Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Southern and Central Thailand, 10 – 20 April 2004,
Gruff Dodd, 2 Clos Tawe, Barri, Bro Morgannwg, Cymru/Wales; Gruff@doddg.freeserve.co.uk
Introduction and strategy
Having visited Northern Thailand last January, we were keen to the visit the country again, and I was especially keen to try to see Gurney's Pitta. We therefore decided to do a ten day trip split between the area centred on Krabi and a spell at Khao Yai and Petchburi tagged on the end.
This part of Thailand has to be one of the best places in the world for birders with non-birding spouses or families. Where else can you see birds of the quality of Gurney's Pitta, Nordmann's Greenshank or Nicobar Pigeon within such easy reach of a mainstream tourist destination? Krabi itself is a nice town, not too spoilt, but with all the facilities you might want, and it's still extremely cheap by European standards.
The trip was a big success, thanks largely to the local guides I hired in various places. As well as unbeatable views of a pair of Gurney's Pittas two days running, I saw many other good birds, including Nordmann's Greenshank, Chinese Egret, Malaysian Plover, Vinous-breasted Starling, Nicobar Pigeon, Christmas Island Frigatebird, Siamese Fireback, Silver Pheasant, and Limestone Wren-Babbler.
It was a very relaxed trip generally - lots of leisure time due to the heat, and the complex logistical arrangements meant that at times it felt more like a succession of twitches than a hard-core birding trip, although I rarely saw such a high proportion of my target birds in my old twitching days!
Everything went like clockwork - the transport arrangements all worked out fine, the food was outstanding and the hotels we stayed in were all excellent and extremely cheap by Western standards. The only downside, for me at least, was the weather which was far too hot and humid for my taste, but would probably suit most people (including my wife, Sara) down to the ground!
Enormous thanks, firstly to my bird guides in Thailand - Kamol Komolphalin (Petchburi), Wisnu "Ik" Chotikapakorn (Khao Yai), Yotin Meekaeo (KNC) and Mr Dai (Krabi). I am also extremely grateful to Patcharee Komolphalin of Nature Trails, who again made many of my arrangements for me, was a huge source of help and advice while planning the trip, and was generally just a heck of a nice person to deal with.
I was fortunate that our friends Kingsley & Sharon Parker had visited a short time before us and gave me copious notes of where they had been and what they had seen, which invariably proved to be highly accurate and useful. Thanks also to the following who provided me with help and advice before the trip - Aaron Ofner, Adam Bowley, Alec Napier, Benny Fredriksson, Bryon Wright, Chris Gooddie, Chris Hines, Dam Sithichai, Dave Sargeant, David Bishop, David Gandy, David Lewis, Eric Shaw, Garry George, Hans Meijer, Helmut Schumann, Ian Mills, Justin Jansen, Lou Marsh, Michael Knoll, Nial Moores, Nick Moran, Nick Ransdale, Nick Upton, Paul Bamford, Petch Manopawitr, Peter Ericsson, Phil Round, Richard Carden, Rob Heath, Surachai Rungkunakorn, Tom Bennett, Tony Clancy and Volker Schmidt.
We flew from London Heathrow (LHR) via Bahrain (BAH) to Bangkok (BKK) with Gulf Air. The flights were booked on-line through E-bookers (http://www.ebookers.com tel 0870 010 7000) and cost GBP 470 each including taxes.
The flight times were as follows:
Depart LHR 10.04.04 10:00, arrive BAH 10.04.04 18:45
Depart BAH 10.04.04 23:25, arrive BKK 11.04.04 10:25
Depart BKK 20.04.04 18:15, arrive BAH 20.04.04 21:15
Depart BAH 21.04.04 01:10, arrive LHR 21.04.04 06:25
We then took an internal flight from Bangkok to Phuket (HKT) with Thai Airways. Our arrival weekend coincided with the Thai New Year (the Songkran Water Festival), and consequently they had sold out of economy seats, but we booked Business Class seats at the staggeringly cheap price of THB 6,380 (GBP 89) for the return flight (the economy tickets would have cost c. GBP 75).
The flights were booked on-line direct with Thai Airways (http://www.thaiair.com/). Thai were outstanding throughout - on two occasions I called them to ask if I could amend the return flight time, and each time they did so immediately with no fuss and at no extra charge. Flights times were as follows:
11.04.04 - Depart BKK 13:00, arrive HKT 14:20
16.04.04 - Depart HKT 20:15, arrive BKK 21:40
I hired a small Suzuki Caribian 4WD jeep from Budget at Phuket airport for the 5 days we would be in the south. This was booked on-line (http://www.rentacar-thailand.com) and cost THB 1,350 (GBP 19) per day, all-inclusive, which seemed a good rate. Please note that the website is in the name of Nova RentaCar, who seem to act as agents for Budget.
It was not absolutely necessary to have a vehicle, and for most of the time it was idle, but it was useful for getting between sites, and was especially useful in allowing us to get from Krabi to Thab Lamu, and down to Phuket on our last day in the south.
The jeep was fine, although very small - definitely not suitable for more than 2 people, and all our luggage was in plain view in the back. I got around this by asking Budget's staff to rig up a covering of plastic bags, under which the luggage was slid, and they were happy to do this. In the event, I didn't really need 4WD except for on one stretch of trail at KNC, but it was actually cheaper than their smallest saloon car. For the rest of our stay around Bangkok and Petchburi we were fully guided, and transport was included.
One thing to be aware of when driving around Thailand is the variation in the spelling of place names in English - Thai does not seem to be transliterated consistently into the Roman alphabet. Thus, for example, you may also see Thab Lamu also spelled as Tablamu, Thap Lamu etc.
Finally, if you are going to be driving around the area, I strongly recommend that you visit http://asiatours.net/thailand/budget/phuketsa.pdf - this allows you to download a suggested driving itinerary between Phuket, Krabi and Ko Samui, and the quality of the maps is better than anything I could find to buy (thanks Kingsley). This is also available free of charge in the Budget office at Phuket airport
I also took a few boat trips in various places - in fact I spent more time on boats on this trip than on any other I have done! We took a ferry over from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi on 12.04.04 (departure 14:30, arrival 16:30), returning on 13.04.04 (departure 09:00, arrival 11:00). The return trip cost THB 400 (GBP 5.50) each, and was booked in advance by e-mailing the very helpful Mr Dong at Chan Phen Travel in Krabi (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also get here from Phuket, but I don't have any details.
We also did a day trip from Thab Lamu to the Similan Islands (Mu Ko Similan) on 16.04.04. The trip cost THB 1,800 (GBP 25) per person, and was booked on our behalf by Patcharee Komolphalin through Met Sine Travel in Thab Lamu (email@example.com). The boat leaves Thab Lamu pier at 08:30, and gets back in at 17:00. It is primarily aimed at scuba divers, and visits Islands No. 8 and No. 4, with lunch and soft drinks included in the price. From a birding point of view, the main prize is Nicobar Pigeon, which is only found on No. 4 (Ko Miang).
However you only get an hour ashore here, at the worst time of day (14:00 to 15:00), which might make seeing the pigeon difficult. I found a pair just 5 minutes after getting off the boat, but didn't see any others during my time there. My friend Kingsley did the same trip a month before me, and also scored straight away, but we might both have been lucky. The alternative is to stay overnight on Ko Miang (Met Sine can also arrange this) - this would pretty much guarantee the pigeon, but there isn't much else to see here, and I didn't want to lose 2 whole days trying to see one bird.
One last word of warning if you decide to do the day trip - make sure the staff at Met Sine know that you are looking for the pigeon (they all seem to know the bird), and make sure you get put on the speedboat. We got this wrong, and got on a slower boat (same price) - this one also calls in at Ko Miang, but only to pick up people - you get no time ashore which would be a disaster.
Luckily, we realised that something was up, and when we explained our problem to the Met Sine rep on the boat, she kindly managed to get us switched onto the speedboat when we stopped at No. 8. It turns out that the rep on that boat knew I was after the pigeon, realised that we'd got it wrong and was looking out for us. Extraordinarily helpful and friendly people, the Thais!
Incidentally, two correspondents, including my friend Kingsley, had good views of Chinese Egrets at Cape Parakang a little way to the north of Thab Lamu. If you stay the night in this area, this site may be worth a quick visit, perhaps before going to Thab Lamu pier to catch the boat.
I also used a number of the traditional Thai longtail boats during my visit. I had arranged to hire the services of the famous Mr Dai on 12.04.04 for a morning trip into the mangroves (booked in advance through Chan Phen Travel) - it cost THB 1,000 (GBP 14) per person for the trip (07:00 - 1100) which I shared with two other birders. I then arranged for him to take me out to the mudflats the following afternoon (13:00 - 16:00), for which he charged me THB 1,500 (GBP 21). He is undoubtedly expensive in comparison with other boatmen, but he does know the birds and the best places to look for them.
I also took a longtail out of Phi Phi Don on the evening of 12.04.04 to look for frigatebirds. I just walked along the beach from our hotel asking boatmen if they knew the place (between Phi Phi Leh and Ko Bida Noy) and the birds (Nok Jon Salat in Thai - thanks to Nick Upton!), until I found someone who did. I agreed a fee of THB 700 (GBP 10) for three hours with him, although two hours would probably have been enough.
Finally, I took a longtail trip with Kamol Komolphalin at Laem Pakbia to look for Malaysian Plover, but I don't know the cost or any contact details as Kamol and Patcharee arranged it all.
Having been very satisfied with the guiding arrangements made on my behalf by Nature Trails last year, I decided to ask them to do the same for me with time around. Patcharee arranged the services of Yotin Meekaeo for 2 days at KNC, for which he charged me THB 6,000 (GBP 83) per day.
He is not cheap, but then again he got me crippling views of a female Gurney's Pitta within 15 minutes of first light on the first day and a pair within an hour and a half on the second day, as well as a whole load of other birds, so was worth the money in my opinion. Yotin can now be contacted directly by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone on 07-274- 0988 and 01747-1879. It is apparently best to call 2000h-2200 h Thai Time (GMT+ 7 hrs) on the second of these. His fax number is 075-623-472
Nature Trails also arranged for Wisnu "Ik" Chotikapakorn to guide me for 3 days at Khao Yai, collecting us from and returning us to our Bangkok hotel. The three day trip cost THB 19,500 (GBP 223), including guiding, transport, park entry fees and two nights accommodation at the Khao Yai Juldis. If you strip out the hotel and transport costs, this equates to guiding costs of about GBP 110 for 3 days, which is very good value. Ik was a very nice guy, and a good birder - he knew a very reliable spot for Limestone Wren-Babbler, and got me a lot of excellent birds at Khao Yai, although it was not the best time of year to visit this site - can't wait to visit again during the winter.
Finally, I hired Kamol Komolphalin's service for my last day, for a trip over to Petchburi province. His services cost THB 8,000 (GBP 111), including transport, breakfast, lunch, guiding and a boat trip out to the sand bar at Laem Pakbia to look for Malaysian Plover. This was a really enjoyable end to the trip - Kamol looked after us superbly, and worked hard to make sure I got almost all my target species here.
Costs & Money
The local currency is the Thai Baht (THB), although some businesses quote in US Dollars (USD). The approximate exchange rate against sterling (GBP) at the time of my visit (which I have used in translating costs throughout this report) was as follows:
GBP 1 = THB 72
GBP 1 = USD 1.80
Credit cards were accepted widely throughout, and I also made use of ATM machines which were easy to find.
Petrol was extremely cheap by UK standards, around THB 17 (GBP 0.24) per litre. Food was also cheap - a meal for the two of us, including drinks normally cost around THB 700 (GBP 10) per night, even in the top-class hotels.
The total cost of the trip is estimated at GBP 2,380 for 2 people (GBP 1,190 each), made up as follows:
International flights - GBP 951
Domestic flights - GBP 177
Car hire - GBP 95
Hotels & meals - GBP 451
Guiding - GBP 501
Boat transport GBP 106
Fuel & incidentals (est.) - GBP 100
Accommodation and food
We stayed at the following places (all prices per double room including breakfast):
We booked 4 nights (11.04.04 - 14.04.04) through www.ethailandhotels.com at a cost of USD 89 (GBP 49) per night. However, when I e-mailed them to say I wanted to extend this stay by a further night, I failed to get a response, so I booked the night of 15.04.04 at a cost of USD 92 (GBP 51) through Wired Destinations (e-mail email@example.com, website www.wireddestinations.com) who were very helpful and efficient.
Hotels in Southern Thailand are undoubtedly more expensive than elsewhere in the country, but this was still pretty good value for an extremely nice and comfortable hotel. The facilities there including large pool, sun terrace, spa, restaurants, bars etc were more than adequate to keep non-birders like Sara happy, and it was a struggle to get her away from here at the end of our stay. The restaurant was excellent, and very good value, with two of us able to eat well, with cocktails, for about THB 700 (GBP 10) per night.
Staying here was very convenient for Krabi itself, but meant having to commute to KNC. However, this only took about an hour each way, which was not too bad at all.
If you would prefer to stay locally, there seems to be choice of two places. Most birders have traditionally stayed at the Morakot Resort, and it seems to get very good reviews. Air-conditioned rooms are apparently THB 400 (GBP 6) per night, and they are well used to catering for birder. They can be contacted by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, a new place called Mallee's has opened almost next door. I have little information, although the rooms are certainly not air-conditioned. Bookings can be made by e-mail to email@example.com
We booked this through Chan Phen Travel at a cost of THB 2,500 (GBP 35). This was not particularly cheap, however it was the height of the Songkran Festival, so we were pretty lucky to get in at all.
We also kept our room at the Maritime while we were away at Phi Phi Don. This was partly because we'd already booked and paid for the room before deciding to do the Phi Phi trip, and partly because we thought it would be a good idea to have somewhere secure to leave the car, luggage, so as not to have to take it all over with us.
Maritime Park & Spa Resort, Krabi
Maritime Park & Spa Resort, Krabi
Maritime Park & Spa Resort, Krabi
Booked through Asia Bookings (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, website www.asiabookings.net) at the ridiculously low price of USD 31 (GBP 17) per night. This was a stunning, top quality hotel, absolutely luxurious, and a total steal at this price - can't recommend it highly enough.
Asia Bookings also arranged for us to be collected from Bangkok airport and taken to the hotel, for a cost of USD 8 (GBP 4.40) per person, which avoided any hassle with taxis etc
This was booked for us by Nature Trails as part of the Khao Yai package they put together for us. The best deal I found privately on the net was THB 1,700 (GBP 24) through http://www.thailand-hotel-reservation.com/
Very comfortable rooms, nice gardens with pool, and handily located just a few minutes drive from the entrance to Khao Yai National Park.
Juldis Khao Yai Resort.
Twin Towers Hotel, Bangkok
Minimal. Be careful with your speed while driving as traffic police are apparently widespread and keen. We passed through a few roadblocks, but were just waved through. Be aware that a departure tax of THB 500 per head is payable in cash on departure - check in first, then pay the tax at the booth near passport control before proceeding to the departure lounge.
One last warning - don't even think about messing about with drugs of any kind in Thailand - there is a total zero-tolerance policy in effect including use of the death penalty. To that end, be especially careful not to leave your bags unattended at the airport.
Basically very hot and humid throughout. We had a brief but heavy downpour one lunchtime at KNC, and heavy thunderstorms were quite common after dark at Krabi, but nothing that interfered with the birding. Too hot for me, really, but Sara liked it!
Health, safety & annoyances
Before visiting we made sure we were up to date with the usual jabs - tetanus, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and diphtheria. There were some reports of malaria having been reported at KNC, but as I usually suffer annoying side-effects from anti-malarials such as sickness, I decided to take my chances, and concentrate instead on not getting bitten, which worked pretty well.
Mozzies were not too much of a problem - there were a few around, especially at Phi Phi Don, but elsewhere as well, but not too bad. I saw no leeches whatsoever, despite spending several hours at a time sitting still at KNC and Khai Yai, which was a relief!
Otherwise, we had very few problems, and felt safe throughout. The day before we travelled there were warnings of imminent terrorist action in the south centred on the Songkran festival, with rumours of an attack planned on a tourist area. However, I was reassured by several Thai-based birders that any such problems were very unlikely to occur outside the mainly Muslim provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat in the extreme south of the province. Recurring problems in these areas had already meant that the reserve of Hala Bala had been temporarily closed, but there were no incidents in the areas I visited, which were some way to the north.
Thailand is fortunate in having 2 excellent field guides available, namely:
A Field Guide to the birds of Thailand - Craig Robson
A guide to the birds of Thailand - Boonsong Lekagul & Philip Round
I took both, and found them both useful, but you won't go far wrong with either one on it's own. Other books taken along included:
A field guide to the birds of West Malaysia and Singapore - Allen Jeyarajasingam and Alan Pearson
Where to watch birds in Asia - Nigel Wheatley - good background info, which formed the basis of planning the trip
Thailand - Lonely Planet
Birds of Tropical Asia 2 - Jelle Scharringa
The bird sounds of Sri Lanka part 2 - Deepal Warakagoda
Birdsongs of Nepal - Scott Connop
Birdsongs of the Himalayas - Scott Connop
There were other recordings, available, e.g. by Tony Ball, but I already had recordings for most of these species on the Scharringa CD-Rom
These were primarily obtained from the usual sources:
Urs Geiser - http://matrix.crosswinds.net/~birdtrips/TripReports.html (now quite dated)
John Girdley's Birdtours site - http://www.birdtours.co.uk/
Surfbirds - http://www.surfbirds.com/Trip Reports/trindex.html
A few others were purchased from Steve Whitehouse's FBRIS service.
Thailand - 26.11.02 - 17.12.02 - Christoph Moning
Thailand - 30.10.97 - 07.11.97, 14.01.99 - 22.01.99 - Chris Gooddie
Thailand & Malaysia - 16.04.00 - 02.05.00 - Chris Gooddie
Thailand - 28.03.03 - 15.04.03 - Justin Jansen
Thailand - 02.07.98 - 26.07.98 - Susan Myers
Central & Northern Thailand - 07.11.99 - 18.11.99 - Stephen Mawby
Thailand - December 1998 - January 1999 - Mike Hunter
Thailand - 15.01.00 - 04.02.00 - Roger Ahlman
Southern Thailand - 01.03.01 - 29.03.01 - Nick Ransdale
Thailand - 29.01.02 - 27.02.02 - Nick Ransdale
Thailand - 18.07.97 - 21.08.97 - Thor Veen
Khao Nor Chuchi, Krabi and Kaenkrachan - 30.04.01 - 07.05.01 - Peter Ericsson
Thailand - 05.02.01 - 22.02.01 - Barry Cooper & Gail Mackiernan
Southern Thailand - 04.03.01 - 15.03.01 - Paul Bamford
Gurney's Pitta Trip report - May 1999 - Dion Hobcroft
Thailand - 15.04.01 - 01.05.01 - Garry George
Southern Thailand - 12.04.01 - 17.04.01 - Graham Talbot
Southern Thailand - 07.11.99 - 23.11.99 - Anders Hangård
Southern Thailand - 02.06.02 - 17.06.02 - Gareth Watkins
Southern Thailand - 25.11.00 - 12.12.00 - David Kelly
Southern Thailand - 05.04.02 - 16.04.02 - Mark Dennis
Thailand - 11.03.95 - 31.03.95 - Mark Welfare
Thailand - 19.03.92 - 04.04.92, 10.02.99 - 07.03.99 & 28.05.99 - 06.06.99 - David Cooper
Thailand - 15.12.96 - 04.01.97 - Aidan Kelly
Thailand - 28.10.00 - 14.01.01, 11.03.01 - 19.03.01 - Phil Benstead
Northern & Peninsular Thailand - 16.04.00 - 30.04.00 - Stephen Mawby
http://www.athailand.com/cgi-bin/AthMfShow/Show03a.pl?P=i&M=Krabi very useful on-line map which shows all the main sites. Can also navigate around to other parts of Thailand
Worldtwitch Thailand - http://worldtwitch.virtualave.net/thailand_bird_reports.htm
World Travel Map - Thailand - Bartholomew - 1:1,500,000. Barely adequate for general route-finding, but not much use for finding the main birding sites
Sites visited were as follows:
Arrive Bangkok. Fly to Phuket. Drive to Krabi via Phang Nga mangroves
Morning - longtail trip to Krabi mangroves with Mr Dai
Afternoon - ferry to Phi Phi Don, longtail boat trip to visit evening frigatebird roost at Ko Bida Noy
Morning - ferry back to Krabi, rest of morning lazing around hotel
Afternoon - longtail trip to Krabi mudflats with Mr Dai
Khao Nor Chuchi
Khao Nor Chuchi
Drive to Thab Lamu, day trip to Mu Ko Similan. Drive to Phuket, fly to Bangkok
Drive to Khao Yai via Wat Prabuddhabaht Noi. Rest of day birding Khao Yai
Morning - Khao Yai
Afternoon - drive back to Bangkok, rest of afternoon lazing around hotel
Day trip to Petchburi province - Lam Luang, Laem Pakbia, Ban Laem, Tung Kret, Amphawa. Return to Bangkok, evening flight home
Details of these sites are given in the Daily Account section.
Sunday 11 April 2004
We arrived in Phuket after a long but comfortable journey. The five hour stop-over at Bahrain had been made much more bearable by the fact that we somehow managed to talk our way into the Gulf Air Executive Lounge, and spent our time relaxing in air-conditioned comfort, having complimentary food and drink brought to us! On arrival at Bangkok, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the fact that we were flying Business Class to Phuket meant that we were entitled to use their lounge as well, so we were feeling a little tired but extremely pampered by the time we got to Phuket.
We collected our hire car and set off on the 2.5 hours drive to Krabi, but we stopped on the way at Phang Nga for some introductory birding. This is an apparently easy and reliable site for Mangrove Pitta, and I certainly found one of these birds very easily here thanks to Kingsley's excellent directions. To reach the site, take route 402 north from Phuket, turning right onto Route 4 at Ban Khok Kloi. After about 30 km from this junction, look out for a minor road (Route 4144) to the right towards Tha Dan. (If you reach the right hand turning on Route 415 to Phang Nga, you have gone about 2 km too far). After 2 km along Route 4144, turn left into the park.
From here, follow the road as far as you can, dog-legging to the right shortly after the entrance. Park in the car park at the end, and take the new boardwalk off to the left. Go as far as the first corner, where it widens out into a viewing platform, and scan the trees and bushes. A quick burst on the tape should bring one in very quickly, but don't over-use this - they were quite prominent even without tape, and I got very clear views of one calling bird.
This site looked good for other mangrove birds - there were several calling Brown-winged Kingfishers flying around - but mid-afternoon was probably not the best time to visit, and I was hot and pretty tired after the long flight, so we didn't stay here long.
From here, we headed back to Route 4, and continued on our way to Krabi. The best way to find the Maritime Hotel and Chan Phen Travel is to take the bypass around the northern edge of town, until you are almost past the town. Then you should see Route 411 signposted to Krabi to the right - this road takes you along the right hand edge of the river. The Maritime is about 2 km from this junction, on the left hand side, with Chan Phen on the right another 2 km or so along (next to Bangkok Bank) - look out for it or ask as soon as you hit the rows of shops etc on the right. There is a good map on page 10 of the Budget World Class Drives document. Note that if you return from town to the Maritime, you have to pass the hotel on the dual carriageway, and make a U-turn at the next turning to approach it from the north. It was already getting dark by the time we got to the hotel, so we crashed out for the night, ready for an early start the next morning.
Phang Nga - Brown-winged Kingfisher, Mangrove Pitta
Monday 12 April 2004
I had arranged through Chan Phen Travel to do a mangrove longtail trip with Mr Dai this morning. I met up with Mr Dai and 2 other birders who would be sharing the trip at 07:00, and we headed up-river. It wasn't long before I'd seen my first lifer, a small group of Grey-rumped Treeswifts perched in a bare tree, and several Brown-winged Kingfishers were also seen. At this point, a Mangrove Pitta started calling, and as we stopped for Mr Dai to try to call it out, a Black-and-red Broadbill also called. Unfortunately, neither put in an appearance, so we eventually moved on. A Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker was seen, before we stopped again, this time because a Ruddy Kingfisher was calling. It seemed to be very nearby, and was calling persistently, but completely refused to show itself, despite our trying for about 20 minutes,
We eventually gave up and moved off, only for it to fly across the channel, right in front of the boat, giving very good although brief flight views. Ashy Tailorbird and Black-capped Kingfisher were also seen here. Mangrove Pittas were calling all around us, and we eventually managed to see one in flight, before Mr Dai spotted one feeding at the base of a mangrove, which showed well.
Having finally tracked down the pitta, we moved on to a spot beneath a large limestone outcrop where Oriental Hobby had been regularly seen recently. We had no luck initially, seeing just Dusky Crag Martin, but before long an Oriental Hobby was picked out circling overhead, which was very satisfying. A Green-billed Malkoha also skulked through the bushes here.
Unfortunately, the tide was wrong for us to be able to get into the best area for Mangrove Whistler and Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, both of which are difficult here, so we decided to call it a day, and I headed back for the hotel, having arranged to meet Mr Dai again tomorrow afternoon.
We enjoyed a few hours around the hotel, before catching a taxi (arranged by the hotel - THB 200, GBP 3) to the ferry terminal, to catch our ferry to the Ko Phi Phi Islands. The journey was fairly uneventful - a few terns were seen, but it was too rough and the boat travelling too quickly to get a good enough view to identify them, although a Pacific Reef-Egret was seen as we left Krabi. We arrived at Phi Phi Don a little early, at around 16:00, and found a group of c. 30 Black-naped Terns on some exposed rocks, on the entrance to Ton Sai Bay, although the views were again disappointing.
There was a complimentary longtail waiting at Ton Sai Beach (Ao Ton Sai) to take us to our hotel, which was a short way back down the bay shore. By now it was 16:30, and I was anxious to be on my way to the evening frigatebird roost at Ko Bida Noy, so I left Sara to check in, and wandered down the beach to find a longtail.
It didn't take long to find a boatman who knew where to go - you basically need to head for the smaller island of Phi Phi Leh, and then head directly behind it to the small islet of Ko Bida Noy. The birds first appear at c. 17:30, and can be seen over Ko Bida Noy itself, or from the stretch of sea between there and Phi Phi Leh.
We were early, so the boatman first took me for a tour around the uninhabited island of Phi Phi Leh - an amazing sight, with sheer limestone cliffs plunging straight into the sea. There is a very shallow enclosed inlet, into which he took me, which is stunning - the water is very shallow here, and a beautiful green colour. Pied Imperial-Pigeon and White-bellied Sea-Eagle were seen flying around in this area.
We then moved on to Ko Bida Noy, and it didn't take long before I started seeing frigatebirds. Most of the birds were very high, and the movement of the boat made identifying them to species level very difficult, but as it got later a few came much lower, and I was eventually able to identify a few of the larger Christmas Island Frigatebirds among the much more numerous Lesser Frigatebirds. The best technique was to ask the boatman to turn off his engine, and lie flat on my back on the deck, staring up into the sky - this minimised the vibration and rolling effect.
Having got good views of both species, we headed back to Phi Phi Don. On the return journey, I asked him to call via the rocks where I'd seen the terns on the way in, but someone was fishing from the rocks, and the birds had moved off.
Krabi Mangroves - Brown-winged Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Pacific Swift, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Common Sandpiper, Oriental Hobby, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mangrove Pitta, Black-and-red Broadbill (h), Common Myna, Dusky Crag-Martin, Ashy Tailorbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Krabi - Phi Phi Don - Pacific Reef-Egret
Phi Phi Don - Pied Imperial-Pigeon, Black-naped Tern
Phi Phi Leh - Pied Imperial-Pigeon, White-bellied Fish-Eagle
Ko Bida Noy - Lesser Frigatebird, Christmas Island Frigatebird
Tuesday 13 April 2004
So, a flying visit to Ko Phi Phi, but a very successful one, with all three target birds seen without difficulty. Some birding around the hotel produced some Black-nest Swiftlets and a Pacific Reef-Egret, then, rather than waiting for the complimentary hotel longtail, I asked one of the local boatmen to take us back to Ao Ton Sai, again via the tern rocks (THB 100, c. GBP 1.50). This time the birds were back and I enjoyed excellent views of c. 30 Black-naped Terns, before heading for our ferry.
We got back to the hotel by taxi (THB 200, same as the outward trip) by about 11:30, and had lunch, before Sara went off to relax by the pool while I drove into town to meet Mr Dai for another boat trip, this time around the mudflats in the estuary, where I hoped to find Chinese Egret and Nordmann's Greenshank. While waiting for Mr Dai, I got a couple of soakings from passing Songkran revellers - very welcome in the extreme heat!
The tide was still coming in when we left, but most of the sand bars were already submerged. Mr Dai took me first to an area of exposed sand on the right hand side of the estuary, where many birds were roosting. I waded ashore, stunned by how hot the water was, and scoped the birds. Lots of waders, including many Terek Sandpipers and Lesser Sand Plovers among the more familiar shorebirds. Some Common and Crested Terns also roosted here. I turned to walk back to the boat, to find myself separated from it by 100 metres of water that hadn't been there just 10 minutes earlier! - luckily the water was very shallow so wading back was no problem.
Having struck out here, Mr Dai decided to try another sand spit on the other side (the left hand side heading from town), stopping once on the way for a Pacific Reef-Egret perched on one of the fishing net poles. As we approached the sand bank, I could see a white egret feeding in the shallows, so I jumped off the boat and stood, up to my waist in water, scoping the bird - very surreal! To my delight, it proved to be an unmistakeable Chinese Egret, coming into summer plumage, complete with plumes, colourful bill and eccentric feeding action.
Having satisfied myself with this bird, I turned my attention to the group of shorebirds on the end of the sand bank itself, and immediately noticed two large, pale waders - a pair of Nordmann's Greenshank. I was quite surprised how distinctive these birds were - wading towards them from the sea didn't seem to bother them at all, and I got very good scope views noting all the key plumage characters, including the bicoloured bill, pale plumage and short yellow legs. Also notable here were several March Sandpipers and Kentish Plovers.
That was mission accomplished, and after 3 hours in the boat I was feeling a little sunburned, so I asked Mr Dai to return to shore, and returned to the hotel to relax for the rest of the afternoon.
Phi Phi Don - Black-nest Swiftlet, Black-naped Tern, Pacific Reef-Egret
Krabi Mudflats - Pacific Swift, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Swift Tern, Common Tern, Chinese Egret, Pacific Reef-Egret
Wednesday 14 April 2004
Today was a day I've been looking forward to my whole birding life. Today, I hoped to see Gurney's Pitta, one of the most famous and sought-after birds in the world. To say I was both excited and nervous as I left the hotel would be a massive understatement, especially as I only had two days available to try to see it - my mind was awash with all those stories of people looking for a week, with no success. Fortunately, I had the assistance of local expert Yotin Meekaeo, as well as reports that a pair had been giving very good views recently, so I was quietly optimistic.
My first challenge was to find my way to the reserve in the dark! The road to KNC seems to be greatly improved compared with the muddy track which existed until recently. To get here from Krabi, take Route 4 south to the town of Khlong Thom (40 km). In the middle of the town, look for a turning to the left (Route 4038), just after a petrol station. After a very short distance (my car's odometer suggested 300 metres, but others have said just 100 metres), where Route 4038 bends to the left, look for a junction on your right, with a dirt road going straight ahead, and a tar road going off to the right. Take the tar road. Stay on this road for 9 km, then turn right at a crossroads. After 3.2 km, the tar road turns into a dirt road - the Morakot Resort is 4 km further along this track.
The whole way is now quite prominently signposted - look for signs to Crystal Pool (which I think refers to the hot springs just beyond the Morakot Resort) and Khao Pra Bang Khram. I found it quite easy to find even in the dark by following these signs - there is even a sign on the main road between Krabi and Khlong Thom. The journey from Krabi to KNC took just over an hour, departing at 04:45 - hardly any traffic.
I met up with Yotin at the Morakot at 06:00, when it was still dark, and we drive straight to the start of Trail U and parked. We walked into the woods along a narrow trail (quite tough going in the dark) and soon reached Yotin's favoured spot. He set up his hide looking down a "trail" into a narrow gully, and we were sitting quietly in location when dawn broke at about 06:30. A female Siberian Blue Robin put in appearance at the bottom of the gully, and I was watching this when Yotin hissed "female Gurney's, just off the edge of the trail". I lifted the bins, and there it was, in the open, no more than 10 metres away! And it was still only 06:45!!! The bird proceeded to give fantastic views, feeding in the open for at least 20 minutes, tossing over dry leaves in search of food. To say that I was elated wouldn't come close to describing the feeling of excitement and relief coursing through me - a pure adrenalin rush.
The male also gave a very fleeting appearance at the back of the gully, but I didn't really get anything on it. We stayed in place until about 08:00, hoping that the male might show better, but there was no further sign of it, although the female appeared several times during our wait. Eventually, when Yotin felt that she had moved some way away, we beat a retreat, taking the hide with us. I am absolutely convinced that this is by far the best way for birders to see this magical bird without causing any more disturbance than necessary. I saw absolutely no evidence of artificial feeding of the bird - it seemed to be feeding completely naturally, and also seemed completely oblivious to our presence throughout. It goes without saying that you need to remain perfectly still and quiet throughout, though as Chris Gooddie has previously commented, I wouldn't have believed that it was possible to do this under the circumstances!
Having scored so comprehensively within the first couple of hours, we wandered back along Trail U, to see what we could find. Inevitably in a forest as thick and luxuriant as this, more birds were heard than seen, including Plaintive Cuckoo, Little Spiderhunter, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Large Wren-Babbler. We did manage to get good views of Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-capped Babbler, Drongo Cuckoo, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Purple-naped Sunbird, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Emerald Dove and Black-naped Monarch.
Nearer the main road, Dark-necked Tailorbird was heard, and we both heard and then managed to see a Red-crowned Barbet, as well as Puff-backed Bulbul and a Crested Goshawk overhead. The Large Wren-Babbler was still calling nearby, so Yotin decided to get off the trail a short way and sit down in the hope it would put in an appearance. We enjoyed good views of both Scaly-crowned and Rufous-crowned Babbler over the next 30 minutes, and suddenly there it was - a cracking Large Wren-Babbler right out in the open, and giving great views. I was already rapidly coming to the conclusion that sitting quietly waiting for the birds to come to us was a much better tactic than chasing up and down the trails trying to find birds!
We got back to the car, drove up the road a short way, and took a walk, adding Crested Serpent Eagle, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Ochraceus Bulbul and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird to our list, but it was now late morning and bird activity had quietened down considerably, so we took an extended lunch-break, Yotin to his stall by the Crystal Pool (check it out - great T-shirts!), and me to the nearby Mallee's restaurant for some lunch and lots of cold drinks.
We met up again at 14:00, and drove back along the main road, past the entrance to Trail U, and took a small un-named trail off to the right into the forest. This followed a small stream bed, and eventually reached a spot where the stream widened to form some shallow pools, which could be overlooked from a the hillside above. Yotin said that this was a good place to bird in the afternoon, as the birds came down to the water to drink. He certainly wasn't wrong!
We spent about an hour at this spot, sitting quietly and watching the pools and the scrub behind, and in this time recorded Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green Broadbill, Ferruginous Babbler, Black-crested, Buff-vented, Grey-bellied and Streaked Bulbul, as well as several species seen previously today. Both Gold-whiskered and Red-throated Barbet were heard calling further away. Most intriguingly, however, Yotin got an extremely brief view of a Black-and-white Bulbul, a rare bird in this area, but frustratingly it didn't reappear.
We eventually wandered further along the path, finding a Rufous-backed Kingfisher perched out on a small branch over a pool in the river. A Streak-breasted Woodpecker was seen a little further along, before we settled down on a dead log to look for our main target here, Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, which eventually put in an appearance and showed well, Puff-throated Babbler called nearby, and Scaly-crowned Babbler and Asian Paradise Flycatcher were also seen.
With dusk approaching we returned to the road, seeing another Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher en route, and tried a stakeout for Streaked Wren-Babbler. The bird called a few times, and seemed to be responding to Yotin's minidisc, but unfortunately never showed, while both Black-and-yellow and Banded Broadbill called in the distance. A really great day's birding.
Khao Nor Chuchi - Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Gold-whiskered Barbet (h), Red-crowned Barbet, Red-throated Barbet (h), Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Plaintive Cuckoo (h), Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Germain's Swiftlet, Whiskered Treeswift, Emerald Dove, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Gurney's Pitta, Banded Broadbill (h), Black-and-yellow Broadbill (h), Green Broadbill, Asian Fairy-bluebird (h), Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher (h), Siberian Blue Robin, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, Red-eyed Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Buff-vented Bulbul, Streaked Bulbul, Dark-necked Tailorbird (h), Arctic Warbler, Ferruginous Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler (h), Black-capped Babbler, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Large Wren-Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler (h), Chestnut-winged Babbler (h), Striped Tit-Babbler (h), Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Purple-naped Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter (h)
Thursday 15 April 2004
I returned to KNC today in the company of John Bennett, who had accompanied me on the longtail trip to Krabi mangroves on 12.4.04. He was obviously keen to see Gurney's as well, and even more so after I'd told him about yesterday's experience, so after meeting Yotin, we headed for the same spot along Trail U as yesterday, and were again in position by 06:30.
Unfortunately, the Gurney's weren't initially as obliging as yesterday, and by 08:15 there had been so sign. By this time, Yotin had wandered further along Trail U to see if he could see them, saying that he'd whistle if one was seen heading our way. As we were anxiously peering into the undergrowth we heard Yotin whistle, and a few seconds later, I saw a flash of yellow down in the gully at the back. A few seconds later, we were enjoying crippling views of a male Gurney's Pitta, feeding right out in the open, perhaps 20 metres away. While this was still in sight, the female appeared, in almost exactly the same place as yesterday, and both showed very well for about the next 20 minutes. Absolutely fantastic!
We waited until they had moved away, then Yotin quickly packed up the hide and we left, walking back along Trail U. We had hoped to try to see Banded Pitta this morning, so we headed next for a stakeout for this bird on the other side of Trail U, nearer the road. Despite nearly an hour's wait, there was sadly no sign of it - it wasn't calling, and Yotin said he couldn't use the tape at this spot, as it was too near the Gurney's territory, and they often reacted to Banded Pitta recordings - any risk of disturbance to these birds was obviously out of the question. We did see Abbott's Babbler, Green-billed Malkoha and Little Spiderhunter while we were waiting, and heard Great Iora singing.
Shortly before reaching the road, Yotin took us on another detour into the forest, to a nesting pair of Red-throated Barbet, and we got great views from a distance of these birds visiting the nest hole. Buff-vented Bulbul was also seen here, while back at the car an Asian Paradise Flycatcher was quickly followed by a very good bird, a Grey-breasted Spiderhunter which flew over the road, and landed on a branch. This was swiftly followed by Great Iora and Ochraceous Bulbul, with Germain's Swiftlet overhead, before it was time to break for lunch.
After a leisurely lunch break we met up again this afternoon, and went first to another barbet nest site, this time a Red-crowned Barbet, which was seen very well. From here, we went to try another site for Banded Pitta, but despite hearing it calling, and spending quite some time sitting quietly, there was no sign of it. In fact birds were very few and far between in the early afternoon - Greater Green Leafbird and Drongo Cuckoo were also heard but not seen, but these were very quickly forgotten when Yotin's friend reported that he has seen a Hooded Pitta nearby, and we set off in pursuit.
The chances of seeing it in the thick fern-like vegetation seemed impossible, but after only about 5 minutes it flushed and to our disbelief landed in an open patch of ground, where it gave excellent views, a really beautiful bird.
We ended up back at the road, and walked some way along, entering a cleared area of forest. Buff-rumped Woodpecker and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird were both calling but neither could be tracked down, but we managed to find a calling Indian Cuckoo, and a couple of Silver-rumped Spinetails flew overhead. Driving a little further along we came to a completely cleared area, which looked like a coffee plantation.
This was a stakeout for Black-thighed Falconet, which was duly seen at the top of a bare tree, with a Gold-whiskered Barbet nearby. Greater Coucal, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Oriental Magpie-Robin were seen around the plantation, and we eventually managed to track down a calling Yellow-bellied Prinia. An Emerald Dove flew in and a Brown-backed Needletail glided overhead as dusk fell and it started raining to put an end to another excellent day's birding.
Khao Nor Chuchi - Buff-rumped Woodpecker (h), Gold-whiskered Barbet, Red-crowned Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Indian Cuckoo, Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Germain's Swiftlet, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Brown-backed Needletail, Emerald Dove, Black-thighed Falconet, Banded Pitta (h), Gurney's Pitta, Hooded Pitta, Greater Green Leafbird (h), Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Great Iora, Siberian Blue Robin, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Buff-vented Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird (h), Arctic Warbler, Abbott's Babbler, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (h), Little Spiderhunter, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter
Friday, 16 April 2004
Our last day in the south, and we were to spend it on a leisurely boat trip to the beautiful Similan islands (Mu Ko Similan). The boat left from Thab Lamu at 08:30, so we made a very early start from Krabi to make sure of getting there on time. Unfortunately, I couldn't find either our road map or the Budget World Class Drives map, so we had to guess our way there, which basically meant driving back the way we had come from Phuket, then turning right on reaching Ban Khok Kloi. The journey took about 2.5 hours, but when I eventually found the map, we saw that we could have reduced this greatly by turning right onto Route 4090 after the town of Thap Phut, towards Takua Pa, then onto Route 4240 to Ban Thung Maphrao. This would have brought us to coastal Route 4 a few km south of Thab Lamu, and would have cut about 40 km off the driving distance!
No matter, we arrived there safely with time to spare, parked the car in the guarded car parking area opposite Met Sine's offices, checked in, and had a cold drink, before making our way to the boat. The only target bird for today would be Nicobar Pigeon, which in the Similans is restricted to Island No. 4 (Ko Miang), possibly the most convenient and easy place in the world to see this enigmatic bird. The tour, which primarily caters for scuba divers and snorkellers, would firstly be arriving at Island No. 8 at c. 10:30, where it would stay until 13:00, including a picnic lunch. It was then due to visit Ko Miang, arriving at 14:00, where it would stay for an hour (hopefully enough for the pigeon!), before returning to Thab Lamu by 17:00.
As we were listening to the rep giving the introductory speech, however, it became apparent that something had gone wrong - there was no talk of a stop-over at Ko Miang, only a brief visit to pick up some returning tourists. Panic time! I went to speak with the rep, explaining that I was here solely to see the pigeon, and she explained that we had got on the wrong boat - we should have gone on the speedboat, which allowed time ashore at Ko Miang. She was very sympathetic, and seemed to know about the pigeon and its distribution, and said she would try to get us switched to the speedboat when we got to No. 8.
The Similans are absolutely stunning - thick forest growing straight on white sand, shallow warm seas - absolutely idyllic and we really enjoyed our few hours lazing around on No. 8. I even put down my bins for a while and went swimming - unheard of! Soon enough the rep came over, smiling - everything was sorted for us to go on the speedboat - the office had realised the mistake after we had gone, and the other rep had been looking out for us - very helpful and efficient.
So, at 13:30, we boarded the speedboat and headed off to Ko Miang, the most central and busiest of the Similans and the one on which the main government-run tourist camp is located. I only had an hour to try to see the pigeon, at the worst time of day, so I was anxious to maximise my time here, getting off the boat and heading up the beach before anyone else had gathered their belongings together.
I needn't have worried - less than 10 minutes later, I found a pair of Nicobar Pigeons sunbathing on the ground within the main compound, just to the right of the restaurant, and got fantastic views for about a quarter of an hour. They apparently often feed around the garbage cans behind the back of the restaurant but, being Songkran, it was extremely busy here, and the birds soon flew off into the forest. I wandered around for a while, hoping for more views, but didn't find any others, although I got best-yet views of a lovely Pied Imperial Pigeon, before crashing out in the beach to wait for the boat back to Thab Lamu.
We dropped the vehicle back at Budget at Phuket without any problems, and boarded our flight back to Bangkok, having first taken full advantage of the free food and drink in the Executive Lounge. We had arranged through Asia Bookings for transport from Bangkok Airport to our hotel, and were promptly met on arrival. We'd expected some sort of shuttle bus, so we were a little taken aback to be taken to a luxurious air-conditioned limo, for the trip to our posh (but very cheap) hotel for the night. This was turning into a ridiculously opulent trip, and was setting a very dangerous precedent for future trips, as Sara was quick to point out to me!!
Ko Miang (Mu Ko Similan) - Nicobar Pigeon, Pied Imperial-Pigeon
Saturday 17 April 2004
Ik, our guide for the nest few days, met us at 06:00 at our hotel, and we headed off towards Khao Yai, where we would spend the next two nights. I had already indicated to Patcharee that I was keen to look for Limestone Wren-Babbler, so I was expecting to visit the famous stakeout at Wat Tampraprotisat en route to Khao Yai. But no, Ik took me instead to a different site called Wat Prabuddhabaht Noi, which he said was a new, easy and reliable site for this bird.
To get here head from Bangkok to Saraburi, but bypass the town as far as the Pu Kae junction. Make a u-turn here, and head back towards Saraburi for about 1-2 km, then take a small road to the left. Keep on this road for c. 10 km then, take a small left hand turn into the temple grounds. Do not confuse Wat Prabuddhabaht Noi with the similarly named Wat Prabuddhabaht temple, also located near Saraburi, if you have to ask for directions.
We arrived at the temple, which is located on a flat piece of ground, with a limestone hill rising up behind it. This is the spot for the wren-babbler. We initially walked up the wide steps to the shrine at the top, scanning the limestone boulders on either side, but with no luck. We then walked back down and wandered along the right side of the hill (as you face it), and connected immediately, with Ik locating a Limestone Wren-Babbler feeding around the base of a tree no more than 15 metres away.
The bird was of the highly localised rufous race calcicola which is endemic to Saraburi province, and gave brilliant news. It had taken less than 10 minutes from arrival to find this bird, so this does indeed seem a very reliable new spot for this special bird. Don't forget, however, that this is a temple, so behave respectfully and keep the noise down, and needless to say don't go clambering over the limestone slope disturbing the bird - there really is no need.
Having enjoyed the wren-babbler, we moved swiftly on, seeing Sooty-headed Bulbul, Bronzed Drongo and Greater Coucal around the car before leaving. From here it was straight to Pak Chong where we checked into our hotel, left Sara by the pool, and headed off to the Khao Yai National Park (entrance fee THB 200 - GBP 3). I wasn't sure what to expect here - I knew it wasn't the best time of year to visit, and that many wintering species would be absent, but there were still plenty of birds around.
We stopped first at the km 33 trail, and walked along the trail on the right hand side of the road. We saw some White-crested Laughingthrushes and a Greater Yellownape, and heard a White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, but couldn't see it, although it didn't seem to be too far away. A few more White-crested Laughingthrushes showed up before we found a very nice Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, a new species for me.
The trail continued to wind through quite thick woods, before entering a more open area with bushes - here we found Striped Tit-Babbler, Blue-winged Leafbird, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Little Spiderhunter and Dollarbird, and heard Grey-eyed Bulbul and Green-eared Barbet.
From here we returned to the road, and carried on towards the Park HQ building. We parked on the right, and walked over to the left down to a chalet area, getting brief but untickable views of Moustached Barbet, as well as Red-throated Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama and Large-billed Crow. The area behind the chalets to the right was a very reliable stakeout for both Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo and Rufous-tailed Robin earlier in the year, but the wintering robin had since left and the ground-cuckoo had become much more elusive in recent weeks.
Sure enough, the cuckoo failed to show and we had to satisfy ourselves with White-bellied Yuhina, Abbott's Babbler, Puff-throated Bulbul, Black-naped Monarch and Fairy Bluebird. We eventually returned to the HQ for lunch, then drove up to the old motor lodge area, where we found Indian Roller and Hill Myna, several Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Plain-backed Sparrow, Paddyfield Pipit and Red-whiskered Bulbul.
We continued along the road towards Prachin Buri, then turned left on the road towards Khao Khieo (also known as Radar Road). The first kilometre of this road is a well-known stakeout for Siamese Fireback, but mid-afternoon was not the best time to look for this bird. The road climbed up to a radar station at the top of the hill - a Blue-bearded Bee-eater was seen perched out on a roadside telegraph around the hairpin just below the summit, and several Asian Palm Swifts were circling overhead.
Time to return to the lodge, seeing Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Red Junglefowl and Emerald Dove en route, and making a couple of impromptu stops for groups of Indian Elephants in the middle of the road!
Wat Prabuddhabaht Noi - Greater Coucal, Bronzed Drongo, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Limestone Wren-Babbler
Khao Yai - Red Junglefowl, Greater Yellownape, Green-eared Barbet (h), Moustached Barbet, Indian Roller, Dollarbird, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Asian Palm-Swift, Emerald Dove, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Large-billed Crow, Black-naped Monarch, Red-throated Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Hill Myna, Eurasian Swallow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Grey-eyed Bulbul (h), White-crested Laughingthrush, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Abbott's Babbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler (h), Striped Tit-Babbler, White-bellied Yuhina, Little Spiderhunter, Plain-backed Sparrow, Paddyfield Pipit
Sunday 18 April 2004
We started today just outside the park at dawn, birding the scrub along the entrance road, which produced Greater Coucal, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Ashy Woodswallow and Indian Roller. As soon as the park opened (opening hours 06:00 - 21:00), we returned to Radar Road hoping to see some pheasants. Siamese Fireback can be tricky here, but we had only been there for about 10 minutes when a group of three birds leisurely crossed the road about 100 metres away. A few minutes later, another bird wandered into the road, but this time it was a fabulous male Silver Pheasant!
Fairy Bluebird, Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dollarbird, Moustached Barbet and Puff-throated Bulbul were seen here, while White-rumped Shama, Abbott's Babbler and White-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler were heard. We walked slowly back towards the junction with the Prachin Buri road in the hope of closer views of the firebacks, but they seemed to have moved through, although Grey-eyed Bulbul, Indochinese Cuckooshrike and Puff-throated Babbler were seen here.
Returning to the car, Ik glimpsed a bird moving along the floor deeper into the forest. We went in after it, and eventually managed to get a look at the birds - a pair of Scaly-breasted Partridges, a most unexpected bonus. Back on the road, Ik scoped a perched Red-headed Trogon, before two more Siamese Firebacks wandered out onto the roadside, this time no more than 30 metres away. The male stayed on the road for quite a while, giving outstanding views. Emerald Dove, Crested Serpent Eagle, Puff-throated Bulbul and Scarlet Minivet were also seen here, before a Great Hornbill flew overhead.
Returning to the motor lodge area, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-rumped Shama, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Hill Myna, Black-crested and Black-headed Bulbul were all seen here, or en route to the HQ, where we saw Green-eared Barbet, Red-throated Flycatcher. Another spell around the chalets failed to produce Goral-billed Ground-Cuckoo, but we did see Red Junglefowl, Puff-throated Bulbul, Fairy Bluebird and Crested Serpent Eagle.
We decided to try the famous Trail 6 for the ground-cuckoo, and our hopes were raised when we met a Thai couple who had seen a bird about 300 metres along here about an hour earlier. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, and indeed they were the only birders we met during our entire stay here who had seen this elusive bird. A hike for about 1.5 kilometres along this trail produced White-bellied Yuhina, Abbott's Babbler (best view of this bird), Oriental White-eye and an excellent White-crowned Forktail, the latter near where the large tree had fallen across the stream.
Back to the HQ for lunch, with Moustached Barbet and Blue-winged Leafbird in the trees by the dining area, then it was off to the Pha Kluai Mai campground and picnic area along the Prachin Buri road. Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo has been seen visiting the garbage behind the restaurant at the right hand edge of this campground, but we found only a perched Besra, with Blue-eared Barbet and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker in the small trees around the campground.
A trail leading from behind the restaurant down to the stream produced nesting Red-headed Trogon and Blue-bearded Bee-eater, as well as a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails. We returned to the campground, and crossed the bridge over the stream onto the Pha Kluai Mai Trail, finding Black-backed Kingfisher on a short walk.
Back at the campground, and a stroll down the road in the direction of Prachin Buri produced Scarlet-backed and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Red-throated Flycatcher and Green-billed Malkoha, before we finally got good looks at a White-browed Scimitar-Babbler. We returned to the car for a cold drink, and more flowerpeckers, this time including a Buff-breasted Flowerpecker, a recent split from Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.
We returned to the motor lodge, where a slow drive around gave us Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Red-wattled Lapwing, Plain-backed Sparrow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Spotted Dove and Large-billed Crow. Time to head back to the hotel, seeing another Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon and Common Snipe on the way out.
Khao Yai - Scaly-breasted Partridge, Red Junglefowl, Silver Pheasant, Siamese Fireback, Green-eared Barbet, Moustached Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Red-headed Trogon, Indian Roller, Dollarbird, Black-backed Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Spotted Dove, Emerald Dove, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Common Snipe, Red-wattled Lapwing, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Besra, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Large-billed Crow, Ashy Woodswallow, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Hair-crested Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-throated Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Slaty-backed Forktail, White-crowned Forktail, Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, White-crested Laughingthrush (h), Abbott's Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, White-bellied Yuhina, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Buff-breasted Flowerpecker, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Plain-backed Sparrow
Monday 19 April 2004
Today started along the road between the entrance and the HQ, where a mix of driving and walking produced a number of the commoner birds, including Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Green-eared Barbet, Fairy Bluebird, Hill Myna, Eurasian Swallow, as well as Chinese Pond Heron and Greater Flameback. A large fruiting tree was especially productive, holding Great and Oriental Pied Hornbill, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, Black-crested and Black-headed Bulbul and Plain Flowerpecker, with Paddyfield Pipit and Chestnut-headed Bee-eater nearby.
We had decided on one last try for Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo along Trail 6, and spent a couple of hours sitting quietly in the area where the Thais had seen a bird yesterday. Sadly no ground-cuckoo, and not much else either. Eventually, we reluctantly accepted defeat and took a walk along the trail instead. This was quite productive - an Oriental Pied Hornbill was followed by an excellent Silver-breasted Broadbill, as well as Red-headed Trogon, Hill Blue Flycatcher and White-crowned Forktail, the latter in the same spot as yesterday.
Time to check out of the Juldis, and make the return drive to Bangkok, where we bid farewell to Ik and spent the rest of the day lazing around the hotel, relaxing in readiness for a long hard day tomorrow.
Khao Yai - Greater Flameback, Green-eared Barbet, Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Red-headed Trogon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Greater Coucal, Asian Palm-Swift, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, Chinese Pond-Heron, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Hill Blue-Flycatcher, White-crowned Forktail, Hill Myna, Eurasian Swallow, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Plain Flowerpecker, Paddyfield Pipit
Tuesday 20 April 2004
Our last day was to be spent on a whistle stop tour of the Petchburi area in the expert company of Kamol Komolphalin. We had to be back at the airport by no later than 16:00 for our flight home, so Kamol picked us up at 05:00 so that we could get to Petchburi by 06:00 and start birding at dawn. I had asked Kamol to try to help me see two main target birds, Malaysian Plover and Vinous-breasted Starling, as well as a lengthy list of other possible lifers.
We started off in Petchburi itself, scanning the roadside canals for rails, and soon got lucky with a Slaty-breasted Rail, while Asian Pied Starling, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Plain-backed Sparrow were also seen. From Petchburi we drove to the small village of Lam Luang, near Laem Pakbia, where Kamol had arranged for a longtail boat to take us out to the end of the sand spit to look for Malaysian Plover.
We headed off down the creek seeing Collared Kingfisher along the way, as well as many waders, herons and egrets on the exposed mudflats, before landing on the end of the spit. We walked a short way up the spit, scanning ahead, and soon found a pair of Malaysian Plovers, which appeared to be nesting. We scoped them from a distance for some time, getting very good views.
Also seen here as we continued our walk were Lesser Sand Plover, Whiskered Tern, Black-capped Kingfisher, Pied Fantail and 3 more Malaysian Plovers, before getting onto an interesting-looking egret - sure enough, this turned out to be a Chinese Egret. Returning back to the village, we saw Javan Pond-Heron and heard a Common Koel calling.
From Lam Luang, we drove to the area of fishponds at Laem Pakbia where a vagrant Indian Skimmer had been present for some time, and which Kamol said was good for warblers. Several Oriental Reed Warblers as well as Golden-bellied Gerygone were seen on arrival, with Chinese Pond Herons, Long-toed Stint, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Little Tern on the saltpans, before we located the roosting Indian Skimmer, watched by a dozen or so Thai twitchers. Ironically, this rare bird for Thailand wasn't actually a lifer for me, having seen a group of these at the Chambal River in India just two months earlier!
From Laem Pakbia, we drove towards the village of Ban Laem, stopping when we saw some Oriental Pratincoles hawking over a wet field. White-vented Myna, Plain Prinia, Long-tailed Shrike and Asian Openbill were seen here, as well as a Thick-billed Warbler creeping around in some roadside bushes. A Common Mongoose hunted along a dyke bordering a small canal, with Pacific Golden Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Black Drongo, Red-wattled Lapwing and Chestnut-tailed Starling also here.
From here we headed inland to the village of Tung Kret, near the town of Nong Ya Plong. Vinous-breasted Starling is a local bird in this part of Thailand, but Kamol has previously found this village to be a reliable spot. Despite it being midday when we arrived, we found one Vinous-breasted Starling almost as soon as we arrived, and watched it perched in the top of a small tree.
We spent some time wandering around the village, finding Asian Palm Swifts, Black Drongo, Streak-eared Bulbul, Grey-breasted Prinia, Coppersmith Barbet, Ashy Woodswallow and Brown Shrike, while an Indochinese Lark was watched in a nearby ploughed field. We took our picnic lunch in the village, after which it was time to start heading back to Bangkok.
There was still time for one more stop, near the town of Amphawa, at some small lily-covered ponds, in the hope of Black-browed Reed Warbler. A Ruddy-breasted Crake flushed from beside the car as we got out, and a Bronze-winged Jacana was watched walking over the lily leaves. We walked out along the dyke separating the ponds, seeing a Yellow Bittern in flight, and adding Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, as well as Red Collared-Dove and Lesser Whistling Duck.
At the far end of the dyke, we heard a Black-browed Reed Warbler singing very nearby, but despite spending some time scanning the bushes, we couldn't see it. Then, as we were leaving, it flushed, but unfortunately giving only untickable flight views.
The walk back to the car gave us Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Little Cormorant, before it was time to put the binoculars away for another trip and head for the airport. Once again, Nature Trails and Kamol had come up with the goods, and ensured an excellent end to an excellent trip.
Petchburi - Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Slaty-breasted Rail, Chinese Pond-Heron, Asian Pied Starling, Plain-backed Sparrow
Lam Luang - Black-capped Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Asian Koel (h), Asian Palm-Swift, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Sanderling, Malaysian Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Whiskered Tern, Chinese Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Javan Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Pied Fantail
Laem Pakbia - Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Indian Skimmer, Little Tern, Chinese Pond-Heron, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Oriental Great Reed-Warbler
Ban Laem - Wood Sandpiper, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red-wattled Lapwing, Oriental Pratincole, Asian Openbill, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, Chestnut-tailed Starling, White-vented Myna, Plain Prinia, Thick-billed Warbler
Tung Kret - Coppersmith Barbet, Asian Palm-Swift, Brown Shrike, Ashy Woodswallow, Black Drongo, Vinous-breasted Starling, Streak-eared Bulbul, Grey-breasted Prinia, Indochinese Lark
Amphawa - Indian Whistling-Duck, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Red Collared-Dove, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Common Moorhen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Little Cormorant, Yellow Bittern, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia, Black-browed Reed-Warbler (h)