Monday, April 21, 2008

Swiftlets & Temples

Surely one of my interest whilst traveling in Thailand is to check out places with swiftlet ranching activities. Thailand has very long coastlines from the south to the north.

Swiftlet ranching activities has spread from the south to the north up to Samut Sakhon on the western seaboard to the Gulf of Thailand. And on the eastern coast of the Gulf from provinces of Rayong onwards to Trat that borders with Cambodia.

I have seen natural limestone caves of islands in Phangna Bay (southern Thailand), Viking Cave, where wild bird nests are harvested. But not all of the coastal areas has suitable caves to encourage natural migration I thought.

Viking Cave, amongst the scenic islands of Phangna Bay (a sightseeing trip from Phuket).

During my early research I came across the web site of Charlie (a birder) with excellent photos of a well known temple Wat Chom Lom in Samut Sakhon that has an established swiftlet population:

Since then I have visited many more along the coastal regions and spoke to temple wardens. Some has claimed swiftlets began populating their temples as long as 35 years ago! Having seen vast expanse of flat coastal areas, the tall temple structures do stand out prominently in its surrounds. So my favorite hypothesis is the temples do facilitate the migration paths of these birds.

A view of Wat Chom Lom in Samut Sakhon after the birds returned in the evening. A monk would close half the temple door at 7pm and the other half 10 minutes later. Those return late would not be entertained, no other entry hole! I suspect all the birds know the rule.

The attic up in the roof seem overpopulated and many bird nests crowded the main temple hall too.. (Charlie's site has good pictures of it). So what's all the talk about 1-2 lux brightness in nesting areas?

During my visit there, the temple warden showed me the chicks he picked up during the day; some seem just about to learn flying while younger ones stepped off their nest not knowing what lies beneath!

I have not seen birdnest ranching activities from Samut Sakhon to Bangkok; there are little if any. Perhaps there are much industrialization within 50km radius from the capital.

30km further south to the province of Samut Songkhram is another farming hot spot. The temple in the town center is filled with birds too!

The quarters (see below) once occupied by monks has made way to the birds.. I was told the abbot has declared that a "no visitors" zone!

See the entry hole is via the ceiling (the long & dark rectangular patch in photo); not the conventional entry hole one would expect. Where's the roving room? God knows!

Another temple hidden away somewhere amongst the fruit orchards of Samut Songkhram. Notice this one does has an entry hole... and played bird call music too!

Another farming town is Ban Laem in the province of Petchaburi... lots of bird farms there, perhaps saturated! This is the temple from where it all began... just across the road are hives of bird farms.

I was awe struck when I saw this the first time (across the temple above)... a purpose built row of bird houses, so huge and never seen anything like this before! But more stories to come later.

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