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From the 16-17 of April I accompanied Harry and Anita Miller on another expedition into the Klong Saeng – Khao Sok Forest Complex in search of some specialties.

We avoided the Thai New Year revelers by steering clear of national parks, opting to visit places which were far off the beaten track. It also helped that we were targeting species which required us to visit remote locations as opposed to general birding which usually takes place in public areas of the national parks.

Our targets for the trip were Great Argus, Grey headed Fish Eagle, Bat Hawk and Stork billed Kingfisher. I’m pleased to say that the trip was a success and we were able to see every single species on our list.

Equipment and books

We relied on Lekagul and Round’s 1991 Guide to the Birds of Thailand. In the field I used a pair of Kowa 42X8 BD Prominar binoculars. I also brought along an old Kowa spotting scope, for good measure, although we never did end up using it.

Photographic gear consisted primarily of a Canon 7D MKII paired with the “classic” 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens.

DAY 1: SRI PHANG NGA AND KLONG SAENG

When heading out to find the Great Argus, the key is to arrive before the Star of the Show, otherwise you probably won’t get to see it.

The morning started at 3 AM – about 30 minutes earlier than I’d expected. From there we were taken to the edge of a rubber plantation where we began the 90 minute trek into the unknown. The first 2 ½ kilometers were easy as we meandered along winding footpaths through an endless sea of plantation and secondary growth, but the last bit was tough as we had to climb up a hill in complete darkness.

We settled into the giant makeshift hide at around 4.20 AM and began the long wait for dawn.

At 5.30 AM the bird began to call – and it was quite close. Its thunderous ka-WOW call at close range is loud enough to cause discomfort, or a rush of adrenaline if you are a birder.

The bird appeared at the lek at 6.10 and we got fleeting views of the bird as it walked past, wary of our presence. Despite the poor initial looks, we were delighted to have finally seen the largest galliforme in the kingdom and one which is notoriously difficult to observe in the wild.

Lifer number 684 and the first for 2016 was in the record books at last.

While waiting for the argus to reappear I sat quietly and listened to the sounds of the forest around me. While I am by no means an expert at every bird call, I silently reviewed the names of the calls I could recognize as they sounded out. Like mental flashcards, I went through the exercise: Scarlet rumped Trogon, Orange breasted Trogon, Great Hornbill, Bushy crested Hornbill, White Crowned Hornbill, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Red bearded Bee Eater, Abbott’s Babbler, Black capped Babbler, Striped Tit Babbler, Banded Kingfisher, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Rufous collared Kingfisher, Eurasian Koel and Maroon Woodpecker. Anita also said she’d heard a Hooded Pitta calling from nearby the hide.

It was an impressive list for the area and I would have loved to explore the area to see what else was about if I hadn’t been confined to the hide for obvious reasons.

At around 7.20 the bird reappeared again, this time for a longer period as it picked at leaves near the lek and sat motionless on the edge of the dancing ground for a spell. The bird still refused to come out into the open so we had poor looks the entire time but it would have to be good enough for us as the bird slowly moved off into the forest, never to be seen again.

At around 11 AM we finally gave up and headed back to the resort to shower, repack and head off to Klong Saeng for the second leg of the great adventure.

Klong Saeng was bustling with tourists heading out to resorts on the lake. After boarding the boat we headed straight over to Klong Ya Wildlife Station and arrived shortly before dark.

The two-hour long boatride was not eventful, with only Great Hornbill, Brahminy Kite, Osprey and White bellied Sea Eagle on display. Wild pigs and deer were seen on the edges of the lake as the soaring temperatures coaxed the wildlife out of the forest towards the cool, refreshing waters.

A night tour revealed a host of deer and other creatures but no Buffy Fish Owl. Javan Frogmouth was heard but as usual, not seen.

DAY 2: KLONG SAENG AND AO PHANG NGA

The next morning we awoke to brilliant sunlight and a cloudless sky. It was going to be a very hot day.

After a quick breakfast we headed straight into the upper reaches of Klong Ya in search of our quarry.

The first birds we encountered were initially thought to be Grey headed Fish Eagle but upon closer observation, turned out to be juvenile White bellied Sea Eagle. We encountered plenty of them, with up to six juveniles and three adults seen.

A quick look around a shallow bend allowed us our first tick off the checklist, a handsome Stork billed Kingfisher. Nearby we also spotted a Lesser Fish Eagle seated high in a tree overlooking the water.

Further on we went, spotting more White bellied Sea Eagles. -Would we ever find the Grey headed Fish Eagle we were after?

Deep in the forest we came to a fork in the river where a lush meadow covered the formerly muddy riverbank. Here we spotted a white raptor which was behaving oddly. It had little fear of us and seemed intent on trying to catch and eat anything it could find, from fish to bamboo leaves. Initially we thought it was a white morph Changeable Hawk Eagle, but later communications with experts showed it to be a juvenile Lesser Fish Eagle.

High in the sky we heard a piercing whistle and when we looked up, we found a Bat Hawk racing through the skies – at nearly 11 AM! One usually never sees these birds in flight during the day, much less around noon! After a look around the area, we realized the birds were nesting and the parents were most likely calling the young in the nest.

Second twitch off the list … now for the third.

Back at the former spot where we’d found the juvenile White bellied Sea Eagles, we found another two birds baking in the midday heat. Then from behind we heard a loud ka-KAW … the recluse had finally given his presence away.

We raced toward the spot and after some frantic searching in the trees, managed to get some decent looks at the final twitch on the list: Grey headed Fish Eagle.

From there we headed back to the lodge where we relaxed for a bit before packing up to leave.

The trip back was not without its own drama as we managed to find ourselves a giant Asian Elephant enjoying a mudbath near the waterside! This was the first time I’d ever seen a wild pachyderm and an experience I will always treasure. With elephants being abused and used for so many years in a country which honors the creature as a national symbol, I felt peace and joy to be able to find this magnificent creature living its days where it belonged – in the wild.

With a few hours left to spare before heading to the bus station, we opted to look around Ao Phang Nga to see if there were any birds around.

The temperatures were much too warm for my tastes and the birds seemed to feel the same way as well.

Mangrove Pitta responded to playback but refused to move from the other side of the river. Brown winged Kingfisher was about but opted to remain hidden as well.

A fruiting tree near the main office proved to be a goldmine for birding as we encountered Common Flameback, Streak breasted Woodpecker, Glossy Starling, Thick billed Green Pigeon, Pink necked Green Pigeon and a few other birds.

The day came to an end at 5 PM and from there we headed back to Kok Kloy where Harry and Anita boarded the bus back towards Bangkok.

CONCLUSION

The trip was a success and we were pleased to have seen all the birds we set out to find. The heat was unbearable at times and birding was not easy but having a short list to work with helped to make things a little easier. Great Argus is a very difficult bird to see and being able to finally get that one in the bag was the realization of a lifelong dream.

A full list of birds seen will be posted, along with this report, under the Trip Reports tab in the near future.

Categories: Trip Report

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