This year’s been good for new bird records in Thailand. In a short-span of time, in the past month or so, I think we had three: Indian Paradise-Flycatcher, Red-breasted Mersenger and the recent arrival of Northern Wheatear. I never really twitched any birds that required any significant travel time, I was considering it with the Cha-am Red-breasted Mersenger last month but the bird didn’t stick around. And I hadn’t developed any twitching habits to actually act upon. Cha-am is also pretty nearby, at the time I didn’t think so but after traveling 430km north to Sukhothai my perspectives have shifted significantly, in terms of what’s easily in reach.
Long-story short, yesterday, the 8th of December I went to Sukhothai from Bangkok for the Northern Wheatear. A bird found by Jens Toettrup around a week ago. Being the 3rd species of Wheatear to venture into Thailand in vagrancy, being the first record of Northern Wheatear in ‘mainland’ Southeast Asia. It was a relatively safe bet, the bird had been showing incredibly since its discovery. When it was reported on the 7th I decided to go for it. On the 8th I was also reassured en route as it was observed on the morning of travel.
Upon arrival, it was exactly where it was described, I took a few pictures from the car but decided to look around in the other parts of the areas to acclimatise to the new location before getting closer views. I saw, and heard, a very vocal Rufous-Winged Buzzard, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Rosy Minivets, Chestnut-tailed Starling, female Cyornis flycatcher among other species. I had to get warmed-up as I was sleep deprived and also drained from hours of travel. Things got better after getting a decent shot of a relatively hard to photograph Radde’s Warbler and then returning to view the main attraction.
Heading back to the Northern Wheatear, exiting the car and walking to sit down in the grass, we were treated to point-blank views of this confiding bird. It wasn’t at all bothered by us and perched still, within a few metres, for long periods before hopping around foraging. You couldn’t ask for anything more, I spent around 20-30 minutes after getting photos and videos with it before exploring the surrounding habitat again.
There was an inviting path into a forested area beside the road, I was looking out for many birds as it was my first time in the area. One bird I was excited to see was Pied Kingfisher, having been seen earlier in the day, it a bird that was on my mind. The forested path was beautiful to explore in the lowering late-afternoon sun. The groups of tall, mature trees gave way again into open areas and fields, before returning back into thick groups of big trees. Reminiscent of those sections of ‘forest’ between areas of farmland in the UK.
I spent probably just under 2 hours exploring the trail and areas around the spot. It was amazing to see the Wheatear but I enjoyed exploring the habitat equally. After returning from the trail, I wanted to drive along the open habitat to scan for birds for the last time. By this time it was around 5pm and the sun was pretty low. I came across a Burmese Shrike and after heading back to the large pond, the day ended on a high note. A flyby from a pair of Pied Kingfishers overhead! The day felt complete at this point. Heading to the car, we drove off, not before spotting another Pied Kingfisher fishing over the pond! If you haven’t seen them fish, they hover before making a spectacular plunging dive into the water.
While there were other birds I wanted to see like Savannah Nightjar and Rufous Treepie, I was happy with what I did get to see given the time I arrived and being in a new environment. It was made a lot easier by the experience I gained from birding at Phutthamonthon frequently. For example, I learnt the call of Rufous-winged Buzzard a month ago there, which made identification a breeze as it was primarily heard and only briefly seen on my visit to Sukhothai.
All images and video © 2022 Sam Hambly.
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