With the well-publicised Bangkok airport protests taking place in the week before our 2008 tour was due to take place, the run-up to the 2008 tour of Thailand was less than smooth. Our flights with Thai Airways were cancelled just two days before we were due to depart and so we had to source alternative flights and our itinerary had to be re-arranged at very short notice. Nevertheless, in the hands of the ever capable Uthai Treesucon, the tour proved to be a great success and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Our small group again visited the national parks at Khao Yai, Kaeng Krachan and Doi Inthanon, the northern hills of Doi Ang Khang and Doi Lang and also taking in the coastal habitats in the region of Phetchaburi. The weather was generally warm and sunny, although cooler at Doi Ang Khang, Doi Lang and the higher parts of Doi Inthanon.
We saw a total of 401 species. In addition there were 19 species that were heard only. We enjoyed a wide selection of south-east Asian birds, with the group’s favourite birds being the Great Hornbills seen at Kaeng Krachan and the ridiculously tame Rufous-bellied Niltava at Doi Inthanon. Special mentions also go to Spoon-billed Sandpiper seen well near Phetchaburi and Blue Pitta and Jerdon’s Baza at Khao Yai. Other star birds included White-rumped Falcon, Siamese Fireback, Nordmann’s Greenshank and Jerdon’s Bushchat. A long list of other very memorable birds included highlights such as great views of Orange-breasted Trogon, Green, Black-and-yellow and Banded Broadbills, Black Baza, Collared Falconet, Mountain Bamboo and Scaly-breasted Partridges, Great Knot, Tickell’s Brown, Wreathed and Oriental Pied Hornbills, a very obliging Collared Owlet, Oriental Scops-owl, Black-headed and Bay Woodpeckers, Limestone and Pygmy Wren-babblers, Slaty-bellied Tesia hopping along a branch at close range, Rusty-cheeked and White-browed Scimitar-babblers, Spectacled Barwing, Dark-backed and Rufous-backed Sibias, Large, Vivid and Rufous-bellied Niltava, Spot-breasted and Grey-headed Parrotbills and many more.
December 5th/6th: Journey to Chiang Mai.
We all met at Heathrow on order to catch our flights for the rather circuitous routing via Soeul in South Korea! This choice of airline had been forced upon us by the protests at Bangkok airport, which although having ended our flights with Thai Airways had been cancelled as airlines attempted to deal with people and planes in places they shouldn’t have been in. Korean Airlines are not likely to win any awards for their in-flight food, and the entertainment system proved challenging to some! Nevertheless, we arrived in Chiang Mai right on schedule and soon we had met up with Uthai and were in our city centre hotel ready for some rest.
December 7th: Huai Hrong Khrai King's Project, Doi Saket, Mae Tang Irrigation, Doi Chiang Dao, Doi Ang Khang.
Weather: Very warm and sunny, a bit cooler at Doi Chiang Dao and Doi Ang Khang.
Our day began with a visit to the King’s Project at Huai Hrong Khrai. Here as we drove into the site we quickly encountered our principal target species, a Green Peafowl feeding by the roadside. After we’d secured good views it moved into the woodland and we headed off to explore further. Early birds included Rosy and Brown-rumped Minivets, White-throated and Common Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Indian Roller, Ashy, Greater Racket-tailed and Hair-crested Drongos, Yellow-browed Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher and a flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks. The ever popular Black Baza was greatly appreciated when we first found a single bird perched in a tree, and then a flock of four. Excellent! An area of fruit trees harboured a splendid male Blue-throated Flycatcher of the form glaucicomans, sometimes split as a separate species, Chinese Blue Flycatcher.
Next on our agenda was an area of paddy fields at Doi Saket. Commoner open country species dominated here and we found Brown Shrike, Plain and Grey-breasted Prinias, Zitting Cisticola, Baya Weaver, Pied Bushchat and Siberian Stonechat.
A stop at the Mae Tang Irrigation scheme produced a nice selection of birds that included Red-wattled Lapwing, Wire-tailed Swallow, two Common Buzzards of the form japonicus, two quite showy Dusky Warblers, Japanese White-eye, House Swift, Asian Palm Swift and Crested Treeswift.
After lunch at a roadside restaurant we visited Doi Chiang Dao. Here in the forested hills the temperature was a little cooler and we enjoyed some good birds. Streaked Spiderhunter, Scarlet Minivet, Striped Tit-babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and two cracking Sultan Tits were all recorded. From here we proceeded on to Doi Ang Khang, where we arrived with just under an hour of light left. A quick stop produced our first birds of this excellent area in the form of three splendid Spot-breasted Parrotbills and two Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers. From here it was a short journey to our hotel and a chance to have dinner and a beer or two before retiring for the night.
December 8th: Doi Ang Khang.
Weather: Overcast and relatively cool with some light drizzle late morning.
The day dawned cool and overcast, and perhaps as a result the morning was hard work at times. A Blue Whistling Thrush was an early riser in the hotel car park. After a short drive we birded slowly along the quiet roads passing through the heavily degraded habitats here. Certain skulking species were tricky to get to grips with, but with some effort we found Red-faced Liocichla, Rufous-fronted Babbler and Spot-throated Babbler. A selection of bulbuls included the localised Brown-breasted, a speciality of the area, whilst Black, Mountain and Red-whiskered were also seen. Hume’s and Buff-throated Warblers were seen well. Several Dark-backed Sibias had acquired a flush of pink on the breast and throat, with some also showing this colouration on the vent. A Spectacled Barwing did not linger, but much more obliging were at least three Long-tailed Shrikes, Grey Bushchat, Stonechat of the resident form przewalskii and some superb Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds.
Around the hotel at lunchtime we got good views of White-headed Bulbuls, Verditer Flycatcher and Chestnut-flanked White-eye, but the afternoon session was rather slow. However highlights included a small flock of Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers, Plain Flowerpecker, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush and on our return journey to the hotel, a group of three Mountain Bamboo Partridges; an excellent way to end a productive day.
December 9th: Doi Ang Khang.
Weather: Chilly and overcast in the morning, but becoming warmer and sunny during the afternoon.
The day dawned much brighter than yesterday and as a result there was significantly more bird activity. Our first stop was at some cultivated areas where we quickly found White-browed Laughingthrush, Little Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler. Further along the road we passed through open forest and we encountered good birds along the way. Amongst the other highlights of the morning were good views of the shy White-necked Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Grey Treepie, Grey-backed Shrike, Hill Prinia, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Slender-billed Oriole, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, Blue-throated Barbet, and perhaps most appreciated was a very obliging Collared Owlet.
After lunch we travelled to Tha Ton, and here we enjoyed a late afternoon session in the open paddies and riverside habitats that remain here. Siberian Rubythroats were heard calling in a number of places and after a bit of a struggle we obtained good views of at least three individuals. Dusky Warblers were fairly common here, whilst Temminck’s Stint, White-rumped Munia, Citrine Wagtail and Paddyfield Pipit were all new. Raptors included Eastern Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite. By the river we located our main target bird, as a pair of Jerdon’s Bushchats was observed feeding on the edge of the tall reeds. This species is localised and threatened by loss of habitat. A couple of Bluethroats were in close proximity whilst other species here included Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Yellow-bellied Prinia.
December 10th: Doi Lang, travel to Doi Inthanon.
Weather: Sunny and bright with increasing cloud. Cool at Doi Lang, but fairly hot in the lowlands.
We began the day birding along the road through the forest at Doi Lang. On the drive up we encountered a couple of parties of Mountain Bamboo Partridges that showed well. A fine sunny day, but a bit chilly and the birds were a little slow at first. However, a few bursts of Collared Owlet recordings soon got things going with Buff-barred Warblers, Gould’s and Black-throated Sunbirds and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers. At least four Golden-throated Barbets were seen well and Grey Treepies were particularly obvious, as were Black and a few White-headed Bulbuls. A Chestnut-headed Tesia, well, er..., teased, and we got just the briefest of glimpses of this skulker of the undergrowth, and certainly not good enough views to allow us to enter it onto the trip list. Feeding flocks were regularly encountered and other new finds included Yellow-cheeked Tit, a smart male Red-flanked Bluetail, Orange-bellied Leafbird and Grey-chinned Minivet.
A walk down a side trail produced Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-browed Tit and for most Rufous-throated Partridge. A little further along the road we enjoyed excellent views of Pallas’s Warbler, a scarce bird in Thailand.
After lunch we headed back down to the lowlands and headed for Doi Inthanon where we arrived in the early evening. A stop at a former police training academy resulted in finds of Burmese Shrike, Lesser Coucal, Rufous Treepie and Yellow-eyed Babbler, whilst further on we checked some paddies where a substantial flock of Red Turtle Doves and several Grey-headed Lapwings were present.
December 11th: Doi Inthanon.
Weather: Warm and sunny with variable amounts of cloud.
We began the day on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon, just a short drive from our hotel. As we crossed a river we stopped to watch a pair of Black-backed Forktails at a regular stake-out. Heading up the hill we walked along a track that passed through some open woodland. Although quiet at times we had an excellent three hours here notching up all our target birds. Foremost amongst these was a superb show put on by three White-rumped Falcons that showed at close range. A party of five Black-headed Woodepeckers were also well received as were two White-bellied and two Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers. To complete an excellent foursome of woodpeckers were two Common Flamebacks. Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Black-naped Monarch, Black-hooded Oriole and Collared Falconet were among other highlights of a very productive walk.
Moving further up the mountain we stopped at a waterfall where we found Plumbeous Redstart. Lunch was taken at Mr Deang’s and during an excellent lunch we were able to watch Siberian Blue Robin, Hill Blue Flycatcher and Blue Whistling Thrush. In the afternoon we birded through some roadside woodland not too far from the second checkpoint. Among good birds seen here were White-browed Shrike-babbler, Grey-backed Shrike, three unusually elusive Grey-headed Parrotbills, a female Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon and Buff-breasted Babbler.
We ended the day back in the lowlands where a walk through some open woodland produced Common Woodshrike and at least 50 Green Bee-eaters heading to roost. At dusk we saw a single Savannah Nightjar and enjoyed great views of Oriental Scops Owl. An excellent way to complete another great day birding.
December 12th: Doi Inthanon.
Weather: Sunny with broken cloud, fairly hot.
Our second day on Doi Inthanon concentrated on the upper reaches of the mountain. Our first stop was fairly lively with Striated Bulbul, Eyebrowed Thrush, Bay Woodpecker (at last!), Chestnut-tailed Minla, Vivid Niltava, and a flock Wedge-tailed Pigeons all performing for us. Moving up to the summit we found our first Green-tailed Sunbirds, whilst along the summit bog boardwalk we enjoyed excellent views of Ashy-throated Warbler, a cracking Pygmy Wren-babbler, Red-flanked Bluetail and a Common Rosefinch. White-browed Shortwings were heard, but were clearly not in the mood to co-operate.
Moving down the mountain we took a side trail through the forest. Here we found Large Niltava, Little Pied Flycatcher, a very obliging Brown-throated Treecreeper. Much less co-operative were Eyebrowed Wren-babbler and Lesser Shortwing, both of which were heard, but not seen.
Lunch was again taken at Mr Deang’s restaurant and in addition to yesterday’s birds was a female White-tailed Robin. After lunch we returned to a higher elevation and worked a trail where we found two splendid Slaty-bellied Tesias, one of which hopped to and fro along a branch at high speed – excellent stuff! At the second checkpoint a ridiculously tame Rufous-bellied Niltava was present and just up the road a Spectacled Barwing rounded the day off nicely.
December 13th: Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Phetchaburi saltpans. Kaeng Krachan.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
After an early start and flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok we headed south towards Phetchaburi, making stops at various wetland areas along the way. Having started the trip in the north of Thailand there were plenty of new species to be found in these open habitats of the Thai coast. Germain’s Swiftlet, Little Cormorant, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cinnamon Bittern, Asian Openbill, Whiskered Tern, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint and Black-capped Kingfisher were among the early new birds for the trip.
We stopped for lunch in Phetchaburi and then proceeded to an area of saltpans. Here we found large numbers of waders, gulls and terns. Commoner species included Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Kentish Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint. Of much greater interest however was a sizeable flock of Great Knot and, of course, the discovery of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a much wanted bird for many and at a now regular site for this species. Terns included Caspian, Common and Little, whilst there were also good numbers of Brown-headed Gulls. Nearby we explored the beach and mangroves, finding Collared Kingfisher, Pied Fantail and Golden-bellied Gerygone, Curlew, Whimbrel, Crested Tern and a Greater Flamingo. The latter species has not been accepted onto the Thai list as being of wild origin.
Moving to another area of salt pans we found another impressive assemblage of waders waiting out the high tide period. Here another prime target bird was located with at least four Nordmann’s Greenshanks being present. Impressive numbers of Great Knot and Curlew Sandpipers were also present here, along with a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Next up was a visit to a waste water treatment works where we found at least three Ruddy-breasted Crakes, White-breasted Waterhen, Pintail Snipe, Painted Stork, Black-crowned Night Heron, Asian Koel and several basking Water Monitors. A final stop resulted in our first Shikra of the trip and we then headed for Kaeng Krachan where arrival was around dusk. Our short journey to dinner was enlivened by a male Large-tailed Nightjar, although sadly a female was also found dead on the road.
December 14th: Kaeng Krachan.
Weather: Warm and sunny.
Our first day in Kaeng Krachan concentrated on the lower lying parts of the National Park. We birded along the road that runs through the park and enjoyed many wonderful birds. The park has an interesting mix of forest species, some of which are on the northern edge of their range, whilst others reach the southernmost extent of their range here. The morning highlights included White-browed Piculet, Banded Bay Cuckoo, a flight of five Wreathed Hornbills, Grey-rumped Treeswift, three Black Bazas, Crested Goshawk, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Black-naped Oriole, Great Iora, Asian Brown, Siberian, and Hainan Blue Flycatchers, Puff-throated and Spot-necked Babbler, Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds and Little Spiderhunter. The afternoon was predictably slower but we did find two Orange-breasted Trogons, Moustached Cuckoo and Red Junglefowl in addition to a number of other species.
December 15th: Kaeng Krachan.
Weather: Warm and sunny
The day was spent in the higher elevations of the park. On our way through the lower areas, we stopped for a few species that we had not previously recorded. These included excellent views of Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, a couple of Emerald Doves and a rather brief Grey-faced Buzzard. After ascending some way we stopped for several superb Great Hornbills which performed well. White-hooded Babblers however, could not be tempted our way.
The park had recently been very busy with Thai tourists and as a result it seemed that some of the birds had moved to quieter areas, and had not yet returned to their usual haunts. As a result things were rather quiet. Two White-browed Scimitar-babblers showed very well, and then we headed along the track and paused for Moustached Barbet. We then tempted two Black-and-yellow Broadbills into view, whilst a Greater Green Leafbird was nearby and a Brown-backed Needletail hurtled overhead. Moving along we reached a viewpoint affording spectacular views across the forested hills of the park. Here we found a Red-billed Malkoha, but a Crimson-winged Woodpecker was less co-operative.
During lunch we saw another Red-billed Malkoha and a White-rumped Shama. We then birded a fairly steep trail down to a small waterfall. A couple of Speckled Piculets performed well and then it was quiet apart from Ochraceous Bulbuls, Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Striped Tit-babblers and Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers. A Heart-spotted Woodpecker was seen fairly briefly. The walk was hot and fairly hard going, so we enjoyed a rest by the stream before contemplating the walk back. After more rather slow birding we finally hit a little flurry when I heard a Green Broadbill calling. Whilst waiting for this Vernon found some White-handed Gibbons and a Mountain Hawk-eagle popped up in the same area. The broadbill came in and showed very nicely at close range. This is a scarce species this far north. Moving a short way up the trail we had brief views of a Plain-tailed (Alstrom’s) Warbler and then Green Iora, Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds, Blue-winged Leafbird, Rufous-fronted Babbler and more White-handed Gibbons. Back at the car park we found several Vernal Hanging Parrots, at last perching up for us rather than zipping over calling like they usually do!
It was now late afternoon and during the drive back we made stops for Crimson-winged Woodpecker, a female Red-headed Trogon and a slightly more obliging Grey-faced Buzzard.
December 16th: Kaeng Krachan HQ, Phetchaburi Wetlands, Wat Praput Tsa Bast Noi Temple, Khao Yai.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
We began the day with some birding around the grounds of the country club. Large-tailed Nightjar was seen during a pre-breakfast walk, but Collared Scops-owl and Stone Curlew were less co-operative. After breakfast we enjoyed watching a group of 19 Hoopoes feeding in the open and found a fairly obliging Lanceolated Warbler. Moving on to the HQ area we searched out and found a group of Greater Necklaced Laughngthrushes which performed well and nearby a Forest Wagtail was also rather obliging.
We began our long journey to Khao Yai by heading in the direction of Phetchaburi. A stop in some rice fields produced a flurry of new birds. Rufous-winged Buzzard, Stone Curlew, Plain-backed Sparrow and Pied Kingfisher all showed in quick succession. Other interesting species in this area included Black-shouldered Kite and Shikra.
In the Phetchaburi area we went in search of a Black-faced Spoonbill that had been present in the area. Unfortunately we were unable to locate it, so had to settle for Avocet instead. A nice selection waders was seen and we enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with them after our time in the forest.
After lunch we headed north through Bangkok and on towards Khao Yai. We made good progress and so were able to stop at the regular stake out for Limetsone Wren-babbler at Wat Praput Tsa Bast Noi Temple. Here we soon located our quarry and were treated to excellent views as three birds crept about their rocky habitats and also sang.
December 17th : Khao Yai.
Weather: Pleasantly hot and sunny.
The popular national park at Khao Yai is often busy with visitors, but on this occasion the number of people in the park was relatively low. However, the birds were much quieter than usual and this meant that it was often hard work. Nevertheless with perseverance we found many good birds including some of the more sought after specialities.
Our birding began in an area of grassland where we quickly found Bright-capped Cisticola and Rufescent Prinia. In the nearby forest we located a smart Banded Broadbill which showed well before moving on. Nearby we enjoyed Brown-rumped Minivets, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Abbott’s Babbler, Thick-billed Pigeon and Green-billed Malkoha. Two Black-throated Laughingthrushes were also coaxed into view.
Later we at last enjoyed views of Ashy Bulbuls after some near misses earlier in the trip. A short journey in the van was enlivened considerably by the discovery of a superb male Siamese Fireback feeding by the road. Excellent! Exploring the edge of one of the camp grounds we heard but failed to see Blue Pitta. Nearby fruiting trees provided some compensation in the form of Everett’s White-eye and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker. After a good lunch we headed out again. A walk along a riverside trail produced Orange-headed Thrush and a Striated Heron. Uthai got word of a White-throated Rock-thrush elsewhere in the park, so we hot-footed it down to where the bird was showing and we enjoyed excellent views at close range. Nearby another Banded Broadbill was calling. Further down the road we heard and eventually managed to see a typically shy Common Green Magpie. On our way towards the park gate we stopped for Hill Myna, Moustached and Blue-eared Barbets and Asian Fairy Bluebirds perched in the tops of trees below the road.
We decided to end the day in an area of grassland and scrub not far from our hotel. Here we found Ruddy-breasted Crake and watched Shikras hunting amongst the mass exodus of thousands of bats from a cave up on the nearby hillside. An excellent way to finish the day.
December 18th : Khao Yai.
Weather: Very warm and sunny. Cooler at the end of the day
The birding in Khao Yai continued to be fairly hard work, but again we managed to find plenty of interest. Our first stop not far from the hotel was for Red-breasted Parakeet and Lineated Barbet, both of which were easily seen. Once into the park we located Green-eared Barbet and got good views of Jerdon’s Baza. A Banded Broadbill and Dark-sided Flycatcher were also obliging. Further along the road we found a Greater Flameback and then enjoyed views of a Laced Woodpecker. A short walk along one of the nearby forest trails was fairly quiet (until we heard elephants that is!), but we did find our first Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes and two quite obliging Scaly-breasted Partridges.
The rest of the morning continued to be rather quiet, except for excellent views of an Asian Emerald Cuckoo. After lunch we made further stops that produced a Mugimaki Flycatcher (uncommon in much of Thailand) and a Violet Cuckoo that did not linger long enough for the group to connect. A late afternoon walk along a forest trail was to prove eventful. A Blue Pitta was glimpsed by some in the group and then whilst working on trying to get another individual to show itself we encountered a Sun Bear. This then proceeded to excavate a bees nest along with a second individual and we were able to see these two bears climbing a tree with bees buzzing around them; a superb experience. Returning to the pittas, we got further glimpses before heading back to the vehicle and then back to the hotel.
December 19th: Khao Yai - Sakaerat Biosphere Research Station – Bangkok.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
After another early start we had a fairly long drive to start the day. Birds en-route included Pied Bushchat and some Cotton Pygmy Geese on a dam lake. At the Sakaerat Biosphere research station we bird the road through some dry forest. Here we found Red-breasted Parakeets, Brown Prinias, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Large Cuckooshrike, Black-headed Woodpecker, Purple Sunbird and Greater Flameback. As we moved into some dry evergreen forest we enjoyed superb views of Siamese Fireback. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, White-rumped Shama and Black-winged Cuckpooshrike were among the range of species we located during a fairly quiet walk. A lunch stop provided views of Green-eared Barbet, Common Iora and Golden-fronted Leafbird, whilst a stop en-route to Bangkok at last added Yellow-vented Bulbul to the list. Arrival in Bangkok was in the early evening.
December 20th: Rangsit. Various sites in the Bangkok area. Bangpu.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
Our final day in Thailand should have been the first! However, despite nearly two weeks of birding we found quite a few new species. At Rangsit we began with Black-browed Reed Warbler, Purple Swamphen and Yellow Bittern. Plaintive Cuckoo, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Chestnut-headed Starling and Black-headed Munia were located later on. Other interesting species noted here included Lanceolated Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler and Cotton Pygmy Goose. A visit to a temple secured views of Alexandrine Parakeet, a pair of Plain-backed Sparrows and some colourful Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. The whole area was host to good numbers of Asian Openbills. After lunch we headed east of the city and visited some ponds where a tailless Striated Grassbird was singing. Ruddy-breasted Crake showed well, whilst a White-browed Crake was seen briefly in flight by some. On the coast we visited Bang Pu. We were amazed by the enthusiasm of Thai people for photographing Brown-headed Gulls with some very expensive equipment. Amongst the hundreds of Brown-headed Gulls we found Black-headed and Heuglin’s. Also present were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pacific Golden Plovers and a few Black-winged Stilts. A walk through the mangroves and a visit to a tower hide produced Indian Shag, whilst shorebirds included Marsh Sandpiper. The tour concluded with a pleasant meal taken outside with a few Black-crowned Night-herons passing overhead.
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