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Khao Yai , 17th September 2000
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A while back, while contemplating how in the world I would be able to get out in the woods during the month of September, I received an e-mail from Steve Goodbred, an assistant professor of marine life at a university in New York. Steve was inquiring about the possibilities for birding during a stopover in Bangkok on his way to Sri Lanka. I explained to Steve that I’d love to take him to birding hot spots such as Khao Yai or Kaeng Krachan but due to responsibilities at work and pressing financial needs (I work with handicapped people, orphanages and drug addicts etc. in a Christian volunteer work), I probably only could free myself if there was a sufficient contribution towards our work. Steve was very happy to contribute and so we agreed to meet up.

I somehow made it out of bed and met Steve at 4 a.m. at the Airport hotel. The drive to the park took less then 2 hours and we arrived at the gates before 6 o’clock. This is still the rainy season and heavy monsoons have wrecked havoc in many parts of the country causing flooding. However, like an answer to prayer, we had mostly clear skies throughout and pleasant temperatures. As a matter of fact, I had to turn off the air-con in the van as a sudden cool front had set in and the temperature had dropped to a lovely 17 degrees C.

The first bird was a beautiful songster, the White-rumped Shama, which quickly disappeared into the bushes with its harsh alarm call. Next a small party of Black-crested Bulbuls were sounding off their fluty little melodies from the wires along the road side. The race found here in Eastern Thailand has a red throat patch which makes it even more attractive then its Western counterpart.

The road winds its way upwards in a steep climb. Exciting roads signs such as ‘Elephants crossing’ and ‘Cobra area’ help to set the atmosphere .We next stopped at a look out point, viewing rolling hills clothed in a cover of tropical vegetation. An early migrant, the Blue Rock-Thrush entertained us on the roof of a nearby rain shelter. White-rumped Munias roamed through the bushes. Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike fed in the trees and Asian Fairy Bluebird sang from a treetop. (This bird seen in good light is simply gorgeous with its shimmering blue colors). All the while Ashy Drongo was doing acrobatics in the air.
While munching on ham sandwiches with homemade pickles we drove towards headquarters -- the prime target area for the day. Here Steve got his first ‘adrenaline rush’, as a gorgeous bird -- the Blue-winged Leafbird -- came in full view. Red-headed Trogon kept calling but gave no views. Abotts Babbler sang and gave good looks as we traced it down. Mountain Imperial Pigeon flew overhead. A flock of Thick-billed Pigeons were roosting in a tree and a Japanese Sparrowhawk, newly arrived from colder grounds, flew in to perch on a branch. Walking towards the beginning of trail 6, Stripe-throated Bulbul and Lesser Coucal came in view. Small Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers kept dashing around and a flock of noisy Pied Hornbills added to our list.

Darkness fell as soon as we stepped inside of the muddy and slippery trail . Birds are harder to see here and binoculars get used a lot less. This is however where the real feeling of ‘anything can show up’ sets in. Just knowing that birds like Eared and Blue Pittas, Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo, Banded Kingfisher, Silver and Siamese Pheasants, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons as well as Banded and Long-tailed Broadbills regularly are encountered here raises the level of anticipation. Unfortunately being Sunday morning a noisy bunch of students had decided to take the same route and so evidently we were somewhat hampered by their presence.

The most exciting bird we saw in here was a Buffy Fish-Owl who considering its great size does a great job of finding its way through the many trees. Golden-spectacled Warbler also was noteworthy. We did see something large and grey run across the trail but didn’t dare to tick off the Ground Coucal as we didn’t have good looks. The trail leads to a monstrous sized fig tree with buttresses double the size of a man, supporting its huge trunk. Good place for a snap shot.

Shortly after this point the trail divides and following the left route soon leads to open grasslands and the road back to headquarters. We decided to take the other loop towards Nong Pak Chee watchtower knowing that it was getting late and more quiet no matter where we’d go. It is a rather easy walk along a ridge for most part but leads to a wide stream that required some undressing and wading in waist deep water to get safely across. How lovely to feel the cool fast flowing rain waters washing of all the dirt and reinvigorating our spirits!

In here we had close looks at Moustached Barbet and Dollarbirds. The latter a much sought after bird for Steve. Also a family group of singing White-handed Gibbons beautifully swung their way through the treetops sometimes stopping to give us long looks. A female and later on a male Hill Blue Flycatcher with splendid colors held our attention for a while. Green-billed Malkoha with its guttural sound at first had us thinking we had a Blue-throated Bee-eater at hand. And of course Puff-throated Bulbuls warning all forest inhibitors of our presence were often encountered.

Crossing the grasslands to the watchtower in eager anticipation of a delicious Thai lunch was next on the menu. Here we climbed up the tower, enjoyed the breeze, watched a Barking deer in a salt lick and examined our feet. I had purchased leech socks at a little shop by headquarters but Steve hadn’t so he turned out to be the biggest ‘blood donor’. These inexpensive socks were so effective that I actually didn’t get a single bite.

Hornbills were high priority on Steve’s list and aside from Red-whiskered Bulbul and Brown Shrike in the grasslands, a majestic Wreathed Hornbill flew across with heavy wing beats.We also saw 3 Crested Honey-Buzzards circling the air in search for prey.

Besides a diverse variety of bird species Thailand is renowned for its much varied cuisine.
We sampled some famous Tom Yum soup, freshly fried vegetables in oyster sauce, beef curry in coconut and sweet and sour chicken. A long walk serves as an excellent appetizer!

We then took a tour to Heew Suwat Waterfall, which had an abundance of water cascading into the pool below. Here is where most tourists gather and even the regular Blue Whistling Thrush couldn’t be seen.

Towards later afternoon we went to the road leading up to Khao Kew, the highest point in Khao Yai. Here we searched the roadsides for Siamese Fireback but to no avail. Instead we were rewarded with another of Steve’s wanted birds; 4 Dusky Broadbills. Also Dark-sided Flycatcher kept snatching insects taking of from the wires along the road. First time I had good looks at this bird.

Another spectacular sight Khao Yai has are the Brown Needletails. These fast flying creatures feed over the forest canopy but will swoop down in literal combat style for a drink of water in any of the several ponds in the park.

Going down the mountain at dusk produced the 3rd Hornbill. This time it was Great Hornbill who definitely deserves it name. A pair of Hill Mynas perched in a treetop letting, us hear their pierce whistle. As usual the roadside was dotted with Pig-tailed Macaques hoping for a hand out.

Other birds we heard and seen were Collared Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Puff-throated Babbler, Greater Flameback, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Grey Wagtail, Common Kingfisher, Asian Palm-Swift, House Swift, Barn Swallow, Common Iora, Spotted Dove, White-crested Laughingthrush and Scaly-breasted Partridge.

I was able to drop off Steve at the airport around 8 p.m. and drove home for much needed sleep.

Passing through Bangkok? Drop me a line!

Peter Ericsson
Peter Ericsson can be contacted at
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