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A Report from

Southern Thailand, 4th-17th April 2004,

Richard Rae

This short report covers a primarily non-birding holiday I recently took in Southern Thailand with my girlfriend, Emer Callanan. It includes current contact details for Yotin Meekaew, the local guide at Khao Nor Chuchi (KNC). The only serious birding was done at KNC and Krabi; other sites visited were the Ko Phi Phi Islands, the Similan Islands and Khao Sok National Park.

Thanks to Simon Buckell for sending me Yotin's contact details.

Main Sites

Khao Nor Chuchi

This well known site is currently the only place where birders have a chance of getting to grips with the critically endangered Gurney's Pitta. Until last year it was the only known place on earth for the species, but it has now been found at several sites in southern Myanmar (Burma). This species was obviously the number one birding priority for the trip, and to maximize the chances of success, I hired Yotin Meekaew (Telephone: (0)17471879 home (0)72740988 mobile)  for two full days. This paid off, as we saw a pair of Gurney's very quickly on the first day, which left ample time to look for the other specialities of the area. I'd definitely recommend hiring him for two days if you can afford it; as long as the Gurney's oblige on the first day you are then able to spend the best hours of the day on the second day looking for other things. It's definitely worth giving Yotin a "shopping list" of birds you are interested in seeing, so he can concentrate his efforts on finding them for you and not waste time on things you don't need. Although he is expensive (approx 6500 baht/day although we paid in US dollars so not sure of the exact amount - he prefers to be paid in bahts), he is a very professional guide and works hard to find the birds.

It generally seemed that people who weren't hiring Yotin weren't seeing the pitta, or indeed many other birds!

We stayed at the Morakot Resort which was very nice (450 baht/night for a bungalow with fan; air con presumably more expensive but all full when we were there).

If going back here for lunch, I strongly recommend giving the girls your order before setting off in the morning and telling them what time you'll be eating. A lot of tour groups stop for lunch at the Morakot, and they have all booked in advance, so you are likely to have a long wait for your food otherwise.

Getting to KNC is easy even without your own transport. We asked the Cha Guest House, where we were staying in Krabi, for a taxi to the Morakot. This cost 800 baht (Dennis and Andy, a couple of English birders we met, had been charged 1000 baht). The Morakot arranged a taxi back to Krabi  for 700 baht. The journey takes about an hour and a quarter.

Also the Emerald Pool is great for a dip (after you've seen the Gurney's of course!), early morning is best to avoid the crowds.

Day 1 at KNC (6th April)

Up at 05.30, Yotin waited while we ate a hasty breakfast, then drove up to the Crystal Pool car park. From here we walked with Yotin's assistant to his Gurney's stakeout. We were told to wait for 10 minutes, presumably while they checked if the birds were around and if the hide was in the best place. They then collected us and we went to sit in the hide with Yotin. The first bird we saw was a Siberian Blue Robin, then, after about 10 minutes or so, we heard a bird hopping through the leaves to the left of the hide. Shortly after the female Gurney's Pitta came into view. Even the female is really good looking, and far better than the illustration in the field guides suggest. After a few minutes of watching the female, once again we heard the sound of a bird hopping to the left of the hide, and it wasn't long before we had the male in our sights. The female is good, but the male is really something else! We then enjoyed excellent views of both birds for the next twenty minutes or so (I lost track of the time somewhat), before Yotin suggested we leave the hide to go and search for other things. I think he was keen to leave because a group of Americans had arranged to have some time in the hide after us. Not that I minded really, I had been able to ogle the male Gurney's from every conceivable angle! Wonderful.

We then returned to the Crystal Pool car park where Red-throated Barbet duly obliged, before driving up to the coffee plantation with a bird photographer friend of Yotin's who was trying to photograph kingfishers. We followed a trail into the forest, where Yotin taped in a superb pair of Banded Broadbills and then a Streaked Wren-Babbler. We then followed the edge of a stream for a while before settling at a suitable spot for kingfishers. A Blue-eared Kingfisher quickly appeared, then an Orange-breasted Trogon was taped in (although a pair of Scarlet-rumped Trogons actually showed more interest than the Orange-breasted, which only appeared for a short time before slipping away). We then returned to the main track to get a lift back to the main car park. While waiting we saw Black-thighed Falconet, Gold-whiskered Barbet and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo.

From 11.30 - 14.30 we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon we followed trail B, finishing at the Frogmouth site. The birding was very slow, although we did have excellent views of a pair of Pin-tailed Parrotfinch in a stand of bamboo. After dusk we saw one Javan Frogmouth before walking back in the pitch black (torch essential!).

Day 2 at KNC (7th April)

Up slightly later than yesterday, Yotin picked us up and we were at the Crystal Pool car park for 06.00. This morning we followed trail B a short way before taking trail C, to just past the Blue Pool, then trail D down the rocky stream to the Emerald Pool, then back along trail A.

The birding was painfully slow at first, although quite a few birds were calling. We spent half an hour waiting at a Wallace's Hawk-Eagle nest but unfortunately they didn't come in. As we were nearing the Blue Pool Yotin heard a Banded Pitta calling, which was eventually tempted to come in a bit closer, and I had some good views of it, generally in motion but it did pause at one point. Had we not been spoiled by the views of the Gurney's yesterday it would have been classed as a good pitta encounter! It's crown was the colour of fire - amazing. Shortly after this a Red-bearded Bee-eater was successfully taped in and gave very good views. One of my main target birds for this site. The remainder of the morning yielded a few Spiderhunters, Bulbuls and nice views of 3 Thick-billed Pigeons.

Again we broke from 11.30 - 14.30 for lunch.

In the early afternoon we returned to the area where we had yesterday seen the trogons, to try for more kingfishers. As soon as we arrived we had a Rufous-backed Kingfisher, which perched very obligingly for at least 10 minutes, and even did a few dives. One of the best kingfishers I've seen. No sooner had that gone than a Ruddy Kingfisher appeared to take its place, again giving excellent views. As we walked back to the car we saw a Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher.

Late afternoon we again headed up trail B to the Frogmouth site. It was generally very quiet, but as we were nearing the Frogmouth site Yotin stopped, listened to the soft "kwee-ur....kwee-ur" emanating from god knows where, and announced "Rufous-collared Kingfisher - you want that?". You can guess my answer I'm sure. Off we scrambled into the forest, stopping again so that Yotin could try and more accurately pinpoint where the bird was. We waited while he descended to a dried up stream bed, then he called us down to see the bird, sat quietly in a tree. Very impressive location of the bird by Yotin. We then returned to the main trail and went to wait at the Frogmouth site til after dark, when eventually, 1 Gould's Frogmouth was seen well perched up in a tree.

Other Sites Visited:

Krabi (5th April)

We booked a morning boat trip with Mr Dai through the Chan Phen travel agency in Krabi. It was pricey, at 800 baht each for 4 hours. A couple of German birders had already booked him, and they had already done the mangroves and were now trying for the estuary birds. I was a bit concerned that we might not get to go to the mangroves but it worked out very well, since they needed to go back there for a few birds they had missed.

We had good views of 1 Chinese Egret and 2 Nordmann's Greenshanks, before heading back to the mangroves where we saw 2 Mangrove Pittas (1 perched up in a tree calling and 1 in flight, with many others calling), a very brief Ruddy Kingfisher and several Brown-winged Kingfishers. The best bird in the mangroves was probably an Oriental Hobby, which gave excellent views perched in a tree on one of the rocky crags. As you head left from the boat ramp in Krabi, two rocky crags become visible; one is along the main river, another is down a smaller tributary to the right. The Oriental Hobby was around this one. Mr Dai will know where to go.

Ko Phi Phi Islands (8th - 10th April)

On 9th April we went on a snorkelling trip around Ko Phi Phi Don (the larger island), and also visited Ko Phi Phi Leh (where the film "The Beach" was made). Black-naped Terns proved to be rather common around both islands and were much nicer than expected, and several Bridled Terns were also seen. At Phi Phi Leh, we saw 3 White-bellied Sea-Eagles and 1 Pied Imperial Pigeon. Heading back to Phi Phi Don in the late afternoon, 4 Frigatebirds were seen, but unfortunately they were too distant for specific identification.

Similan Islands (11th April)

We visited the Similan Islands on a day trip from Phuket, which involved being taken by minibus to Thap Lamu (very slowly!) and then travelling by speedboat to the islands. Unfortunately, and despite being told otherwise at the time of booking, we didn't go to Island Number 4, which effectively ruled out any chance of seeing Nicobar Pigeon. We had lunch on Island Number 8 and tried walking along the trails in the vain hope there may be some Nicobars, but predictably without success. Lots of Pied Imperial Pigeons though. The snorkelling here however is truly fantastic and provided some compensation.

We went with a company called Jack Similan, they also offer 2 and 3 day trips - it appeared that the 3 day trip did land on island number 4, but perhaps best to go with Met Sine (see report by Nick Ransdale for details).

Khao Sok National Park (12th - 14th April)

We spent 2 nights at this comparatively under-visited (by birders anyway) national park. Some birding was done, although it wasn't dawn-til-dusk. We spent a morning following trail 8, which goes straight on from the visitors centre (all the others go left). There is a trail after about 0.6 km off to the left from trail 8, that doesn't feature on any maps. It goes up lots of steps, then down lots of steps before bringing you out near the visitor's centre. Along here we heard a close Helmeted Hornbill and a distant Great Argus. Along trail 8 we had, among other things, White-rumped Shama, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and an incredibly co-operative Siberian Blue Robin that fed on the path in front of us for a couple of minutes.

The second morning we headed along the route of trails 1 -7 for about half an hour, until it seemed there were far too many people, so we headed back to the start of the trails, where, if approaching from the visitors centre, just after crossing a small bridge, you turn left on to the main trail and there is a disused kiosk on your left. The small stand of trees here proved to be very birdy, with at least a pair of Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, as well as Bulbuls, Sunbirds and Flowerpeckers.

We stayed at Art's Riverview Lodge, 500 baht a night for a pleasant room by the river. Not many birds here but 1 Forest Wagtail in the grounds, and a Blue Whistling Thrush, which, incredibly, flew across the river while we were having breakfast in the restaurant and landed on one of the tables for a few seconds before flying off again.

Khao Sok was also notable in that it is the only national park where I have been attacked with a water pistol by one of the guards at the entrance gate! (The period 11th - 15th April (varies slightly from place to place) is the Thai new year, and the whole country seems to be engaged in one big water fight. In Bangkok, it was impossible to walk down the street without getting soaked and having clay smeared all over your face - good fun for one day but a bit tiresome after that!)

If anyone would like any further information, please feel free to contact me.

Richard Rae, Sheffield, April 2004


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