaller and has the habit of keeping its tail
sharply cocked. When dusk has set in, it has a peculiar habit of
sounding off its alarm call while hopping around the mango trees
in our garden. It also has a long one-tonal call that stays with
us all day long.
Here is a favorite
of mine: Common Iora. Brightly yellow
underparts, olive-green upper parts and two white wing bars are
the colors of this smaller sized bird. Mostly occupying the upper
branches feeding on insects in the leaf foliage it is not an easy
bird to view with the naked eye. It loves to sing though, and my
favorite tune is the birds soft ringing sound like a gentle alarmclock
going off. Otherwise it more commonly gives its combination of two
drawn-out whistles, the second one being slightly lower in tone
then the first. I had the joy of hand raising one of these lovely
creatures as one was found on the ground and evidently would have
ended up in our house cat's stomach unless rescued by well meaning
hands. It had an incredible appetite for worms that the local pet
shop happily sold for a penny. It also let us enjoy its musical
vocabulary before it was time to return it to the wild.
Then the hoot,
hoot, hooting sounds of the Greater Coucal
comes rolling across the marsh next to our house. This big bird
is an excellent survivor. Its size is a real give-away for the common
practice of slingshot shooting still going on around Thailand. Still
this bird is commonly found in the whole country. Its chestnut colored
wings on a large black body along with a clumsy flight tells us
who is moving about.
if even sad sounding friend is the Plaintive
Cuckoo; hard to see but well worth the effort as the mature
bird is rather colorful with its belly being rufous, eye bright
red, head and throat grey and rest of body brown. Its song is unmistakable.
Either 3-4 monotonous tones followed by rapidly descending notes
or a hurried 3-note ascending sequence repeated over again. I have
yet to see its young one in a nest even though juvenile birds frequently
come around. It often sits on the top of larger weed grasses in
the marsh singing away.
More and more
birds are joining in the chorus; next is the Zebra
Dove or Peaceful Dove. This
popular cage bird is known for its song best described as a hollow
soft and high-pitched trill with a distinctive rhythm to it. It
likes to feed on our playground along with Spotted
Dove. Both these species will fly up and entertain from the
surrounding coconut or mango trees. Spotted Dove is much larger
in size and has a softer call, coo-croo-croo. It also regularly
has young ones in our garden, and even the younger children can
point out the two different birds by name.
Next is the
loud 'tack' from a Great Reed-Warbler (Now
split as Oriental Reed Warbler),
our first migrant to be heard for the day. Several warblers pass
through during winter but rarely make themselves known by sound.
Then the metallic trrrrr from the Asian Brown-Flycatcher
penetrates the air. One of our first visitors. In typical flycatcher
manners it perches on a branch and makes sorties snatching insects
in the air. Small and on the thin size but with an obtrusive eyering
as a give-away trademark.
Flycatcher (Now split as Taiga Flycatcher)
with its lower and shorter trr is another visitor. This bird likes
to come down lower and is easier to see for little eyes. It likes
to flick its tail and even fly down to the ground to feed on insects
from the grass. Before it leaves in the spring the throat changes
color to orange/red and along with its beautifully balanced shaped
body it becomes as a precious jewel in our garden.
Then an explosive
tic,tic,tic from the fast flying Scarlet-backed
Flowerpecker sets in. This very small bird was the main spark
that trigged my interest in our flying friends. Splendid bright
red crown and nape stretching as a wide red band across its back
with white under parts and remainder parts black. It feeds in the
canopy and is a bit hard to see well. From time to time an individual
will find our windows on the second floor appealing and will try
to attack it with its beak. Probably interested in the prospect
of a potential mate being reflected by its own image in the glass.
How many birds
is that in our chorus? Wow, 12 already! Who ever said birds are
hard to find in Thailand? Yes, I agree, they are not as conspicuous
as garden birds in the west but nevertheless lots of them all around
churring sounds from Streak-eared Bulbul
are next. Probably the most uninteresting bird in the Bulbul family;
dull and ungainly appearance. Loosely thrown together cup-shaped
nest, but always having young ones. (I guess its desire to multiply
is its strength). We have a rather vain individual in our garden
who loves to come down to the side mirrors of our car and admire
itself, leaving its gooey spill for me to wipe off. Another Bulbul
this morning is Yellow-vented Bulbul.
With its more musical sounds and distinct white supercilium, contrasting
with black lores and yellow rump, it makes it a more interesting
bird. It seldom stays around for very long but is regular. It does
respond to some delicious ripe bananas hung up for bird feed. It
prefers habitat near to well-watered areas and thus is not found
too far from the coast.
into a demonic roaring noise of chuckles is coming from inside the
reed beds. It's a White-breasted Waterhen
is sounding off. It feeds on aquatic creatures in the marsh and
will quickly hide when being approached. Best is to use one of the
little holes in our wall to peek through. This can give very close
sights, and the bird will calmly keep on feeding with its tail raised.
Its cinnamon colored underparts, red on bill, along with green legs
and white breast makes it attractive in the binoculars.
The intense and monotonous one-tonal call of the Common
Tailorbird reaches my ears. It penetrates all other sounds
around as it calls for attention. This little warbler is a resident
bird here and often comes down to the lower bushes in search for
food. It can be approached to a very close distance as it actively
moves about the tree branches. As it names indicates it is an expert
tailor, and the nest is intricately woven into a cone shape.
tonk' echoes from a treetop. It's our friend the Coppersmith
Barbet who comes to say 'hello'. Very small and often in
the canopy of our Pink-trumpet tree it is hard to see all the splendor
of this bird. At closer range or through the binocs the deep colors
of red, green, yellow and black are revealed thus letting us have
a taste of one of the more colorful garden birds around. This small
barbet successfully inhabits all of Thailand or anywhere there is
a wooded area. It usually doesn't stay for long but regularly passes
by. A temple or park area may be a good place to look for this bird
without being disappointed. I have actually observed a parent bird
feeding its young with regular flights in and out of its nesting
hole in a tree right nest to a busy bus stop totally unbeknownst
to all the people standing by. Barbets in general seem to overcome
their fear of exposure during the nesting season as a true parent
the bird is willing to risk danger in order to feed and care for
From the marsh another sound sets in. It is the buzzing jirt-jirt-jirt
from another warbler, the Plain Prinia. Yes, it is a plain looking
bird but the sound blends nicely in to our symphony.
Then the diagnostic
explosive rink-tink-tink of Lanceolated Warbler
is being heard. Very hard to see but commonly heard during winter.
Then our two
versions of sunbirds join in. Olive-backed
Sunbird with its one-tone 'sweet' with rising inflection
and Brown-throated Sunbird with its
persistent and ongoing chiff-chiff-chiff. The latter has a bit of
a misleading name. I would rather call it "Purple-shouldered
Sunbird" as in the right light the iridescent purple is almost
breathtaking. I could hardly believe such a thing existed when I
first saw it. Definitely on par with some of the New World hummingbirds.
It pierces a hole in the stalk of a flower and sticks its long tongue
in to suck out the nectar. It also performs the art of hovering
in the air reaching down to the nectar the conventional way even
if not performing the hovering display as long as a hummingbird
would. Olive-backed has raised young ones in our garden a few times,
and the purse-shaped nest hangs on a thin twig swaying in the wind.
A marvel of construction as it keeps its inhabitants safe and sound.
A bit later
but daily Common Myna descend on our
lawn in search for bugs and worms. Noisy but non-descriptive sounds
easily recognized. The same goes for White-vented
Myna that has a little more humble appearance than Common
who likes to walk around with head held high and a fierce countenance.
Eurasian Tree-Sparrow wants its share
of the orchestra, and its chirps are pretty continual throughout
much of the day. Ever-present.
As is the case
most days, there are always one or two more uncommon sounds joining
in. Today it is the bubbling call from the Lineated
Barbet. This beautiful bird does not come by very often even
though it is common a bit further out of Bangkok. Easy to recognize
by its big size and big bill. Closely related to woodpeckers they
Then the harsh
'kyak' causes me to lift my eyes upward. Sparkling blue wings are
in the sunlight as the Indian Roller
is flying by. It prefers more open areas but is readily seen in
the outskirts of Bangkok. Added to the scenario is a Chinese
Pond-Heron taking off with a croaking sound from the marsh.
Not a very vocal bird but definitely very common.
Then as an added
surprise comes the loud laughter of the handsome Black-capped
Kingfisher loudly proclaiming its existence. It doesn't usually
stay around here but can be seen from time to time. Too much construction
work going on for its liking.
So as you can
tell from the descriptions above there are quite a number of participants
in the concert performed around our house. Added to that there are
of course a number of birds who are seen but remain on the more
quiet side such as Barn Swallow, Asian
Palm-Swift, Little Cormorant,
Asian Openbill, Arctic
Warbler, Common Moorhen, Black-shouldered
said: "So much of what we see depends on what we are looking
at!" To that I would like to add: "And so much of what
we hear depends on what we are listening to!"