by Nick Upton
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Sab Sadao
(Updated 08/05/14)
Sab Sadao is the name of a ranger station on the northern side of Thap Lan National Park, and several jeep tracks and a network of cattle trails give birders access to several large patches of dry dipterocarp woodland with surrounding farmland, secondary growth, ditches and reservoirs.

Dry dipterocarp woodland is a habitat which has a number of specialist species and for birders this creates some variety from the forest type and avifauna of nearby birding locations. Topography at this location is fairly flat but temperatures here can get really high, very quickly meaning that it is very easy to work up quite a sweat.

Sab Sadao is quite some way off the beaten track, meaning that it receives few visitors and birding here is nearly always peaceful and the habitats surrounding the woodland mean that quite a high tally of birds can be seen quite quickly not to mention that there are a few exciting species can be found here reasonably easily.
Dry Dipterocarp Woodland, Sab Sadao
(Photo by Nick Upton)
For birders who like to explore, this area undoubtedly holds some hidden patches of habitat and perhaps some species of Woodpecker that are extremely rarely seen in Thailand.
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 Birding Highlights

White-browed Fantail
(Photo by Nick Upton)
  Sab Sadao plays host to one species that seems next to impossible to see anywhere else in Thailand: White-browed Fantail. I am not aware of sightings of this species from anywhere else in Thailand in recent years but it is fairly easy to find at Sab Sadao among flocks of other small birds.

Many other species that prefer dry dipterocarp woodland are also present here with Black-headed Woodpecker a real highlight and abundant here. White-bellied Woodpecker is also present and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker is incredibly common. Intriguingly there are historic reports of Rufous-bellied Woodpecker from this site (although I have so far failed to find it) and it has been suggested to me that Yellow-crowned Woodpecker is also possible here.

A splash of colour is provided by Small Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black-hooded Oriole and Plains Nuthatch which is present here but rare and this is quite a good site for raptors with Black- Baza, Collared Falconet, Rufous-winged Buzzard and others likely to be seen.
Other birds which are scarce in other locations but abundant at Sab Sadao include Common Woodshrike and Brown Prinia, both of which are drab in colouration but rarely seen by bird watchers in Thailand. Chestnut-capped Babbler is often to be seen in the undergrowth and this is also a good location to get to grips with Indochinese Cuckooshrike and get a good view of Chinese Francolin; Cinereous Tit has also been photographed at this site.

A checklist of the birds this location can be found here - Sab Sadao
  Birdwatching Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information
Use the interactive map below to plan your route to Sab Sadao. The blue lines show the route from Route 304, which is the main highway between Kabinburi & Nakorn Ratchasima (Blue Pin) to Sab Sadao Ranger Station (Red Pin) and Mun Bon Reservoir (Yellow Pin).

View Sab Sadao in a larger map
Getting to Sab Sadao and surrounding areas is a little complicated and involves driving down dirt roads for quite some distance, meaning that a sturdy vehicle is advisable. The simplest way to get there is to get on Highway 304 between Nakorn Ratchasima and Kabinburi and turn off the road at Km 92 following the signs for "Khonburi Sugar". Follow this road until it takes a sharp right hand and turn left, still heading towards the sugar factory. After a few kilometres the turning for the sugar factory is seen, but ignore this and carry straight on - the road is really pot-holed here! Continue for several kilometres, passing a crenellated wall and then a small government compound "Chorake Hin Municipal Office". Soon after there is a sealed road on the right - turn here. In fact any of the right hand turnings along here will get you to the correct area. Drive along the road and continue after it turns to dirt, always taking the road straight ahead. After around 15 kilometres there is a right hand turn along a sealed road - it is the only right hand turn which has power lines running along it. Turn down this road and at the T-junction turn left. Continue along this dirt road, through villages, for about 7km until entering the forest and seeing the ranger station on the right.

Those who wish to travel by public transport will have to forgo the pleasure of visiting Sab Sadao!
 Finding Birds
There are lots of tracks and trails that allow birders to explore this area and the open nature of the forest makes it easy to go off trail and not get lost. Some birds are more likely to be seen in certain areas, however.
Sab Sadao Ranger Station Area : This is the most easily accessible large lump of dry dipterocarp woodland in this area and contains most of the speciality species of this site. Although birders can park at the substation I once had some trouble with some drunken rangers, so these days I drive just a little past the ranger station, turning left, on the track towards the lake, then walk. One cannot drive straight past the ranger station as there is a barrier and razor wire; once on foot birders can walk down this track though. In the past White-rumped Falcon has been seen around the ranger station itself.

Common Woodshrike
Black-headed Woodpecker

Brown Prinia
Black-hooded Oriole (subadult)
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  Before reaching the ranger station birding can begin along the entry track where degraded woodland on the right contains some large, isolated trees where species such as Rufous-winged Buzzard, Indian Roller and Large Cuckooshrike can be spotted perched atop the trees. This area is also good for spotting Blossom-headed Parakeets in the early morning or late afternoon. The first flocks of birds are likely to be encountered in the less disturbed woodland along the entry track and Small Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker are likely to be constituents of those flocks. Black-headed Woodpecker is abundant at this site and it is worth looking out for them as soon as entering the dry dipterocarp woodland along the entry track.

Although vehicular access is possible along Track 1 it is extremely rough and any vehicle without a high ground clearance will have trouble, so best to park and walk along the track. Undergrowth along here often contains Thick-billed Warbler and mixed groups of Rufescent Prinia and Brown Prinia; areas with the thickest vegetation are where Chestnut-capped Babbler dwells - this is a species which is much more attractive than field guides suggest. Large trees and open woodland along here contain birds such as Plains Nuthatch, White-bellied Woodpecker, Black Baza and Collared Falconet. White-browed Fantail can also be found with mixed flocks of small birds

Track 2 can be walked along and goes through some nice, open woodland. Common Woodshrike often precedes White-browed Fantail and Brown Prinia lurks in the undergrowth. Black-headed and White-bellied Woodpeckers often occur along this track and listen out for calling Chinese Francolin, this is a great place to find one in the late afternoon. Indochinese Cuckooshrike is a difficult bird to find in Thailand but a few birds exist along this track but Large Cuckooshrike is much more obvious with its noisy call uttered in flight. Eurasian Jay is fairly common here too and is a nice-looking bird, quite different to the subspecies that many birders are familiar with in Europe. After about 1.5 kilometres this track goes into some moist, secondary woodland which contains common forest birds such as Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-crested Bulbul and Pin-striped Tit Babbler.
Track 3 goes through more dry woodland with a thick understorey and gives birders more opportunity to explore this area. The rare Streak-throated Woodpecker has been seen along this track, but not for some years.

Farmland : As birders drive towards Sab Sadao Ranger Station they will pass through a lot of farmland with isolated trees. These trees are excellent for spotting Rufous-winged Buzzard perched upon them. This species is quite common out here and by scanning dead branches it should not take long to find several individuals of this species. In the dry season posts or wires are likely to have Shrikes perched on them; both Brown and Burmese Shrikes are quite abundant here. Other birds of interest to look out for when driving in include Vinous-breasted Starling, Pied Bushchat, Indochinese Bushlark, Green Bee-eater and Plain-backed Sparrow.

Birdwatching Trips To Sab Sadao:
Sab Sadao is well off the beaten track and provides an opportunity to see some species that are scarce in Thailand.

This is a good location, and habitat, to add to a birding tour which visits Khao Yai in order to see a wider variety of species, including some wonderful woodpeckers, and particularly if you want to add the rarely seen White-browed Fantail to your Thai list.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you:


Forest Plateau : This wooded plateau is covered in undisturbed dry dipterocarp woodland and presumably contains a full avifauna associated with this habitat in this part of the country. Reports of rare woodpeckers, in the past, included Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, may be worth chasing up on this plateau although access to it will require a lot of walking in high temperatures.

There are some small trails entering this area from its northern end, closest to the sugar factory. Blossom-headed Parakeet is often seen emerging from this area and larger Woodpeckers which require big trees and large areas of habitat will be found here, such as White-bellied, Greater Flameback, Greater Yellownape and Black-headed Woodpecker.

Mun Bon Reservoir Area : Around Mun Bon Reservoir are some interesting patches of habitat for birders to explore including areas of dry dipterocarp woodland (degraded and good quality patches), marshy ditches and open country. This area has received even fewer birders than the Sab Sadao Ranger Station area so exploring could turn up something interesting; I have found wintering Yellow-streaked Warbler here on a couple of occssions, some distance from its previously known wintering range.

Plain-backed Sparrow
Thick-billed Flowerpecker

Red-billed Blue Magpie
Asian Barred Owlet
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  Areas of dry woodland fragments (1) contain a few birds - Rufescent and Brown Prinias are easily found here - but they are not large enough for many birds that specialize in this habitat.

Birders can drive or walk around a large, marshy ditch which can contain Lesser Whistling Duck and Bronze-winged Jacana, and in the early morning it is possible to find skulking birds such as Siberian Rubythroat and Lanceolated Warbler. The trees running up to this ditch can also play host to some interesting species as they come down to drink - I have seen Red-billed Blue Magpie, Lineated Barbet and Eurasian Jay all behaving like this here so it may be a good place to sit and wait in the heat of the day to see what emerges from nearby woodland to drink and bathe.

Turning right at the end of this marshy ditch accesses a large area of dry dipterocarp woodland, much of it heavily degraded, but the steep, rocky slope on the left, after turning in here (2) seems to be a good place to search for Red-billed Blue Magpie and White-crested Laughingthrush and Asian Barred Owlet calls frequently here in the morning. The dry woodland along the track here has lots of cattle trails to explore and this area has plenty of Purple Sunbirds, Hoopoes and Prinias. Flocks of small birds containing Small Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Common Woodshrike can also be found; I have also seen Spot-breasted Woodpecker in the more open areas towards the food stalls.

Some open-country species can be found on the grassy areas around the food stalls at Mun Bon "Beach" with the very attractive Plain-backed Sparrow fairly abundant and Indochinese Bushlark calls from the ground and small posts; some emergent vegetation around the water's edge may allow birders to find some skulking species such as Siberian Rubythroat or Bluethroat.

A small temple can be reached by following a dirt track past the sugar factory and several woodland fragments contain species such as Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie and Eurasian Jay while Burmese Shrike can be found perched on wires. Exploring the woodland that stretches out the back of the temple may be rewarding; I have found Brown Prinia, Small Minivet and Common Woodshrike in these habitat patches.
Facilities at and around Sab Sadao are severely limited. At Sab Sadao Ranger Station itself there are no facilities available to visitors whatsoever. In the small villages along the dirt track into Sab Sadao there are a couple of small noodle shops and stores selling snacks and drinks but nothing that is obvious to visitors who are not familiar with Thailand. Villages along the sealed roads travelling to Sab Sadao have a few food shops dotted around here and there, with a open-fronted shop that sells good, cheap Thai food at the turn off on Route 304. At Mun Bon "Beach" there are several food stalls which are the best option for most birders visiting this area; there are also some toilets here.

Accommodation options are also problematic here. There are a couple of small hotels/guesthouses at the nearby town of Khonburi, but none that I could recommend although they are serviceable for one night. A homestay along the road from Route 304 to the sugar factory has a sign in English and is probably sufficient for small groups of birders. The town of Pak Tong Chai has a really grotty old hotel but the city of Nakorn Ratchasima has a whole host of accommodation and other facilities given that it is Thailand's second largest city. Unfortunately, Nakorn Ratchasima (Khorat) is further from Sab Sadao than is convenient - over an hour away.

Although Sab Sadao is part of Thap Lan National Park, the rangers do not usually attempt to collect any entry fees from visitors.
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Sab Sadao Bird Checklist

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 Photo Galleries
Select the thumbnail photos to see larger images.
Sab Sadao Ranger Station
Dry Dipterocarp Woodland
Barrier at Sab Sadao
Dry Dipterocarp Woodland
Wetlands at the Dam
Rocky Slope
Water Buffalo

Birdwatching Trips:
For those birders who like to get a little off the beaten track, Sab Sadao is a good option. A full day of birding at this location should provide views of most of the speciality species, which makes it a good site to add to any birding itinerary that visits the northeast or southeast regions.

Look at some suggested itineraries, Thailand bird tours, or contact me for more information:

 Trip Reports

Rainy Season Bird Watching Tour Of Thailand, 30th June - 8th July 2012


by Nick Upton


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