Story and photos by Dave Williams
May is a hot month in Southern Thailand, yet the bird watching is still very good. Andrew Colthrope, my Phuket resident birding companion, and I went to Sri Phang Nga National Park for a couple days of bird watching. This park is only two and a half hours from Phuket. The jungle is stunning; waterfalls abound. The main trail slithers back and forth across a lovely babbling creek.
From the national park bungalows (very clean and comfortable I might add), there's a nice dirt road following the creek. But before we got started, three Great Hornbills started barking from the high trees across the field. They took flight, always a delightful sighting. A variety of bulbuls, spiderhunters, flowerpeckers, fairy-bluebirds and others are jetting to and fro constantly. A small crop of bananas is located slightly down the road. We watched spiderhunters zipping around, then caught a Tiger Shrike posing on a banana stalk.
Once down to the parking lot for the waterfall, we were welcomed by a warm afternoon shower. We had drove up from Phuket and arrived in the early afternoon. Brief showers like this are common in May. We sat under the protection of one of the many salas (gazebos) by the creek. We relaxed and watched the fat fish that the locals come to feed on their weekend picnics. We did see some birds, such as a Crimson Sunbird, some Asian Fairy-bluebirds, Blue-winged Leafbirds, Little Spiderhunters and a Thick-billed Flowerpecker (a new bird for me).
The following morning, we were join by longtime Thailand resident Peter Ericsson. This was a treat for me as both Andrew and Peter are seasoned birders. I always like birding with folks who are very serious about their birds.
At sunrise, about half-way down the road to the parking lot for the waterfall, we ran across a small off-shooting path. Andy crept down this path slowly while I, for some dumb reason, stood on the road. Peter followed him. Andrew and Peter were rewarded with a Banded Pitta!
A little further along, we heard a Green Broadbill. It was close, but not in view.
Once at the parking lot, we saw a Whiskered Treeswift perched high in a dead tree. Andy and Peter saw a Black-and-Yellow Broadbill. I was busy watching a Banded Broadbill gathering nesting material. We found the nest and put Andy and Peter's scopes to good use. The nest was located in a very tall tree that had several large honey combs.
A male Buff-rumped Woodpecker graced us with a pecking show, just ten meters from where we were standing. Scopes quickly swung his way. We had all seen this woodpecker before, but never this close. He hung around for a long time too.
Peter slipped away from Andy and me for a bit. It turns out that he went back to the pitta spot, hoping to see it again. For his troubles, he got to see a Maroon Woodpecker. While he was gone, Andy and I saw a grey morph Black-headed Bulbul. Andy wasn't sure he'd seen this morph before. Black-headed Bulbuls are very common, but this morph isn't.
A Red-billed Malkoha visited one of the trees nearby. Blue-winged Leafbirds, male and female, shot from tree to tree as did some Vernal Hanging Parrots and Asian Fairy-bluebirds.
Peter left us as his family was waiting for him. He only had this one morning free to come birding. Andy and I carried on.
Andy took me on 'The' trail. Wow, it's certainly not for the unfit. Andy and I are both 47 years old and quite fit. This trail, carrying spotting scope and a lot of water, was not easy. It was beautiful though. Big trees made the steep climb up and down, then up and down, then several creek crossings. We saw a Hairy-back Bulbul, a rufous morph Asian Paradise-Flycatcher (short tail) and heard a Hooded Pitta. It would trade calls with us, but didn't come close enough to see. Orange-breasted Trogons were heard too.
Helmeted Hornbills made their bizarre calls as did the Great Argus! We even had a female Great Argus calling. I had heard the male many times in Khao Sok National Park, but never the female.
On the way back to the bungalow, we stopped at the pitta trail to give it another try. It was nearly dark. Andy heard the alarm call to both the left and right of the trail. My blood started flowing. Could this be my time to finally see another pitta? I had only seen one Mangrove Pitta before and that was quite a while ago. We crouched down in anticipation. The calls were close. Andy started pointing. We were both on our knees glaring into the ever-darkening jungle. "Dave, look right past that yellow diamond-shaped leaf." I didn't see it. "Look on the bamboo just behind it." I saw it! It immediately flew. It flew closer, but we couldn't spot it again. Well, I can say I saw a Banded Pitta, but I am a little hesitant to count it on my life list. If it wasn't for Andy and his knowledge of this bird, I wouldn't have guessed it to be a Banded. I guess I'll count it and hope to see one better... and soon.
We retired for the evening in our quaint bungalow after a long day's birding. Storms throughout the night made it seem like the lights were coming on and off all night. It was nice. The air was clean and fresh and the sound of rain always provided me a gentle sleep.
On our last morning, we were up well before the sun. The air was comfortable. We went directly to the pitta trail again. No luck.
We saw the Banded Broadbill in its nest again. Andy found a White-rumped Munia nest low enough to see the eggs. I got a brief glimpse of a Maroon Woodpecker. The Buff-rumped Woodpecker graced us with his presence again. A pair of Red-throated Barbets flew in very low, on the same tree that the Buff-rumped was just pecking. We were dazzled by their brilliant colors. My camera wasn't fast enough unfortunately.
A Chestnut-breasted Malkoha flew into a tree high overhead. Little Spiderhunters, Grey-breasted Spiderhunters, White-rumped Needletails and Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrikes fluttered in the trees around us. We were treated to an easy viewing of a Grey-eyed Bulbul, a new bird for me! A Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, yet another new bird for me, found some flowers that suited its taste. We saw an eclipse morph of a Crimson Sunbird and both male and female Grey-headed Flycatchers.
We were very glad to have made this short excursion. We'd seen a lot of birds and got to meet Peter. The bungalows were clean and pleasant. There was a small family-owned restaurant near the park entrance that served excellent food and the jungle was gorgeous. We'll be back.