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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Southern and Central Thailand, April 4-22, 2004,
Led by UTHAI TREESUCON
Six experienced American birders contracted the exceptionally able Thai guide, Uthai Treesucon, for the trip described in this report. He can be reached at email@example.com however, it should be noted that he is often booked well into the future for trips not only in all parts of Thailand but also elsewhere in S.E. Asia. The participants were Louise Augustine (Illinois), Ken Cole (Washington, DC), Peter Ginsburg (California), Travis MacClendon (Florida), Pat Moynahan (Maine) and Patty O'Neill (Massachusetts).
The first four participated in a pretrip on March 14 to the mudflats south of Bangkok at Khok Kham, then were part of a separate trip in Viet Nam and returned to Thailand for the trip covered in this report. The pretrip also included birding along the shoreline of the Gulf of Thailand. Key species seen were Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank and Great Knot. The complete species report for the pretrip is included with the species list for the main trip.
The trip led by Uthai Treesucon is considered by all participants to be one of the most successful and enjoyable they have undertaken. In the field Uthai works with his own excellent recordings of almost all local species, knows all the key sites and is in constant contact with a network of people who are up to date on local birds. His trip is efficient and well paced, and assures that the participants are in the field at the right time and place to see target species. Accommodations and food, as noted below, are well above average for a birding trip, but resting and eating are clearly secondary at all times to birding. A van and driver were contracted for the southern part of the trip, and then in the Bangkok area the able Mr. Taweep, a longtime associate of Uthai, proved once again he is a driver par excellence. (His immaculate van comes equipped with a four speaker Bose audio system and a video panel for his DVDs.) He also has a second career as slicer of fresh mangos.
A total of 453 species were recorded, including nine seen only on the pre-trip. Some 418 species were seen by one or another participant, another 27 were heard by the participants and the rest were seen or heard only by the leader. Taking into account the birds seen on both Uthai's trip and the pretrip, we recorded two species that are considered Critical, one considered Endangered, eight considered Vulnerable and a resounding 43 of the species seen are considered Near Threatened. An additional ten Near Threatened species were heard, but could not be coaxed into view. Note that the status has been determined using updated information on Birdlife International's website (www.birdlife.net).
The most sought species, of course, was Gurney's Pitta (Critical). Both male and female were well viewed by all participants. The surprise bird of the trip was an Indian Skimmer, visiting fish ponds near Petchaburi about 90 km. south of Bangkok. This was the fourth record for Thailand, and the active Thai birding community was out in force. They were truly excited by the Skimmer, but a bit blasé about the Chinese Egret on a nearby mudflat, and fairly disinterested in the resident Malaysian Plovers on a local beach. We foreign birders could barely contain our enthusiasm for this avian bounty.
The trip is described below in chronological order. Key birds are mentioned in the text, which will be a bit long since so many important species were seen at the various sites. The attached species list includes all birds seen and the localities at which they were observed.
We assembled in Bangkok on April 4 and stayed the night at the Maruay Garden Hotel, which is about 15 minutes from the airport. This is a modern, comfortable hotel in a neighborhood with small shops, restaurants and a nearby internet facility.
April 5 - 8. After an early morning flight to Krabi, we were met by van and driver and with one birding stop en route were taken to Khao Nor Chuchi (KNC), a forest preserve less than an hour from Krabi that is reknown for the important species within its confines. We stayed at the Morakot Resort, a small facility with only six chalets, an excellent kitchen and a superb hostess (Mrs. Sa).
During the time at KNC we walked numerous trails, including Trails U, E, D, C, B and P, as well as the trail along the river and another road along the forest edge. Although we saw many exceptional birds during our three days, we felt that a stay of up to a week would be productive (and would still leave some targets unseen). The most sought bird at KNC is Gurney's Pitta, and we all enjoyed extended looks at male and female birds, from the blind that is operated by Mr. Yothin, the well known guide based at KNC.
Other species seen at KNC include the following: Buff-necked and Grey-and-buff Woodpeckers, Red-crowned and Red-throated Barbets, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Rufous-backed and Banded Kingfishers, Banded Pitta, Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo (Cuculus fugax), a recent split from Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo (now C. nisicolor), Drongo and Chestnut-winged Cuckoos, Germain's Swiftlet, Schrenk's Bittern, Javan Frogmouth, Gould's Frogmouth (heard only, stakeout bird was no longer responding to tape), Blyth's and Wallace's Hawk-Eagles (the latter on nest with young), Black-thighed Falconet (also on nest), Banded and Black-and-Yellow Broadbills as well as an astounding Green Broadbill, Black Magpie, Dark-throated Oriole, Green Iora, Rufous-winged Philentoma, and Rufous-crowned, Large Wren, Chestnut-winged, Moustached and Black-capped Babblers.
April 9. We made an early morning drive to Krabi, hired a local marsh boat and went into the mangrove swamps. The tide was low so we couldn't get as far into the swamp as we wished, but in turn were able to enjoy birdlife on sandbars in Krabi's bay, all this during the morning. Key species seen in the mangroves included Oriental Hobby, Mangrove Pitta, and Blue-eared, Brown-winged and Ruddy Kingfishers. The sandbars produced a nice variety of shorebirds.
We then boarded the high-speed ferry to the Phi Phi Islands and arrived there in roughly an hour. (The crossing produced very little bird life). After getting settled at Tonsai Village, a very comfortable lodge about five minutes walk from the ferry landing, we then rode in a high-powered (twin 130 HP outboards) speedboat to nearby islands. While observing the natural beauty of high cliffs, good forests, isolated beaches and superb dive sites, we also took in Pied-Imperial Pigeons, Black-naped Terns, Pacific Reef-Egrets and both Lesser and Christmas Island Frigatebirds.
April 10. This was the only day of the trip dedicated exclusively to travel. We took the ferry back to Krabi, got in the van and headed to the rather shabby town (see Lonely Planet's euphoria about this place) of Sungai Kolok, on the Malaysian border, arriving just after sundown at the Genting Hotel. This is a large hotel that looks a lot better from the outside than from the inside, but is certainly more than adequate for serious birders. Dinner at the hotel was quite good, but digestion was made difficult by poor singers performing 1970's rock songs on a hyperactive sound system.
Readers of world news should know that Southern Thailand is experiencing unrest from part of the local majority Islamic population. Bombs, etc., have been directed at local police stations and other public facilities, but there have been no incidents involving civilians, westerners, tourists, etc. While in Sungai Kolok and on local roads, we took care to be relatively inconspicuous, and were warmly treated by all the local people with whom we had contact.
April 11. At dawn (avoiding night-time driving) we went about 10km from Sungai Kolok to the Pa Pru Peat Swamp Reserve. This is a unique habitat being protected by an excellently conceived facility, with extensive boardwalks, bilingual signage and a significant structure for visitors and researchers. Members of the Thai Royal Family have spent time here to promote habitat conservation. Visitors are allowed inside from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, and at other times can bird the road in front of the main entrance. (Note, we visited here again briefly the evening of April 14, and were birding along the road when friendly security forces assigned two soldiers to look after us. They were a bit more interested in the birds we were spotting than in keeping the muzzles of their semi-automatic arms away from our good selves.)
The key species seen here during the two visits included Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Black-bellied Malkoha, White-chested Babbler, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Malaysian Eared Nightjar and Malaysian Blue Flycatcher. However, the hoped-for Black Hornbill did not appear.
We then proceeded back to Sungai Kolok, loaded the van with groceries, had lunch at a good local café, and made the 30 minute drive to Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary. We went to the researcher's facilities at the Bala section of this immense park, found very good accommodations available to us, and more important determined that staff was on hand to prepare meals for us. (There was some doubt as we were in the middle of the Thai New Year's Holiday and it was possible that all staff would be away from the park.). The meals were fine, plain old Thai home cooking along with a few western things we brought with us, and we were indeed comfortable within the park.
April 11 in the afternoon through April 14 in the morning we were in the Bala Section of Hala Bala. This huge park on the Malaysian border has great forests, and many important bird species (in Thailand this is the place to see Hornbills) and at least while we were there, a dearth of visitors. Several good paved roads course the park, and our birding took place at one area about 7 km from our quarters, again about 15 km out (near a Buddhist sanctuary), and later perhaps 25 km to an old mine road just beyond the village of Tomo. From our quarters, we walked about ten minutes to the beginning of a superb loop trail through excellent moist forest . This trail involved stream crossings, some feeding of leeches, and a balancing act on a log a bit high over a big stream.
The following long list of excellent species seen and heard should produce a fair amount of salivating. Needless to say, several more days at Bala and exploration of some of the park's more distant venues would have produced another great harvest of birds.
Great Argus (heard only) (Note: never seen by Uthai at Bala.) Banded, Crimson-winged, Orange-backed, Maroon and Gray-and-buff Woodpeckers. Rhinoceros, Helmeted, Bushy-crested, Wreathed and White-crowned Hornbills. Scarlet-rumped and Diard's Trogons. Rufous-collared Kingfisher. Red-bearded and Blue-throated Bee-eaters. Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, four malkoha species and Short-toed Coucal. Blue-rumped Parrot and hasty flybys of Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots. Barred Eagle-Owl. Silver-rumped Swift (Needletail), Edible-nest Swiftlet. Raptors included Bat Hawk on nest, Rufous-bellied Eagle,and Blyth's Hawk-Eagle. There were Black-and-red as well as Black-and-yellow Broadbills, and Lesser Green Leafbird. There were looks at Crested Jay and (Malaysian) Rail-Babbler, as well as good looks at Dark-throated Oriole, Fiery Minivet, and Green Iora. We struggled to get lousy views of a tricky Rufous-chested Flycatcher and saw well some Pale-blue Flycatchers. A Chestnut-naped Forktail was on the stream by the old mine road, as expected. Several Sultan Tits were viewed, and many species of Bulbuls, including these of note: Black-and-White, Scaly-breasted, Spectacled and Finsch's. Among the Babblers seen were Horsfield's, Ferruginous, Black-throated and Chestnut-winged. And to end this inventory, we note the sightings of Brown Fulvetta, six sunbird species including Red-throated, five spiderhunters and four flowerpeckers.
For all this bounty, we did miss some species we had hoped to see. Neither Garnet nor Giant Pitta responded to tape at areas they have been seen previously. Wrinkled and Plain-pouched Hornbills did not appear, nor did Rufous-tailed Shama , Scarlet Sunbird or Thick-billed Spiderhunter. Good cause for a return trip.
April 14 in the p.m. we returned to Pa Pru Peat Swamp, as recorded above, and then lodged again at the Genting Hotel in charming Sungai Kolok.
April 15. The next morning we made an early start for the several hour drive to the nearest functioning airport at Hat Yai. En route we stopped briefly at the Yaring Mangrove Reserve, another excellent local facility with extensive boardwalks, and had good views of Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Mangrove Whistler and Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. We stayed too long working on these species and then had a nerve-wracking drive to the airport, barely making the flight to Bangkok.
Once in Bangkok, we sacrificed lunch and internet time, so that Mr. Taweep could get us post-haste to the Petchaburi area and the reported Indian Skimmer. The bird had been spotted the previous day and Uthai's cell phone was ringing in Bala to give him the news. We briefly checked a wetlands area and noted breeding Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas as well as Grey-headed Lapwing. We then thoroughly enjoyed the Skimmer, noted the presence of a Great Cormorant and Little Stint, both Thai rarities, and went to a nearby beach to view the resident Malaysian Plovers in fading light. Then a very late lunch, some shopping, and final drive to the Kaeng Krachan Country Club, where we had another meal and got some sleep.
April 16, 17, 18 and some of the morning of the 19th found us at Kaeng Krachan National Park, a location well known to birders that is about three hours from Bangkok. As noted we stayed at the Kaeng Krachan Country Club, which is about a one hour drive to the good birding area within the park. We didn't see the country club in daylight until the last morning, what with early breakfasts, late dinners and packed lunches that went on the trail with us.
When we arrived the park had recently opened to the public, up to Km. 15 of the main road. Through Uthai, we had permission to hire a four-wheel vehicle and go to the upper levels of the park (Km. 30). However, all permits to the upper level were rescinded because of illegal access by some visitors. The best we could do was walk as far as Km. 24, which entailed a 1400 foot rise in elevation on a very steep road. This enabled us to get some species that otherwise would have been missed, but not getting all the way to the top cost us as many as 20 additional species. Most of the species we saw were between Km. 16 and Km. 18 on the main road and on the nearby trails into the forest.
The final morning we birded the grounds of the country club, which produced superb views of Rain Quail, Indochinese Bushlark and Plain-backed Sparrow, among other species.
The birds recorded within the National Park as well as around Park Headquarters included the following: Grey Peacock Pheasant (well seen walking back and forth on an open slope of a small ravine), Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Trogon, Blue-banded, Black-backed, Ruddy and Rufous-collared Kingfishers, Violet Cuckoo, the vulnerable White-fronted Scops Owl, Brown Hawk-Owl, and Malayan Night Heron. Hooded Pitta was seen on several occasions and Giant, Blue and Blue-winged Pittas were heard from close quarters but would not come into view .. except for a meager fly-by from a pair of Blue-winged Pittas. We saw well Banded, Silver-breasted and Dusky Broadbills, had many excellent views of cooperative Crested Jays and saw Green Magpie several times. A rare female Narcissus Flycatcher was seen at Km. 23 along with nearby Brown-cheeked Fulvettas. At lower elevations we also viewed Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughing-Thrushes, Large Scimitar Babbler, and Spot-necked Babbler.
All in all, a satisfying experience at Kaeng Krachan, notwithstanding we could not get to the highest areas.
April 19. After the brief time around the Country Club grounds, we checked some low elevation scrub areas on the way to Petchaburi, and then birded several areas in the general area of this city. Our efforts included returning to the beach for better views of Malaysian Plovers, hiring a local craft to get to tidal mudflats for a look at a visiting Chinese Egret, and checking wetlands for whatever could be found. And a lot was found at this variety of habitats, including White-browed Crake, Baillon's Crake, Heuglin's Gull, several terns, Black and Yellow Bitterns, and Baya and Asian Golden Weavers.
The afternoon was dedicated to driving to Khao Yai National Park, and we arrived at the excellent Juldis Resort in time for dinner.
April 20 and 21 were spent at several locations within Khao Yai. The main target here is the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. In the course of two days, we heard about 12 different birds, several from very close quarters. All of us are now well familiar with the wails, groans, grunts, growls and chuckles of this bird's vocabulary, but only the trip leader and one participant managed less than satisfactory views. Our efforts included getting well away from the road on marginal trails, and scrambling up and down ravines. We also had hopes of finding some cooperative pittas, but few were calling and then usually when we were in pursuit of the elusive CBGC.
However, we did see excellent birds including an elegant pair of Siamese Fireback, who gave a nice performance about 50 feet from the windows of the van. Views were enjoyed of Laced and Slaty Woodpeckers. We were entertained for a while by a noisy troop of Austen's Brown Hornbill, and also viewed Great, Oriental-pied and Wreathed Hornbills. Other sightings included Red-headed Trogon, Jerdon's Baza, Hill Blue Flycatcher, and White-crested and Black-throated Laughing-Thrushes.
April 22. On this last day of the trip, we left Khao Yai at an early hour and drove some ways to Tap Lan National Park, about 100 kms. from the Cambodia border. The area is low, hot and largely agricultural, and the national park is a habitat preserve for a dry forest with vegetation that reaches about 30 feet in height. We had only part of the morning to find target species and enjoyed outstanding views of a male Chinese Francolin that perched and called for at least a half hour from an open tree. We also saw White-bellied Woodpeckers, the special Black-headed Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Buzzard and Brown Prinias. However, our hopes of finding a rare White-rumped Falcon or Blossom-headed Parakeet were frustrated.
We then made the long drive to Bangkok arriving at the Maruay Garden Hotel once more. Dinner was enjoyed at a nearby restaurant , our sincere appreciation for the excellent trip was conveyed again to Uthai and we then prepared bags for early flights the next day.
SUMMARY: A TRIP WELL WORTH REPEATING.
Prepared separately from this text is the list of all species seen and heard during the trip. The main locality(ies) for the sighting of each species is given, but not necessarily all localities for all species.
The column "Status" uses the following symbols with regard to species of special concern:
NT Near Threatened
The column "Seen" uses these symbols:
# Well seen by all or most of the
S Seen by some or few of the participants
H Heard only
L Seen only by the leader
LH Heard only by the leader
FO Fly-over (enabling identification)
PR Seen only on the Pretrip.
The column "Pre" refers to the March 14 pretrip involving some of the participants. Sightings were at several localities, including Khok Kham mudflats, a nearby shore area on the Gulf of Thailand and in Bangkok around the Maruay Garden Hotel.
The localities at which species were seen or heard are identified by the following symbols:
BA Bala section of Hala Bala Wildlife
KB Krabi including both the mangrove swamps and bay
KK Kaeng Krachan National Park including around the KK Country Club
KNC Khao Nor Chuchi Reserve
KY Khao Yai National Park
PBR Pa Pru Peat Swamp Preserve
PE Petchaburi area, including fish ponds, wetlands, beaches, mudflats and Scrub areas on the way to Kaeng Krachan.
PP Phi Phi Islands
TL Tap Lan National Park
YA Yaring Mangrove Reserve
Var "Various", to indicate common species seen at several places
This report has been prepared by Ken Cole, Washington DC, and reviewed by the trip participants and Uthai Treesucon. For further information contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org .