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A Morning Birding At Bang Pra, 13th March 2011
 
  Bird Watching Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
Introduction
In the past I have enjoyed many day trips to Bang Pra where a good mixture of open-country, grassland, wetland and even woodland birds can be found; it was always an excellent place to see quail and buttonquail. However, in recent years the water levels of the lake have been maintained at very high levels and have reduced the amount of grassland habitat to almost zero and the marginal habitat has been severely degraded by overuse by local people.

I decided to spend a morning at Bang Pra to see whether it is a location which remains worthwhile for birdwatchers, or one to forget about.

Additionally, I wanted to go to the waterfront at Sri Racha, where some years ago I had seen Black-naped Tern, to check if that species was still present there.
Getting There
I used a hire vehicle that I was in possession of, but any vehicle would be suitable for this journey as all the roads are good. I took the expressway out of Bangkok and headed towards Suvarnapoom airport. When getting close to the airport I followed the signs to Chonburi via the "motorway" (signposted as such in English). I followed this until it split into two; the turning being either for Chonburi or Pattaya - the Pattaya turning is the one to take. After several more kilometres signs for Khao Khieo open zoo and Bang Pra appear and follow the instructions as given in my Bang Pra page.

To get from Bang Pra to Sri Racha, I just went back to the motorway, headed south and followed the signs to Sri Racha. When at Sri Racha waterfront head for the public pier where you can park.

Accommodation
I did this as a day trip from Bangkok, but if you should wish to stay in the area there are many places to stay on the coast at Bang Saen, Ang Sila, Sri Racha or Pattaya.
 

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Food
At Bang Pra itself there is no food. However, if one just drives back to the motorway and over it, there is a passable small restaurant on your right. I had lunch on the pier at Sri Racha where lots of seafood dishes are available very cheaply. Food and drink is safe at any roadside foodstall or restaurant in Thailand.
Bird Calls
I had only used call playback once on this short trip; for those that need call recordings, they are available here: The Birds of Tropical Asia and Xena Canto.
Field Guides
1. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson
2. Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Philip D. Round & Boonsong Lekagul
Birding Highlights

Bang Pra : Greater Painted Snipe, Rosy Starling, Laced Woodpecker, White-crested Laughingthrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Rain Quail, Yellow-legged Buttonquail, Black Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Oriental Darter, Crow-billed Drongo, Yellow-eyed Babbler.
Sri Racha : Black-naped Tern.
Notes
I left Bangkok at a little after 5am and arrived at Bang Pra for first light at around 6.15am. Driving along the road which encircles the site I saw a lot of activity on the overhead wires and trees. Stopping briefly I saw a male Laced Woodpecker, several White-crowned Laughingthrushes, some Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, a Rufous Treepie and a Lineated Barbet - a very pleasant start to the day.

However, when I drove down the dirt track to where I usually park the car, near some sort of staff compound, the gate was locked. Although this was a bit strange I found space enough to park (I discovered on a subsequent occasion that the staff were concerned about vandalism. When they saw me they opened the gate for me and told me in future to let them know I wanted to park and they would unlock the gate).

The next thing that I discovered is that the mud wall between the main lake and the small lake has been breached and the water level in each is the same, meaning that water levels in the main lake are very high, leaving most of the former grassland habitat inundated; this was a disappointment. So far things seemed to have taken a turn for the worse at Bang Pra.

From the parking area I walked north along the track and then along the paved trail to where I used to see plenty of grassland birds, including quail. The situation was a mess! No grass existed at all, the whole place was flooded and with overuse by the locals the margins were extremely trampled and littered. The next area I knew that might have some suitable habitat was a long walk, so I turned around and looked elsewhere.
Back at the car I walked along the paved trail southwards around the small lake. This takes you through a wooded area where I saw a few Black-naped Orioles, Racket-tailed Treepie and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. This trail soon came out onto the southeastern edge of the main lake where I was greeted with the sight of reedy pools, grassland, scrub and marginal wetlands - hey, it looked like I might find some birds after all!
I walked off the trail a little into some good habitat and the birds began to come quickly; Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern and Black Bittern all showed quite soon and a Siberian Rubythroat in the tangles soon came out after a little call playback. Just standing in one place with a good view I soon spotted some Chestnut-capped Babblers showing nicely in the waterside vegetation as well as Oriental Reed Warbler and Black-browed Reed Warbler; all birds I expected to see at this site. However, a bird I did not expect to see was perched in a bare tree about 100 metres away, giving me good views through my telescope - a Rosy Starling in breeding plumage! This is quite a rare visitor to Thailand so when it was joined by 2 more I was even more surprised. I eventually got much closer and got excellent views of the three of them.

The remainder of the morning continued in the same vein with many good birds around and it brightened up my mood regarding the situation at Bang Pra. Although there has been much degradation of the habitat, many interesting birds are still to be found, one just has to look a little harder and move around a little more than in the past. I found several Painted Snipe, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, 2 Oriental Darters sat in a bare tree, Bright-headed Cisticola, Yellow-eyed Babbler and a number of other interesting species. However, I still had not found any habitat that looked like it would hold a quail.

However, my luck was about to change; as I took a short cut across a dry grassy area I noticed some movement next to a bush. I managed to get my binoculars on the source of the movement and got a brief but clear view of a pair of Barred Buttonquail. This piece of grassland was right next to the circular paved trail around the small lake and raised above the marshy areas, making it much drier and ideal habitat for some quail, so I slowly walked around it in search for some other species.

It turned out that I was right, and I managed to get a good view of a single Yellow-legged Buttonquail and some a few more Barred Buttonquail before I flushed a Rain Quail from its hiding place; it was kind enough to land on a bare piece of ground for a few moments where I could see it briefly.
 
Indochinese Bushlark   Birdwatching Trips To Bang Pra Reservoir:
If you have only a day or two for birding from Bangkok, Bang Pra is an excellent location,
coupled with a visit to Muang Boran Fishponds. At any time of year a good selection of colourful birds are present and in the dry season a whole range of migrants visit this location.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you: nickupton@thaibirding.com
 
So, Bang Pra still holds buttonquail and true quail, they are just harder to find than in the past and, no doubt, far less numerous than before due to reduced habitat. In fact, the good number and selection of species seen in a shirt space of time means that Bang Pra is still an excellent location for a morning's birding.

After this success I decided to investigate other parts of the lake by car. Quite frankly, the high humidity and heat at Bang Pra is always an issue and I was happy to get into an air-conditioned vehicle for a while. I drove round to the southernmost tip of the lake. Here there was an obvious route into a grassy area with some marginal habitat and a sensible place to park next to the road.

Walking into this area it soon became obvious that although the habitat here had potential, it was dreadfully overused and suffering from habitat degradation. However, I quickly caught up with a few species that I had not seen earlier in the morning - lots of Indochinese Bushlarks and Oriental Pratincoles. Investigating this area was interesting and much earlier in the morning it may have turned up more species but I did manage to find Baya Weaver, some Yellow Wagtails, a few species of waders and a few Paddyfield Pipits before I became too hot and headed off to Sri Racha!

Birding at Sri Racha consists simply of using a telescope to observe distant terns and gulls flying around and loafing on the numerous floating constructions, using the pier as a base. After some time scanning I saw what looked like snowy white Black-naped Terns sitting amongst some Whiskered Terns. I walked to the island and got myself as close to these birds as could where I could get a decent look at 3 Black-naped Terns, a species which is seldom seen from the mainland in the Gulf of Thailand.
Nick Upton (nickupton@thaibirding.com)
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 Species list with sites and notes
Bang Pra : BP
Sri Racha: SR
1. Rain Quail: 1 seen briefly in grassland at BP.
2. Yellow-legged Buttonquail: 1 in grass at BP.
3. Barred Buttonquail: 5 or 6 seen well in grassland at BP.
4. Little Grebe: A few, BP.
5. Laced Woodpecker: 1 in fringing woodland, from the road, BP.
6. Lineated Barbet: A few, BP.
7. Coppersmith Barbet: 1,BP.
8. Common Kingfisher: A couple, BP
9. White-throated Kingfisher: Common, BP.
10. Black-capped Kingfisher: 1, BP.
11. Green Bee-eater: A few, BP.
12. Blue-tailed Bee-eater: 5, BP.
13. Lesser Coucal: 2 in grass, BP.
14. Greater Coucal: A few, BP.
15. Plaintive Cuckoo: 1 adult, BP.
16. Asian Koel: Common, BP.
17. Green-billed Malkoha: 2 at BP.
18. Indian Roller: A few by the roadside, just before entering BP.
19. Hoopoe: A few, BP.
20. Germain's Swiftlet: A few at BP.
21. Asian Palm Swift: Numerous at BP.
22. Fork-tailed Swift: A few, BP.
23. Brown-backed Needletail: 2 at BP.
24. Feral Pigeon: Both locations.
25. Spotted Dove: BP.
26. Peaceful Dove: BP.
27. White-breasted Waterhen: A few, BP.
28. Greater Painted Snipe: 6 at BP.
29. Pheasant-tailed Jacana: 3 at BP.
30. Bronze-winged Jacana: 1 at BP.
31. Common Greenshank: A few at BP.
32. Wood Sandpiper: 5 at BP.
33. Black-winged Stilt: Common at BP.
34. Little Ringed Plover: A few at BP.
35. Oriental Pratincole: c12, BP.
36. Red-Wattled Lapwing: Common, BP.
37. Brown-headed Gull: 100+ at SR.
38. Black-naped Tern: 3 at SR.
39. Common Tern: A few, SR.
40. Whiskered Tern: Common at SR.
41. Western Osprey: 1 at BP.
42. Oriental Darter: 2 at BP.
43. Little Cormorant: Common at BP; a few at SR.
44. Little Egret: BP & SR.
45. Eastern Great Egret: BP & SR.
46. Intermediate Egret: A few, BP.
47. Eastern Cattle Egret: BP.
48. Purple Heron: A few at BP.
49. Chinese Pond Heron: Both locations.
50. Black-crowned Night Heron: BP.
51. Little (Striated) Heron: 1 at SR.
52. Yellow Bittern: Several at BP.
53. Cinnamon Bittern: 2 at BP.
54. Black Bittern: 1 at BP.
55. Asian Openbill: 50+ at BP.
56. Brown Shrike: A few, BP.
57. Long -tailed Shrike: 2 at BP.
58. Black Drongo: Many at BP.
59. Ashy Drongo: 2 at BP.
60. Crow-billed Drongo:1 at BP.
61. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo: Several, BP.
62. Eastern Jungle (Large-billed) Crow: Both locations.
63. Rufous Treepie: A few at BP.
64. Racket-tailed Treepie: Several, BP.
65. Black-naped Oriole: 10+, BP.
66. Ashy Minivet: A small flock at BP.
67. Pied Fantail: A few, BP.
68. Common Iora: BP.
69. Siberian Rubythroat: 1 seen at BP, 2 more heard.
70. Oriental Magpie Robin: Both locations.
71. Eastern Stonechat: A few, BP.
72. Ashy Woodswallow:A few, BP.
73. Rosy Starling: 3 at BP.
74. Asian Pied Starling: Common, BP.
75. Common Myna: Common at both locations.
76. White-vented Myna: Common, BP.
77. Barn Swallow: BP & SR.
78. Yellow-vented Bulbul: Common at BP.
79. Streak-eared Bulbul: Common at BP.
80. Bright-headed Cisticola: A couple, BP.
81. Zitting Cisticola: 1, BP.
82. Rufescent Prinia: A few, BP.
83. Yellow-bellied Prinia: 1 at BP.
84. Plain Prinia: Common, BP.
85. Common Tailorbird: BP.
86. Black-browed Reed Warbler: 1 at BP.
87. Oriental Reed Warbler: A few, BP.
88. Dusky Warbler: A few, BP.
89. White-crested Laughingthrush: Many seen at BP.
90. Chestnut-capped Babbler: 5 at BP.
91. Yellow-eyed Babbler: Several groups, BP.
92. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker: BP.
93. Brown-throated Sunbird: 1f at BP.
94. Olive-backed Sunbird: A few, BP.
95. Paddyfield Pipit: A few, BP.
96. Indochinese Bushlark: A few at BP.
97. Eastern Yellow Wagtail:2 at BP.
98. Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Common around buildings.
99. Baya Weaver: A few, BP.
100. Scaly-breasted Munia: A few at BP.
Nick Upton can be contacted at nickupton@thaibirding.com
More information on Bang Pra  
If you are interested in arranging a bird watching tour you can see some suggested itineraries here - Birdwatching Trips - and you can contact me at the above email address to discuss the best options.

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