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A Report from

Sri Phang Nga and Phuket Island 11-12 February 2004,

Ike Suriwong

Many birders who have been birding in the south of Thailand will agree with me when I say that the birding here is harder than in the north or even the central regions of Thailand. Birds in the south tend to be more skulking & usually don't give that good looks. Often one will hear more than one sees, which can be frustrating at times. However, with some perseverance, the results can be quite rewarding.

I was contacted by Tom, a birder from the States, who was looking someone to take him birding around Phuket for two days. We decided to try out Sri Phang Nga National Park and some other sites in Phang Nga the first day and then do Phuket on the next day.

I picked Tom up at his hotel near Talang at 4 AM & drove to Sri Phang Nga National Park, about 65 KM from Sarasin bridge, or the water boundary between Phuket and Phang Nga provinces. We wanted to be early enough to catch the hornbills before they took off for the deep forest. The rangers had told me previously that a pair of Great Hornbills had a nest near the headquarters and that Plain pouched and Wreathed Hornbills would cross the valley on occasion in the early mornings while flying to and from their roosting sites. I had been to the park two weeks earlier and had seen three Black Hornbills near the waterfall at the clearing in the forest. What was in store for us today?

The sky was still dark and the stars were still visible in the sky when we arrived at the park entrance at 6 AM. The air was cool and a light breeze whistled through the bamboo leaves near the checkpoint. White handed Gibbons could be heard howling in the tall trees in the hills nearby and Nightjars were roosting on the road nearby. As the light began to slowly flood the valley, the sounds of little birds waking up could be heard all around. Our first bird was a lone Black Crested Bulbul, singing away on a dead tree near the office. Tom alerted me to a dark object flying nearby. Could this be our first hornbill? It was still a bit too dark to positively ID the bird, but I assumed from the tail and head that it might have been a Bushy Crested Hornbill. We moved from the road and into the field nearby to see if we could catch another glimpse of it. It wasn't long before two Great Hornbills appeared, flying high above us. Even from the great distance we could make out the sounds of their powerful wing beats. I have seen The Great Hornbill many times before but each time I do, the power and majesty of such a magnificent creature is so breathtaking to me!

We started down the road to the waterfall, stopping along the way to look at the giant spiders feeding on their prey caught fresh the night before. There was a lot of activity in the tall upper canopy and no matter how much we tried to ID these birds, it was close to impossible to catch up with or focus on a tiny bird 30-45 feet up in the trees! However, we did manage to see some good birds along the way, such as Black Crested Bulbul, Black Napped Oriole, Abbots Babbler, Chestnut capped Babbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Vernal Hanging Parrots and some bulbul species, to name a few.

We arrived at the clearing at around 7.30. From here, two trails fork out: one is a 500 meter hike to a waterfall, the other is a 2.5 KM hike through the forest which ends at the same waterfall as the previous trail. We decided to try out the clearing and see what we could find here. It wasn't long before the forest came to life. A pair of Asian Paradise Flycatchers, both the white & brown morphs males, were squabbling over a female; Asian Fairy Bluebirds danced in the high canopy; two Banded Woodpeckers raced from tree to tree in search of insects & grubs; a single Banded Broadbill called out from an exposed perch and gave good looks; a Chestnut Bellied Malkoha pranced up a large tree proudly displaying its beautiful colors; a Great Hornbill was scouring a large tree for grubs. All in all, it was a thrilling experience.

Other birds seen in the area were Spectacled Spiderhunter, Dollarbird, Wreathed Hornbill, Red eyed & Ochraceous Bulbuls, Greenish Iora, Velvet fronted Nuthatch, Grey Rumped Treeswift, Scarlet backed Flowerpecker, and Chestnut winged Babbler, Green Broadbill and Forest Wagtail.

By 10.30 things were starting to die down. I suggested to Tom that we try the trail to the waterfall. After all, we couldn't leave the park without visiting the waterfall that makes it so popular to tourists! About 50 meters into the trail we heard a single poww call. A chill went down my spine. A Banded Pitta was close by! To my delight, soon there were three birds calling from the understory. Tom and I scanned through the leaves, but the little fellow was obviously playing hard-to-get. All I could make out were some rustling leaves. Then, just as soon as they came, they were gone. -And I soon found out why. A group of four park rangers were passing by, loudly talking and having a good time. My heart sank, as I was really looking forward to seeing this bird. I was about to walk on when we heard one bird call again, this time no more than 10 meters from us. But again, the bird was in no mood for playing peek-a-boo, and it wasn't long before it moved on into the forest. Tom did manage a look at its head, but that was about it. Too bad.

The trail to and from the waterfall had other good birds, such as Ashy and Scarlet Minivets, Common Iora, Short tailed Babbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher; Black napped Monarch, Grey Wagtail and Brown­-throated Sunbird.

On the way back top the park headquarters we heard the sound of a Helmeted Hornbill in the distance, but were not in a good position to see it.

We left the park at 11 AM, but not before a cool drink and a quick donut to stifle our growling stomachs.

We worked our way down to Phang Nga town, passing a large river along the way, which Peter Ericsson had mentioned was good for River Lapwing. Well, at that time of day with the heat beating down so unmercifully, it was almost certain we would dip on that record. However, we did see some other birds along the way, such as the Blue tailed Bee eater, Pacific and Barn Swallows, Little Cormorant, Black capped Kingfisher and Streak eared Bulbul.

After a quick and simple lunch at Phang Nga town, we headed off for the mangroves. Despite the fact that the heat was getting close to unbearable, we decided to try it anyway and see what we might find. After we had creamed ourselves in insect repellent -mangroves being a prime hangout spot for mosquitoes of all kinds, we headed off into the mangroves. Just as I expected, the mangroves were dead silent. All we managed was a fleeting glimpse of a Mangrove Whistler, a pair of Olive backed Sunbirds, and a single beady-eyed Brown Winged Kingfisher.

I was disappointed but rightfully so for having visited at such a bad time of the day (on a day with overcast midday can still be productive). We then headed off for our last stop of the day in Phang Nga: Raman Waterfall. This is the spot most birders go to tick the Chestnut napped Forktail. The sign says it's 6 KM from the main road, but the drive seems to be almost double that. When we arrived at the park, we were horrified to find a large group of teenagers had taken over the park and were preparing for a raucous party. Loudspeakers blared rock music from four corners of the camp; teenagers frolicked in the waterfall. I almost decided to stay in the car. Out of courtesy for Tom, I got out and no sooner had I stepped out of the car, I met my first miracle: right above my head, scarcely five meters from a blaring speaker sat a Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, almost as if oblivious to the noise and confusion about it. In the banana groves nearby, we met a pair of Cream Vented Bulbuls, their striking whitish eyes bold in alarm at the intruders. Spiderhunters buzzed about going from one banana flower to the other in search of prey.

After a short look up the waterfall, we assumed there wasn't going to be any forktails around so we loaded up & were ready to drive off when a Crested Serpent Eagle flew in and perched nearby. Too bad I don't have a telescope, as the bird was in such a good position, almost posing for us in the tree.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by at Sirinat National Park on Mai Kao beach in Phuket. On occasion I have seen Pied and Green Imperial Pigeons as well as Racket tailed Treepies here, but today we only managed Pied Fantail, Greater Coucal, Indian Roller, Spotted and Zebra Doves and Brown Shrike.

The next day we visited Ton Sai Waterfall in hopes of seeing a few barbet species. The day started off slow and never really picked up, due to the Boy Scout event that was being held there that day. Despite the disturbance, we did manage to see quite a few species such as Thick billed Pigeon, Blue winged Leafbird, White rumped Munia, Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker and Common Woodshrike. I was also disappointed to find that the park officers had done some extensive pruning of the trees, to the point where most of the lower branches that had once played home to many colorful bird, was almost all cleared away, forcing the barbets, flowerpeckers and leafbirds to move further up into the higher branches, thus depriving us, the birders, of good looks.

Before we left we managed to get a fleeting glimpse of a Red throated Barbet excavating a nesting site in a hollow tree. An Orange bellied Flowerpecker, my favorite little bird, bade us a fond farewell.

Next we went to Laem Hin, a pier best known for it's fresh seafood restaurant, considered by many to be the best on the island. About 500 meters before the pier is a turnoff to a mangrove reforestration project. Here is where one can usually find Ruddy Kingfisher.  Mangrove Pitta is also reported from this area. Today, however, we were met with silence, as the tide was out and the temperatures were beginning to soar. We saw three Black Baza as well as a handful of other birds such as the Asian Koel, Common Kingfisher and Ruby throated Sunbird. Overall it was a bit of a letdown for us. Best time to try this spot is in the afternoon or early evening.

We then went by the Phuket Recycle center to tick the House Crow, which seems to be a permanent resident at this site. We found it, along with a Green billed Malkoha, Common and White vented Myna, Large billed Crow and hundreds of Swallows, some coming so close you could reach out and grab them. Last year, I was able to find all three Pond Herons here (including Indian) right before they departed for the summer migration when they were just getting their breeding plumages.

Before I dropped Tom off at his hotel, we decided to try one more site, Laguna Hotel Complex.. This site is surprisingly good for birding, and there are a few species that can only be found here but nowhere else on the island. The area was formerly a deserted tin mine which was reformed and now hosts a collection of five-star hotels.

We parked off the road that heads towards Laguna Hotel and took a walk around the side of the lake. There we found a large group of Lesser Whistling Duck, along with a scattered number of Common Moorhen. Little Cormorant sat with their wings spread out to dry on low bushes near the waters edge. Down in a quiet corner we found ca. 30 Cotton Pigmy-Geese wading in the shallows looking for food. A few families of Little Grebe bobbed along near the reeds.

Further down the road we tried a patch of rice paddy where a group of water buffalo were grazing. There we found Red Wattled Lapwing, Oriental Pratincole, Cattle Egret and Grey Plovers feeding off the insects the cattle were stirring up.

Before leaving the area we tried a pond near the Banyan Golf Course looking for White-browed Crake. Instead we found White throated Kingfisher, Purple Swamphen and Watercock. The White-browed Crakes were simply not out today.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience and one to be remembered. Aside from the heat we were able to see many good birds and hope to be able to see more next time.

Species list


Lesser Whistling-duck

Dendrocygna javanica



Cotton Pygmy-goose

Nettapus coromandelianus



Banded Woodpecker

Picus mineaceus



Lineated Barbet

Megalaima lineata



Red-throated Barbet

Megalaima mystacophanos



Coppersmith Barbet

Megalaima haemacephala



Great Hornbill

Buceros bicornis



Helmeted Hornbill

Buceros vigil

             EN, NT


White-crowned Hornbill

Aceros comatus



Plain-pouched Hornbill

Aceros subruficollis

             EN, VU


Indian Roller

Coracias benghalensis




Eurystomus orientalis



Common Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis



Brown-winged Kingfisher

Pelargopsis amauropterus



White-throated Kingfisher

Halcyon smyrnensis



Black-capped Kingfisher

Halcyon pileata



Green Bee-eater

Merops orientalis



Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Merops philippinus



Asian Koel

Eudynamys scolopacea



Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus sumatranus



Green-billed Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus tristis



Greater Coucal

Centropus sinensis



Vernal Hanging-Parrot

Loriculus vernalis



Himalayan Swiftlet

Aerodramus brevirostris



Edible-nest Swiftlet

Aerodramus fuciphagus



Asian Palm-Swift

Cypsiurus balasiensis



House Swift

Apus nipalensis



Grey-rumped Treeswift

Hemiprocne longipennis



Grey Nightjar

Caprimulgus indicus



Rock Dove

Columba livia



Zebra Dove

Geopelia striata



Spotted Dove

Streptopelia chinensis



Thick-billed Pigeon

Treron curvirostra



White-breasted Waterhen

Amaurornis phoenicurus




Gallicrex cinerea



Purple Swamphen

Porphyrio porphyrio



Common Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus




Numenius phaeopus



Green Sandpiper

Tringa ochropus



Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos



Grey Plover

Pluvialis squatarola



Red-wattled Lapwing

Vanellus indicus



Oriental Pratincole

Glareola maldivarum



Black Baza

Aviceda leuphotes



Crested Serpent-Eagle

Spilornis cheela



Crested Goshawk

Accipiter trivirgatus



Japanese Sparrowhawk

Accipiter gularis



Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus



Little Grebe

Tachybaptus ruficollis



Little Cormorant

Phalacrocorax niger



Little Egret

Egretta garzetta



Great Egret

Casmerodius albus



Intermediate Egret

Mesophoyx intermedia



Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis



Chinese Pond Heron

Ardeola bacchus



Little Heron

Butorides striatus



Banded Pitta

Pitta guajana



Banded Broadbill

Eurylaimus javanicus



Green Broadbill

Calyptomena viridis



Asian Fairy-bluebird

Irena puella



Blue-winged Leafbird

Chloropsis cochinchinensis



Brown Shrike

Lanius cristatus



Mangrove Whistler

Pachycephala grisola



House Crow

Corvus splendens



Large-billed Crow

Corvus macrorhynchos



Black-naped Oriole

Oriolus chinensis



Ashy Minivet

Pericrocotus divaricatus



Scarlet Minivet

Pericrocotus flammeus



Pied Fantail

Rhipidura javanica



Black-naped Monarch

Hypothymis azurea



Asian Paradise-Flycatcher

Terpsiphone paradisi



Black Drongo

Dicrurus macrocercus



Ashy Drongo

Dicrurus leucophaeus



Common Iora

Aegithina tiphia



Green Iora

Aegithina viridissima



Common Woodshrike

Tephrodornis pondicerianus



Asian Brown Flycatcher

Muscicapa dauurica



Red-breasted Flycatcher

Ficedula parva



Oriental Magpie-Robin

Copsychus saularis



White-vented Myna

Acridotheres grandis



Common Myna

Acridotheres tristis



Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Sitta frontalis



Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica



Pacific Swallow

Hirundo tahitica



Striated Swallow

Hirundo striolata



Asian House Martin

Delichon dasypus



Black-headed Bulbul

Pycnonotus atriceps



Black-crested Bulbul

Pycnonotus melanicterus



Stripe-throated Bulbul

Pycnonotus finlaysoni



Yellow-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus goiavier



Olive-winged Bulbul

Pycnonotus plumosus



Streak-eared Bulbul

Pycnonotus blanfordi



Cream-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus simplex



Red-eyed Bulbul

Pycnonotus brunneus



Spectacled Bulbul

Pycnonotus erythropthalmos



Ochraceous Bulbul

Alophoixus ochraceus



Olive Bulbul

Iole virescens



Grey-eyed Bulbul

Iole propinqua



Dark-necked Tailorbird

Orthotomus atrogularis



Common Tailorbird

Orthotomus sutorius



Abbott's Babbler

Malacocincla abbotti



Short-tailed Babbler

Malacocincla malaccensis



Rufous-fronted Babbler

Stachyris rufifrons



Chestnut-winged Babbler

Stachyris erythroptera



Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker

Prionochilus percussus



Orange-bellied Flowerpecker

Dicaeum trigonostigma



Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

Dicaeum cruentatum



Brown-throathed Sunbird

Anthreptes malacensis



Ruby-cheeked Sunbird

Anthreptes singalensis



Olive-backed Sunbird

Nectarinia jugularis



Crimson Sunbird

Aethopyga siparaja



Little Spiderhunter

Arachnothera longirostra



Spectacled Spiderhunter

Arachnothera flavigaster



Yellow-eared Spiderhunter

Arachnothera chrysogenys



Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Passer montanus



Forest Wagtail

Dendronanthus indicus



Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava



Gray Wagtail

Motacilla cinerea



Richard's Pipit

Anthus richardi



Paddyfield Pipit

Anthus rufulus



White-rumped Munia

Lonchura striata



Scaly-breasted Munia

Lonchura punctulata



Warbler (Phylloscopus)


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