From 11th January to 4th February 2014 I spent time with Nick Bray and his Zoothera group on a birding tour of central and northern Thailand. We all have high hopes when starting a birding trip but all those who have been bird watching for some time will know that it is not always easy to find the species that make the trip a success. With this in mind it was very pleasing that things came together well for this trip and we found a large number of excellent birds as well as enjoying spending a lot of time photographing many species close up at the many stakeouts around the country. Indeed, it was enjoyable for all to study many birds at length and to see them at close range as well as enjoying a lot of good food and a lot of laughs along the way.
I will talk about the birding and mammal highlights of the trip here;
Laem Pak Bia/Pak Thale
Probably the most anticipated bird of most trips to Thailand is Spoon-billed Sandpiper and we ensured that everybody saw this species. Other highlights at this location included Nordmann’s Greenshank, Chinese Egret, Asian Dowitcher, Far Eastern Curlew, Mangrove Whistler, Slaty-breasted Rail, Malaysian Plover, White-faced Plover, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Phalarope, Pallas’s Gull, Black-tailed Gull & Spot-billed Pelican. We also benefited from two new species for Thailand having been recently found in the area – Bay-backed Shrike and Collared Pratincole. The latter we refound after it had not been seen for a few weeks nor had it been previously confirmed!
Petchaburi Rice Fields
This area is full of birds and quite under-visited on birding trips of this nature. We all enjoyed the open-country birding as a break from the difficult forest birding and found some really nice birds too; Steppe Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Cinnamon Bittern, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Stork-billed Kingfisher and Black Bittern.
Anyone who has been to Kaeng Krachan will know what a huge range of species there are to see at the location. These people will also know that it can be really difficult to find many of them and it is very hard to predict which ones will be seen in any visit due to many of the species being at the limits of their range. Probably our most exciting bird was a female Naumann’s Thrush which we found in the Youth Camp area, with just a handful of records for Thailand this was a highly significant sighting. Although we got the news out quickly others who came to twitch the bird were mostly unlucky. Other highlights were; Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Kalij Pheasant, Grey Peacock Pheasant, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Black-and-red Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Merlin, Ratchet-tailed Treepie & Rufous-browed Flycatcher.
Sometimes the over-crowding, bad attitude of the park staff, bad food and difficulty of finding birds can mean that Khao Yai is often the low point of many trips. However, this year was a good one at Khao Yai and we found many excellent birds including the male Mugimaki Flycatcher and White-throated Rock thrush that have been loyal to the same spot for some years now. Silver Pheasant, Siamese Fireback, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Blue Pitta, Austen’s Brown Hornbill, Banded Broadbill, Banded Kingfisher, Great Eared Nightjar, Grey Nightjar, Black-throated Laughingthrush, Red-headed Trogon were all very memorable species.
This national park has some of the most beautiful forest in Thailand, in my opinion, so it is always a pleasure to visit. The summit is particularly nice and we all enjoyed the colourful birds that are always a feature there and were happy to find a good number of really excellent species up and down the mountain including Black-tailed Crake, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Small Niltava, White-browed Shortwing, Eurasian Woodcock, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Rufous-throated Partridge, Black-backed Forktail, Slaty-backed Forktail, Slaty-bellied Tesia and Silver-eared Mesia.
Doi Ang Kang
We spent only a short time at this picturesque site just because nearby Doi Lang is so much better. Still, we enjoyed many great birds at photo stakeouts including a wonderful male Grey-winged Blackbird and a male Daurian Redstart at the Ban Nor Lae army camp where everyone enjoyed staring out across no-man’s-land to Myanmar. Other highlights in our short time here included Black-breasted Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava, White-tailed Robin, White-capped Water Redstart and a pair of Hume’s Pheasants which we enjoyed watching by the side of the road until a fast car came along and nearly hit them! Fortunately the pheasants escaped with their lives.
This mountain is becoming the jewel in the crown of northern Thailand birding with a variety of habitats and lots of superb species that are found in few other places in Thailand. The fantastic photo stakeouts gave us unbelievable views of many skulking birds and everyone enjoyed taking photos of them. The weather this year was unusually cold and this made bird activity very high throughout the day making for some great birding.
Highlights were many; Himalayan Cutia, Giant Nuthatch, Black-headed Greenfinch, Golden Bush Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-browed Laughingthrush, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler, Eyebrowed Thrush, Chestnut Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-gorgetted Flyctahcer, White-gorgetted Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker & Blue-fronted Redstart.
Thatorn Rice Fields
An afternoon at this location was very productive in that we found Thailand’s second Chiffchaff in some thorny vegetation in an irrigation ditch. This bird was seen well by some and heard to call back to playback confirming its identification. A very obligin male Siberian Rubythroat was also seen along with Citrine Wagtail and a juvenile Pied Harrier.
This location had not been on our itinerary but as a Baer’s Pochard was know to be present we decided to try and find it considering that this species is now critically endangered and probably rarer than Spoon-billed Sandpiper. At the banks of the Mekong we found that rampant habitat destruction meant that the river here is now sterile although we saw some flyover Small Pratincoles and a nice male Red Avadavat. Highlights of the day included Baer’s Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Long-tailed Duck, Ferrugious Pochard, Pied Harrier & Striated Grassbird.
Our trip was also quite exceptional for mammal sightings. A couple of elephants at Khao Yai were popular but one of my favourites was the herd of Gaur seen at Kaeng Krachan. An Asiatic Black Bear was seen by most at Khao Yai and Black Leopard by a few at Kaeng Krachan. Other interesting mammals were Malayan Porcupine, Yellow-throated Marten, White-handed Gibbon, Slow Loris, Golden Jackal, Phayre’s Langur, Lesser Mouse Deer and Lyle’s Flying Fox.