by Nick Upton
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Hellfire Pass Walking Trail, 11th July 2002
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Having spent a couple of days doing "touristy" things in Kanchanaburi I was itching to get out and see some birds, something my girlfirend, Srasri, wasn't too enthusiastic about; so a visit to Hellfire Pass offered me the chance to do some birding without the visit appearing to be a birding trip: sneaky!

Arriving at about 7.30 am the car park was quiet with a number of common, open-country birds in evidence; Spotted Dove, Common Iora, White-rumped Munia and Lineated Barbet were all easily seen whilst attempting to locate the beginning of the trail. I was keen to find the small trail which the interpretative map indicates winds through limestone outcrops, with the possibility of seeing Limestone Wren-babbler. After finding this trail we had walked only a few metres along it when a noisy party of Laughingthrushes drew my attention. Both Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes were foraging in and around a large tree which we were able to look down upon from atop a limestone outcrop, giving us a great view. One or two Racket-tailed Treepies also contributed to the chorus as did a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, mimicking the call of a Green Magpie.

Continuing along the trail the forest appeared promising, however it revealed little other than a few Yellow-bellied Warblers, common birds in this sort of habitat. Mosquitos proved themselves to be abundant though and we were soon forced to apply insect repellant which Srasri had thankfully packed. This activity proved how beneficial periods of quiet standing can be when searching for birds in forests as just as the insect repellant had been packed away along came a noisy pair of Limestone Wren-babblers scolding each other amongst the cracks and crevices of the rocky outcrops. So intent on bickering were they that we went unnoticed and obtained fantastic close-up views of this much sought-after species; these were birds of the crispifrons subspecies, their dark plumage and larger size leaving no room for confusion with Streaked Wren-babbler.

The departure of these birds and the pestilential mosquitos prompted us to move on and take a look at Konyu Cutting which was nick-named Hellfire Pass by Allied prisoners of war. Seeing this excavation through hard rock, which was largely dug by hand was a sobering thought; add to this the boiling heat and mosquitos in plague proportions, the thought of young men working under brutal conditions here was quite upsetting.

From here the trail continues along the route of the railway for four kilometres, offering the chance to explore the surrounding countryside and no doubt see quite a number of birds, however, the insect repellant was rapidly sweating off so after stopping to watch Hill Blue Flycatcher, Puff-throated babbler and Forest Wagtail we turned around for a look at the now-opened museum.

Some welcome refreshments were available in the museum, as was the benefit of air-conditioning. Although small, the museum is very interesting, with a short video showing the history of the railway playing on a continuous loop.

An interesting and rewarding morning, both historically and ornithologically, came to a nice end with a beautiful male White-rumped Shama perched on a tree stump outside the museum.

Nick Upton
 Birds seen at Hellfire Pass
Spotted Dove
Lineated Barbet
Forest Wagtail
Common Iora
Blue Winged Leafbird
Black Crested Bulbul
Greater Racket Tailed Drongo
Racket Tailed Treepie
Puff Throated Babbler
Limestone Wren Babbler
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush
Striped Tit Babbler
Yellow Bellied Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Hill Blue Flycatcher
White Rumped Shama
Black Naped Monarch
Common Myna
Ruby Cheeked Sunbird
White Rumped Munia
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