Southern Thailand 24th to 29th of March 2003
We (my ex-wife and I) decided to go to Thailand for bird watching as it is close to where we lived at the time (Hanoi, Vietnam). Having never birded in Thailand before, we went with an organized tour. The first part was done through Wildwatch Thailand(www.wildwatchthailand.com), taking us to Kaeng Krachan and Khao Sam Yod. The second part was in Kao Sok, a large fresh water reservoir; this part was organized by Paddle Asia (www.paddleasia.com).
We flew with Thai Airways; they had a special deal going: buy one business class ticket, get one free. Excellent! As we got into Bangkok quite late, we stayed one night at the Royal River Hotel. This hotel came recommended, and it was only USD 35.00 a night, but I would probably not go there again. Basically, it is too far out of town and with the atrocious traffic in BKK, you spend way to much time in taxis. Anyway, on to the actual trip report. Please do bear with my grammar and writing style, this is my very first trip report, and I am not a native English speaker. Therefore, any suggestions for future trip reports would be more than welcome.
Saturday, 24th of May:
After a lazy start, it was a late night, sitting outside by the river and swigging Singha Beer, we dashed, or rather, crawled to Siam Square to do some last minute shopping for the trip. At 13:00, we met with the guide, Mr. Panuwat Sasirat, or Pha for short, and the fun began. The first stop was not far from Bangkok, at a temple called Wat Cholng Lom to look for Germain's Swiftlet.
There were about 400 of them breeding in the building we visited, but a Monk told us that there were thousands in total, spread over several buildings. The monks harvest the nests every 3 months and sell the nests for about 15,000 Baht per kilo (USD 365.00). What a spectacle to see the birds flitting in and out at incredible speeds! Other birds seen around the temple were Magpie Robin, White-vented Myna, Common Myna, Tree Sparrow, Whiskered Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Little Egret, Javan Pond Heron, Zebra Dove, Little Cormorant, Red Turtle Dove, and Cattle Egret.
A great start, and soon we were on the road again. Just a few miles later, we took the turn-off to Samut Songkram. This area basically consists of shrimp ponds and Mangroves and is known for Pink-necked Pigeon, another potential lifer. The first bird we saw was Streak-eared Bulbul, followed by a Pigeon. Alas, closer inspection revealed it to “only” be a Spotted Dove. But then, another Pigeon high in a tree, and this time it was indeed the Pink-necked Pigeon. There was also a Brahminy Kite soaring overhead, a pretty bird indeed. Other birds seen here were a pair of Brown-throated Sunbirds, Plain Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Collared Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird, Greater Coucal with its distinctive woop-woop-woop call, a call that I would hear throughout my stay in Thailand, and Magpie Robin.
We then traveled a little further, to Km 32, stopping at some ponds surrounded by reeds. A small spot but great birds: Bronze-winged Jacana with chicks, Chestnut Munia, White-breasted Waterhen, Javan Pond Heron, Little Egrets, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pied Starling, and Lesser Whistling-Duck.
It was time to get on to our final destination for the night, the Kaeng Krachan Country Club and Resort. On the way, we saw lots of Red-wattled Lapwing, a few Green Bee-eaters, and three Large-billed Crows. Arriving at the Resort, we just had enough time for a quick spin before dinner, netting, amongst others, Shikra, Palm Swift, Indian Roller, Lesser Coucal, Richard’s Pipit and Sooty-headed Bulbul.
The resort was nice, not plush by any means, but clean and comfortable. Dinner was great, I am very fond of Thai food, and was not disappointed. That is, until I hit one of the extremely small, but hot, Thai Chilies.
Bird of the day for me was Pink-necked Pigeon, whilst my ex-wife opted for the Chestnut Munia.
Sunday, 25th of May:
We left the resort at 05:30, to head for Kaeng Krachan National Park. This park is largely covered by forests and a popular retreat for Bangkok residents. I was amazed at the number of Thai birders of all ages; you never see any birders here in Vietnam. They were, without exception, very friendly and helpful, and really knew their birds!
Weather was all right, with intermittent showers, they would follow us throughout our stay. Anyway, on to the birds. We stopped a couple of times on the way to the Ban Krang camp-site, turning up Streak-eared Bulbul, Green-eared Barbet, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo, White-rumped Shama, Hair-crested Drongo, Green-billed Malkoha, Silver-rumped Needletail, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Grey-headed Woodpecker, and Striped Tit-Babbler. At the campsite, we had Blue-eared Barbet, Dark-necked Tailorbird, a female Besra and Puff-throated Babbler.
This is where we got the bad news: the road to the hilltop was closed! However, it was possible to walk to about halfway, which we proceeded to do. During that walk, and the next couple of days, Pha proved to be an exceptionally knowledgeable guide; we would not have seen half the birds without him. He had absolutely incredible eyes. The first bird we saw after setting off was an Asian Barred Owlet. The bird was very accommodating, sitting fully exposed on a dead tree, giving us excellent views. Some of the local birders told us that it was nesting nearby, as were the Brown Hornbills we saw shortly thereafter. A Crested Serpent-Eagle was a nice sight, as were the beautiful Scarlet Minivets. There were millions of butterflies, and a group of Dusky Lengurs, unlike the grayish parents, the babies have a golden fur. I digress, back to the birds: Highlights were Bronzed Drongo, Asian Fairy Bluebird (stunner!), Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Common Flameback (nesting), Dollarbird and a Black Giant Squirrel. The “giant” is no exaggeration; they are absolutely huge.
Lunch was served off the back of a pick-up truck, accompanied by a concert of
White-handed Gibbons. What an eerie sound, a howling that would get higher and higher, and louder as well. Regrettably, we did not manage to actually see them.
Sufficiently fed, it was back to work. Straight away, we ran into a Bulbul that gave us a headache. Pha opted for Puff-throated Bulbul, but it just did not look quite right. After much debate, and calling a few more birders, we came to the consensus that it was an Ocracheous Bulbul. We also heard Blue Pitta and Great Hornbills, but failed to get sights of either. The Green Magpie was also hard to track down, even though the loud whistle was right in front of us. Once again, it was Pha that finally spotted it, incredible how well such a colorful bird can hide! My ex-wife got very excited about seeing a Pitta, but closer inspection revealed it to be an Emerald Pigeon. Still, also a very nice bird.
Here, I should sing praise for my ex-wife: she had never gone birding before and held up admirably well, learning extremely quickly. Here is to you, Le!!!!! She was actually the one that spotted the Black-naped Monarch sitting on its nest, which, for once, even Pha did not see. By now, we had reached Km 18 and it was almost time to walk back. However, we quickly wanted to check out a trail following a small stream and good thing we did, too. Just a few meters into the forest was an absolutely stunning Slaty-backed Forktail. On the way to the camp, we saw White-bellied Yuhina and heard Pied Hornbill. At the campsite was the same gentleman, sitting in the same spot, as earlier in the morning. He was hard to miss; his camera lens was about the size of a compact car. Turns out he was waiting for Blue-bearded Bee-eater, which we promptly saw only a couple of minutes later. They were busy savaging a bee swarm that had made the public toilets their home.
Leaving the Park, we came across Ashy Woodswallow right outside the gate, meaning they are still not on the Kaeng Krachan list. The last bird for the day was White-throated Kingfisher, just before dark.
Bird of the day was Common Flameback for Le, whilst I cannot make up my mind between Brown Hornbill and Slaty-backed Forktail.
Monday, 26th of May:
It is early, it is raining. Why am I doing this? Seriously thinking of changing my hobby to collecting stamps!
First thing out of bed, we hear an Asian Koel. If I had managed to open my eyes, I might have even seen it. Anyway, it is back to Kaeng Krachan for some more birding. The first thing we see is a fairly big Python on the road. The Missus gets to feel it up, whilst Pha and I remove it to some safer ground. Good thing it is still cool and the snake pretty sluggish.
Breakfast in the Park, it is absolutely pouring down. Heading a bit further down the road, I can just about make out a bird in the lower canopy. It is a Rufous-collared Kingfisher, what a great way to start the morning. As the rain subsides somewhat, birds start popping out of the wood: Crested Jay, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Grey-headed Woodpecker, and Green Magpie. The Dusky Lemurs make an appearance as well, looking funny with their white eyebrows. But we are in search of Blue Pitta. Sadly, we never did manage to see it, even though we heard it on a couple of occasions. However, we did get cracking views of Hooded Pitta; one was actually nice enough to hop on a vine, loudly calling.
Near there, we found a nest of Silver-breasted Broadbill; construction was still in progress, giving us great views. Just one or two trees down, a Banded Broadbill made a brief appearance. Birding in the jungle might not be easy, but the quality of birds is ample reward for all the efforts. We just had time to admire to Greater Flamebacks before we had to head on. One of the distinguishing features from Common Flameback is the four toes, as opposed to three in Common. However, this I found hard to see in the field, I thought the looped submoustachial stripe was a much easier to see feature.
On it was to Khao Sam Roi Yot, another National Park further South. On the way, we checked out an unnamed (?) swamp right by the road. The little brown lumps on the dry ground were Oriental Pratincole. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters where everywhere, as were the noisy Red-wattled Lapwings. We flushed another Spotted Owlet out of a tree, and had a solitary Intermediate Egret. The actual National park was fairly quiet, all the migrants had long since departed. A few birds of note were Purple Heron, Cinnamon Bittern, the first and only Hoopoe of the trip, and a Black Bittern. That night, we stayed at the Dolphin Bay Resort, a nice hotel indeed! Getting there late, we just had enough time to see a couple of Indian Rollers, Lesser Sand-plover, a dark-morph Pacific Reef Egret, and a Red Collared Dove.
Bird of the day for my better half was Silver-breasted Broadbill, whilst I went for the Hooded Pitta, this being my first Pitta ever.
Tuesday, 27th of May:
Off early to Sam Roi Yot again. Still quiet, but still managed to turn up a few new birds: Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Scaly-breasted Munia, and a lone Black-shouldered Kite. A great sight was that of a White-bellied Sea Eagle making off with a decent sized fish. As not much else was happening, we went to Rong-J sub-station a bit further away. We straightaway ran into a Puff-throated Babbler, whilst the Bamboo above it had two Racket-tailed Treepies. The views of White-crested Laughingthrush were brief but great. We ran into an old man who, upon inquiring what we were doing, told us that there was a Pied Hornbill in the tree above us; right on queue it made an appearance, shortly followed by a second. On the way back to the airport, we had just enough time to check out the beach, a known haunt for Malaysian Plover. However, the first birds we saw were Little Tern screaming overhead, but within a couple of minutes, we managed to add the (breeding) Plovers to our list.
Back to Bangkok to catch the flight to Phuket were we would stay for the night.
Bird of the day for Le was Malaysian Plover, I chose the White-crested Laughingthrushes.
Wednesday, 28th of May:
Yet another early departure to drive the three hours to Kao Sok, a large (165 km²) reservoir and National Park. The idea was to spend the next two days kayaking. Getting to our accommodation in the park was a bit of a harrowing trip. It was extremely windy, and the guy on the wheel of the Dragon Tail decided to switch off the engine in the middle of the lake. We obviously were broadsided immediately and were just waiting for the boat to capsize. Thankfully, that did not happen and we eventually reached the small huts on floating Bamboo platforms where we would sleep the next two nights.
There was time for a spin in the Kayaks. My ex-wife opted out of that one; she was still in a state of shock from the crossing and did not want to go near the boat for a little while. The first bird we saw was an Osprey flying overhead. We startled a Blue-eared Kingfisher from its perch, and had excellent views of a Great Slaty Woodpecker. Highlight of the afternoon, however, were three Great Hornbills. Absolutely massive birds, you can hear the whoosh of the wings from quite a distance. On the way back, we heard a Great Argus calling but, as usual, the bird was not to be seen. On the whole, very few birds, but we did see Wild Pigs, Dusky Lengurs and a big clan of Pig-tailed Macaques.
Bird of the day was, without any doubt the Great Hornbills.
Wednesday, 29th of May:
We woke up to miserable weather. No choice though, the trip was paid for and we were going out there to see birds, rain be damned. The day started with Great Hornbills again, there must have been at least a dozen! A very soggy Blyth’s Hawk Eagle still made for spectacular views. In a quiet cove we had the only really good birding of the day, turning up Whiskered Treeswift, Red-eyed Bulbul, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, three Great Slaty Woodpeckers, and both Common and Greater Flamebacks.
Bird of the day for me was the Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, my wife preferred the Great Hornbills she had missed out on the previous day.
And that was our trip. We were supposed to do some more kayaking the next day, but the weather got even worse so we decided to head back to Bangkok for the really hard part of the journey: shopping!
Overall, the experience was absolutely fantastic. I think we would have seen
more birds had the weather been more accommodating. Even so, we saw a total of 123 species, 50 of which were lifers for me (All 123 were lifers for my ex-wife). We found the Thais extremely friendly and helpful, the food was great, and we shall return!
A special word of thanks has to go out to Mr. Pha, the guide for the first part of the trip, and Dave, kayaking-supremo with PaddleAsia.
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