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Stalking the Gurney's Pittas of Khao Nor Chuchi

Gurney's Pitta - maleStory and photos by Dave Willams.

We arrived at the park gate before sunrise on the 26th of April, 2005. Khun Yotin, our Thai birding guide, met us and we immediately headed to his secret hide. The hide was a camouflaged nylon shelter with a dozen semi-circular zippers that opened to allow a narrow glimpse of a fairly dense ravine.

At 6:40 AM, having waited for less than 20 minutes, I spied a rustling in the leaves not more than 10 meters from where we sat. Tim, a seasoned birder from Australia and the Activities Manager for his family-owned Rainforest Guesthouse called O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse, was sitting to my right. Khun Yotin was to my left. Tim, was trying his best to get me to show him the bird’s location without making too much movement or noise. He managed to see it about a minute later. We both sat dazzled by the male’s lovely plumage. This was a dream bird, a male Gurney’s Pitta, and we watched it moving slowly through the leaves looking for insects. Khun Yotin says that they really like termites. There were plenty around.

Not more than a couple minutes later, the female appeared. She was very close to us. She couldn’t have been more than five meters from where we sat. In no time, she was feeding next to the male. Tim, Yotin, and I sat admiring the birds. We didn’t even have to move our binoculars as they were both so close together.

A Black Magpie called from somewhere above us. A female Siberian Blue Robin searched for food near the hide. Yotin whispered to me that he’d had too much coffee this morning and had to leave the blind. I was very concerned that the birds would see him or hear him. The male’s eyes focused on the blind. I thought, “oh no, he sees us.” He either didn’t care or didn’t see us. Up until this point, Tim and I had been extremely careful about not moving. Yotin briefed us before the outing. He said we shouldn’t touch the hide nor make any movement or sound. Tim and I avoided scratching itches and suffered until we saw Yotin get up and leave. Well, I reckon these birds aren’t quite as sensitive as we were told… hmmm.

We watched the two Gurney’s Pittas for about thirty minutes. We left the pittas in search of other birds. The ‘A’ trail leads to an emerald-colored pool in the jungle. This is a well-known and well-visited tourist site. Tour buses come from Krabi and other local towns. This generates income for the area, so it’s a necessary evil. Still, I would prefer to see nature without the crowds. Luckily, that’s pretty easy to do. If you avoid the main pool, you’ll be able to enjoy the splendid surroundings.

The first bird we encountered was a Purple-napped Sunbird, followed immediately by a Dusky Broadbill. Yotin heard a Grey-cheeked Bulbul and pointed it out to us. Next, we saw a Puff-backed Bulbul, a Green Iora and a Red-billed Malkoha.

We passed by the pool and approached the most well-preserved part of the area. At the edge of the jungle, Yotin stopped us to check out a big tree that was in flower. The tree was crawling with birds. We spotted Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers, Yellow-eared Spiderhunters, a Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Thick-billed Spiderhunters, Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, and a couple of Plain Sunbirds.

A Chestnut-winged Babbler was spotted right after that, followed by a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Yotin told us that the Banded Kingfisher hangs out here. In a few minutes, we spotted it high up in a towering tree. We also saw a Yellow-bellied Bulbul. A Fulvous-chested Flycatcher flew in a perched within a few meters from us.

Buffy Fish-OwlA Streaked Bulbul flew by and gave us a brief glimpse. Next, a bird that I’d been after for a while finally came into view. I’ve seen all of the Malkohas except the Raffle’s Malkoha. One hopped around in the tree tops high overhead. As is typical with malkohas, this one gave us momentary glimpses, but certainly enough to tell what it was.

We were treated to seeing the rare three-colored Prevost’s Squirrel. Yotin was visibly excited about seeing this squirrel. I didn’t see it for a while. It moved to an area where I had a clear sighting. Well, I certainly understood Yotin’s excitement. I joined in the celebration.

A bit further down the trail, a male Rufous-winged Flycatcher landed on a branch not too far from us. We were listening to a couple of Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers at the time. They were not spotted.

Tim and I spotted a Scaly-crowned Babbler with the help of Yotin. We kept hearing the bizarre Green Broadbill. It sounded fairly far away. Suddenly, Yotin whispered to start looking to the left up in the nearby trees. There it was, a stunning male Green Broadbill. Tim was quite tickled by how strange this bird looked with its lime green feathering going almost all the way to the tip of its bill. Tim had voiced his desire to see one of these beauties and I guess he had some good Karma due him. I had the good Karma to be beside him at the time.

A cute little Rufous Piculet made a brief appearance too.

The last bird we’d see was a Black Magpie. It was sitting on its nest. This was a new bird for me.

Khun Yotin Meekaeo, our Gurney’s Pitta liaison, grew up in this area. He knows all of the birds by their calls and behavior. He’s a veritable encyclopedia of bird knowledge. I’ve known him for more than a decade. I used to live in Ao Nang in Krabi in the good old days.

Tim and I were mesmerized by his knowledge of calls and bird behavior. We learned that all of the Asian Paradise Flycatchers, a bird that is common in Khao Nor Chuchi and Khao Sok National Park, start out life in the rufous morph. The males turn white when mature. Yotin gave constant commentary on all of the birds that we came across. Tim in Khao Sok

Tim in Khao SokIf you’re planning a trip to Khao Nor Chuchi, you simply must spend at least a half-day with Yotin. He’s not cheap, but if you’re serious about birding, he’s your absolute best bet. He claims to have about an 80% success rate on seeing the Gurney’s Pitta! How impressive is that!

Tim and I headed to Khao Sok after our KNC experience. Tim wanted to see some hornbills and I know exactly where to find them no matter which month. Tim especially wanted to see the Helmeted Hornbill and the Great Hornbill. He did. Not only did we see them, but we saw a few of them. Some Helmeted Hornbills were feeding on fruit high up in the canopy. Their crazy call alerted us to their whereabouts. We both giggled and gave them the big ‘thumbs up’ sign.

Along the way we also saw:

Red Junglefowl (Male + Female)
Black-thighed Falconet
Oriental Hobby
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
White-rumped Shama
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Great Argus (heard several times only)
Greater Flameback Woodpecker
Blue-eared Kingfisher
Brown Shrike
Whiskered Treeswift

Little Spiderhunter
Ochraceous Bulbul
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird (M +F)
Grey-headed Fish-Eagle
White-crowned Hornbill (F)
Buffy Fish-Owl
Blue-winged Leafbird (M)
Blue Rock Thrush
Red-billed Malkoha
Great Slaty Woodpecker

The combination of both Khao Nor Chuchi and Khao Sok allowed us the variety of terrain to see a wonderful variety of birds. I didn't list all of the common birds that we saw, even though they would be new birds for many a birder's life list.