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Photography Day Tour Around Petchaburi, 25th May 2013
 
  Bird Watching & Photography Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching or photography trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
Introduction
Michael Lang contacted me as he was visiting Thailand on a photography assignment to obtain professional level shots of Thai food and its ingredients. He also explained that he enjoyed bird photography very much and would like to spend a day out of Bangkok to pursue this. I informed him that at the end of May rice fields around Petchaburi would probably provide him with the highest number of good photographic opportunities of a good number of interesting species.
While most bird watchers visit Thailand between the months of November and March, I explained to Michael that in May there were a number of species which were seen at their best whilst breeding.

Getting There
I used a Toyota Vigo for this day trip. More or less any vehicle could have been used but I took this as I thought we may go down some muddy dirt tracks that a saloon car would not deal with very well considering that this was the start of the rainy season.

We took the expressway out of Bangkok towards Rama II road and continued along this highway until it merged into the Petkasem highway which is the main route to southern Thailand. A few kilometres before arriving at the town of Petchaburi there is a bridge over the highway which carries vehicular traffic and we took the left hand turning at this bridge to enter the rice fields.
 
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From here to Laem Pak Bia we followed signs to Ban Laem, Ban Pak Thale and then Had Chao Samran, all are signposted in English along the way.

Accommodation
As this was a day trip from Bangkok we did not require any local accommodation. However, if people are visiting this area as part of a longer tour there are a number of places to stay in Petchaburi and at Hat Chao Samran.
Food
There are only a few very rudimentary places to eat in the rice fields so we drove to Hat Chao Samran where there are several nice seafood restaurants on the beach.
Notes on Finding Birds
The open nature of the rice fields always makes finding birds fairly easy, particularly if one knows where each species tends to be; in particular, I knew where some nesting colonies of weavers were which made finding them extremely simple.

In the salt farms and surrounding scrubby areas the wind and rain from a passing storm made locating birds very tricky as they were being blown all over the place and sheltering. We still managed to get some interesting shots, though, particularly of birds in flight.
Field Guides
1. A Field Guide to the Birds of South East Asia by Craig Robson
2. Birds of Thailand - Thai language field guide by various contributors
Birding Highlights

Tung Bang Jak: Asian Golden Weaver, Watercock, Indian Pond Heron, Javan Pond Heron, Streaked Weaver, Baya Weaver, Black Bittern

Wat Komnaram: Oriental Pratincole

Laem Pak Bia: Painted Stork, Indochinese Bushlark
Account Of The Day

Tung Bang Jak
As soon as we turned off the Petkasem highway and entered the rice fields we started to see birds close enough to photograph. However, the road can be a little busy right near the highway so I drove some distance to give a long line of sight; it is important to think about safety here as trucks often go along this road too fast.

The first birds we stopped for was a group of Red-wattled Lapwings. These are very common, even annoying, birds but we found a pair with a fledged chick which was interesting to get some nice shots of, particularly when it began to stretch; an Asian Pied Myna came to show off in front of us at this stop too.
Although the rice fields contain a higher number of species in the dry season, visitors at that time will not be able to see the wonderful spectacle that the weavers create in the breeding season. All three Thai species of weavers can be found here and they usually begin coming into breeding plumage around the beginning of March, but sometimes a little earlier. However, in May they are all well into rearing young and I knew where we could find nest sites of Asian Golden Weaver, Streaked Weaver and Baya Weaver.

>A very co-operative little colony of Asian Golden Weavers had constructed their nests in a small bush right next to the road so we stopped and enjoyed watching them go about their business and taking photos of them. Some males were weaving while females were feeding young in the nest - we could hear them calling to their parents for food. As you can see from the photo on the right, the male of this species is fantastic, for me it is one of Thailand's best birds, and it is a shame that most visitors only get to see it in non-breeding plumage.

Some Streaked Weavers were busy on the other side of the road but the light was far too harsh for photography in that spot - so often getting nice images depends on finding good light.

A little further down the road we found some more Asian Golden Weavers posing nicely in some Typha, although we already had great shots of this species it was hard to pass up the opportunity to photograph this little jewel. As we were doing this, some Streaked Weavers arrived and took the place of the Asian Golden Weavers; this time they were on the "right" side of the road and Michael was able to take some lovely pictures of them perched in the Typha.

Often on bird watching trip things can seem a bit of a rush, moving around trying to see as many species as possible but on this occasion we spent a long time getting a variety of shots of these birds and, of course, it takes time to get the best photographs.
 
Male Asian Golden Weaver & Nest
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 

Female Asian Golden Weaver & Nest
(Photo by Nick Upton)
Having got very many weaver pictures we drove a short distance into some fields to get a better angle on a different area full of water birds. Along here we found a variety of commoner species including Javan Pond Heron, Asian Openbill, Common Myna and a few others. Asian Openbill is always in large numbers in this area and Michael was able to get lots of nice images of these birds, although we never did manage to get that shot of one with a snail in its bill!
Our exploratory drive into an area that I do not usually frequent resulted in a nice stop at a pool which had a number of breeding plumage Javan Pond Herons which are really beautiful birds at this time of year in contrast to their dull non-breeding plumage. This species is very common in the area and was expected; what was not so expected was an Indian Pond Heron also in breeding plumage - a species that is very uncommon in Thailand. Although Chinese Pond Heron is a common migrant to Thailand I did not expect to see any at the end of May, however, one bird in its chestnut-headed breeding colours was in the same pool, completing a hat-trick of pond herons.

Here we also took the opportunity to photograph some White-vented Mynas that were feeding and squabbling in the recently planted rice. The bright green rice plants made for a nice background and, as is so often the case, while we were appreciating these birds something else of interest presented itself; a pair of Asian Pied Mynas, perched on a fallen banana plant, with the male passing food to the female which Michael managed to get some nice photos of.

We drove towards some resting cattle but failed to get any pictures of the mynas sitting on these animals so we turned around and headed back out onto the main road through the fields. Half way back I noticed a Plain Prinia calling from some dead twigs. This is a bird which is as plain as its name suggests but with a lovely green background, good light and clear air it made a very nice photograph.

We made some more attempts to get shots of Openbills eating snails but each time we stopped the storks would slink off to the other side of the field, giving us only a view of their backs and no snails!

The fields here are always full of birds and every time we stopped something gave us a chance of photographing it. While I stopped to take a picture of a red flowering tree we noticed a couple of Scaly-breasted Munias sitting in the rice, once again, common birds but a very pretty sight.
 
Javan Pond Heron
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 

White-vented Myna
(Photo by Nick Upton)
Having enjoyed these common birds it was time to go and find our third species of weaver; Baya Weaver. In fact this species is by far the most common of the three weavers and we had driven past several colonies which were too high, too far away or in poor light as I knew where there was an impressive colony that we could get very close to and that would have good light on the nests.
An amazing collection of these bottle-like nests had been constructed in a small tree right in front of someone's house and we stood on the road just a few feet away from the busy activity of the birds popping in and out of the nests and making additions and repairs to them. There were so many nests that the branches of the tree were hanging down with the weight!

I see this spectacle every year but I am always amazed when I see these incredible nests and the activity of the males calling the females while hanging on their partially constructed nests. They made a wonderful subject for photography and as we were taking our last shots of them a Pied Fantail turned up to pose for Michael.

Further along the road we found a male Plain-backed Sparrow in a tree. This is a far more beautiful bird than its name suggests and although it was a little backlit it was worth a few snaps, particularly as most sightings are of it is sitting on wires which does not make for a nice picture.
 
Baya Weaver Colony
(Photo by Nick Upton)
Having obtained great photos of all three weavers I decided it was time to head to a nearby fish pond where we would find some different species. In the fishpond were a variety of waterbirds including Little Cormorant, Little Grebe, Bronze-winged Jacana and Purple Heron but, unfortunately, they were all too far away for good shots, even with the 500mm lens that Michael was using. While checking the area for photographable species I came across 2 Black-browed Reed Warblers, which should have left for more northern countries by this time, a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls and a male Watercock.
At the same time Michael had done a bit of scouting himself and found a nice Common Iora only a few feet away in a low bush; another under-rated bird due to how common it is but if one takes the time to look at it properly it is a very beautiful little bird and this one performed well.

A Long-tailed Shrike was next, an undoubtedly smart creature which Michael managed one shot of but it was another one of those less than satisfying shots of a bird on a wire! However, some very smart Eastern Cattle Egrets and Javan Pond Herons in breeding plumage were nice in a recently ploughed field. Another quick stop here also revealed a calling Yellow-bellied Prinia at the top of a bare tree. He was very agitated and called aggressively from his perch for a few minutes giving us plenty of opportunity to take his portrait.

Lunch was starting to call us but this White-breasted Waterhen with its two chicks, in a roadside ditch, distracted us for a few minutes before they crept away into the undergrowth.
 
White-breasted Waterhen
(Photo by Nick Upton)
We drove towards Laem Pak Bia district where I knew a nice seafood restaurant on the beach, via Ban Laem and Pak Thale. The route took us through the salt pans where Spoon-billed Sandpiper winters but late May is too late for this species and all other migrant waders so instead we made one more pre lunch stop at Wat Komanaram.
Wat Komnaram
Wat Komnaram has a large piece of open land in front of it which gets flooded for much of the year but in February to June it is bone dry and has large areas of bare soil - just the sort of habitat that oriental Pratincoles like to nest it.

Oriental Pratincoles are unusual in that they arrive in Thailand in February and stay through the wet season, nesting on the ground. I knew there were lots of them at Wat Komnaram but did not expect us to be so lucky as we were. I thought that we would have to stalk the birds a little to get close enough to photograph them but one bird sat out in the open and we were able to drive really close to it and sit in our mobile hide and get some really nice shots of the bird.

Despite a lot of straining of the eys, singing Oriental Skylarks never gave us any opportunity to see anything more than a fluttering dot in the sky, unfortunately.
 
Oriental Pratincole
(Photo by Nick Upton)
The Sites Visited Around Petchaburi
  The sites that we visited on this day trip are all within a short drive of the provincial capital of Petchaburi, an hour and a half from Bangkok.

The rice fields can be reached from Petchaburi town within minutes and these lead to Wat Khao Takrao. Although there are a maze of small roads in this area, Ban Laem is signposted from most places so by following signs to this spot, signs to the next location will appear.

Laem Pak Bia is most easily reached by following signposts from the Petkasem highway, just south of Petchaburi, to Had Chao Samran and then turning left at the cross roads a few hundred metres before reaching the sea. Wat Komnaram is further along this coast road in the village of Bang Kaew; turn left just after the fuel station and you will see a large temple complex across a big field.
Laem Pak Bia
After lunch I took Michael to a few spots in the Laem Pak Bia area that I thought would allow us to get close to some different species of birds and the first of these stops was at the small dump on the way to the abandoned building (see Laem Pak Bia page for details). This is a good spot for a few birds and although a single Green Bee-eater did not perform for us a foraging Indochinese Bushlark did. Some mynas in the filthy rubbish dump did not excite us so we moved on to another area.
This next stop was some wetland and scrubby areas that lead to a temple and it always contains a lot of birds. As we arrived we noticed a group of about 30 Painted Storks which were frustratingly too far away for photographs. Also present were more Oriental Pratincoles, Lesser Whistling Duck and Little Grebe. Some Chestnut Munias flew away before we could get our cameras prepared but this very smart Eastern Great Egret in full breeding splendour occupied us for a while as it stalked fish in the shallow water alongside Eastern Cattle Egrets and Javan Pond Herons.

I don't often get to see these egrets in quite such good condition; this one has a very blue/green bare facial skin patch, nice plumes and deep red legs.

We also managed to get some nice shots of Peaceful Dove here, the birds were foraging amongst some grass which made nicer pictures than the ones of them posing on the road and on wires that we had got earlier in the day.

Storm clouds began to gather and the wind which comes before the rain began to blow birds around making it hard to get anywhere near them, particularly smaller species. With this we attempted to head north along the coast road and away from the bad weather. Unfortunately, this did not really work out as the storm was heading north and making a stop to photograph a parade of local people taking two young men to the temple to become monks meant that the rain was imminent.

As we made our way towards the King's Project we noticed a Great Egret flying into the wind and making no progress at all. It was flying at the same speed as the wind was blowing making it appear to be stopped still in mid air!

We made our way into the King's Project just before the heavens opened.
 
Eastern Great Egret
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 
  Bird Watching & Photography Trips In Thailand:
The dry season (November to April) and early wet season
(May, June & July) are good times to visit Thailand for bird watching and photography; abundance is high in the dry season but nesting activity is in the early wet season.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you: nickupton@thaibirding.com
Luckily for us the rain did not last very long at all, we must have been on the very edge of the storm, although we were left with some very breezy weather and overcast skies.
The Camera I Used To Take The Photographs On This Page
Canon SX160 IS   All the photographs displayed in this report were taken by me, on this day trip, using a simple compact digital camera; Canon SX160 IS.

Michael was using a very expensive set up, a Nikon body with 500mm lens, which meant that where I was able to get nice photos to use at small sizes here, he was able to obtain extremely beautiful and clear images.

I just use a simple camera on these trips because I am too busy finding birds for the bird watchers and photographers who accompany me and I do not want a bulky piece of equipment hampering me in this, nor do I want those with me to feel that my priority is taking my own photographs; I only start using my camera after everyone else has spotted the bird and is able to get the photos they want.

Simple digital cameras have advanced a lot and it is possible to take internet quality photographs of birds with most cameras that cost less than $200. However, digital cameras are not miracle-workers and it does takes some practice and the right light conditions to get the best out of these cheap cameras and one needs to get fairly close to get a decent shot. Most cameras around the price of this one allow for manual setting of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, making it easier to get good shots.
Despite the grey skies we spent some time in the King's Project area. This is a great spot for using the vehicle to get really close to the birds and we spent time getting shots of some of the commoner resident waterbirds here. As well as resident species we once again found a few straggling migrants too; Pacific Golden Plover, Marsh Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern.
Once again a Javan Pond Heron in its breeding finery distracted us. It was just a few feet away from us but it was always just partially obscured by some pieces of grass no matter how long we waited or where we repositioned ourselves; still, its colours stood out nicely from the green background.

It turned out that the blustery weather conditions presented Michael with quite a few opportunities to get some shots of birds in flight as they battled against the conditions; Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black-winged Stilt and Red-wattled Lapwing all performed in this way and many Indian Cormorants on the water and sitting on posts were another distraction for us.

Up to this point we had not paid much attention to one of the commonest birds around - Black-winged Stilt. Here a group of them were busy bathing quite close to the car so we got some nice images of them with a nice background. Although it is easy to get clear shots of this species I find it hard to actually get nice photos as it is quite ungainly and often has ugly backgrounds due to its habitat choice.

After the King's Project area we drove along the coast road and headed inland a little towards Wat Khao Takrao stopping to take some photos of people working on the salt farms and some colourful boats in a little boat yard.

Wat Khao Takrao
At the temple itself Michael wanted to get some shots of monkeys and at Wat Khao Takrao there are always a lot of Long-tailed Macaques and this day was no exception with hoards of them being fed peanuts by some of the local people.
 
Some More Trip Reports
 

Black-winged Stilt
(Photo by Nick Upton)
Pools in this area usually hold Painted Storks and I was keen for us to get some pictures of these, but for some reason there were none on this occasion proving that nothing is guaranteed in bird watching. We did come across a very nice Collared Kingfisher, though, and a Ruddy-breasted Crake. Large numbers of egrets and pond herons in a muddy pool contained a few Intermediate Egrets but in the grey light conditions they were too far away to ever make a decent photo so we moved on.

Heading back into the rice fields the weather began to spoil things once again with spots of rain, it looked like we had run into the edge of that storm again. We got some nice images of the rice fields with mountains and storm clouds in the distance before we decided that it was time to head back to Bangkok anyway.
Nick Upton (nickupton@thaibirding.com)
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 Species list with notes
Tung Bang Jak: TBJ
Laem Pak Bia: LPB
Wat Komnaram: WKN
Wat Khao Takrao: WKT
1. Lesser Whistling Duck: a5 at LPB.
2. Collared Kingfisher: 1 at WKT.
3. Green Bee-eater: A few at LPB.
4. Asian Koel: 1 at TBJ.
5. Greater Coucal: A few at TBJ.
6. Asian Palm Swift: Everywhere.
7. Germain's Swiftlet: Lots of LPB & WKT.
8. Feral Pigeon
9. Spotted Dove: Everywhere.
10. Red Collared Dove: Everywhere.
11. Peaceful Dove: Everywhere.
12. Little Grebe: A few at LPB.
13. White-brested Waterhen: TBJ.
14. Ruddy-breasted Crake: 1 at WKT.
15. Watercock: 1 at TBJ.
16. Marsh Sandpiper: 1 at King's Project, LPB.
17. Bronze-winged Jacana: A few at TBJ.
18. Black-winged Stilt: Everywhere.
19. Oriental Pratincole: Many at WKN.
20. Pacific Golden Plover: 1 at King's Project, LPB.
21. Red-wattled Lapwing: Everywhere.
22. Little Tern: A few at LPB.
23. Whiskered Tern: A few at LPB.
24. Black-shouldered Kite:1 at TBJ.
25. Brahminy Kite: 1 at TBJ.
26. Little Cormorant: Everywhere.
27. Indian Cormorant: Many at LPB.
28. Little Egret: Everywhere.
29. Eastern Great Egret: Everywhere.
30. Eastern Cattle Egret:Many at TBJ & LPB.
31. Intermediate Egret: A few at WKT.
32. Purple Heron: A few at LPB.

33. Black-crowned Night Heron: 1 at LPB.
34. Indian Pond Heron: 1 at TBJ.
35. Chinese Pond Heron: 1 at TBJ.
36. Javan Pond Heron: Everywhere.
37. Black Bittern: 1 at TBJ.
38. Painted Stork: a30 at LPB.
39. Asian Openbill: Many at TBJ.
40. Long-tailed Shrike: 1 at TBJ.
41. Eastern Jungle Crow: A few at TBJ.
42. Pied Fantail: Everywhere.
43. Black Drongo: A few at TBJ.
44. Common Iora: 1 at TBJ.
45. Oriental Magpie Robin: Everywhere.
46. Asian Pied Starling: Everywhere.
47. Common Myna: Everywhere.
48. White-vented Myna: Everywhere.
49. Ashy Woodswallow: A few at TBJ.
50. Yellow-vented Bulbul: 2 at TBJ.
51. Streak-eared Bulbul: A few at TBJ & LPB.
52. Yellow-bellied Prinia: 1 at TBJ.
53. Plain Prinia: A few at TBJ & LPB.
54. Black-browed Reed Warbler: 2 at TBJ.
55. Oriental Reed Warbler: 1 at TBJ.
56. Indochinese Bushlark: 1 at LPB.
57. Oriental Skylark: 1 at WKN.
58. House Sparrow: A few at LPB.
59. Plain-backed Sparrow: 1 at TBJ.
60. Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Everywhere.
61. Streaked Weaver: A few at TBJ.
62. Baya Weaver: Many at TBJ.
63. Asian Golden Weaver: Many at TBJ.
64. Scaly-breasted Munia: A few at TBJ.

Nick Upton can be contacted at nickupton@thaibirding.com
If you are interested in arranging a bird watching tour you can see some suggested itineraries here - Birdwatching Trips - and you can contact me at the above email address to discuss the best options.
 

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Thailand Photography Day Tour
I have also created another report of this trip in which the focus is upon more general photography and not just birds: Thailand Tour - A Photography Day Trip
   
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