Usually I would spend more than a day at Khao Yai due to its distance from Bangkok and the number of birding opportunities it presents but Minoro Shimono, Satomi Kodama and Eriko Kodama were on a brief birdwatching trip to Thailand from Japan and had only a day to spare so, together, we headed off for a day trip.
The day trip is possible, but it results in rather a long day, particularly for those driving. We left at about 4am and arrived at about 7am due to a bad traffic jam outside Saraburi caused by an overturned bus. However, we found some nice birds on the way in – the grassland areas gave us good views of Dollarbird, Plain-backed Sparrow, Hill Myna, Oriental Pied Hornbill and Australasian Bushlark – a species which is not at all common.
However, it was forest birds we came for and at Pa Gluai Mai campsite we found some nice birds – Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Thick-billed Pigeon, a variety of bulbuls including the jocosus race of Black-crested Bulbul, Hill Myna, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and a superb Collared Owlet feasting on a lizard. Although Collared Owlet is a common forest bird, its “poop, poo-poo-poop” call can be heard throughout the day, it can be quite tricky to find. Abbot’s Babbler is a cute and common bird at Khao Yai and a little imitation of its call brought one out but it was the wintering White-throated Rock Thrush that was the highlight and a number of photographers were busy taking its picture.
Minoro Shimono had told me that it was his dream to see a Great Hornbill and proof that dreams come true came along in the form of a male Great Hornbill hotly chased by 2 Greater Racket-tailed Drongos – one harrassing each wing so that it looked like the hornbill had two huge wing streamers. Fortunately, the hornbill landed in a nearby tree giving us fantastic views for about 5 minutes.
Birding was a little slow for most of the rest of the day but in various spots we saw Wreathed Hornbill, Bright-headed Cisticola, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Scarlet Minivet, Rufous Woodpecker, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and many other attractive birds.
As the day draws to a close, Pa Gluai Mai campsite is a good place to be once more and we found some really nice birds in the last hour or so of light. It is possible to get great views of Oriental Pied Hornbill as they gather to roost and we had one just a few feet away from us in a tree. Behind some huts we found a group of White-crested Laughingthrushes and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, both superb birds and they moved Eriko to one of her few words of English for the day -”wonderful!”. As darkness came we were on the lookout for nightjars and sure enough a little before dark at least 2 Great Eared Nightjars began circling overhead, uttering their characteristic “pir, pee-weeow” call. These are really big nightjars and provided a nice close to the day – they are regular at Pa Gluai Mai campsite and easy to see.
We stopped in an attempt to see more nightjars but only heard the call of Grey and Large-tailed Nightjars as well as Mountain Scops Owl and Brown Hawk Owl. However, no more birds were seen and it was time to drive back to Bangkok. This day trip to Khao Yai was enjoyed by all, if a little tiring.