After more than 2 years it was high time that Ha and I made it back to Thailand to visit our friends Jan and Tu, go shopping, watch birds, drink Singha Beer and eat what is arguably the best food in the world. I also wanted to go back to give it another shot at my bogey bird, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. We had initially planned to do Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan, but Tu managed to gain access to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve; a place that is not normally easily accessible.
A gallery with more pictures is here: Trip photos.
No idea really as we were invited by Jan and Tu this time round.
Transportation and accommodation:
In Bangkok, we decided to try a new hotel that came highly recommended, the Siam@Siam Design Hotel & Spa opposite the National Stadium Sky Train Station. Really funky hotel and good value at 3,350 Baht.
In Khao Yai, we stayed at the Juldis Khao Yai Resort and Spa. Accommodation was more than adequate, though a bit more run-down since our last visit 3 years ago, and the food very good (though the restaurant was closed the first night as there weren't enough guests). Their published rates range from Baht 1,200 to Baht 2,000 for a Deluxe room, depending on season and day of the week.
At the HKK Wildlife Resort we stayed at cottages that are normally used for researchers and the like. Very basic but clean with hot water and electricity until 22:00 when the generator gets switched off. Absolutely no idea what they charge but I suspect that it is not too much.
Obviously it was the rainy season over most of South-East Asia. Once again, we were generally lucky as it only rained when we were transferring from one place to another or sitting in the hide. Both parks are quite low and as such T-shirt and shorts were adequate, even at night (Though Ha might debate this; like most Vietnamese she thinks that anything below 28 Centigrade calls for a winter jacket).
Food and Drink:
As usual, we had great food and drink throughout with the exception of the Visitor's Center in the Khao Yai National Park: not only was the food mediocre, they also have no beer!!! Very different at the canteen cum shop in HKK; not only was the food great, they had a huge freezer with beer as the Rangers liked to drink on or twelve in the evening as well. Apart from that, even the food at the M&K hotpot chain was outstanding.
Dangers and annoyances:
Lots and lots and lots of leeches in Khao Yai (absolutely none in HKK). Now, leeches are a part of birding in large parts of Asia, but this was ridiculous. The two minutes it took to set up the hide found me with a good 20 leeches on me. Leech socks are an absolute must, some nice ones are available at the Khao Yai Visitors Center for a measly 50 Baht.
The only other nuisance that I can think of is the way the Thai government is cracking down on cigarettes and alcohol. I am no smoker myself (anymore) but do enjoy the odd cold beer. I think it is a sad state of affairs when a consenting adult cannot buy a beer in a supermarket during certain hours of the day.
“Field Guide to the Birds of South East Asia” by Craig Robson is the book to have, it is easily picked up in Bangkok.
As usual birding and traveling with Jan and Tu was a pleasure. Apart from the fact that both are fantastic birders (and Jan an excellent photographer), they are just a joy to be with. Here, I will make an unabashed plug for their company: contact Nature Focus Thailand if you want an unforgettable trip.
Mr. Pairoth, who joined us for HKK, made access to the park possible and looked after us wonderfully whilst there.
No trip would be complete with my travel partner, early-morning-tea-maker and love of my live, Ha;-)
14th of June:
Got into Bangkok, checked in, shopped a little bit, and went for dinner at one of our favorite Thai restaurants, the Ban Khun Mae near Siam Square. Whilst many tourists go there, it is always full of Thais as well; good sign if the locals eat there. Finally a couple of Singhas and bed.
15th of June:
Today was going to be a major shopping day as we wanted to get that part out of the way. I had been looking for a new Mountain bike and we first headed to Probike to choose one. It is near Lumpini Park and we took the opportunity to square away a few of the common birds there. As usual, Coppersmith Barbets were everywhere, as were both Common and White-vented Mynas. We heard a few Asian Koels without seeing a one; the Black-collared Starlings, Pied Fantails, and Oriental Magpie Robins were a lot more visible. There were also quite a few Water Monitors about.
And that was the birding for the day, we spent the rest of the day walking around shopping malls until our feet smoked.
16th of June:
Jan and Tu picked us up shortly after 05:00 and we were off. We were busy catching up on the way and didn't pay much attention to what was going on outside, but did notice plenty of Asian Openbills, Ashy Woodswallows, and Peaceful Doves.
With only a short stop for breakfast, we reached the hotel 2.5 hours later, dumped our bags and headed off for Khao Yai. Ha was told to pretend to sleep as we reached the gate, that way she passed as a Thai, with an entrance fee considerably lower than foreigners. Shame I can't pull off that one.
As we got inside the park, it started drizzling and the first birds we saw were a pair of wet Oriental Pied Hornbills. We stopped near the dam where we watched a couple of Ashy Woodswallows feeding their 3 chicks, there were plenty of Spotted Doves about as well as Greater Coucals. Driving on, we saw a Little Cormorant near a little pond, somewhat unexpected in Khao Yai, unlike the White-throated Kingfisher in the same place. Right next to the road were about 15 Red Junglefowl foraging and getting very annoyed at the Red-wattled Lapwings that were also there. Indian Rollers seemed to be all over the place whilst we saw only a single Blue-bearded Bee-eater. A Bright-headed Cisticola did us the favor of singing from a telephone wire right next to the road, this bird is not easy to see outside the breeding season.
We also added our first mammals to the trip list with plenty of Barking Deer, Sambar, and Pig-tailed Macaques.
We headed to the Visitor's Center to buy some leech socks, as we had left ours in the suitcase at the hotel, and a forgettable lunch. Due to the weather the place was deserted and we managed to pick up a number of species whilst eating: Whiskered and Black-crested Bulbuls, the latter of the subspecies johnsoni with the red throat, plenty of Plain Flowerpeckers, a single Black Eagle, a couple of very noisy Hill Mynas and, in a fruiting tree opposite our table, a Green-eared Barbet and a Blue-winged Leafbird.
After lunch, we set up the hide at the spot for Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo before heading for the Boonsong Legakul Camp for a little Siesta. There were very few birds about but, whilst the others slept, I watched the antics of a family of Giant Squirrels and a Variable Squirrel. The only birds we saw here were Stripe-throated and Grey-eyed Bulbuls as well as a Crested Goshawk.
After everybody was dully rested, and a Pig-tailed Macaque managed to take off with our Mangoes, we headed back to the Pha Kluai Mai to stake out the Ground Cuckoo. Ha and Jan opted out because of the leeches so it was only me and Tu that settled into the hide. Not much in the way of birds but we spent the first half hour picking of leeches that seemed to come from all directions. I'll make it short: Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo is still on my "most wanted" list:-( We did have 7-8 Pied Hornbills right above us, got close-ups of a White-rumped Shama, and added a pair of Puff-throated Bulbuls to our trip list, but that was it.
We left the hide behind for the next day and headed back to the hotel. On the way, just as the light was fading, we came upon two adult Great Hornbills feeding their recently fledged young, a very entertaining sight. It is amazing how these birds can use their huge beaks so delicately, passing on fruit from one bill-tip to the other.
Due to a lack of guests the hotel restaurant was closed and we headed for the nearest town, the name of which I just cannot remember, to eat at the Banmai Resort & Restaurant. Apart from the novelty factor, the restaurant is stuffed to the rafters with all sort of bric brac, the food there is absolutely outstanding and one dines nicely right next to a river.
"Bird-of-the-day" for us all was the family of Great Hornbills.
17th of June:
Luckily for us it gets light much later in Thailand than in Vietnam and we had time for a leisurely, and pretty good, breakfast. Whilst sipping tea, Ha spotted a Lineated Barbet, which Tu followed up with a female Heart-spotted Woodpecker, one of my favorite woodpeckers.
The weather was much friendlier than the previous day, evidenced by considerably more people. We first went for a little walk around the old Golf Course in Khao Yai. It was pretty quiet, apart from what must have been a Dollarbird convention, with 4 birds in the same tree, and we decided to head up to the radar station at Khao Kieow. This used to be a good spot for Black Bear but the soldiers stopped feeding it and it is no longer seen there. Heading up, we stopped to look at yet another Barking Deer. Whilst I was watching it, Ha and Tu looked the other way and saw a male Siamese Fireback. By the time I turned around it had of course disappeared! Arrrgghhhhh!!!!!! A potential lifer for me and I was heart-broken and that it was only me that saw the White-crested Laughingthrushes did nowhere near make up for it. Still choking on my tears, we heard a Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo calling very close by, but we did not manage to stalk it. However, that spot did produce Orange-breasted Trogon, Red-headed Trogon, and a Green Magpie so it wasn't a complete wash-out. We also heard White-handed Gibbons and saw a pair of Small Asian Mongoose a little further on.
Up on top we hung around for a little while, but it wasn't exactly teeming with birds. A pair of Stripe-throated Bulbuls kept on flitting about and proved near-impossible to photograph. There were at least two Black-throated Sunbirds present, with a Mustached Barbet making a brief visit to the same tree they favored. Wedge-tailed Pigeons zipped over and it was quite amusing to watch an Oriental Pied Hornbill chasing a Black Eagle.
Back to the Visitor's Center for lunch it was. As I said earlier the food is not the best I had, but it is adequate and with prizes of Baht 70.00 for a Curry and an Omelet one can't really expect too much, I suppose.
Fed and rested, we headed back to the hide to give it a last shot at the Ground Cuckoo, with no success. I think Tu knew we wouldn't see anything as he snoozed off soon after we got into the hide:-). Much the same birds as the day before with the exception of Abbott's Babbler. Whist at the hide, Ha and Jan saw a large group of Laced Woodpeckers. Tu was a little skeptical when told that there were 8-9 birds together, but Jan had the photographic evidence to prove it.
On the way back we stopped at the Yao Wa Chon Suraswadi Camp to look for night jars. A short wait rewarded us with the target bird here, a Great Eared Nightjar. This was followed, as a bonus of sorts, with a Large-tailed Nightjar just as we got into the car. Ha asked where the "ears" on the Nightjar were. When Tu told her that you could only see those when sitting down, she spontaneously hit the ground. I guess you would have had to be there, but we all thought it was pretty funny:-)
That night, the restaurant at the hotel was open and the food was just as good as remembered. Whilst Beer was not that cheap at Baht 90.00, the food is very reasonably prized at anywhere between Baht 90.00 and 120.00 for a main course.
After a good feed and a few cold ones, all that remained was to choose the "Bird-of-the-day". Obviously, Ha chose the Siamese Fireback (sob), Jan took the Laced Woodpeckers, Tu, in wont of anything better, Red-headed Trogon, and I my lifer of that day, Great Eared Nightjar.
18th of June:
Today, we would move on to HKK and thus had plenty of time for breakfast and for adding Golden-fronted Leafbird, Common Iora, Sooty-headed Bulbul and Dark-necked Tailorbird to our trip list before hitting the road.
On the 4-hour trip to Uthai Thani the weather was atrocious, I sure was glad that we were inside the car. Stopping at one of those ubiquitous malls, we saw Scaly-breasted Munias nesting and later on glimpsed a couple of Black-shouldered Kites through the driving rain.
Arriving in Uthai Thani, our first order of the day was to pick up Mr. Pairoth. He worked for several years in HKK and he was the one that would get us through the entrance gate of this normally restricted Wildlife Reserve. However, lunch was a must first and we stopped at the aptly-named "Little Bird" restaurant. Yet another good meal later we headed out for the last 80 kilometers to the Reserve.
Thanks to Mr. Pairoth, we blew through the gate and barely meters later saw our first star bird, a Green Peacock. What a start indeed, especially as this would be the only sighting of the trip. A little further on we came across another stunning bird, though not in the same league, a White-bellied Woodpecker. Ha and Tu had brief views of Blue Magpie and we all had great views of a male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher just before getting to the camp site.
Whilst everyone settled in, I tried to track down one of a calling Pitta and finally found a Blue-winged Pitta high above me. I could have saved myself the trouble, the others saw one right next to the Bungalow we were staying in.
A couple of mugs of tea later we headed out towards a nearby stream which, in the absence of a trail, we intended to walk in for a couple of hours. Nothing too special on the way there, but we did add Black-hooded Oriole and Asian Barred Owlet to our trip list.
Once in the water, we saw plenty of Black-headed Woodpeckers, a female Heart-spotted Woodpecker, another female Common Flameback and a Grey-headed Woodpecker. A couple of Green Imperial Pigeons flew over and I managed to "pish" out a Chestnut-capped Babbler.
We did smell Tiger spray a few times but the real excitement came just before we got back. As we are trundling through the water, Mr. Pairoth, who had moved ahead, suddenly comes tearing back towards us. I was thinking Elephant or Tiger, but we found out that he is afraid of snakes and stumbled upon a Python. Turns out it was the biggest Python any of us had ever seen, we estimated it to be a good 4 Meters in length (or almost 3 Has:-))) We were all really impressed and not quite as worried as Mr. Pairoth, though we all got out of the water real quick when it suddenly slipped below the surface and headed for us!
A quick, very cold, shower later and we headed for the Canteen, about a Kilometer away. No birds on the way, but good views of Burmese Hare. I know I am repeating myself but the food was great again, and the beer cold. All the Rangers had to go out the next day on some sort of mission and many of them had come from far-out sub-stations and there was quite a bit of a party going on.
"Bird-of-the-day" for Ha was the Asian Barred Owlet (unlike me, she had seen Green Peafowl before), Jan went for Tickell's Blue, Tu took the White-bellied Woodpecker and I of course the lifer, Green Peafowl.
19th of June:
After a mug of tea we headed off for the Cantina again to get some breakfast in, birding on the way. Once again, there were plenty of Woodpeckers about and, apart from the species seen the previous day, we also added Greater Yellownape and Greater Flameback. The brush around the fire station was home to a large flock of Crested Laughingthrushes and a Blue-winged Pitta that gave us great views but sadly was just out of photo range.
Drongos were well represented, with Greater Racket-tailed, Bronzed, and Spangled Drongos seen close to each other. I also finally saw the Blue Magpies that I had missed the pervious day, to my relief. On the mammal front we added a Grey-bellied Squirrel.
It was at breakfast though that things got interesting, with lots of Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes seemingly everywhere. They were not shy and gave us excellent views, very Laughingthrush-unlike as I normally find them very difficult birds to get good views of. There were also a bunch of White-crested Laughingthrushes about, quarrelling with Pallas' Squirrels for left-over foods from the kitchen. Add to that a couple of Giant Black Squirrels and a small group of curious Blue Magpies and it was a spectacle that I could have enjoyed all day.
Alas, no rest for the wicked; it was time to head off for a nearby trail. Not many birds (again) but lots of fresh animal tracks including Elephant, Bear, Leopard and Tiger. Mr. Pairoth pointed out the scratch marks that Tigers leave in the soft soil when marking their territory, learned something new there. He also told us that there are 9 Tigers in the immediate vicinity of the Head Quarters alone, but that in the 8 years he worked there he had only seen one twice. As far as birds went, we did manage to add Asian Fairy Bluebird and Striped Tit-babbler to our bird list here, as well as Long-tailed Macaque to our mammal list, before heading back for lunch.
Though a nice day, it had gotten awfully hot and humid and we took a little break after lunch before heading out again around four o' clock. Fairly quiet, but a pleasant walk and we did see Collared Falconet and Rufescent Prinia, thus it wasn't a complete waste of time. Mr. Pairoth had arranged for a "Taxi" (actually one of the Rangers) to pick us up at the end of the trail and take us straight for some drinks; I think we were all pretty happy not having to slog back all the way.
After dinner, where we were joined for a brief moment by a Phayre's Flying Squirrel, we went for a little night drive and though we failed to spot the Fish-owl that hangs out around there, this was more than made up for by sightings of Asian Civet Cat and Bentang, the latter an animal I always did want to see. This was duly celebrated by a couple of beers (at least by me) before hitting the sack completely exhausted.
Ha has a thing for Falconets and chose the Collared Falconet as her "Bird-of-the-day", Jan picked the Blue-winged Pitta (or Pittas, we often heard as many as three calling at any one time), and Tu and I gave the prize to the Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes for giving us such great views.
20th of June:
We had an early breakfast and regrettable left HKK as we had a long way to cover today and did want to spend a little time birding along the way.
As soon as we were on the road out of the park we heard, and briefly saw, Chinese Francolin. I did actually try and get a picture of it, but stumbled into a wasps' nest. The wasps obviously didn't care much for me, and the ensuing painful stings dampened my enthusiasm somewhat, I decided that taking a photo of the Francolin could wait another day and beat a hasty retreat.
From the safety of the car we did manage to add two more birds to our trip list, Crested Serpent Eagle and Crested Treeswift.
Back in Uthan Thani we said goodbye to Mr. Pairoth and headed towards Bueng Boraphet for more birding, having a quick brunch at MK on the way.
Bueng Boraphet is a large, shallow lake with big beds of Lotus and reeds, heaven for all sorts of birds. Tu had arranged for a boat, there were cold drinks available, and thus it was the sort of birding I like with no physical effort involved whatsoever.
Whilst the boatman was readying his craft, Ha confused us all for a couple of seconds when she exclaimed that "there is a dot spot in the sky". The dot spot turned out to be an Asian Openbill:-)))
As the boat set off, we flushed a Black Bittern, whilst Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were hawking over the Lotus ponds. Within a couple of minutes we had seen Asian Pied Starlings, Oriental Pratincoles, Black-winged Stilts , many with chicks, and Baya Weavers. It took us a few minutes longer to see one of the star birds, a Glossy Ibis. Apparently, these birds only made it back to Thailand recently, after a long absence. The same applies for the group of about 13 Spot-billed Pelicans that we saw nearby, I hope that this is an encouraging trend.
Not far from the Pelicans were a couple of Cotton Pigmy-Geese. I am not a big fan of ducks and geese, but I sure like those strange-looking birds. The whole area was heaving with Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, many of those with chicks as well, and we saw a single Pied Kingfisher.
A bit further on, and a couple of beers later, we stopped at a small island and got off the boat. It was bloody hot by now, and we just took a quick look at the heronry there, busy with Grey and Purple Herons, lots of Black-crowned Night Herons, Oriental Darters, and both Little and Indian Cormorants. Other birds seen off the boat (in no particular order) were Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, a big raft of Little Grebe, White-breasted Waterhen, White-winged Tern, Lesser Whistling Duck, Streaked Weaver, Paddyfield Pipit, and Zitting Cisticola.
We headed back extremely happy, as far as number of birds went this was by far the best day. And it wasn't over yet: first, we flushed a pair of Chestnut Munias before concluding the day with another lifer, at least for Ha and me, a White-browed Crake. Tu saw it first but as he called it out it disappeared. We decided to stick around for a little while and, sure enough, it came right back out to be admired by us all.
And that was that. We headed back to Bangkok were Ha and Jan would spend the next day trying to clean out the weekend market whilst Tu and I did likewise in a number of different camera shops.
Oh, forgot the "Bird-of-the-day" and forgot to ask: Certainly White-browed Crake for Ha and me, and probably for Jan as well(?), Tu got all excited about the Glossy Ibis and thus gets that one.
Whilst birding was a bit slow at times, it is after all not the best time of the year to visit South East Asia, it was a great trip, not least at all of the company. Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve is certainly a place I would like to go back to in the dry season, for the abundant animal life as well as for the birds. Next time!
Feel free to contact me for any additional information at: hannostamm(at)hotmail.com.
List of Birds seen:
List of Mammals: