We had been booked by Colin to take him on a three day birding trip in Phuket and Phang Nga provinces. Colin had been birding in South-East Asia many times before and although he was aware that he wouldn't see many new birds was looking forward to spending a few days in the field. The first day comprised of visiting a few sites around Phuket, with the second and third days in Phang Nga.
We started off at dawn at Khao Phra Taew National Park, a forest in central Phuket. Here we found a pair of Red-throated Barbets in a fruiting tree joined from time to time by Buff-vented Bulbuls. Two Olive-winged Bulbuls perched in a neighbouring tree and nearby a pair of Blue-eared Barbets were gleaning for insects. A single Black Baza flew overhead, one of the few yet to move North for the summer. Brown-throated Sunbirds were very active and a pair of White-rumped Munia were busy building a nest. A male Crimson Sunbird sat nicely for us and as we left, a Crested Goshawk flew by with its undertail coverts fluffed out.
Around the corner at a buffalo pasture a White-breasted Waterhen went about its business, a Yellow Bittern flew from one pond to another, an Intermediate Egret was feeding and the buffalo were kept company by the usual group of Eastern Cattle Egrets.
Walking down the road along the side of the National Park we found a large group of Germain's Swiflets catching insects together with Grey-rumped Treeswifts. A Common Iora passed through and a Banded Bay Cuckoo and a Plaintive Cuckoo were calling but didn't respond to tape.
We moved on to the mangroves at Pak Klok where Colin got good views of his bird of the day, a male Barred Buttonquail which scurried from shelter to shelter. Burmese Rollers called from the tops of the trees, White-vented Mynas sat on the backs of the buffalos and a Brahminy Kite wheeled overhead. At the mangroves we couldn't get anything to respond to our calls but on the way back we found an Ashy Drongo and pair of beautiful Blue-throated Bee-eaters.
We next went on to our usual restaurant overlooking the mangroves and mudflats. Unfortunately it was high tide and the so no waders could be seen. A pair of Collared Kingfishers flew onto a nearby branch and gave us some great views and a migrating Eurasian Osprey passed Northwards.
At the Laguna complex there were many Lesser Whistling Ducks and Common Moorhens on the lake. Two Ruddy-breasted Crakes showed very well and a Grey-headed Swamphen fed on the reed stalks. An Oriental magpie-Robin alit on a nearby branch and sang for us. At the next lake were over a dozen Cotton Pygmy Geese and a Chinese pond-Heron in its stunning breeding colours.
Over-all we'd seen sixty species which is not bad considering that many of the winter visitors had already left.
After a sixty minute drive we arrived at the abandoned golf course at Thai Muang. We started off in the marsh to the South where we found a pair of River Lapwing and a group of Oriental Pratincole. Black-Winged Stilts were feeding on a flooded field together with some herons including a Purple Heron and a locally rare Javan Pond-Heron. An equally rare Black Bittern flew into a neighbouring field. We were very surprised to hear a Blue-winged Pitta calling from a thin strip of coastal scrub next to the dunes so we backtracked and made our way over there. After a few minutes of calling it it flew onto an open branch just a few metres away. Unluckily, Colin was looking for it elsewhere at the time but he did manage to get a few glimpses of it before we decided to move on.
On our walk around the golf course we saw the some Pacific Golden Plovers in breeding plumage and many Paddyfield Pipits, Pintail Snipes and Red-wattled Lapwings. White-throated Kingfishers were nesting in the sandbanks and a Chestnut-headed Bee-eater posed on a branch with a Robber Fly held in its beak. Also seen were a single female Plain-backed Sparrow and a Black-winged Kite.
After it got too hot on the golf course we cooled down in the car on our way to the sand spit at Laem Pakarang. It was high tide and the waders and terns had all grouped together at the pool at the end of the spit. We slowly crept up to them to see what was there.Vernal Hanging Parrot image There were plenty of Lesser Sand Plovers, Greater Sand Plovers, Whimbrels, Terek Sandpipers and Ruddy turnstones, and a single Red-necked Stint. Both Lesser-crested Terns and Great Crested Terns were present together with a large group of Little Terns and a few Common Terns.
We rested and had lunch under the casuarina trees on the beach. Very pleasant. On our way to our next birding site we stopped to watch a Yellow-bellied Prinia singing from the top of a long grass stalk.
The afternoon was spent at Sri Phang Nga National Park where we finally got some relief from the sun. In fact it looked like rain was imminent so we left our cameras in the car, a decision we later regretted. There was little on the main trail so we walked down to the river where a Spectacled Bulbul was singing in the open. A brown morph long-tailed Asian Paradise Flycatcher was seen after Colin recognized it's call. As we were leaving the area we heard a Banded Pitta calling from the other side of the river so we jumped over the stepping stones and into the forest on the other side. As soon as we started to call it out, true to form, a White-rumped Shama came to see what was going on. After a few minutes of calling Colin spotted a female pitta hopping towards us. It then jumped onto a fallen branch just a few metres away and looked around for the intruder. What a bird! We couldn't have asked for a better view. There are few birds anywhere in the world to compare with a Banded Pitta. If only we'd brought our cameras.
As we moved on we were all on a high. We didn't need to see anything else, we'd already had a great afternoon with that one bird. However, four Bushy-crested Hornbills flew by and as we approached the car park we spotted a Whiskered Treeswift sharing a perch with a Dark-sided Flycatcher. Up near the waterfall a Ferruginous Flycatcher was hawking from a branch at eye level. Silver-rumped Spinetails were feeding over the pool and Ochraceous Bulbuls and a Forest Wagtail were also seen.
We stayed overnight in Phang Nga town in order to be able to get to Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary at dawn.
On our way up the hill we heard a Puff-throated Babbler calling so we stopped and called it in. This can be a tricky bird and doesn't always respond well, however, this one came straight in and gave us very good views. As we walked back to the car we heard a flycatcher singing, we tried calling Eastern Tickell's Blue Flycatcher but oddly enough we saw a Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a rare Passage migrant. Black-and-Yellow Broadbill were also calling and came straight in. Not bad for a small scrap of forest surrounded by rubber plantations.
Birding at Ton Pariwat consists of standing on the entrance road and waiting for the sun to creep down the hill and bring the birds with it. First to arrive was a small party of Large Woodshrikes, followed by Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Grey-throated Babblers and a variety of bulbuls including Hairy-backed Bulbuls and a Cream-vented Bulbul. As we walked down the road we encountered a party of Vernal Hanging Parrots feeding on a seeding tree. A bird wave consisting of Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrikes, Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds and Pin-striped Tit-Babblers entertained us for a while. A Crested Serpent-Eagle was heard and then seen catching the first thermal of the day. Before we left we had glimpses of a pair of Yellow-eared Spiderhunters.
We stopped on the way down the hill at a fruiting tree to enjoy watching the flowerpeckers. The tree was full of Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers.
At the Phang Nga Recreational Park we found a pair of Jungle Myna and some Rufous-bellied Swallows nesting on the rock face.
As we entered the Phang Nga Mangrove Park we spotted a Streak-breasted Woodpecker on a fallen log. As soon as we called Mangrove Pitta a pair flew straight in and sat together on an exposed branch. An Ashy Tailorbird moved through and a Black-and-Red Broadbill showed briefly. A Pretty good haul for a small scrap of mangrove. As we left we also found a Tiger Shrike, another one of Colin's target birds.
We moved on to the mangroves at Ao Phang Nga National Park to try for kingfishers. Our good luck continued with a Brown-winged Kingfisher responding to tape before lunch and a pair of Ruddy Kingfishers after lunch.
Time was up. We'd had an excellent three days, seen many beautiful birds including three Pittas, two Broadbills and our target Kingfishers. Colin had added quite a few to his life list and now planned to spend the next few days in Khao Nor Chuchi in Krabi to look for lowland forest specialties.
We wished him good luck and headed home.
All photos by Ian Dugdale.