Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thailand 1 - Do You Know the Way to Pak Thale?

Pak Thale is a series of salt concentration ponds about 3 hours drive south of Bangkok. And no, I don't know the way to Pak Thale - but the last turn before the salt ponds is signed with an image of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! Spoon-billed Sandpiper is designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN with an estimated breeding population in 2009-2010 of 120-200 pairs (or fewer). The causes of the continuing population decline were unknown until recent work showed that hunting on the winter grounds was likely the driving factor (see We were at Pak Thale on February 28, 29, and 30, 2012 and I saw 31 species of shorebirds at Pak Thale.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper is an enigmatic small shorebird that is readily recognized when the distinctive spatulate bill is seen. One of the accessible places in the world to see them is Thailand, and Pak Thale has more individuals than other sites including Kohk Kham. The area is a salt works, so sea water is sent into shallow ponds where the water evaporates and the brine sent to yet shallower ponds, ending in the shallow sterile ponds where the salt crystals form and are harvested for sale. I'm hoping that the locals start selling "Spoonie Salt" to benefit the Sandpiper.
The Spoon-billed Sandpipers are a very small number of the thousands of shorebirds that gather in the salt ponds either to feed in the less salty shallow ponds, or to roost and await low tide on the adjacent mudflats. Here's a mixed flock of Great Knot, Black-bellied Plover, some peep (Rufous-necked Stint), Bar-tailed Godwit, sand-plovers, and who knows what all!
Here's a flock on the ground, both species of Sand-Plover, some in nice plumage; a Spoon-billed Sandpiper near the center (and another couple less obvious). Shorebirds were scattered all over the ponds, with the Eurasian Curlew in a large single-species flock - except for a couple of Far Eastern Curlews identifiable in flight. We
Here's a nice study of an Old World Great Egret in breeding color, with a black bill, blackish-red legs and a turquoise face. On one side is an Intermediate Egret with a short yellow bill (and a seriously great name!) and a Little Egret.

But the extension was named for the Spoonie, so the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was the star of the show. We worked hard on March 1 to find some Nordmann's Greenshanks (aka Spotted Greenshank). We'd been unable to access their favored roosting site due to salt workers and trucks working in the area at low tided, but we managed to walk in and find four birds roosting with Black-tailed Godwits on the last morning. But here's the star of the show in a digipic, we didn't press the birds.