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News and Information on Birding Sites Throughout Thailand and the Andaman

From the 3 -5 of March I accompanied Mark Hutchinson and Marian Buechert on a tour of two parks in southern Thailand.

With photographs and quality looks at our target birds being our main priority as opposed to a long list of lifers, we settled on visiting Sri Phang Nga and Khao Sok National Parks. We spent the first day at Sri Phang Nga and the last two at Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the northern sector of Khao Sok.

DAY 1: SRI PHANG NGA AND KLONG SAENG

After picking up Mark and Marian from their hotel we made our way north to Sri Phang Nga. Not wanting to spend too much time straining our eyes and necks at the numerous birds buzzing around the treetops, we dove straight onto the trail and headed for the pitta stakeout. Another group of birders were already there waiting for the star of the show to arrive.

At the stakeout we encountered Abbott’s Babbler, White rumped Shama and a Blue throated Flycatcher.

Not long after a single male Banded Pitta appeared and soon after that I spotted a female working her way down the nature trail and up the hill behind us.

After spending some time with the pitta we moved on to the stream where we encountered a single Chestnut naped Forktail. This was a real treat as two other birding teams which were in the area had missed seeing this bird.

On the way to the car we found a pair of Chestnut breasted Malkoha in a tree near the stream.

After a delicious lunch of northeastern cuisine we moved on to Baan Talad Yai bridge where we found two River Lapwing far in the distance along with Pacific Golden Plover, Red Wattled Lapwing, Little Heron, Little Cormorant, Common Sandpiper, Little ringed Plover and Common Greenshank.

With our twitch in the bag we moved on to Cheio Laan Lake where we met up with our boatman and began the 90-minute boat ride to Krai Sorn Floating Bungalows near Klong Saeng.

The lodge had a strict rule about not letting guests out to bird after sunset so we opted to stay on the boat until 7.30 PM before making it back to our accommodations. We visited a limestone cave near Klong Mon and ticked off species such as Osprey, White bellied Sea Eagle, Dusky Craig Martin, Rufous bellied Swallow and Red rumped Swallow.

A fig tree in season held a few treats for us such as Great Hornbill and Bushy crested Hornbill, both of which were trying to share dinner with a clan of Dusky Langurs.

Later that evening we stopped by the remains of Tum Jia station to see what was around. Our boatman yelled something at me and I turned around just in time to see the fleeting shape of a Bat Hawk torpedo by the station.

No owls were heard or seen and after a quick look around we headed back to the lodge and prepared for our next day out.

DAY 2: KLONG MON

Breakfast was served at 7 AM – a little late for birders but we weren’t twitching so we left the lodge at 7.30 AM, with plenty of light to allow us to photograph.

We first visited three fruiting trees and found all of them to be void of life. Along the way we passed a Lesser Fish Eagle and a subadult White bellied Sea Eagle.

Around Klong Mon we saw a Great Hornbill flying overhead and a Crested Serpent Eagle was seen rising with the thermals.

High in the sky we saw a Wreathed Hornbill and while we attempted to get better looks at it, something else caught our attention. It was flying high over the ridge and a second look at it confirmed it to be one of our target species: Helmeted Hornbill!

We sat on the boat and listened as the bird bellowed out its unique laughing call over the forest.

In front of Tum Jia we found two pairs of Oriental Hobby, both of which took to the skies to hunt as the sun continued its ascent into the heavens.

At the end of the stream we flushed out a Buffy Fish Owl which rounded a bend and disappeared into the forest. Two booming hoo calls bellowed out from the bamboo and after some search I was able to spot a beastly Spot bellied Eagle owl in the foliage. Before I could point them out to Mark and Marian the bird took to flight and melted into the dense jungle.

The dry bamboo was seeding and as luck would have it, two Pin tailed Parrotfinch showed up to eat their fill of the seeds. Just as we were about to photograph them, three Helmeted Hornbills flew overhead and we were left with the dilemma of choosing between the two very impressive birds.

We stayed around there until nearly noon before heading back to the lodge to swim, enjoy lunch and relax a bit before moving on to Klong Ya substation.

The hour-long boat ride to Klong Ya station yielded little due to the relentless heat. When things cooled down a bit a few birds started to show. Lesser Fish Eagle, Rufous bellied Eagle, Red Wattled Lapwing, Chinese Pond Heron and a horde of House Swift were seen around Klong Saeng.

The last bird of the day was a lovely Red bearded Bee Eater which was rearing young and took exceptional offense to another bird (playback) in its territory.

A young bull elephant was also seen feeding near the water’s edge on the way back to the lodge.

That evening we went out looking for Buffy Fish Owl but instead found Grey Nightjar and a female Sambar. Javan Frogmouth and Bay Owl were heard calling throughout the forest but none were seen.

DAY 3: KLONG YA

The forest at 6 AM is an amazing experience. The cacophony of calls and birds flying about from every direction is reminiscent of morning rush hour in a mega metropolis. The difference is this is absolutely enjoyable whereas traffic in a bustling city is loathing and stressful.

A steady stream of raptors passed by the back of the station, presumably heading from their sleeping accommodations in Klong Ya and heading to their feeding grounds in Klong Saeng. Across the lake I saw flocks of Great and Bushy Crested Hornbill off to find a fruiting tree for breakfast.

After we had breakfast we headed down Klong Ya, passing numerous Lesser Fish Eagles along the way. These birds are endangered throughout Thailand and finding so many of them always makes me happy.

Arriving at the heart of Klong Ya, we began our search for the rarest resident raptor in Thailand: the Grey Headed Fish Eagle. It didn’t take long before our boatman spotted a lone bird seated majestically on top of a lifeless tree in the middle of the water. The king was on his throne and we, the humble pheasants were as dust beneath his shadow.

The eagle had no concern for our presence and sat regal and stately while we snapped photos.

After that we headed around a small island to call on a party of White Crowned Hornbill which were heard calling from deep in the forest. As if on cue the birds flew overhead and showed themselves quite nicely, making it the sixth species of hornbill we encountered on the trip.

Further upstream I heard a kingfisher calling and upon investigating found a pair of Stork billed Kingfishers perched amongst the bamboo.

Further yet we continued, looking for more bird life as the mercury began to rise.

Up at a junction we found a massive Oriental Honey Buzzard in a tree. Spotting the bird was good as it alerted us to a pair of Black and Red Broadbills which were vocalizing nearby.

Other birds spotted around there included Olive backed and Ruby Cheeked Sunbird, White bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Magpie Robin and Osprey.

By 11 AM the sun was high in the sky and we decided it was time to bid farewell to the wilderness and make a reluctant return to civilization.

CONCLUSION

Numbers were not great on this trip but we weren’t focused on that. We managed to get six hornbill species including the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill. Of the raptors we found none was more fabulous than the Endangered Grey Headed Fish Eagle – and we managed to come away with stunning photographs of it. We also had a sampling of some other exciting species – one kingfisher, one broadbill and southern Thailand’s most wanted bee eater. -Not to mention an audience with the King of the Forest, the most beautiful of all pitta species in the country, the Banded Pitta.

I will have to admit we were truly blessed.

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