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News and Information on Birding Sites Throughout Thailand and the Andaman

Blue Banded Kingfisher -Photo by Peter Ericsson

The Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) released their rendition of “Top 10 Most Wanted Birds in Thailand”. While some of the species on the list will be too far-fetched for foreign birders to attempt to find due to the short amount of time spent birding in the kingdom, it makes for good reading and pumps the adrenaline for us local birders. –In fact, I feel like making a run to the north even as I type!

This list is compiled by Thai birders and pretty much sums up what is most wanted by the local birding community. The birds on this list are all very rare or difficult to find in the kingdom. Those who have managed to find any of the species on this list will certainly be proud –and will draw the envy of their fellow birders!

In my 13 years of birdwatching, I have only managed to garner 640+ lifers –mostly due to my stringent qualifications for accepting a new addition to my life lists. Despite the low number of lifers, I am pleased to say that I’ve managed to mark off one bird on this list: the Chestnut capped Thrush. I found the bird in Khao Banthat back in 2008, feeding in a rubbish heap behind a ranger’s kitchen. It was a pure stroke of luck and one I have not been able to repeat in any of the four visits I have made to the site since.

Noting the extreme difficulty in finding most of the birds in the BCST list, I was inspired to make a list of the top-ten birds which I personally would like to see. These are birds which I feel will take a fair amount of effort, barring a small miracle, for me to see. I’m sharing it here in the event that someone may have insight into locating any of the species on the list and is willing to share their insight with me.

Unlike the BCST list which is teeming with seemingly impossible-to-find species, I’ve decided to put my cookies on a slightly lower shelf (if you can understand the figure of speech) and aim for species which are difficult, but not beyond my ability to find. Some are just personal favorites as well. As for the BCST list … I’ll get around to that one day!

So Santa, I hope you’re paying attention, because here is my wish list!

10. Rufous necked Hornbill: This bird is quickly becoming one of the rarest hornbills in the kingdom. The best place to look for this bird is in Mae Wong National Park but even then its never a guarantee. The birds show in the early morning and late evening and few people actually get to see the bird perched in a tree.

Hopefully it will start making a comeback in the near future.

While I’m itching to get my boots on the ground in Mae Wong, I’m not looking forward to the itching I’ll be doing once I return home. The park is a stronghold for sandflies and other biting insects, and ranks as one of the most inhospitable national parks in central Thailand.

9. Greater Adjutant: Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, it lives off garbage and dead, rotting flesh. Yes, it looks like a zombie version of Curly from the Three Stooges. –But that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm to see a wild one in real life!

Call it morbid if you must, but I am absolutely fascinated by storks. And while I was almost desperate enough to acknowledge a few free-flying individuals from Safari World as a bona fide twitch, I didn’t stoop that low. I shall continue to resist the temptation to tick those off as lifers … for now.

8. Great Argus: Sure it’s not that pretty and it tastes just like chicken, but there’s something mystical about the argus. Perhaps it’s the fact that the bird is so massive and yet so difficult to observe as it blends so well with its surroundings. Maybe it’s the deafening call which leaves your ears ringing. Whatever it is, I’m determined to see one in the wild one day.

-And for your information, I never ate one before. –But I did talk to someone who did, and hence my gastronomical inquisitiveness was enlightened.

7. Baer’s Pochard: I love ducks. One of the most memorable birding trips I ever took was a visit to a rusted gas station in Chiang Saen. Behind the station was a large freshwater pond, used by farmers to water their … er, water buffaloes. In the pond there were five species of duck, numbering almost 3000 individuals in total. I found Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Garganey,  and Common Teal in the mix. No pochard.

It didn’t soothe my irritated nerves when I  found out that the next person I recommended the site to came back with a record of six birds.

6. Diard’s Trogon: I saw my first trogon, a Red headed Trogon, in 2009, ten years after taking up birdwatching. Since then, I’ve stumbled on a Cinnamon rumped Trogon, taped in a Scarlet rumped Trogon and managed to snatch a peek at what was supposed to be the most common of all trogons, the Orange breasted Trogon. Surprisingly, the Diard’s Trogon was the only trogon I’ve actually ever set out to search for. Interestingly, its the one trogon I always seem to miss out on.

You can see why I want it so badly; it’s just one of two more trogon species I need to complete the collection.

I’ve dipped on it on all five of my visits to Krung Ching, but I will not lose hope. If others can manage to find this elusive bird, so should I. It’s just a matter of waiting and hoping my lucky day will come one day.

5. Red footed Booby: Pelagic trips are not my forte; sitting in a rocking boat shoveling bucketfuls of rotten fish into the sea is just not a fun job. However, this is the only option I’m stuck with if I want to find this rare specimen.

I’d also have to head down to the tiny islands near Tarutao in the middle of the monsoon season and risk becoming shark bait in order to find these birds. Thankfully, if I tried I would be arrested for trespassing onto national park territory during the restricted travel period. But that doesn’t keep me from dreaming …

4. Giant Pitta: The last time I went out searching for this bird was in Khao Nor Chuchi back in 2007. Thinking I had heard its mournful call, I rushed to the scene only to find … it was Mr. Yothin replying to my own playback. -How embarrassing.

Mr. Yothin deservedly earned his title of “Mr. Pitta”, but he is no Giant Pitta. –At least not according to my field guide.

3. Large Frogmouth: I swear I heard the bird call during a late night expedition while visiting Bala Wildlife Sanctuary in 2011. The ranger I was with heard it too, and we both would have gone head-first into the forest had it not been for the deep ravine which separated us from the trees. Some of the rangers admitted they had spent long nights in search of the bird but to no avail.

Oddly, no one ever searched for the bird in the lowlands along the main nature trail across the river. If there were any hope for finding the bird, don’t you think the last remaining patch of lowland forest in Thailand would be a good place to start?

2. Garnet Pitta: I was sitting on a trail in the lowlands of Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, my heart torn with an impossible decision to make: I could turn left and find myself a Malaysian Rail Babbler, or I could march to the right, off the trail and into the forest and twitch myself a Garnet Pitta.

I chose the rail babbler.

That was the closest I would get to this skulking pitta. Never again in the remaining three tours along that trail did we hear the pitta. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up; it just means next time I’m faced with a choice like that, I’m not going to choose a babbler over a pitta. –Never again!

1. Gurneys Pitta: 12 trips to the heart of Khao Nor Chuchi = 12 trips which ended in frustration. Reading the logbook at the Morakot Resort only made me wonder if I was cursed. Why was it so easy for others to find the bird whilst traipsing down B Trail, yet I never once even heard the bird call much less see a silhouette of its form?

Now with the bird tottering on the brink of extinction in Thailand, it seems my maddening desire to see this species will depend on whether or not a new colony of these enigmatic species can be found at another site in southern Thailand, albeit highly implausible.

I hate to admit this, but I just may be too late for this one. The bird is close to being extinct in Thailand and I may have to accept the fact that I missed out.

P.S:

Just for fun, here are a few more on my wishlist. These are not rare birds, but rather a collection of species which have managed to elude me for a number of years.

A. Spot winged Grosbeak: As a young lad I loved to raise finches. I kept Zebras, ricebirds and munias. Then one day, on an errand through Chatuchak Market back in 2008, I came across a trader with a pair of grosbeaks, and it was love at first sight. I never realized finches could be so big!

No, I refused to buy the birds, instead ringing up the RFD, which sent a team into the market and arrested another dealer for selling a Hill Myna. The finches found no respite, and I will not find respite until I have seen these magnificent birds where they ought to be found: in the wild.

B. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher: Known only from the mangroves of Yaring in Pattani, this bird was the ultimate frustration for me during my visit to the deep south in 2011. “Marco Polo” seemed to be its favorite game and it had us chasing shadows for almost two hours until we finally gave up and left.

Round one goes to the flycatcher, but the game is not over. Not yet …

C. Copper throated Sunbird: This is not a rare bird, but one which has haunted me for years. I’ve heard its call. I’ve played hours of cat-and-mouse with it. I’ve even seen its shadow as it darted off into the canopy. The sheer frustration of never being able to see this bird has reached a boiling point.

Once I manage to find this bird I will cool down with a glass of ice-cold beer. I will have earned it by then!

D. Rufous rumped Shama: The White rumped Shama is a beauty to behold and an excellent songster. One can only imagine its cousin to be equally gifted in both departments as well. During my only trip to Pa Pru Toh Deng Peat Swamp, I made a conscious effort to find this bird. Three times around the track I went, without much success.

Apparently, not many people have had much success with this bird nowadays. I hope to change that trend one day.

E. Grey headed Fish Eagle: The bird is out there. It’s been seen by others who visited Chieo Laan Lake. It’s been spotted at Ton Pariwat. It’s been photographed at the marsh in Koh Pratong.

Careful observation of over 15 fish eagles on my last trip to Cheio Laan failed to reveal any Grey headed Fish Eagles; all were Lesser Fish Eagle. I went through great pains to ensure I made no mistakes in identification. The bird was just nowhere to be found.

No matter, I will find it one day.

F. Blue Banded Kingfisher: Another nemesis which has eluded me for years, the Blue Banded Kingfisher is not an easy bird although it is present in a number of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout  southern Thailand. It was once easy to spot at Sri Phang Nga but even then I managed to miss it. -Humph.

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