It’s Cha-Am’s biggest off-season Festival and a huge celebration of local seafood; that’s the Shell Eating (or is that shell food eating?) and Squid Catching components. In the past Cha-Am Today has joined in squid catching and shell fish eating, but let’s not forget the third part of the Festival trilogy – Bird Watching; but more about that later. Organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Cha-Am Municipality and the Boonrawd Brewery Public Company Limited, this was the 16th year of the event held this year between 13th and 21th September. The Festival was centred at the closed-totraffic beach end of Narathip Road and the adjacent viewpoint. A giant stage hosted top Thailand rock bands, comedians and dancing girls. Every night throngs of visitors enjoyed the market, feast of seafood and entertainment. You could be forgiven for thinking this was a ‘Thai – only’ event with visitors or locals of foreign extraction hard to find. Bird Watching (Do Nok) On offer was a free guided tour with a chance to find out about Cha-Am’s bird population. Not only local birds; when it is getting cool in the far north of Asia, it’s a time when birds visit on their migratory routes heading south. We set off in a songthaew for several unknown destinations.
Binoculars were supplied and our tour guide also had a telescope. Two hours of driving through the green countryside after recent rains and stopping off at viewpoints with an enthusiastic guide on board. He could spot well camouflaged birds in the distance with no translations required as he showed us the species from his handbook. The highlight? Perhaps an unlikely venue was a local water treatment plant where there are large concrete ‘ponds’ protected from casual visitors (no fishing), so plenty available for ‘bird fishermen’.
Here there was an uninterrupted view of flocks of mixed species, some colourful, some graceful waders and some on the wing. Our guide insisted that I take a photo of one particular bird and became quite excited when he reviewed the image. From 200 metres and with only a 200 mm lens, not really a good photo and when zoomed, too ‘grainy’ to publish. On return to base, I was required to report to the boss of the company operating the tour. He literally jumped in the air with excitement when he saw the shot. Now in English and with the help of a book; ‘Birds of Thailand’, I could see that it was a photo of an ‘Oriental Darter’.
Listed as endangered and possibly no longer breeding, this bird had not been seen in the region for seven years, a real ornithological coupe! I later emailed him my very poor photo; who knows where that will finish up! Our picture of this bird is from the archives. It’s unfortunate for foreign visitors that this very colourful extravaganza needs to happen at a time of the year when the squid are close to shore and the birds are migrating. That’s because it’s also a time when there are few foreign visitors in town. However largely Bangkok-based Thais always arrive in droves to guarantee a busy and successful Festival year after year.