We had guided Colin a few months before on a shorter trip around Phuket and he returned as soon as he could make it for an extended tour of South Thailand. Colin had birded a lot in South East Asia and was keen to pick up a few more ticks. His overriding remit though was just to spend a few days in the field and enjoy whatever came along.
The plan was to head straight for Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary in the far South, move northward to Khao Nor Chuchi after a few days and then back to Phuket via the Phang Nga mangroves.
A day of travelling. We picked up Colin from Phuket airport and drove a full ten hours down to Hala Bala. We will recommend future customers to fly to Narathiwat airport from Bangkok, just 90 minutes away from the sanctuary.
We decided to try the long forest trail on the first morning, partly to assess the state of the trail and the state of leach infestation so that we could decide how often had wanted to go back there. Before going down to the stream crossing we concentrated on a fruiting tree near the rooms. This brought in a good array of Bulbuls including Grey-bellied Bulbul, Cream-vented Bulbul, and a Finsch’s Bulbul.
Walking down the road we heard some Black-and-Red Broadbills calling. We called them back and they appeared immediately. Three Bat Hawk flew by.
As we were waiting for Lam, the local ranger, to join us, we walked the short trail on our side of the river. In there we found a Red-bearded Bee-eater and a group of highly active Black-throated Babbler.
After fording the river we spent the rest of the morning on the long trail. To our dismay we found that it was in very bad order with fallen trees strewn across it and the far part of it so bad that a shortcut was made so as not to cross the stream. The leeches however were not too bad. Crimson-winged Woodpecker showed well as did Dark-throated Oriole. We heard Large Wren-Babbler and Garnet Pitta but were unable to entice them into the open. The surprise of the day was a brief view of a Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo.
After lunch we spent an hour on the road before the rain set in and stopped birding for the day. In that time we saw amongst others Crested Jay, Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Chestnut-naped Forktail, and Everett’s White-eye.
In the evening we went owling but didn’t manage to see anything. A Sunda Scops Owl was calling nearby but wouldn’t come out.
The morning was spent at the riverside trail at Dto Mo, on the Western edge of the sanctuary. We stopped on the way there to admire a fairly small tree full of Grey-rumped Treeswift. We counted over sixty. A group of Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot shared the tree.
A Maroon Woodpecker welcomed us to Dto Mo, flying around the entrance to the trial. A Blue-eared Barbet was spotted calling from the crown of a tree. As we walked along the riverside we got occasional views of Blue-banded Kingfisher as they flew along the river. A Rufous-collared Kingfisher came in to our call but we only managed to see it in flight. A large bird wave was seen twice with the choice bird being a Spotted Fantail. We spent a good twenty minutes winding up a pair Horsfield’s Babbler. They would come within a couple of metres of us but were highly skulking. They finally showed well on the other side of the river. Before leaving we got onto a pair of Buff-necked Woodpecker.
In the afternoon we walked a section of the road in Bala again. Both Helmeted Hornbill and Wreathed Hornbill flew by. A male Violet Cuckoo showed very well and a pair of Velvet-fronted Nuthatch were seen. We photographed a raptor in flight which was later identified by Chaiyan (Thai Raptor Group) as the lesser known Tweedale form of Crested Honey Buzzard. The plumage of Honey Buzzards are known to mimic other local raptors and this form seems to mimic Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle.
At dusk we called in a Brown Hawk-Owl at the HQ area.
A walk down the hill from the HQ proved very fruitful. Bushy-crested Hornbill flew overhead and a large group of Lesser Green Leafbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter and Large Woodshrike moved down the road with us.
We called out both a male and a female Banded Kingfisher. A pair of Buff-rumped Woodpecker got very close to a Black-thighed Falconet perching in a tree but got away with it.
A family group of Rufous Piculet came very close and allowed us to get some good photos.
We spent the next couple of hours on the short trail where we heard a Diard’s Trogon. It was very elusive but we finally managed to track in through the forest for some good views. Other birds of note seen were Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Scarlet Minivet, Banded Broadbill, Streaked Bulbul, and a party of Rufous-crowned Babbler.
After an early lunch we drove over to the peat swamp forest at Pha Pru. We first went to an open area a few kilometers away from the HQ where Lesser Adjutant and Grey-headed Fish-Eagle have been seen before. Nothing showed up for us apart from a few Blue-tailed Bee-eater.
At the HQ we were pleased to find one of the walkways in good order. The other, longer one, with the watch tower is now so dangerous that it has been closed pending repairs. We heard a flycatcher singing and tracked it down. It was a Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, a local speciality. Also found were White-chested Babbler and the always delightful Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler.
Before dinner we went back down to the river area below Bala HQ where we watched a Malaysian Eared Nightjar feeding high up on the wing.
For our last morning at Bala we walked the road from the top of the mountain westward for about one kilometre. We had always found this area to be good in the morning.
On the drive there we flushed a couple of Common Emerald Dove off the road. We stopped briefly at a fruiting tree and found a pair of Rhinocerous Hornbill. A Himalayan Buzzard flew by (also identified by Chaiyan from a photo).
On the walk we started off with both male and female Pale Blue Flycatcher and a Verditer Flycatcher. A Cinereous Bulbul caught our eye with its bright white throat. A Scaly-breasted Bulbul was also seen, arguably the best looking Bulbul in Thailand. Further down the road we picked up a pair of Lesser Cuckooshrike and a third Cuckooshrike with all black back and wings which doesn’t look like any known bird from the area.
A party of Brown Fulvetta moved through and a Red-throated Sunbird was seen in the distance.
We went back to our rooms and packed up. The plan was to drive to Khao Nor Chuchi during the afternoon but on a whim we decided to stop at the Yaring Mangrove Park. Lucky we did, within two minutes we had found a pair of Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, a very difficult bird to find in Thailand. We also found a Chestnut-bellied Malkoha and Ashy Tailorbird.
As we had lost an hour we decided not to push through to Khao Nor Chuchi but rather to find some rooms near Phatalung.
The morning was spent birding the car park and main track at Khao Pu Khao Ya National Park. At the car park we called in a pair of Banded Woodpecker and a Red-throated Barbet was observed feeding in a fruiting tree.
At the start of the track we heard a clear whistling sound and managed to call out a Streaked Wren-Babbler which hopped from rock to rock in front of us.
Along the track we encountered Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-naped Monarch and White-rumped Shama. A Blyth’s Frogmouth called a couple of times but didn’t come in. On the forest trail on the way back we got close to an Orange-breasted Trogon but only had views of it flying away.
At the camp site on the way back we heard a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle calling. For the next ten minutes we watched it wheeling around along a stretch of forest, always returning to the same area as if it had young it was trying to coax into the air.
After lunch we drove to Khao Nor Chuchi where we stayed in a patch of forest we had previously found to be productive. It was quiet today only giving us Green Broadbill. Green Iora, Moustached Babbler and Purple-naped Sunbird were seen on the way back to the car.
A wash out. It rained almost all day and we only had a few minutes birding.
We called out a Blue-winged Pitta near the resort.
We managed a morning’s birding before the rain came. We visited our Gurney’s Pitta stake out a few kilometres from the HQ. A bird was calling as we entered the forest so our hopes were high. Many times it sounded as if the bird was just metres away but none of us could see it. Eventually Colin got a brief look as it hopped along the forest floor. The area was very quiet and the only other bird seen was a Grey-headed Babbler.
The walk back to the car was more productive with a pair of Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker showing well.
We ticked off Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Red-billed Malkoha to complete the Thai Malkoha list on this trip. A group of Yellow-bellied Warbler kept us entertained for a while and a pair of Great Iora were seen.
Colin wanted to try for better views of Gurney’s Pitta so we went back to our stake out. Again it was calling as we arrived and again it ran rings around us keeping just out of sight.
On the way there we had our first, surprisingly, view of a Crested Serpent-Eagle. A Hooded Pitta answered our call but didn’t come in.
On the way out we heard a Rufous-winged Philentoma which came in very nicely. Rufous-tailed Tailorbird and Scaly-crowned Babbler were also responsive.
We drove to a seafood restaurant in the Phang Nga mangroves for lunch. It rained all the way and there and all through lunch. A pair of Greater Goldenback flew over noisily and landed on an exposed snag. An Ashy Drongo sat on another snag.
We abandoned our afternoon at the mangroves due to the rain. We drove up to Khao Sok with a plan to take a boat on the reservoir in the morning.
No such luck. Nasty weather again and we decided against a wet and cold morning on a boat. By the time we were back at the mangroves it had brightened up a little and we managed to get a couple of hours birding at the Bang Phat mangrove walkway before the next deluge.
It was quiet as we entered the mangroves apart from Collared Kingfisher calling to each other.
A Ruddy Kingfisher was called in and landed briefly only a couple of metres away. Two Mangrove Whistler also came close as did a Mangrove Pitta.
At the end of the trail we saw a dark Sunbird fly over the road. We played a Copper-throated Sunbird call and a male came and sat in the open. What a bird, every time it turns you see different colours.
A migratory Tiger Shrike was present and on the way out we found a flock of Small Minivet, a rare sight in South Thailand. Oriental White-eye were active in the area too.
We then drove Colin back to Phuket for lunch and then dropped him off at a hotel. We’d had a great trip despite the poor weather in the latter half. Colin promises to come back soon with a few friends.