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South Africa (ZA)   Phuket, Thailand  -  Categories: Asia, Thailand  -  @ 04:55:22 pm

Christmas and New Year December 2010, JW Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket

A 10-day Christmas break was exactly what we needed after the year that 2009 was. We couldnt have chosen a better country to relax, chill and re-charge and it was with heavy hearts when left to return to Kuwait after New Year. All we can say, is that we will be back. Also heartening was the fact that this is one of the first destinations where I have stepped off the plane and seen an indigenous bird first and not some introduced exotic which is always the case. Images by Mike Pope

A new country creates a buzz for any birder, as most birds seen would be lifers and Phuket was no exception. As I have done on other family holidays, I was up before breakfast every morning to walk the hotel grounds which is a mix of exotic/introduced and indigenous habitat, secure our loungers at the pool and then rouse the family for the sumptious buffet breakfasts. Our room was right next to a small lake with water lillies and good habitat and was good for a number of normally secretive birds. The most common was Chinese Pond Heron, but the challenge I had was getting up early meant low light and challenging photographic conditions, so I had to expirement with flash on a few occassions - with mixed results, this one was particulary successful.

Chinese Pond Heron

The amount of white in the wings is always surprsing when these herons take flight

Chinese Pond Heron

I managed to catch this one in the soft afternoon light and we can use it to compare to Squacco and Indian Pond Heron which occur in Kuwait

Chinese Pond Heron

On my second morning I flushed a Cinammon Bittern that was a little too far for the reach of the flash, but no question on the identification

Cinammon Bittern

An added bonus was also finding Yellow Bittern at the same lake

Yellow Bittern

I was really fortunate on one morning when I caught both Cinammon and Yellow Bittern in the same thicket, with the Cinammon trying to devour a rather large fish with a bemused Yellow Bittern looking on

Yellow and Cinammon Bittern

White breasted Waterhens were seen feeding across the Lilly pads

White breasted Waterhen

When the Waterhens and Pond Herons took flight, it was normally because of a cruising Brahminy Kite - this taken with flash in the pre-dawn light

Brahminy Kite

Normally more skulking (at this hotel anyway), this Oriental Magpie Robin stopped on the bridge before disappearing into the thickets on the side of the lake

Oriental Magpie Robin

The most common birds around the pool area, as expected are introduced species, like this Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove

The bigger Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Not to forget the Common Myna which you seem to find everywhere

Common Myna

Eurasian Tree Sparrows were numerous around the breakfast buffet each morning, boldly stealing food with the Mynas

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

After dinner one night, my son found this frog near the pool which we still have to identify


Walking through the quieter parts of the garden and the casarina trees along the beach produced other species, the Black naped Oriole's call every morning started becoming quite familiar

Black naped Oriole

Toward the end of our stay, large numbers of Black Drongos were seen in the casarina trees, this one illuminated with flash in the backlit high trees

Black Drongo

Common Tailorbirds were not easy to get onto where they were heard calling from the undergrowth

Common Tailorbird

On one occassion I came across a first winter Brown Shrike. I now have a reference image to check for this species occuring as a vagrant in Kuwait

Brown Shrike

Brown Shrike

Hawking around the top of the tall casarina trees were Asian Palm Swifts

Asian Palm Swift

with the odd Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Interspersed with Pacific Swallows

Pacific Swallow

Yellow vented Bulbul was the only bulbul seen in and around the hotel, a good looking Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Venturing out of the hotel and finding some more natural bush gave species not seen in the hotel, Large billed Crows were seen patrolling over on of th entrance roads

Large billed Crow

Little Cormorants were normally seen early morning on their way from their roosting site

Little Cormorant

A Black Baza was seen on 2 mornings from the same spot at the same time

Black Baza

I saw a Dusky Crag Martin only on one occassion, hawking over the hotel entrance

Dusky Crag Martin

Indian or if split Burmese(?) Roller was seen most mornings

Indian/Burmese Roller

Dollarbirds used the overhead power lines to hunt from


The Olive backed Sunbird was not at all obliging

Olive backed Sunbird

The larger Brown throated Sunbird was a little more obliging, this is male

Brown throated Sunbird

and the drabber female

Brown throated Sunbird

I had a large influx of Paddyfield Pipits on my last day out

Paddyfield Pipit

On my day trip to Phang Nga I saw Scarlet backed Flowerpecker, but was not able to photograph it - at the hotel I was more fortunate

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

Showing why it is so named

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

One of the many new butterflies also seen, this is a Chocolate Pansy


I arranged a day's guided birding through Dave Williams of Paddle Asia ( who specializes in Birding Tours in Phuket. I had a 5:30 pickup with my excellent guides for the day - Games Phetsri and Ian Dugdale. Ian is a special guest who accompanies Games on most guided tours. We headed out in the dark to our first location of the day - Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary for some really good forest and canopy birding as the sun peeped over the mountains. After too much time in the deserts, I had forgotten the challenges of canopy birding as well as the associated neck and eye strain of canopy birding. This didnt deter my enthusiasm as we picked up one new bird after another, often with just fleeting and tantilising glimpses.The other challenge in the low light conditions was photographing with flash, I persevered with mixed results. So, the following images is to give a flavour of what can be found on a guided day out. One of the first birds seen up in the canopy was a Grey breasted Spiderhunter, it reminded me of a sunbird on steroids

Grey breasted Spiderhunter

As the sun started hitting the tops of the canopy, the forest slowly wakened and birds slowly became active, many enjoying the warmth of a new day before feeding. A few Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrikes were seen

Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike

A poor image of the brilliant looking Blue winged Leafbird

Blue-winged Leafbird

The fantastic colour of a Verditer Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

and the wonderful looking Black crested Bulbul


In the mid-stratum, birds also started appearing - but these were way more difficult to get onto for any length of time. This Common Tailorbird caught with flash foraging for breakfast

Common Tailorbird

The Buff-vented Bulbul is quite a skulker

Buff-vented Bulbul

Buff-vented Bulbul

As was the Hairy-backed Bulbul

Hairy-backed Bulbul

A large bird moving quickly through the undergrowth turned out to be a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. Again I marvelled at the colours of this forest dweller

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

A dimunitive Blue-throated Flycatcher was seen gleening through the canopy

Blue-throated Flycatcher

Followed shortly by a Mugimaki Flycatcher which created a lot of excitement from Ian

Mugimaki Flycatcher

The brightly coloured male Orange-breasted Flowerpecker was caught by flash, busy gathering food for its young

Orange-breasted Flowerpecker

A Spectacled Bulbul was briefly seen

Spectacled Bulbul

Scanning the treetops we found the amazing and cool looking Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Flying overhead we also had the larger Grey-rumped Treeswift

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Also causing some excitement a Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

The only raptors seen soaring high overhead were Oriental Honey Buzzard

Oriental Honey Buzzard

And Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle

Sadly we had time constraints to ensure we got to the other locations, before leaving saw this Forest Crested Lizarad in the leaf litter, the expression on its face reminding me of some animated character from a Disney movie


We tried another location on route to lunch and not too many new birds added. At lunch next to the water, watched a few fish patrol below us and saw a Striated Heron


After an enjoyable local lunch, we stopped in the Mangroves near Phang Nga town, it was too early for Mangrove Pitta - but we did pick up Arctic Warbler, another taken with flash

Arctic Warbler

Some movement alerted me to the odd Gliding Lizard that literally jumps and glides from one tree to another

Gliding Lizard

The mangroves hosted a few interesting butterflies, this is a Clipper


and a Spotted Black Crow


On the way back to our van, we found 3 White-rumped Munias feeding on seeds on the roadside verge

White-rumped Munia

Ian stopped at one of the main intersections in Phang Nga town where there is a breeding population of Black Nest Swiftlets - not easy to photograph from the busy sidewalk and overhead telephone lines

Black Nest Swiftlet

We then had a long drive to Thai Muang which used to be golf course and is no longer used as one, resulting in the re-growth of natural vegetation. This is also a superb site and holds a lot of promise if we had no pressure of time. It was best to walk the old fairways and explore the water holes. First bird up was Black Drongo

Black Drongo

We flushed a flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Germain's Swift is the common swift in Phuket

Germain's Swift

At one of the waterholes we flushed Yellow and Cinammon Bittern and this Watercock getting away


At another, a few Paddyfield Pipits and Pacific Golden Plovers

Pacific Golden Plover

and a pair of River Lapwings that departed as soon as they saw us - but a satisfying sighting, not so with the photograph. Perhaps the new 7D would have handled this picture very differently

River Lapwing

After the departure of the Lapwings a small Plaintive Cuckoo landed nearby

Plaintive Cuckoo

On the fringes of the course, we picked up a flock of Myna's and Rosy Starlings, the Starlings a good sighting for Phuket

Rosy Starling

More elusive were the Chestnut-streaked Starlings high up in a casarina tree

Chestnut-streaked Starling

By now, the sun had started to touch the horizon and we were fortunate to have a flock of Orange breasted Green Pigeons fly in to roost for the night.

Orange breasted Green Pigeon

As we were about to leave, I saw two birds fly in and land behind a mound, I suspected Grey headed Lapwing and crept up behind the mound and managed this image before they fly further away in the fading light. A great bird to end what was a fantastic day out with Games and Ian

Grey-headed Lapwing

During our stay on Phuket, we arranged an excursion to James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay which is North East of Phuket. Not many birds at all seen on this day trip. We had Pacific Swallows on the pier of the harbour before we departed

Pacific Swallow

After James Bond, we explored some islands on canoe's through caves in the limestone walls. On one of the inner lagoons our paddler pointed out a pair of Hornbills which turned out to be Oriental Pied.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

In the same lagoon, the primarily arboreal Crab eating Macaques watched us with curiosity as we did them

Crab eating Macaques

On the last day of 2009, we arranged a days snorkelling excursion to the spectacular Similan Islands where the water is as blue as swimming pools in the South African summer. Again, not many birds seen on the 2-hour speedboat ride to the islands. I did get Pacific Reef Egret and White bellied Sea Eagle. We stopped at Island # 4 for lunch and saw huge numbers of roosting Flying Foxes in the canopy above us

Flying Foxes

However, the avian highlight of Island # 4 is the rastafarian looking Nicobar Pigeon. Unfortunatley at luch time they are all roosting after having finished their foraging in the early morning. The large number of people also kept them in the trees. After some intensive searching in the short window of time that I had, I eventually located a lone roosting Nicobar Pigeon - not an ideal view, but I was elated

Nicobar Pigeon

Our last snorkel provided another highlight when we had the privelege of swimming with a Turtle, what a magnificent creature and my son Jaden was so excited even though he was in 15m of water. Whilst everybody dozed off on the 2-hour trip back to the hotel, I took up a personal challenge in trying to photograph a Flying Fish while standing at the back of the speedboat with three 200HP V6 Yamaha's flat out across the Andaman Sea. I am personally thrilled with the result of what was a difficult and challenging personal photographic assignment

Flying Fish

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