Phuketbirdwatching.com

News and Information on Birding Sites Throughout Thailand and the Andaman

Introduction

Back in 2001, I started a birdwatching blog as a pastime. The intention was to use the blog as a means of providing birders with information regarding birdwatching sites in the four provinces of the Andaman coast: Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi. These provinces receive thousands of visitors every year and are a major reason behind Thailand’s popularity as a tourist destination. The provinces are well-known for their charm, beauty and in many cases, nightlife and other tourist attractions, but little is known of their natural attractions. -And with so little information available on the web, it seemed like it was high time someone addressed the issue.

From there the idea just grew and grew and developed into something far bigger and grander than we’d ever dreamed. The site still centers on the four provinces we started out with, but now also incorporates information on sites all around the country. It is plausible to say that we have no idea what this site will be like in the future but we plan to take it a step at a time and will continue to post new reviews as time goes by.

The sites reviewed here are a result of personal experiences from my birding trips throughout the country. It is intended to provide an insider’s view to various birding locations and hopefully encourage more birders and nature lovers to visit the “other side” of  Thailand and experience the natural wonders it has to offer.

Completing a full review of any site takes a large amount of time, finances and energy, and there are hundreds of sites throughout the country which I have not been able to review. Since this website is more or less a hobby of mine, it often takes months or even years before a full review of a site can be posted. In that case, if there are any questions birders may have which pertain to a certain site of interest, please feel free to contact me for information. If I cannot offer the answers you seek, I will be more than willing to forward you to a birder or authority on the matter which can provide the assistance you seek.

Birding Locations in Thailand

– Bird Watching in Ranong Province

While Phuket ranks as one of the best-known provinces in southern Thailand, Ranong sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. It has the fewest inhabitants of any province in Thailand and has an economy based solely on agriculture and fishing. In fact, if it were not for its massive fishing industry, the province might well have been ranked as one of the lowest income-generating provinces in the country.

The fact that it has a tiny population has played an important role in keeping this province blanketed in thick forest. Ranong is still roughly 80% forested, and over 60% of the terrain is mountainous. The province is home to the largest block of mangrove forest in Thailand and is only one of four sites in the country which has been granted status as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The province’s vast forests make it a magnet for rain clouds, making this province the wettest in Thailand. The typical rainy season lasts for eight – ten months out of  the year.

There are seven birdwatching sites listed for the province, three of which are reviewed by the author.

– Bird Watching in Phang Nga Province

Phang Nga was declared a province in 1933. It has a total area of over 4,150 square kilometers, with roughly a third still covered in rainforest. The province has an economy based on tourism and agriculture, with most of the tourist activity centered along the west coast near the Khao Lak area.

Apart from its numerous waterfalls and forest reserves, Phang Nga is home to the second largest patch of mangrove forest, located in the southeastern corner of the province in Phang Nga Bay. The bay is made up of hundreds of islands, most of which are under the jurisdiction of Ao Phang Nga National Park.

There are 14  birdwatching sites listed for the province, 11 of which are reviewed by the author.

Birding Watching in Phuket Province

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, approximately the same size as Singapore. It has a total area of roughly 560 square kilometers and is flanked by the Andaman Sea in the west and the Phang Nga Bay on the east. In past times the island was a busy trading center which facilitated the export of tin and rubber to Europe and India. Today it serves as the most popular tourist destination in Thailand, accounting for over a tenth of the country’s annual income.

Much of the island is deforested with most of the old forest giving way to hotels, condominiums and luxury villas. Most of the birding opportunities are centered around small patches of forest remaining on hills in the central, northern and southwestern sections of the island. Some of the islands offshore are still uninhabited and may contain a number of specialties for the region.

There are 13 birdwatching sites listed for the province, 10 of which are reviewed by the author.

Bird Watching in Krabi Province

Krabi has an area slightly larger than that of neighbouring Phang Nga, and is comprised almost entirely of rubber and oil palm plantations with only a fraction of old forest remaining. The province was once home to some of the richest lowland rainforest in southern Thailand, but most of it was lost between 1975-1989. While agriculture remains the biggest source of income for the province, tourism is quietly gaining momentum with the expansion of resorts along the southern coast and the island of Koh Lanta.

Krabi is still one of the biggest attractions for birders, with the majority flocking to Khao Pra Bang Kram, otherwise known as Khao Nor Chuchi, the home of the highly endangered Gurney’s Pitta.

There are eight birdwatching sites listed for the province, four of which are reviewed by the author.

– Birdwatching Sites in Southern Thailand

When we speak of southern Thailand, we are referring to peninsular Thailand, from the province of Chumporn all the way to the border of Malaysia. Numerous national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are scattered throughout the region, remnants of a mighty rainforest which once blanketed the south. Today, most of the forest is restricted to the hill slopes or forest blocks, such as the Khao Sok – Klong Saen Forest Block, Khao Luang, Khao Banthat and Hala – Bala Wildlife Sanctuary. Birding in the south varies drastically from that of continental Thailand, and many of the birds in the region are very shy  by nature.

The south is composed of 14 provinces: Chumphon, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Phang Nga, Phatthalung, Phuket, Ranong, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Trang and Yala.

There are 35 birdwatching sites listed for the region, six of which are reviewed by the author.

– Birdwatching Sites in Western Thailand

Western Thailand contains over half of the nation’s forest reserves. The forests sustain a number of species which are difficult to find in other regions of the country, such as Green Peafowl, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Malayan Peacock-Pheasant, Giant Pitta, Rufous necked Hornbill and White fronted Scops Owl.Without doubt, this is the richest and most diverse region for birdwatching in the entire kingdom.

The birding isn’t just restricted to the forests; the vast expanses of intertidal mudflats are feeding grounds for thousands of shorebirds, such as Asian Dowitcher, Pied Avocet, Eastern Curlew and the critically endangered Spoon billed Sandpiper. The adjacent fields of corn and rice  attract their own set of specialties, from the mighty Greater Spotted Eagle to the diminutive Small Pratincole.

The five western provinces are Kanchanaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ratchaburi and Tak.

There are 28 birdwatching sites listed for the region, two of which are reviewed by the author.

– Birdwatching Sites in Central Thailand

– Birdwatching Sites in Northern Thailand

The mountains of the north stretch as far as the eyes can see -Photo by Peter EricssonNorthern Thailand is arguably the region most frequented by birdwatchers in Thailand – and understandably so. Nearly half of all the species recorded in Thailand can be found in the north, and the region is one of the leading areas where new species for the Thai list are added on a regular basis. The wide range of forest habitat, mountainous terrain and mighty tributaries contribute to making this region one of the most exciting birding destinations in the country.

The winter is by far the most productive season for this region, as hundreds of migrant species arrive to escape the unbearable temperatures in Siberia, Mongolia and other locations in the far north. Some migrants such as Scarlet Finch, Common Crane, Chestnut Thrush, Fire tailed Sunbird and Golden Bush Robin are rare visitors found only in the north, while others such as Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Greater Crested Grebe, Baer’s Pochard and Japanese Thrush sometimes appear in other regions but are usually easier to find in the north.

There are nine provinces in northern Thailand: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Lampoon, Mae Hong Sorn, Nan, Payao, Prae and Uttradit.

There are 54 birdwatching sites listed for the region, two of which are reviewed by the author.

– Birdwatching Sites in Northeastern Thailand

Northeast Thailand is the largest region in the country and located on a giant, arid plateau. The region is largely deforested, with much of the land devoted to agriculture. The last remaining forests are located along the outer edges of the plateau, such as the southwest (Khao Yai – Dong Payen Forest Complex), east, northeast along the Mekong River and northwest near Laos. The northeast remains the most underwatched region in the entire country due to the lower number of resident birds. The bird population has been impacted by centuries of hunting, deforestation and persecution. However, if birders were to explore the last remaining forests in the east and northeast along the Mekong River, there is a chance a number of fascinating species may be added to the Thai lists.

The Northeast is comprised of 19 provinces: Amnat Charoen, Buri Ram, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Loei, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Sisaket, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani and Yasothon.

There are 45 birdwatching  sites listed for the region.

– Birdwatching Sites in Eastern Thailand

Birding Reviews

All of the reviews listed in this site are rated on a scale of 1-6, with no. 1 being the best and no. 6 on the lowest end of the spectrum. However, I would like the reader to bear in mind that this is based on my personal opinion and may not reflect the opinion of the local birding community. Some sites receive higher ratings than others; it happens. The ratings are meant to act as a tool to help birders decide what may or may not be a good site to visit. I realize there will be differing opinions on some of the reviews and I may not see things from other birdwatchers’ perspective, so please feel free to write if you feel there is something which needs to be addressed or text which may need alteration.

There are a total of six levels. The levels are color-coded and listed as follows:

Level 1: Excellent

This level is reserved for only a few select sites in Thailand, a representation of the richest and most diverse locations which offer only the best birding opportunities. Most of the sites have locality lists of well over 300 species and host a number of resident specialties which are difficult if not impossible to find at any other site within the country. All in all, these sites represent the best of what Thailand has to offer and are sites which demand the attention of twitchers and birders alike.

Sites which fall into this category include Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, Kaeng Krachan National Park, Doi Lang and Khao Pra Bang Kram (KNCC).

Level 2: Very Good

There are a number of sites which consistently produce quality sightings of terrific birds and host a number of uncommon species, yet are not on par with the megasites. These locations are regularly frequented by birders and are well-known among local birders yet lack a number of qualifications which could elevate their status into Level 1 contenders. Like the sites in Level 1, many of these locations boast a high diversity of bird life and maybe even host a number of quality mammal species and other attractions, yet suffer from issues such as forest degradation, loss of viable habitat, human disturbance, poor management, limited size, accessibility, extreme seasonal weather patterns and so forth.

Sites which fall into this category include Sri Phang Nga National Park, Talae Noi Bird Sanctuary, Khao Sok National Park and Bang Pra Non-Hunting Area.

Level 3: Good

These sites are worthy of birders’ attention and may even host a local specialty or two, yet they suffer from a number of limitations which prohibit them from being classed with the bigger players. Some lack sustainable habitat for the future, others are too small in size and have a low diversity of bird life, while others are too remote for birders to access. However, they are still very important and productive sites which should not be passed up, and places which will satisfy the desire of any birder willing to dedicate a portion of time to the site. Most of these sites also have shorter locality lists that those of Level 1 and 2 and are seasonal rather than all-year-round birdwatching sites.

Sites which fall into this category include Mu Koh Similan National Park, Khao Ya – Khao Poo National Park and Khao Dinsor.

Level 4: Average

The majority of national parks and forest parks fall into this category, due to a number of reasons ranging from deforestation, degraded natural habitat, local or internal conflict, lack of consistency in locating key species, a high level of disturbance, etc. These sites are obviously still inhabited by a variety of bird species, yet cannot guarantee visiting birders that there will be anything interesting available on display at any given day. Some of these sites will not produce results as demanded by visiting birders and require more effort on the part of the birdwatcher to locate their target species.

Sites which fall into this category include Ao Phang Nga National Park, Khao Panom Bencha National Park and Mu Koh Tarutao National Park.

Level 5: Poor

These sites are just a shadow of their former selves with little or no sustainable habitat for wildlife and birds. These sites are generally quiet and uninteresting for birders and will not produce any quality species. They are represented by only the most tolerant and common of bird species and continue to degrade as time passes. Many of these sites rely heavily on wintering migrants to boost their locality lists and are quiet on most days.

Sites which fall into this category include Kaeng Krung National Park, Khao Lak National Park and Khao Prataow Wildlife Sanctuary.

Level 6: Very Poor

There are a growing number of sites which are not even worth the trouble for birders. Sure, they may be branded as a National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary or Forest Park, yet changes in the infrastructure and poor management have reduced the site into nothing more than a commercial racket or desolate urban wasteland. The habitat at these sites are repulsive for birds and other wildlife and most likely these sites will never again savor the warm embrace of Mother Nature. These locations are lost causes which will not satisfy the wants or desires of any birdwatchers who visit.

Sites which fall into this category include Sirinat National Park, Haad Chao Mai National Park and Raman Waterfall Forest Park.

Guiding

To make life easier for those who may be new to the region or simply prefer to make the most of their limited stay in the Kingdom, I have complied a list of Birding Tours and Guides which I hope will be useful to those planning their itinerary and will help increase the chances of finding more bird species during the trip. While I can understand there are financial constraints to consider when hiring a guide, having a person who is familiar with the various sites and knows the terrain, special bird hideouts and calls is unquestionably the logical path of reasoning to choose when time is limited and one wants to get as many lifers as possible.

The list can be accessed by clicking on the tab at the top of the page.

Remember that no matter where you are, keep those binoculars close by; you never know what surprises nature will throw at you at any given time of the day.

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  • Noteworthy

    Special Thanks to Peter Ericsson, Ian Dugdale, Weine Drotz and Hermann Drotz for contributing their photos to this website. All photos displayed in this website are used with permission from the owner.
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    Phone: (66)081-535-5014 Email: phuketbirder@gmail.com