Khao Sok is a reserve in southern Thailand, about 2 hours drive north of Phuket and Krabi. The headquarters is well signposted from route 401 between Takua Pa and Surat Thani.
Not many birdwatchers seem to visit this park, although it is a decent option for birdwatching in southern Thailand as others in this part of the country gradually become less and less attractive because of habitat degradation and safety issues. Just a short report so you know what sort of things are here.
Saturday, 16 April 2005
This was my third visit to Khao Sok, with my primary target the Great Argus pheasant. I had agreed to meet my guide, Teng, at 4:30am, but I’d called him in broken Thai to inform him of the change of location and was not sure if the message had got through. Khao Sok seems to be the Thai park catering most to Western backpackers, especially visitors to Phuket or Krabi taking a two- or three-day side trip to the jungle. As a result, there is a ribbon of fairly inexpensive lodges with very similar sounding names along the entrance road – Khao Sok Jungle Lodge, Khao Sok Riverside Lodge, various Khao Sok treetops huts. My hotel, the only one I could find a number for on the Internet – Khao Sok Riverside Cottages – was located several kilometres drive from park headquarters.
In fact, Teng did not turn up, I tried to ring his mobile and there was no signal, so drove to park headquarters and, surprisingly, one of the rangers was available to let me in at that hour. No sign of Teng there, either, but at least there was some signal and I called to let him know where I was.
Following Teng’s motorcycle to his house, down a dirt road with a “Tiger Lodge” sign to the south of route 401, we met a friend and grabbed a cup of coffee. Parked and walked down the road, which turned into a path winding through rubber plantations and crossing a series of rocky streams. After the final, most remote hut, we started following one of the streams. It was light by now and we could hear an argus calling, although Teng had warned me before coming that it was too late in the year and our chances of success were low. I found the footing difficult on the rocks, of course, and one part of the trail involved some rock climbing up a cliff to the side of a waterfall. Soon after scaling this, we started straight up to a ridgetop on one side of the stream, where there was an argus display ground, a cleared area of the forest floor right on the ridgetop. We settled in and played a tape, but my tape was weak and the argus were calling from a ridge on the other side of the stream. After crossing the stream again and heading up the opposite ridge, we were now quite close to a calling male but flushed a junglefowl as we walked down the ridge which, according to Teng, must have scared off the argus pheasant. I’m sure they are hunted here. But we did find the display ground, to which we decided to return the next day… a bit earlier!
Teng picked some wild fruit on the way down the mountain, and spotted a Brown-streaked Flycatcher in an orchard. Managed to sweat through a three-hour nap after lunch, got up for an ice cream and a walk around park headquarters. Neither very successful. The ice cream (a Thai version of Magnum) had turned itself inside out in the freezer and, similarly, the sky erupted into a massive downpour as soon as I reached the park.
Sunday, 17 April 2005
Up even earlier today, at 1:30 in the morning. I met with Teng at his house and we hiked up the morning, setting off all the local burglar alarms. The rocks were very slippery after the rain, and I found the going almost impossible on the cliff section. Teng found a slow loris in one tree and, cleverly, a roosting Chestnut-naped Forktail sleeping in a bush in the stream right below the waterfall. We never managed to wake it up.
Arrived at the lek at 3:30am and sat waiting for dawn, when the argus started calling right next to us… but right behind us where the view was blocked by thick vegetation, not at the lek as we had hoped and expected. Various theories: Perhaps it commuted to the lek, noticed us and was deterred from proceeding all the way. Perhaps the rain had made the surface of the lek wet and it felt like hanging out somewhere different that day. Perhaps it knew we were birdwatchers and was just being perverse. In any case, it had won. We decided we’d tried hard enough, commuted back downhill and left the argus alone.
The resort owns a pair of exceptionally tame gibbons. I had encountered this phenomenon once before and Mae Wong, and – while these were much tamer still – they shared a number of features in common. Both had come into human care after being rescued from lions or some such. Both were exceptionally entertaining company. At lunch, these ones stole the straw out of my banana milkshake (in retrospect, not such a sensible order) while I was distracted looking at a pond-heron in the river below. Also stole the glasses off my face, swung on the electric lightbulb, ripping the bulb and the wire from the ceiling, and opened all the individually wrapped packages of butter on my butter disk (without eating any of them). But they weren’t quite enough to keep me awake at this stage.
After the nap, walked some way along the river (taking the trail to the left, over the bridge, just before the Khao Sok HQ restaurant). Dead quiet all the way down, but just as I turned back, a pair of Bamboo Woodpeckers started to become active… there is a lot of bamboo growth along the river here, and I found a couple of more at a different point the next day. Another downpour, perhaps even heavier today, started while I was on my way back. Stood under a tree for a couple of minutes, but there was no let-up and I got completely soaked. In these humid conditions, though, you’ll likely get just as wet with a raincoat as without one.
After consuming a tuna steak at one of the treetop huts, asked the rangers if I could stay late to look for owls. I’d heard a bay-owl in a previous trip around park headquarters and wanted to look for it. Relied on a tape again, but got an immediate response, with an owl calling a short way off the trail. But it clearly wasn’t going to show itself, so eventually I had to climb off the trail into a thicket of bamboo and spiny vines, and the owl got further revenge on me through a convoy of angry black ants. I was crashing around and swearing a little and was sure it had flown off, but eventually I reached a small open area in the middle of the thicket and came face to face with one of the most amazing birds in Thailand.
Monday, 18 April 2005
Enjoyed the luxury of a lie-in until 6:30 am. Took the same walk as yesterday. A Tiger Shrike and two male Yellow-rumped Flycatchers in the small orchard just across the bridge. Further down the trail, I flushed a brown bird. It flushed up into a tree, just like a heron, although pond-herons all have white. This turned out to be a Buffy Fish-Owl.
In the afternoon, before flying back to Bangkok, I drove down to Pang Nga Bay, taking the small route west and parallel to route 415. The drive was baking hot, mostly through rubber plantations. The park headquarters has a nature boardwalk. It is in a sheltered area and was unaffected by the tsunami. At this time of year (in contrast to December, when I had last visited) the whole place was hopping with Mangrove Pittas. One was calling right by the car park at 2:30 in the afternoon, and it took only an hour or so to see several.
Red Junglefowl – I group heard
Great Argus – many heard
Bamboo Woodpecker – 2 pairs
Red-throated Barbet – many heard
Helmeted Hornbill – 1 seen and commonly heard
Bushy-crested Hornbill – 1 group heard (argus site)
Orange-breasted Trogon – 1 seen
Greater Coucal – 2 seen, commonly heard
Banded Bay Cuckoo – 1 heard
Plaintive Cuckoo – 1 heard
Vernal Hanging-Parrot – 2 heard
Asian Palm-Swift – some
Oriental Bay-Owl – 1 seen
Buffy Fish-Owl – 1 seen
Javan Frogmouth – 1 heard (argus site)
Emerald Dove – 1 seen, heard
Crested Serpent-Eagle – 2 seen
Chinese Pond-Heron – about 10
Black-and-yellow Broadbill – heard
Green Broadbill – heard
Asian Fairy-Bluebird – heard
Tiger Shrike – 1 female
Common Iora – 2 seen
Black-naped Monarch – 1 female seen
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher – 1 male (rufous-phase) seen
Brown-streaked Flycatcher – 1 seen
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher – 2 males, seen
White-rumped Shama – about 20, perhaps the most conspicuous bird here
Chestnut-naped Forktail – 2 seen (different areas), including one roosting
Black-headed Bulbul – 2 seen
Stripe-throated Bulbul – 2 seen
Buff-vented Bulbul – 1 seen
Ochraceous Bulbul – about 10 seen
Dark-necked Tailorbird – 2 seen
Abbott’s Babbler – about 10 seen
Puff-throated Babbler – 4 seen
Striped Tit-babbler – several heard
Rufous-fronted Babbler – heard
Thick-billed Flowerpecker – 1 seen
Plain Sunbird – 1 seen
Forest Wagtail – 1 seen
White-rumped Munia – 1 seen
+ Long-tailed Macaque (1 troupe)
Mueller’s Blind Snake (argus site)
Banded Flying Lizard (or similar species)
Forest Horned Lizard
Other bird species I’ve seen on previous visits to Khao Sok include Bat Hawk, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Checker-throated Woodpecker and Banded Pitta, all fairly close to the headquarters area.
Additional species, Pang Nga Bay
Brown-winged Kingfisher – 1 seen
Spotted Dove – heard
Mangrove Pitta – 10 seen
Large-billed Crow – 2 seen
Oriental Magpie-Robin – 3 seen
Common Myna – many
Pacific Swallow – many