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 Eight day trip of central peninsular Thailand – December 2012

Gabriel and Brooke had decided to spend their honeymoon on a tour of South-East Asia starting with a week in South Thailand. Both were zoologists and were interested in the reptiles and mammals of the area as well as the birds. This made for an interesting trip as we spent a lot of time hunting around cracks, crevices and caves for snakes.

Day 1 – Thai Muang, Laem Pakarang & Sri Phang-Nga NP

After picking up the guests bright and early near Phuket Airport we got to the marshes at Thai Muang at first light. One of the first birds seen was a Cinnamon Bittern which actually stayed out in the open for us to admire, which is rare for that bird. A young Brahminy Kite flew by us and the ponds were full of various Egrets and Herons. At the paddy fields area we found three Watercock, some Purple Swamphens and a group of ten Grey-headed Lapwings. Some shorebirds fed in the ponds and a Lesser Coucal sunned itself. A Yellow-bellied Prinia and Black-browed Reed-Warblers were active. About thirty Brown-backed Needletails came through over the space of a few minutes.

Over at the beach area we could not find the Spotted Wood-Owls but did find some Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Lineated Barbets and Vernal Hanging Parrots.

We got to Laem Pakarang in the heat of the day but luckily it clouded over. The usual shorebirds were there including Bar-tailed Godwits and Terek Sandpipers. The highlight though was a pair of Malaysian Plovers found by Brooke.

There was not much bird activity at Sri Phang-Nga in the afternoon so we concentrated on finding lizards and interesting bugs including some gliding geckos and a Tokay Gecko. We did find a mixed group of birds feeding on a flight of ants high up. Among the Silver-rumped Spinetails and Pacific Swifts was a Black-thighed Falconet. A juvenile Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle passed by. Chestnut-winged Babblers and an Abbott’s Babbler came in.
                                               Gaur at Khao Sok

Day 2 – Sri Phang-Nga NP & Khao Sok NP

As we ate our packed breakfast at the Sri-Phang Nga HQ area we spotted a Great Hornbill high up in a distant tree. It called for ten minutes before flying off.  A flock of Swinhoe’s Minivets landed in a near tree and were joined by a Black-naped Oriole, some Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrikes and a Blue-eared Barbet. We called out a Moustached Babbler at the edge of the forest.

As we got out of the car up at the waterfall car park a flock of Bushy-crested Hornbills flew over and landed in a tree over the river. A few other common forest species were seen but the forest was completely quiet by 9am. Very strange. 

During lunch a pair of Crested Honey-Buzzards circled the lawns.

Our luck changed in the afternoon during our boat trip to the floating bungalows on Khao Sok reservoir. We started off with Western Osprey before getting White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Lesser Fish-Eagle.  Now it was Kingfisher time with two Stork-billed Kingfishers and a Black-capped Kingfisher. Near the rooms we found a solitary Oriental Hobby in a dead tree. Plenty of Oriental Pied Hornbills were flying around. After dropping off some provisions at the rooms we went down a small creek where we spotted a Great Hornbill in a fruiting tree. Another one was seen, then another one. In the end we estimated there were about twelve of them. We then noticed that one of them was actually a Helmeted Hornbill. The Great Hornbills started to fly out and to our amazement thirty three were counted. A pair of Wreathed Hornbills flew across in front of us. We got back in to the main channel and went looking for the elusive Gaur, a species of very large forest cattle. At dusk we gave up but just as we were heading for home the owner of the bungalows sped up in his little boat and told us to get down to the next headland where we found a group of six Gaur feeding out in an open grassy area.

After dinner we got back in the boat and went out spot-lighting. We first found a Large-tailed Nightjar, then a Grey Nightjar. Things then got interesting with a Serow (type of goat) and a Lesser Mouse Deer. After looking long and hard we finally found a Buffy Fish-Owl and managed to get close to it.
 Pegu Bent-toed Gecko outside our rooms at Krung Ching

Day 3 – Khao Sok NP & Krung Ching

We were up at first light and as we had found most of the target birds the previous afternoon we just enjoyed the scenery. We did get a Blue-eared Kingfisher and watched a brave Oriental Hobby chase off a Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle. Along the way we saw all the Hornbills again. We heard a Sun Bear growling near to the edge of the lake but it didn’t show.

After breakfast we took the boat back to the pier. As we left the area of karsts a Grey-headed Fish-Eagle circled above us.

As we neared Krung Ching a snake crossed in front of the car. We swerved to avoid it and screeched to a halt. During the sprint to the snake we thought it might be a King Cobra but it turned out to be an Indochinese Rat Snake. We arrived at an area outside the park an hour or so before nightfall and looked for snakes. No luck but found a pair of Common Emerald Doves bathing in a puddle. After dark we went looking for Frogmouths. A Blyth’s Frogmouth called a couple of times but we could not find it. After dinner we found a Pegu Bent-toed Gecko next to the rooms.
                Kuhl's Parachute Gecko at Krung Ching HQ

Day 4 – Krung Ching

We got onto the waterfall trail at 7am while it was still misty. Grey-headed Babblers, Scaly-crowned Babblers and a Rufous-winged Philentoma were found on the first section. Apart from a Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo it was then quiet until we passed the first shelter where we heard a Rufous-collared Kingfisher. It came straight in and as we watched it a male Banded Kingfisher came into the next tree. Nice. Apart from a Black-capped Babbler few Babblers were around but we got a Rufous Piculet near a clump of bamboo and some Banded Broadbills at the second shelter. We tried hard for the Rail Babbler but it seemed to not be in the area at the time, in fact we think it had not been seen by anyone for a while. On the way out we got onto a female Orange-breasted Trogon.

We spent the late afternoon at the bus stop where we found some Rufescent Prinias and as we approached the top of the hill a Crested Jay called and flew into the forest. We noticed a Kuhl’s Parachute Gecko staying still on a tree trunk and got some photos.

As we were getting our gear together for a night walk we heard both Sunda-Scops Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl calling. The latter was seen calling repeatedly but the Scops-Owl would not show. Down the road we spent thirty minutes trying to find a calling Frogmouth but with no luck.
                                  Cave Racer at Krung Ching


Day 5 – Krung Ching

Today was to be a day of forest edge birding starting off with a morning along the entrance road. There were plenty of good birds around but the mist was very thick and did not clear until 9am after which the birding died down very quickly. In the mist at the top of the road we had Red-bearded Bee-eater, Banded Woodpecker, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Red-billed Malkoha and Spectacled Spiderhunter.  At the bus stop we watched a group of White-crowned Hornbills looking for large bugs in some old trees. Down near the HQ after the mist had cleared we a found a flock of smaller birds including White-bellied Erponis, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Canary Flycatcher, Green Iora and Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker.

We had a look along the stream behind the restaurant but only found a Buff-vented Bulbul and a Brown Fulvetta having a bath.

We had decided on a long lunch break so we would have the energy for a longer night walk. During the break we talked to a local man who used to be a hunter and he said he knew of a good spot for snakes. Off we went with him on a drive along a very dodgy road to end up at some woodland where two streams meet and disappear under a cliff face. Mr jong climbed up onto a pile of rocks and immediately shouted “ngu..ngu”. He had found a Cave Racer curled up on a ledge. These snakes take bats on the wing and constrict them. Another was found a little further in to the cave. We squeezed through the entrance and walked and crawled the first couple of hundred meters of the cave. No more snakes were found but there were some Cave Toads, some Whip-Scorpions and some interesting looking fish.

Out in the open we enjoyed a cool drink and called in a Plaintive Cuckoo. A pair of Black-and-yellow Broadbills flew in right above us and called.

After an early dinner we went back into the park and walked the entrance road. The same Frogmouth as the previous night called but stayed too high to find. Then Brooke had her highlight of the trip. She had talked of repeatedly visiting her local zoo as a child to watch the Slow Loris. Now she had caught some eye shine 20 meters up a tree at the side of the road. We all got our flashlights on it and watched a Slow Loris descend the tree in full view. Excellent! A little further down the hill we heard yet another Blyth’sFrogmouth calling and thankfully this one came in low and showed very well. We topped off the walk with a Sunda Scops-Owl at eye level. 
           Beautiful Pit Viper at Queen's Park, Phang Nga


Day 6 – Krung Ching & KNC

We got to the entrance gate at 7a.m. to find we were above the mist and in excellent light. We found many of the previous day’s birds and enjoyed seeing them in full colour rather than the silhouettes of the previous morning.  A few other birds showed up too including Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Plain Sunbird and Purple-naped Sunbird.

We drove over to Krabi province during the heat of the day. We had planned to visit the paddy fields at Haat Yao but changed it to an afternoon at KNC as we know it to be a good place for snakes. We walked one of the back roads keeping our eyes as much on the ground as in the trees. As we were watching a Van Hasselt’s Sunbird singing in a leafless tree a Common Hill Myna flew in and stole the show. A car slowed down as it passed and the driver told us they had just seen a King Cobra cross the road. Anguish for Gabriel as that was the snake he most wanted to see. We walked down into the forest along a stream and played a few calls to see what was about. A Green Broadbill called back but would not come in. We crossed the stream and climbed a short hill before coming into a clearing. The Broadbill was still there and showed really well. It was one of Brooke’s top target birds so we were all delighted.

Day 7 – Krabi & Phang Nga

We woke up to a gloomy morning. As we entered the mangrove walkway in Krabi Town it got even gloomier and started to drizzle. There was no bird activity at all along the walkway. At the end a Brown-winged Kingfisher flew in close and called to a local rival. Mr Diaw picked us up in his longtail boat and we headed out to the river mouth. Along the way an adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle flew by and Common Terns plunged for fish. Luckily the boat had a plastic awning as the rain got harder. Out in the river mouth we found a pair of Egrets perching on a snag. No-one wanted to get out and set up the scope in the rain so we inched in closer until we could see that one of them had a black bill turning to yellow which was a little longer than the other Egret’s. Together with the fluffy plume this told us that we had a Chinese Egret. We spent the next ninety minutes trawling around the numerous groups of shorebirds but could not find any Nordmann’s Greenshanks. There were plenty of Common Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, a couple of Eurasian Curlew and a lone Common Greenshank. Lesser Crested Terns were plentiful.

After lunch we headed over to the Elephant Cave in Phang-Nga as Brooke was keen to look for Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bat. About ten were seen during the boat trip and walk in the cave but the resident Beautiful Bent-toed Gecko was not seen.

The last two hours of the day were spent at the Queen’s Park across the road. A few new birds were seen here including Asian Glossy Starling, Coppersmith Barbet and Rufous-bellied Swallow. Good views were also got of Yellow Bittern and Black Bittern in the marshy area behind the park.

As we walked by the limestone outcrops we got our torches out and scanned the dark rocky areas. Bingo! Finally we had found Gabriel a Viper. We spent the next hour photographing the rare Beautiful Pit-Viper known only from a few provinces in south Thailand.

Day 8 – Phang Nga mangroves

This was always going to be a very short day as needed to drop off the guests at Phuket Airport in the morning so they could get up to Chiang Mai in time for the New Year festivities.

We decided to concentrate on the Mangrove Pitta as this was the only local exotic bird family we had yet to get. We tried both the Phang-Nga Mangrove Park and the Ao Phang-Nga NP HQ area but no Pittas were seen. In fact both areas were quiet and all we got were Ashy Tailorbird,Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler and Ashy Minivet. Brooke also found a Common Tree-Shrew.

We drove over to Phuket to drop Gabriel and Brooke off and said our goodbyes. We had had a great trip and seen many good birds as well as rarely seen reptiles and mammals.

Trip list

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