Share our Experience of Birding and Photography

Birding Trip Southern Thailand

 March 2013

by

Simon van der Meulen, the Netherlands

 

This was to be my 3rd visit to Thailand since 1996 and my very first one fully dedicated to birdwatching in this beautiful country. My previous birding trips had all been confined to North and Northeast India during 2010-2012. I therefore expected a bag full of “ lifers” to be added to my totals.

 

It was 9 months prior to the scheduled period of March 5-15, 2013, that I contacted Stijn De Win of Birding2Asia for a birdwatching/-photography trip in Southern Thailand. According to my wishlist, he recommended to include the famous Hala Bala Reserve in the southernmost part of the country. However, an on-line check with the latest Bangkok Post edition revealed that killings (by either Muslim terrorists or terrorists-turned-criminals) were still the order of the day. Besides this confirmation, my dear wife – who graciously allows me to go on Asian birdtrips once or twice a year - would have none of it. Therefore the plan should stick to the not less interesting but very safe parks north and east of Phuket.

 

The trip was organized by South Thailand Birding (www.souththailandbirding.com) of Punapa Phetsri (aka Games), an excellent organizer and guide with a keen eyesight who knows the region in-and-out. We were accompanied by Ian Dugdale, a very British national who moved to Thailand some 10 years ago.

 

I use a Nikon D800E body, Nikon 300m 2.8 VR-II prime lens, Nikon TC -20E III teleconvertor, Gitzo GM3551 monopod + Acratech ballhead, and Swarowski 8x32 binoculars. Also, a EUR 5 small camera-pouch was attached to my belt, on which I stick the monopod sufficiently shortened to keep the camera at eye-level at all times and allowing me to move about with more agility than under normal circumstances; well, that is the general idea. The teleconvertor was soon found to play foul with the lens (I had dropped the whole set during a previous birdtrip) and I soon discarded it. Because bird photography within dense tropical forests usually does not cater for long distanced views, it hardly mattered in most cases (except perhaps for the Trogon). Ian, a keen photographer himself, gave me most helpful instructions to improve on my infant photography skills and his 30 minutes basic skill instructions after a dinner betrayed his IT-background: all very logical.

 

The accommodation was always close to the sites and varied from extremely simple (but most enjoyable: Chao Lan reservoir) to luxury (albeit without a/c: Khao Luang). Food was excellent, if only because we opted for the foodstalls along the road, carefully selected by Games, and eating fried rice with chicken as breakfast was no issue for me at all, on the contrary! A comfortable and reliable SUV was used with ample space for the luggage and equipment, including a well-stocked coolbox continuously replenished with my favourite cans of Nescafe coffee (ice-cold!!).

 

Throughout the trip, the weather was superb with only one short downpour at the end of a drive and one early morning fog; nothing that interrupted birding.

All financial affairs (all-inclusive package) were smoothly dealt with prior to the trip, and the international and domestic flights were booked on-line by myself.

I arrived by international flight from Amsterdam in Bangkok during the late morning of 5 March 2013, and 4 hours later took the connecting domestic flight to Phuket, arriving pretty exhausted around 16:00PM. I was met by Games (conspicuously dressed in her company’s T-shirt) and Ian, and after a short introduction sped away northwards to our first destination. This was to take much longer than I had innocently expected (having no idea what the distance actually was). After a short – unsuccessful – birding break and a subsequent dinner, we arrived at the small hotel where I fell on the bed and went on a blissful dream journey through the night, full of expectations what lay ahead and all of which would be rewarded in real-life!

 

The top-5 birds:

  1. Moustached Hawk Cuckoo (due to the chase);
  2. Red-bearded Bee-eater (top on my wishlist);
  3. Helmeted Hornbill (an awesome sight, primeval creature);
  4. Barred Eagle Owl (its bulging eyes);
  5. Violet Cuckoo (the colour itself …).

 

The top-3 locations:

  1. Krung Ching Khao Luang – entry road and visitor centre, true roadside birding with rich rewards (also evidenced by 1/3 of total species throughout the trip were seen here);
  2. Sri Phang Nga – beautiful scenery;
  3. Chao Lan Reservoir – so pristine.

 

The top-3 accommodations:

  1. Chao Lan Reservoir – despite the accommodation being spartan, who does not want to wake up in a true Garden of Eden setting?
  2. Khao Luang – actually not the bungalow itself, although it was beautiful, but the nearby restaurant/hotel where Games and Ian stayed: the owners are great people and you genuinely feel part of the family;
  3. Khao Sok – “despite” the tourists and mediocre food, the standalone wooden chalet is very authentic and situated amidst a nice garden.

 

5 March 2013

Sri Phang Nga N.P.

At the checkpoint to the park, a ranger appeared out of one of the cabins; his left arm and hand grotesquely deformed by elephantiasis. Having never seen it before in my life, it was quite shocking. But the ranger appeared quite at ease with his handicap and – being in the open – more or less epitomized the tolerance of Thai society. Myself, on the contrary, desperately attempted to ignore the sight and utterly failed.

The metal road ended after some 700 meters, and as we stepped out of the car the songs of various gibbons welcomed us. A ritual that would feature many of the early morning starts in the following days and which emphasised the beautiful natural sceneries. From the parking place one can go left for a comfortable short walk to the waterfall and right for a jungle walk along a path that gets steeper and steeper; some tracks being a challenge as I was still clumsily trying to get to terms with the way I was carrying my camera equipment on the mono-pod. At what later turned out to be the spot for Banded Pitta, 2 hides were quickly set-up including a triple-legged stool. At ca. 10 meters distance, Games littered the floor with worms she had carried with her, and we waited. After only 1 minute a female Siberian Blue Robin appeared. My first “lifer” out of many on this trip. Shortly after, the Banded Pitta emerged: a dazzling display of colours, soooo close. Pittas favour the dark shade of the forest, which seems to contradict their often colourful appearance. At least, that’s what I think. Then a White-rumped Shama joined the parade, followed by a Common Treeshrew – a cute rodent that somewhat resembles a rat but with the tail of a squirrel. The 30-minute show ended with a beautiful male Large(-billed) Blue Flycatcher, perfectly perched for a photo-shoot (some creatures can really be vain).

    

Banded Pitta                                                                                                                       Large (-billed) Blue Flycatcher

 

We moved on and gradually picked-up new birds: Ochraceous Bulbuls were abundant, Hairy-backed Bulbuls, a Grey-bellied Bulbul and Pin-striped Babblers followed. It was time to return to the parking place and drive back to the visitor centre for lunch. Just before approaching the wide lawn that surrounds the visitor centre, a male Green Broadbill was spotted next to the roadside. It was completely at ease, so it seemed, and allowed multiple close-up pictures; more on this next day .. .

 

                    

Grey-bellied Bulbul                                                                                                                Green Broadbill (male)

 

After lunch, we drove back to the parking lot and first walked into the direction of the waterfall.  Whiskered Treeswifts were in the top of a tall, dead tree. Silver-rumped Needletails were also seen swirling in the sky by Games and Ian, but I remained blissfully ignorant. Walking further up the trail a Crow-billed Drongo was seen briefly. A laborious hunt for the Rufous-collared Kingfisher hiding in the forest followed and was finally rewarded, but poor light conditions ruined the photo results. We then returned to the morning trail where alongside a shallow stream, a hide was set-up and worms were spread over a flat boulder in the middle of the stream. It took just 5 minutes when a Chestnut-naped Forktail landed and allowed a few razor-sharp close-up pictures.

 

Red-eyed Bulbul                                                                                                            Chestnut-naped Forktail

 

Back to half-way the visitor centre, the car was parked and we strayed into the jungle along a narrow path and set-up 2 hides next to a small brook. It was a long and not so fruitful wait, but close-up views were given of Buff-vented Bulbuls, a Red-eyed Bulbul, and a bathing juvenileSpectacled Bulbul. After a long time, it was decided to leave. When strolling back I noticed that the pants on my left leg were soaked in blood: leeches. My first encounter J

Before leaving the park, a Rufous-fronted Babbler was added to the picture list.

Having returned to the hotel, a refreshing shower, a quick dinner in a foodstall and then a Nightjar cum Owl hunt was the final leg of this wonderful first full day in Southern Thailand. The approach was simple and effective: slowly driving the car and 2 strong torchlights directed to the electric wires on either side of the road; simple and effective. It took only a few minutes when suddenly a Barn Owl crossed the road. Car was stopped as we thought it had landed some 50 meters ahead. When we walked to the place we presumed it had landed, an entirely different owl popped-up in the crosslight turned out to be a Barred Eagle Owl. Ian confessed to have only seen it once before during his 10 years in Thailand and was confused to see it on this side of the isthmus (according to any book, it is supposed to be found on the other side only). Lucky me; in particular, as we got incredible close-ups during daylight a few days later (and where it is supposed to reside).

6 March 2013

Sri Phang Nga N.P.

In the bright early morning, we returned to the park and more or less followed the same sequence of routes we had done the day before. At the parking lot, a half-hour was spend to search for Broadbills in the canopies of the huge trees and the Black-and-Yellow Broadbill was soon spotted. Up the jungle trail, a Hairy-backed Bulbul and Chestnut-breasted Malkohawere seen followed by a Rufous-winged Philentoma; all at close distance. Birding, however, became hard and we decided to return to the parking lot. 

By car we drove back to the visitor centre for lunch, but before reaching the lawn decided to stop for the Green Broadbill. It then emerged on Games and Ian that a nest should be close-by. A quick search revealed it was only 15 meters away from the male, and the nest was occupied by the female Green Broadbill; so close to the road, it was rather amazing.

After a lazy, spelled-out lunch it was time to move back to the leech-infested spot. On approaching the small pond, a large, dark bird flew-off, which Ian identified as a Black Bittern. In-between the road and the pond, a dry and wide gully was chosen to search for a possible nesting-hole of the Rufous-collared Kingfisher. The two hides were set-up in front of a hole in the steep earthen bank, and a long wait ensued. The gully was full of fallen, dry bark of the huge bamboo groves, and after a while we heard from a distance the loud cracking of the bark by someone walking. The sound approached us at walking speed and I shared a meaningful look with Ian in the hide next to me: must be that lone French birder we encountered earlier that day. The cracking sound came closer and closer, and I became somewhat irritated as I could not figure out why someone who want to make that much noise. Then a giant Water Monitor Lizard of some 1.5 meters in length appeared some 10 meters from me. It almost made me laugh. A fast burst of camera shots alerted the poor creature and with more loud noise than before quickly escaped.

 

It was time to break-up and leave the park for our next destination: Khao Sok N.P. There we stayed in a resort, a 5-minute drive from the park entrance. I was warned by Games and Ian that despite its relative luxury, spacious bungalows, and delightful large garden, the food would be touristic and therefore not at par with the culinary delight of the average foodstall alongside any street. And right they were: that evening would be our first and last dinner in the resort, even though well-compensated by the ambience and the beer (lots of it – it can not be a surprise that any evening thereafter, Games no longer drank any of it).

                     

Rufous-winged Philentoma                                                                                                 Green Broadbill-female                           

 

 

7 March

Khao Sok N.P.

Khao Sok N.P. is situated on the tourist trail, hence both the abundance of nearby small resorts and hotels as well as the expansive visitor centre near the entrance. However, thanks to our early arrival, it was still sufficiently quiet and we soon set out on the main trail into the park. At the very start – after having crossed the small bridge - there are small open patches of land on both sides, each the size of a soccer field, with a few tall trees. It was here that most of the highlights of the day were ticked-off one-by-one and within the hour:  Red-Bearded Bee-eaters, Barred Eagle Owl, Banded Kingfisher, Banded Woodpecker, and Bamboo Woodpecker. It was a true delight! When slowly walking up the trail, the first small groups of local and foreign tourists started to emerge. Our camera equipment did not fail to impress many.

After a few hundred meters, a small number of Black-and-Red Broadbills entertained us for half an hour. Before returning back, we were rewarded with a close-up encounter with a Great Iora.

After lunch, we decided to stay within the resort for an afternoon nap. During that time, I mostly sat on the verandah dreamily admiring the flowering plants all around me. A Stripe-throated Bulbul showed itself well right in front of me. It enticed me to go into the garden despite the afternoon heat. Ian and Games soon joined me. After the obligatory – but not less joyful – encounters with gorgeous Little Spiderhunters, Brown-throated Sunbirds and Olive-backed Sunbirds, we noticed a flock of White-rumped Munia. Suddenly, Ian spotted a different Munia: the widespread but uncommon White-bellied Munia. Once the heat became too much to linger in the open, we strolled in the shade of trees and next to the entrance to the restaurant, in a small bush, a Puff-throated Babbler was putting up a show with its repetitive song, bravely ignoring the guests at 1 meter distance and the clicks of my camera.

 

  

Red-bearded Bee-eater                                                                                             Barred Eagle Owl

 

                   

Bamboo Woodpecker                                                                                                           Banded Kingfisher

 

8 March

Khao Sok N.P. – Chao Lan reservoir

In the early morning we took leave from the resort and drove to the other side of the park, where a huge reservoir had been created in the early ‘80s resulting in numerous small islets covered with ancient tropical forests and sometimes imposing huge limestone cliffs rising out of the clear waters. Games and Ian warned me for the spartan accommodation that was awaiting me, but assured me it was all to be well worth it and actually their favoured spot. As I took complete faith in anything they told me (and always justifiably so!), I sat back waiting for events to unfold. After all, it is a holiday and it could not be worse than Lama Camp in N.E. India’s Eagle’s Nest. On the way, the car was pulled over for an interlude at what is called the 99km marker. A trail went into seriously degraded forest and I started to have some doubts as to what exactly we were supposed to be doing there. All doubts were soon dispelled as we encountered two Crested Jays. Funny-looking with their tall crest, they were difficult to follow as they made short flights around us, hiding in thick-leaved canopy in-between their flights.  I only managed one shot, which Ian qualified as an ID-shot: incomplete but sufficient to recognize the species. Another term learned.

After a while, we saw a threesome of Fluffy-backed Tit Babblers displaying their typical behaviour (as I soon found out) where one is calling to the other two, while showing its blue skin around the neck. Most amusing spectacle! Further up the trail a Grey-throated Babbler was spotted in the midst of an old and almost-abandoned rubber tree plantation and then it was time to return to the car and continue our journey to the next destination.

 

Black-and-Red Broadbills                                                                                           Stripe-throated Bulbul

Arriving at the small harbour of the reservoir, it was time for Games and Ian to replenish the stock of beer and my favourite Nescafe coffee cans together with sufficient ice for the coolbox. Large parties of Thai tourists in a happy mood went aboard the many longboats. Many were dressed with body warmers and hats and scarves to protect their brown skin from the blazing sun, while I – the white boy in shorts and T-shirt - was sweating profusely. We set-off in our “own” boat with a long trip ahead of us to the other side into one of the many, many arms of the reservoir.  The first leg of the trip went across a miles-wide space of open water and after some 30 minutes we lost sight of the many other boats and entered the remote area where islands and islets multiply and the forested shorelines fringe narrower waterways. On the way, we passed close by a Lesser Fish Eagle. After, what seemed like hours (in fact, just one), we reached our final destination in what turned out to be a majestically beautiful and tranquil environment. Games and Ian had not exaggerated one bit. On the contrary: it was wild and pure and we had it all to ourselves, since no other guests were expected! The resort consisted of bamboo huts and a restaurant, all built on bamboo rafters floating on the crystal-clear sweet water. A narrow, bamboo bridge connected it to the island and a steep path led up to the slope where rudimentary toilet facilities had been set-up. The huts were indeed spartan with nothing but a thin mattress and a mosquito-net, but during the night I noticed nothing of it, or rather: I definitely would have enjoyed it much less if any more amenities had been thrown in.

First item on the programme was a swim in the clear water. In front of the huts, a floating lump of a once huge tree was tied to another dead tree still standing on the floor of the reservoir and this gave us ample opportunities to play in the refreshing water and enjoy it all. Rarely did I ever swim in such pristine circumstances.

After the fun, the boatsman was called and we went exploring the forests from the safety of the boat.  In a tall, dead tree rising out of the water, a Black-thighed Falconet was seen sticking its head out of one of the many holes created by woodpeckers.Blue-eared Kingfishers and a Black-capped Kingfisher were easily spotted. It again struck me how shy the Black-capped is, compared to all other kingfishers I’ve seen. Common as it may be in Thailand, I never managed to get a close shot. One of the highlights that afternoon was a huge Buffy Fish Owl, perched on a tree on one of the forested slopes. From a distance huge Helmeted Hornbills crossed the water and also Pied Hornbills, Bushy-crested Hornbills and Great Hornbills were seen, mostly from too large a distance for a photo opportunity. Alas!

Fluffy-backed Tit Babblers                                                                                          Buffy Fish Owl 

 

Resort inside Chao Lan Reservoir                                                                               View from the balcony

 

9 March

Khao Sok N.P. – Chao Lan reservoir – and Krung Ching in Khao Luang N.P.

The night had passed peacefully and I awoke fully rested in … paradise. After a coffee, we went on an early morning tour on the water that presented us with a fairly decent good look (and photo) of a Helmeted Hornbill. I was in awe of this primeval monster of a bird, and quite rightly so! We went ahead to find me a Blue-eared Kingfisher, since the encounter the previous day had failed to get me a decent picture (my teleconverter was malfunctioning). Soon, we got it at roughly the same spot and decent pictures could be made without a teleconverter. Next target was the Stork-billed Kingfisher, and the boatsman soon had it in vision for all of us to enjoy. On the way back to the resort, an Osprey was seen close-up. After a late breakfast, we packed our gear, waved good-bye to the endearing staff and cleared off.

Just before we entered the wide expanse of the reservoir, we got ourselves a good look of a White-bellied Sea Eagle, perched high on a dead tree. Alongside the towering limestone cliffs, a few boats with divers were seen which made me rather envious.

Back in the car, we drove off to the next destination: Krung Ching.

Just before arrival the heavens opened and a typical tropical shower heaved havoc for some 30 minutes. After the rain stopped, some Barn Swallows with in-between an individual Striated Swallow, were seen on a wire; completely soaked. Games and Ian were to sleep in a small room next to a restaurant, whose owners were very close friends of Games. I was driven to a small resort across the river where I was presented with a luxurious and large bungalow all by myself. The luxury extended well into the smart modern Italian-styled bathroom. To my amazement, there was no aircon. Very much a pity as this was the only place during the entire tour where an aircon was no luxury. Back to the restaurant, we went for a stroll and soon found a Black-and Yellow Broadbill.  After dinner, as darkness had settled, we went out to find owls. In fact, I would have preferred to skip it altogether because I was tired. Fortunately, a nearby call of a Brown Wood Owl was heard within minutes. Games cleverly found her way to the owl in complete darkness, lit the torch and pointed it at the owl at 5-6 meters distance and at eye-level: a beauty!

 

        

Helmeted Hornbill                                                                                                                          Brown Wood Owl

 

10 March

Krung Ching in Khao Luang N.P.

Next to the visitor centre, there is a lawn surrounded by tall fruiting trees where two Thai bird photographers were leisurely making pictures of the many birds in a single tall tree. It was all so peaceful that I instinctively just wanted to join them and spend the whole day lingering around that single tree. But .. we had work to do and slowly walked our way up the single track that ultimately leads to the Krung Ching waterfalls.  It was only after some 200 meters that a Scarlet-rumped Trogon was heard. This was to become my very first Trogon and full of expectations I dutifully followed Ian and Games’ footsteps off the track right into the forest. It took only a few minutes and there it showed itself, much closer than I had suspected from its intermittent calls, but also too high for a decent photograph. My lens failed me again when the automatic focus did not function and I had to switch to manual: no small feat when lifting 3-4 kg right up into the air.

We continued our way and spotted a Moustached Babbler, and soon thereafter very close sights of a Blue-throated Flycatcher and the somewhat enigmatic Black-throated Babbler, allowing me close-up shots. Further, Black-capped Babblers were spotted, but due to the foliage I found it difficult myself to identify any of them… The track soon became very steep and frequently we had to actually crawl our way up as the track had been destroyed by recent storms. Small groups of youngsters overtook us, on their way to the waterfall. Games and Ian each carried a small walky-talky which proved very handy as it allowed them to split-up frequently (me staying behind with one of them) and thereby improving our chances of an interesting observation. Suddenly, a male Maroon-breasted Philentoma was seen with prey in its beak, not moving. It was concluded that a nest was possibly nearby and so it was: just 10 meters from the track, with some chicks inside. From the track it was perfect to take a few unique shots.

 

   

Maroon-breasted Philentoma (male)

After an hour or so, not having seen much of other birdlife, it was decided to return back slowly. When passing the nest, Ian decided to step a few meters closer for some pictures. A passing ranger with a group of tourists cast a grim expression. Afterwards, Games told us that he was pissed-off by Ian’s behaviour so close to the nest. Not so close actually, and the same ranger was qualified as being the only one in the park that seems to have issues with about every birding guide he saw; Games in particular.

Shortly after the “incident”, a Ferruginous Babbler was seen.  Close to the open area of the visitor centre, a mixed flock was enjoying a bath in a small nearby stream, Scaly-breasted Bulbul being one of them. Another Red-bearded Bee-eater showed itself beautifully. When we reached the same spot where earlier the Trogon had been seen, Ian play-backed the call of the Rufous-collared Kingfisher in some last-ditch attempt, and there it was, quietly perched on a branch at eye-level 10 meters into the forest, allowing multiple clean shots. So tiny and so gorgeous!

          

Blue-throated Flycatcher                                                                                     Rufous-collared Kingfisher

 

Back at the tall fruit-bearing tree near the visitor centre, I climbed a ramp-up for a better view of the canopy where dozens of various birds were still feasting on the fruit: Scaly-breasted Bulbuls, Red-throated Barbets, a beautiful Dark-throated Oriole, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Thick-billed Green Pigeons being amongst other commoners.

In the course of the afternoon, we strolled along the metal road ahead of the visitor centre. The road stretches for a mile, or so; fringed by grass and low bushes and patches of tall trees. Ideal for roadside birding and so it proved! This afternoon and the next day, I fully immersed myself in slow-birding, professionally aided by Games and Ian who were able to spot and identify what otherwise I would not have noticed at all: Banded Broadbill,Plaintive Cuckoo (hepatic female), Raffles’ Malkoha, just to name a few.

In the evening, back at the restaurant, the endearing soft-voiced proprietress amused us by catching two chickens and bringing them into safety to protect against the looming dangers of the night ahead.

   

                  

Banded Broadbill                                                                                                                      Plaintive Cuckoo

 

11 March

Krung Ching in Khao Luang N.P.

Hills were shrouded in dense fog, so we abandoned our original objective to do some roadside birding and went into the forest where views were better, searching for the Scarlet-rumped Trogon and found it in the very same area as the previous day. A Streak-breasted Woodpecker briefly appeared above us.

Near the visitor centre, all was not quiet: rangers were busy cutting weed with a motorized trimmer, making a deafening noise. Not anyone’s idea of a nature reserve, except for the visiting manager. Once the noise stopped, it was evident that the supervising manager had left as well, and all rangers returned back to peaceful laziness. God bless! Meanwhile, the fog had lifted and sunshine was inviting us to pursue some serious roadside birding with ample intermissions for my much beloved cold Nescafe drink. Just before we started, Games pointed in a direction beyond my shoulder and once I had turned looked straight at a Swinhoe’s Minivet at a mere distance of 5 meters, waiting if not begging to be photographed; but I was stuck to my feet gaping at it. Only after it had flown away, I came to my senses and got a shot albeit from a long distance.

Alongside the road, there was a narrow ditch entering into thick bush where Ian searched for Hooded Pitta. It only took a few minutes to lure it into the open. Back onto the road a steady bonanza followed of Malkohas and others: Black-bellied Malkoha, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, and Red-billed Malkoha, then a Drongo Cuckoo, a Purple-naped Sunbird, and a Violet Cuckoo which unfortunately always remained high-up and with the sun in its back. A nice male Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and a Buff-rumped Woodpecker marked the end of a fantastic late afternoon. As dusk was about to fall, we slowly drove back to the hotel. Alongside the road more and more youngsters passed and stopped at various points where small poles had been erected with a rudimentary structure of bamboo on top. By means of candlelights, cicadas were trapped by the hundreds as a local delicatesse. Yummie!

In the early night, an attempt was made to search for Blyth’s Frogmouth and Sunda Scops Owl, but without success. Instead, a super-sized bright green frog was found.

       

Hooded Pitta                                                                                                                          Drongo Cuckoo

              

Black-bellied Malkoha                                                                                                Red-billed Malkoha

 
Purple-naped Sunbird                                                                                      the frog …

12 March

Krung Ching in Khao Luang N.P./ Khao Nor Chuchi N.P. (KNC)

In the early morning, we returned to the visitor centre and slowly birded alongside the entry road away from the entrance. Two (brown-morph) Asian Paradise Flycatchers were spotted, busily swirling next to some bushes and trees. A quick recon revealed a nest, ready for use. One hide was set-up and Ian retreated leaving me behind in peace for events to unfold. A constant fluttering of wings and occasionally sightings confirmed that the pair was ready for nesting and it was just a matter of patience to see one of them going to the nest and take the master shot of the trip, or so I believed. After 45 minutes, I became distracted by a Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker and just as I took a picture I saw from the corner of my eye the male Asian Paradise Flycatcher swooping to the nest and gone again, all within a split second, its exquisite long tail feathers leaving behind a ever-lasting lesson: always stay focused …

We returned to the restaurant for lunch, collected our luggage and then left for the long, long journey to KNC. In the late afternoon we entered the park and found the road almost blocked by three luxury minivans that quickly made room for us to pass until we stranded where a large group of birders of Rockjumper were waiting their turn to look through a scope positioned in the middle of the road and aimed at the canopy high up.  The whole scene was a summarized confirmation why birdwatching inside a forest is not ideal for large groups. After everyone had had his turn, the group slowly started to make way so we could pass.

After we had parked the car, we entered a wide trail into the forest to an area where Blyth Frogmouths and Streaked Wren-babblers were to be expected, but despite Games’ and Ian’s efforts none showed, even though the latter was heard calling.

Dusk was falling and it was time to continue to our lodgings and have dinner.

 

13 March

Khao Nor Chuchi N.P. (KNC), Krabi Mangrove Sanctuary

The park is surrounded by a multitude of relatively small plots of rubber tree and larger plots of palm oil tree plantations. Even though it has brought a mono-culture, and therefore a significant reduction in birds and other wildlife, one can not ignore the significant economic welfare it has brought to the local population: modern houses built everywhere. This is not unique to KNC’s surroundings, but to the whole region.

In the area where Gurney’s Pitta used to be found (note the past tense!), Ian heard the call of the Moustached Hawk Cuckoo: rarely seen! A chase ensued, and sure enough we at last spotted it in the canopy. Ian and Games spread out, staying in contact with their walkie-talkies, and at some point in time it was seen flying down from the canopy and some minutes later it suddenly appeared at eye-level at some 6 meters distance: perched on a branch and rather unimpressed by our presence. Despite the short distance however, a clean photo shot was difficult due to the dense foliage. 50 cm to the left or right, and the bird was completely hidden from me, and moving at random was out of the question. In the end, I managed to find a spot for a near-perfect shot.

We already knew we had seen the highlight of the day, if not from the entire trip! We continued our walk and came across a Scaly-crowned Babbler, and Chestnut-rumped Babblers. Otherwise, birding was extremely slow and my personal impression was that KNC, now bereft of its mega-prize the Gurney’s Pitta, can be removed from any itinerary, unless. .. you want to see a Moustached Hawk Cuckoo.

              

Moustached Hawk Cuckoo                                                                                           Scaly-crowned Babbler

In the afternoon, we drove down to Krabi where alongside a not-so-quite motorway the protected mangrove forest is located and which includes a well-constructed walkway of some 800 meters. It took only the first 100 meters to find the Mangrove Pitta. At the end of the walkway, the boat was waiting for us to take a trip further into the forest. An extended effort to find the Ruddy Kingfisher half-failed: every time it was spotted in the distance amongst the trees, it flew further away. Meanwhile and thereafter, great close-up views were provided of various Brown-winged Kingfishers. Black-capped Kingfishers were seen as well, but its comfort zone was less tolerant, as usual. When we had returned from the enjoyable boat trip, we slowly walked back along the walkway until Games spotted the Ruddy Kingfisher from a distance, but clearly visible and sitting still.

 

Mangrove Pitta                                                                                                                      Brown-winged Kingfisher

 

14 March

Khao Nor Chuchi N.P. (KNC)

Alas, the final morning … We returned to the fringes of the park and made a long and relaxed semi-circular walk, passing the edges of the various plantations. The first bird was the Golden-bellied Gerygone (of which I only now learned the correct English pronunciation ..). Two beautifulPurple-throated Sunbirds (aka Van Hasselt Sunbird) were busy amongst some leafless trees. Then a Rufous-crowned Babbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, and finally Grey-rumped Treeswifts.

The dreaded moment had arrived to return to the car and drive to Krabi airport for my flight to Bangkok, from where next morning I would fly back to the Netherlands where my wife was anxiously waiting for my return.

At the airport we took leave, mutually acknowledging it had been a great trip and good companionship throughout. To be repeated for sure!

 

 

List of birds seen by author + locations identified where deemed relevant; bold print signifies a “lifer”; and *) signifies that in retrospect I simply can not relive the encounter … :

1

Striated Heron

Krabi Mangroves

2

Chinese Pond Heron

 

3

Eastern Cattle Egret

 

4

Little Egret

 

5

Little Cormorant

 

6

Osprey

Chao Lan Reservoir

7

Jerdon’s Baza *

Krung Ching Khao Luang

8

Black Baza

Krung Ching KL

9

Crested Honey Buzzard

Khao Sok / KNC

10

White-bellied Sea Eagle

Chao Lan Reservoir

11

Lesser Fish Eagle

Chao Lan Reservoir

12

Grey-headed Fish Eagle

Chao Lan Reservoir

13

Crested Goshawk *

Khao Sok

14

Wallace’s Hawk Eagle

Khao Sok

15

Black-thighed Falconet

Chao Lan Reservoir

16

Chinese Sparrowhawk

Krung Ching KL

17

Emerald Dove

 

18

Thick-billed Green Pigeon

Krung Ching KL

19

Vernal Hanging Parrot

Krung Ching KL

20

Greater Coucal

Sri Phang Nga

21

Raffles’s Malkoha

Krung Ching KL

22

Chestnut-Breasted Malkoha

Krung Ching KL

23

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Krung Ching KL

24

Red-billed Malkoha

Krung Ching KL

25

Black-bellied Malkoha

Krung Ching KL

26

Asian Koel

Khao Sok

27

Violet Cuckoo

Krung Ching KL

28

Plaintive Cuckoo

Krung Ching KL

29

Moustached Hawk Cuckoo

KNC

30

Drongo Cuckoo

Krung Ching KL

31

Brown Wood Owl

Restaurant near Khao Luang

32

Buffy Fish Owl

Chao Lan Reservoir

33

Barred Eagle Owl

Sri Phang Nga / Khao Sok

34

Large-tailed Nightjar

Sri Phang Nga / KNC

35

Grey-rumped Treeswift

KNC

36

Whiskered Treeswift

Sri Phang Nga

37

Silver-rumped Spinetail

Sri Phang Nga

38

Brown-backed Needletail *

Khao Sok

39

Asian Palm Swift

Chao Lan Reservoir

40

Pacific Swift

Chao Lan Reservoir

41

Scarlet-rumped Trogon

Krung Ching KL

42

Rufous-collared Kingfisher

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

43

Banded Kingfisher

Khao Sok

44

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Chao Lan Reservoir

45

Ruddy Kingfisher

Krabi Mangroves

46

Black-capped Kingfisher

Chao Lan Res / Krabi Mangr.

47

Blue-eared Kingfisher

Chao Lan Reservoir

48

Red-bearded Bee-eater

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

49

Bushy-crested Hornbill(very distant)

Chao Lan Reservoir

50

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Chao Lan Reservoir

51

Great Hornbill

Sri Phang Nga / Chao Lan Res

52

Helmeted Hornbill

Chao Lan Reservoir

53

Red-throated Barbet

Krung Ching KL

54

Coppersmith Barbet

 

55

Rufous Piculet

Sri Phang Nga / KNC

56

Buff-rumped Woodpecker

Krung Ching KL

57

Streak-breasted Woodpecker

Krung Ching KL

58

Bamboo Woodpecker

Khao Sok

59

Banded Woodpecker

Khao Sok

60

Green Broadbill

Sri Phang Nga / Krung Ching

61

Black-and-Red Broadbill

Khao Sok

62

Banded Broadbill

Krung Ching KL

63

Black-and-Yellow Broadbill

Krung Ching KL

64

Banded Pitta

Sri Phang Nga

65

Hooded Pitta

Krung Ching KL

66

Blue-winged Pitta

Krung Ching KL

67

Mangrove Pitta

Krabi Mangroves

68

Golden-bellied Gerygone

KNC

69

Rufous-winged Philentoma

Sri Phang Nga

70

Maroon-breasted Philentoma

Krung Ching KL

71

Green Iora

Khao Sok

72

Great Iora

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

73

Lesser Cuckooshrike

Krung Ching KL

74

Swinhoe’s Minivet

Krung Ching KL

75

Scarlet Minivet

Krung Ching KL

76

Dark-throated Oriole

Krung Ching KL

77

Black-hooded Oriole

Khao Sok

78

Crow-billed Drongo

Sri Phang Nga

79

Bronzed Drongo

Krung Ching KL

80

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Krung Ching KL

81

Pied Fantail

 

82

Black-naped Monarch

Sri Phang Nga  /Khao Sok

83

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (white morph)

KNC

84

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (brown morph)

Krung Ching KL

85

Crested Jay

Khao Sok

86

Large-billed Crow

 

87

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Krung Ching KL

88

Black-headed Bulbul

 

89

Black-crested Bulbul

 

90

Scaly-breasted Bulbul

Krung Ching KL

91

Grey-bellied Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga

92

Stripe-throated Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga

93

Streak-eared Bulbul

Khao Sok

94

Cream-vented Bulbul

Khao Sok

95

Red-eyed Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga

96

Spectacled Bulbul

 

97

Ochraceous Bulbul

 

98

Grey-cheeked Bulbul

Krung Ching KL

99

Hairy-backed Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga / Khao Sok

100

Grey-eyed Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga

101

Buff-vented Bulbul

Sri Phang Nga

102

Streaked Bulbul

Khao Sok

103

Barn Swallow

Krung Ching KL

104

Striated Swallow

Krung Ching KL

105

Rufous-bellied Swallow

Khao Sok

106

Yellow-bellied Warbler

Khao Sok

107

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Khao Sok

108

Rufescent Prinia

Krung Ching KL

109

Dark-necked Tailorbird

Khao Sok

110

Rufous-tailed Tailorbird

Krung Ching KL

111

Grey-throated Babbler *

Khao Sok

112

Chestnut-rumped Babbler

KNC

113

Black-throated Babbler

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

114

Chestnut-winged Babbler

Sri Phang Nga / Krung Ching

115

Rufous-fronted Babbler

Sri Phang Nga

116

Pin-striped Babbler

Sri Phang Nga

117

Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler

Khao Sok

118

Abbott’s Babbler

 

119

Moustached Babbler

Krung Ching KL / KNC

120

Scaly-crowned Babbler

KNC

121

Ferruginous Babbler

Krung Ching KL

122

Puff-throated Babbler

Khao Sok

123

Asian Fairy Bluebird

Krung Ching KL

124

Asian Glossy Starling

Krabi City

125

Common Hill Myna

 

126

Common Myna

 

127

Orange-headed Thrush

Sri Phang Nga

128

Siberian Blue Robin

Sri Phang Nga

129

Oriental Magpie Robin

 

130

White-rumped Shama

 

131

Chestnut-naped Forktail

Sri Phang Nga

132

White-crowned Forktail

Krung Ching KL

133

Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher

Krung Ching KL

134

Dark-sided Flycatcher

KNC

135

Asian Brown Flycatcher

 

136

Verditer Flycatcher

Krung Ching KL

137

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher

Krung Ching KL

138

Chinese Blue Flycatcher (subspecies of Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher)

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

139

Large Blue Flycatcher

Sri Phang Nga

140

Green-backed Flycatcher

KNC

141

Blue-winged Leafbird

Krung Ching KL

142

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker

Khao Sok / KNC

143

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird

Khao Sok / Krung Ching KL

144

Purple-naped Sunbird

Krung Ching NP

145

Purple-throated Sunbird

KNC

146

Olive-backed Sunbird

 

147

Crimson Sunbird

Krung Ching KL

148

Little Spiderhunter

 

149

Grey-breasted Spiderhunter *

Krung Ching KL

150

White-rumped Munia

Khao Sok

151

White-bellied Munia

Khao Sok

152

Grey Wagtail

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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