Monday, October 18, 2010

Raptors watching in Chumphon from 16th October – 25th October 2010 (Part 1)

Where is Chumphon
Chumphon (pronounce as choom-pond) geographical coordinates 10° 30' 0" North, 99° 10' 0" East is located midway of Bangkok and Hatyai.
It is about 463km south from Bangkok. Located in the narrow landbridge linking Malay Peninsular with the mainland of asia, in between of Adaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. Chumphon’s total land area is 6,009.0 km2 (2,320.1 sq mi). It is a stop-over place for most travelers for island hopping to Koh Tao and those who drive to the south from the north of Thailand.
Due to it’s strategically located in between of mountains range, agricultural is the main source income generator to the people of Chumphon. Majority of the people in Chumphon are involve in plantation eg rubber, palm oil, fruits and coffee. Besides the main occupation in agricultural sector minorities are also in fisheries as it is located near the coastlines. One walk into their morning market in chumphon town would discover fresh products from the sea.

Noticed that Chumphon is famous for princes finger banana. It taste in between of our pisang emas and berangan. The local make varieties of banana fritters for sells at the local products stalls along the road leading to Khao Radar.

Why chumphon is good for raptors watching.
Limited food resources in the winter in northern hemisphere will triggered the birds to do the annually migration. Chumphon is the bottleneck to connect 2 flyways of bird summer migratory route. To conserver energy, raptors migrate during the daytime where they make use of the hot thermals generated during the day to lift them up. We can notice great amount of raptors fly pass Chumphon it is due to during mid September till mid October the south east wind will push them to the coastal area. With the help of wind blow towards the mountain ridge that surround Chumphon they will be then updraft. In the recent raptor count study done from early September till early november by Robert DeCandido with a few birders recorded there are at least 26 raptor species and more than 210,000 individuals heading south towards Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Sulawesi and even the Philippines. Chumphon is a good place for raptor watching and bird migratory study site in Thailand.
How to go to chumphon.
Ever since from January 2006 there are no flights to Pateu that is about 30km from Chumphon town. The nearest airport is in Phuket is about 281km from Chumphon town. Alternatively is to fly to Hatyai (450km away) or Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport about 390km.

Best time for raptor watching
For raptor watching the best time is from mid September till early November. To create migratory birds awareness it is an annual event of MNS selangor branch since 2003 will take 20 MNS members to chumphon for raptor watch. The 1,000+km journey will start from Kuala Lumpur on Friday night either by long journey bus or train to Hatyai. The journey from Hatyai would then continue in the mid-day around noon by stage bus or chartered van to Chumphon. This tedious journey would take at least 24hrs per journey. One would definitely forgotten the long tedious strenuous tiring journey after seeing the vast amount of migratory birds in the fields. Some of my friends do not mind even to drive all the way from Malaysia passing thai border through padang besar overnight at Hatyai. The next morning continue the journey follow the direction to Surat thani drive past trang, patthalung and then follow the signage to Ranong and Bangkok. Mueng Chumphon is in the midway of Hatyai and Bangkok.

Where to stay.
There are numerous affordable hotel accommodation range from 450baht to 1500baht at chumphon town which are within easy access to food and others common facilities such at shopping malls. For those who wish to have holiday mood kind of accommodation beside the beach can head to the coastline Pateu districts about 30mins drive from chumphon town.

Where is the site for raptor watch.
Raptor Watch Site - Nong Yai
My first visit to chumphon was in year 2003, we visited 2 sites then one of it is the King’s Project (Nong Yai). This place is very near to Chumphon town. The best time for watching raptors here is the morning from 6am – 10am and evening 5pm – 6pm where raptors can be easily identify off it’s species with a 10X binocular. In the midday where there is enough thermal the birds are flying very high.

Besides raptors watching due to the surrounding habitat of freshwater wetlands there are others birds worth to look out for.

I had my lifer the Asian Openbill. This colonies is at least 40 individual Asin Openbill perched on this tree.
Besides the flypast raptors our sightings here are
Asian Openbill, Bronze-Winged Jacana, Richard Pipit, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Chinese Pond Heron, Egret, Little Cormorant, White Stork, White-Throated Kingfisher, Black Capped Kingfisher, White-Rumped Munia, Javan Myna

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Raptors watching in Chumphon from 16th October – 25th October 2010 (Part 2)

Raptor Watch Site - Khao Radar (radar hill)

This raptor watching site is about 70km away from Chumphon town. Vehicles can drive all the way up to the summit.
Not too far from radar hill there is a highway big rest place. Facilities of toilets, public phones and souvenirs shops are available. There are many local fruits and food stalls there as well . This particular stalls attracted me.

This is the scene during weekends in the peak raptor migratory month (Sept - October) at Radar Hill. DSLR Camera with long lens mounted on tripod are lining up on the ridge waiting to capture images of fly pass raptors. There are also many bird photographers who owned 300mm, 400mm, 200mm lens who prefer hand-held shots as well. The day we were there I notices people from the media also busy shooting documentary of these real life event of migratory raptors
Beside birds dragonfly is also on migratory.

Besides the main focus birds (raptors) we sighted Black-Naped Oriole, Silvered Backed Needletail, Barn Swallow, Pacific Swallow, Little Cormorrant.

Raptor Watch Site - Ban U-Tapao, Tha Yang

This is where they held the annual event of Raptor Watch festival at Chumphon.
Language barrier would not deter one to understand the signage of such and bird to lead one to the site during the Raptor Watch festival.

The needs of conservation start with awareness and education. This is Chukiat explaining to the children with great passion about the existing of raptors. Chumphon is a globally significant raptor site .. Why need to welcome the raptors.. why are they important to human .. what do they need in order for this raptor migratory phenomena continues from generation to generations.
Activities in such will keep the children interested.

The locals, friends from overseas such as Malaysia, Singapore, Filipines , school children participate for this event.
Cultural shows, life band are also one of the itinerary during the festival.
This event would not be complete without being officiated by the local government.
I’m really amazed of the hospitality being extended to all who attended the festival. Besides this hot coffee, mee , drinking water are being sponsor by a businessman and his uncle. Khop Khun Mar Kar.

This is being express out from the children.
We were observing a black kite on migratory.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Raptors watching in Chumphon from 16th October – 25th October 2010 (Part 3)

Raptor watch Site - Khao Dinsor Maueng Pateu, Chumphon

It is about 30 minutes drive from chumphon town with the coordinates 10° 37" 882' North and 99° 16' 49" East.

This place is also known as Pencil Hill as it was previously a graphite mine. From the Khao Dinsor viewpoint sign on the left is about 1km very steep and winding road head up hill to the parking place. Then one need to trek up hill on a nicely pave concrete trail into the forest. There are a number of observations shelter along that provide shelter from rain and sun. It’s last observation shelter is at 352m asl.

It is such a daily 45 minutes challenge for me for 9 days trek up Khao Dinsor with my camera gears, 1.5 litter of waters, lunch pack to the second shelter of 300m asl. I have to make numerous stop to rest and when I reached my destination observation hut my clothing are soaking wet with sweat. Nevertheless despite all these in my own judgment Khao Dinsor is the best raptor watch site cause some occasion raptors could just fly beside you or just right to you. This watch site allow me to see more than the 4 common variants of raptors back in Tanjung Tuan and Scot Hill Malaysia.

At Khao Dinsor I managed to see their eyes colour, their beautiful feathers marking. It is indeed an amazing sight to me for observing them fly pass to concurred many more thousand km to reached a safe place for wintering.

Whenever I walk on Khao Dinsor trail I wish to say thank you for those who labour to made this concrete trail. Every piece of rock and others materials are hand carry up. Every observation hut are well plan as well. It is there for me whenever I need to sit down to rest before scaled to 300m asl.

This is the view from the second last observation hut.

Let me share out some of the species we saw.

Oriental Honey Buzzard
This species comes in different appearance (pale, dark, rufous)

This individual have a full crop.

Due to wear and tear some are in this condition.

Japanese Sparrowhawk.

This species are normally fly very high at Tg Tuan. We could have mistaken the Grey-Faced Buzzard as one. The benefits of raptor watching at Khao Dinsor is we managed to see them very near. I hope I manged to ID them correctly cause it is much more easier to ID them in the field by noticing them the pattern of their flight.

Chinese Sparrowhawk
I truly enjoyed to watch them at Khao Dinsor cause some individual are very low. They behave the same pattern I observed in Tg Tuan, they move in flocks.

Black Baza
This species normally can be seen at the tail end of raptor migratory. For a couple of days since we were there, it is our common statement " I wish to see the Black Baza tomorrow.." Our first sighting of Black Baza came after most of my Malaysian friends left for home. I and few birders jump for joy at Khao Dinsor summit with the 1st bird that came in at about 10:15am on 24th October.

On 25th we saw at least 22,000 Black Baza. In thai it is called King Kar

Once a while we notice some abnormal species

We may think that Black Kite is a residence species but some do migrate.

This species is lifer to me. Saw a number of them.

Common Buzzard
I have yet to see Common Buzzard in flight in such a distance.

Eastern Marsh Harrier
This species is my lifer too. They have owl looking face.

Grey-Faced Buzzard
They are many appearance of this species. The marking underneath would makes one confused them as Japanese Sparrowhawk.

Common Kestrel
This bird is very far. It is my lifer. Mr See alerted me to watch out for one strange one that fly by.

Crested Serpent Eagle
We notice a few CSE also in migratory flight pattern.
The last time I saw Osprey very near is in year 2004 at Perlis State Park. We have a few individual at Khao Dinsor

Pied Harrier
The female bird makes me think that I have had an encounter with Hen Harrier. Thanks to Dr Chaiyan who pinpoint to me the ID field marks.

This species have yet to occurred in Malaysia. Where do they wintering after all there are so many of them fly past Chumphon, Thailand ?

The surrounding of Khao Dinsor is raptor perfect place for overnight/a stop-over. We encounter this bird at Earth's camp. Earth's camp is a small resort about 5 mins drive to Khao Dinsor.

Black Drongo
Beside raptors we saw Black Drongo, Ashy Minivet, Blue Tailed Bee Eater, Blue Throated Bee Eater, Chestnut Headed Bee Eater, Fork Tailed Swift also use Khao Dinsor as their migratory path.
Dear Raptors I bid you all good and safe journey.

This is what greeted us on my last day as I descending from Khao Dinsor on 25th of October. Rainbow reminds me of
Genesis 9:8-16
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

I have a good time raptor watching at Chumphon, thank you Oon Teik and Aun Tiah for taking us there. Wish to thank those new and old birders friends that I have make during this trip.
Thank you so much for your company.