While we don't usually have target lists or even target species on our trips, even we had to admit that not seeing one of the most iconic birds in the world that is Spoon-billed Sandpiper would have been a travesty. Even after travelling around the area for a couple of days, it was plainly evident that salt lagoons are abundant. So it seems strange that one of the best sites to look for these enigmatic birds is on a small section of one of these collections of lagoons at Pakthale. There is even a clear sign for the location with a sketch of the bird at the roadside entrance, with the lagoons themselves being very much worked as we visited. A couple of birders were already at the bank bisecting lagoons when we arrived, with one over excitedly explaining that a bird had been found only 30 seconds after their arrival. The salt lagoons are wader city, with Sandplovers, mainly Lesser, being in their thousands. A smaller collection of these held feeding Little Stints, and our first Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Further inspection found at least 2 more, all on the same lagoon. The vast majority of the sandplovers were in winter plumage, but the odd Greater were in almost full breeding plumage. It was later on that we also found some Broad-billed Sandpipers, again amongst the same group of waders.
The lagoon behind us held the greater numbers of Sandplovers, and they were added to after an hour by an incoming group of Great Knot, again all in non breeding plumage. To the other side of the central lagoon, and in the distance was a huge collection of Eastern Curlews, with bills even longer than expected. The standing waders went up as one a few times, but it was only finally that the culprit was seen to be a Peregrine.
A short drive of ten minutes or so and we were at - yet more lagoons. This time the quarry was another of the wintering speciality waders - Nordmann's Greenshank. We drove along the rough track bisecting the new salt pan lagoons, passing a large group of Brown-headed Gulls which held a few Caspian Terns. Our destination was at the far end of the track, where we parked up, and skimmed a wader collection in the distance. Our guide called out Nordmann's, but the distance was too great for the untrained eye to be sure of the diagnosis. The flock was on the next but one lagoon, so we made our way to the spit between the two, just as a new group of Greenshank landed - definite Nordmann's! There were also bonus points on offer for digging out the odd Asiatic Dowitchers here, with one next to a Black-tailed Godwit, showing off the obvious differences in size between the two. As we made our way back to where the van was parked, and past a few flitting Plain Prinias, a few large groups of Grey Plover flew over, showing off their obvious black axillary patches. The bushes around the small wooden shack next to the van held a few more moments of interest, with a Collared Kingfisher hiding in the depths of the vegetation, and what was likely to be an Oriental Reed Warbler calling occasionally, but proving all but too elusive for anything other than brief glimpses.
Before leaving the area, we diverted along a dirt track, where a couple of Plain-backed Sparrows flew from an adjacent fence. Black Drongos and numerous Asian Pied Mynas predominated, but star prize had to go to the fearless Green Bee-eaters, which not only allowed us to almost tickle their chins, but one flew underneath my tripod - with me still attached to it!
It was now time to leave the wetlands (and the noise of traffic and humanity) to drive the hour and a half or so to the nature reserve of Kaeng Krachan. The area we covered until late in the afternoon was around the main reception, this being a cultivated patch overlooking what is highly likely to be a manmade lake. We were greeted immediately on alighting from the van by calling Lineated Barbets, one of which was quickly located at the top of a tree. Their smaller cousins, Coppersmith, were not too far away, with three chasing in a fruit tree. What was probably one of these fellows was seen to be exiting a tree hole nearby. Bulbuls in the form of Black-crested & Streak-eared were both noisy and gregarious, in stark contrast to the lone Taiga & Asian Brown flycatchers. We walked this lawned area for an hour or so, and broke off up a slight hill before leaving - a good move judging by the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Ashy Woodswallows, and almost touchable Banded Bay Cuckoo which flew in.
The reason for leaving was to get to our lodge for the next few nights - Samarn Bird Camp also doubles as a birder's base, and we had barely laid down the luggage before a new guide, Tui, escorted us proudly to the hide and small pools just behind the buildings in the forest. Despite the fading light, we enjoyed the platter on offer, with regular visits from Abbott's & Puff-throated Babblers, White-rumped Shamas, and a Siberian Blue Robin. The delicious evening meal should have ended the birding day, but it was insisted that we cover the couple of hundred of metres or so of road outside of the lodge, taking in a few Long-tailed and single of Indian Nightjar. We did this by driving slowly along the road, lamping along the way. The tops of the telegraph poles seemed to be the favoured initial perch, with some also feeding from the wires between.