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Thailand, Hala Bala: Our quest for Hornbills


Once again, it was time to head to one of our favorite destinations, Thailand. During last years visit, we had talked with our friend Tu about heading to the South. Tu has worked in Hala Bala for two years on the Hornbill Project and thus knows the area exceedingly well.

He assured us that the ongoing strife in the area would have no affect on our trip, and this proved to be correct. We spent a total of five days in and around Hala Bala, from the 12th to the 17th of May 2005.

Once again, we used Pha and Tu as our guides, and once again, their organization was top notch. They now work for their own company, Wild Bird Eco Tour Thailand, and can be reached at www.wildbirdeco.com or Pha@wildbirdeco.com.

The birding part of the trip cost us 85,700.00 Baht, including flights, Four-wheel drive, entrance fees, food and drink, etc. Personally, I think this is excellent value.

Transportation and accommodation:

In Bangkok, we once again stayed at the Amari Boulevard on Sukhumvit Road, primary for the central location. We paid 3,700 Baht per night, all inclusive (1 USD = ca. 40.00 Baht).

In Hala Bala, we stayed at the Wildlife Research Station. The station is not normally open to the public, but Tu arranged it for us. Accommodation is basic but clean, with electricity and hot water.


It was hot!!!!!! Temperatures hovered at, and above 35 Celsius, with very high humidity. It rained most days, but usually in the late afternoon or early evening, so we managed to bird every day.

Food and Drink:

As usual, food was excellent throughout. Some of the Southern style food in Hala Bala was a tad on the spicy side, which led to the odd yelp from the bathroom:-). You will need loads of water, the heat and the extremely high humidity will drain you real quick. I even drunk Coca-Cola, not my favorite drink, but after trekking through the jungle, the sugar was much needed.

Dangers and annoyances:

As you are probably aware, there is continued unrest in the South. However, we felt at no time threatened, even if the frequent check-points and the number of soldiers were a little bit disconcerting at first.

The really big nuisance were the leeches. I thought Doi An Khang last year was bad, but Hala Bala was literally crawling with them. In particular the trail below the research station was alive with Tu and Phaleeches; leech socks (they can be purchased here:  Oriental Bird Club) and insect repellent are a must. There are also heaps of mosquitoes, you really want to wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts in the forest (apart from the fact that the area is predominantly Muslim, revealing clothes are a no-no).

I will not give directions to some of the locations, notably the Hornbill nests. This is at the request of the people at the research station, who want to avoid unnecessary disturbances.



We used “Bird of Thailand” by Boonsong Legakul and Philip D. Round, as well as “Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia” by Craig Robson.

For the more touristy aspects, we carried the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand.


I splurged, and bought myself the new Swarovski ATS 80 HD scope, it is truly an excellent piece of work! I also bought the 20-60 zoom eye-piece and, once again, was very happy with it. Finally, we bought the Sony DSC-W7 camera for digiscoping. It comes with 7.2 Megapixels, and the results are very good indeed. Tu hand-built the adapter for me, and it works very well indeed.

Special note of thanks, and disclaimer:

Once again, a great "Thank You" goes out to our two guides, Mr. Panuwat Sasirat (Pha) and Mr. Rattapon Kaichid (Tu). These two guys are amazing birders!! Without them, we wouldn’t have seen half the birds we saw.

Of course, thanks must also go to my suffering wife, once again she held up admirably, only optingBored out of the "Million-leech-walk". Love you, honey.

Obviously, any mistakes are all mine.

10th to 12th of May:

Some last-minute shopping, and basically just relaxing.

12th of May:

Pha's girlfriend picked us up to take us to the airport for the one-hour flight to Hat Yai, where we arrived at around noon. A quick stop at the local Tesco's for provisions, and we were off to Hala Bala, a three-hour drive.

Not many birds on the way, and it really started pouring later in the afternoon. However, outside a heavily fortified and sandbagged police station, we did see Grey-rumped Treeswift and Asian Glossy Starling. The only other highlight was good views of a Brahminy Kite.

We arrived at the Research Station just as it was getting dark, so checked in, had dinner, and talked to a visiting Japanese researcher. He had set up a photo trap, and had, amongst others, pictures of Tapir and Tiger!!!

Not much competition for bird of the day, so I chose Grey-rumped Treeswift, whilst Ha went for the Asian Glossy Starling.

13th of May:

Up early for the first day of "real" birding. We decided to confine our birding to around the station, in particular to not have to deal with the leeches just yet.

First goal was the nest of Bat Hawks visible from the station. Both birds were very obliging, and I finally came to grips with a real bogey bird for me.

Right opposite our room, two Black-thighed Falconets perched in a dead tree, we would see them all following mornings. A Plaintive Cuckoo called from far, much noisier were the Agile Gibbons.

Whilst walking up towards the road, we had our first Hornbills, a pair of Bushy-crested Hornbills flying over low. The flowering bushes held Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers and Grey-breasted Spiderhunters, whilst the larger trees were full of Bulbuls, with Spectacled, Ashy, Red-eyed, Black-crested, Black-headed, and Buff-vented Bulbuls seen well.

Black-bellied MalkohaA Chestnut-bellied Malkoha was the first of five Malkoha species we would eventually see. The single Brown Barbet paled somewhat in comparison with the Blue-eared, Red-throated and Gold-whiskered Barbets also seen here. A Lesser Green Leafbird was yet another lifer for me.

From here, we headed to the Waterfall nearby. Tu and I headed deeper into the forest, where he showed me a nest occupied by a female Wrinkled Hornbill. As a matter of fact, I have to take his word on that one, as all we could see was the tip of the bill sticking out.

As it was getting hot, we headed back to the station for lunch, before setting out again in the afternoon. Tu, who knows every Hornbill nest, took us down a little used road where we first came across a pair of Large Green Pigeons, a very uncommon bird. However, the absolute highlight was a gorgeous male Rhinoceros Hornbill feeding his mate on the nest. What a bird!!!!!

On the way back to the station, we stopped at a point overlooking the valley, and were quickly rewarded with both Great and Rhinoceros Hornbills flying by. Just as it got dark, a Blyth's Hawk-Eagle settled on a tree nearby.

A very rewarding first day, with two of our targeted Hornbills seen. The bird of the day was a unanimous decision, with he honors going to the Rhinoceros Hornbills.

14th of May:

Tu and I started off early, leaving Pha and Ha behind, and descended into leech-hell! But first, it was an incredibly hard hike up a hill with a local guide to look for a special bird.

Close to a heart attack, and soaked to the bone with sweat, we arrived in a little clearing, whereBlyth's Hawk Eagle the guide started with a two-tone whistle. Soon enough, he received a response, and a couple of minutes later, we had excellent views of Rufous-tailed Shama. This is an uncommon Bird in Thailand, and can only be found in Hala Bala. Whilst it sings nowhere near as well as its White-rumped cousin, it is a stunning bird nevertheless.

With a great start like that, I was ready to descend into the forest and face the leeches. If you do not like those critters, than this is the wrong place for you; they were everywhere. Even covered in Deet, and with leech-socks on, I still got zapped a few times. However, the birds made up for the discomfort.

Near the river, prominently perched on a dead tree, we saw a female Wreathed Hornbill. As is often the case in rainforests, there were long periods of inactivity and then, out of nowhere, birds would appear. We had very nice views of Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, whilst the Rufous-crowned and Chestnut-winged Babblers were a lot harder to get to grips with.

After an excellent lunch, we headed to a Pagoda near a stream, which Tu knew to be a popular place with birds for taking a bath.

The first birds to take a dip were Buff-vented, Black-headed, and Finsch's Bulbuls. Tu spotted a Crested Serpent-Eagle in a tree, as well as a beautiful Black-and-Yellow Broadbill.

Yet another Bulbul new for this trip was Hairy-backed Bulbul, certainly a nicer sight then the Brown Fulvettas. Dozens of Grey-rumped Treeswifts were overhead, making the most out of the swarming termites. Grey-throated and Striped Tit-Babbler proved that this part of Thailand is really Babbler-heaven.

It was getting dark, and Ha and Pha were hungry (as usual) so we headed back just before some serious rain started.

Bird of the day for Ha was Finsch's Bulbul; I obviously go for the Rufous-tailed Shama, seeing what hard work it was to nail it.

15th of May:

Today, we were leaving the forest behind, and headed for the Toh Daeng Swamp Forest instead, about 40 minutes from Hala Bala.

The very first bird we saw there was White-breasted Waterhen. Of more interest to me were both the Brown-throated and Purple-throated Sunbirds, as well as yet another Malkoha, Black-bellied Malkoha.

This was also the only place where we would see Woodpeckers, with the black-throated subspecies squamigularis of Rufous Woodpecker, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, and a female Buff-necked Woodpecker. Very nice birds indeed were the Fluffy-backed Tit Babblers, the "hairs" on the back are truly bizarre.

As we headed for the exit, we finally saw the specialty species of this place: Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, with both male and female displaying nicely. An added bonus, as we got into the car, was a soaring Grey-headed Fisheagle.

After lunch, we headed back to the Pagoda. Regrettably, it started raining quite early, and would not let up for the rest of the day. Thus, activity was somewhat muted, but we still had a couple of good birds, with Dark-throated Oriole being a real stunner! Yet another Malkoha was added to the list, in the form of Raffle's Malkoha. Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrikes offered brief views, whilst Whiskered Treeswifts joined the fray overhead. The bird zooming across the clearing turned out to be a Gliding Lizard,  first time I saw one of those.

We headed back for dinner, and for choosing the birds of the day: Ha liked the Fluffy-backed Tit Babblers most, I preferred the Malaysian Blue Flycatcher.

16th of May:

Back to the "Million-leech-walk". The very first bird we saw looked like a red-morphed Paradise-Flycatcher, but it was actually a Rufous-winged Philentoma (who comes up with those names?). Today was Babbler-day, with Scaly-crowned, Sooty-capped, Black-throated, and Ferruginous Babblers making an appearance. We also had good views of a pair of Wreathed Hornbills, whilst an Emerald Dove almost hit me in the face.

LizzardIn the afternoon, we headed once more for the look-out point, and were rewarded with the final Hornbill of our trip: a single, male, Helmeted Hornbill. This is truly a bizarre bird, and also very shy. Other Hornbills that flew by were Rhinoceros, Wreathed, and Great Hornbills. On the way down from our observation point, another Blyth's Hawk-Eagle perched above us, promptly being harassed by two Larger Racket-tailed Drongos.

Once again, a single bird made the "bird-of-the-day" for both of us: Helmeted Hornbill.

17th of May:

Time to say goodbye to Hala Bala and head back for our flight. Whilst stopping at a 7/11, we had Germaine's Swift amongst the House Swifts above us.

We made one last birding-stop on the way, at Yaring Mangrove forest. Not many birds here, but the specialty is Mangrove Flycatcher, on which we dipped miserably:-(. However, we did add one more Malkoha, Green-billed Malkoha this time. We also added Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike to our trip list, as well as Mangrove Whistler, whilst both Little Cormorants and a single Pacific Reef-Egret flew by.

Not too much choice, but I'll settle for the Mangrove Whistler as bird of the day, whilst Ha takes the Pacific Reef-Egret.

And that was that. A couple of more days of R&R in Bangkok, where a quick spin in Lumpini Park added a few more birds, notably Coppersmith Barbet, Asian Koel, Indian Rollers, and Asian Pied Starling.

With a total of a 116 birds seen, it is not the biggest of lists, but it is certainly the case of quality, not quantity (and with 54 "lifers", I am not complaining:-)))))) We did see 6 of the 8 Hornbills, 5 species of Malkoha, 15 species of Bulbul, and 10 species of Babbler.

Feel free to contact me for any additional information at: hannostamm(at)hotmail.com.


List of Birds seen:

(* = lifer)


Rufous Woodpecker

Celeus brachyurus)  


Crimson-winged Woodpecker*

Picus puniceus)  


Buff-necked Woodpecker*

Meiglyptes tukki)  


Red-throated Barbet*

Megalaima mystacophanos)  


Yellow-crowned Barbet*

Megalaima henricii)  


Blue-eared Barbet

Megalaima australis)  


Coppersmith Barbet

(Megalaima haemacephala)  


Rhinoceros Hornbill*

(Buceros rhinoceros)  


Great Hornbill

(Buceros bicornis)  


Helmeted Hornbill*

(Buceros vigil)  


Bushy-crested Hornbill*

(Anorrhinus galeritus)  


Wrinkled Hornbill*

(Aceros corrugatus)  


Wreathed Hornbill*

(Aceros undulatus)  


Indian Roller

(Coracias benghalensis)  


White-throated Kingfisher

(Halcyon smyrnensis)  


Blue-throated Bee-eater

(Merops viridis)  


Plaintive Cuckoo

(Cacomantis merulinus) Heard


Asian Koel

(Eudynamys scolopacea)  


Black-bellied Malkoha*

(Phaenicophaeus diardi)  


Chestnut-bellied Malkoha*

(Phaenicophaeus sumatranus)  


Raffles' Malkoha *

(Phaenicophaeus chlorophaeus)  


Red-billed Malkoha*

(Phaenicophaeus javanicus)  


Chestnut-breasted Malkoha*

(Phaenicophaeus curvirostris)  


Greater Coucal

(Centropus sinensis)  


Germain's Swiftlet*

(Aerodramus germani)  


Silver-rumped Spinetail

(Rhaphidura leucopygialis)  


House Swift

(Apus nipalensis)  


Grey-rumped Treeswift*

(Hemiprocne longipennis)  


Whiskered Treeswift

(Hemiprocne comata)  


Spotted Dove

(Streptopelia chinensis)  


Emerald Dove

(Chalcophaps indica)  


Thick-billed Green-pigeon

(Treron curvirostra)  


Large Green-pigeon*

(Treron capellei)  


White-breasted Waterhen

(Amaurornis phoenicurus)  


Oriental Pratincole

(Glareola maldivarum)  


Bat Hawk*

(Macheiramphus alcinus)  


Brahminy Kite

(Haliastur indus)  


Grey-headed Fish-eagle

(Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus)  


Crested Serpent-eagle

(Spilornis cheela)  


Changeable Hawk-eagle*

(Spizaetus cirrhatus)  


Blyth's Hawk-eagle

(Spizaetus alboniger)  


Black-thighed Falconet*

(Microhierax fringillarius)  


Little Cormorant

(Phalacrocorax niger)  


Little Egret

(Egretta garzetta)  


Pacific Reef-egret

(Egretta sacra)  


Great Egret

(Ardea alba)  


Cattle Egret

(Bubulcus ibis)  


Black-and-yellow Broadbill*

(Eurylaimus ochromalus)  


Asian Fairy-bluebird

(Irena puella)  


Greater Green Leafbird*

(Chloropsis sonnerati)  


Lesser Green Leafbird*

(Chloropsis cyanopogon)  


Blue-winged Leafbird

(Chloropsis cochinchinensis)  


Mangrove Whistler*

(Pachycephala grisola)  


Large-billed Crow

(Corvus macrorhynchos)  


Dark-throated Oriole*

(Oriolus xanthonotus)  


Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike

(Hemipus picatus)  


Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike*

(Hemipus hirundinaceus)  


Pied Fantail

(Rhipidura javanica)  


Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

(Dicrurus paradiseus)  


Asian Paradise-flycatcher

(Terpsiphone paradisi)  


Common Iora

(Aegithina tiphia)  


Rufous-winged Philentoma*

(Philentoma pyrhopterum)  


Verditer Flycatcher

(Eumyias thalassina)  


Pale Blue-flycatcher*

(Cyornis unicolor)  


Malaysian Blue-flycatcher*

(Cyornis turcosus)  


Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher

(Culicicapa ceylonensis)  


Oriental Magpie-robin

(Copsychus saularis)  


White-rumped Shama*

(Copsychus malabaricus)  


Rufous-tailed Shama

(Trichixos pyrropyga)  


Chestnut-naped Forktail

(Enicurus ruficapillus)  


Asian Glossy Starling

(Aplonis panayensis)  


Asian Pied Starling

(Sturnus contra)  


Black-collared Starling

(Sturnus nigricollis)  


Common Myna

(Acridotheres tristis)  


White-vented Myna

(Acridotheres grandis)  


Eurasian Swallow

(Hirundo rustica)  


Scaly-breasted Bulbul*

(Pycnonotus squamatus)  


Grey-bellied Bulbul*

(Pycnonotus cyaniventris)  


Yellow-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus goiavier)  


Olive-winged Bulbul*

Pycnonotus plumosus)  


Streak-eared Bulbul

Pycnonotus blanfordi)  


Cream-vented Bulbul*

Pycnonotus simplex)  


Red-eyed Bulbul

Pycnonotus brunneus)  


Spectacled Bulbul*

Pycnonotus erythropthalmos)  


Finsch's Bulbul*

Alophoixus finschii)  


Ochraceous Bulbul

Alophoixus ochraceus)  


Grey-cheeked Bulbul*

Alophoixus bres)  


Hairy-backed Bulbul*

Tricholestes criniger)  


Buff-vented Bulbul*

Iole olivacea)  


Streaked Bulbul*

Ixos malaccensis)  


Ashy Bulbul*

Hemixos flavala)  


Yellow-bellied Prinia

Prinia flaviventris)  


Common Tailorbird

Orthotomus sutorius)  


Dark-necked Tailorbird

Orthotomus atrogularis)  


Ashy Tailorbird

Orthotomus ruficeps)  


Arctic Warbler

Phylloscopus borealis)  


White-chested Babbler*

Trichastoma rostratum)  


Ferruginous Babbler*

Trichastoma bicolor)  


Sooty-capped Babbler*

Malacopteron affine)  


Scaly-crowned Babbler*

Malacopteron cinereum)  


Rufous-crowned Babbler

Malacopteron magnum)  


Grey-throated Babbler

Stachyris nigriceps)  


Black-throated Babbler*

Stachyris nigricollis)  


Chestnut-winged Babbler*

Stachyris erythroptera)  


Striped Tit-babbler

Macronous gularis)  


Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler*

Macronous ptilosus)  


Brown Fulvetta*

Alcippe brunneicauda)  


White-bellied Yuhina

Yuhina zantholeuca)  


Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker*

Prionochilus percussus)  


Orange-bellied Flowerpecker*

Dicaeum trigonostigma)  


Plain-throated Sunbird

nthreptes malacensis)  


Purple-throated Sunbird*

Nectarinia sperata)  


Thick-billed Spiderhunter*

Arachnothera crassirostris)  


Yellow-eared Spiderhunter*

Arachnothera chrysogenys)  


Grey-breasted Spiderhunter*

Arachnothera affinis modesta)  


White-rumped Munia

Lonchura striata)  



List of Mammals:

Common TreeshrewTupaia glis
Pig-tailed MacaqueMacaca nemestrina
Long-tailed MacaqueMacaca fascicularis
Banded LangurPresbytis femoralis
Dusky LangurSemnopithecus obscurus
Agile GibbonHylobates agilis
Cream-colored Giant SquirrelRatufa affinis
Low's SquirrelSundasciurus lowii
Burmese Striped SquirrelTamiops mcclellandi

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