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Where legends are born – the stork colonies in Pathum Thani

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

Storks historically do play a big role in European mythologies, signaling fertility, parenting and childbirth. In old German legends they are the deliverers of babies and stork symbols are to be found on pregnancy items and used in pre-natal care.

Their impressive wingspan and gliding skills make them smart migratory birds, which travel thousands of miles between their summer and winter quarters. Whilst Western European species travel  deep into Africa for the harsh winters up north, their Asian counterparts prefer to migrate to Thailand. The Asian Openbill stork feeds on snails, molluscs, frogs and larger insects in shallow waters. Flooded rice fields with their wading depth waters, provides a perfect environment to feed these large birds.

Wat Phai Lom at the Chaophaya River lies in a not so densely populated area of Pathum Thani, the river on one side and plenty of wetlands, rice fields and wild patches of bamboo and palm trees make a perfect habitat for the large birds. They can feed close by and can build their nests far away from potential poachers and hunters.

Look for road number 3309 in Pathum Thani on the land east of the Chaophaya. Near Kilometer marker 27 turn in a westerly direction for 500 Meters.

Wat Phai Lom also has a pier on the river, but there is no scheduled boat traffic here.

Within the temple’s vast grounds, you’ll find some forms of bridges over canals that look less inviting to most folks, but to find the stork nests, one needs to venture a bit into the undergrowth. Older walkways were made from wood and are in various stages of deterioration. There is even a watch tower built from steel on the premises, but it appears like it hasn’t been used for years. Stork nests aren’t near such disturbance. When you walk into the woods, watch for empty snail housings on the floor, there may be a nest directly overhead or near.


Dead trees without any foliage make perfect lookout spots for these shy birds. Any sudden movement within their safety perimeter, would trigger an immediate alarm start of all birds. Bird watchers with patience are rewarded. Photographers with tripods and good zoom lenses also. We did all of our bird watching with our inferior hardware in the breeding seasons of 2009 and 2010, but we were more focused on witnessing all the activity with our own eyes. Documenting it for this report came truly in second.



Mature birds have a white to light grey body with their flight feathers in black. Any brown tones were to be found on juveniles only. Their mandibles appear always partly open, meeting at the very tip only, which gave this species the name Openbill. They are extremely talented gliders and soar to great heights, their head is outstretched in flight to be as streamlined as possible. Stork pairs do their parenting and breeding in turns and return to the known areas after their seasonal migration.

It gave us both great pleasure to visit the colony over and over again. On every day, there was something new to discover. The first flying lessons of some youngsters were witnessed and over the weeks, the storks lost a part of their shyness towards us humans. We were finally able to approach resting and nesting spots much closer without triggering their alarm.

Some exposed palm trees were their favorite resting sites and larger groups of storks used it constantly. Some groups counted for more than a dozen of storks, both adults and juveniles.

Their precision landings on a small twig are possible, because they use a lot of wing flapping to reduce their approach speeds, those long legs then gave them a firm grip and support.

The birds were also permanently engaged in improvements of their nests. Returning from a flight, they always brought either food or nest building materials.

Some trees were jam-packed with a whole flock of storks. We started this bird watching in the early months of 2009 and continued this year after their return. They must have returned in numbers in late 2009, but we’re no ornithologists and we weren’t aware of their schedules. We however, had a recent safe delivery of our own baby boy to celebrate – who wants to judge, that there isn’t some truth to those old stork legends!;)

We treasure these big birds and will surely continue the watch in 2011 with Teddy in a carry strap.

This colony is hard to count, but the numbers will be about the 500 to 1.000 mark. A healthy number for this food-rich area.

We hope to be able to improve our photographic equipment by then and may be able to show you even better picture material or videos.

The non breeding adults were always on the lookout for intruders of all kinds. When the sun sets, the flocks rest on tall trees.

These storks are spending the summers in Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia and some even in the Asian part of Russia. Ornithologists outfitted selected birds with rings and transmitters and used satellite guided telemetry to locate individual storks, many still die from harsh weather conditions, power lines and some are eaten by poachers. The SIAMPEDIA Team hopes the best for our stork colony on their journeys and is looking forward to witness these majestic gliders again in an upcoming bird watching season.