Having had a very enjoyable tour of the North the Zootherabirding group and I moved on to the central leg of the tour in mid February. Visiting Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi, Khao Yai, Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia, Petchaburi Rice Fields and Kaeng Krachan National Park turned up a wide variety of exciting species from wetlands, forest and open-country. Spoon-billed Sandpiper would have been top of most people’s favourites list but species such as Great Slaty Woodpecker, Black-and-red Broadbill, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Slender-billed Gull, Black-naped Tern, Grey Peacock Pheasant, White-browed Crake, Asian Golden Weaver, Banded Kingfisher and many others made this a very successful trip. Read on for a summary of this section of the trip and a selection of photographs.Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi
We started the central section of our tour with a morning visit to the well-known residence of Limestone Wren Babbler at Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi. Strong gusts of wind made things very difficult at first but as the sun crept into the temple area the Wren Babblers began to be active on the sunlit rocks giving us excellent views of them foraging for snails. An unexpected bonus was a very obliging White-throated Rockthrush which posed for ages allowing us to take its photo.
We spent a little more time in the temple enjoying the scenery and seeing a few common species including Coppersmith Barbet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Iora and Zebra Dove before moving on the Khao Yai National Park.
Khao Yai National Park
This busy site is far from my favourite location but despite the crowds, the bad food, the miserable park staff we still keep finding good birds there. Once again birding was very slow and quite frustrating at times but one by one we found some nice species. Red-headed Trogon, White-crested Laughingthrush, Laced Woodpecker, Moustached Barbet, Black-throated Laughingthrush were all nice birds, not to be seen at other sites, but a male Great Hornbill feeding his mate in a nest hole was one of the early highlights of the visit.
Looking for Pheasants took up a fair bit of our time but we were rewarded with a nice sighting of 2 male and 6 female Silver Pheasants crossing the road at the Khao Khieo viewpoint coffee shop.
We checked the traditional stakeout behind the toilets at Pha Gluai Mai campsite but there was only a White-rumped Shama there and local guides told me that there was no Orange-headed Thrush or anything else there. Quite a surprise. However, we managed to catch up with the birds we were hoping for there somewhere else – Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush and Blue Pitta.
Although things generally were quiet we were treated to a spectacular display at dusk by 4 Great Eared Nightjars and on our last morning birding along the road to Haew Narok was good with Sultan Tit, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Blue-winged Leafbird, Orange-breasted Trogon and a remarkably tame Violet Cuckoo that was performing for a small crowd of photographers.
Petchaburi Rice Fields
This location always supplies loads of birds and it was a nice place to visit as a break from forest birding. A couple of afternoon visits to this area gave us some exciting sightings; Greater Spotted Eagle, Stork-billed Kingfisher, all three species of Weavers, including Asian Golden Weaver in breeding plumage, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker which amazingly responded to call playback in the middle of the day, White-browed Crake, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Oriental Darter and at least one Glossy Ibis – something of a minor rarity in this area.
The rice fields were also a good place to get sightings of a few skulking birds such as Oriental Reed Warbler, Chestnut-capped Babbler and Black-browed Reed Warbler.
Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia
With the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper as the ultimate prize this is always one of the most anticipated days of the tour and as usual it did not disappoint. Although it took a little time to find them we enjoyed great views of two Spoon-billed Sandpipers after picking out several Far Eastern Curlews from the flock of Eurasian Curlews and a couple of Nordmann’s Greenshank. Numbers of birds were amazing and the variety was excellent too with Great Knot, Lesser Sand Plover, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Red Knot, Red-necked Stint, Kentish Plover, Long-toed Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and many egrets and terns too. We also spotted a Slender-billed Gull among the Brown-headed Gulls.
We completed the set of rare shorebirds with Asian Dowitcher later in the day alongside a couple more Nordmann’s Greenshank before our boat trip to the sand spit.
This enjoyable boat trip is always a success and we had great views of both Malaysian and White-faced Plovers in breeding plumage as well as this close-up encounter with Chinese Egret. An adult Pallas’s Gull in almost full breeding plumage was great too and there was a surprise for us in the shape of 3 Black-naped Terns, the first time I have seen this species at this particular location.
Although shorebirds are always the main focus here there is a lot more besides and we also enjoyed sightings of Oriental Skylark, Indochinese Bushlark, Indian Nightjar and a couple of Thai rarities in the form of Rosy Starling and Brahminy Starling both camped out in a very smelly rubbish dump.
Kaeng Krachan National Park
In many ways we left the best until last – relaxing accommodation, great food and some of the best forest birding in Southeast Asia. Over the course of a few days we found six species of Broadbills – Long-tailed, Banded, Silver-breasted, Black-and-red, Back-and-yellow & Dusky. This family has some stunning birds in it so I was very happy to be able to show everyone all six species that we had a chance of seeing.
Hornbills are always high on everyone’s wish list and on our first morning we saw Great, Oriental Pied, Tickell’s Brown and Wreathed Hornbills all in one go! Black-thighed Falconets were a lovely distraction and although it took a long time to find a male Banded Kingfisher was enjoyed by all. Other highlights included Grey-rumped Treeswift, Black-and Buff Woodpecker, Buff-rumped Woodpecker and two pairs of Ratchet-tailed Treepies. Along the road we got lucky a couple of times with cracking views of Kalij Pheasant and Grey Peacock Pheasant too.
Our forest birding at Kaeng Krachan fisnished the way it began with a sighting of a super bird – Great Slaty Woodpecker – along with some colourful Sultan Tits; what a way to finish!
Kaeng Krachan was also good for mammals with several sightings of White-handed Gibbon and this close-up Black Giant Squirrel.
Of course, any visit to Kaeng Krachan would not be complete, these days, without a visit to the hides. We spent an afternoon in Lung Sin Hide and a short morning in Ban Song Nok. Although we saw Large Scimitar Babbler and Scaly-breasted Partridge at Lung Sin waterhole, for the first time ever it was a little disappointing with long periods of inactivity – just a temporary blip as on my next visit it was great again – but the species we missed there were caught up with at Ban Song Nok.
Our trip was concluded with a nice dinner back in Bangkok, a few beers and good conversation looking back at the huge number of great birds that we had seen throughout the trip – over 500 species were recorded!