This was the second trip organized and marketed as a dual venture between Birding EcoTours of South Africa and PaddleAsia (Thailand Birding) of Thailand. The tour was led by Games Punjapa.
The itinerary comprised mainly of forest birding, with a boat trip every few days to provide a change of habitat and scenery. The main tour was to be done in the Southern provinces of Phuket, Phang Nga, Surat Thani, Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Krabi with an additional week in central Thailand, principally Petchaburi and Nakhon Ratchasima.
The tour was taken up by James (Jim) and Barbara Leupold of the US who booked the trip as a private tour. Ian Dugdale, a local birder and photographer joined the tour in an unofficial capacity.
The guests arrived at Phuket Airport at 9am after a gruelling 36 hour journey from Washington DC. Jim declared that his interest was in photographing birds rather than just seeing them and that quality of bird and image were more important than numbers of species. Barbara was more of a “classic” birder.
One of our favourite birding spots, the abandoned golf course at Thai Muang had recently been shut to birders due to the start of building work. Accordingly we changed the schedule slightly to accommodate this.
We spent the rest of the morning birding around the “Future Project” site opposite the airport. The heat was already building up so we mainly drove around and went for short walks under the shade. An Oriental Honey Buzzard was seen over one of the lakes, as were a few Brahminy Kites. Black-naped Orioles and Black-capped Kingfishers eluded Jim’s camera. A few Common Redshank were feeding in a old shrimp pond.
After an extended lunch break we drove up to the rice paddies and marshes in Phang Nga. Yellow Bittern, Black-browed Reed-Warblers and a Black-winged Kite were seen along with a variety of Egrets and Munias. A Plaintive Cuckoo responded to call and flew close in. A pair of Grey-capped Pygmy-Woodpeckers came into the same tree shortly afterwards.
Towards dusk we moved up to Thai Muang beach to our Spotted Wood-Owl stake-out. As we waited, we spied an Eastern Marsh-Harrier quartering over an area of scrubland. A pair of Eurasian Hoopoe also showed well. I went into the graveyard to look for the owls but only found a lot of mosquitoes and a Large Hawk-Cuckoo. As it was getting late and the guests were exhausted we left without seeing the owl.
Due to the golf course being closed we added a morning at Ton Pariwat to the schedule. As usual we parked the car as we entered the forest from the plantations. We find we can just stay in this area for the first hour or two and wait for the birds to come to us. As usual a good selection of Bulbuls were in the area including the less common Scaly-breasted Bulbul and the southern rarity Grey-eyed Bulbul. Vernal Hanging Parrots were flying from tree top to tree top and a group of Yellow-bellied Warblers passed through a bamboo thicket. At nine in the morning the raptors started to catch thermals as usual. Both Blyth’s Hawk Eagle and Crested Serpent Eagle put in an appearance.
After lunch we made our way to Kuraburi to catch our boat to Koh Phra Thong.
Our journey over to the island was lengthened by engine failure. A rescue boat was called for as we bobbed around for thirty minutes or so. In the afternoon we drove around the open savannah areas in a jeep. Amongst other birds, Barred Buttonquail, Common Goldenback and Greater Goldenback were found. After three hours of searching we finally got our first view of a Lesser Adjutant perching in the distance. On the way back at dusk we found many Large-tailed Nightjars along the way.
While walking to the restaurant for dinner we heard a strange little squeaking sound coming from a small tree. It turned out to be coming from a Sunda Scops Owl which sat and posed for the camera for ten minutes.
We had slim pickings all over the island. It was much quieter than we had found it previously. We spent the morning at the Grey-headed Fish-Eagle stake-out but it didn’t show up. Plenty of Brahminy Kites were around. A pair of Pink-necked Green Pigeons were seen in the distance. Lesser Whistling Ducks were on the lake and a Purple Heron perched in a high tree.
A couple of Oriental Pied Hornbills were flying around the resort area and Forest Wagtails were feeding near our rooms.
In the afternoon we saw three more Adjutants in the distance. Some good raptors were seen including two Booted Eagles, a Black Baza and a Grey-faced Buzzard. We managed to call in a flock of Red-breasted Parakeets for some good shots. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were also seen.
The return boat trip went much more smoothly.
At Sri Phang-Nga we started by going to the forest edge in the HQ area to look for some Babblers. Abbott’s Babbler came in but Puff-throated Babbler only called back from the forest.
Up at the trails car park a pair of Grey-and-buff Woodpeckers were nesting in an old ant’s nest high up in a tree. Buff-rumped Woodpecker was also seen in the area. From the top of the little hill next to the dam we watched a bird wave come through which included Large Woodshrikes, Brown-rumped Minivets, the rarely seen Greater Green Leafbird and a few Bulbuls including Grey-Bellied Bulbul.
We bumped into fellow birder and friend, Ike, who had just got onto a pair of Chestnut-naped Forktails which he showed us. A Pin-striped Tit-Babbler came right into the open for some good views.
Along the road we added Blue-winged Leafbird and Hairy-backed Bulbul to the list. We also called out a Rufous-fronted Babbler who hopped around looking for the intruder.
After a lunch break at the HQ area we drove up to our hotel at Khao Sok National Park. We stay at Morning Mist which has a great garden full of various ginger and banana plants. We had a look around the garden and found Little Spiderhunter and Grey-breasted Spiderhunter. Also here were Olive-backed Sunbirds and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers. We had fun taking photos of a group of Burmese Striped Squirrels in a bare tree.
We briefly went into the park to visit our Rufous-collared Kingfisher stake-out. It didn’t come in but we got Banded Kingfisher instead.
The day started with a dawn boat ride across the Ratchaprapha Reservoir in Khao Sok NP. This is always a joy as the scenery is breath-taking. Once through the limestone karsts to the Western end of the lake we started to find raptors perching in the dead snags. First off was a Eurasian Osprey, closely followed by a Common Kestrel. A pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles were cruising around looking for something to eat. When we got to the right area we tried calling in a Stork-billed Kingfisher, it called back but it took us quite a while to work out where it was and to get close to it, at one time performing a James Bond stunt as we pretty much got the boat airborne as we went over a submerged log. In the end the bird showed well and we took our time photographing it. On the way back we found a Crested Goshawk and one of the Sea-Eagles was perched up eating a very large fish.
At this point my binoculars came apart in my hands after being dropped the previous day. Luckily Barbara had a roll of duct tape which was put to good use.
The late afternoon was spent at Khao Luang Krung Ching. We only had a couple of hours left so had a quick look in the fruiting trees around the HQ where all kinds of Bulbuls and Asian Fairy Bluebirds were feeding. Both Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle and Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle flew over and some Thick-billed Pigeons came in to feed.
The area around the entrance gate at the top of the hill was productive at the end of the day. It seems that quite a few birds pass through here between five and six on the way to their roosts. We had Banded Woodpeckers, Large Woodshrikes, Blue-eared Barbet, Dark-throated Oriole, Bronzed Drongo and Scarlet Minivet. We also had great views of a pair of Raffles’s Malkoha.
The plan was to spend the day on the main waterfall trail but we stopped off at the gate to look for a nesting Blyth’s Frogmouth we heard was in the area. It took us a while to find it but there it was up above the road in plain sight. It was the male, as the female tends to take the night shift.
We wanted to leave the area but the birds wouldn’t let us. Black-and-Yellow Broadbills came through followed by Banded Broadbill. A pair of Streak-breasted Woodpeckers came in and caused confusion as the streaking seemed to stop very low on the throat. Later on the trip we saw Laced Woodpeckers and we could see the difference. A pair of Green Broadbills were in the area but although we all got to see them they wouldn’t stay still long enough to shoot.
Now the Malkohas came thick and fast, Raffles’s showed up again together with Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Black-bellied Malkoha. We also called in a pair of Red-bearded Bee-eaters. The pick of the morning though was a Crested Jay which flew in full view across the road.
It was by now loo late to get into the forest so we headed down to the HQ for drinks and fruiting trees. Before the lunch break we found a pair of Red-throated Barbets excavating a nest in a low tree stump. He did the hard work while she sat nearby performed the overseers role.
In the afternoon we went to our Blue-Winged Pitta stake-out. Although the bulk of these birds fly south for winter this area usually has a few over-winterers. We only had brief views of one bird but we also had a Chinese Flycatcher. Back at the resort we found a Crimson Sunbird and some Golden-bellied Gerygones.
This morning we did manage to get onto the trail. As we entered the trail a Fulvous-breasted Jungle Flycatcher was seen singing from a low perch. On the lower slopes we got onto a group of Grey-headed Babblers. Good shots of Rufous-winged Philentoma were taken. The normal forest Bulbuls were seen – Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Grey-cheeked Bulbul and Ochraceous Bulbul.
Up near the “basketball court” we heard a Banded Pitta calling. We followed the call back down the trail and got glimpses of both a male and a female. We were rather surprised as dozens of kids had just walked through.
After lunch at Sala 2 we got the attention of a pair of Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers but as is often the case they proved to be too skulking to photograph. A few Brown Fulvettas were seen on the way out.
Back up at the gate we had a male Violet Cuckoo Always a treat. Buff-rumped Woodpeckers came through and we called in a Verditer Flycatcher.
We had an easy morning on the entrance road and around the HQ area. Up at the gate a male Great Iora was part of a mixed bird wave. Down at the bus stop we found a Red-billed Malkoha and a Rufous Woodpecker. A tall flowering tree had an assortment of Spiderhunters in it including Spectacled Spiderhunter and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter. Down at the HQ we found Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker and Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker in the fruiting tree.
In the afternoon we took a boat trip on Thale Noi, South Thailand’s largest body of fresh water. Many of the common water birds were seen including Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Black-winged Stilt, Egrets, Herons and a few waders near the entrance to the main lake. Whiskered Terns were everywhere. We got very close to a Yellow-bellied Prinia. We found the Purple Herons to be very approachable too.
We always like to visit Khao Pu Khao Ya when we can to see the enigmatic Streaked Wren-Babbler. True to form, when called, it hopped along the tops of the rocks and called back as loudly as it could.
It was cloudy and the main birding track was very quiet and nothing seemed to be active until after 8:30. We finally managed to get some Chestnut-winged Babblers to come out. Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds showed too but only briefly. Towards the end of the track we found an Asian Emerald Cuckoo. We lost sight of it for a couple of minutes but took a few more pictures later on. To my surprise, by looking at the photos, I have just seen that the second bird was actually a Little Bronze Cuckoo, a rare bird indeed in Thailand. Apologies to Jim and Barbara for the mis-identification. A ranger showed us to a nest he had found. It turned out to be the nest of a pair of Moustached Babblers.
In the afternoon we called in at Trang Botanical Gardens. It was fairly quiet but we did find an Oriental Pygmy Kingfisher on the peat-swamp walkway. A bird flew in to a nearby tree and to our surprise it turned out to be a male White-throated Rock-Thrush. A female showed up a few minutes later.
On our way into the hide for Gurney’s Pitta we heard a Puff-backed Bulbul calling. It responded to call well and came in to a nearby tree. The Pitta didn’t show up but a Scarlet-rumped Trogon was calling close by. It took us a few minutes to find it but we got good views in the end. We walked around the area and found a Rufous-crowned Babbler and a group of Chestnut-rumped Babblers.
On the drive to lunch we stopped in some good forest and called out a Green Broadbill.
After lunch we visited the headquarters where there are often flowering trees, the favourite haunt of Van Hasselt’s Sunbird. We were not disappointed. A family of them were feeding low down and posed well. A Green-billed Malkoha moved through the tree behind.
Later on we found a pair of Olive-winged Bulbuls and a Crested Goshawk.
Jim and Barbara had no interest in snorkelling and were worried about the amount of time they would have to spend on the boat to the Similans to see the Nicobar Pigeon. Due to this we made alternative arrangements. The Similans were removed from the itinerary and Kaeng Krachan NP was added. It also meant that the plan for this day was changed to include an afternoon at the mangroves in Phang Nga.
First off though was our boat trip around the Krabi mangroves and river mouth. We crossed the main waterway from the pier in Krabi town to look for kingfishers. A pair of noisy Collared Kingfishers were the first to be seen but Black-capped Kingfishers were fairly common along the mangrove edge. There were more Brown-winged Kingfishers than you could shake a stick at and a couple of Common Kingfishers too. Rufous-bellied Swallows flew overhead and we called in a pair of Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. That was the sixth species of Malkoha we had seen in four days and all that Thailand has to offer. Mangrove Pitta were calling from various places but difficult to see from the boat. Finally we spotted one a couple of metres up a tree and Jim got a few pictures.
Out at the river mouth the rising tide was quickly swallowing up the last of the sandbanks but we managed to spot two Chinese Egrets among the Little Egrets. One had green legs and a black and yellow bill, the other was further into breeding plumage with black legs and a yellow bill. At the next sandbank there were about twenty birds, most were Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrels but there was a lone Nordmann’s Greenshank with them. At the next sandbank Jim and I got out of the boat and crept up to the birds slowly taking photos of the four more greenshanks on the disappearing sand.
The mangroves at Baan Bang Phat in Phang Nga were surprisingly slow with only Mangrove Whistler, Ruddy Kingfisher and Ashy Tailorbird added to our list. At the Phang Nga Mangrove Park we had great views of a pair of Black-and-red Broadbills. Over at the Queen’s Park we struggled to find any Blue Whistling Thrushes but did eventually get two of them. At dusk a Black-thighed Falconet returned to its roosting hole in the rock face and sat inside with its head sticking out.
On the way home Jim amused us with some lyrics of the folk songs of his youth.
A day of driving from Krabi to Kaeng Krachan NP. At the resort in the evening we found some Sooty-headed Bulbuls and a Radde’s Warbler.
We had booked ourselves into a couple of the hides outside the park. These hides have been around for a few years now and generally consist of an open area, a watering hole, some braches and logs and a few hides. They can bring in a good range of birds as well as small mammals. They provide great photography opportunities and a chance to see some of the more difficult families like Partridges and Pheasants.
In the first hide we visited we had a few of the smaller species including Eastern Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Puff-throated Babbler and White-rumped Shama. We also had four species of squirrel come in.
At the second hide we saw nothing in the late morning, however, Games stayed there while we went back to our resort for lunch. We got a call from Games to come back ASAP as everything was coming in again. We dashed back after lunch and were treated to a succession of birds including Scaly-Breasted Partridge, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush and Red Jungle Fowl.
After a couple of hours we went for a walk on a nearby dirt track were we saw a range of Drongoes including Spangled Drongo and Ashy Drongo. A pair of Racket-tailed Treepies were also in the area.
On the way home we stopped for Jim to get a better shot of a White-vented Myna and found a few Vinous-breasted Starlings among them.
Kaeng Krachan National Park is certainly my favourite forest birding spot in Central Thailand and today proved why. We saw a fantastic array of colourful forest birds.
On the way in we saw Silver Pheasant and Red Jungle Fowl crossing the road. Around the Baan Krang campsite we had a Greater Yellownape flying around as we got out of the car. A flock of Sultan Tits arrived next. We decided to walk to the stream area. An Asian Barred Owlet sat in the open as did an adult and a juvenile Besra. A Blue-bearded Bee-eater insisted on perching where the light was terrible so no good shots could be had. A little further along a pair of Common Green Magpies also avoided the camera. We engaged a group of Silver-breasted Broadbills and got some nice photos.
At stream one while searching for an Orange-breasted Trogon we found a very obliging Green Keelback snake that seemed to want to have its photograph taken. The Trogon was elusive but finally sat low and close.
We wanted to walk back via the trail but a storm closed in and we managed to thumb a lift back to the campsite.
After lunch we drove towards the top area, Panoen Thung. On the way we had distant views of a Mountain Hawk-Eagle. We stopped at the 27KM marker to look for Long-tailed Broadbills that were nesting in the area. We found the nest but no birds were around. We called in a Streaked Spiderhunter while we waited. Games walked further up the road and came back to get us after seeing some White-hooded Babblers and a Red-headed Trogon. We didn’t see them again but we did find the Broadbill in the same area and it posed nicely for us.
At the top we heard a Great Barbet calling and found a pair of them in a tall tree. A Great Hornbill and plenty of Blue-throated Barbets were feeding in a fruiting tree. At the lookout we found a Mountain Imperial Pigeon.
Back at the river section we stopped on the off-chance that the Tickell’s Brown Hornbills might be visiting their nest hole. Our luck held out and three or four birds were seen taking food into the female and chicks. A pair of Banded Broadbills came through before we left. KK – top place.
That evening on the way to the hotel we watched some lunatic lose control of his car, hit the central reservation at speed and bring down a lamp-post in front of us. Scary stuff.
A very different kind of birding today. We arrived at Laem Pak Bia saltpans at dawn planning to have some breakfast on arrival but no sooner had we got there than Games found a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the scope. We all enjoyed good looks before returning to breakfast. Also present were Kentish Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper.
A little later we took a boat trip to the sandbar where we also found White-faced Plover and Malaysian Plover. We all enjoyed trying to creep up on the birds to get some photos. The local guide here provides cake and coke after the trip. Very nice. We used the time to catch up on some work on the bird list.
In the afternoon, we visited the Mangrove Research Centre where we used the car as a blind by cruising the roads slowly and stopping for anything we got close enough to. Among the birds photographed were Ruddy-breasted Crake, Ruff, Long-toed Stint, Little-ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Indian Cormorant, Pin-tail Snipe and Green Bee-eater.
Common Terns were using a headwind to virtually hover, providing a good photo op.
Before we left we checked out the fringing trees for Starlings and found a few White-shouldered Starlings.
On our way into the guests’ hotel we found a Eurasian Hoopoe at the side of the road.
The idea was to do some birding in the area of Petchaburi where some of the larger Eagles are seen. Unfortunately we managed to get our vehicle stuck in some mud on a side road and by the time we got it out it was time to move on to Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya had been included in the itinerary as a cultural break from all the birding but in the afternoon we birded an open area of marshland and rice paddies near our hotel. It turned out to be pretty good. The place was full of Asian Openbills but there were also Bronze-winged Jacanas and Javan Pond Herons coming into breeding plumage. Towards dusk we found a couple of Oriental Pratincoles.
A guide had been booked to take the guests to a couple of the historical sites in Ayutthaya for a bit of culture but we went for an early morning drive around the area we had visited the previous afternoon.
We stopped to photograph a Dusky Warbler and also got onto a Siberian Rubythroat before it went into dense cover. An Eastern Marsh Harrier was hunting over the marshland but stayed fairly distant. As we left we came across a group of nine Painted Storks.
After the visit to the temples, which was enjoyed by the Jim and Barbara, we drove to our hotel outside Khao Yai NP. We didn’t go into the park but birded an area of open farmland. Not much was seen but we got Lineated Barbet and some Common Hill Mynas.
Our first of four days in Khao Yai. The mornings were generally OK but the afternoons were poor. Also, the hides which had been very productive a few weeks before had pretty much dried up.
We stopped first at the viewpoint a few kilometres inside the park. It was a still a little misty when a pair of Wreathed Hornbills flew over and landed in a distant tree. A large mixed flock of Oriental White-eyes and Chestnut-flanked White-eyes filled the tree tops. We found an Indian Cuckoo a little further up the road and a Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and a pair of Golden-fronted Leafbirds were back near the car.
A Blue Rock-Thrush came in very close at the HQ.
At the Orchid Campsite I went in to check the Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo stake-out but it was very quiet. Meanwhile Games and the guests found a Large Hawk-Cuckoo and got quite close to it. A Banded Bay Cuckoo was seen briefly too. As ever, Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers were active in the parasitic plants.
After a break for lunch, for a storm, and for some souvenir shopping we went to the Mugimaki Flycatcher / White-throated Rock-Thrush stake-out near the HQ. The Thrush was there but no Flycatcher.
We tried to move back towards the park entrance to get away from the rain but a large tree had fallen over the road and it was evidently going to take a while to move it so we birded the road for a while. We found a Blue-bearded Bee-eater and a Besra. When the road had re-opened we found some very active Long-tailed Broadbills back at the viewpoint.
That evening, to make up for all the fried rice and noodles we’d had along the way we went for a slap-up dinner which was enjoyed by all.
We stopped off again at the viewpoint and watched a group of Rosy Minivets move through. We spent the rest of the morning at the top of the mountain but only saw Moustached Barbet, Scarlet Minivet, Hill Blue Flycatcher and Ashy Bulbul.
After lunch, and again trying to avoid the rain we drove to the Waterfall near the southern gate. We were looking for the Black-and-Buff Woodpecker we had seen excavating a hole a few weeks earlier. It didn’t show up but as we were about to leave, some other photographers showed up and said they had a new hole near-by. Games went down with them to see where it was so we could come back. On her way back she had good views of a pair of Jerdon’s Baza.
We had an early finish to the day as the rain looking like staying.
In the morning we birded the road around the 33km marker. It was fairly busy but we saw little that was new apart from Black-winged Cuckooshrike.
We next walked the open country trail to the watchtower where we found Olive-backed Pipits. A Collared Owlet was calling from the forest but even after 30 minutes we couldn’t find it.
In the afternoon we went back to the campsite and found a Hainan Blue Flycatcher. Later on we went to the top of the mountain again. On the way up we found a Besra perching on the power lines. A Laced Woodpecker showed very well too. We had some luck at the top with Silver Pheasant and Black-throated Laughingthrushes.
On the drive out we stopped to watch a group of twenty odd Brown-backed Needletails circling over a lake and swooping down to drink and bathe on the wing. A fantastic sight we all enjoyed.
We only had a short day today as we left before lunch. We did however get the three species we were trying for. First up was the Collared Owlet which took us a long time to find at the viewpoint despite it calling continuously from the same tree. Second up was a Red-headed Trogon near the campsite. We’d heard quite a few by then but this was the first one we had seen. Lastly, when we returned to the new Black-and-Buff Woodpecker hole, a bird was excavating from the inside and showed its head occasionally to remove the debris.
We drove Jim and Barbara to Bangkok airport and said our goodbyes. We had seen around 300 species on the trip and Jim had photographed about 200 new species.
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Oriental Pied Hornbill
Tickell's Brown Hornbill
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Little Bronze Cuckoo
Asian Emerald Cuckoo
Vernal Hanging Parrot
Asian Palm Swift
Sunda Scops Owl
Asian Barred Owlet
Red Turtle Dove
Thick-billed Green Pigeon
Common Emerald Dove
Little Ringed Plover
Crested Honey Buzzard
Eastern Marsh Harrier
Eastern Cattle Egret
Eastern Great Egret
Greater Green Leafbird
Lesser Green Leafbird
Common Green Magpie
Eastern Jungle Crow
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Hainan Blue Flycatcher
Hill Blue Flycatcher
Eastern Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Chinese Blue Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin
Common Hill Myna
Asian Pied Starling
Asian Red-eyed Bulbul
Oriental Reed Warbler
Two-barred Greenish Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Davison's Leaf Warbler
Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Eastern Yellow Wagtail