Kurt Pohlman, a birder from Hawaii, contacted me through Peter Ericsson a few months ago requesting birding assistance. His initial plan was to tour Khao Sok for three days and perhaps a few other sites in southern Thailand. After some discussion, we decided to cut Khao Sok off the itinerary for this round and instead visit richer birding sites like Sri Phang Nga and Krung Ching along with a number of other smaller sites along the west coast.
Kurt was intent on twitching two species: the Spoon billed Sandpiper and Brown winged Kingfisher. Since he had already booked a tour with Peter Ericsson for the “spoonie”, it was my responsibility to help him locate the kingfisher.
Whenever I recieve a request to help locate a specific bird, I always insist on knocking it off the “to-do” list from the very beginning; it saves me the pressure of having to find it later on in the trip and allows more time to focus on other specialties at a leisurely pace. Thankfully, we were able to find the bird on the first day of the trip without too much hassle.
Our initial idea was to spend three days in the south, but in the end Kurt decided to devote six full days to birding in the region, giving us more time to hunt down some of the difficult species we were after.
With six days to burn, we could have rattled off a long list of birds, but instead we decided to focus on finding specialties such as broadbills, kingfishers, owls and pitta. In the end, our persistence paid off and we were able to see five of the seven species of broadbills, two species of pitta, three species of owls, five species of hornbill and a host of other specialties.
DAY 1: MUANG MAI PLANTATION, THAI MUANG, LAEM PAKARANG AND SRI PHANG NGA
Highlights: Brown winged Kingfisher, Chinese Egret, Brown Wood Owl, Spotted Wood Owl, Nordmann’s Greenshank
Kurt’s flight from Bangkok was delayed by almost one hour so I picked him up at the airport at around 11 AM. Not wanting to waste precious time, we headed straight out to Muang Mai Plantation with the intention of snagging our most-wanted species at the beginning of the trip.
Despite the heat, Muang Mai Plantation was teeming with birdlife and we were able to find over 40 species in the area.
The focus of the stop was to find Brown winged Kingfisher. It proved to be harder to see than we’d expected but in the end we managed to get it to perch on an exposed branch where we got excellent looks at it.
At the mangrove corner we also found Ashy Tailorbird, an uncommon resident in Phuket but more easily seen in neighboring Phang Nga.
A search of the area netted a number of birds, which included Grey Heron, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Indian Roller, Oriental White Eye, Black capped, Common and White throated Kingfisher, Coppersmith Barbet, Hoopoe, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Forest Wagtail and Lesser Whistling Duck.
As we were leaving the area we noted the tide was ebbing so we stopped for one last look for the elusive Chinese Egret. Near the mangroves we found a few egrets feeding and spotted a single Chinese Egret alongside two Little Egrets in the shallows.
We had to grab a few supplies for the trip and ended up making a stop near Laguna where we twitched Cotton Pigmy Goose and Common Moorhen.
Having booked our accommodation for the evening at Sri Phang Nga National Park, we began the long drive north, stopping briefly at Thai Muang beach where we twitched Spotted Wood Owl at its daytime roost.
In the evening we made a short visit to Laem Pakarang. The tide was flowing in but with sun setting over the horizon we only had a few minutes before it became too dark to identify the waders. Despite the limited timeframe we found about 10 species of waders, most notable being three Bar tailed Godwit and a single Nordmann’s Greenshank.
We had dinner at Takuapah, with Kurt trying out an assortment of northeastern delicacies such as papaya salad, barbecued chicken and spiced grilled beef salad. After dinner we made our way to Sri Phang Nga National Park.
Late night owling around the campsite was a success with a two Buffy Fish Owl (one near the stream and the other near the bungalows) and a single Brown Wood Owl seen (near the main office). No frogmouth was calling and the rangers noted that the bird has been silent for almost two weeks now.
DAY 2: SRI PHANG NGA, TAKUAPAH
Highlights: Banded Pitta, Dusky Broadbill, River Lapwing, Grey headed Lapwing
The day started at 7 AM with flybys from the local air force: five Wreathed Hornbill and single Great Hornbill.
A number of photographers from Bangkok had arrived the night before and were setting up shop near the Banded Pitta stakeout, so we opted to spend some time birding along the access road. The first 300 meters was tough, but we struck gold when a group of three Dusky Broadbill called down from a fruiting tree near the river.
Birds seen on the morning walk included Grey throated Babbler, Rufous winged Philentoma, Whiskered Treeswift, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Gold Whiskered Barbet, Orange Headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, White rumped Shama, Crow billed Drongo and Chestnut winged Babbler.
The photographers were holed up on the trail to Tamnang Waterfall snapping pictures of a pair of Banded Pitta, so out of courtesy we headed down towards Ton Deng Waterfall to see if any pitta were active at the second stakeout. Just three days prior I was down at the same trail with Kit Britten and we both had an out-of-this-world experience, with two Banded Pitta showing beautifully, one of which came within three feet of where we stood. With that memory fresh in my mind, I had high hopes that we would be able to replicate the magic moment again.
As it turns out, magic moments only happen once.
The second stakeout was deathly quiet, with no birds calling for almost an hour. We finally decided to make our way back to Tamnang Waterfall to ask the photographers if we could tuck in behind their blinds to get a peek at the pitta.
Due to the cumbersome equipment they were working with, we ended up standing a few feet back from the blinds on the edge of the main trail. However, with the photographers moving about and talking loudly, there was little or no chance we would see the pitta so we decided to call it quits for the morning and head out for lunch.
After a delicious lunch at the park cafeteria, I suggested to Kurt that we go out to Takuapah and try for the River Lapwing during the heat of the day and return in the late afternoon to try again for the pitta.
We easily found the River Lapwing on the banks of the Phang Nga river, along with a number of other birds such as Wood Sandpiper, Barn Swallow, Chestnut capped Bee Eater, Grey headed Lapwing and Black capped Kingfisher.
Before heading back to the park we stopped over at a marsh near Takuapah and twitched Red Wattled Lapwing, giving us all three lapwings which occur in the south in less than an hour. –Put that one in the record books!
Back at Sri Phang Nga the photographers had all moved on and cleared the area, leaving just us and another fellow birder from Phuket waiting for the pitta to show. We only had to wait for 30 minutes when both the male and female Banded Pitta came into view, poking around an old log looking for worms which the photographers had laid out. Kurt had gotten his pitta at last, and we celebrated with a hearty high-five!
Since we still had some time left to burn before sunset, we decided to head down to Ton Deng Waterfall to see if we could connect with the Black capped Babbler which had been calling in the morning. The babbler was silent but as we poked around the bush, imagine our surprise when a fabulous male Banded Pitta came into view! Time seemed to stand still as we stood there drinking in the bird’s immense beauty as it hopped about happily in search of food. –Who could have guessed we’d be able to see this gorgeous bird twice in the same hour!
On the way back we found a party of three Bushy Crested Hornbill in a tree on a ridge and a Buff vented Bulbul was seen feeding in a fruiting tree.
In the evening I waited near the cafeteria for a glimpse of the latest addition to the park birdlist, the rare and elusive Bat Hawk. Sadly, no bird was spotted, although a cloud of flying termites prompted a feeding frenzy of Asian Palm Swiftlet, House Swift and Black nest Swiftlet.
After dinner we headed out with a ranger to some rubber plantation outside the park in an attempt to find some of the other owl species which should be present, such as Barn Owl, Bay Owl, Oriental Scops Owl and Collared Scops Owl.
At one stop we saw a shadow of a large bird swoop in and land in a tree nearby, but our attempts to find it were useless. As we started the car, the bird flew past the headlights, prompting a chase through the woods, but again we were unable to see anything notable that would have led to the identity of the bird.
Other patches of plantation proved to be equally desolate.
After a few hours we called it quits and settled into our bungalow for the night. Shortly afterwards, a single Buffy Fish Owl came in and perched in a tree only ten meters from the lodge.
DAY 3: SRI PHANG NGA, KRUNG CHING
Highlights: Orange Headed Thrush, Crested Goshawk, Siberian Blue Robin, Red throated Barbet
Having seen the Banded Pitta the day before, we decided to spend the morning catching up on species we’d missed the day before, after which we would head out at noon and make the long drive to Krung Ching.
The long walk down to the clearing netted a number of birds which we had not seen the day before, among which were Green Iora, Raffles Malkoha, Black hooded Oriole, Red throated Barbet and Malayan Night Heron.
Highlights on the trail to Ton Deng Waterfall were Grey throated Babbler, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Chestnut naped Forktail and Asian Paradise Flycatcher.
No pitta were found at the stakeout on the trail to Tamnang Waterfall, but in their place we found Siberian Blue Robin and Orange headed Thrush, the latter being a simply beautiful bird to observe as it displayed in all its brilliance in the golden morning sunlight.
By noon we’d gotten 45 species and after lunch began the long trip to Krung Ching.
Along the way we spotted a Crested Goshawk near Khao Sok National Park as well as Brahminy Kite and Large billed Crow along the roadside.
We reached Krung Ching at around 5 PM and after settling into our rooms at the Krung Ching Garden Resort, we headed down to the waterfall to ask permission to do some owling along the access road and hire a ranger to accompany us the following day.
As it turns out, Krung Ching is under new management and the substation is undergoing a series of changes, the outcome of which is still quite unpredictable. The new deputy is quite unfamiliar with the habits and needs of birdwatchers in general. New regulations have been implemented, such as a requirement that birders to pay a daily fee of 200 baht per person (in the past it was for free); all birders must log their names and nationalities into a record book for informational purposes; lastly, night birding is prohibited without prior permission from the management and the assistance of a park ranger.
Thankfully, the rangers were all busy attending to a youth activity which was organized by the forestry department and Khun Daeng, the local bird expert and long-time RFD ranger in Krung Ching, softly mentioned that we could probably go on ahead and try our luck near the ticket booth at the top of the hill, as long as we kept the noise down and steered clear of the head honcho.
The forest around the checkpoint was deathly silent and no owls were heard calling, although we did get a surprising response from a Javan Frogmouth far up the ridge. All attempts to lure it in were in vain.
As we headed back down the road, Kurt suggested we try spotlighting along the roadside to see if we could catch any eye reflection in the trees. About 300 meters past the checkpoint we spotted a reflection which turned out to be a Slow Loris high in a tree near the road. When we stopped to investigate we heard the shriek of a Bay Owl in the distance. Working our way back up the hill, we tried to call it out but all we got was the shadow of a bird disappearing into the thick forest.
Our trek was not in vain however, as we came across three Malayan Colugo, two of which put on a flying display for us. It was an amazing spectacle and one which we will remember for years to come!
DAY 4: KRUNG CHING
Highlights: Chestnut rumped Trogon, Black Hornbill, Maroon breasted Philentoma, Green Broadbill
The day started early as usual and after signing in the logbook and paying the required birding fee, we worked our way up the main trail towards our main target, the Malaysian Rail Babbler. We also planned to connect with as many other quality forest species as possible. We ended up staying on the trail past 2 PM, after which our growling stomachs had us retire for a short lunch break before heading back for a second round on the trail which lasted until late evening (7 PM).
The best birds of the day were seen between the first and second sala huts (a Thai-style arbor) as the forest around the area was moist and cool all day long.
In the forest we found Grey headed Babbler, Hill Myna, Red eyed Bulbul, Dark throated Oriole, Rufous winged Philentoma, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Thick billed Green Pigeon and Little Spiderhunter.
White rumped Shama seemed to be everywhere; at times it seemed like there was nothing else in the forest except for shamas! -Not a shy or bashful specimen, they seemed to crave attention and in some instances seemed to almost tag along behind us, singing loudly and scaring off all the other birds in the area!
Birds heard but not seen included Orange breasted Trogon, Diard’s Trogon, Rufous collared Kingfisher and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.
Past the overgrown basketball court we heard a Green Broadbill calling and after a quick search Kurt found it sitting in a tree close by. The bird gave excellent looks and was our second broadbill of the trip.
Near the second sala we heard the Rail Babbler calling but despite our best attempts, we could not get the bird to show.
Between the second and third sala we found Maroon breasted Philentoma, Fluffy backed Tit-Babbler, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle and Hairy backed Bulbul.
In a bamboo thicket we encountered a pheasant-like bird crossing the trail; the bird gave fleeting glimpses and while I’m not putting this on the record, it appeared to be (in my opinion) a female Crested Fireback.
On the way back towards the campsite we literally walked into a pair of Cinnamon rumped Trogon. The birds were calling as we moved through and our presence must have scared them from their perch near the trail; it was a good thing they flew as we would have never spotted them had they stayed stationary! Both the male and female were present, although the male declined to hang around for long, leaving the spotlight to the female. This species is a very rare resident and one we were very overjoyed to be able to see.
By noon we managed to find only 25 species, a slow day by most standards but one punctuated with quality bird seen.
With the heat coming on strong we headed out of the park for lunch at a restaurant near the local school. After a short break we were back in the park and on the trail again, excited at the possibilities which awaited us.
The afternoon turned out to be fairly quiet. The highlight was a fabulous look at a single Black Hornbill, another rare resident which is more commonly spotted in the deep south.
On the way back to camp I spotted a company of eight or more White crowned Hornbill preparing to roost on a distant ridge. Our attempts to connect with them from the bus parking lot near the ridge resulted in us sighting a single bird at a ridiculous distance, too far for us to enjoy the view.
Before dinner we headed out with Khun Daeng to try to find the Javan Frogmouth. Despite our best attempts, the bird was not calling and after a while we opted to let it go and head back to the lodge for dinner and a good night’s rest.
DAY 5: KRUNG CHING
Highlights: Banded Broadbill, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Feruginous Babbler, Maroon Breasted Philentoma, Grey and Buff Woodpecker
This was to be our last day in Krung Ching and without Khun Daeng to guide us (he was called away to a meeting in Nakorn Sri Tammarat) we decided to drop the search for the rail babbler and focus on catching up with the various species we’d missed at Sri Phang Nga and the previous day.
Our first bird for the day had us completely confused as we spotted a single Pin tailed Green Pigeon in a dead tree. The pigeon is a northern species which is not resident in the area so we assume it was a feral or escaped cagebird.
Instead of heading straight to the trail at first light, we decided to devote an hour or so birding along the main access road into the station. With the area being so wide open and the trees being so tall, we initially found the distances to be an issue but Kurt pulled out his trusty scope and within minutes we were ticking off a long list of awesome birds: Crimson Sunbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Blue winged Leafbird, Vernal hanging Parrot, Bar winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Red throated Barbet, Black naped Monarch, Plantive Cuckoo and more!
Black and Yellow Broadbill, a bird which we’d heard the previous day but never connected with, was calling in the treetops and I was determined to get this bird out in the open once and for all. With the aid of a playback, we finally got a good look at this cartoon character. –Broadbill number three for the trip!
The well-timed stop netted over 30 species and we were glad to be able to compile a nice, long list at the beginning of the day.
Along the main trail to the waterfall we heard a Banded Broadbill calling near the first sala. Scanning through the trees I found a bird which I thought was the broadbill and later turned out to be a Drongo Cuckoo. No problem, Kurt found the broadbill perched on a thick vine, giving us the fourth broadbill for the books.
The long trek to the waterfall and back was fairly fruitful, with good looks at Feruginous Babbler, Maroon breasted Philentoma, Fluffy backed Tit-Babbler, Scarlet rumped Trogon, Grey and Buff Woodpecker and Chestnut bellied Malkoha.
Birds heard but not seen included Diard’s Trogon, Orange breasted Trogon, Rufous Piculet, Rufous banded Kingfisher, Rail Babbler, Green Broadbill, Maroon Woodpecker, White crowned Hornbill and Black throated Babbler.
Around noon we were in for a shock when we happened upon a pair of Bearcat (Binturong) feeding in a short tree. The two creatures dropped to the ground with a loud thud and scampered off into the forest, sparing us a standoff with these powerful and potentially dangerous animals.
It was late in the afternoon when we finally emerged from the jungle, tired yet pleased with the results. Despite missing out on some of the birds we wanted (Maroon Woodpecker, Rail Babbler, Rufous Collared Kingfisher), we were happy to have gotten good looks at many beautiful and uncommon or rare birds. Kurt expressed his pleasure at having seen so many quality birds, yet voiced regret in having had only two days to spend at this bountiful site.
In all honesty, Krung Ching is a site which can easily keep birders’ interest, even after a week or more of birding. The site is so rich and teeming with rare birds and local specialties, many of which are rarely encountered, such as Chestnut capped Thrush, Great Argus, Malayan Honeyguide and Wrinkled Hornbill. -No doubt Kurt will one day be back again to twitch the many other treats this site has to offer.
After a late lunch we checked out of the resort and made the long drive to Krabi where we signed into the newly refurbished Krabi Riverside Hotel. The beds were surprisingly hard and the front desk could not even carry out our request for an extra blanket and pillow.
Dinner was eaten near Lotus and at the bypass intersection we found a large number of roosting mynas, among which there was a small contingent of six Jungle Myna.
DAY 6: TIGER TEMPLE, KRABI MANGROVES, BAAN BANG PHAT, AO PHANG NGA
Highlights: Mangrove Pitta, Black and Red Broadbill, Mangrove Whistler, Streaked Wren Babbler
Our focus for the final day was to clean up on a few wanted species and grab a few local specialties from the Krabi and Phang Nga area before heading back to Phuket so Kurt could get his connecting flight to Bangkok in the evening.
At 7 AM we began the day with a visit to the Krabi Mangrove Boardwalk across from Krabi Municipal Hospital. Our target birds were Mangrove Pitta and Ruddy Kingfisher.
The trail was being used by an elderly couple for exercise when we arrived and their loud, obnoxious talking was a factor which no doubt played a part in preventing us from finding some of our wanted species.
Halfway down the trail we found a Mangrove Pitta feeding on crabs in the low tide and we were able to observe it well for a period of time.
Shortly after that we heard both Brown winged and Ruddy Kingfisher calling from near the end of the trail and with much difficulty were able to spot a single Brown Winged Kingfisher. The Ruddy Kingfisher would not show; Kurt suggested that perhaps the birds were used to regular playbacks from visiting birders and were reluctant to come into full view.
Other birds in the mangroves included Common Flameback, Common Sandpiper, Pacific Swallow and Olive backed Sunbird.
Next we headed down to Tiger Temple (Tum Seua) where we hoped to find Blue Whistling Thrush and Streaked Wren Babbler, both residents of forested limestone karsts.
At the forest meditation center we found the thrush with little difficulty but the wren babbler was not showing, most likely since the forest was still quite dark and cool.
A walk through the forest trail brought out a fabulous Orange headed Thrush and a single Fulvous-breasted Flycatcher.
Down near the big tree we finally found our quarry: a single Streaked Wren Babbler which hung around and gave excellent looks.
On the way out we found a pair of Black-thighed Falconet, a bird which we’d missed at the beginning of the tour and one which Kurt was very pleased to finally catch up with.
From Krabi we headed back towards Phang Nga, stopping first at Baan Bang Phat Mangroves to twitch some of the specialties there.
50 paces into the mangroves Kurt found a pair of Mangrove Whistlers and a crowd of tourists sent a single Mangrove Pitta barreling past us in fright.
With the tide flowing in in full force, we conceded that finding the certain species such as White chested Babbler and Copper throated Sunbird would be impossible. Despite the setbacks and the searing heat, we did get a few good birds in the end, such as Black hooded Oriole, Golden bellied Gerygone, Collared Kingfisher and Pied Fantail.
We also heard a single Ruddy Kingfisher but were unable to connect with it.
From Baan bang Phat we moved on to Pra Srinakarin Park to twitch Blue rock Thrush, but the bird was not showing around its usual perches so we moved on.
Next we stopped at the Municipal Mangrove Walkway outside Pang Nga town. Major construction is decimating much of the old mangrove forest along the main waterway, reducing the chances of Mangrove Pitta occurring in the area in the future. The adjacent rubber plantation has also been cleared, most likely to make way for a new row of shophouses. Despite the odds, a Mangrove Pitta was heard calling around the office building and a flash of red among the trees recalled what may have been a single Banded Woodpecker.
Our last stop of the day was at Ao Phang Nga National Park office, a site rarely visited by birders nowadays due to the work stoppage on the main mangrove nature trail. With so much disturbance in the area and such a short mangrove boardwalk to work with, there was little chance we would connect with anything notable, but we decided one more attempt wouldn’t hurt too much.
We hit gold.
Our first bird was a lovely pair of Black and Red Broadbill, the fifth species for the trip and the last of the southern residents. Shortly after that I managed to tape in a pair of Streak-throated Woodpeckers as well. Calling in the area but not seen were Black hooded Oriole, Brown winged and Collared Kingfishers and Mangrove Pitta.
The drive back to Phuket was quiet with the exception of five Japanese Sparrowhawk which were seen rising on a current of air near Sarasin bridge.
Kurt got his connecting flight back to Bangkok in the evening and I headed back home.
Altogether we had 186 species for the entire trip, a little low in numbers but high in quality. Two pitta, two trogon, five broadbills, five hornbills, three owls and four species of kingfisher were the highlights and we regret that we dipped on a number of other species. Considering had we connected with the species we’d heard calling, would have been able to bump with numbers to four trogon and seven kingfisher species. Nevertheless, like Kurt commented “It’s good we didn’t see everything on this trip, otherwise there would be no reason for me to come back again in the future.”
We are looking forward to having Kurt come back for a second run and wish him the best for 2012.
A full list of species seen on this trip can be viewed here. For the report with bird species at their various locations, please refer to the link posted under the Reports tab.