Koh Kaeo Estuary is the main artery for boats leaving and entering Boat Lagoon. The area is composed of mixed beach forest, interspersed with large bodies of water and mangroves. The area is a constant beehive of activity with locals engaged in fishing, hunting or relaxing around the perimeter of the lake and waterways. Despite the disturbance, birding can be productive and the sound of calling birds can be heard almost all hours throughout the day.
A well-marked trail weaves through the area, starting at a fishing pier near the bridge. It begins by passing through open beach forest before reaching a weir; here it borders a large, freshwater pond. The pond drains into the estuary and is popular among local fishermen. The trail continues on through a patch of thick mangroves before coming to an end at a wide, muddy beach.
The first patch of forest mostly features tall Casuarina and plenty of weather-beaten shrubbery. A host of birds can be found around here such as Black and Ashy Drongo, Brown Shrike, Asian Brown, Brown Streaked, Red throated and Yellow rumped Flycatchers, Asian Koel, Common and White Vented Myna, Scaly breasted Munia, Coppersmith and Blue eared Barbet, Large billed Crow, White breasted Waterhen, Barred Buttonquail, Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Yellow Bittern and Forest Wagtail, just to name a few.
The weir is a good place to connect with Collared, Common and White throated Kingfisher and with some luck one may come across Ruddy and Brown Winged Kingfisher as well.
Brahminy Kite and White bellied Sea Eagle are fairly common and on occasion other birds of prey, such as Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and Eurasian Kestrel can be seen flying overhead.
The mangroves of Koh Kaeo are among the best places in Phuket to find Ashy Tailorbird, a species which thrive in coastal forests. On more than one occasion I’ve even heard Mangrove Pitta calling as well but the birds are very shy and hard to call out, even with the aid of a playback.
The trail ends at a beach, although the place more or less resembles a tidal mudflat than a beach. The rich deposits of silt make this one of the most productive beaches for birding along the east coast and there are always plenty of surprises one can encounter while birding here. Great Knot, Von Schrencks Bittern, Grey and Purple Heron and Eurasian Kestrel are some of the specials which I have encountered in past trips here. Waders here include Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Bar tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Grey and Golden Plovers, Terek Sandpiper and other shorebirds.
This is also the only place in the island I know which supports a full complement of egrets with all five species (Little, Intermediate, Great, Cattle and Chinese Egret) present at this location on a regular basis.
On occasion one will encounter a flock of terns as well, the most common being Common or White winged Tern but sometimes Little Tern will also show up on the beach. The cement guideposts offshore attract Lesser and Greater Crested Tern and on occasion even a few Caspian Terns.
Directions to Koh Kaeo Estuary
View Phuket Birdwatching Locations in a larger map
Coming from Phuket town, take Highway 402 north towards the airport and Sarasin Bridge. After passing the Royal Phuket Marina and Boat Lagoon (on your right), turn right at the next intersection and drive into the street until you reach the back of the Boat Lagoon. Follow the road onwards until you reach a bridge. Park the car around this area and walk down the dirt trail into the forested area.
Likewise, you can drive on northwards on Highway 402 until you reach the Heroines Monument, make a U-turn and drive down the road until you reach a Chinese temple (Saan Jao). Turn down the next street after the temple and follow the road for a few kilometers until you reach a bridge with longtail boats parked nearby.
Looking at the map linked above does not help to explain much as to the precise location of this estuary, but if one clicks on the satellite image, on the right hand side one can see two blue ponds of water and an estuary just slightly to the south of the lakes. This is the location I am describing in this review.
Pros: Mangroves fairly productive for birding; mud beach attracts many local and wintering shorebirds, popular feeding ground for many species; easy to navigate and fairly safe environment.
Cons: Fairly difficult to access due to poorly marked roads; pollution and hunting problematic; not an “exciting” venue for birding for most people; venue is busy at all times of the days with locals fishing, collecting wood, hunting, etc.
Rating: - Poor -
This site is nice for an afternoon visit and will net at least 25-30 species in an hour or so of birding. For those who like a good stroll and don’t mind encountering a few “weirdy-beardy” locals from time to time, this is an enjoyable place to leisurely birdwatch and perhaps discover something new.
It is not an “exciting” site but it will fill your need for birds and exercise and you may be rewarded from time to time with a special bird or two, the Holy Grail being Mangrove Pitta.
This page was last updated in September, 2012.