No more than 3 years ago, I've never seen or heard of any Asian Openbill in Chiang Mai area. There were few records from Chiang Rai but still in a very small number. Now this large waterbird can be seen throughout Chiang Mai, wherever there are rice fields. It's amazing how fast this bird has spread up from the central plains of Thailand up to the north and established such a strong population here. The same thing has also happened in the south. They even go further down to Malaysia, where Dave Bakewell of Digdeep has made some really nice observations.
This morning I woke up and walked out into the front yard, then saw a flock of about 7 Asian Openbills flying over my house southward. I thought that was strange already since I've never seen any Asian Openbill around my house before. But when I arrived at my local birding patch, Ban Cho Lae, some 20 kilometres away from my house, I was amazed to see a flock of 50+ Asian Openbills feeding in the rice fields.
|Asian Openbill in breeding plumage|
|Its main prey is the applesnail which is a threat to the rice. |
That's why farmers love these birds!
|Non-breeding bird; note the grey plumage and paler legs|
|There were sure lots of applesnails for them to enjoy!|
|Breeding bird (left) and non-breeding birds (centre and right)|
|Their primaries and secondaries have nice greenish gloss.|
I spent about an hour taking photos of these birds up close under the nice morning light. They were much more approachable than I thought. Normally, for a bird of this size in Thailand, I wouldn't be able to get closer than 50 or 30m. I was also happy to see that many of them were in breeding plumage, which is much better looking than the non-breeding plumage. In breeding plumage, they have smart black and white body with bright reddish legs. In non-breeding plumage, they are dull greyish.
|The first view I had before approaching and waiting for them to come closer.|
|This was taken before the sun broke out from the clouds.|
|Another smart breeding bird|
|Note its red bill tip|
|Non-breeding bird with very prominent red bill tip|
|Non-breeding bird with breeding bird in the background|