It has been 3 years since my last visit to KhaoYai. I remember it all too well then- a day trip with Lim Kim Keang and some members of the SBG while en route to Kaeng Krachan on a twitch for the Ratchet-tailed Treepie. There were many ghosts that haunted me since then, on the least of which how we heard Blue Pitta, Eared Pitta and Scaly-breasted Partridge almost everyday at KK and I took no interest in them. Back then, a Grey Treepie was as good as any of these now. Times have changed since then, and this trip was a serious twitch at some of SEA's finest ground birds. Nothing less was acceptable. Hence, I jumped at the chance when the Army forced me to clear my annual leave and exploited the New Year long break to take a trip to 1 of Asia's most beautiful and accessible National Parks just a few hours drive from the shopping paradise that is BKK.
A Word Of Thanks
I am indebted to many people for making this trip a success, namely the people who recommended me whatever guides they knew, thus giving me a choice when it came to deciding the best one. In particular, I am indebted to Rob Hutchinson for his step by step analysis on how my 5 days should be spent and being the only 1 who was spot on with the weather which was essentially sunny with clear skies throughout, just as he had said. His advise helped me to decide on KY as my destination of choice above all else. In return, you asked for a summary of all interesting sightings during my time there. Rest assured Rob that the following report will give you plenty to look forward to for your mid-Jan return to KY.
Others who deserve special mention are Peter Ericsson, as helpful as ever in telling me where the best stakeouts were and never losing faith in the famous Pha Kluai Mai Campsite (I am sure it has regained that magic with 3 CBGCs over 2 days). Chris Goodie, whose KY trip report was probably 1 of, if not the most recent 1, helped me build up a list of what to expect and how to go about finding them. (I found your CBGCs btw =P).Finally, to all the birders in Singapore who helped,3 of whom I can remember would be Horst Flotow, James Heng for braving the leeches and telling me Trail 6 was a nightmare (45 mins worth of Eared Pitta changed that) and YC who photographed a bunch of Silver Pheasants crossing Radar Road with a picture that almost caused me to fall off my chair and decide that KY was the place for me (I almost fell out of the car when the same incident happened to me).
Weather & Hazards
I was there right smack in the dry season with blue skies and Sun on all the 3.5 days I spent in the park. It almost seemed like half of Bangkok felt that the weather was right and by New Year's Eve every open area in the park was a rainbow of coloured tents and noisy people, but I digress. Anyway, with the dry season came TICK season in KY. These buggers mean business. Most are puny, no more than 2mm in length. However, at the end of most treks through the forest, we would have dozens on our bodies. In particular, the point man and guide Nang, had almost 4 times as many of these beasts as I had because she was the one who brushed them off the leaves for me when she walked .Their bite was also not very comfortable, although the fact that their bite itched a lot after a couple of hours was a real lifesaver as far as I was concerned. I was quite fearful to find 1 had penetrated the area below my belly button and spent the most of 30 mins getting it out. I became quite paranoid of them thereafter but having come prepared with 2 whole bottles of OFF repellent I found that soaking the bottom half of my legs in the chemicals did reduce the problem considerably. There were no other major hazards to report on other than these bloodsuckers.
It was a real windfall for me when some OBers recommended me a unknown guide, a woman called Nang, as my guide for the trip. She lives in Pak Chong and hence the park is basically her backyard and to her credit she has seen at least 80% of all birds that have called in to Khao Yai.She is an excellent birding companion to have for a few major reasons. For one, having worked in the US for some time, she speaks very good English by Thai standards which saved me a lot of trouble by allowing me to actually talk in proper sentences as opposed to grammatically incorrect phrases. She was excellent with calls and would often take me to trails off the beaten track (ie not on the park map) to look for birds which she had seen there before. Even when there was no clear trail, I was never once afraid of getting lost because she knew exactly where she was going. She is also EXTREMELY sharp, and one of the most skilled birders I have ever met. Her unique strategy when dealing with ground birds was to strain her ears and listen to leaves rustling to indicate their presence. I gave her the nickname "The Leaf-Hearer" because she was able to hear these movements even in noisy forest settings and often at long distance (ard 50m at least) and in this way we were often able to get very close to even jumpy birds like Scaly-breasted Partridges without them running away because she knew they were there way in advance. The best part about this was how tapes were not needed and despite having brought 1 along, I never ever used it whilst looking for birds and usually only did so once I had seen bird and wanted to gauge its response to a play-back
All this was for the relatively measly price of 2000 baht or less than 100 USD a day excluding food which was peanuts compared to what most other guides were charging. She did admit that most of the more famous birding guides didn't like her because they felt her rates were too low but in light of what she did for me I'd say she was worth every penny I spent. She was even helpful enough to give me a choice of itinerary to choose from but I didn't go with camping because the park was packed. All in all, I paid 1000 SGD or about 600USD for an all expenses paid(transport, guiding etc and only meals were excluded) trip to KY where I could focus on birds with no worries whatsoever. For a single person travelling alone, I thought it was a great deal compared to what other guides had offered me. For those who are interested, she even has her own website at www.thailandyourway.com and offers a wide variety of tours although her real speciality is in birds and wildlife as she is very passionate about these subjects.
For accommodation, Khao Yai Garden Lodge wins hands down. Although it is quite distant from the park, it was very popular with European tourists and it showed in the standard of their rooms. Their most expensive rooms were only 800 baht or around 20 USD but they were very clean and even came with a hot shower and air con! The best part was that the operator did not use the long New Year weekend to increase the room rates like what every other resort (including Juldis) did.
Most countries in the world these days have the rather creative approach of showing their most wanted bad guys as poker cards. For me, my deck had just 6 members split amongst 5 Aces.
Ace Of Spades-CBGC (No need to write the full name, which SEA birder doesn't know what this is =P)
Ace Of Hearts- Eared Pitta
Ace Of Clubs-#1 Silver Pheasant
#2 Siamese Fireback
Ace of Diamonds-#1 Blue Pitta
#2 Scaly-breasted Partridge
Each 1 of these 6 were lifers and I told Nang that my sole purpose of going to KY was to hunt each 1 of them down to the best of our abilities. Everything else was secondary. As I would describe below, I would not be disappointed.
Day 1 (29/12/05)
TRAVEL DAY Quote Of The Day: Oh Look! The babbler went into the limestone cave...Damn! it almost stabbed me!
Summary: Yep, today was an excuse to go looking for the Limestone Wren-babbler en route to Khao Yai. I arrived in BKK at 0940 Thai Time & thereafter Nang took me to this unknown temple whose name I don't know in the Saraburi province, reaching there around noon. Unlike Chris Goodie's trek however, there was no need for any steep climbs or anything here. The moment we got out of the vehicle, we were on their turf. However it was to be a full half an hour because the magical Leaf-Hearer uses her skills to find 1 bird turning leaves on an escarpment behind the head monk's house. Subsequently, we would bump into 3 more birds hopping around by the side of a flight of gentle steps leading to an altar on a neighbouring escarpment. All gave great views as they moved skilfully around the boulders of rock. The highlight for me was summarised in the quote above where having tracked down a bird which disappeared into a dark limestone cave, I bent down and peeked in only to have the bird fly straight out at me, screaming some sort of alarm call and scaring the life out of me. Clearly the bird was probably afraid of the dark.
As an aside, it was interesting to note that the monks here had some interesting game birds as pets. Besides a free roaming Helmeted Guineafowl and Blue Peafowl. They were actually keeping 2 stunning male Green Peafowl in a large cage behind their toilet. How they got hold of these birds, I would never really know.
After the temple visit, we tried unsuccessfully for Chinese Francolin at the nearby Cher Klot Forest Park before heading for KYGL.
Lifers of The Day : Limestone Wren-babbler
Day 2 (30/12/05)
Khao Yai Day 1. Quote Of The Day: On the 5th day of Christmas my bird guide said to me "5 Swinhoe's Minivets, 4 Gold Crested Mynas, 3 Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos, 2 Blue Pittas and a Fireback on a hill slope!
The line from the Christmas carol says it all. The first and best birding day in Khao Yai with over 52 species seen and 3 of the 6 Aces down in just 12 hrs. Nang picked me from the Lodge at 0530 and subsequently drove to the park (which only opens at 6am btw).First stop, the famous Radar Road. There was a overwhelming sense of nostalgia as we drove in and I passed many places I had visited in the past. In SEA, the only place where landscapes seem to change is Singapore. Sigh. Anyway, some of the early local tourists were already up and busy setting up tents. The road up to the viewpoint was predictably busy with city slickers rushing up to enjoy a REAL sunrise. As such, the trip up was rather uneventful.
However, on the way down, a big Bird Wave was encountered in the area of forest just before the section with 3 bridges (from the viewpoint of a car driving up).The first thing both of us ignored was the Phylloscopus warblers ,because Nang always believed they all look the same and I couldn't be bothered because they really looked very similar to me. Instead, I focused on other birds (and there were plenty) in the wave which had everything from Green Magpies and Oriental White-eyes to White browed Scimitar Babblers and Red-headed Trogons. Lifers for me, though common birds they were, included birds like Moustached Barbet (great views at eye level) and Black-throated Laughingthrush. The stars of this wave came about a few metres down this stretch by a bridge where 5 Swinhoe's Minivets descended on a tree directly above the bridge and began foraging. The most distinctive feature on their bodies must be their brownish rump area, which sets them apart from all other minivets in KY. The gully itself also contained a lone White-crowned Forktail.
Further down the road, we came to a halt in a patch of forest just before the 1st patch of grassland located at a left turn (again from the viewpoint of someone driving up).The reason for doing so seemed rather harmless at first: An Emerald Dove was ON the road picking at stuff on the tarmac. However, no sooner had the car come to a halt that the sound of leaves rustling was heard on the small hill slope on the left. (For once both me and Nang heard it together). A few tense moments later, with us creeping along the other side of the road for a couple of metres, Nang eventually motioned for me to put my bino on a small window through the hill slope. The red face that covered my view seconds later was incredible. A lone Siamese Fireback was taking a stroll through the hill, picking off anything in his path. It was around 9am by now, which was rather late to be seeing these dawn birds, but I sure wasn't complaining! Interestingly, he was being followed by a female Red Junglefowl! The rather odd couple were watched as they moved along the crest of the hill before disappearing from view. At this moment, as if things couldn't get any better, a large rufous bird appeared to be flushed by drongos and flew across the road to land in a tree directly in front of us. Bins were quickly placed on it and it did a typical 360 degree head turn and looked straight at us with large yellow eyes. What A Stroke Of Luck! It was a Mountain Scops-owl, a lifer for both Nang & Me. This tricky bird had eluded me in both Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, and I was delighted to have finally pinned it down with little effort. As for Nang, it seems like the only family she hadn't really seemed much of in the park was owls, so understandably we both shared in the magic of the moment.
By now, it was late in the morning and Nang had suggested that we head to the Pha Kluai Mai campsite for lunch and a chance for the cuckoo. Her theory (which was spot on btw) was there with a huge increase in visitor numbers. the rubbish tips in the area would be crawling with birds. We headed off to the campsite, stopping in the area around the Nong Pak Chee tower because the figs in this area where fruiting and attracting many birds, including Great Hornbills and Mountain Imperial Pigeons amongst others. It was here where another surprise was waiting for us. We stumbled upon an incredible gathering of over 30 Hill Mynas on a relatively bare but flowering tree right next to the fig trees. On closer inspection, we found that at least 4 of these mynas weren't Hill but the much sought-after Gold-crested Myna! These mynas were special because they were forest mynas and in general very hard to see. Another big tick for me!
We reached the campsite at around 11am in the morning, by now the car park was already full and numerous tents had already been set-up. No sooner had we entered the restaurant when 1 of the cooks who recognised Nang told her the Ace Of Spades had paid a visit earlier that morning. My adrenaline was sky-high at this point. As Nang had predicted, Khao Yai's most wanted had fallen for the irresistible easy meal at the rubbish dump. She suggested that we try an area of rather open riverine forest just behind the toilet at the campsite which was located on the other side of the road along the boundary of the campsite as few people (birders included) usually went near that area.
What followed was 1 of the greatest 1hr of birdwatching I have ever experienced in my life. We had descended only a few feet down the slope behind the toilet when I saw a flash of white move out of a log just 10m downhill from where I was. I only heard Nang's uttering "Coral..." but I was already in 7th Heaven then. Here it was, KY most wanted bird of all, less than 10m away from me. It wasn't running, in fact, it was leisurely picking off insects and some food that seemed to come out from a pipe that was leading from the toilet. At 1 point, it even looked straight up to me as if to say "Happy New Year to you, nice of you to finally find me here". It's eyes were covered in numerous layers of colour. I still remember how violet turned to red and finally to yellow around the eye itself. The bright red bill was also ever distinctive. It was even possible for me to see all this without the aid of my bins. Eventually, it moved out of view and I still remember Nang cautioning me not to roll down the slope! However, she wasn't done yet. At that instant, the words " Blue Pitta" came out of her mouth and all I saw was a flash of blue hopping off from a log, and that was the end of that.
Lunch was rather enjoyable and it was not long before we descended on that patch of forest again behind the toilet. When we got there about 20mins later, an even greater sight emerged. There were now 2(!!!) CBGCs feeding side by side around that outflow pipe area. However, this time we were probably a tad more noisy and they jogged off, although not before giving us great naked eye (no typo here) looks at their features as they did so. We decided to hang around for a while in hopes of better looks at a Blue Pitta. As before, the best we mustered was a flash of blue. However, there was so much activity here that I almost didn't want to leave. In the 30mins we spent here, we encountered 1 each of Orange-headed, Blue Whistling & Scaly Thrush together with a supporting cast of Shama and Abbott's Babbler. When a mixed flock moved through the area, I got my next lifer, a Pale-legged Leaf-warbler which I managed to ID thanks to a recording of its call which I had in my tape and remembered. Black-winged Cuckooshrike was also seen here.
In the afternoon, Nang then took me to KM 33 or Trail 9, down the road from the HQ. This was a trail she liked alot because it was in pristine hill forests and former Tiger & Gaur territories. She had seen both pittas, the pheasant and the partridge here before, and Bird Waves were common and easy to follow here (as I would soon find out).. A brief stop to look for Barred Cuckoo-dove at the guaranteed Ton Sai Salt Lick stakeout ended with BVDs as the birds were easily flushed and flew away in a blur of feathers. In the early afternoon, the trail was mostly quiet. However, it was not dead as the fruiting trees in the area were figging and large numbers of Oriental Pied Hornbills were having a big feast. It took a while before we bumped into yet another Blue Pitta here. This time, I managed to get good naked eye views of the bird as it ran through patches of sunlight. It was interesting to note that went we flushed the blue pitta, it hunched it body and started running in a manner similar to Coursers (I hadn't seen 1 before but the posture was rather alike) and could they run fast! By late afternoon, waves were coming thick and fast and I was getting quite overwhelmed, with common wave birds like Grey-headed Flycatcher & Black-naped Monarch trailed by lifers in the form of Sulphur-breasted Warbler & Grey-headed Woodpecker (which I only managed a BVD this time). Up above, large feeding flocks of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes mixed with Oriental White-eyes were dancing through the trees. What A Way To End A Great Day Of Birding!
On the way back, darkness had already fallen but the local mammals seemed excited by the prospect of more rubbish to feed on and a family of 4 Malayan Porcupines were seen running around in a field by the park HQ. Besides that a small herd of Asian Elephant was feeding by the roadside on the road down to Pak Chong, seemingly oblivious to the cars that had stopped to admire them.
Disclaimer: I would not advise any foreign birders to go wandering into Trail 9 alone. Due to the open nature of the forest and relatively sparse undergrowth, it is very easy to loose the trail and get lost. Nang knew these trails well because she brings trekkers here often as there is a path through the hills from 1 end of the park to another. If it weren't for her, I could have easily been tiger chow by now =P.
Lifers For The Day : Moustached Barbet, Black-throated Laughingthrush, Gold-crested Myna, Mountain Scops-owl, Siamese Fireback, CBGC, Pale-legged Leaf-warbler, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Blue Pitta, Swinhoe's Minivet.
Targets Hit: Ace Of Spades, Ace Of Diamonds #1, Ace Of Clubs #2. Deserving special mention was the fact that Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo was incidentally my 1000th life list bird and also my 700th SEA bird. For those who follow, yup I finally achieved my 1000th life bird and what a bird it was!
Day 3 (31/12/05)
Day 2 In Park. Quote Of The Day: Maybe its around the next bend...Trail 6 Screams Pitta Country but where are they?
The day dedicated to the gruelling hunt for the Eared Pitta had come. Against all odds, we were hoping we would be able to find this bird within 1 day of hard work. However, after thrashing around in Trail 9 yesterday without much success, I was becoming increasingly demoralised about finding this bird. Most observers, including Chris Goodie, described how they had to bump into the bird to find it. I could not understand at that time how a bird, drawn in such a dull way in Lekagul's book, would look even remotely beautiful to be worth the effort to find (HOW WRONG I WAS). Anyway, I suggested to Nang that we should dedicate the morning to Trail 6, despite her suggestion of going back to Trail 9.
As it turned out, on the one hand Trail 6 is 1 of the finest forest trails I have been to.It passes through some fantastic riverine hill forest and the scenery was breathtaking. In fact, a german birder we met in the afternoon (I only know he was a certain Mr Behrens) even went so far to say that he travels to Thailand solely to walk Trail 6.After having walked the whole trail in the morning, I have to say I do agree to some extent with him.
The bad part was. TRAIL 6 WAS BIRDLESS EVEN IN THE MORNING! We spent a gruelling 5 hours in the trail, entering from the HQ area and exiting via a loop researcher's trail that isn't even on the map but Nang knew where it was, and all I have is a BVD of a Blue Pitta to tell of my efforts. A pathetic late morning silent bird wave of Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-headed Trogon & Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush wasn't much of a consolation. Nang had it slightly better, having flushed a male Japanese Thrush on the research trail but only managed very brief looks. As for me, I was typically distracted by a Orange-headed Thrush when the incident happened.
By lunch, I was about ready to give up. However, the 1 thing I had remembered was that a small party of Singapore birders led by Kim Chuah in 2002 had seen the Eared Pitta in the evening on the trail. With this in mind, Nang suggested that to put my mind to rest about the trail, she would take me back to Trail 6 in the evening to hunt for it again. I was rather anxious to stop becoming tick chow by mowing through forest repeatedly, and was hoping for the best.
We went to a abandoned Fern Research trail in the afternoon where I eventually got great views of a Blue Pitta at the cost of having to deal with a massive number of ticks. However, the best would undoubtedly come at the end of 2005.
Trail 6 in the evening was far more birdy, with calls coming from lower down and birds like Tickell's & Hill Blue Flycatchers were active. However, I was not exactly in the best state of mind then. I was hot and tired, and I wasn't very happy to know that ticks were crawling around in my shoes because I could see them but they were not crawling up due to the strong repellent. We entered at 4pm,and walked just to the area where the trail runs parallel to the stream (about a quarter the way in) before we had to turn back.
The first lifers of the day for me and at that time a huge relief was 2 very confiding Large Scimitar Babblers feeding along a rotten log that had fallen over the trail. They were essentially hopping around on the ground and making a lot of noise in the 1st place (which was what alerted Nang to their presence) and they didn't even bother to run off when we finally decided to walk pass, they merely moved to another part of the log. Cool birds!
THEN...it happened. Just round the next bend, Nang dropped into a crouch. I saw a flash of brown in the corner of my eye. Nang,as usual...started with "Eared..." but I was on it. My bino fogged up. Nang's mentioned "Don't cry". I don't know why. Maybe it was for all the effort she had put in to find me this bird...I kinda guess that after seeing the CBGC, every trail she brought me too was to find this bird even though she never said it, and she was probably disappointed up to that point that we hadn't had much to show for her efforts....or maybe it was just because my voice then was very very shaky. No more than 40m from me, a stunning, I repeat unforgettable male Eared Pitta was silently turning leaves over and basically looking for dinner.This was 1 of those birds that looks better than the book. Neither Robson or Lekagul got it right, though Robson came closer. The bars or whatever u call the lines on the belly of this bird was much bolder than in the book and its belly wasn't so "clean". The rufous upperparts were also more intense. The most striking feature of this bird was those growths above its eyes like adornments. They instantly reminded me of the King Of Saxony's BOP...I don't know why but I keep thinking that the KOS's adornments were just an upgrade of these. They really do protrude out like ears!. Like Chris Goodie, we watched the bird for a full 45 mins...taking in everything we could about the bird. Eventually, we left because it was getting very dark, and not because the bird had hopped away! Peter Ericsson was spot on again when he mentioned that birders who see Blue Pitta usually see them very briefly. Birders lucky enough to see a Eared Pitta will be treated to lengthy & unforgettable views.
WHAT A WAY TO END 2005! My final bird of the year and a great tick at that!
Lifers For The Day: Large Scimitar Babbler, Eared Pitta
Aces Seen: Ace Of Hearts, Ace Of Diamonds #1. Special mention to Eared Pitta for being both my final bird and final lifer for the great birding year that was 2005.
Day 4 (1/1/06)
Day 3 In Park. Quote Of The Day: I am dreaming of a white phea-sant!!! (To the tune of A White Christmas XD)
With the unprecedented success we were enjoying thus far, we now actually had 2 days left to find just 2 birds, both of which Nang claimed were not overly difficult. However, I was beginning to feel that the Silver Pheasant was anything but easy. We repeated what we had done everyday for the past 3 days. Radar Road first thing in the morning hoping for the pheasants to cross the road. We waited yet again from 630-730, working around Nang's most recent area where she had sighted them crossing the road on 23th Dec at 3pm near the bridge area, but yet again no luck. Hence Nang suggested going back to Trail 9 to hunt the partridge down as it was common there. Before descending Radar Road completely, we saw Siamese Fireback at the same area we saw them on Friday, and much earlier too at 715am. This time the flock was much more normal, with 2 males and a female seen. What a New Year bird!
Following which, we re-visited the Cuckoo dove salt lick again and this time was rewarded for our cautious approach with good views of a male Barred Cuckoo-dove, my 1st lifer for 2006 and for the day. Subsequently, when we reached Trail 9,it was bursting to the brim with birds. All 4 hornbills were here. Most were rather easy to spot, but we had to play cat and mouse with a large flock of 7 Brown Hornbills that kept to the understorey fig trees and were so easily flushed that for a long time we managed only flight views before they decided to settle in a slightly taller tree and gave stellar views. Thankfully, our chase was aided by the fact that they were rather vocal, so we always knew where they were. Another unexpected big bonus in the bag.
Moving deeper into Trail 9 via numerous mammals paths made by elephants and co as well as abandoned research paths. We bumped into a lot more bird waves and my life list kept increasing. A handsome male Hainan Blue Flycatcher , then a Radde's Warbler and finally a Grey-headed Woodpecker all made it onto the trip life list which had by now exceeded my estimates. The most exciting wave by far was the one the Woodpecker was in. It was a "big bird" mixed flock and the wave starters including most incredibly of all, up to 15 Long-tailed Broadbills that moved as a rather noisy unit together with an equal number of drongos made up of both Bronzed and Spangled. This wave attracted many other species including Greater Yellownape, Orange-breasted Trogon & White-crested Laughingthrush and before long became so large and overwhelming that we were bound to have overlooked a fair number of birds. The main reason for this was because the wave stayed in an area of hill slope overlooking a mud wallow for a long time, meaning that everyone in the wave was constantly moving around but the wave as a whole wasn't moving on. Incredible stuff, especially when you have 15 birds dressed up like soldier with helmets and some natural camouflage cream blending right into the foliage.
All this while, the action would be occasionally interrupted by the loud partridge calls. We eventually moved into a patch of relatively open forest near the roadside on the way out.I was chatting with Nang about birding stuff when out of the blue she said Partridge! and there they were. 2 Scalys sauntered along the ground about 40m from where I stood looking. Incredibly, they didn't seem to have detected us and with great care we actually managed to close the distance to them by at least 10m.After a while, we just decided to move on as unbeatable views were obtained(Just imagine getting so close then when u focus a 10x42 u only see the top half of the bird, I am sure most birders would kill for such views.)
Lunch was again a spectacle to behold as no sooner had we gone back to the PKM restaurant that word came that a CBGC was feeding just behind the restaurant and we were on our feet again. NOW THIS WAS THE KILLER VIEW! No more than 10m from the cuckoo, hiding in the kitchen with the bird literally feeding on rice that was washed into the area. It was something. It was almost like royalty eating with the beggars, as the cuckoo was feeding with 6 Spotted Doves and 2 female Red Junglefowls. The bird seemed to take great pleasure in picking food from between the legs of hens as they scratched the earth. What a horny lil fella! The cuckoo sauntered off after 15mins, and no sooner had we disappeared that a Blue Pitta hopped into the view scope and surveyed the scene. Clearly he was probably not pleased that he would be sharing the meal with some commoners, as only the doves were left now and he gazed at them, almost disapprovingly, before casually hopping off. Perhaps he understood his status as part of Khao Yai's Big 5! A Orange-headed Thrush, however, was having none of this royal stuff and was eagerly tucking in right amongst the doves.
In the early part of the afternoon Nang was finally satisfied to stop at the Tanarat Lodge to let me see 1 of my most embarassing lifers: A Plain-backed Sparrow. 5 mins after getting out, I was back in the car headed to Orchid Waterfall where Nang promised me a surprise. That was how easy the bird was, and yet I hadn't see it in 4 trips to Thailand. Blah!
Orchid Waterfall didn't disappoint. I could not believe it when my bins were put on a 3m long Siamese Crocodile sleeping on a log. Apparently, 2 of these critically endangered reptiles were spotted in the river downstream from the waterfall in recent times. No one knows how they got here, but according to Nang they were clearly thriving as she tells me that this individual we saw, supposedly the larger of the 2,is clearly increasing in length everyday. No matter what its source, it was a very special moment as it is not everyday that you are presented with a critically endangered species, especially considering how some scientists spend weeks in Kaeng Krachan without seeing 1. The only noteworthy birds at the waterfall however were 2 Slaty-backed Forktails which was understandable given how busy the waterfall was (it was packed).
Late evening was an unsuccessful hunt for the Silver Pheasant back in Trail 6 which became birdless again. After nightfall, an unsuccessful wait for Asiatic Black Bear at the military base at the top of Radar Road did produce a Brown Wood-owl and Nang's 2nd lifer. These birds really enjoy military camps, as they seem to be particularly easy to see around soldiers and spotlights, whether in Fraser's Hill, Doi Inthanon, or here in KY.
Lifers Of The Day: Barred Cuckoo-dove, Brown Hornbill, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Radde's Warbler, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Plain-backed Sparrow.
Day 5 (2/1/06)
Day 4 & Final Day In Park. Quote: And making his way onto the road, the knight in shining armor, measuring in at over 1m in length, put your hands together for...Silver Phea-sant!!!
A final half-day in the park. I had to be at the airport by 5pm, and given we had intended to go hunting for Asian Golden Weaver around BKK, it meant leaving the park by lunch. The day started badly, as Nang had a tour guide party the night before and was suffering a hangover. I was quite pissed when she arrived to pick me at 0630am, especially since everyone, including the lodge owner and driver, had been trying to do so since 530am,but in light of future events, it was to be a huge blessing in disguise.
Nang arrived, typically apologising profusely, which did nothing more than give me a sense of deja vu to Doi Chiang Dao the year before when miscommunication led to the driver coming at 645am instead of 530am and cost me both the Nuthatch and Pheasant, a dark day of birding that was.
By the time we reached Radar Road, it was already 7am and the Sun was up. Interestingly, the volume of traffic had decreased tremendously, perhaps because the sunrise was already over. We headed to the area of road with 3 bridges and staked-out each 1 of them like lions waiting for a meal.
For once, the driver earned himself a big tip when he saw it at 8am.A male pheasant by the roadside which ran off as soon as he stopped the car. This was right before the last bridge. Nang was jolted awake, I was struggling with getting a view but to no avail. Nang suggested parking the car just after the bridge and waiting because it seemed like the pheasant was preparing for a cross. So we waited.
5mins later, the start of a historic moment began. A female walked right out onto the roadside. She was the bravest of them all, taking advantage of the temporary lack of cars to actually feed by the roadside. By now, I was half in and half out of the car window, captivated by what I was looking at. When a car did finally come, she actually dared to saunter across the road even as the car came rushing at full speed towards her. Just when it seemed a collision was inevitable, she took flight into the stream at the other end.
This sparked a mass exodus as thereafter, 4 more females, 1 after another, sauntered across the road, behaving like the VIPs that they were. By now, all traffic on the road had come to a standstill. Whether it was because the drivers were also intrigued by what's going on, or whether it was because they were looking at a young birdwatcher who was now almost falling out of the car through the rear window because more than half his body was out of that window I would never know, although I like to think it was because of me XD.
Then the climax came, the first male had decided to follow the last of the females across the road. He was simply gorgeous. The glossy white upperparts, matched with a red face and legs and dark bluish underparts, was everything that I had expected. And yet, it was to get even better, when he was half way across the road, a 2nd male started the road crossing, behaving like some female model at a fashion show doing a catwalk. Finally, a 3rd male, clearly the most timid one, probably had sensed the vehicles and instead of walking flew the entire length across the road.
IMAGINE. In just 10mins,we had seen 8 Silver Pheasants cross the road. Birders were already delighted with seeing 1 in trail 6,and here we were looking at 8 times of that amount. WHAT A FINALE!
Lifers Of The Day : Silver Pheasant
End Result: CLEAN SWEEP!
This is also where the story ends, as further birding that day was casual and a anti-climax to the morning. In just 3.5 days, with no aid of tapes whatsoever, I had managed to nail all 6 of Khao Yai's and Asia's finest ground birds amidst 15 other lifers. In all, 86 species were recorded in those 3.5 days (seen only) but I don't see a need to type a full list as the most interesting of the bunch is already touched on here.
For those who have read to this point, many thanks for your time and I hoped you enjoyed the report as much as I did going on the trip and making 1.More importantly, I hope that this trip reports helps anyone in the future going to KY to hunt for these megaticks and by providing all this information I hope that you all return as successful as I was.
Until I travel again (which will be some time yet), here's wishing all a very belated happy new year and great birding in the year ahead.