home about us blogs trips lifelists challenge photos in press links contact us
birds
mammals
reptiles
amphibians
dragonflies
     
our trips
 

...back to our trip reports

 
T H A I L A N D
 
     
26 December 2011 - 07 January 2012
 

   

Introduction:

Ask any keen world birder to list some of the top iconic species to see in the world and there is no doubt that an overwhelming majority of them will list the enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper in their Top 5. Even as a young child paging through international bird books, this charismatic little bird had caught our attention and was placed firmly on our “must see” list. A previous trip to Vietnam a few years ago was timed to target them, but we had come away empty-handed, so it was still a gaping hole on our list that needed to be filled. With the latest population estimates for this species putting them at less than 200 pairs left in the world, it was becoming a little more urgent than before to make a special effort to get to see it. A spate of regular sightings at a wintering ground near Bangkok in Thailand had been had over the last couple of years and this sparked the initial interest for the trip. It only took the merest of suggestions to our friends, Alvin and Flick Cope, to look at this trip and they were immediately on board. And so the planning began…

Overview:

Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only South-east Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. Roughly translated, Thailand is said to mean “Land of the Free” and is just over 513 000 m2 in area. It is bordered in the north by Burma on the north-west and Laos on north-east and also shares part of its eastern border with Cambodia. A long peninsula stretches down between the Andaman Sea in the west and the Gulf of Thailand in the east until it reaches the border with Malaysia in the south. With a total coastline of over 3 200 km, the lowest point is at sea level in the Gulf of Thailand whilst it rises up in the north to its highest elevation of 2 576 m above sea level at Doi Inthanon. For the most part, the climate is tropical ranging from cool temperatures at the higher elevations in the north through to hot and humid in the south. The total population of the country is estimated to be around 67 million people of which around 7 million of these call the capital city, Bangkok, home.

Birds:

With over 980 species recorded, the country certainly has a lot to offer the visiting birder. It is, however, surprising that there are no species considered to be endemic to the country. Of the two species previously labeled as endemics, the White-eyed River Martin is now thought to be extinct and Deignan’s Babbler is now considered conspecific with the more widely distributed Rufous-fronted Babbler. Thailand still has plenty of avian attractions and the regular wintering groups of Spoon-billed Sandpipers and the equally sought after Nordmann’s Greenshanks are certainly amongst them. Add to this a long list of mouth-watering and iconic Hornbills, Broadbills, Trogons and, of course, Pittas, and it has all the makings of a fantastic birding destination. Many of the birds are forest species which is, of course, not always easy birding but, for the most part, birding in the country is not difficult and the birds are typically not all that shy and skittish.

     
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Great Hornbill
     

Mammals:

Although South-east Asia is not known for its large numbers of mammals (compared to other parts of the world), Thailand still boasts a reasonable selection with over 260 species recorded for the country. Of these, 5 are considered to be endemic, namely Williamson’s Mouse-deer, Neill’s Rat, Fragile-tailed Mouse, Limestone Rat and a recently described species of Horseshoe Bat. Naturally, these species are extremely tough to see on a general trip, but one still gets to see a reasonable selection of mammals along the way. In most places, the larger iconic mammals are not easy to see but the primates and squirrels are particularly obvious in most parts of the country and a general wildlife trip will still bag a nice selection along the way.

     
Northern Treeshrew Indochinese Ground Squirrel
     

Our trip:

Through Facebook, we had “met” Peter Ericsson (pkknjj@yahoo.com) and were in regular contact with him watching the photos he was posting from his birding trips in Thailand. It was not until sometime later that we contacted Peter to ask him about the possibility of arranging a birding trip for us through the country. Unfortunately, due to several issues, our time in Thailand was not as long as we would have liked it to be, so this added pressure to our itinerary and also meant that we had to opt to leave out Khao Yai National Park since there just wasn’t time to fit it all in. We had also decided to “skip” the south of the country on this trip due to time constraints on the one hand and because we would prefer to come back at a later stage and target Gurney’s Pitta at the right time of the year. We always knew that we were going to be there at the wrong time of the year for certain species like the Pittas, but since we our timing was planned around getting Spoon-billed Sandpiper, that made up for it. We would be happy to come back in the future for a Pitta trip timed more appropriately.

After weeks of fine-tuning our itinerary to try and get the most of our time there, Peter then made all the arrangements for our tour including booking internal flights, accommodation, car hire, etc. which, for the most part, all went very smoothly. Accommodation was generally of a good standard and was always comfortable and clean, all one is really looking for when you are spending most of your time in the field.

In central Thailand, our transport was provided by Peter’s own Minivan whilst, in the north, a Mitsubishi Pajero was a more than adequate means of getting around. Food varied from place to place, but was generally quite tasty and provided in reasonable helpings. I tended to avoid the more spicy foods and stuck to the things I recognized, more of a personal preferance than anything else – I hate ending up with stomach issues on a birding trip!

The local currency, the Baht, was trading at around ZAR 1.00 = THB 3.80 at the time of our visit and, generally, we found most things in the country fairly inexpensive and quite affordable, especially considering the weak rate of our own local currency.

Our overall impressions of the country were of extremely friendly people in virtually all places that we visited. Most people that we communicated with could speak and understand some semblance of English and, where we hit linguistic barriers, Peter was there to assist with the translations. Driving on the roads, for the most part, was reasonably safe, although like in many other countries, there were also some madmen on the roads who did not understand the concept of courteous or safe driving. Most places were clean and there were only a few places that we went into, particularly one or two restaurants in the Bangkok area, where we felt that it was perhaps not quite up to the normal hygienic standards that we were used to. We felt safe throughout our trip and, not once, did we ever get the feeling that we were being ripped off because people realized that we were tourists. Overall, we found Thailand a very pleasant country to travel around in…

   
Our group from left to right: Trevor, Margaret, Flick and Alvin Our guide, Peter Ericsson, with Alvin
   
Our transport in Central Thailand Our transport in Northern Thailand
     

Daily account:

26 December 2011

After our long flight from Cape Town via Johannesburg and Singapore, we eventually arrived in Bangkok at around lunch time. For once, everything went smoothly and all our luggage arrived at the same time as we did! After clearing passport control, we headed out into the public side of the airport to try and find our hotel transfer. This proved to be a little more challenging than we originally anticipated with loads of people bustling around and no obvious signboard with our names on it! Eventually, Flick managed to find our ride and, before long, we were heading out of the airport on our way to our hotel.

We had booked ourselves into a hotel not far from the airport called Plai Garden (www.plaigarden.com) which was also convenient for Peter to collect us the following day. It was comfortable enough and clean which I suppose was most important, but it wasn’t exactly in the most pristine of natural settings. After booking in, we just relaxed for a while and stood on our balcony watching for anything flying past. Overhead, mixed flocks of Asian Palm and House Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows wheeled around whilst a small group of Asian Openbills glided past. It was at this point that Margaret decided that a cup of coffee was needed and plugged our travelling element that we had brought with into our universal adaptor and then into the power supply in the room. What she hadn’t taken into account was that the fuse in the universal adaptor wasn’t rated to boil water through the element and it blew, leaving us without a universal adaptor on the very first day of our trip! Fortunately, we were able to resolve this issue the next day, so it was not a major train smash...

Later in the afternoon, we decided to take a walk in the area and reacquaint ourselves with some of the common South-east Asian species. We quickly found things like Olive-backed Sunbird, Peaceful Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Oriental Magpie Robin, Great Myna and Asian Brown Flycatcher, whilst further looking also revealed Black-naped Monarch, Scaly-breasted Munia, Yellow-browed Warbler, Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias and Streak-eared Bulbul. We also managed to find some small wetlands not too far away from our hotel where there were a number of Pond Herons (unable to identify them to species when they are in winter plumage!), Yellow Bittern, Bronze-winged Jacana and a couple of species of egret along with a Black-browed Reed Warbler in some reedbeds.

By now, it was already starting to get dark, so we headed back to the hotel and had an early dinner there before hitting the sack in preparation of our first full day of birding tomorrow.

   
The sign says it all... Plai Garden Hotel
   
Our room at the hotel The view from our balcony
   
Typical streetscape Typical streetscape
   

27 December 2011

Up early this morning and we had met up with Peter and were on our way just after 5am. After a quick stop to pick up some breakfast and a cup of coffee at a local shop, we headed out to our first stop. Bang Poo is a small resort on the coast where we would be stopping for just a short while to pick up a few species that we were unlikely to encounter elsewhere on our route. It was just starting to get light as we got out of the car and very quickly we were ticking off a number of common species like Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers, Little Cormorant, Whiskered Tern, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls and good numbers of unidentified winter plumaged Pond Herons again. Brahminy Kites and Eastern Jungle Crows flew overhead whilst Yellow-vented Bulbuls were active in the mangroves.

Before too long, it was time to move on and we all piled back into the vehicle and headed off through the back streets to a gem of a birding spot that we would never have found ourselves! Muang Boran fish ponds is a series of large ponds situated within the middle of a suburban area and, once we had parked in amongst the houses, I looked around and wondered what we were doing here. We set off down a little path and suddenly, the area opened up and there were just birds everywhere! We spent the next few hours working the area raking in a good number of species. On the water itself, we enjoyed the likes of Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Indian and Little Cormorants, White-browed and Ruddy-breasted Crakes, White-breasted Waterhen, Yellow and Black Bittern and White-winged Tern whilst, along the edges, the reedbeds and scrub was dripping with birds. Plaintive Cuckoo, Pied Fantail, Scaly-breasted Munia, Striated Grassbird, Oriental Reed Warbler, Asian Koel, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Black-naped Oriole and Long-tailed and Brown Shrikes all worked their way on to our lists whilst White-throated and Common Kingfishers were also enjoyed. Grey-headed Lapwing, Asian Pied Starling, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martin and Germain’s Swiftlet were also seen before, eventually, it was time to pull ourselves away from this little oasis.

We then headed south for a little while and eventually arrived at a little fishing settlement around lunch time. After having lunch at an informal eatery, we got on to a small boat and headed out to a sand spit at Lam Pak Bhia. Along the route, we were hoping to encounter Chinese Egret, but thorough checking of every bird we saw only turned up Great and Little Egrets. After eventually arriving at the sand spit, we clambered out of the boat with our scopes and began searching the area for a couple of target species. A large gull and tern roost held mostly Brown-headed Gulls although there was a single Lesser Black-backed and Vega Gull in with them. The terns were mostly Swift Terns, although a handful of Caspians and Commons were also present. Pacific Reef Herons were also found and, then, eventually, the first of our main targets, Malaysian Plover. A handful of these birds were running around on the sand spit and we managed to get reasonable views of them in amongst numbers of Kentish Plovers and Sanderlings mostly. We had one more target here, “White-faced Plover”, a bird that is not officially a species as yet. Currently, its taxonomic standing is really unknown. It was only discovered a few years ago for the first time and has been thrown in with Kentish Plover for now, but this will possibly change in the future, so it was one of those armchair ticks that one wanted to bag. It took a lot of scanning through large flocks of roosting plovers, but eventually, Trevor was able to pick one out in a distant group. We were unfortunately not able to get really close to it for decent photographic opportunities, but had great views through the scope of this potentially new species. So far, things were going our way.

Once back on the main land, we headed over to Pak Thale Salt Pans where our first stop quickly yielded Red-necked, Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints and Little Ringed Plover, but we had bigger fish to fry (so to speak) and, since the light was now fading fast, we wound our way through the small tracks between the pans and eventually stopped, piled out the car, and then walked a little further. We were just following behind Peter and didn’t really know how far we had to go, but eventually, he just stopped, set up his scope and within 30 seconds, we heard him utter “Got one!”. Shivers went down my spine as I realised what we were about to see... I eased up to the scope, looked through it and found myself faced with 5 small stint-sized waders all facing away from me. Nervousness set it and, after what seemed like an eternity, the middle bird turned around to face me and show off a fantastic little spatulate-shaped bill. The main reason for the entire trip and a bird I have wanted to see my whole life, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, had been bagged on the very first birding day of our trip!! I stood there taking it all in and eventually tore myself away from the scope giving the others a chance to enjoy it as well. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face...!

Eventually, it had gotten too dark, so we headed off to get some dinner at a local restaurant and, after this, went quickly to The King’s Project, a series of small ponds and mangrove swamps. Upon reaching the gate, the guard was a little confused as to why we wanted to enter this place after dark, but after lots of conversation between him and Peter, we were eventually allowed in. Our target here was Indian Nightjar and it didn’t take us too long to find two of these birds roosting on a causeway between two ponds – the last lifer of the day.

After that, it was time to head to our accommodation at the White Beach Resort (www.hotelscombined.com/Hotel/White_Beach_Resort_Phetchaburi.htm) where we booked in and then had a couple of celebratory drinks before hitting the sack. The accommodation was very nice, but like most places on our birding trips, we didn’t get to actually spend too much time there...:)

     
Habitat at Muang Boran fish ponds Habitat at Muang Boran fish ponds
   
Habitat at Muang Boran fish ponds Habitat at Muang Boran fish ponds
   
Birding at Muang Boran fish ponds Birding at Muang Boran fish ponds
   
Sitting down for lunch Lunch is served
   
Heading out on the boat Approaching the sandspit
   
View of the sandspit View of the sandspit
   
Scanning for our targets Trevor searching for White-faced Plover
   
Margaret photographing anything that moves Flick takes aim
   
Our skipper sets us on our way back Heading back to the mainland
   
Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the bag! Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the bag!
   
The sign says it all... Our unit at White Beach Resort
   
Our accommodation Our accommodation
   

28 December 2011

Up early again this morning, we were heading back to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper spot to see if we could find it again and hopefully get some photos of it in the early morning light. Arriving at the site as the sun was rising, it was clear that this was a wader haven. Spotted Redshank, Red-necked Stint, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Sanderling, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits, Red-necked Phalaropes and, of course, our quarry, Spoon-billed Sandpiper! For a wader enthusiast, this was absolute heaven! We spent some time trying to get as close as possible to these birds which was not easy considering one was stalking them on open causeways in between salt pans. However, we managed to get close enough for some shots and a couple of hours disappeared very quickly without us even noticing it. The only distraction during the entire time spent there was when Peter managed to slip and fall into some mud, covering his shoes and pants in it. Fortunately, he had managed to keep the scope and camera clear of it, so all was not lost...:)

With a bit of luck on our side, we also managed to find a single Nordmann’s Greenshank here, but it didn’t hang around for too long. We then moved off to another part of the Pak Thale Salt Pans where they were actually processing salt and found a high tide roost in one of the pans with several hundred birds in it, mostly Grey Plovers and Red and Great Knots, but there were at least 20 Nordmann’s Greenshanks in this group as well, so once again, it was attempting a bit of stealth to get close enough to them for some record shots before the entire flock took off and left us. Other birds encountered in this area included Peregrine Falcon, Red Turtle Dove, the gorgeous Painted Stork as well as Brown Shrikes dotted all over the place. We also paid a quick visit to the local visitor information centre where there are lots of signboards up detailing the many species of migratory birds that visit the area as well as specific highlighted information on everyone's main target there, Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

From here, we headed back to The King’s Project and it was good to finally see it during the day. Some of the ponds were dry, but those that had water and muddy edges held Common and Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common and Pin-tailed Snipes and Ruddy-breasted Crake whilst working through the mangrove swamps added things like Golden-bellied Gerygone, Greater Coucal and Slaty-breasted Rail amongst others. An Eastern Marsh Harrier soaring over the area was a nice surprise and we also spent some time attempting to photograph the many Germain’s Swiftlets flying around the area. There were also some incredibly large Water Monitors in the area, our first reptiles of the trip.

One last stop at another site at the Pak Thale Salt Pans produced Long-toed and Temminck’s Stints, Kentish Plover, Pacific Golden Plover and Common Redshank whilst in the surrounding areas, we enjoyed Green Bee-eater, Collared Kingfisher, Indochinese Bush Lark and our first Garden Lizards of the trip.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we then began the long drive westwards towards our overnight stop, the only distraction along the way being a small group of Long-tailed Macaques on the side of the road. Late in the afternoon, we eventually reached Bahn Song Nok, a private property close to Kaeng Krachan National Park. The property is situated within some incredible forest and the lady who lives here has been putting out food for the birds for several years already. They have also now put up some screens that one can sit behind and photograph the birds from and they have even set up a couple of cameras there, so that you can sit at the main reception area and watch the TV screens to see what is sitting in front of the hide!

Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day at this spot and were totally amazed at all the birds coming in to feed there, some of which would have been rather tough to catch up with elsewhere! Hundreds of photos were taken as well as we enjoyed the likes of Green-legged Partridge, Siberian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Blue, Chinese Blue and Taiga Flycatchers, Black-naped Monarch, Pale-legged and Yellow-browed Warblers, Puff-throated and Abbott’s Babblers, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-crested, Streak-eared and Stripe-throated Bulbuls and Pin-striped Tit-babbler. Besides the birds, the area was also regularly visited by mammals and, over the course of a few hours, we saw Western Striped, Grey-bellied and Indochinese Ground Squirrels as well we the totally bizarre Northern Treeshrew, one of the most exciting mammals of the trip for me personally.

It was finally time to pull ourselves away from this feast and head off to book ourselves in at Baan Maka Chalets (www.baanmaka.com) where we would be spending the next few nights. Once again, the accommodation was quite clean and comfortable and we were greeted by a number of Spiny-tailed House Geckos running around on our walls. Dinner was at the local restaurant on the grounds and then it was off to bed for another busy day ahead of us.

     
The sun rises over Pak Thale Salt Pans Pak Thale Salt Pans
   
Birding at the salt pans Birding at the salt pans
   
Trevor photographing Spoon-billed Sandpiper Alvin and Flick enjoying all the lifers
   
Sign at the Visitor Information Centre Sign at the Visitor Information Centre
   
Sign at the Visitor Information Centre It was obvious what we were here for!
   
Salt being processed Salt being processed
   
Habitat at The King's Project Habitat at The King's Project
   
Birding in mangrove swamps at The King's Project Birding in mangrove swamps at The King's Project
   
Our accommodation at Baan Maka Chalets Our accommodation at Baan Maka Chalets
   
The restaurant at Baan Maka Chalets The restaurant at Baan Maka Chalets
   

29 December 2011

This morning, we headed back to Bahn Song Nok to see what else we could find. Our early morning vigil produced a number of species that we had seen and photographed yesterday including Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Puff-throated Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-babbler and several Bulbul species whilst we also enjoyed the likes of new species like Bar-backed Partridge, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Banded Bay Cuckoo, White-bellied Erpornis and Racket-tailed Treepie. All the time, the cameras were clicking away and this is almost certainly the area that produced the most species photographed on the entire trip! Throughout the morning right until lunch time, we staked out the area also enjoying Golden-fronted Leafbird, Common Flameback and then, the two major pheasant highlights, Red Junglefowl and Kalij Pheasant.

After a hearty lunch enjoyed at Bahn Song Nok, we eventually decided to move our attention elsewhere and headed for Kaeng Krachan National Park. This is the largest national park in Thailand created as recently as 1981 and protects large tracts of rain forest. Initially, the forests were quiet, but as we worked our way along some of the roads in the central part of the reserve, we slowly started adding more species to our list. We watched as Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters used the same perch to hunt insects whilst also enjoying the likes of Oriental Pied Hornbill, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Bronzed Drongo, Sultan Tit, Blue Whistling Thrush, Blue-eared Barbet and Heart-spotted Woodpecker whilst a small wetland area held Little and Great Egrets and Chinese Pond Herons. We also had great views of a small group of Dusky Langurs which entertained us no end. Eventually, we had to pull ourselves away and head back to Baan Maka Chalets where we would spend another evening. We were also fortunate to find an Asian Grass Frog here this evening, one of our only frog species actually seen on the trip.

     
Entrance area to Bahn Song Nok We knew we were in the right place...
   
Enjoying a meal at Bahn Song Nok Our hostess at Bahn Song Nok
   
View from the hide at Bahn Song Nok Food is put out for the birds
   
Inside the bird hide Getting ready to start photographing
   
Margaret photographing at Bahn Song Nok Trevor and Alvin photographing at Bahn Song Nok
   
Habitat at Kaeng Krachan National Park Habitat at Kaeng Krachan National Park
   
Birding at Kaeng Krachan National Park Birding at Kaeng Krachan National Park
   

30 December 2011

Up early this morning and we’re on the road without even having breakfast. We head back to Kaeng Krachan National Park with the intention to get up to the high elevations of the reserve. This reserve has an interesting scenario in that the road is only a one way road from the mid levels up to the higher elevations and changes traffic direction every 3 hours. There is also an enormous amount of traffic this morning heading up and Peter tells us that it is very popular amongst the local people to head up to the top in the mornings and watch the sun rise. It seems that half of Thailand wants to watch the sun rise this morning, but we plug on and, eventually we reach the top area of the reserve.

At the top, there is a small restaurant and shop and the parking area here was bustling with people, so apart from a few Mountain Imperial Pigeons and a Blue Rock Thrush sitting on the roof, there was not too much else to be seen here. We headed off on a path to an even higher area where there was an old house, well more of a mansion than just a house. As it turns out, this was actually the holiday residence of the Royalty although it seems that these days, it is hardly used. Birding soon started to pick up with one of the first birds being the incredible Great Hornbill, a species I had longed to see since I was a young kid, so what a way to start the day! This is definitely one of the iconic species of the world and one that I don’t suppose you could ever get tired of!

The next few hours in this area produced a whole host of new species for us including Blue-winged Leafbird, Radde’s Warbler, Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and Hair-crested and Ashy Drongos while overhead, a mixed flock of Pacific Swifts, Brown-throated Needletails and Asian House Martines wheeled by. We were also treated to the constant songs of parties of White-handed Gibbons and, eventually, we got a view of one swinging through the tree tops across the valley. As we moved around in this area, we also added Vernal Hanging Parrot, the incredible Great Barbet, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Streaked Spiderhunter, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Black-throated Sunbird.

Our next stop had us walking down a path where we came across a huge fruiting tree which was riddled with Barbets and we pretty soon managed to pick out Blue-throated, Blue-eared, Golden-throated and Red-throated Barbets in amongst the activity. Other new species in this area included Dark-sided Flycatcher, Himalayan Swiftlet, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter and Hill Blue Flycatcher whilst a Black Giant Squirrel was also an incredible creature to watch.

A late lunch was had back at the restaurant with frequent distractions including Besra, Grey Treepie, Olive-backed Pipit and Flavescent Bulbul as well as a number of other species already seen earlier. One of the staple meals of the Thai people appears to be a fried egg on a bed of rice and, pretty soon, this also became our staple meal of the trip! Although there were always other options available, one didn't always know what you would be getting, so rather go with something you recognised! And, besides, it was always very tasty anyway! After lunch, we still had to wait quite some time before having the road re-open in the direction that we needed to go, so we headed off down the hill to see what we could find. Good species included Ashy Bulbul, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler and Grey-chinned, Swinhoe’s and Rosy Minivets while we also managed to find our only sightings of Banded Langurs here.

Eventually, it was time to head back down and we made our way back to our last night at Baan Maka Chalets.

     
View from the top of Kaeng Krachan National Park Habitat at the top of Kaeng Krachan National Park
   
Birding at the top of Kaeng Krachan National Park Alvin and Flick enjoying the walk
   
Alvin ever hopeful of spotting something in those tangles Map of the area (which we couldn't understand...!)
   
Plans are discussed over lunch A fairly typical meal of egg and rice
   
Birding while waiting for the road to re-open Trying to squeeze out one more lifer for the day
   

31 December 2011

The last day of the year and, after a good breakfast, we packed up and checked out heading towards Khao Look Chang, an area of dry forest and woodland. There was also a rehabilitation centre here for mammals, in particular White-handed Gibbons which had been found injured or had been taken away from people who were keeping them as pets. The sound that emanated from this area was simply incredible and one has not truly experienced the splendour of a South-east Asian forest until you have heard Gibbons singing – it is just totally amazing!

Birds were initially slow to come along, but early additions included Ashy Woodswallow, Greater Coucal, Red-wattled Lapwing, Thick-billed Warbler and Coppersmith Barbet as we wondered around the rehabilitation centre. As we moved into the woodland proper, we were greeted with the likes of Yellow-browed Warbler, Purple and Olive-backed Sunbirds, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Common Tailorbird, Indian Roller and Red-breasted Parakeets. We were hoping to catch up with Black-headed Woodpecker, but unfortunately, this was not to be and we eventually had to leave without it...

It was then time to start making our way back to Bangkok. We had one more stop en-route in some agricultural lands where we hoped to pick up Plain-backed Sparrow, but again, we dipped out on this target. However, the area did produce Asian Golden Weaver, Scaly-breasted Munia, Brahminy Kite, Brown Shrike, Asian Pied Starling, Red-throated Pipit and Greater Spotted Eagle.

From there, it was back to Peter’s house in Bangkok where we dropped off his vehicle and then caught a couple of taxis through to the airport. The airport was incredibly busy, especially for New Year’s Eve and, through all the commotion, we eventually realised that Margaret had not been given a boarding pass even although she had managed to get all the way through to the final boarding gate. Fortunately, Air Asia were very helpful and, before long, she had one in her hands and at least we now knew that we were all going to be flying together...:)

The plane that we were on was brand spanking new and probably had done very few flights already. When we boarded it, there was still that new smell from the leather seats, something we have never experienced on a plane before! We enjoyed the flight of just over an hour and eventually touched down in Chiang Mai late in the afternoon. After some initial confusion with our hire car booking, we were eventually given a Mitsubishi Pajero and off we set for the 3 hour drive to our accommodation at the Garden Home Nature Resort (www.thatonaccommodation.com) The accommodation was very nice with each of us having our own chalet and, after some dinner where we could also enjoy all the fireworks starting to go off, we were soon hitting the sack after a long day. The New Years celebrations continued long into the night, but we never got to see much of it being totally worn out after our long travels today.

     
Entrance to Khao Look Chang Sign at Rehabilitation Centre
   
Rehabilitation Centre Rehabilitation Centre
   
Woodland habitat at Khao Look Chang Birding the woodland habitat
   
Agricultural area closer to Bangkok Agricultural area closer to Bangkok
   
Catching a taxi to the airport We seem to be going in the right direction
   
Bangkok airport Trevor enjoying the smell of new leather on the plane
   
Flying into Chiang Mai Chaing Mai airport
   
Our accommodation at Garden Home Nature Resort Our accommodation at Garden Home Nature Resort
   
The group enjoying some drinks after a long day Dinner is served
   

01 January 2012

Up early this morning and, after breakfast, we headed up towards Doi Lang, a mountain outside of town. Our first stop in an area of open agricultural lands had us adding Grey-faced and Rufous-winged Buzzards to our list whilst a pipit sitting on top of a dead tree in the mist had us a little confused at first until we got the scope out and confirmed it as an Olive-backed Pipit.

Heading up to the top of the mountain, we stopped at a camp site where there were a number of people present, many of them bird photographers. Pacific Swifts whizzed by overhead as we began to look around. A number of feeding stations had been set up and, over the course of the next few hours, we enjoyed staking these out and photographing what came in to feed. The list of birds was fantastic including Large Niltava, Dark-backed Sibia, Himalayan Bluetail, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Spectacled Barwing, Scarlet-faced Liocichla and Silver-eared Laughingthrush amongst many others. We eventually dragged ourselves away from this area and stopped at another site where Peter thought we had a good chance of getting White-gorgetted Flycatcher. It didn’t take long for one to show itself, another great bird in the bag.

Heading as close to the summit as possible, the habitat changed to slightly more open bracken-type vegetation and here we enjoyed Chestnut-flanked and Japanese White-eyes, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Buff-throated Warbler, Maroon Oriole and a stunning Black Eagle soaring by. We then headed to another site on the mountain and spent the next few hours working the area turning up Crested Finchbill, Golden Babbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-backed Sibia, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and Large Cuckoo-shrike.

Back to our original photographic spot from this morning and we once again joined in the crowds photographing the birds coming to the feeding stations. At one point, a young kid who was also getting into his photography actually took his chair and went and sat slap bang in front of the entire crowd that was photographing at the feeding station much to the chagrin of everyone else. After much moaning, he eventually moved out of the way, but it was quite a funny situation to see...:)

On our way back to our accommodation, we stopped again in the agricultural lands and picked up Black Bushchat and Oriental Magpie Robin whilst Grey-breasted Prinia, Oriental Turtle Dove, Shikra and Cook’s Swift were also nice additions to our ever growing list. Dinner was at the restaurant back at the Garden Home Nature Resort after another successful day in the field.

     
Agricultural area on the way up to Doi Lang Flick investigates the area
   
Habitat at Doi Lang Habitat at Doi Lang
   
Habitat at the summit Habitat at the summit
   
Habitat at Doi Lang Photographers everywhere...
   
Getting ready to photograph another bird... ...and the kid goes right in front!
   

02 January 2012

After an early breakfast and packing up and checking out, we headed out into some farmland areas close to town. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, it was very misty and visibility was right down, so we had to wait quite a while before the sun burnt the mist off and the birds became active. Over the course of the next few hours, we worked our way around some fields and temporary wetland areas picking up things like White, Grey, Eastern Yellow and Citrine Wagtails, Common and Pin-tailed Snipes, Black-collared Starling, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Bushchat, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Long-tailed Shrike, White-breasted Waterhen and Chestnut-capped Babbler. Another spot that we tried added Grey-breasted Prinia, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and a few swallows, but not much else.

Before noon, we headed south towards Fang where we had one of our only cultural stops on the trip when we stopped at Wat Jong Paen, a temple in the northern section of the town. These temples are quite something with many statues, rich colours and very interesting architecture with a Burmese style multi-roofed wihan (an assembly hall not demarcated by boundary stones).

We then took the long drive across to Doi Ankhang arriving at where we thought we would be spending the night only to find out that our booking was actually for the following night...! What a stuff up! Now we didn’t have any place to stay and being at this time of the year, everything else was already fully booked. We had lunch at the place and enjoyed a few birds in the area like Grey Bush Chat and White-capped Water Redstart before looking at a few other sites. The additions came extremely slowly today and all we added through the rest of the day was Hill Prinia, Common Kestrel and Eastern Buzzard. Fortunately, we had managed to get another night back at the Garden Home Nature Resort, so we drove all the way back there for the evening, a rather disappointing day overall.

     
Agricultural lands in the mist The mist eventually starts to burn off...
   
Agricultural lands that we were birding in Agricultural lands that we were birding in
   
Wat Jong Paen Wat Jong Paen
   
Wat Jong Paen Wat Jong Paen
   
Wat Jong Paen Wat Jong Paen
   
Habitat at Doi Ankhang Birding at Doi Ankhang
   

03 January 2012

Up very early this morning to begin the long drive back to Doi Ankhang, we eventually got up the mountain before the sun had really started to hit the area properly yet. Birding was tough at first and species were hard to come by, but we enjoyed the likes of White-headed Bulbul, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, Striated Bulbul, White-browed Laughingthrush and White-throated Fantail amongst others through the course of the morning.

A stop at a site right on the border with Burma had us looking across the fence into that country and the military presence on both sides of the fence was quite impressed, almost as if one of them was just waiting for the other to set a foot wrong. It was quite interesting birding amongst the soldiers here, but we still managed to find things like Buff-throated and Yellow-streaked Warblers, Little Bunting and Daurian Redstart. There is also a Hill Tribe that lives in this area and they had a bit of a craft market here selling all the various goods. Naturally, we took a few minutes out (well, actually a bit longer than that!) to go through the market and buy a few souveniers.

We then visited another site where we hung around for a little while hoping to photograph a few species and came away with White-tailed Robin, Oriental Magpie Robin and Bronzed Drongo.

Lunch was at a lovely restaurant overlooking some fantastic formal gardens and, on the way out, we managed to find a couple of Japanese Tits singing in a tree right at the entrance.

Then it was time to hit the road again for a long drive south back to Chiang Mai and then out to Doi Inthanon. We arrived quite late at our accommodation, Inthanon Highland Resort (www.inthanonhighlandresort.com). What a lovely place set amongst trees on the banks of a small lake, truly the nicest place that we had stayed in so far on our trip. A bit of late afternoon birding did not yield terribly much, but we had a great dinner at the restaurant and hit the sack early ready for another great day tomorrow.

     
Trevor and Alvin at the Thailand - Burma border Margaret at the Thailand - Burma border
   
Local Hill Tribe people Preparing work for the craft market
   
Craft market Craft market
   
Craft market Flick getting duped into another sale
   
Entrance to our lunchtime restaurant Wandering around the formal gardens
   
Inthanon Highland Resort Inthanon Highland Resort
   
Our room at the Inthanon Highland Resort View from our room
   
Time to relax after another long day And catch up on the lists before dinner
   

04 January 2012

Up early this morning, we headed up to Doi Inthanon National Park and got to the second gate while it was still dark. The idea was that apparently, with all the insects that feed around the lights at night, it becomes a bit of a feast for the birds at first light, so we eagerly awaited the onslaught. However, there was hardly any insect activity at all around the lights and there had also been quite a lot of building work happening in the area recently, so our waiting, we soon realised, was a fruitless exercise with only a single Blue Whistling Thrush seen near the gate.

As it started to get a little lighter, we walked slowly up the road and could hear the birds starting to get going. Pretty soon, we could start to make out some birds and, before long, we were enjoying the likes of Yunnan Fulvetta, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-browed Fantail, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Flavescent and Black-crested Bulbuls and Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon amongst others.

We then made our way up to the top of Doi Inthanon to arrive to a misty and rather cold situation. Whilst we enjoyed the likes of Green-tailed Sunbird, Bar-throated Minla and Silver-eared Laughingthrush, we eventually had to go and get some coffee at the little shop there to try and warm ourselves up. We then took a walk along the boardwalk around the bog hoping to find a few new species there but, with all the people there, it was relatively quiet producing some of the species already mentioned along with Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Warblers and Rufous-winged Fulvetta.

We decided to try and get away from the crowds, so made our way down to the jeep track lower down on the mountain. Fortunately, it was fairly quiet here and a walk into the forest eventually produced good views of a Slaty-bellied Tesia after much frustration. A little bit further along, we came across a very active bird party which we stayed with for quite a while adding things like Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Maroon Oriole, Small Niltava and a plethora of warblers including Davison’s, Sulphur-breasted and Chestnut-crowned Warblers.

Lunch was at Mr Chaeng’s place, apparently a well known spot on the mountain. He has set up a couple of feeders in his garden for birds which are welcome distractions during meals and the highlights here included an Asian Stubtail and an immature White-browed Shortwing.

The afternoon stint was spent along a river and waterfall in some forest which seemed to be the chosen camping spot for a whole group of school children. Again, the human activity had probably affected the bird activity, but we still enjoyed the likes of White and Grey Wagtails, White-capped Water and Plumbeous Redstarts and Slaty-backed Forktail. Then it was off to our final spot for the day, a small wetland near the park headquarters where we were going to try for Black-tailed Crake. We initially sat and waited and there was nothing. We waited some more and still nothing. Peter played the call and there was an immediate response from the reeds, but still no birds were visible. We had just about given up on this one when Alvin spotted a bird walking out along the edge of the reedbed. We then changed position and sat down quietly waiting. And, before long, we had the bird walking out in the open right in front of us. Awesome!! A great end to the day.

     
The sign says it all... Waiting at the lights
   
The welcome coffee shop in the cold Map showing the trails in the area
   
Habitat on the boardwalk around the bog We were apparently in the right place...
   
Birding on the boardwalk around the bog Birding on the boardwalk around the bog
   
Habitat along the Jeep Track Lunch at Mr Chaeng's place
   
Birding at the waterfall Black-tailed Crake habitat
   

05 January 2011

This morning, after an early breakfast, we made our way to a site in the town hoping to catch some Blossom-headed Parakeets as they came in to feed from their overnight roost. Initially, it was quiet with just the odd Eastern Jungle Crow and Black Drongo, but soon, we heard the screeching of the Parakeets and, eventually, a large flock of them flew in and landed right in front of us! These gorgeous birds were a really welcome addition to the list and we watched them for a while before they moved off again.

We then headed up back to the mountain stopping at a little river crossing along the way where we were fortunate to pick up a Black-backed Forktail along with a small party of Scarlet Minivets. All the way to the top again where scrub around the parking area delivered a Common Rosefinch and mixed flocks of Green-tailed and Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds whilst a Blue-fronted Redstart perched on a fence between us and some military compound. When the bird flew off into the compound, I don’t think it helped that we were standing at the fence staring into their property with binoculars and cameras...:)

Behind the small coffee shop, we found a pair of Rufous-throated Partridges and then, a walk on the boardwalk around the bog turned up most of the same species as yesterday with the addition of a Dark-sided Thrush which snuck around in the undergrowth. The Pygmy Wren-babbler continued to frustrate us calling all the time, but just not showing itself...! We also did the tourist thing standing and being photographed under the sign for the highest point in Thailand.

Our next stop had nothing to do with birding, but was a cultural stop. We decided to spend a short while at the The Great Holy Relics Pagoda of Nobhamethanidol-Nabhapolbhumisiri which was constructed by the Thai Air Force and Thai people on the occasion of King Bhumibol’s 5th cycle birthday in 1987 and Queen Sirikit’s 5th cycle birthday in 1992 respectively. The Buddha’s relics are kept inside the Nobhamethanidol pagoda. On the outside, the two pagodas feature beautiful tiled murals – the whole thing was really quite impressive to see.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the accommodation to pack up and check out while enjoying Asian Palm Swift and Greenish Warbler around our chalet. After a quick lunch there, we drove back to Chiang Mai and booked on to our flight back to Bangkok.

Arriving back in Bangkok, it was time to say good-bye to Peter which meant it was essentially the end of our birding on the trip. We caught a taxi to our hotel, the Montien Riverside (www.montien.com) which was, undoubtedly, the most luxurious accommodation of our entire trip! After arranging a taxi for our trip the following morning and grabbing a bite to eat, it was time to hit the sack.

     
We seem to be on the right track Alvin and Flick check their photos of the Parakeets
   
Trevor and Margaret at the highest point in Thailand Looking into a military compound for a bird
   
The Great Holy Relics Pagoda The Great Holy Relics Pagoda
   
The Great Holy Relics Pagoda The Great Holy Relics Pagoda
   
Flick and Margaret admiring the tiled murals This sign is obviously not for the tourists
   
Our room at the Montien Riverside Hotel Our room at the Montien Riverside Hotel
   

06 January 2012

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we met up with our taxi driver who would be taking us out to Bangpakong where we would be doing a trip to try and see Irrawaddy Dolphins. These are actually quite a rare species which move into the Gulf of Thailand and up into the larger rivers in the area at this time of year, so we were quite keen to catch up with them. The first problem, of course, was that our taxi driver got us totally lost and it took us close to 1,5 hours before we eventually found the place that we had to be at...!

Bad news when we arrived there was that they had not seen the dolphins now for 7 days, so our chances were not looking good. Nevertheless, we decided to head out on the trip anyway to see what we could find. We spent the next few hours criss-crossing the bay enjoying the Brown-headed Gulls, Great and Little Egrets and Little and Indian Cormorants, but unfortunately, there was no dolphins to be seen anywhere!

One little consolation prize though was that we were able to stop off at a large colony of Asian Openbills which also had a few Black-crowned Night Herons and Indian Cormorants breeding in it to enjoy the spectacle. Apart from a couple of birds over our hotel on the first afternoon of our trip, this was the only other time we had seen them, so we really enjoyed the close encounters with these birds.

It was then back to our hotel for some lunch and enjoying a Variable Squirrel in the garden before heading off for a bit of tourist stuff in the afternoon. We climbed on to a river taxi and set off down the Chao Phraya River, the main river that runs through Bangkok going passed Wat Arun and eventually arriving at Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. We spent the rest of the afternoon here taking it all in. With the huge golden reclining Buddha and the intricately adorned buildings, there was certainly loads to see here.

     
The launching area for our dolphin trip The boat we were using
   
Getting ready to head out Searching for Irrawaddy Dolphins
   
Asian Openbill colony Walking around in the colony
   
Bangkok water taxi Flick and Alvin on the water taxi
   
Bangkok riverscape Bangkok riverscape
   
Margaret photographing the sights Wat Arun
   
Wat Pho Wat Pho
   
Wat Pho Wat Pho
   
Reclining Buddha Monks at the Reclining Buddha
   
Margaret and Alvin admiring the Reclining Buddha Ornate temple walls
   
Wat Pho Wat Pho
   

07 January 2012

Our last morning in Bangkok this morning, so it was spent wandering around town, taking a ride on a motorbike taxi and spending time in various shops buying souveniers, books, etc. It was, unfortunately, then time to head towards the airport and start with our long trip back home towards Cape Town...

     
Trevor and Margaret enjoying the taxi ride Trevor and Margaret enjoying the taxi ride
   
Bangkok airport Bangkok airport
   

Conclusion:

Although we were pushed for time and were also there at the wrong time of the year for certain species, we still managed to do fairly well in terms of the species that we saw and the overall trip list and came back with the main target of the trip, Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It was perhaps disappointing that we never got to visit Khao Yai National Park, but we really just didn’t have enough time. And it is a good excuse to go back sometime again. Given that we never touched on the southern part of the country and will definitely have to plan to visit again to try for Gurney’s Pitta which is only in the south, we will definitely be planning a return trip at some stage to this wonderful country. Please click on the link below to see our full trip list as well as links to photos of many of them.

Link to full list of species recorded on the trip