This was our first birding trip to Thailand and it has been highly successful. We got lucky to get to know Tom Bex who has been our guide for two weeks. First of all, we want to thank him for the great time we spent together, the many extra species we got thanks to him, for arranging the practicalities, the safe driving he did for us and all the other things I can’t think of immediately. Tom has spent lots of time birding throughout Thailand and he knows his birds, and more!...excellent stake-outs, great birding sites that we had never heard of before and that are certainly seldom visited, and he’s always keen to throw in some snakes, butterflies, mammals incl. spotlighting them (and Frogmouths!) at night.
We’ll be back for more birding in Thailand with Tom, we can’t wait!
Feel free to contact Tom Bex : email@example.com or visit his website www.birding2asia.com
When planning our trip we weren’t sure on how to do it. We actually got blown away really seeing prices of tours organised by companies based in England or USA. Couldn’t afford that so we checked out the local companies as they’re a bit less expensive but then we heard that the guiding isn’t always up to western standards with often poor knowledge of both the birds and English. But then again, we were after some more difficult target species, so we wanted to be guided and the solution came with Tom.
We hired a car ourselves (Tom can drive it for you if you’re not confident driving on the left, in Bangkok…, we’re glad he did for us) and then only had to pay for budget accommodation or camping on the spot and food, fuel, tip for Tom.
Target species and Itinerary
Before going, Tom asked us for a list of species we really wanted to see. He’ll tell you then what’s possible and got us an itinerary.
Visited sites and highlights seen
-Phuket ; Oriental Bay Owl
-Tone Pariwat WS ; Whiskered Treeswift, Chestnut-naped Forktail, Black Eagle, Scaly-breasted Bulbul
-Khlong Nakha WS ; Blue-banded Kingfisher, White-crowned Hornbill
-Sri Phang-nga NP ; Javan Frogmouth, Great Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle
-Khao Sok NP ; Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Banded Pitta, Hooded Pitta, White-browed Piculet, Wreathed Hornbill
-Phang-nga mangroves ; Mangrove Pitta, Ruddy Kingfisher, White-chested Babbler, Black-and Red Broadbill, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha
-Khao Phanom Bencha NP (not HQ) ; Dusky Broadbill, Raffles’ Malkoha, Black-bellied Malkoha, Wreathed Hornbill, Green Broadbill, Grey-bellied Bulbul
-Khao Nor Chuchi ; Gurney’s Pitta, Blue-winged Pitta, Black Magpie, Spotted Wood Owl, White-fronted Scops Owl, Large Wren Babbler, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Dark-throated Oriole, Black-tighed Falconet, Banded Kingfisher, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Rufous-backed Kingfisher and lots of Babblers
-Peninsular Botanical Garden Trang ; Barred Eagle Owl, Red-crowned Barbet, Rufous Piculet, Gould’s Frogmouth, Blue-winged Pitta, Green Iora, Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, Changeable Hawk Eagle
-Manora Forest Park ; Purple-naped Sunbird, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Blue-eared Kingfisher
Many people book their accommodation up front. This really isn’t necessary as Tom told us he has never seen a place full. With the help of Tom we always found somewhere nice to stay as we went, this worked out well. Keeping options open this way we also could keep our itinerary flexible which is very handy in the rainy season. When loosing time due to rain or if we felt we hadn’t seen the best yet, we simply stayed longer in a place. On the other hand, when targets are done and things get quiet in the forest it’s easy to move to the next place as there’s no hotel room already paid for.
We arrived at Phuket airport in the afternoon where we met with Tom and after a short drive we were soon birding in an area at the northern edge of Khao Phra Teow NP. Our brief stop in this spot produced Red-billed Malkoha, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Crimson Sunbird, Banded Bay Cuckoo and Spectacled Bulbul amongst others. Not bad for a quick start but it was time for our first real target for the trip. At the eastern edge of the same NP we went to some rubber plantations at the forest edge. Soon after dark we heard an Oriental Bay Owl and it didn’t took us long before we got splendid looks in our spotlight. A Brown Hawk Owl certainly was a nice extra to see on the way back to the car.
Dinner and the hotel for the night were in Phang-nga which was an hour or so to drive.
All morning was spent birding at Tone Pariwat WS. This is mainly (very productive!) roadside birding but also a short trail to a waterfall where we got Chestnut-naped Forktail.
Birds seen from the road which has no traffic were ; a Black Eagle soaring overhead, Whiskered Treeswifts on their usual dead sticks stake-out, a whole lot of bulbuls with Scaly-breasted Bulbul the best and another target species down. The Streaked Bulbul isn’t bad either to see in the south as we learned from Tom. Brown Barbet, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Plain Sunbird, Blyth’s Hawk Eagle and Fiery Minivet were all good finds while Silver-rumped Needletails came by low enough for good views. A Blue-winged Pitta called somewhere in the distance but we didn’t try to see it as it was far up the hillside and Tom was pretty confident we would get it later easily at other sites, and it was. A pair Lesser Treeshrew we spotted by the roadside and White-handed Gibbons were heard singing. We did very well at this site with the bird list at nearly 40 species seen this morning, which is a high total for a morning in the forest in southern Thailand.
We had a fairly long drive in the afternoon heading north but we had some time for a few stops that produced lovely River Lapwings. Bridled Tern and White-bellied Sea Eagle showed at Laem Pakarang. An Oriental Pied Hornbill was seen from the car as it flew across the road some way north of Takua Pa town.
Arrived at Khlong Naka WS in time to put up the tents while some Dusky Langurs showed near the HQ. Got a Collared (or Sunda if you split) Scops Owl not far from our tents later in the evening.
Up early for some less easy walking inclusive 3 river crossings, all worth it as we saw some top-birds inside this reserve. Blue-banded Kingfisher was most important and it soon flew by as we were knee-deep in the river and after some more walking along the river we found it again, perched. Great Argus called all the time but is apparently very hard to see here. Both Green Broadbill and a female Banded Kingfisher were some very exciting birds to see but the surprise came with stunning views of a party White-crowned Hornbills taped in by Tom after he heard them pretty far off into the forest. This got us up front with our target species as we had not expected to get a chance to connect with White-crowns before Khao Sok. Rufous-crowned Babbler, Rufous-winged Philentoma and Bushy-crested Hornbill were other goodies seen on the way back.
Our drive back south produced a lone Hill Myna seen from the car in flight. Late afternoon got us to Sri Phang-nga NP but soon after arriving it started raining. We got a bungalow instead of tents and some fine food could be found in the cafeteria. We had planned some owling and spotlighting in the park for the evening but with the rain we decided to give it a try before dawn.
Up at 3h30! for spotlighting along the track to the waterfall in the park. Nothing happened for a while and it was not before we almost got back at our bungalows that a Javan Frogmouth was heard very close-by. Seconds later we got incredible looks at this strange bird.
Food is only served in the cafeteria by 9am so we had a snack on the campground at first light, waiting for the pair Great Hornbill that appears to fly overhead here every morning. It wasn’t long before they whooshed over indeed. White-handed Gibbon was seen hanging down for quiet a while from some branches before swinging away on the hillside.
Back on the waterfall track most notable species we saw were Drongo Cuckoo, Hairy-backed Bulbul and Raffles’s Malkoha. Near the picnic spot there’s some more open views and we now were able to see a fantastic Helmeted Hornbill that had laughed at us before.
Back on the campground we decided to spend some more time to scan the hillsides and keep an eye on the air. Brown-backed Needletails and Grey-rumped Treeswifts had to entertain us for an hour or so until our waiting paid off with a nice Wallace’s Hawk Eagle flying over the same way the Hornbills did this morning.
Time to move on to Takua Pa where we had our lunch not before ticking off the Jungle Myna’s that are resident in the town’s vicinity but otherwise scarce in southern Thailand.
Afternoon saw us arriving at Khao Sok NP. An hour and some heavy rain later we set off on the track which ends at a closed café. It’s amazing how rain can cool down the air so much. Unfortunately it didn’t get the birds very active again in the evening. Ferruginous Babbler and a few Wreathed Hornbills made more than up for things being quiet otherwise. At dusk 3 Asian Elephants crossed the track in front of us. We felt uneasy with them so close but Tom told us they aren’t that bad. “Just be quiet and keep a respectable distance and you’ll be all right” sounded pretty self-assured and this gave us confidence so we continued on. Spotlighting on the way back produced a Colugo that was seen close up and a Bay Owl called in the distance.
All day at Khao Sok walking the track and trail beyond in the morning. During some light rain at noon we had lunch and some rest. We explored the trail which starts at the back of the campground in the late afternoon.
Highlights included a fantastic male Rufous-collared Kingfisher on its stake-out at dawn, both White-browed Piculet and Bamboo Woodpecker in the bamboo area at the first part of the track, Grey-headed Fish Eagle high above the river, Banded Pitta on the trail beyond the café and 2 Hooded Pitta’s in the afternoon. Thick-billed and Grey-breasted Spiderhunter and Great Iora were seen in the trees near the HQ.
Another spotlighting session in the evening got us 2 Three-striped Palm Civets before rain forced us back to our bungalows.
Another morning on the wide track to the café ; Maroon Woodpecker, Short-tailed Babbler, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Red-billed Malkoha, Black-and-yellow Broadbill and Green Iora to name the best. Both Helmeted Hornbill and Great Argus were much more active calling than they did yesterday.
In the afternoon we visited Wat Bangriang, a temple and huge Buddha statue nicely positioned on a hill overlooking the surrounding greenery. We could agree indeed when Tom told us this must be the best temple in southern Thailand, not only for it being very beautiful and in a superb location, but also with some birds and Giant Black Squirrels of which we saw 4 thrown in. Nothing spectacular bird-wise but of note were Thick-billed Pigeons, Blue-winged Leafbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Lesser Cuckoo-shrike and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker. Black-and-yellow Broadbill was heard only.
We stayed for the night in Ao Luk, which is only a short drive from the temple.
The morning saw us at the northern edge of Khao Phanom Bencha NP in an area that was surprisingly active with birdlife. In no time we got a decent list of birds inclusive 4 superb Dusky Broadbills, easily crowned bird of the day. Other goodies were Black-bellied Malkoha, Raffles’ Malkoha, Gold-whiskered Barbet, 5 Wreathed Hornbills, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Green Broadbill and Black-capped Babbler. A few of the commoner birds around in the area included ; Red-throated and Blue-eared Barbets, Greater Green Leafbird, Black-naped Monarch, Silver-rumped Needletail, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
In the afternoon we paid a short visit to Wat Tham Sua, not an especially nice temple but an excellent place to see Streaked Wren Babbler, we saw 2 birds.
We left nearby Krabi for what it is as there’re no waders around in June and all of the mangrove specialities were promised to be much easier (and cheaper-no boats necessary) to get from the Phang-nga boardwalks. This proved to be right again, as you can read further on.
Instead we headed straight for Khao Nor Chuchi and our accommodation, complete with Blue-winged Pitta in the garden!
After dark it was time for an important target species again and we got it in no time ; White-fronted Scops Owl. We must have been lucky however as usually it’s not that easy to see them. The stake-out has been described with a map by Suthin Niraphai and his report can be found on Travellingbirder.com.
A bit of spotlighting later in the forest produced a handsome Slow Loris.
10 – 13th June
Four full days at Khao Nor Chuchi is longer than most birders stay here but it’s certainly worth it. For those with patience this reserve has a lot to offer on top of Gurney’s Pitta. Additionally, with more time one should be able to find his own GP without having to use the services of Yothin, he’s expensive indeed!
Describing all days separate and detailed isn’t useful really, so I’m not. Days went like this ; up for breakfast before dawn and into the forest at first light, lunch and a bit of rest at the resort, birding the forest again in the afternoon. Of course we had to shelter for rain a few times but it hasn’t been for long once so we didn’t lose much birding time. We visited pretty much all the usual trails and spots but we concentrated on B and C trail, respectively the best trail to find Gurney’s and trail with the best primary forest.
Best birds ; Gurney’s Pitta (male on B 11th and female near B-C 12th ), Blue-winged Pitta (easy in the Morakot resort garden), Orange-backed Woodpecker (3 on trail R), Large Wren Babbler (B and N), Red-bearded Bee-eater, White-fronted Scops Owl (see 9th ), Spotted Wood Owl (daytime stake-out), Black-tighed Falconet (clearing beyond Emerald Pool), Banded Kingfisher, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Dark-throated Oriole (all 4 on trail C), Black Magpie (trail B), Collared (Sunda) Scops Owl (Morakot garden), Hooded Pitta (common but hard to see here, better at Khao Sok), Asian Paradise Flycatcher (white morph), Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Chestnut-rumped Babbler, Ferruginous Babbler, Black-capped Babbler, Sooty-capped Babbler, Short-tailed Babbler, Moustached Babbler (Especially Babblers proved to be very active in June, can be quiet in April I’ve heard, and oh we got the common ones too, Puff-throated, Abbott’s, Chestnut-winged and Grey-throated), Wreathed Hornbills (trail C), Brown Wood Owl (heard only on H after dark), Spectacled Spiderhunter, Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, Rufous Bellied Eagle, Great Eared Nightjar (Morakot at dawn)
Our last morning at Khao Nor Chuchi. Birds have been included above.
We had a late lunch in Trang (excellent bakery and fresh coffee!) before birding the nearby Peninsular Botanical Garden. This site has a decent patch of primary rainforest complete with canopy walkway and an excellent boardwalk through some swampy forest. I can recommend a visit to this place as there’re some quality birds around too.
This afternoon we could catch up on Red-crowned Barbet that we had missed at KNC, they seem so be common in the primary forest section of the gardens. Banded Bay Cuckoo, Drongo Cuckoo, Large Woodshrike and Great Iora we saw before it started raining rather heavy and we had to retreat to the hotel in Trang. No owls for tonight, a lovely dinner made up for it.
Back in the forest 2 hours before dawn and soon we could hear our target Barred Eagle Owl.
It didn’t keep calling so we went on the trails with the spotlight. We saw 2 Malayan Pit Vipers in the next hour but not much else until a Gould’s Frogmouth started calling nearby. Not 1 but 2 birds were found soon after and we had splendid looks at one of them. Soon after, it started getting light and the Eagle Owl had to wait till tonight.
The rest of the day we birded the garden with a short break at noon. Birds ; Rufous Piculet, Brown Needletail, Dollarbird, Green-billed Malkoha, Oriental Pratincole (they breed in nearby fields), Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, Blue-winged Pitta, Brown-streaked Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (common), Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbird, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Asian Paradise Flycatcher.
Both Great-eared and Large-tailed Nightjar were seen from the parking lot at dusk.
Another try for the resident Barred Eagle Owl after dark proved fruit-full as we got fantastic looks soon after it started calling. A Common Palm Civet showed in the spot-light later in the evening.
Another few hours in the Peninsular Botanical Garden in the morning produced a Changeable Hawk Eagle along with Green Iora, White-bellied Yuhina, Plain Sunbird, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, a few commoner birds and some of yesterday’s stuff again.
Midday was spent driving north again with lunch on the way in Krabi. In the afternoon we birded Manora Forest Park near Phang-nga. A few new species for the trip could still be added here ; Purple-naped Sunbird, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter and Blue-eared Kingfisher but little else was seen. It’s said to be a good site for Streaked Wren Babbler too but we didn’t bothered as we had seen them at Wat Tham Sua.
Night in Phang-nga.
Up early for birding the mangroves near Phang-nga. From the boardwalk at the intersection near the town we got the easiest Pitta for the trip, Mangrove Pitta and it even came sitting on the boardwalk once. Ruddy Kingfisher wasn’t hard to see either with both ad. and young birds around. Ashy Tailorbird and White-chested Babbler were a bit more skulky but we got good looks after a while. Rufous-bellied Swallows and Dusky Crag Martins were seen overhead from the parking lot.
We moved to the HQ area and birds seen here included Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Black-and-Red Broadbill, Common Goldenback, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Mangrove Pitta and Black-hooded Oriole.
Next we went into a small side road (between HQ and HW) which ended at a jetty on a creek lined with mangroves. With time left we decided to go for a short boat ride to try for our last target and we got it in the end in the mangroves right next to the jetty on our return, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. Other species seen from the boat were Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Brown-winged Kingfisher and Ashy Drongo.
Late afternoon saw us back on Phuket and on the boardwalk close to Sarasin bridge. Mangrove Whistler was a nice addition for the list here.
After this it was time to drive to the airport, say goodbye to Tom and catch our flight.
Bob & Jessica can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom Bex can be contacted at email@example.com Birding2asia
All of the more interesting species have been included in the Daily Log. Full trip list on simple request, firstname.lastname@example.org