A Rare Visitor – Masked Finfoot

March 20, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in itchy fingers | 4 Comments
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One of the most exciting things about birdwatching must be having rare birds visiting. Earlier this year, Itchyfingers were fortunate enough to witness the star appearance of one such rare visitor at our reservoir. We had seen this bird in Malaysia years ago, but we have never seen it locally. It was a rather tame bird, oblivious to the attention from the many birders and photographers. These are some of the record shots taken…

The Masked Finfoot (Heliopais  personata) is an aquatic bird found in
rivers in broadleaved evergreen forests, mangroves, swamp forests. It is
patchily distributed from north-east India and Bangladesh, through
Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to Peninsular Malaysia,
Sumatra and Java (one record), Indonesia. Itchyfingers only heard of
two or three records of the bird in Singapore from our friends

Usually secretive, the Masked Finfoot jerks its head back….

…and forth when swimming… very comical…hahah…This one is a male,
with grey hindcrown and hindneck; throat and upper foreneck is black with
white border; forecrown and line along side of the crown is black. The thick
yellow bill has a small horn at the base. The rest of the upperside is mostly
brown with greyer mantle, mostly whitish upperparts; flanks and
undertail-coverts brown with some whitish bars. The eyes are dark brown.
Legs and feet are bright green colour

Too bad in the two hours we were there, the bird just swam in and out of the vegetation and didn’t come on land or perch on any branches, so we missed the chance of taking any photos of its feet. It soon decided to hide from the limelight and it was too hot to stay on with an empty tummy…Too bad the bird left few days later before we could find time to visit again.

Back home, Itchyfingers dug out old photos of the Masked Finfoot taken in Malaysia years ago to compare. Apparently the one we saw in Malaysia was different from this one, and we got a photo of the bird perching on a branch, showing its green feet in its full glory… 😀

The Masked Finfoot may be a water bird, well adapted for aquatic habitat,
but this does not mean that it is clumsy on land. It can run fast on land
and clamber onto trees. This is because its feet are not fully webbed like
ducks. Instead, the pea green feet are lobed, enabling the bird to propel
itself in water and yet do not hinder its movement on land

There was some controversy involving the gender of this bird at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) years ago. At first glance, it looked like a female, with throat, upper foreneck and much of the lores being whitish; less black on forecrown, no horn on bill and yellow eyes. But on closer look, the horn on the bill was clearly visible, as on our photo above, and the eyes were not yellow. So some birders concluded that it might be a juvenile male. I guess Itchyfingers will have to wait for another chance to see the female finfoot then!


Life along the Track (Part 2) – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #9a

March 7, 2010 at 11:05 am | Posted in itchy fingers | 2 Comments
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Itchyfingers finally reached Maeklong at about 11.10am, after taking two train and one boat rides. The next departing train at 11.30am would be the only chance for us to shoot some photos of the market scene before the last train at 3.30pm, which would be the one we had to take to make it back to Bangkok. So we made our way back to the market to find a good spot immediately after we alight our train…

So exactly what’s so special about this market that made Itchyfingers travel twice to visit?

Look at this picture…

Busy market scene…? Nothing special…?

Look carefully again…did you get it?

See that thing with number in the middle of the picture? Does it remind
you of a milestone?

If you still haven’t get it, let Itchyfingers enlighten you…the unique thing about this Maeklong market is that the stalls are set up right next to, some even on the railway track, which means to say that the train runs directly through the market itself! Pretty bizzare right? So what happens when the train arrives? Are the stall owners gonna scramble and rush to move their merchandise to avoid collision with the train? Well, the stall owners had that all worked out nicely…and safely…

Most of the stalls had some kinda wheels installed on their stalls…

Some of these wheels were even fixed on metal track for ease of moving…

Yes, these stalls were meant to be pushed in away from the track to avoid
the moving train and pushed out again to gain more prominence in order
to attract more customers!

While we were taking photos, some of the stall owners started to fold in their awnings..

Awnings folded in, stalls wheeled in…we knew the time should be near….
we hurried to get a good spot to take photos…

But good spots were hard to get, especially when there were other tourists around and the the space was really very cramp! If you try to stand further out to take photos, the stall owners would ask you to come in…safety first!

And if you think that people would be rushing to avoid being hit by the train, see this video…these people were taking their own sweet time when the train was approaching….

Only bigger stalls would be pushed in, stalls with smaller items like fruits and vegetables were left untouched as they had been strategically placed so that they would not be higher than the train…saving the trouble of moving in and out… :p But a bit unhygienic leh…so dusty…hahah…

Wasn’t it cool? Haha…

Immediately after the train passed by their stalls, stall owners would unfold
the awnings, pushed out the trolleys and life would go on as if nothing
had happened… :p They all know the timings of the train by hard, and it
was not difficult to find big clocks hung in the shops to tell them when to
spring into action!

We headed back to the Maeklong station to double check the next, and also
the last train of the day…

The next train back to Ban Laem would be 3.30pm. As usual, window
would only open half an hour before departure so we had plenty of time to
explore around

All kinds of dried fish stuff…


Fresh veggies!

Er…these catfish were still alive..

Besides the usual fruits and fish, we also found these…

Froggies in a skewer…eeee

Fresh froggies…kinda gross…

Then we also saw these sweeties…

Soft-shelled turtles!!!

Couldn’t help it but asked permission to hold one up close to admire…hahah…
tried asking if these were sold for food or for pet, but the old lady couldn’t
understand a word and my body language….certainly hope they were not
meant for the dinner plate…how to eat these when they were so tiny?

We took our time walking, had lunch and ice-cream before proceeding back to the station to wait for our train. By then we were already surrendering to the heat…so hot! One of the things we didn’t like was the timing of the train schedule. They all didn’t seem to connect very well so all the time we would have to wait quite some time. It is possible to proceed from here to another floating market but we didn’t want to rush and risk missing the train. Well, may do that the next round…haha…

Tisu Girl trying to cool off under the fan on the train…now you know why
they have fans on the train…?

We grabbed a good seat so we could shoot the market from the train…This video shows the train moving from the station right into the market…see how close it was to the stalls?

This was shot by Tisu Boy. We dared not stick our head or hand out too much,
but this guy obviously wasn’t too worried…hahah

Another view from Tisu Girl… :p

Then it was the same journey back to Ban Laem station. But this time, when we alight the train, the same guard that told us about the train schedule the first time we were there, told everyone to board the ferry from the other side to go to Mahachai station….we followed and realised this was the jetty the website was referring to, which is the one that charges 5 Bahts and takes you directly to the Ban Laem train station! Now, if only we could find this we wouldn’t need to walk so far to find the station! :O

So, this is the correct jetty!

That path facing the sign of  the Ban Laem station led us here which didn’t
ring a bell when we saw it earlier…

Doggy running around the boat, barking…

Late afternoon glow…the boat took a longer route…

…and it brought us back to the same ferry terminal! Confusing as how
would one know whether the boat is gonna send you to the Ban Laem town or
straight to the station? Or maybe if there is a connecting train coming then
they would send you to the station? Think only the locals would know the
exact timing…

Back at Mahachai station, it was another long wait for the train….

Oooo….Itchyfingers had never looked so tall before…hahah…

By the time we reached Wong Wian Yai station it was already half past six…It was a tiring day but certainly a very interesting one cos we experienced a different side of Bangkok! Definitely worth a visit if you have the time, otherwise you can always try to get a bus back to the city or catch a cab back if budget allows you to! 🙂

Also see related posts:
> Back on the Right Track (Part 1) – Bangkok Trip #8a
Exploring by Train (Part 3) – Bangkok Trip #7a
Exploring by Train (Part 2) – Bangkok Trip #6a
Exploring by Train (Part 1) – Bangkok Trip #5a
Paper Art – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #4a
Pirate in the Land of Smiles – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #3a
Children of Heaven – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #2a
Have a Break…Take a Nap – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #1a

Back on the Right Track (Part 1) – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #8a

March 3, 2010 at 9:53 am | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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Itchyfingers didn’t do our research properly on how to get to the Maeklong market as our trip to Bangkok was a last minute decision for a short break from crazy work schedules. As a result, we couldn’t make it to the Maeklong market in time the first time round. So, back at the hotel, we flipped through our guidebook and combed the internet again and realised that to make our way there and back to Bangkok in a day, we would have to set off much earlier. This time, Itchyfingers were ready to make our second attempt.

The distance from Bangkok to Samut Sakhon via the Mahachai Rail Line is 28km. The one-hour train journey begins at Thonburi’s Wong Wian Yai station roughly every hour starting at 5.30am. To do the trip entirely by train, we would need to leave Thonburi before 8.30am and catch the 10.10am train from Ban Laem to Samut Songkhram (Maeklong). Returning, the last two departures are 11.30am and 3.30pm from Samut Songkhram to Ban Laem, which has hourly departures to Thonhuri until 7pm.

We reached Wong Wian Yai station around 8.20am, in time to catch the 8.35am train to Mahachai.

The driver’s seat

Observing a soya bean seller from the train…You can choose to add extra
ingredients like corn, peanuts and sugar into the drink

An hour later, we reached Mahachai…

It was a weekday but the market next to the station was as busy…

Made our way to the ferry terminal to take the long boat to Ban Laem…

Fishing boat in water hyacinth-infested river…There were lotsa terns
flying around too…

We followed the same way to the Ban Laem station…still think it was very secluded…

Yeah! The train!

There were two Angmohs with a local guide waiting for the train, so we were positive the next train should be reaching soon…

We bought the 10.10 am ticket

Another one hour journey to Maeklong

Ban Laem Station

Just facing the train station sign was this path…

...that led to this. It didn’t ring a bell at that time…

While waiting, we had time to shoot the train…

Hmmm…they actually painted on the train body

We also had time to rest our itchy feet..

Soon we realised this was not the train to Mahachai when another one arrived…So, this one was just for show? We board the train, so did the two Angmohs and their guide.

At last we had the chance to choose a seat not near to the toilet…

Then I saw something interesting…

A man was pulling this rubber hose thing from this kiosk…could this be…

Yes! He was pumping diesel into the train…All ready to go!

Similar to the stretch from Bangkok to Mahachai which has a rural setting,
this stretch from Ban Laem to Maeklong also brings you to mangroves,
wetlands and salt fields


Besides being more scenic, it is especially exciting for us cos there were
a lot of birds along the way!

Commorants, Egrets, Herons, Terns and Black-winged Stilts were common
along this stretch of wetlands. Wished we had the chance to stop and do
some birdwatching and photography!

Look out for windmill too! These windmills, made with bamboo frame and
canvas vanes, were used to draw ocean water into the drying pans with
wind power

Salt fields…Saltwater is pumped into shallow, large ponds in the fields
and then left to drain..A middle-aged Thai uncle tried to tell us that these were
salt fields with his body language…:p Too bad can’t get more information from
him due to language barrier…

People working on the salt field

For an interesting account of salt fields, see this site for a similar one in

These should be the living quarters or warehouses for the collected salt

Often, the train stops along the way were typically made of wood like this
one…some had the name of the train stop and the train schedule on them…

Others came with just the name of the stop

Yet there were some that had no name, no schedule and were strewn with
thrash…The train didn’t seem to stop at all of them, and most of the time
it only stopped a mere few seconds…

A typical train stop sign with the current, previous and next stop indicated
clearly. Itchyfingers cracked a private toilet joke out of this particular sign…
if you could understand Hokkien, you might be able to catch the joke…

We were wondering when were we gonna reach Maeklong when suddenly our sight was blocked by canvases…Where did these canvases come from? Then I realised we must have just entered the Maeklong market and took out my camera to shoot some video. Unfortunately the train was too fast and we were too near the canvases for me to shoot anything decent. 😦 Yes, we had just reached Maeklong!

So, what’s so special about this Maeklong market that made Itchyfingers travel all the way twice to visit? We shall continue in our next post… 🙂

Also see related posts:
> Exploring by Train (Part 3) – Bangkok Trip #7a
Exploring by Train (Part 2) – Bangkok Trip #6a
Exploring by Train (Part 1) – Bangkok Trip #5a
Paper Art – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #4a
Pirate in the Land of Smiles – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #3a
Children of Heaven – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #2a
Have a Break…Take a Nap – Bangkok, Thailand Trip #1a

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