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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Lampakbia and Kaengkrachan 5-10/03/06,
In contrast to the social upheavals, unrest, wars and disasters of the first quarter of 2006, I consider how blessed I have been to be able to immerse my full senses in the beauties of creation in tropical Thailand. It is indeed a privilege to be able to take time and space without the pressure of accomplishments or work priorities.
Highlights include several trips to Khao Yai with grateful first-time birders who are always overwhelmed with the stupendous sight of the majestic hornbills, splendid-colored Leaf Birds, Bluebirds , Minivets etc……………
Their “oohs and ah” was joy to my ears as their appreciation was translated to me making their happiness mine.
I had seen Blue Pitta, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons. I even had finally caught up with one of my bogey birds: Large-billed Scimitar Babbler. I had taken a twitcher to a midday encounter with Limestone Wren Babbler at Saraburi for cracking views.
Another fulfilling experience was combining a humanitarian venture with an enjoyable camping trip for the kids and teens from our mission center.
We were able to provide AV educational materials as well as some basic supplies to disadvantaged schools and a daycare center, ideally located near by the little-known Na Haew National Park in Loei.
This park is the only known places for Short-tailed Parrotfinches and Rufous-capped Fulvettas. As was to be, none of the respective species delivered but the remoteness of the park and the gazing eyes of the children we visited gave lasting impressions equal to having scored as a lister.
I had finally connected with a Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler mixed in with a flock of White-hooded Babblers at Nam Nao. And hadn’t it been for the clutch on the van breaking down I also wouldn’t have been able to photograph the White-bellied Woodpecker and enjoy the immense tranquility of the night at Nam Nao National Park with 4 species of Owls calling. Neither would I have seen the flying squirrel that passed through the campground on the dot as dusk set in.
Still, the twitcher inside of me was tremendously looking forward to this one trip to Lampakbia and Kaengkrachan in the province of Petburi. Three Danish veteran birders in need of some serious ticks were to be my companions. Judging from their correspondence I realized ‘this is serious business’. Not enough to show Barbets, Bulbuls and Drongos. I needed to get down to business and deliver. Being fairly new to the birding community it can be a bit daunting taking out some ‘die hard’ global veteran birder. I looked forward to the challenge and comforted myself with the fact that I’d probably be able to stay one step ahead through my knowledge of the birdcalls.
This turned out to be true and also served as a comfort to me, helping me to realize how much I do know after all those times in the outdoors and helping to combat that feeling of ‘lost in the noises of the jungle’.
We were all set to meet at the Amari Airport Hotel on the 4th. I felt I was all ready, stocked up on provisions, serviced the car, reviewed my birds etc. I had my plan all worked out and felt I knew what to do.
Then the phone rang. Henrik called from Copenhagen with the daunting news that they would be one whole day delayed. I could hear the distress in his voice as he tried to control his emotions while at the same time chewing on the phone. Following morning, Thomas, Henrik’s brother who had been in Thailand already working for sometime, called me.
He was waiting at the airport not knowing what was happening.
It didn’t take long for Thomas to find a cab and make his way to my place. Thomas is a lecturer at the University of Copenhagen in the field of fungi/biologi. He naturally had a great sense of details needing to ‘poke his nose’ into the smaller matters of existence. He proclaimed himself not to be a serious lister but I am not sure whom he was trying to fool. Thomas would not want to miss one iota or movement out there. He had a real keen sense of what he saw and many a time made me look at my own binoculars wondering ‘what am I doing with these things?’ (I did realize my coating had given away and I am in desperate need of replacements).
As we were talking a bird of prey came dashing through my garden. Thomas immediately recognized it as a Eurasian Kestrel. This was a new bird for my place. We then drove off not too far from where I live and did some basic paddy field birding. I was very pleased that we connected with a pair of Grey-headed Lapwings besides the many common birds around.
The following morning, Henrik and his friend Peter arrived on time. Needless to say, they were very eager to get started having lost one day already.
The target bird for the day and for the whole trip for that matter was Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Why is it that those Europeans simply love those little grey waders and dark fly sized dots in the sky (swifts)?). I used to think: ‘why would anyone want to see a drab little grey bird with a fraction of a different appearance when one can go to the forest and see outstanding, colorful and awesome creatures’. Well, since then I have been illuminated. The Sandpiper simply is a superb bird, as I am sure anyone who has seen it can testify to. The time spent looking through the many Red-necked Stints it like to associate with. The immense joy and feeling of triumph that arises once the scope lands on this extreme rarity. The rapid feeding habits (runs like a Sanderling), the clean white underparts, the glistering spoon like bill. It all comes together to one of the absolute highlights in the world of birding. An absolute piece of beauty!
We set out for Khok Kham though the Sandpiper hadn’t been showing there for a few weeks. We went there in search for the Asian Dowitchers that normally are seen in the area. For some reason we couldn’t find the birds this morning but did see a slew of regular waders. Instead, after having sampled some Thai cuisine along a watercourse, we headed further down the coast towards Bahnbahktaley, the surest place for the SP’s.
On route we stopped by a paddy field where we saw Pied and Eastern Harriers as well as Booted and Greater Spotted Eagle. The GPE soaring extremely high leaving me in total awe at the wonder of its eye mechanism as compared to our limited Swarowskis and Leicas.
The saltpans were almost deserted at BBT. Where could the birds be? We hurried down to the beachfront and there thousands and thousands of little grey birds were feeding on the mudflats. After about an hour of searching, Thomas triumphantly returned through the vegetation exclaiming: ‘I had one a couple of hundred meters down the trail ’. I have seldom seen jetlag and general weariness disappear as quickly as the way his brother Henrik ran down that trail.
As for me, I had more fun watching these seasoned birders laying eyes on the bird then watching the bird itself. Fists were pumping, praises were shouted and sweet relief was achieved! The bird of the trip was safely in hand!
Needless to say it was a time of celebration. Several exquisite dishes were on the table as we sat down to sum up the day. A gentle breeze from the Inner Gulf of Thailand helped to keep us cool, as did the cold drinks freely ordered.
Next morning we left our hotel at Chaosamran beach before dawn. Only a few minutes away is Lampakbia Mangrove research station. Lots of birds gather here to roost. Flocks of Chestnut-tailed, White-shouldered and Asian Pied Starlings left their roosts to disperse into the surrounding area. Several Ruffs fed in a pan. Ruddy-breasted Crake gave a brief show. Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers gave their presence from the reeds. Yellow- bellied Gerygone kept singing from inside the mangroves. Lots of larger waders and Cormorants were in the air. A very birdy area that we almost reluctantly left behind us.
We managed to negotiate a fisherman to take us out to the sandspit of Lampakbia. It now has several wave breakers out there but birds still gather in good numbers.
Strangely enough we saw no large Gulls but did see Greater and Lesser Terns.
Main reason for the visit was to get close looks of Malaysian Sand Plover. Several pairs were seen of this South-East Asian endemic. A Terek Sandpiper was a bonus but best of all was no less then a dozen of Nordmann’s Greenshanks! Another highly wanted bird by the ‘gang of 3’!
The park is less then 2 hours drive from the wader area. We got our paperwork done and headed up into the park for a few hours sample tasting of things to come.
Back in the forest I felt the ‘need for me’ increasing as ‘unknown calls’ were heard from every corner. The frustration of not knowing where a particular call originates from is there for everyone but as one learns, those calls truly turn into sweet music to the ear. I presume similar to the classic music enthusiast who can pick out a violin from a fiddle.
A flock of Great Slaty Woodpeckers approached over the canopy to settle in a distant tree. Again, Lars performed one of his famous sprints, as he had to rush back to the van for his scope. It was a bit hard to hear those words uttered through his breath but I am sure they must have been invigorating as the birds stayed put and everyone got good views. A Black-thighed Falconet was perched in a tree. This is it the Northern most boundary for this tiny raptor.
Pied Hornbills were obtrusive around Bahnkrahng as was Common Flamebacks and Greater Yellownape.
We bumped into a birder from Denmark who claimed that he had seen a Masked Finfoot crossing the road towards a water hole. As we arrived at the waterhole I slowly brought the van to a stop. Next to the hole a blind was up and a local photographer comfortably seated. Fearing his wrath but not being able to ignore the incredible possibility of a nearby lingering Finfoot I called out for his attention. He said he’d been there all day but only seen Djunglefowl and White-breasted Waterhens much less even heard of any Finfoot.
Being Swedish I naturally had to make mention of the increasing number of deliriously hallucinating Danes in this time and space. From here onwards every unidentifiable bird had to be a Finfoot!
We drove back to headquarter for a good nights sleep and dinner at Kaengpet restaurant. This is my favorite restaurant for authentic Thai food, the Tom Yum Goong being on top of the list. Only distraction for our night gathering was a Large-tailed Nightjar calling from a light post. It soon was drenched in the light of several torches.
Some serious birding was to take place the next few days. I had brought tents and camping gear for all. Cool container was adequately filled to the brim. Cans and snack food purchased.
We set up camp at Bahnkrahng for the next two nights. These lower levels of the park between km 15-18 at around 400m elevations are truly a ‘bird Heaven on Earth’. No less then 6 species of Pittas are here during the right time of year.
As it was, the Pittas weren’t ready to show and hardly called at all. Atleast the 3 were able to move on to the South in search for Gurney’s Pittas and not only scored on that one but also Banded and Mangrove Pitta as well.
Instead we had to settle for Silver-breasted, Banded and Dusky Broadbills.
Other birds seen were Indian Cuckoo, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Orange-breasted Trogon, Great and Pied Hornbill, Greater Yellownape, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Mountain Hawk Eagle and many more.
First night we tried hard for Owls. Thomas tape player acted up and though we heard several Owls including the extremely rare White-fronted Scops Owl, no birds were to show. Second night I almost drove over a Collared Scops Owl on the graveled road. The headlights stunned the bird and we were able to pick it up for closer views before it was set free. This was another bogey bird for me and one I had longed for a long time. My only lifer for the trip.
Going up the mountain for a night at the summit was next. A few km up the mountain I stopped for some calling birds. A rustling on the ridge beside the van gave away a: Grey Pheasant Peacock-Pheasent! No need for Henrik to do any sprints but his almost 2m tall frame had to crawl out through the side window while twisting and turning to get those bins right.
We stopped at km 28. This is a great place for White-hooded Babblers, stunning flocks of the birds showing. No Long-tailed Broadbills were seen and was one specie we eventually dipped on. The forest dwelling Banded Kingfisher was heard pretty much daily. Ever so hard to see I made a more determined effort to see it and finally on our last day we had it perched right above our heads in this area.
Black-throated Laughingthrush likes it around here and its strong song is a real attention grabber.
The higher grounds are in sharp contrast to lower levels. Dry and cooler air. Panoramic views over distant peaks leading into Myanmar.
Simply being up here gives peace of mind (that is unless you are on a strict schedule and in deep need of every bird ever seen in this place).
White-browed Scimitar Babbler as usual was part of the scenery. Great and Blue-throated Barbets frequent and always calling in the background. Yellow-vented Pigeon gave tickable views for some. Red-headed Trogon showed well for all. Rufous-browed Flycatcher in its sublime beauty lies in wait to show inside the lower branches. Grey Treepies with harsh scolding calls gave great views.
Someone told us of a pair of Red-bearded Bee-eaters excavating a nesting hole at the beginning of the trail to Torn Tip waterfall. Birds had been working at it all day so a dash down to the parking lot some 8 km away was not in question. Ofcourse the birds had called it quits for the day and we didn’t get back to them later on. Atleast we had seen its Northern counterpart, Blue-bearded, many a time already.
In the morning Thomas player seemed to work real well and a confiding party of Golden Babblers were intrigued by the play back. Next to them no less then 50 colorful Pin-tailed Parrotfinches were feeding in flowering bamboo. These are nomadic birds not often encountered and it was sheer pleasure to observe them at length.
A pair of Wreathed Hornbills crossed the open campground. Swinhoe and Scarlet Minivets beautified the trees. Himalayan Swfitlets and the odd Brown-backed Needletail drew our eyes skywards.
All in all a total of 243 birds had been seen or heard during our time together with a surprisingly high count or raptors; 16 species all in all. Most importantly the Sandpiper and the Greenshank were in hand. Kaengkrachan had been kind to us but still left us with reason to revisit (isn’t that always the case?).