Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Bangkok, 16th-26th April 2010,
Sarah and I didn’t plan to spend 10 days in Bangkok at the end of our holiday in Bali; we were stranded there thanks to the volcano in Iceland that put a stop to all flights to and from northern Europe. These were ten strange days, during which we were often preoccupied by getting a flight home, getting in touch with our family, staying on top of work, and trying to avoid getting caught in the political troubles in Bangkok that were clearly about to come to a head. Throughout our stay large sections of the city centre were occupied by the red-shirted protesters (while we were there they switched to wearing plain clothes).
I didn’t have any Thailand bird books with me, and hadn’t done any prior research. I’d been to Thailand many years before and so most of the birds were recognisable; of the rest I managed to make good enough descriptions to identify them later. We went out from our hotel each morning, so this account is mainly of the birds we found in the city parks and green spaces. With a weekend trip to Cha-am I saw 56 species in total, three of which (marked *) were life birds.
The information desk at Bangkok airport had helped us find a hotel. Thinking it would only be a couple of nights before we could fly home, we chose a hotel reasonably close to the airport. The Emerald Hotel on the Ratchadaphisek Road suited us fine: it was close to shops and restaurants, and the area was peaceful – by Bangkok standards. Flanked on either side by enormous ‘massage parlours’, it wasn’t a location most couples would choose though.
One point in its favour was that it was near the excellent MRT subway. So in the morning we took the clean, orderly and luxuriantly air-conditioned subway train to Chatuchak Park, home allegedly to the biggest weekend market in the world. Walking to the market through the park we saw common mynas, Javan mynas, Asian pied starlings and a couple of Indian rollers.
Chatuchak weekend market was vast and lively. Here we were treated just as customers rather than tourists.
Walking round the park we familiarised ourselves with more of the common birds of the city, such as little swifts, rufous turtle doves, peaceful doves, magpie robins, pied fantails, and a brown shrike.
I wasn’t expecting to see Indian rollers in the city
Back at the hotel we found our way to the pool on the 15th floor. Above the pool a colony of little swifts had suspended their mud nests from the eaves of the tower block above.
We took the MRT in the opposite direction, to Hua Lamphong railway station, took a tuk tuk to the Chao Phrya River, and motored up the river past Wat Arun, Wat Po and the Grand Palace. A friendly local marked our city map to show us the parts occupied by the redshirts, warning us to stay away. We were fortunate to be staying well away from occupied areas – this became increasingly clear as we watched BBC World News over the next few days.
No birds today, but we managed to buy a charger for our laptop, making it easier to visit the Thai Airways website and to keep in touch with work.
MRT southbound again, getting off this time at Queen Sikirit Convention Centre and Benjakiti Park. The park is modern and has a concrete reservoir, with a running track around. A striated heron and a Javan pond-heron were on the reservoir and in the trees were magpie robins, pied fantails, Javan mynas, common mynas, black-collared starlings, coppersmith barbets, olive-backed sunbirds and streak-throated bulbuls.
Benjakiti Park, Bangkok
MRT southbound again, this time as far as Lumphini Park close to the centre. This park has a lot of open space, plenty of mature trees and several small lakes, where there were a Javan pond-heron and a little egret. Elsewhere there were more of the birds we’d already seen plus some scarlet-headed flowerpeckers, a pair of brown shrikes and an Asian openbill overhead.
This little egret in Lumphini Park had yellow feet, unlike most of the ones we’d seen in Bali. I believe the paddle system used to oxygenate the park lakes was invented by King Bhumibol.
The soundscape was fascinating: I was starting to tune in to the commoner bird calls, which mixed with the strident loudspeakers of the red-shirted protesters we could see gathered at the far edge of the park. We stopped to listen to an orchestra rehearsing a single note. A young girl practiced a different note on a keyboard.
No birdwatching today, we took the skyway to the enormous MBK shopping centre to buy souvenirs, then back in our hotel successfully negotiated a room change. We exchanged our tiny room facing into the gloomy atrium for a much larger one with a view over the front. Black-collared starlings were in the trees below us.
Elated by confirmation from Thai Airways that we were on a flight to Heathrow on 26 April, we went to Chatuchak Park and the adjacent Rottoi Park again. The best birds were Indian rollers, coppersmith barbets, and 6 Asian openbills overhead.
After five days of overlooking a dark atrium the view from our hotel room was paradise
Coppersmith barbet, Huay Kwang police station, Bangkok
The previous day there had been an uprising at the Skytrain station where we’d been on Day 5: grenades had been thrown and three people were killed. The military had been ordered by the prime minister to use force against the redshirts, who were now barricaded in. The army moved into Lumphini Park, which was now closed to visitors. The Skytrain and MRT subway were both closed. Redshirts no longer wore red, so they couldn’t be picked off so easily by the troops. People loyal to the prime minister (yellow shirts) announced they were holding a demonstration in Chatuchak Park. Suddenly, everywhere was off limits.
Thankful that we weren’t staying in the heart of the city, we went for a walk in the residential area behind our hotel. In the market square a series of loud bangs sounded like gunshots. It was only a firecracker, but it made us jittery so we hastened back to our hotel room to arrange our weekend escape from the city.
Our taxi collected us after breakfast for a two-hour drive south to Cha-am, where we had booked two nights at the Beach Garden Hotel. We didn’t want to go far, as we were on standby for flights each day. Also, we didn’t know what we’d be able to claim from our insurers or the airline.
The drive south from Bangkok was interesting – miles of flooded rice paddies and saltpans, which looked good for birds. From the taxi I could see black-winged stilts and Asian openbills. I learned later that this is the area that holds spoon-billed sandpipers in winter, if you know where to look! From a birdwatcher’s point of view the Beach Garden Hotel was very good, but the hotel seemed rather basic after Bali and Bangkok.
In a reed-fringed lagoon behind the beach were common sandpiper, Javan pond heron, little egret, (both black-footed and yellow-footed races), and Shrenk’s bittern*. A beach café gave good views of this lagoon, which also had mudskippers and a large water monitor.
Inland from the hotel were more pools and interesting low scrub areas. Here in the late afternoon were little green bee-eaters, plain prinias, ashy woodswallows, a dusky warbler and a brown fulvetta – which turned out to be another new species.
An early morning walk behind the hotel was very interesting. A steady stream of barn swallows headed north, a red-rumped swallow amongst them; some joined the ashy woodswallows on the roadside wires. Assorted egrets, doves, mynas and drongos flew back and forth over the low scrub, and a blue-tailed bee-eater added colour.
Hearing some raucous Asian koels I ventured into bushy scrub and was rewarded with good views of a party of 4, males and females. A common tailorbird and a rufescent prinia were singing conspicuously in the low bushes. A hair-crested drongo flew over.
After breakfast we took the hotel bus to Cha-am, and were dropped off at Cha-am Forest Park, a couple of miles from the hotel. This is a small park of mixed grassland, forest, and water-filled creeks. The photo of a black-backed kingfisher beside a suitable-looking creek filled us with hope.
In the event we didn’t see these, but saw some interesting birds, including another Shrenk’s bittern, red-wattled plover, white breasted kingfisher, Asian koel, greater racquet-tailed drongo, bronzed drongo, hoopoe, brown-throated sunbird, common iora, little green bee-eater and a tiger shrike* – my third life bird of the weekend.
Back at the Beach Garden Hotel after lunch white-winged black terns, little terns, and barn swallows were still moving northwards offshore.
Pied fantail with food for young, Thailand Cultural Centre, Bangkok
We had confirmation for the evening flight and nothing was going to stop us catching that plane! Roadblocks by protestors the previous day had brought traffic to a standstill outside Bangkok, but fortunately that didn’t affect our return to the city.
In the morning we took no chances with public transport: we walked to the Thailand Cultural Centre near the hotel, where we enjoyed the eccentric but enjoyable museum of Thai cultural history then watched pied fantails, coppersmith barbets, magpie robins and common ioras in the grounds.
Our 10 days’ unplanned stay in Bangkok was not an experience either of us would particularly want to repeat. However, despite the tension in the city, the Thai people were so friendly and helpful we never felt in any real danger or discomfort (apart from when the firecracker went off!). For me it was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with birds I hadn’t seen for a long time. The weekend in Cha-am gave me three new birds. And we both adore Thai food!
Geoff Upton, Southern England - November 2010