THAILAND BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Bangkok, from where we will drive southwestwards to the shores of the Gulf of Thailand at Pak Thale, an area of marshy pools, mangroves, mudflats, shrimp-ponds and saltpans.
The numbers and diversity of wintering waders from northern Asia makes a visit to this area an exciting experience. Best of all, the rare Spoon-billed Sandpiper has begun wintering in this area in recent years and it is quite possible to see up to five or more of these bizarre little waders here. Our second main quarry will be the rare Nordmann’s Greenshank, an endangered species whose world population is estimated to be just 1000 birds. Nordmann’s Greenshank breeds in the remote forest bogs of northern Sakhalin island and on the adjacent shores of the bleak Sea of Okhotsk and winters or migrates through scattered sites across southern Asia, this being one of the most accessible and reliable. Great Knot is regularly present and we also have a good chance of picking up the rare Asian Dowitcher, which migrates through the Gulf of Thailand at this time of year.
More numerous and widespread species include Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed, Kentish, Greater Sand, Mongolian, Grey (or Black-bellied) and Pacific Golden Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh, Wood, Common, Terek, Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Greenshank, Common and Spotted Redshanks, and Red-necked, Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints.
Amongst the other species we are likely to see in this area, or during our journey today, are Little Cormorant, Little, Great, Intermediate and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Grey, Purple and Striated (or Little) Herons, Chinese and Javan Pond Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-shouldered and Brahminy Kites, Slaty-breasted Rail, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Brown-headed Gull, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Spotted, Peaceful and Red Collared Doves, Asian Koel, Asian Palm-Swift, House Swift, Common, Black-capped and Collared Kingfishers, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Barn Swallow, Streak-eared and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie-Robin (the emblem of the Bangkok Bird Club), Siberian Stonechat, Golden-bellied Gerygone (this sole Asian representative of an otherwise Australo-Papuan family inhabits the mangrove scrubland), Plain Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Oriental Reed and Dusky Warblers, Pied Fantail, Asian Pied and Black-collared Starlings, Common and White-vented Mynas, Black Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Eastern Jungle Crow (split from Large-billed), Olive-backed Sunbird and Eurasian Tree and Plain-backed Sparrows. We will spend the night at nearby Had Chao Samran.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 2 This morning we will again visit Pak Tale and later Laem Pak Bia, an area consisting of mangrove creeks, saltpans and a sandy spit, where we should find roosting Greater Crested, Lesser Crested, Caspian, Common and Little Terns, and a number of wintering Heuglin’s Gulls (of the interesting form taimyrensis, which may represent a hybrid population with Vega Gull). With luck we will find a Pallas’s (or Great Black-headed) or a Black-tailed Gull as well. The two most exciting species here are the increasingly rare Malaysian Plover and ‘White-faced Plover’, which may represent a distinct species that differs subtly in appearance from Kentish Plover. We may also see Pacific Reef Egret, Eurasian Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit.
From Pak Thale we continue on our way to Kaeng Krachan National Park for a three nights stay and we shall stop and examine some roadside paddies and marshes where we might well find White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Paddyfield Pipit and Brown Shrike. Vinous-breasted Starling is also possible.
Thailand Birding Tour: Days 3-4 Kaeng Krachan National Park is situated on the eastern side of the remote Tenasserim mountain range near the Burmese border. The National Park was established in 1981, after a visit to the area by the King of Thailand, and is the largest in the country, over 3000 square kilometres (1158 square miles) in extent, encompassing a wide range of forest habitats and possessing the richest forest avifauna in the entire country.
We will concentrate mainly on the impressive evergreen forest, which is bisected by a road some 36 kilometres (22 miles) long which enables us to gain easy access and enjoy some tremendous scenic views. In the early morning, we will try to find fruiting trees where pigeons, barbets, bulbuls and leafbirds come to feed. The sound of swan-like wing beats will alert us to Wreathed Hornbills passing overhead, while flashes of scarlet and gold against a blue sky materialize into a flock of delicate Scarlet Minivets. Brown-backed Needletails zip over the canopy at breathtaking speed whilst a plaintive cry echoes across the forest as a Crested Serpent Eagle soars high into the air.
Deep in the forest we will creep silently through the tangle of vegetation, dwarfed by the immense trees that tower above us. A flash of colour in this green world may signal an Orange-breasted or Red-headed Trogon swooping up onto a low branch. We will listen carefully for a scuffling amongst the dead leaves on the forest floor that might lead us to any of the shyer but regularly observed ground-dwelling specialities such as the Kalij Pheasant, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Bar-backed and Scaly-breasted Partridges, Blue Pitta and Large Scimitar Babbler. Other exciting specialities also occur here and in particular we shall be looking out for Southern Brown (or Rufous-cheeked) Hornbill and Ratchet-tailed Treepie (only relatively recently discovered here, far to the west of its known range). By checking the dead trees we should find Bay Woodpecker and the impressive Great Slaty Woodpecker, while Collared Babblers (split from White-hooded) utter their harsh chattering from the dense bamboo. Gorgeous Blue-bearded Bee-eaters and Banded Kingfishers add to the attractions of this amazing park.
Amongst the many other birds which we may well encounter during our stay here are Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzard, Rufous-bellied and Black Eagles, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Red Junglefowl, Red-wattled Lapwing, Emerald Dove, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Vernal Hanging-Parrot (whose appearance is heralded by its scratchy ‘see-sip’ flight note), Plaintive and Drongo Cuckoos, Green-billed and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Greater Coucal, Spotted, Asian Barred and Collared Owlets, Large-tailed Nightjar, Fork-tailed (or Pacific) Swift, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Oriental Pied Hornbill, the impressive Great Hornbill, Great, Green-eared, Red-throated, Golden-throated, Blue-throated, Moustached and Blue-eared Barbets, Greater Yellownape, Streak-breasted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, and Common and Greater Flamebacks.
Passerines include Dusky, Banded, Silver-breasted and gorgeous Long-tailed Broadbills (all of which build suspended nests, sometimes over a road), Striated Swallow, the smart Forest Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Large Woodshrike, Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, Ashy and Rosy Minivets, Common and Great Ioras, Greater Green and Blue-winged Leafbirds, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-crested, Stripe-throated, Flavescent, Ochraceous, Buff-vented, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, White-rumped Shama, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Radde’s, Yellow-browed and Yellow-bellied Warblers, Plain-tailed Warbler (split from Golden-spectacled), Dark-sided, Asian Brown, Verditer, Red-throated (or Taiga, split from Red-breasted) and Hill Blue Flycatchers, the skulking Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Buff-breasted, Puff-throated, Rufous-fronted and Spot-necked Babblers, Striped Tit-Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Ashy, Bronzed, Hair-crested, Lesser Racket-tailed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-naped Oriole, Common Green Magpie, Grey and Racket-tailed Treepies, Sultan Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Ashy Woodswallow, Crimson Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, Everett’s White-eye, and White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias.
We should also see a few of the more uncommon denizens of Kaeng Krachan, which include Bar-backed Partridge, Great Eared Nightjar, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Swinhoe’s (or Brown-rumped) and Grey-chinned Minivets, Lesser Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes, the charismatic Crested Jay, Fire-breasted (or Buff-bellied) Flowerpecker and Spectacled Spiderhunter. If we are in luck, we will come across one or two of the rarer or most elusive specialities of the area, which include Ferruginous Partridge, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, White-fronted Scops Owl, the rare Plain-pouched Hornbill, Bamboo Woodpecker, the extraordinary Eared Pitta, the remarkable but rare Giant Pitta, and the equally elusive Rusty-naped Pitta.
Mammals are quite conspicuous by Southeast Asian standards and we should see White-handed Gibbon, Dusky Leaf Monkey and Black Giant Squirrel, and perhaps Indian (or Asian) Elephant.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 5 Today we will head for Khao Yai National Park, where we will spend the next three nights. As we skirt Bangkok en route, we will stop at some marshy areas to look for Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Bronze-winged Jacana and Asian Golden and Baya Weavers. Afterwards the journey takes us through cultivated lowlands northeast of Bangkok where duck herders tend their huge flocks on roadside pools. We will keep a lookout for Asian Openbill along the way. As we approach Khao Yai the fields give way to scrub and then to tall evergreen forest as we approach the hills, where we will visit a site for the localized Limestone Wren-Babbler.
Thailand Birding Tour: Days 6-7 Khao Yai National Park protects an extensive area of forested mountains and open grassland in central Thailand, Walking the trails of Khao Yai is an unforgettable experience. Here the forest giants are quite stupendous: supported by huge buttress roots, some tower over 70m above ground level and even the average canopy height is some 50m. In areas where the forest floor is open one has the feeling of being inside some vast natural cathedral. Strangler figs entwine the trunks, vines and creepers hang down from the branches and brilliantly coloured butterflies flash through shafts of sunlight filtering down through the green canopy above. The incessant ‘took-arrook’ of barbets and the whine of giant cicadas is broken from time to time by the whooping cries of a troop of White-handed Gibbons. From time to time a faint twittering heralds the approach of a mixed feeding flock of anything up to a dozen or more bird species.
During our visit to Khao Yai we will be concentrating on a number of specialities that are easier here than at Kaeng Krachan, or not found at that locality. Along the trails that penetrate deep inside the forest we have a good chance of encountering a Banded Kingfisher perched quietly on a branch and a fair probability of coming across a Blue Pitta bounding along a path. We shall also spend some time watching the forest edge as Siamese Firebacks regularly venture out onto the roads in the early morning (as occasionally do Silver Pheasants), and we also have a fair chance of encountering the shy and much sought-after Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo.
Grassy clearings hold Bright-capped Cisticolas, while streams and waterfalls harbour White-crowned Forktails (and occasionally even the uncommon Blue-eared Kingfisher). Other birds we are likely to encounter during our visit include Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Puff-throated and Grey-eyed Bulbuls, Abbott’s Babbler, the vociferous White-crested Laughingthrush, White-bellied Yuhina, Pale-legged Leaf and Sulphur-breasted Warblers, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Hill Myna, Plain Flowerpecker and Oriental White-eye.
We should also find two or three of the more uncommon or elusive species, which include Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Black-and-buff Woodpecker, the handsome Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Orange-headed Thrush, the handsome White-throated Rock Thrush, Golden-crested Myna, and Thick-billed and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers.
As so often in Southeast Asia, mammals are not conspicuous but we may well see Sambar, Indian Muntjac, Pigtail Macaque and Black Giant Squirrel, whilst if we are lucky we will come across Indian Elephant. As the light fades Brown Boobooks emerge from cover.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 8 Today we will return to Bangkok and catch an afternoon flight to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. From here we drive to our lodge near the small market town of Chiang Dao for a two nights stay.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 9 Doi Chiang Dao is a magnificent massif vaulting abruptly out of neatly cultivated plains. These northern mountains and plains have a different avifauna from the rest of Thailand since many Palearctic and Himalayan species are near the southern limit of their distribution in this region. At lower altitudes the habitat is mostly rather degraded mixed deciduous woodland, broken by fields, orchards and extensive stands of bamboo; but we will be concentrating our efforts higher, along motorable roads and tracks that allow access to the submontane evergreen forest, stands of massive pines and some rather open swathes of former cultivation, grassland and scrub that are found between the residual patches of montane forest. This particular mountain has recently been found to hold some of Thailand’s rarest birds. The two best known are undoubtedly the shy Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, which haunts the tree-dotted slopes around the uppermost guard-station, and the impressive Giant Nuthatch, as big as a medium-sized woodpecker, which we should find high over our heads in the crown of a big pine, clambering along a lichen-encrusted branch.
Other species that we should find here include Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Himalayan Swiftlet, the elegant Crested Treeswift, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Asian House Martin, Large Cuckooshrike, Long-tailed Minivet, Sooty-headed, Mountain and Black Bulbuls, Maroon and Slender-billed Orioles, Grey Treepie, Grey Tit (split from Great), Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Striated Yuhina, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Grey-breasted and Rufescent Prinias, Aberrant Bush Warbler, Davison’s Leaf (split from White-tailed Leaf) and Hume’s Leaf Warblers, Grey and Pied Bushchats, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Slaty-backed, Little Pied and Pale Blue Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Grey-backed and Burmese Shrikes, Black-throated Sunbird, Common Rosefinch and Chestnut Bunting. Less frequently observed species include Grey-faced Buzzard, Lesser Yellownape, Ashy Bulbul, Slaty-backed Forktail, Chestnut-flanked and Japanese White-eyes, and Crested Bunting.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 10 After a final morning’s birding at Chiang Dao we will drive the relatively short distance to Doi Ang Khang for a two nights stay, arriving in time for some initial exploration.
The rugged frontier range known as Doi Ang Khang, a fascinating, but largely deforested place, is inhabited by descendants of Chinese nationalists who fled China during the communist revolution and by hill people belonging to the Black Lahu tribe. The area is now only partially cultivated (there used to be a thriving opium-poppy-growing industry here) and it shares a distinctive scenery and avifauna with the Shan States of adjacent Burma. Here we will be concentrating on some species that have a very restricted distribution, extending from north Thailand into Burma and China, including Crested Finchbill, Brown-breasted Bulbul, White-browed Laughingthrush and Buff-throated Warbler. Another much sought-after bird of the area is the Mountain Bamboo Partridge, which occasionally ventures onto the tracks in the early mornings.
Other species regularly encountered here include Mountain Hawk-Eagle, the diminutive Speckled Piculet, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Striated Bulbul, Silver-eared Mesia, Dark-backed Sibia (renamed from Black-headed following the splitting off of the more northerly populations as H. desgodinsi), the delightful little Slaty-bellied Tesia, Hill Prinia and Mountain Tailorbird, while we also have a chance for White-browed Piculet, Daurian Redstart, the skulking White-tailed Robin and, with a lot of luck, the rare Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 11 From Doi Ang Kang we will travel further along the mountainous ridge bordering Burma, to the Doi Lang area. This rich birding area has only recently become accessible, and allows us chances for a number of species only known, in Thailand, from this remote corner. There are patches of forest on the steep hillsides and here we have a second chance for Mrs Hume’s Pheasant and Giant Nuthatch. The bird list for the area is growing steadily and we may find Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Himalayan Cutia, Whiskered Yuhina, Grey-headed Parrotbill, the gorgeous Scarlet-faced Liocichla (split from Red-faced), Spectacled Barwing, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Hume’s (or Manipur) Treecreeper, Black-throated Bushtit, White-bellied Redstart, White-gorgeted, Rufous-gorgeted, Sapphire and Slaty-backed Flycatchers, Davison’s Leaf Warbler (split from White-tailed Leaf), Asian Stubtail, Chestnut-headed Tesia and Spot-winged Grosbeak. In colder winters further north, migrant thrushes appear here and these could include Chestnut and Black-breasted Thrushes, or Grey-winged Blackbird. There are also possibilities for Rusty-naped Pitta, Spot-breasted and Red-tailed Laughingthrushes, and even a roosting Hodgson’s Frogmouth.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 12 After a final morning at Doi Ang Khang we will drop down from the cool of the hills into the lowlands and make our way to Thaton, a small town on the Kok river where it flows out of Burma, for an overnight stay. We will spend the night in a pleasant lodge overlooking the river, beneath the gaze of a large golden Buddha perched above us on the hillside. Here we will explore some rather open areas of agricultural land at the confluence of the Kok and Fang rivers where we will have an opportunity to look for species typical of the marshy plains and rice-stubble fields at this season including Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, Grey-headed Lapwing, Temminck’s Stint, Pintail Snipe, Australasian Bush Lark, Citrine Wagtail, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Striated Grassbird, Siberian Rubythroat, Bluethroat and Brown Shrike. Less regularly observed species include Barred Buttonquail, Oriental Skylark, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Black-faced Bunting and the nowadays very uncommon Yellow-breasted Bunting.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 13 After some final birding in northernmost Thailand we will return to Chiang Mai in order to visit the Royal Project area at Huai Hong Khrai, where a healthy population of Green Peafowl has been discovered. Much persecuted over most of their range, they have thrived here in recent years in the secondary forest that surrounds the small man-made lakes. Other species we could find here are Lesser Whistling Duck and Rufous-winged Buzzard. Later we will continue to Chom Thong, a small market town situated in agricultural land at the base of Doi Inthanon, for a four nights stay.
Thailand Birding Tour: Days 14-16 Doi Inthanon National Park is a large reserve protecting the forests of Doi Inthanon (2565m), Thailand’s highest mountain. The birdlife of this great mountain changes dramatically as one ascends from low to high altitudes. In the lower zones the avifauna has a close similarity to that of Doi Chiang Dao, but at higher levels it is subtly different in character and this divergence increases nearer to the summit. Species that we will concentrate upon will be those characteristic of higher altitudes together with some scarcer ones that occur only at lower levels.
At the summit of Doi Inthanon, where a sphagnum bog is surrounded by rhododendron trees draped in hanging moss and decorated with beautiful orchids and epiphytes, we should encounter some species found in Thailand only at the highest altitudes. Here the delightful Pygmy Wren-Babbler bounces along fallen logs, colourful Chestnut-tailed Minlas and Rufous-winged Fulvettas search for insects on the lichen encrusted trees, Silver-eared Laughingthrushes (split from Chestnut-crowned), White-browed Shortwings and Himalayan Red-flanked Bluetails patrol the edges of the bog, the shy Dark-sided Thrush digs into the damp leaf litter with its huge bill, Ashy-throated Warblers and Snowy-browed Flycatchers flick through the undergrowth, Yellow-bellied Fantails forage below the canopy and jewel-like Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds (and rarely Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers) visit the deep red rhododendron flowers. If we are lucky we will come across one or two of the shyer or more uncommon inhabitants of the summit, which include Rufous-throated Partridge, Ashy Wood Pigeon, Scaly Thrush and Yellow-browed Tit.
The huge trees of the montane evergreen forest stretch away from the road in great sylvan swathes. Here, Large Niltavas utter their haunting notes from dark recesses, while high in the trees Vivid Niltavas perch quietly. As we creep along tracks cut through this green wonderland, loose flocks of babblers and other birds will appear around us from time to time, with Grey-throated Babblers, Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babblers and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas mixing with Chestnut-crowned and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers and handsome Yellow-cheeked Tits. In more open areas, or along the forest edge, we may find Short-billed Minivet, Spectacled Barwing and Rufous-backed Sibia, while closely scrutinizing fruiting trees is a must as Speckled Woodpigeons and Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons feed in the canopy (although both can be hard to find). If we are very lucky we will bump into the secretive Black-tailed Crake or a small flock of shy White-necked Laughingthrushes or a group of Grey-breasted (split from Black-throated) Parrotbills. This is the prime season for trying to find the elusive Purple and Green Cochoas, as they tend to be more vocal at this time of year and thus give themselves away notwithstanding their tendency to sit motionless in the canopy. We have a fair chance of seeing Green Cochoa on the tour, but we will be hoping for a ‘double-whammy’! Other species in this zone include the retiring White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Niltava and the restricted-range Hume’s (or Manipur) Treecreeper (split from Brown-throated), while there is also a slim chance for Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler.
Lower down we will find that man has laid his hand heavily on the mountain, but amongst the scrubby edges, grassy areas and cultivation we may find the striking and very localized White-headed Bulbul. Still lower on the mountain, rushing streams and beautiful waterfalls are home to the shy Black-backed Forktail and bold Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts.
Around the foot of the mountain the vegetation changes to great stands of dry deciduous woodland that covers the low ridges. Here we will find a selection of birds that is very different from the avifauna of the dark evergreen forest higher up. Mornings resound with the calls of Lineated Barbets, while uncommon White-bellied and Black-headed Woodpeckers can be found alongside Common Flameback. Lively calls from the treetops betray the presence of Black-hooded Orioles, Golden-fronted Leafbirds and Common Woodshrikes, and sometimes even Blossom-headed Parakeets, while other species found here include Coppersmith Barbet, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Burmese (or Neglected) Nuthatch (split from Chestnut-bellied) and the scarce Spot-breasted Woodpecker (split from Fulvous-breasted). Chinese Francolin occurs in the area but is much more often heard than seen. As the day heats up raptors take to the wing and we should see Collared Falconet and the striking Black Baza, and probably Rufous-winged Buzzard, but we will count ourselves very fortunate if we encounter the rare White-rumped Falcon.
The influx of winter visitors varies considerably from year to year, but we should see Eyebrowed Thrush and possibly a rarity such as Chestnut Thrush or Grey-sided Thrush.
Our accommodation is situated in very pleasant surroundings right at the foot of the mountain and here we should find Asian Barred and Spotted Owlets, Rufous Treepie and Purple Sunbird.
Thailand Birding Tour: Day 17 Today we will return to Chiang Mai and catch a flight to Bangkok where the tour ends in the late morning.
SOUTHERN THAILAND EXTENSION
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 1 From Bangkok we will fly southwards to Krabi in Peninsular Thailand for an overnight stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 2 This morning we will take a boat trip amongst the creeks, mudflats and mangrove forests near Krabi. Enormous limestone crags crowned with trees rise vertically above the mangroves as our boat throbs gently up the channels. Huge Brown-winged Kingfishers perch conspicuously on overhanging branches whilst giving their manic chattering laughs. This species is very localized, being confined to the shores of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea from Bangladesh south to the Malay Peninsula. Lured deeper into the mangroves, we will listen for the whistles of the Ruddy Kingfisher, a bird of wide distribution but always hard to see, and we should also hear the loud calls of the colourful Mangrove Pitta and eventually catch sight of a flash of blue as it sweeps up onto a perch to call. Although superficially like a Blue-winged Pitta, it has a large bill adapted to catching crabs and is a true mangrove specialist. We may also encounter White-chested Babbler, a waterside species that hops in pairs noisily along the banks of the creeks.
Other birds that we should find amongst the mangroves include White-bellied Sea Eagle, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Dusky Crag Martin, Ashy Tailorbird, Mangrove Whistler and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird. With a bit of luck we will also find the endangered Chinese Egret, which winters here in very small numbers, and Streak-breasted Woodpecker. Crab-eating Macaques are also present in this interesting habitat.
Areas of coastal scrub, open country and woodland hold Blue-throated Bee-eater, Pacific Swallow, Asian Glossy Starling, Brown-throated Sunbird and a few winter visitors from northern Asia, such as Arctic Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher and perhaps Tiger Shrike. We may also come across Crow-billed Drongo, a scarce winter visitor from Burma and the Indian subcontinent. In the afternoon we will drive to Khao Noi Chuchi adjacent to Khao Pra Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary for a two nights stay, arriving in time for some initial exploration.
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 3 Khao Pra Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1987 to protect the remaining lowland rainforest habitat where the endangered Gurney’s Pitta was rediscovered in 1986 after having ‘gone missing’ for some 50 years.
This area has a rich avifauna which includes many of Thailand’s lowland rainforest specialities, although many of the larger frugivores have now disappeared. As is usual in forests in the Malaysian Region, birding here can be slow at times, with birds apparently thin on the ground and hard to see. The sounds of the forest are the best clue as to what is about. The incessant calls of barbets, the chattering of bulbuls and the loud clear whistles of babblers all betray these birds’ presence long before we see them. At times a deafening electronic whine blots out the other sounds as a forest cicada gets into its stride. Gorgeous butterflies dart along the edge of the trails as we walk along, brightly coloured lizards race across the ground and sometimes a green and yellow tree snake, thin as a finger, glides through the branches overhead.
Khao Pra Bang Khram hosts some notable specialities that can be hard to find elsewhere, including the hulking Red-crowned Barbet which is another lowland forest specialist, and the rather localized Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Great Iora and Thick-billed Spiderhunter.
The lovely Malayan Banded Pitta is regularly seen here, and for those visiting on our tours in late March and early April, newly-arrived Hooded and Blue-winged Pittas may be calling. Blue-winged Pittas favour the scrubby areas on the forests’ edge. They are, however, rather shy, and so we may have to be content with the sight of this rather large pitta flying at speed with unerring accuracy through the tangled thickets. The widespread Hooded Pitta tends to be easier to get good views of. Sadly Gurney’s Pitta now appears to be extinct in Thailand, although the species survives in southern Burma (Myanmar).
There are also a good many more widely distributed species, which we may well see here or at Si Phang Nga National Park, including Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Germain’s Swiftlet, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Gold-whiskered Barbet (much easier to hear than see), the stunning Green Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Black-headed, Olive-winged, Cream-vented, Spectacled, Grey-cheeked, Yellow-bellied and Hairy-backed Bulbuls, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Ferruginous, Short-tailed, Black-capped, Moustached, Scaly-crowned, Chestnut-rumped and Chestnut-winged Babblers, Large Wren-Babbler, Black Magpie, Purple-naped Sunbird, Yellow-breasted and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, Little and Grey-breasted Spiderhunters. and White-rumped and White-bellied Munias.
We will also see a number of the scarcer inhabitants of the region, which include Chinese Goshawk (a migrant through the area at this season), Black-bellied, Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas, Moustached and Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoos, Indian Cuckoo, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Rufous Piculet, Crimson-winged and Orange-backed Woodpeckers, Lesser Cuckoo-Shrike, Puff-backed, Red-eyed and Streaked Bulbuls, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Streaked Wren-Babbler, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Dark-throated Oriole, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.
At this time of year some winter visitors from northern Asia should still be present, including Eastern Crowned Warbler and the gorgeous Yellow-rumped Flycatcher.
We will also have a chance to look for nightbirds. Spotted Wood Owl may be found at a daytime roost and, well after dark, Javan Frogmouth, perhaps the most tolerant and widespread of the Asian frogmouths, is often to be heard and sometimes to be seen at the forest edge or around plantations. If we are in luck we will also find a Gould’s Frogmouth.
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 4 After some early morning birding at Khao Pra Bang Khram we will drive northwards for about three hours to Phang Nga for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of Si Phang Nga National Park.
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 5 Si Phang Nga National Park is a jewel of a reserve set among the forested hills that run parallel with the coast of the Andaman Sea, and is part of a larger forest block that includes Khao Sok National Park. The park has an exciting range of Sundaic birds that are easily accessed along a small trail network that leads to several small waterfalls.
The forests here are the haunt of Malayan Banded Pittas that now regularly come to visit bird photographers’ feeding stations, and so we have an excellent chance of seeing this most colourful of pittas very well during our visit. Also frequenting this area are Hooded Pittas, and in the winter months we have a chance to see the little known Large Blue Flycatcher that has recently been discovered wintering here.
Among the large trees covering the slopes of the hills we can encounter a range of hornbills that may include Helmeted, Bushy-crested and White-crowned Hornbills, while along the jungle streams we may find Chestnut-naped Forktail, plus Black-backed and Blue-banded Kingfishers. We may hear Great Argus calling from distant ridges, though we would count ourselves very fortunate to see one of these shy pheasants. Overhead we might find a soaring Rufous-bellied Eagle, along with Silver-rumped Spinetail and the superb Whiskered Treeswift. Around nectar rich flowers we might find Red-throated Sunbird. Other birds regularly found here include Siberian Blue Robin and Grey-bellied Bulbul, while scarcer possibilities include Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Buff-necked and Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, and Scaly-breasted Bulbul. We also have a second opportunity to catch up with many of the birds mentioned for Khao Pra Bang Khram. After dark, we will have more chances for Blyth’s and Gould’s Frogmouths if need be.
Thailand Birding Tour (Far South): Day 6 After a last morning at Si Phang Nga we will drive to Phuket airport, where the extension ends in the late afternoon.