Story and photos by Dave Williams.
On May 18th, 2005, Andrew, Stijn, and I went on a two-day journey to Manora Forest Park, Raman Forest Park, Phang Nga National Park, and Ton Paliwat Wildlife Sanctuary. The weather was a bit hot, but the birds were very active.
We started off in Manora Forest Park on the morning of May 18th. A tree was in fruit in the parking lot. We saw a Spectacled Bulbuls, Plain Sunbirds, a couple of Buff-vented Bulbuls, Purple-naped Sunbirds (male & female), a Spectacled Spiderhunter, Brown-throated Sunbird (female) and a pair of Emerald Doves. A Blue Flycatcher, probably a Tickell’s, flew by and Andy grabbed his spotting scope. Unfortunately, the bird had its back to us most of the time. We got a momentary look at the breast, but not long enough to tell exactly what it was.
A lovely creek streams through this small forest park. The manager of the park is a very friendly gentleman who speaks a good bit of English. He is doing a wonderful job of keeping the park clean. He’s also interested in keeping locals from cutting down trees… more on this later.
We headed up the trail. It starts with some attractive cascading waterfalls. The trail is well-maintained and the footing is excellent. Steps are cut into the earth on the steeper bits. Concrete steps are provided in the steepest parts. Stijn saw a Little Heron on the bank.
We proceeded past the waterfall area and into the jungle. The trail here is also superb. We were looking at a cave, when suddenly we heard a Green Broadbill! There it was, a beautiful male in the same spot as it was a week before. This is one of the most stunning birds in the area. Its lime-green feathers grow all the way to the tip of its bill. It’s quite a sight.
Carrying on, we came upon a Blue Whistling Thrush. A towering limestone cliff sits to the left of the trail. Stijn spotted some Striated Swallows circling up high. Later, we saw some Germaine Swiftlet coming out of a cave.
At one point, we saw a group of about a dozen locals cutting down trees across the creek. They had set up a tent and a campfire was smoldering. I took some photos of them. They yelled at us to ask us what we were doing. We didn’t reply. A Blue-eared Kingfisher was near where they were cutting.
Along a bit further, we saw a female Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker and Ochraceous Bulbuls. Andy heard a Banded Kingfisher. Stijn had a mini-disc player with the call. He turned it on and the kingfisher appeared within seconds. We enjoyed watching it for a few minutes. A male Black-naped Monarch made a guest appearance too.
Andy had been to this forest park recently and he heard a Streaked Wren-Babbler. It was a bird he really wanted to add to his Thailand list. We heard one calling. Within a couple minutes, Andy’s face lit up. He whispered, “There it is, right in front of me!” He tried not moving to much, but his excitement alarmed the bird. However, it wasn’t so disturbed that it left. Instead, it flew all over the place around us. It was up in the cliffs for a bit, and then it would zip over to a shrub. Then it zipped over to some other trees. It called constantly. We now have that call engrained in our brains. This was a new bird for both Andy and me.
A Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker was spotted in this area too. This was at trail mark #9.
We walked up the trail a bit more and spotted a Red-throated Barbet. It’s always a treat seeing these birds.
We went to the end of the trail. There’s a cave here. Germaine Swiftlets flew in and out of the cave. Andy and Stijn went up to investigate it. I sat on a bench watching butterflies. In addition to a nice variety of birds, this park has some gorgeous butterflies. My 12X optical zoom digital camera proved to be a useful tool.
Once rested up a bit, we headed back. Shortly, we saw an adult male Asian Paradise-Flycatcher streamed past us. Stijn pointed out a Grey-throated Babbler to us.
When we got back to the parking lot, we saw the manager and told him about the guys cutting down the trees. He was visibly upset. He said that he was going to go up right away… and he did. We were a bit concerned as he was by himself and there were twelve bad guys. We had lunch at the restaurant by the creek.
On the drive from Phuket to Krabi, there’s a small mangrove walkway. The trees here are much taller than most of the mangrove in the Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi area. I don’t know how or why these few trees were spared the chainsaw, but I’m glad they were. Andy has visited this spot a few times. He told stories of Mangrove Pittas and other very cool birds. I found it hard to believe that this small area would harbor such uncommon birds. Boy, was I ever wrong.
The first birds we spotted were three female Streak-breasted Woodpeckers. We got incredibly close to them, closer than I’ve ever been to any woodpeckers. Suddenly, we heard Mangrove Pittas! They were very close. There it was, a beautiful Mangrove Pitta. It was up off the ground in a mangrove tree. It was calling constantly. May is a wonderful time to go birding here as it’s breeding season for so many species. It’s odd, but as much time as I spend in mangroves, I hadn’t seen one of these guys for over a decade. But there it was, in plain view. We heard three in this very small area. We satisfied our visual appetite and moved on.
Stijn spotted a White-chested Babbler. It was right beside the walkway. Andy and I were astonished. This is a bird we’ve both been wanting for a while. The babbler hopped around the mangrove forest floor. A second one was spotted nearby. We heard a Banded Bay Cuckoo off in the distance, but not too far away. We didn’t see it.
Next, we headed to Phang Nga National Park. There’s a nice walkway/boardwalk through the mangrove forest. Both Andy and Stijn had been there before. I hadn’t.
We checked into the bungalows and headed to the walkway. Right off the bat, we saw a Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, a Common Iora, an Ashy Tailorbird, a male Brown-throated Sunbird and an Ashy Drongo. A male Common Flameback Woodpecker made a brief appearance. A pair of White-chested Babblers were calling each other. One was very close to us. I’ve noticed that once you see a bird that you dream of seeing, suddenly you start seeing them all over the place. This was the case with the White-chested Babbler.
On the morning of the 19th, we hopped over to Raman Forest Park.
I had been there recently while researching some mountain biking trails. I heard Blue-winged Pittas and broadbills while I was there, but I didn’t see them.
Starting in the parking Lot, we saw a Purple-naped Sunbird and an Emerald Dove.
The trails in this forest park are also very well-maintained. The trail parallels a lovely stream with nice waterfalls. We saw a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, a Plain Sunbird, a Red-eyed Bulbul, and a Grey-throated Babbler as we worked our way up the gentle hill.
Stijn spotted a Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker and Andy and I got a brief glimpse of it as well. Next, we saw a Yellow-bellied Warbler. Both of these birds were around the #5 trail mark. We also heard a Black and Yellow Broadbill calling near #5 too.
We made our way to the end of the trail and turned around. On the way back we saw an adult male Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, a Yellow-bellied Bulbul and a Little Spiderhunter. When we got back to the parking lot area, Stijn spotted a male Crimson Sunbird, one of the most attractive small birds in Thailand. We also saw a Streak-eared Bulbul in the parking lot. It’s amazing how many birds you can see in parking lots. It seems to be a great place to bird in every park I’ve ever visited.
In the afternoon, we decided to head to Thai Meung town. We wanted to take the scenic route and somehow we got sidetracked, first by a big shallow river and then by a sign we saw. We surveyed the river for the River Lapwing, but didn’t see one. We saw a sign for Ton Paliwat Wildlife Sanctuary. Andy had heard that it was a nice place to go birding, so we took a right.
I thought that there wasn’t any whitewater in Southern Thailand. There are however a few companies running a river in this area. I had never visited this region. We drove up higher and higher up the mountain. We traveled past several rafting outfitters. The river was small and very shallow. How on earth could they raft this? Up a bit further and the answer became obvious. Someone had built a dam on the river. When they want to run the river, they open the dam. Still, it was not very much water. We drove up higher.
Finally, we came to the top and the headquarters for the wildlife sanctuary. Right off the bat, we saw Grey-rumped Treeswifts. In the distance, White-handed Gibbons made their strange calls. The mountains surrounding the wildlife sanctuary were covered exquisite high canopy trees. From the top however you can see vast areas that have been cut down and converted into boring rubber trees and oil palms. Almost all of the lowland jungle in Thailand and elsewhere has been cut down for the rubber oil palm business. The word “overkill” comes to mind.
Anyway, we walked up the waterfall area near the headquarters. The river was very nice, but again, it wasn’t anything worth paddling. It was way too low. I could see that if there was enough water, it would be a class III-ish run. We decided that birding here would be difficult as the sound of the water killed all the bird sounds. So, we opted to walk down the road. It was an excellent choice.
First off, we saw a few Whiskered Treeswifts. Silver-rumped Swifts, with their bat-like fluttering, whiz by. A Crimson Sunbird and an Asian Fairy-Bluebird was spotted. Andy had his spotting scope. He fixed it on a pair of Vernal Hanging Parrots up in a dead tree. We heard a Puff-throated Babbler nearby. Three Black-headed Bulbuls flew by, as did some Pacific Swifts.
The next sighting was a real treat. A pair of Scarlet Minivets (male and female) were hopping around in a nearby tree. We were able to spend a few minutes watching these stunning birds.
Ton Paliwat Wildlife SanctuaryShortly thereafter, we saw a Streaked Bulbul, an Emerald Dove, a female Greater Green Leafbird and a Yellow-vented Flowerpecker. Andy called us over. He had a Brown Barbet in his scope! It was a new bird for me and most likely a new bird for Andy. Stijn had seen them elsewhere outside of Thailand. This was a dream bird for me.
Further down, we spotted a Grey-headed Flycatcher, a Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Stripe-throated Bulbuls and Asian Paradise-Flycatchers.
Stijn pointed out a new bird for Andy, a Scaly-breasted Bulbul! Andy was ecstatic. He’d been wanting this bird for a long time. I saw one in Khao Sok National Park last August. I climbed up a mountain for four hours. It was rather difficult. My reward however, was getting to see a Scaly-breasted Bulbul from a fairly close distance.
It was late in the afternoon so we started heading back to the car. Along the way we spotted a Blue-eared Barbet. There was a tree full of Vernal Hanging Parrots, Whiskered Treeswifts and Grey-rumped Treeswifts making a lot of noise. I can’t recall ever seeing that many parrots or treeswifts in one place before. Upon reaching the car, a small group of White-rumped Munias bid us farewell.