This report covers my second birding trip to Asia. Having birded previously in Malaysia, I decided to join Birding2Asia on their tour of Northern Thailand. I’m pretty happy with the many birding highlights and the amazing total of 403 species seen in these 2 most enjoyable weeks, the success of which could only be guaranteed by a well organized tour.
Visit www.birding2asia.com to put yourself in the very capable hands of Tom Bex and the Birding2Asia team.
Friday 31st October 2008
After about 8 hours in the air we find ourselves descending over densely populated Bangkok, towards an evening arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport. Outside passport control, Tom warmly greets us with a firm handshake. A comfortable air-conditioned minibus conveys us along the well-maintained highway system to our hotel in Petchaburi. Our dinner is a taste of things to come, both in terms of the excellent Thai food and the ice-cold Singha beers to celebrate the days many birding highlights.
Saturday 1st November
No better bird to start a trip than Spoon-billed Sandpiper, so we did as we found 2 together right after an early breakfast and a short drive. The supporting cast was equally impressive, with the extensive saltpans hosting numerous shorebirds. A few Long-toed Stints are dotted amongst the many Red-necks, Asian Golden Plover fly on and off with their powerful flight, and we find a single Red-necked Phalarope and 3 Pied Avocet, lucky us as those are scarce species in the Bay of Thailand area.
A visit to the sand-spit quickly reveals what we were looking for, the ‘White-faced Plover’ with both Malaysian Plover and Kentish Plover nearby for comparison. Great Crested Tern and 2 Heuglin’s Gulls made an appearance before we took in some more saltpans and waders with around 400 Great Knots and just 5 Nordmann’s Greenshank undoubted the star-birds.
A fine lunch was had at an ‘on the beach’ restaurant were we did sneak in our only lunchtime beer, just the one because it was hard to resist to celebrate the successes of the morning indeed.
With the most important wader targets in the bag, we set off for some relaxed birding at nearby marshes and ponds. The coastal plain is alive with birds with Grey-headed Lapwing and a soaring Greater Spotted Eagle my personal ‘birds of the afternoon’ and in the last light of the day, we savour a group of Painted Storks, the perfect end to a fantastic opening account.
Sunday 2nd November
This morning sees us bumping up the rough dirt track in Kaeng Krachan National Park, scheduled to bird the upper reaches of this diverse park first. We must have set a new record to ‘brusque stopping’ when a Rusty-naped Pitta boldly hopped in the middle of the track allowing for excellent views.
We struggled to find the Ratchet-tailed Treepies but as we kept hanging around the stake-out at km 27, we eventually got rewarded. A loose flock of both Lesser Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes was joined by a couple of perfectly performing White-hooded Babblers. After that, things got a bit quiet but we still managed to lure in some colourful fellows in the form of Banded Broadbill and Banded Kingfisher.
That afternoon, lots of the more common but nevertheless beautiful birds kept us busy scanning the feeding flocks until Tom had another scarce and sought-after species pinned down as we got brief but satisfactory views of Grey-peacock Pheasant. The journey had been planned to allow time to look for night birds and we notch up Large-tailed Nightjar and both Collared Scops Owl and Brown Hawk Owl before dinner.
Monday 3rd November
A fantastic orange sunrise illuminates the sky to the east as we drive into Kaeng Krachan NP for our second full day in an attempt to do this superb place any justice. We certainly made up today for yesterdays lack of Hornbills with splendid views of both Great and Wreathed Hornbills while I lost count of the many Oriental Pied Hornbills seen today.
We concentrated our efforts on the entrance road and the section of flat lowland forest near Ban Krang camp which proved productive for Woodpeckers with Great Slaty the highlight. Scaly-breasted Partridge, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Asian Stubtail all appear in the dull green light of the forest interior. Black-backed Kingfisher looks good in the field guide, a real appearance in the forest proves it to be a stunner! A couple other colourful finds were Sultan Tit and Green Magpie. On our way out, we count 3 Black-tighed Falconets and a Blue-bearded Bee-eater before the sun sinks below the horizon. The moon soon reveals itself high above the dark outline of the forested hills.
Back at the accommodation and restaurant the Thai curry taste particularly good after such a productive and enjoyable day.
Tuesday 4th November
Our final morning at Kaeng Krachan produced Violet Cuckoo, Crested Goshawk, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Orange-headed Trogon as most notable findings. Quite a bit of a drive with lunch on the way saw us empty the minibus at the shores of Bung Boraphet, the huge wetland near Nakon Sawan were it didn’t took us long to find a nice Siberian Rubythroat run along the ground in a thicket. Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker performed at some stake-out trees. Oriental Darter and Rudy-breasted Crake are the highlights found closer to the waters edge.
Wednesday 5th November
A relaxed morning taking in the stunning beauty of Sukhothai historical park also held a few birds not seen on the trip otherwise. Hoopoe, Lineated Barbet and Black Baza all showed well in the temple grounds.
After lunch in the town named Tak, we head for Maharat National Park were a steep flight of steps took us to an impressive huge tree with birding in its vicinity particularly good. We had hoped to score a Blue Pitta here but it was again Rusty-naped Pitta stealing the show after our successes at Kaeng Krachan. Saving Blue Pitta for later in the tour we did find our target Olive Bulbul along with Bamboo Woodpecker, White-browed Piculet, Spot-necked Babbler and Pin-tailed Green Pigeon. Delighted with our success we return to the minibus for a comfortable night in Tak.
Thursday 6th November
We got promised a ‘big’ breakfast this morning and yeah, I must admit I never felt hungry for lunch today, excellent. Even better was the dry dipterocarp forest at Mae Ping national park that held some of the easiest to find woodpeckers on earth. In no time, we notch up White-bellied, Black-headed, Common Flameback, Greater Yellownape and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon took some more finding but while searching such delights as Collared Falconet, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie and Raddes Warbler made the place live up with plenty birds. Both Grey-headed and Blossom-headed Parakeets put up a great show before we had Burmese Shrike and scarce Rufous-winged Buzzard, 3 of them, on our way out. A comfortable minibus ride later, we spotlighted an Asian Barred Owlet near the hotel at the foot of Doi Inthanon.
Friday 7th November
It’s a wonderful bright, clear morning as we enter the mossy forest on the summit boardwalk of Doi Inthanon. Bird activity is high at these cool heights and in no time we notch up some of the goodies; Green-tailed Sunbird, Pygmy Wren Babbler, White-browed Shortwing, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Chestnut Thrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla and we managed to lure in a Rufous-throated Partridge.After an injection of some of the best hot chocolate in Thailand at the summit café we start walking down on the road, which proves the best way to connect with Ashy Wood Pigeon and Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker.
Later, a short drive down brings us to the start of the jeep track at km 37 where we spend the next few hours in search of the more elusive forest species. It is immediately apparent that the forest here is inhabited by a different set of birds than those found near the summit. We have success finding Silver Pheasant, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Eye-browed Wren Babbler and a tape responsive Lesser Shortwing. It went pretty quiet in the forest after that so we decided it was time for another hearty lunch, eh birdy lunch. Mr. Deangs café had a stake-out Dark-sided Thrush as well as Siberian Blue Robin and Blue-throated Flycatcher.
Most of the afternoon we spent at km 33, scanning the various flocks that kept the area active for birding throughout. I can remember the Long-tailed Broadbills, Chestnut-fronted Shrike Babbler, Little Pied Flycatcher and a Green Cochoa as particularly beautiful birds. Transferring back to our minibus we expect a swift return to the resort, but Tom has another one of his surprises in store as he sneaks through the bamboo to follow a well hidden trail into a lush gulley. The stake-out Slaty-bellied Tesia shows in no time along with another Lesser Shortwing. Excellent ending to a fantastic day.
Saturday 8th November
Delighted with yesterday’s success on the mountain, we have a relaxed second day on Doi Inthanon searching for what is still needed. We take in all the waterfalls today with the suspected White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts showing well and an unsuspected Black-backed Forktail giving brief views on the track down Vachirathan waterfall, only Slaty-backed Forktail keeps eluding us so far.
On the road up, 2 birds sitting at the roadside catch our eye and after a quick stop we got them identified as a pair very cooperative Mountain Bamboo Partridges, I had expected these birds to be a bit more shy. Back on the jeep track, the extras included a group White-necked Laughingthrushes, Small Niltava, Grey-sided Thrush and a surprise Long-tailed Thrush. Some roadside birding revealed other goodies with Spectacled Barwing, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon and a brief view of Bay Woodpecker sticking to the memory.
Our descent late that afternoon takes us back to tropical warmth but we stop for a last stroll near km 22, or 23 can’t remember. Anyway the stream here held Slaty-backed Forktail making us able to tick it off at last. Green Magpie and Rosy Minivet pretty much concluded the day.
Sunday 9th November
Our last morning on Doi Inthanon in the dry forest lower down gets us some of the species already seen at Mae Ping again but we fail to find White-rumped Falcon, not that we had expected to find this rare bird really. Lunch in Chiang Mae was a highlight with delicious fresh salads and other healthy stuff.
The afternoon on Doi Pui held a day time Collared Owlet, could it be an omen of the night birds to come later in the day? We kept busy until dark identifying the many warblers and other small birds that wave by in numerous flocks. That evening, a calling Asian Barred Owlet adds to the atmosphere of the stunning setting as the sun sinks behind ridge-after-ridge of forested hills.
We got brought to some exact spot in the mountains after dark and a few seconds tape playback got a Hodgon’s Frogmouth respond immediately. We follow the source of the calls and after a few minutes we manage to coax our number-one target into view, excellent work done.
It took us our 4th calling Mountain Scops Owl to try and get close enough to the bird to make any chance seeing it. But some particularly loud bursts of the tape did the trick and there it was, in full view, the little fellow. On our return trip to Chiang Mai we pull into one of the viewpoints to be delighted with an exciting night time look over the city that spreads beneath us. I instantly promised myself to return to this romantic setting some day with a lady-companion.
Monday 10th November
Green Peafowl was an easy tick this early morning so we got back in no time for breakfast at the hotel. An area with some lakes, pools and marshy edges with the name Thung Tao was visited in the late morning. The surprise highlights of a small bagful of species found in the area include Red Avadavat, Wire-tailed Swallow, a Rufous Woodpecker, Rufous Treepie, Burmese Shrike, Chestnut-tailed Starling and another Rufous-winged Buzzard. Another sumptuous Chiang Mai lunch later sees us on the long but comfortable drive back south for an overnight stay at the known hotel in Nakhon Sawan.
Tuesday 11th November
Another morning at Bung Boraphet marsh with lots of reed warblers and water birds but I remember the Spot-billed Pelicans to have been the highlight. Limestone Wren Babbler at the Phuttabath stake-out came in the form of an easy and excellent twitch on our way to Khao Yai, with Racket-tailed Treepie another trip tick. The many bats exiting their cave near Khao Yai weren’t accompanied by the hoped for birds of prey but the dancing spiral of thousands of bats are an amazing sight nevertheless, well worth it to go watch this spectacle.
Wednesday 12th + Thursday 13th November
Both our 2 full days at Khao Yai National Park each held its own surprises. On the first day we concentrated our efforts on roadside birding inclusive the road up to radar hill and we catched glimpses of the wild dogs from the wildlife hide in the evening. Highlights included White-throated Rock Thrush, Golden-crested Myna, Oriental Hobby, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Swinhoe’s Minivet. On our second day leech socks got hoisted high and knotted tightly for some real work on the trails. Well worth every effort in the end as we got splendid looks at the highly prized Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo along with White-crowned Forktail, Red-headed Trogon, Great Hornbills, Dusky Broadbill, and Moustached Barbet. It took some finding but eventually we got connected with a inquisitive Eared Pitta allowing for once in a lifetime views, there was no sign of Blue Pitta however.
The better raptors seen by us at Khao Yai were Mountain Hawk Eagle and 2 Black Eagles. A family party of White-handed Gibbons fed in a high treetop, affording stunning views and a Binturong showed well in a fruiting tree to conclude our mammal sightings of the trip.
Friday 14th November
Last morning birding of the trip and spent very well. Siamese Fireback came in easy as a real bonus for the trip. These gorgeous pheasants are not to be missed on any trip to Thailand! After a quick look at the numerous Red-breasted Parakeets and a few Woodpeckers we had also seen earlier in the trip is was time all too soon for the drive back to the airport in Bangkok.
Thailand was a surprisingly bird rich, diverse and friendly country and I really enjoyed joining this tour which resulted in one of the best planned and most smoothly executed trips I have ever made.
Many thanks must go to my fellow tour-mates Jim and Nardine, Glenn and Colin and our incomparable Alison for their most enjoyable company throughout. We are all indepted to Tom Bex, who has looked after us in such an impeccable manner. Our trip has exceeded all expectations and we cannot recommend Tom and his team highly enough.
( www.birding2asia.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Report written by Bernard Burgess (email@example.com)
The full trip list of 403 species is on the Birding2asia website at this location : http://www.birding2asia.com/tours/reports/ncThai08_list.html