Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Byde's Whale expedition (Thailand)

On July 11th we had the privilage of going on a whale-watching expedition from a harbour in Petchaburi province (1 1/2 drive down the east coast from Bangkok).
A small group of Thai photographers had chartered a medium-sized vessel for a trip out to sea, the objective, Bryde's whales, (an asian baleen whale species), the trip leader was well-known Thai wildlife photographer Smith Sutibut, who just happened to go to school back in the day with Api (and was FB friends with her, thus the hook-up). We had asked him about certain bird species and he eventually asked us to come along if we were interested in whales, birds would be seen as well.

Another early morning and Api, the victim of a bad papaya salad the day before swore she was fine as we stood outside a 7-11 and waited for our ride, Smith Sutibut to arrive.
The only movement in the early morning light was a couple of large rats scurrying about like they had places to go beside the building.
The up-chucking from her that followed was unexpected and i told her that she should have saved some for the birds on the trip, in reality i felt super-sorry for her, no one wants to be hurling before the trip even begins!
Trooper that she is, the show went on and we got picked up and driven through some very birdy mangrove-like habitat on the way to Bang Ta Boon bay.
I don't know what i was thinking but i neglected to bring sun-screen with me, or a hat and paid the price later on (i even knew that the sun's rays were magnified on the water yet did nothing about it), i was enjoying the sun on my face as we cruised out of the harbour and into open water, which was flat as could be, no worries about sea-sickness, just you know, bad papaya salads.
Api slept through most of the trip but was awake for the important moments.

There were some birds too, terns flew by sleekly and some fishing platforms further out to sea provided good roosting and fishing for the many cormorants, herons and egrets that seemed to populate each and every one.

We got some good looks at some birds as well, it ended up being a 9 hour expedition out to sea so we were bound to see a few.
I used the 80-400VR hand-held with D300s and shot away when something good came up, it was nice that everyone on board was fully into the photographing thing, no bird photo-ops were going to get missed this trip.

 Lesser Crested Tern (Lifer!) and an exciting discovery for those on board

Great Cormorant (Lifer!)

 Great Egret

 Little Egret walking the line

Sooty Tern (Lifer!)

Of course the main objective of this trip was whales and for the first 3 hours we didn't see any.
The boat's skipper had his man sitting on the roof with bins and a radio scanning the water for any breach.
finally there was commotion and speaking of thai and i understood enough that the whales had been spotted!
We had found a mother and child together, diving and coming up suddenly with it's big mouth like an opened clam, neat to see them both come up at the same time like syncronized swimmers at a meet.

Bryde's Whales

Pretty cool right?

Here are two last shots from the day, Api looking pretty good for being so sick (with Smith Sutibut in background), and me, starting to show the burn at the end of 9 hours out.  : )

Wear sun-screen!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Khao Yai w/ Mr. Nine (Thailand)

After the exploits at KKC and the family wedding of one of Api's cousins at a swanky hotel in Bangkok (why did i feel soo under-dressed?, they said it was casual, i guess suits are casual over there..), which we crashed right when the buddhist monks were chanting their sanskrit prayers (nothing like making a good first impression), we were on to our next birding destination, Khao Yai (the Alberta of Thailand apparantly due to cattle-ranching and it's famed beef steaks).
We brought Api's mother and sister along and chose a Thai resort that just happened to be next door to the Greenleaf Guest House, and Mr. Nine, our guide for our day at Khao Yai National Park.
I had only two requests of him - get me hornbills (any will do, this nemesis bird was long overdue) and Banded Kingfisher.
It was the 2012 trip report posted by another birder who used Mr. Nine's services in the rainy season of July that inspired me (Api phoned him and talked in Thai) to contact him.
I had wondered how much rain i was going to see and had been surprised so far at the lack of it. It was hot though, and the bane of this northerner - humid.
July 08th
Another early morning and we awoke from our traditional Thai-styled cottage to great an agreeably cool morning.
As the outdoor lights were still on we were witness to a fantastic sight, the resort cats and their young kittens were all feverishly catching and eating tons of these winged termite type insects, attracted to the lights they would soon be a quick snack I guess they tasted good or something..

We met Mr. Nine at 6am at the Greeenleaf Guesthouse and i drank instant coffee before we drove off to the park.
After paying the entrance fee (400baht for farang like me but much much less for Api) we arrived at a trailhead, leech socks were put on and i could see that the trail could be challenging for me and my 500mm & tripod.
Walking with the camera and lens down low near my mid-section in front of me and with tripod legs shortened i was able to follow along no problem, especially without any cumbersome flash accessories (i decided to go flash-less this trip, and except for the first day at Train Park, all was natural light shot).
It was still kind of dark and grey inside the trail, a light rain came down but it was hardly noticed.
Mr. Nine would listen for hornbill calls and eventually we came to some large fruiting fig trees and i got my first shots of a hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill to be exact.
As well we got some shots of my first Great Hornbill.
The search of area for Banded Kingfisher came up short but there were a few more locations that Mr. Nine knew of and all was not lost.

I wish the conditions had been better for these shots (the tree was actually in some low cloud), and you couldn't really angle yourself into better light due to the dense cover of forest so we took what was there, happily.

 Wreathed Hornbill

"Ok, let's go!"

After the forest-trekking it was time for breakfast before heading out again, the visitor centre by the creek had some nature trails, some small bridges and food stalls.
A number of benches were set up canteen-style under cover, which was where we got our first (and only) close! looks of Oriental Pied Hornbill, one of the smaller and more common species. Api had the 80-400 and was able to squeeze off a few shots before they flew off suddenly, i could only watch as the birds were way too close for my lens. Oh well, at least Api got a record shot.

 Oriental Pied Hornbill

One of the suspension bridges near the visitor centre.

After fueling our bodies it was off to a campsite area i know well from previous visits.
The rain had been coming down more steadily as the morning wore on and it was soon time to throw some nylon rain covers over the 500mm, i had stupidly left my snazzy lens and camera covers in the luggage back at the resort not thinking i would need them based on the trip weather so far. Not so!
I needed them, saw some leeches on the grass as well, creepy little things the way they inch-worm their way towards you. Happily neither Api or myself got one leech this whole trip, i had one actually, on the lens rain cover at one point and deftly flicked it off with my finger.
The campsite area was productive with a few fruiting trees bringing in birds.

 Great Hornbill

 Great Hornbill juvenile

The hardest rain of the whole trip came during these looks at the Great Hornbills near visitor centre.
No Banded Kingfishers however, we found the nest but would have had a long and unpredictable wait for bird, to either exit or suddenly appear from hunting.

 Campsite shots.

 Banded Broadbill was a Lifer!

 Blue-throated Barbet juvenile

 Blue-throated Barbets

Thick-billed Pigeon - gorgeous!

We also met one of Mr. Nine's sons out shooting with a couple of friends, he was dreaming of a D4 and trying his buddies out on the same birds. 
Mr. Nine metioned later that he wanted to buy him one as he showed some talent, totally cool.

After the campsite and due to the rain we decided to drive around a bit in the back of his covered pickup truck and shoot from there.
Got some decent looks at a nice Black-shouldered Kite, a Lifer for me and Api.

 Heavy crop of distant flight theatrics, very much acted like an osprey

Eventually it at came down to perch, still a bit distant but i did get a couple of decent (sharp enough) looks to crop closer than i normally would.

At one point earlier on i had asked how hard it was to see Long-tailed Broadbill at Khao yai, it was a species i had not yet  had the fortune of seeing.
Some of my Thai photog friends on Flickr have gotten looks and the bird just looked so amazingly cool, i just had to get it one day.
Little did i know we would later drive by an active nest site right by the side of the road, it was lucky that Mr. Nine spotted the bird while driving by and told us to get out and setup, the bird would come back, wait!
Wait we did and amazingly it did eventually show itself with what looks to be a praying matis like insect in it's mouth. We knew that it was busy working and didn't waste time, took our shots quickly and then left, so it could continue it's feeding .

Long-tailed Broadbill - Lifer!

I told Mr. Nine then that it was the bird of the day and it didn't matter at all that we dipped on the Banded Kingfisher (another time for that bird, another time) it was all good!

As we wrapped up our day and on the way out we stopped suddenly at the lookout point because a small group of people were looking into some trees by the side of the road.
It was a Great Hornbill, and close!
I took a few shots and watched as it hopped around in the thick foliage and suddenly it flew off, across the road and down into the valley below. We had lost sight of it but as luck would have it i spotted it again, and took some longish distance shots that satisfied the soul of this bird photographer, when viewed afterwards.

 These birds are pretty big, that bug must be pretty big!

After all that we were happy and hungry.
Mr. Nine dropped us off and we parted ways.

The dinner that night was awesome, they even had Heineken in the big bottles!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kaenkrachan (Thailand) + with Guide Paan

One of the major events i had planned birding-wise was to spend a day shooting (hopefully) pittas at Kaenkrachan National Park with Guide Paan, a thai birding guide who specialized in bird photographers, most of his clients i think are Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian, maybe i was his first Canadian?
He picked us up just before 6pm July 5th (Friday) near our home at the Central Lad Prao and soon enough we were on our way to KKC, but first a quick stop at a Wat (temple) to look for parakeets.
Spotted Owlets were seen as well as Red-breasted Parakeets, a treat since the parakeet was a Lifer.

Red-breasted Parakeet

Spotted owlet

The punkbirdr chilling with Guide Paan

We drove on and had dinner at a road-side outdoor food court frequented by truckers (a good sign).
food was good and watching the monkeys try to steal food from behind the food stalls was amusing.
Continuing on we eventually arrived at Samarn Bird Camp near Kaenkrachan and said our hellos to Mr. Samarn and his wife before clambering off to bed, we would be up early the next morning.

Saturday July 6th.

Our plan in the morning was to be first to Mr. Loong Sin's house to secure a spot at a pitta stake-out he had on his property, we were not the only photogs interested in Eared Pitta but we were the first there this morning and got ground level looks at the elusive bird as it foraged for food to bring back to a nearby (but out of site) nest.
It was extremely important to stay still in your blind and keep noise to a minimum..
the birds are quite wary and cautious and we found that when later parties arrived and set up their blinds the bird became less visable and never went to ground level again.

Conditions were quite dark in the morning and we were always into the forest, never considered using flash but did decide to use the Mirror-up mode on the D300s to minimize shutter, ISO800.
Borat would say "Great Successs"

Eared Pitta

After 4 hours in the blind my knees were ready for some walking and that's just what we did, checking out another of Mr. Loong Sin's properties, the Rambutan Orchard.
Rambutans are delicious fruits and the constant supply within arms reach may have helped me keep going when the sun started flexing it's muscles later on.
I didn't take the heat and humidity very well, sweat would get in my eyes and make it hard to even see what i was shooting at times, just feeling tired as well, but there were so many good birds around that you just had to make that extra effort.
Vernal Hanging Parrots were the main attraction but sunbird and flowerpecker activity was pretty awesome as well.

 Vernal Hanging Parrots

 Brown-throated Sunbird

 Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

Crimson Sunbird

After all that it was decided to make our way back closer to Bangkok and hit up some spots we had not yet birded, like Kasetsart University campus and the Boy Scout camp nearby.
When Guide Paan asked if i was interested in Common Hoopoe i jumped at the chance, Api lays claim to our only shot, taken in Krabi, 2010.
The Boy Scout camp was kind of creepy to drive through for some reason, i was told there were some "old spirits" around, but there were also Hoopoes!

Common Hoopoe

Later we checked out Kasetsart University campus, an agricultural university with loads of birds, shooting was all from vehicle, using beanbag to support 500mm, worked very well.

 White-breasted Waterhen

 Scaly-breasted Munia

 Scaly-breasted Partridge (Lifer! and hand-holding the 500mm frantically as well )

 Green Bee-eater

 Asian Golden Weaver

 Black-winged Stilt

 Oriental Pratincole (Lifer!)

 Plain-backed Sparrow

 Green Bee-eater

The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area