Dave Riley and Marg Cuthbert were on the last leg of their three-month tour of Southeast Asia. With two days left to burn, they were interested in visiting a few sites in peninsular Thailand. Due to some family issues I was only able to accompany them for one day, so we decided to try Sri Phang Nga National Park for the Banded Pitta and work our way south back toward Phuket and pick up a few lifers for Marg at various locations around Phang Nga and Phuket.
This was Dave and Marg’s first trip to peninsular Thailand.
We started out early, leaving the hotel at 4 AM and working our way north towards Sri Phang Nga National Park. We arrived at the park by 6 AM and dawn was breaking over the hills. Since it was the weekend, we were aware of the potential of being flooded by a throng of noisy picnickers so we decided to move fast and try to cover as much ground as possible before 10 AM.
Our first bird for the day was a Large tailed Nightjar which we flushed from the roadside.
Down the trail to the clearing we found Dusky Broadbill, Crow billed Drongo, Black headed and Black crested Bulbul, Short tailed Babbler, Buff rumped Woodpecker, Great Hornbill and White rumped Shama.
It was still rather early when we arrived at the clearing and we decided to head straight for the pitta stakeout. The pitta has been known to come out regularly from dawn until noon and we thought we’d have a better chance of finding it if we got to the site before the weekend crowds showed up.
The trail to Ton Deng Waterfall was quiet but we found the usual Chestnut naped Forktail, as well as Asian Fairy Bluebird and Brown streaked Flycatcher.
At the stakeout we sat down and waited for almost thirty minutes but the pitta never showed. Since it was a gamble to continue waiting for this unpredictable bird, we decided to move on back to the campsite and bird around there and perhaps try again for the pitta at a later time.
The way back to the campsite was productive for birding, and we encountered Black and Yellow Broadbill, Red eyed Bulbul, Buff vented Bulbul, Grey throated Babbler, Chestnut winged Babbler, Pin striped Tit Babbler, Black naped Monarch and Little Spiderhunter.
Back at the campsite we retrieved the car and drove back to the clearing where we again headed down the trail to Ton Deng in search of the elusive pitta. Again we found the area to be deathly quiet.
As it turned out, the pitta was last seen on Friday with both the male and female showing, but heavy traffic into the area on Saturday forced the birds into hiding, explaining the reason as to why the birds were just not out on Sunday.
By the time we got back to the car the area was rapidly filling up with tourists and picnickers. Despite the commotion, a single Great Hornbill was seen scouring a large tree for insects, right on the outer edge of the clearing, a spectacle which had many tourists and locals cueing up for photos of the magnificent bird.
Lunch was taken at the camp cafeteria, during which time Paddyfield Pipit, Scaly breasted Munia and Stripe breasted Bulbul were noted as they flew by the restaurant.
After lunch we headed down to Baan Lim where we found Grey headed, Red Wattled and River Lapwing, all roosting on a sandbar in the midday heat the middle of the Phang Nga River. We also found Barn Swallow, Little Heron, Black capped Kingfisher, Little Egret and Wood Sandpiper.
Next we headed back south, stopping over at Laem Pakarang for a few waders. The tide was moving out and the terns were coming in to wash and roost on the rapidly-expanding sandbar in the distance. Both Greater and Lesser Crested Terns were seen, along with Whiskered, Little and Common Terns.
Interesting waders seen included up to eight Bar tailed Godwit, a single Eurasian Curlew and a single Grey tailed Tattler.
Other birds seen included Curlew Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Red necked Stint, Great Egret, Pacific Reef Egret, Greater Coucal, Indian Roller, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Golden and Grey Plover, Large billed Crow and Chestnut capped Bee Eater.
We experienced some engine trouble on the way back to Phuket and had to make a short stopover in Thai Muang where I searched in vain for a garage that would be open on a Sunday. During the break we were able to see Pale rumped Swiftlet and Asian Glossy Starling as well as a number of feral Rock Doves.
The engine problems kept us from driving above 40 kilometers per hour, so we slowly made our way back to Phuket, arriving at our last site, Muang Mai Plantation, with only half an hour for birding before the gate closed.
Driving into the area we saw Black Drongo, Cattle Egret, White throated Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher and Brahminy Kite from our car along the side of the road.
We headed straight down to the mangroves where we searched for the mangrove specialties. Walking down the canal, we found Common Kingfisher and shortly afterwards connected with our fifth kingfisher species and Margs’ final lifer for the day: Brown winged Kingfisher.
Attempts to connect with Ruddy Kingfisher and Mangrove Pitta were futile as the birds were simply not calling.
After leaving the main gate we parked the car near a dried shrimp pond where we found both Chinese and Javan Pond Heron in breeding plumage, along with dozens of egrets, Common Redshank and a single Chinese Egret.
We ended the day with 82 species, six of which were lifers for Marg. On a day with so much bird activity like this we could have bumped the numbers well over the century mark, but our focus was on exact species rather than long lists and big numbers. With that in mind, I’d reckon we did quite well, with the missed pitta being perhaps the only disapointment of the day.
To see the full report and species list, please refer to trip report filed in the Reports tab at the top of the page.