Participants: Marc Ameels; Thomas De Thier, Michel Watelet, Willem Gilles
Thailand is one of the most favoured birding destinations in South-east asia for many reasons. It is an easy birding destination, with a good number and easily accessible national parks. It has a great diversity of birds with some near mythical species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Gurney's Pitta. It is cheap and safe with friendly thai people. There are plenty of cheap restaurants and resorts/guest houses. Therefore you do not need to make any reservation before getting there (except at the morakot resort in Kao Nor chuchi - the Gurney's Pitta site). Roads are good but thai way of driving is unbelievable. We were told about 1200 deaths between Christmas and new year's day on thai roads!. So, be very careful while driving at night.
We flew with Eva air from Amsterdam to Bangkok for 700 Euros. We rented a car - a Toyota Altis - through avis for 850 USD for 23 days . The car was picked up directly at the airport.
Fuel in Thailand is cheap (around 17 bath/liter).
You will find plenty of restaurants where it is possible to eat for 150 baths/pers (1 euro = 45 baths). Resort rooms are available from 350 bath/2 pers. Check carefully at tourist places, as prices might be extortionate there.
Total cost of this trip was around 1700 Euros/pers.
Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson - illustrated by Richard Allen, Tim Worfolk, Stephen Message, Jan Wilczur, Clive Byers, Mike Langman, Ian Lewington, Christopher Schmidt, Andrew Mackay, John Cox, Anthony Disley, Hilary Burn, Daniel Cole, and Martin Elliot. Princeton University press
Photographic Guide to Mammals of Thailand and South-east Asia by Francis, Charles. New Holland
Order at : http://www.asiabook.com
This was our first trip to Thailand for all of us with very little experience of asian birds only gained from previous trip to China and India.
We wanted to tour all Thailand within 3 weeks, which is possible with a car without internal flight. Correct targeting of species and national parks is essential as well as driving long distances at night . Concentrate your efforts on places where target species are and avoid losing time at less interesting places. We spent 2 or 3 days at each major site which we found a good timetable. Birding is good early morning but also in the afternoon (from 3 pm). Do not avoid afternoons thinking it is worthless. We frequently had our best bird waves between 3 - 5 pm.
We could not go to Bala because of the troubles there (at least 20 people were killed during our stay). This was a great disappointment as this place was an essential target for many Malaysian species.
Kaeng krachan was closed to the public, because of heavy rains from last October damaging the access road but the authorities did let us in accompanied with "a guide". We lost time and birded only up to km 18. It was good anyway. We could eventually stayed at night and heard White-fronted Scops-owl but could not tape it out.
While we were at Doi Inthanon, the Queen was visiting the park. The army was everywhere and they didn't let us birdwatch. It was therefore frustrating. They didn't even let us camp in the campground ! We slept in front of Mr Daeng's café.
We arrived on Saturday 20/03 at 9am and drove directly to Khok Ham - Samut Sakhon with the help of "Wat". He is a great guy and helped us find the Spoon-billed Sandpiper spot. Without him we would surely have lost hours driving from Bangkok to Khok Ham (contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org). We tried the Black-faced Spoonbill at Petchaburi without success.
Lesser Sandplovers and Broadbill Sandpiper - Khok Ham - 20th March 2004
Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Khok Ham - 20th March 2004
We then drove at night up to Kao Yai NP where we stayed for 3 days. It was very dry and therefore many species hid inside the forest and were difficult to see, especially Coral- billed Ground-Cuckoo (CBGC). The best place to bird is Trail 6 close to the Headquarters (HQ). The "radar road" has been upgraded with tarmac and seems less reliable for Siamese Fireback and Silver Pheasant. We tried hard both days and were first on this road but we didn't see any pheasant. The first 500m of radar road is good anyway. We had Sultan Tit, Great-slaty Woodpecker, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Long-tailed Broadbill amongst others. The best place to see pheasants is trail 6 especially the first part (you walk down a first slope, pass a "stream" with a dead fallen tree, cross a dense bushy area and enter the "best" place for pheasants and CBGC). We also had great views of a couple of Eared Pittas there.
Siamese Fireback female - Kao Yai - 23/04/04 (Th de Thier)
Another good place is the trail to Hew Narok waterfall. The first bridge passing a gully is good for Blue Pitta and the bushy/bamboo area behind the restaurant at the parking is good for CBGC (wait until dark as wild pigs come close to the restaurant, the CBGC follows them).
CBGC has been very difficult since February because of the drought, but we understood that in January, they were very easy to see at the parking close to the HQ. Other good birds seen at KY : Scaly-breasted Partridge, Red Junglefowl, Laced Woodpecker, Asian-pied, Great, Brown and Wreathed Hornbills, Red-headed Trogon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Mountain Scops-Owl (taped-in at the campground with great views), Great-eared Nightjar, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Blue and White Flycatcher, White-crowned Forktail, Hill Myna, Large Scimitar-babbler, Black-throated Laughingthrush, and Plain-backed Sparrow.
We drove up to Doi Inthanon on the night of 23-24/04 (850 km) and slept 4 hours at the summit radar station car park. It was very windy at night but wind ceased early morning. We birded the summit marsh in early morning.
If you want to see the Pygmy Wren-Babbler at the summit marsh, the best way is to sit quietly on the boardwalk, listen to its 3 call notes song, and if you hear it, tape the bird only ONCE. The bird will come out if you are lucky, but if you try the tape more, you will scare the bird away. We had fantastic views of this amazing bird. Scaly, Grey-sided and Dark-sided Thrush are more easy to see although they can be rather shy. Sapphire Flycatcher is also worth mentioning. The White-tail Leaf Warbler is common but not so easy to identify : they are very vocal, vibrate both wings together (unlike Blyth's) and have a more pronounced head pattern (more contrasting lateral crown stripes) than Blyth's. The tail pattern is diagnostic at very close range.
The entrance of the trail for the summit marsh is on the left, about 30 m before the parking of the summit radar station. Opposite the beginning of this trail is an Information Center with a few tourist shops and toilets. Rufous-throated Partridges are usually behind the kitchen (there are big tanks in front of this building) close to a 20 m high antenna. Ashy Wood-Pigeons are around a clearing behind the toilets, close to the shops. Speckle wood-Pigeons are also regularly seen from the main road there. Green-tailed Sunbirds are feeding on flowers and give gorgeous views.
One of the best spot at DI is the trail at Km 37,5. Both Cochoas are singing there early morning. They are usually hidden high up in trees. A good way to find them is by scanning the top of the trees from the main road. We had good views of a Green Cochoa. At the entrance of the trail a Rusty-naped Pitta was singing but never showed up. A Slaty-bellied Tesia was singing at the 100m marker on the trail and responded well to the tape; a very nice bird more colorful than depicted in books.
The Km 13 is also a good spot but fires have burned the area. We managed to see a few good birds there such as Black-backed Forktail, Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Collared Falconet, White-browed Piculet, Changeable Hawk-eagle, but there was no sign of White-rumped Falcon or any Woodpecker.
The area around the HQ, and the camping marshy area worth a visit.
If you want to see Black-tailed Crake, an easy way is to ask Mr Daeng. Don't forget to visit him at his restaurant, have a good dinner, and ask him for species. He might take you to the crake marsh and feed them. He feeds the crake anyway everyday around 5pm. He also knows a stake-out for Fire-capped Tit, close to the crake spot. Between the km 30 and the park HQ, you take the road going to the Hmong village, leave the campground entrance on the right and keep going for about 1 km; on the right is an orchard (small sort of peaches); this is the Fire-capped Tit spot. We unfortunately didn't see this bird but had great views of a male Siberian Rubythroat.
We drove to Doi Angkang at night on the 25th March.
We birded there on 26 and 27th. The best places are km 19,9 and especially km 21,3. There is also a pine forest close to the Myanmar border, just a few hundred meters before the border, on the right) where Giant Nuthatch is supposed to survive. Unfortunately, I doubt it will stay for long as Thais were still cutting down trees when we were there. Note that the road to Myanmar is on the right a few hundred meters BEFORE the Doi Angkang Nature Resort. The Myanmar border is not signposted but there is an indication towards a pagode.
The best birds we saw at Doi Angkang were Spot-breasted Parrotfinch (100 m before the border in a dozen pines on the left), Crested Finchbill, Red-faced Liochichla (km 21,3), Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Aberrant Bush-Warbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Speckled Piculet, Slaty-backed and Slaty-blue Flycachers, Daurian Redstart, Asian Stubtail, Crested Goshawk and many others.
On 27 March in the afternoon, we went to Thaton. It was disappointing and I would not recommend it anymore although we had a few good species such as Crested Bunting, Oriental Pratincole, Rosy Pipit. I would instead advise going on the "1314" road leading to a great birding place. It was given to us by Gilbert Michiels who found 5 pairs of Jerdon's Bushchat. While there we found a new place for Black-tailed Crakes (well outside known range!) and also had great views of 4 Wood Snipes, a difficult species in Thailand. If you wish to have details of the exact place, contact me.
In the evening we drove to Doi Chiang Dao (DCD), and made it up to the Substation, with the Altis Toyota, at 2 am ! We slept for 3 hours and the first bird we saw while still in our sleeping bag was a splendid male Hume's Pheasant crossing the road just 10m from us! We later saw 6 birds at different places. The area had been burned facilitating our birding. At the end of the morning we had seen the Giant Nuthatch, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Mountain bamboo-partridge, Burmese Shrike, and a few woodpeckers. The spot for the Hume's Pheasant is about 50 m before the substation entrance, on a trail on the left; you climb up to a ridge and follow the ridge to the left. The whole area is good and pheasants are not rare.
We birded the afternoon at the Gulley trail (Wat tham Pha Phlong Temple), and had great views of a Blue Pitta hopping in the gully. Streaked-Wren Babbler is easy around the steps before the bridge that leads to the temple. There might be confusion regarding these wren-babblers but we did not see any Limestone -Wren Babbler, and after discussion with birders, it seems that Limestone-Wren Babbler is not occurring at DCD (in contradiction with some bird report statements!).
We stayed overnight at Malee's resort and heard Spot bellied Eagle-owl which came close in the big trees next to the resort but we could not spotlighted it before it flew away!
On the 29th , we ticked the Green Peafowl at Huai Hong Krai - a beautiful displaying male around the lake - and headed to Doi Intanon again, hoping that the Queen had left the area.
The best species seen there : White-browed Piculet, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Black-tailed Crake (Mr Daeng feeding them), Pintail Snipe, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Eurasian Jay, Collared Falconet, Rufous Treepie, Orange-headed Thrush, and Rusty-naped Pitta.
We then drove the complete night - 800 km- for Kaeng Krachan (KK) and arrived in the park mid-morning. The best bird area is km 16-18 (we could not go further as the road was not rebuilded yet). We had sensational views of displaying Grey Peacock-Pheasant (left from road - km 17) and Hooded Pitta (twice). Other good birds seen at KK : Silver Pheasant (crossing the road - km 16), Bamboo and Maroon Woodpeckers, 1 Ratched-tailed Treepie, Orange-headed Thrush, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Asian Emerald-Dove, Silver-backed along with Brown-backed Needletails, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, and Slaty-backed Flycatcher among others.
At night we heard Bay Owl, White-Fronted Scops-Owl, Collared Owlet but could only get close views of Brown Hawk-Owl.
We left KK on 31 March, after a slow birding morning with a "non birdwatcher-park-guide" adding only 2 new species to our list : Raffles's Malkoha and Ruddy Kingfisher. We headed to Cha'am for the Malaysian Plover. 2 pairs were present along with many shorebirds : Lesser Sand Plovers, Pacific Golden Plovers, etc... We drove at night to Krabi
We arrived at Krabi the 1st of April after a very short night brake in a bus shelter and hired Mr Dai for the morning ( 7h00-11h00) . We hired him from Belgium through Chan Pen Tours (contact them at email@example.com). Finfoot are gone from the mangrove (apparently killed by fishermen) but the boat ride is still worth it for Mangrove Pitta (brilliant), Brown-winged Kingfisher, Nordmann's Greenshank, and Smooth Otters. We dipped on the Mangrove Flycatcher (only distantly heard). To see the Chinese Egret you need to hire Mr Dai again at low tide in the afternoon. We instead went to Sa pra Nang for a Buffy Fish-Owl and regret the egret afterwards. We also tried Ban Bai Chong for forest birding. It is almost totally destroyed and is not worth a visit anymore.
We finally slept in a bed at Krabi before starting very early for Kao Nor Chuchi (KNC) on 2nd April. It is easier to get there now: from Krabi, drive south 40 km to Khlong Thom. Turn left towards Thung Yai, bunching first right at 200 m and from there the morakot resort is signposted. We stayed at the Morakot resort . They have nice rooms and very good food. It is preferable to reserve there at firstname.lastname@example.org
Birdwatching at KNC is very hard (the hardest birding I ever met !). Birds are very quiet, with a low density. We hardly got good views of a Black-capped Babbler and 1 Asian Paradise Flycatcher after 2 hours of birdwatching. The afternoon was better with Red-billed Malkoha and Banded Pitta.
Hiring Yothin Meekaew is highly recommendable especially for Gurney's Pitta as it is a very difficult species to get without him. We had great views of both male and female for more than half an hour. Yothin is also very helpful to track the skulkers out. Ask him for Gould's Frogmouth at the end of the day, as Javan Frogmouth is easy at the coffee plantation. We had great views of both. Contact Yotin Meekaew at email@example.com
Make sure to make a reservation prior to leaving for Thailand as he is very busy with birders groups in April.
Good birds seen at KNC were : Banded, Black-backed and Rufous-backed Kingfishers, Whiskered Treeswift, Blyth's and Wallace's Hawk-Eagle, Banded, Black and Yellow and Green Broadbills, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Black Magpie, Dark-throated Oriole, Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, Short-tailed, Black-capped, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned, Ferruginous, Moustached, Chestnut-rumped and Grey-throated Babblers, Large-Wren Babbler and finally a nice male Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.
Because of the troubles in the southern provinces, we decided not to go to Bala and instead went to Khao Luang National Park and stayed there on 5th of April evening and 6th of April morning. It is a great park with many good species and a ridiculously easy spot for Buffy Fish-Owl. You have to reach the "Krung Ching Waterfall" which is on the north-west of the park. There is good accommodation there (camping, restaurant, lodges). The HQ/(Information Center) is on the left, the camping on the right. You go straight, pass a gate 20m further. There is a small bridge crossing a stream. The Buffy Fish-Owl is fishing from the trees around this bridge. If you reach the restaurant 30 m further up on the right, you are too far. Just behind this restaurant is a trail starting (with a sort of concrete man-made trunk at the start). When this trail enters the forest, this is the spot for Malaysian-rail Babbler. We heard a bird calling but never saw it. You have to be there before sunrise and wait quietly. It sometimes comes out. Banded Pitta, Rufous-collared Kingfisher and trogons have all been seen on this trail. We saw only Orange-breasted Trogon. Other good birds seen here were : Bushy-crested Hornbill, Brown Barbet, Glossy Swiftlet, Silver-rumped Swift, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Dark-throated Oriole, White-crowned Forktail, Scaly-breasted Bulbul. This park surely deserves more time.
Black and yellow Broadbill - Khao Luang NP - 06/04/04
We decided to try the Similan islands for the Pied-Imperial and Nicobar Pigeons on 7th April. It was a lazy birding and snorkelling day . But if you have time it's a great paradise island with white sandy beaches and fascinating snorkelling. Nicobar Pigeons are left only on Island N°4 where they are ridiculously feeding on the ground close to the restaurant, just like pets ! We first tried hard inside the forest without success before realising that the best way to see both pigeons is to sit at the restaurant eating fish and drinking beers. The only birds in the forest were Forest Wagtail and Asian Koel. We had White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Bridled Terns from the boat.
Nicobar Pigeon - Similan Island N°4 - 07/04/04 (Thomas de Thier)
We stayed at the Kao Sok National Park on 8-9-10 april. There are a few resorts and restaurants very close to the entrance of the park. It is also a great park with a big potential bird list and also good mammals such as black panther, tapir or wild elephant. It seems that tigers still survive. We only saw wild elephants.
There are 2 trails :
- The first trail starts opposite to the Information Center and crosses a river and leads to "Bang Le-ap Nam" waterfall (4.5 km from HQ). On this trail we saw Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, Lesser Fish-Eagle, among others. A good spot is called "wang yaow". This is a a few hundred meters further from an information center 3 km from the HQ on this trail. This is a dense area where the trail "splits" with the main trail going on right and a small trail on left reaching a river. This dense area was good with very close Hooded Pitta, Blue-winged Pitta (only seen by Thomas), Buff-necked, Bamboo and Maroon Woodpecker. Great Argus was singing up in the hill across the river. We tried to see it and reached, after a steep climb, a displaying ground but Great Argus seems impossible to see in this very dense forest. We saw Crested Jay and Chestnut-naped Forktail.
The second trail starts from the HQ and follows the river. After 50 m a concrete stairs climb the hill. Just follow this trail. Pass the 1 km marker and follow this up and down trail until you reach a flat area after crossing a small stream. Chestnut-naped Forktail was easy there, both on the stream and on the main river ! We had Chestnut-collared Kingfisher (inside the forest), Blue-banded Kingfisher (on the river), and Red-bearded Bee-eater. Be careful with wild elephants crushing the trees!
We ended the trip with a last morning on the southern road of Kaeng Krachan from Hua hin. We had good views of of flying and perched Jerdon's Baza. We ended the trip at a marshy area on the road to Pechaburi with a few new birds : Black-headed Munia, Grey-faced Buzzard, both jacanas. Migration was going on with more than 15 Chinese Goshawks, 50 Asian Openbills, 3 Oriental Pratincoles and 20 Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.
Little Grebe - Khok Ham - 11/04/04 (Marc Ameels)
After 23 days in Thailand, we scored a honourable 492 species, very close to our 500 species goal. We had close views of many of our target species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Siamese Fireback, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Hume's Pheasant, 8 species of pittas, all wanted kingfishers and bee-eaters and some bonus such as Wood Snipe and Sapphire Flycatcher. The Bala disappointment was partly compensated by such additions to our list as Nicobar Pigeon and Buffy Fish-Owl. A future trip to Malaysia seems necessary to complete our peninsular list.