By Dave Williams, all photos copyright © Dave Williams
November is a great time to visit Khao Sok National Park. There is a particular tree with little orange berries that are food for many species of hornbills and other exotic birds. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a book on the trees of Southern Thailand. I don’t know the species of the tree. The point is, if you’re fortunate enough to be in Khao Sok when this tree is in fruit, you’re in for a very pleasant time.
A couple of weeks before this particular trip, we found a tree in fruit. Countless Great Hornbills flew back and forth between this tree and wherever they go after eating. Great Hornbills are common in Khao Sok. We often hear the bizarre Helmeted Hornbill and see them from time to time, but it is a furtive species normally. This time, we witnessed somewhere around fifteen Helmeted Hornbills feeding in this tree.
Joining the feed were a few Wreathed Hornbills. We normally see them flying rather high in the sky. Khao Sok birding - Great HornbillEven from a distance, the whooshing sound of this large bird can be heard quite easily. Seeing them at lower levels is not as common.
Bushy-crested Hornbills, a very sociable animal, often honks out its “we’re getting ready to fly now” call to assist those of us who aren’t overly alert. We heard a lot of ruckus and started looking around. They came in from the far side of the fruit tree. We witnessed them filling certain branches. The other hornbills didn’t seem overly concerned about other species on their turf.
A family of White-handed Gibbons joined in on the vertical buffet, as did a troop of Dusky Langurs. We could hear wild pigs scuttling around the base of the tree. I assume this was due to whatever fruit might be dropped by the birds.
Now, onto this later trip…
Joining me on this trip were Andrew Colthorpe and Bob Dawson. Andrew is a retired British expat living Phuket and Bob is retired American living in Bangkok. They are both very knowledgeable birders. I love having them along as I always learn a lot from them.
Kayaking is a very productive way to see birds. It’s comfortable and easy. It’s actually easier than walking. The shoreline of Cheow Lan Reservoir is lined with a nice variety of trees including small bushy types and towering Dipterocarps. Banana trees grow in certain areas as well. Paddlers can sneak right up to the trees and see the birds. Many species don’t seem to mind you when you approach them from the water.
We came across another big tree in fruit this time too. We counted seventeen Great Hornbills feeding in this tree. Asian Fairy Bluebirds were also present in abundance, both male and female.
Around the corner from the cove where we found this tree was a cove that normally is home to a stunning Blue-eared Kingfisher. We saw it and even managed to get close enough for a photo or two.
Not far from the bungalows, you can find quiet coves that are teeming with birds and other wildlife. All we did each day was go out on short paddles to try our luck at seeing as many species as possible. Each day we added to our list and when it was all over, we notched up well over sixty species. I (Dave) saw 62 species and heard several more.
Two of my most memorable sightings would have to be seeing a pair of Vernal Hanging Parrots at the top of a dead tree. They were shining in the sun and their brilliance was something I will not soon forget. I’ve seen Vernal Hanging Parrots plenty of times. This was the first time that they stayed around for a long time and were also out in the open for so long.
The other bird sighting I won’t soon forget, and neither will Bob, was when a male Red Jungle Fowl flew right over Bob as it crossed a cove. The look on Bob’s face was that of amazement. You just don’t think of chickens as being flying birds.
Each day provided us with distinctive sightings. Our kayaks allowed us to see birds that would normally be extremely difficult to see. Take a look at the list below. If you want to have an experience similar to this, just let me know. Kayaking is extremely easy and you don’t have to have any experience to enjoy the benefits of this magnificent way to see birds.
Black-headed Bulbul (seen daily)
Black-crested Bulbul (seen daily)
Grey-bellied Bulbul (new for me)
Osprey (seen daily)
Japanese Sparrow-hawk (probable)
Grey-headed Fish-Eagle (seen daily)
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Khao Sok birding - Buffy Fish-OwlOriental Hobby
Buffy Fish-Owl (seen daily)
Vernal Hanging Parrot (seen daily)
Red Jungle Fowl (male and female)
Black-capped Kingfisher (seen daily)
Common Kingfisher (seen daily)
Chinese Pond Heron (seen daily)
Dollarbird (seen daily)
Great Slaty Woodpecker
Blue Rock Thrush
Great Hornbill (seen daily)
Wreathed Hornbill (possibly Plain-pouched)
Greater Flameback Woodpecker
Asian Palm swift
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Dark-necked Tailorbird (seen daily)
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Asian Paradise Flycatcher