After an excellent trip last year, we decided to go to Thailand again. Yes, I know: middle of the rainy season. If I had been given a Dollar for every “no birds now, should have been here in March”, I wouldn’t have to work and could indeed visit in March. Anyway, we were extremely lucky with the weather, it virtually only rained when we were en route from one place to another, not once did rain effect our bird watching.
Transportation and accommodation:
It was a sort of mixed trip, with plenty of shopping, relaxing, and Singha-Beer-swilling factored in. Upon arrival in Bangkok, we opted for the Amari Boulevard on Sukhumvit Road, primary for the central location. The room was 3,500 Baht (1 USD = ca. 41.00 Baht) all in per night, including upgrade to a Deluxe room. Really enjoyed the hotel, and actually stayed there again at the end of our trip.
In Krabi, we stayed at the Success Resort on Ao Nang beach. The hotel was not bad, but the food, in particular breakfast, was pretty lousy, so we took all our meals outside.
In Chiang Mai, we had booked the Belle Villa Resort, about 20 km from Chiang Mai. A very nice hotel indeed, with excellent food. The room was 2,119 Baht per night, all-inclusive; I consider that excellent value for money.
For the week of hardcore birding, we booked once again with Wildwatch Thailand (www.wildwatchthailand.com) after a perfect trip last year. Whilst on the road with them, we stayed at the Doi Inthanon Resort. The hotel is basic, but clean. Back in Chiang Mai, we had the only small letdown when we were put up at the Lai Thai. This is a real back-packer place, with filthy rooms and bathrooms, not a place I would recommend.
In An Khang, we spent two nights at the Amari An Khang Nature Resort (http://www.amari.com/angkhang/), once again a very nice hotel, especially as we were almost alone. Finally, we stayed at the Pak Ma Station on Doi Chiang Dao. Accommodation here is very basic (and no hot water!!!!), but it saves you from getting up at three in the morning to access the best birding from Chiang Dao. You will, however, have to bring your own supplies, which the resident family will cook for you.
Food and Drink:
No worries here, one never seems to be far from really good food and a cold beer in most places in Thailand. Whilst I like spicy food, I found asking for “medium hot” was more than sufficient, even that brought the odd tear to my eyes.
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 Lone Planet Guide to Thailand.
Special note of thanks, and disclaimer:
A big shout of appreciation goes out to our two guides during the Northern part of our trip, 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. The only downside is that I was so impressed with their Swarovski Scope that I want one myself!
I would also like to thank Ha, my girlfriend, who had never been birding before, and did extremely well. She is now hooked on it! She also took most of the pictures in this report. The sometimes-questionable quality is not her fault; the photos of the birds were taken handholding the camera against the scope, with no prior experience.
Obviously, any mistakes are all mine.
5th to 8th of August:
Shopping, eating, drinking in Bangkok. ‘Nuff said.
9th of August:
After arriving at the Success resort in Ao Nang Beach the previous evening, I did the first bit of birding this morning. The Resort has a fairly extensive garden, and the first birds seen were Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pied Fantail, Common Myna (of course), Olive-backed Sunbird, and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.
In the afternoon, we went to Krabi to arrange a trip to the Mangroves for the next morning. Whilst walking around, we had a beautiful Brahminy Kite soaring over the harbor, with Common Sandpiper along the shores. The park along the river had Scaly-breasted Munias and a few Oriental Magpie Robins. We eventually tracked down a man who claimed to be a cousin of a sister of his Uncle who knew the famous Mr. Day, and we arranged to rent his services for the next day.
Not many birds so far but, as we had to start somewhere, I chose the Brahminy Kite as bird for the day, whilst Ha went for Oriental Magpie Robin.
10th of August:
We had arranged to meet Mr. Day at 06:30, and whilst I was a bit apprehensive, having booked him around three corners, as it were, he was there on time. His first comment was “no birds, come in March”, which did not bode well. But we went ahead anyway, to be rewarded within minutes by Brown-winged Kingfisher, one of the birds I wanted to see. Really spectacular was a White-bellied Sea-Eagle flying right over the boat. We ventured deeper into the Mangroves, which proved to be tough going. Not only was it the wrong season, it was low tide to boot. However, we did see a single male Thick-billed Pigeon, a number of Little Egrets as well as Greater Coucal and Green-billed Malkohas. There was a lone Dollarbird, whilst the Common Flamebacks were very difficult to see, regardless of the racket they made. In the meantime, Mr. Day was whistling his heart out, trying to get a response from the Mangrove Pittas. All we heard, however, was Coppersmith Barbet. And then, finally, a response. We could hear at least two Pittas calling and, after pulling and dragging the boat closer, we got brief glimpses of my first Mangrove Pitta. What a beautiful bird! It made the trip worthwhile for me, even if Mr. Day does not come cheap, charging 500 Baht per hour. On the way back, the Pacific Swallows, Common and Dark-necked Tailorbirds, and a group of about 10 Philippine Glossy Starlings could not compare with the sighting of the Pitta.
In the afternoon, we went to some hot springs near Krabi. Apart from Common Iora and Black-headed Bulbuls, it was very quiet. However, on the way back to the car, I saw a bird hopping on the ground right near the entrance. A Blue-winged Pitta, giving us absolutely cracking views! The bird was not shy at all, showing its gorgeous appearance for all it was worth.
Bird of the day for me was a real toss-up between the two Pittas, but I finally settled for Mangrove Pitta, whilst Ha chose the Brown-winged Kingfisher.
11th of August:
We had arranged for a car to pick us up and take us to Huay Tho Waterfall. We decided to walk the “Dog Slide Trail”. This turned to be really tough, as it was quite steep. Throw in 35 degrees and 120% humidity; I figure I must have lost three liters of sweat on that walk. The walk started as the previous day had ended, with another Blue-winged Pitta near the entrance. It is amazing: I have been looking for Pittas for years, since I saw the first one last year, they seem to be everywhere. Must be some law or something.
Walking up the trail, I scanned the waterfall for any birds and, sure enough, we had brief views of a Chestnut-naped Forktail. Apart from that, the trail did not produce much; it must have been too hot for even the birds. The only other birds we saw on the trail were Streak-eared Bulbuls and Short-tailed Babblers. Back down at the entrance it was pretty quiet too, with only a Giant Black Squirrel being active at all. Just outside the Park, I did add White-throated Kingfisher, House Swift, and Red-rumped Swallow to our trip list.
The rest of the day was spent at Ao Nang. A word on restaurants there: Forget the KR Restaurant, it had the worst service and food I have experienced in Thailand. The Azzurra makes very good Cappuccinos and some of the best Tiramisu I have eaten. Finally, the Salathai Restaurant was our restaurant of choice. Not only has it a beautiful view of the beach, the food is very, very good. Ha liked the Ao Nang Cuisine, supposedly the oldest restaurant there. I was not too impressed, but she devoured 4 huge crabs (not a pretty sight), followed by three scoops of ice cream!!!!!
Bird of the day for Ha was Blue-winged Pitta; I opted for the Chestnut-naped Forktail.
12th of August:
For today, we had arranged for a Kayaking trip to some nearby caves. This was less for birding than just for fun. We were not to be disappointed; the trip (booked through Sea Air Trek) was really good, with a fantastic guide and great food. The same could not be said for the birds, though. We only saw Common Sandpiper, Common Iora, Green Heron, another Brown-winged Kingfisher, an unexpected Blue Whistling Thrush, a Collared Kingfisher, and both Red-rumped and Pacific Swallows.
Not too much choice, but Ha’s bird of the day was the Blue Whistling Thrush whilst I settled for Pacific Swallow.
13th of August:
Today was a day for the beach. A quick spin before leaving added Yellow-bellied Prinia and 5 Pied Imperial Pigeons, whilst the island we went to produced 3 Pacific Reef Egrets.
The Pied Imperial Pigeons were a surprise and had little competition in being voted bird of the day. Ha did not watch birds that day.
14th of August:
Off to Chiang Mai. The very first bird we saw near the airport was White-vented Myna. Once we had settled at the Belle Ville Resort, Ha took a rest whilst I explored the brush behind the hotel. A number of Barred Buttonquails flushed beneath my feet nearly gave me a heart attack. Apart from that not much, with a solitary Pied Bushchat and the ubiquitous Red-whiskered Bulbuls.
Pride of place for the day went to the Barred Buttonquails.
15th of August:
We decided to explore Chiang Mai, and the only birds seen were Scarlet Minivet and Asian Palm Swift. Chiang Mai was quite enjoyable, helped by the fact that we had good food and I found my favorite brew: Tiger Beer.
Obviously, the Scarlet Minivet took the prize for both of us.
16th of August:
This is where the real birding was to start. For ease of use with slower browser, this part opens here: Thailand South to North Part 2.