Pra Bang Khram (Khao Nor Chu Chi)
Pra Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary,
better known as Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNC), covers 183 square
kilometres of forest in Krabi (pronounced Gra Bee) province.
Until recently this was the only known site still occupied
Pitta. Last year, however, it was rediscovered
at a number of sites in southern Myanmar (Burma) but KNC remains
the only accessible place to see this species, and many other
lowland specialities still persist here too.
are many trails at KNC (although many are in a very overgrown
state) providing opportunities to see both forest edge species
and birds of the forest interior and a choice between long
and short routes. The crystal pool can be a nice place to
relax and cool down (and watch for raptors), but it can get
a bit crowded with both foreign and Thai tourists.
Khao Nor Chu Chi
(Photo by David Lewis)
can be slow and frustrating here at times; I have personally walked
for more than an hour without identifying a single species, but the
longer you stay, the more you will see and when you look back on your
list it will contain a number of excellent and seldom-seen species!
Pitta is THE bird to see at Khao Nor Chu Chi; until
recently it was the only place in the world it was known to
exist and it remains the most realistic chance for most birders
to see the species.
be sure not to spend your whole time sitting in a muddy puddle
on U-trail waiting for Gurney's; there are many other great
birds to see here too. Many species of Babbler can be seen
here which present the birdwatcher with a rewarding identification
challenge; many species of Bulbul, Malkoha and Flycatcher
can commonly bee seen at KNC too.
specialities are still present at KNC, but not common; Giant
Pitta, Wallace's Hawk Eagle, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Crested
Jay and White-crowned Hornbill can all be found, but only
by a lucky few.
(Photo by Suppalak
(Photo by Suppalak
Pitta is frequently seen in and around KNC as is Black-thighed
Falconet which can be found perched upon bare tree tops and
the loud call of Black Magpie is a feature of the early morning
can also be found here, and there can be few birds families
with so many impressive species. Green Broadbill is very common
here and many people find Black-and-yellow Broadbill too.
Black-and-red and Banded Broadbills are also present but not
so often seen.
at KNC can be difficult at times but with so many fantastic
species to find it is well worth the effort.
here for a checklist of the birds of KNC
Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for
ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trip to Thailand:
high quality giclee prints of Gurney's Pitta, painted
by Jan Wilczur from field sketches taken at Khao Nor
Chu Chi are available for £35 plus postage and
Jan's wonderful paintings as well as a short biography
of the artist and information on the prints: Jan
Wilczur's Bird Art.
to KNC is almost always done via Krabi. Krabi is a very popular tourist
destination so that getting there isn't a problem. If coming from
Bangkok by bus I would recommend taking one to Surat Thani from the
Southern bus terminal and then taking an air conditioned minibus to
Krabi. Avoid a bus going to Krabi via the West coast and Phuket as
the terrain is steep and the roads small, making for a lengthy journey.
There are also regular buses from Hat Yai if arriving from Malaysia.
is possible to travel from Bangkok to Surat Thani by train,
from Hua Lompong station, and then again by taking a minibus
to Krabi; I'm told this is a pleasant way of making the trip,
although, as always, the train is slower than the bus.
most convenient, but most expensive, method of arrival is
by plane. Krabi has a small airport about 10 kilometres from
the town, and there are daily flights from Bangkok from about
3000 baht return. An increasing number of budget airlines
operate in Thailand: Cheap
Krabi to KNC isn't particularly difficult either; for anyone
driving themselves it takes about one hour from Krabi town
centre. Simply take the main route south, towards Trang and
turn left at the main crossroads as one enters Khlong Thom;
after this take the first right hand turn, only about 100
metres along the road. Continue for 7 kilometres until seeing
a sign for the Crystal/Emerald Pool where one should turn
right. This road is now surfaced all the way to the Wildlife
Sanctuary entrance, but the Wildlife Sanctuary HQ will be
seen on the right after about 6 kilomtres; a few hundred metres
later, the Morakot resort appears on the left.
journey is easy to negotiate, however, if coming from Krabi in the
dark, early in the morning, the possibility of missing some of the
turnings is high. I would recommend driving the route in daylight
before trying it in the dark.
way to get to KNC is to take a taxi from Krabi; this can be done
for between 700 to 1000 baht one way. If staying at the Morakot
resort, the girls here will arrange a taxi back if you ask.
For those on
a smaller budget it is still easy to travel by bus. From Krabi bus
station get on any bus to Trang and say that you want to get off
at Khlong Thom (pronounced Klong Tom; don't ask why it isn't written
like this anyway, it's a long story), the price is in the region
of 30-40 baht. At the crossroads at Khlong Thom there are usually
some motorcycle taxis which will take you to the Morakot resort
for about 100 baht, this journey can be quite exciting! Once again
the girls at the Morakot will arrange transport out for you if you
excellent feature at KNC is that there is an extensive network of
trails to bird along within easy reach of the village, so if you
come here without transport it won't hamper your birdwatching much.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the trails in order to see
the best birds; birdwatching at this location can be exceptionally
slow and frustrating, although I have been told that in June bird
activity is very high and Gurney's Pitta is "easy" to
see. Birders who have used taped calls to draw birds towards them
seem to have a good level of success; however, the use of tapes
to lure in Gurney's is highly inadvisable
due to the disturbance it causes. With this in mind it is
difficult to see how this practice is condonable for any scarce
species; many of which are at KNC.
For most, Gurney's
Pitta is the main reason for visiting KNC, and most people eventually
obtain good sightings on U-trail after getting to grips with the
call and Banded Pitta is frequently seen by birders whilst searching
is a very common bird here and can be found in secondary and primary
forest, but can be tricky to see from March to June when they are
is seeding it is a good strategy to wait for Pin-tailed Parrotfinch
to feed, and fruiting trees are always good for Malkohas and Bulbuls.
many trails at KNC provide plenty of opportunity to find elusive
This seems to be everyone's favourite Gurney's Pitta stake-out,
and can get quite congested with birders at peak times (although
this is restricted to a few weeks in late April and early May).
My philosophy was always to find Gurney's on another trail without
resorting to sitting beside a gulley on U trail, however, after
failing on three occasions I eventually had excellent views of a
male in a gulley at around U 30, so from this point of view it would
seem that this trail offers the best chance of seeing Gurney's Pitta
quickly. The trail is very narrow and overgrown, with the secondary
forest being extremely difficult to see through; birding this trail
can produce very few birds. At several points along this trail the
encroachment is alarmingly close, but Giant Pitta has turned up
in the gulleys along this trail.
This trail is wider than most,
with the occasional motorbike along it. Forest edge species are
easily encountered along H trail and many more species will be seen
here than other trails at KNC although perhaps less of them will
be the "target birds". There are many small side trails
and gulleys to investigate along here which will provide encounters
with species such as Ferruginous Babbler, Dark-throated Oriole,
Black-capped Babbler and Rufous-winged Philentoma. In the past I
have seen Banded Pitta, Wallace's Hawk Eagle, Large Wren Babbler,
Black-and-red Broadbill and Bay Owl by going just a few meters into
the forest from this trail and Brown Wood Owl has been found by
the junction with the main dirt road there is a large stand of bamboo
where Pin-tailed Parrotfinch is often seen in the company of White-rumped
Coffee Plantation :
This has been a popular location
to go to at dusk or dawn to find Javan Frogmouth, however, I'm not
sure if there have been any sightings in the last few years. It
is a little far to walk from the Morakot resort, so try and arrange
a lift to this area if you wish to try your luck. It isn't unusual
to arrive here to find other birders with flashlights, playing the
rather unusual call of this bird. People have often been successful
in seeing the Frogmouth and various Nightjars and Owls into the
bargain, but the latest reports I have are that the Frogmouths were
absent and no Owls were calling; Nightjars can be seen pretty much
anywhere near KNC.
One needs transport of some sort to get to this trail, or be prepared
to walk a long way in hot conditions. Many
"good" birds are seen in this region including Banded
Kingfisher, Dusky Broadbill and White-crowned Hornbill. Not so many
visitors get up here so it is an area worth exploring.
This is nothing more than a jeep trail leading to the Emerald Pool
and can be quite crowded with day-trippers at times; it is best
to get off of this trail as soon as possible. One will only be charged
the 200 baht (400
baht from 15/09/06) to enter the reserve if going through the
checkpoint at the entrance to this trail. Although I don't agree
with the policy of charging foreigners ten times the price of Thais,
it does seem that here at least the money does go some way towards
paying for increased protection.
(Photo by David Lewis)
of the best things about a stay at KNC is the availability
of good food and accommodation. Most birdwatchers stay at
the Morakot resort, but there are other options if this popular
venue is full.
Morakot resort has 5 bungalows, with showers and fans, and
some have been installed with air-conditioning. On my last
visit (March 2004) the charge was 450 baht per night including
breakfast which the girls here will provide before dawn. If
the bungalows are full, excellent tents can be hired and pitched
in the gardens, with air matresses, pillows and blankets for
about 150 baht. If you have your own tent this can also be
set up in the gardens for a small fee. All campers have
the use of two clean showers and toilets.
two young women that run the resort are both friendly and speak
a reasonable amount of English. The food is good, although the menu
isn't that extensive and there are soft drinks and beer for sale
too. The girls understand birders well and will cook breakfast
before sunrise and/or pack it to be taken on the trails; they
will do the same with lunch if you ask for it. One of the girls
is a keen birder and can provide advice on where to look as
can the birders' log book which they keep behind the counter- just
ask if you want to read it or add to it. In addition there
are a number of birding publications available to read and maps
of the trail network.
the Morakot resort in advance email: Pittagurney@yahoo.com
along the road, just before the checkpoint there are a couple
of bamboo bungalows, constructed in early 2003, which are about
350 baht per night. The people here are very friendly and cook good
Thai food. The main advantage of this place is that it is very close
to the remaining forest. If you arrive at KNC during a really busy
period, possibly on a Thai holiday, then all the accommodation might
be full. A friend of mine managed to smile his way into being put
up at a villager's place once when there was nowhere else, so this
is a possibility should all else fail. Many birders also stay in
Krabi and drive to KNC every day; this has the advantage of more
luxurious facilities but the disadvantage is a really early wake-up
call to get to the forest in the morning.
is very small, but there are a number of small shops selling snacks
and drinks. Don't forget to pay a visit to these places so that
everyone in the village gets the benefit of visitors' money and
you get the chance to meet the friendly local people. The shop about
200m back towards Krabi from the Morakot resort has particularly
friendly people, it's a good place to stop and have a beer and a
snack and the woman there has a mobile phone for use if you stand
on a hummock across the road and pay her a small fee. About 100m
towards the forest from the Morakot resort, on the left, there is
a house with a large yard. This is the village laundry! At least
Doug Judell and I have used it when on long stays. No English is
spoken here, but Doug speaks almost no Thai and managed to arrange
it, so try a smile and show the dirty clothes and I'm sure they'll
get the idea. You will get surprisingly clean, fragrant and pressed
clothes for next to nothing.
there are the food stalls near the checkpoint at the forest entrance.
Again, people here are friendly and the food is good and very cheap;
they are Muslims, so don't bother asking for pork!
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Southern Thailand Birding Locations
Wilczur's Bird Art: Gurney's Pitta, Banded Pitta & Rufous-collared
Ten Birds of Thailand: Number 1 - Gurney's Pitta
of Gurney s PITTA from Ardea