Mangrove Whistler and Copper-throated Sunbird, Satun Mangroves, September 5th

The mangrove boardwalk, next to the Tammalang pier, about 10km south of Satun.
The mangrove boardwalk next to the Tammalang pier, about 10km south of Satun.

On my way back from Hala Bala to Phuket, I took a fairly big detour to overnight in Satun. This was so I could be in position to spend a couple of early morning hours in the mangroves, just to the south of the town. I had two target birds here – Mangrove Whistler and Copper-throated Sunbird. They are both fairly scarce and localised birds in Thailand, but this area is known as one of the best sites to see them.

Mangroves in south Thailand are a frustrating habitat. First of all, not all of the mangrove specialities occur in the same patches of mangrove. You can see Mangrove Pitta in Krabi, but not in Satun. Mangrove Whistler is in Satun, but absent from Krabi. Brown-winged Kingfisher is abundant in some mangroves and seldom seen in others. The rare Mangrove Blue Flycatcher occurs reliably only near Pattani, but not in other areas of seemingly ideal habitat. So you have to visit several areas to add all the birds to your list.

Second, birds never seem to be very numerous in this kind of habitat. It is easy to wander around in mangroves for a few hours and hardly see anything at all. Or sometimes, the very common Golden-bellied Gerygone seems to be the only bird species in there.

My first port of call today was the car park at Tammalang ferry pier, south of Satun, from where ferries to Malaysia depart. Next to the pier, a mangrove boardwalk gives access to some nice habitat. I hadn’t even started on the boardwalk when a bird in a bush next to the car park turned out to be my first target species – a juvenile Mangrove Whistler. It’s very hard to get excited about this bird, as it’s one of the drabbest creatures imaginable – but at least it was safely on my list in record time.

My second target proved a little more difficult, but towards the end of my circuit of the boardwalk I found it – a stunning male Copper-throated Sunbird. This bird is practically the polar opposite of a Mangrove Whistler, being glossy purple, green, black, and blue, with a burnt orange throat. It’s also noticeably long-tailed for a sunbird. Definitely one of the better-looking members of a very colorful bird family.

My final stop was the Mangrove Research Center, where I saw both my target species again, but didn’t score with a secondary target bird, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker. This is a common species in Malaysia and Indonesia, and its range just extends into southernmost Thailand; in fact the Satun mangroves are the only known site for it in the Kingdom. I’ll probably find myself coming back here for it when my Thai list starts to get into the 700s!

Other birds seen in the area today included Cinereous Tit, Malaysian Pied Fantail, Striated Heron, Whimbrel, a migrant Arctic Warbler, and good numbers of Collared Kingfishers.

Lifers: Mangrove Whistler, Copper-throated Sunbird (total 1,986).

Oriental Asia total: 1,088. Thailand total: 554. 2015 World Year List total: 895.

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