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Thailand 1st March - 21st March 2004
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Gurney's Pitta, female
(Photo by Vincent van der Spek)
From 1-21 March 2004 I made a birding trip to Thailand. The first two weeks Rob ter Ellen kept me company, the last week I was on my own. With Rob I did some serious hardcore jungle birding, with visits to three parks and a short stopover at the mangroves of Krabi. We did some exploring as well: even though it is easily reached and the facilities are good, very few birders visit National Park Khao Sok. It appeared to be a good choice, as we saw several good species here, both birds and mammals (check the chapter on Khao Sok). The last week I decided to focus on a few rare birds and I did not go out birding all day anymore. I mainly stayed at the coast: it was time to do some more tourist stuff like snorkelling (two full days) and going out. Our preparation was limited and we both had never been in Southeast Asia before. However we had few identification problems. We had some tapes, but no speakers, so luring the birds out was impossible. Thailand is a very easy-going country with very friendly people, good public transport and fantastic food. We had no problems whatsoever and combined with the low prices and the very good national parks (outside the parks all primary forest is logged and changed into palm oil and rubber plantations) with good birds and other animals it is a very attractive country to visit. In all we saw 291 species (254 in the first two weeks) including six hornbills, five pitta's (incl. 2 Gurney's), four broadbills, Christmas Island Frigatebird, Nicobar Pigeon, Nordmann's Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper. I only missed two main target species: Chinese Egret and Silver-breasted Broadbill. Spectacular mammals include five different monkey species, two Asian Elephants (including an aggressive one) and five Smooth Otters. All this plus the good (human) company, fantastic rainforest views, all the snakes, lizards, monitors, tree frogs, butterflies, a scorpion et cetera made it a fantastic trip.
On arrival in Bangkok you get a tourist visa for 90 days. When leaving the country you have to pay an exit-tax (at the time being 500 Baht / 10 €).
The Thai currency is the Baht. There are 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1.000 notes and 1, 5 and 10 Baht coins. Paying with 500 or 1.000 bills is often problematic at smaller shops, restaurants and cheap hotels. Make sure you pay with the big notes at the resorts. At the time being 1€ was worth 50 Baht (that´s easy, isn't it?): Currency Converter.
Transportation & Places to Sleep

We travlled with public transport. There are plenty of buses and trains and more so than in Latin America they leave and arrive on time. The public transport is very cheap as well: what to think of a 3,5 hour train ride from Bangkok to Pak Chong (to visit Khao Yai) for 0,85 € each! This train leaves right in front of the airport in Bangkok. From Pak Chong you can take a songthaew to the entrance of the National Park. Hitch to the headquarters. Hitch hiking is very easy, especially in Khao Yai. Make sure you get a pick-up truck, so you can sit in the back.

Finding accommodation is straightforward and cheap. Prices given are for two people. At the parks we stayed at the following places:

Khao Yai: nowadays it is considered to be impossible to stay near the headquarters, despite the nice bungalows. We remained very persistent and arranged bungalow nr. 108 for two nights, right next to the famous trail 6 (nowadays it is called trail 5). You can actually stay here with four people for 800 Baht (16 €) per night. There are several lodges in the park (cheapest 450 Baht), including one at the beginning of the famous Radar Road . The third night we had to move. We chose for the rather expensive Garden Home Resort (1.200 Baht) 2 km outside of the park, as we were told that a Buffy Fish Owl and Plain-backed Sparrows could be found here. Another very good bonus is that this is also the spot for the 1+ million Wrinkle-lipped Free-tailed Bats leaving a cave every night.
Khao Nor Chuchi: there's only one option here and that is the excellent Morakot Resort (450 Baht). The small bungalows are good, the food is excellent and the staff works hard and is very friendly. The address:

Morakot Resort:
15 Moo 2 Klongtom
Bangtio Rd.
Krabi 81220
tel.: (01)415-1982

Khao Sok: there's plenty of accommodation to choose from. The Treetops is the only hotel next to the entrance of the national park, but it was full when we got there. We stayed at Bamboo Home 1 (350 Baht), which was ok (but nothing more).
It was hot and very humid everywhere. In Khao Sok we had some (early) tropical rain every night, starting around 17.00 and stopping around 19.00. Thailand Weather Forecasts.

While travelling we only carried a copy of Craig Robson's "Birds of Southeast Asia". It is a good book, which often made identifying the birds straightforward. There are, however, some disadvantages: some painters make the birds look very dull (check the pitta's for instance), some birds are painted completely wrong (Large Wren Babbler), there are no distribution maps (in the Thailand version there are) and after three weeks I was still not used to the new taxonomical order that is used. The new order often makes it hard to quickly find the bird you are looking at that very moment. Fortunately the Morakot Resort had a copy of Phillip Round's book "Birds of Thailand" (in which the Large Wren Babbler is painted properly), which I decided to leave home myself.

For the mammals I used "Photographic guide to mammals of South-east Asia" by Charles M. Francis. Very incomplete, but as far as I know nothing else is available.

Reports and tips from Marc Guyt, Arnold Meijer, Paul Bamford, Dion Hobcroft, Aidan G Kelly and John Hornbuckle were used. Albert van den Ende gave me some additional logistic information. The travel guide we used was an old Rough Guide to Thailand, which was still good enough for the few times we actually used it.

Khao Nor Chuchi: for the Gurney's you might need Yothin Meekaeo. He can show you other goodies as well (other pitta´s, broadbills etc). At the time being he charged 4000 B for half a day. He's very good. If you hire him more often, prices are negotiable I was told. You can ask for him at the Morakot or email him in advance. His email:
Krabi mangroves: contact the travel agency Chan Phen
145 Uttarakit Rd. (in front of the old pier)
tel. (075) 612004
fax. (075) 612661
ps. in other reports I read that contacting Dai directly was cheaper, but in our case this wasn't true. They both charged 500 B (10 €) an hour and the price was not negotiable.
Khao Sok: Tang (pronounce Ting, his whole name is Tassanai Naktong), cell phone: 06-2777784. He doesn't know the English names and he doesn't know the small birds, but this might change as we gave him a copy of Craig Robson's book. He knows the spots for goodies like Banded Pitta, Chestnut-naped Forktail, hornbills and Great Argus and he knows their calls as well. He is very keen: he eg. saw snakes and tree frogs sitting on branches in the middle of the forest, not very close to the trail. He obviously grew up near the forest. No fixed price. He also does night safari's for a travel agency (1.500 B for 3 hours).
Khok Kham: Mr. Tii. Just show up at the bird centre. If he's not there, people will call him for you. Officially he doesn't charge anything, but a lot of birders give him 500 B
We saw a very large Buddha from the train!
March 1: arrival and train ride Bangkok - Pak Chong
March 2: Pak Chong - Khao Yai
March 3: Khao Yai
March 4: Khao Yai
March 5: Khao Yai - Bangkok - night train Surat Thani
March 6: Surat Thani - Krabi
March 7: Krabi - Khao Nor Chuchi
March 8: Khao Nor Chuchi
March 9: Khao Nor Chuchi
March 10: Khao Nor Chuchi - Krabi
March 11: Krabi - Khao Sok
March 12: Khao Sok
March 13: Khao Sok
March 14: Khao Sok
March 15: Khao Sok - Krabi
March 16: Similan Islands
March 17: Krabi - Koh Phi Phi
March 18: Koh Phi Phi
March 19: Koh Phi Phi
March 20: Koh Phi Phi - Sarut Thani - night train Bangkok
March 21: Bangkok - Khok Kham - Bangkok - plane home
Train ride Bangkok - Pak Chong (1 March): This 3½ hour train ride was not bad at all and we even saw eight species we didn't get to see elsewhere: Lesser Whistling Duck (ca. 60), Blue-throated Bee-eater (10), Pied Kingfisher (1), Bronze-winged Jacana (1), Asian Openbill (at least 700), Eastern Marsh Harrier, White-shouldered Starling (1) and House Sparrow (5). You will pass open fields, paddyfields, secondary growth and some small marshes. Other nice observations were 5 bittern sp. (too short to identify; probably Yellow Bitterns), a group of some 30 Oriental Pratincoles, 2 Large Hawk Cuckoos and an unidentified small owl, perched in a dead tree at dusk.

Khao Yai / Garden Home Resort (2 - 5 March): From Pak Chong take a songthaew (from 7 AM onwards) to the park entrance. From here you can easily hitch to the headquarters. Try to avoid Khao Yai in the weekends, as many (Thai) people will visit the park. I heard stories of hundreds of people walking around. The first two nights we managed to arrange a very good bungalow next to the famous trail nr. 6. PAY ATTENTION HERE : on the maps you can buy at the HQ (don't use the ones that you can get for free; a good map is included in the booklet "Mammals of Khao Yai", 150 B / 3 € for sale at one of the small shops in the restaurant area) trail nr. 6 - mentioned in all trip reports - is called trail nr. 5. The sign next to the trail, however, still says trail nr. 6 (at the time being). This might be confusing! In this report I will constantly refer to trail 5 (formerly 6). You can also go to one of the lodges. Thanarat Lodge is at the beginning of another famous part of the park: the Radar Road. After two nights we had to leave the bungalow and we moved to the relatively expensive Garden Home Resort, 2 km outside the park. From two Danish birders we heard it was good birding there. The area has a large pond, with Buffy Fish Owl (we heard 2). Plain-backed Sparrow (we saw a pair) can be found here and we saw several other nice birds we didn't get to see elsewhere: Lineated (2) and Coppersmith Barbet, Spangled Drongo, Golden-fronted Leafbird (2), Pied Bushchat (male), Brown (1) and Grey-breasted Prinia (5) and Chestnut-capped Babbler (3) and un unidentified bush warbler sp. (possibly Spotted Bushwarbler). This is also the spot to see dazzling numbers of Free-tailed Wrinkle-lipped Bats flying out of a cave at dusk, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Make sure you're there around 4.30 PM. There is no big hot spot here, just walk around and see what you will encounter.

I will give a description of all the spots we visited in the park.

Trail 1: This trail is paved and relatively easy to walk. We only went up here once late in the afternoon and we didn't get to see much. Best birds: Crested Goshawk (at the bridge), Rufous-fronted Babbler (5) and Little Pied Flycatcher.

Trail 5 (formerly 6): I seperate this trail into three parts:
* The first part starts south of the headquarters until the junction with trail nr. 7 (see map)
* The ridge is the part on the hill after the junction (when you turn right at the junction; for trail 7 turn left)
* The last part is a few kilometres north of the headquarters and is an open field just next (south) to the elephant salt lick. Close the forest there is an observation tower with a small lake.

The first part:
This was indeed one of the best trails I've been on this trip: it lived up its reputation. We birded here three times (twice in the morning, once in the afternoon). Start early, as later on there will be more people on the trail. I was surprised by the amount of birds. It is hard to indicate exact spots in a forest, but I will give it a shot in some cases. Best birds on this trail: Great Hornbill, Collared Owlet (perched in dead tree half way), Red-headed Trogon (at the junction), Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo 2 (very early in the morning, passing a small gully on a trunk; after walking some 25% of the trail), Long-tailed Broadbill (2 half way, just before a very steep part of the trail and 1 near the Coral-billed's spot), Common Green Magpie (2), Swinhoes Minivet (a group of 5 at the first wet gully; this spot is said to be good for Blue Pitta as well), White-crowned Forktail (at least 2, look for them at the wet gullies in the first half of the trail). Near the steep part mentioned before Danish birders saw 2 Siamese Firebacks and a Blue Whistling Thrush. The trail is also said to be good for Silver Pheasant (sometimes), Silver-breasted Broadbill and Eared Pitta (if you are lucky). The best mammals here: White-handed Gibbon (the beautiful hooting calls heard on a daily basis and we saw a group of four once: two light and two dark morphs), Black Giant Squirrel (2).

The ridge:
We've only been here late in the morning and early afternoon and it was not very spectacular. Best birds: 5 Bar-backed Partridges, a male Red Junglefowl, 3 Greater Flamebacks and a small group of White-browed Scimitar Babblers. Best mammal: a Black Giant Squirrel.

The last part:
Visited twice. This area is artificially kept open for mammals. The last part of trail 5 ends at the main road, ca. 3km north of the headquarters. About 200 meters (600 feet) to the north along the main road is an elephant salt lick. If you follow the trail from the main road (to the west) you will pass an open field. Here we saw our only Oriental Turtle Dove and Bright-headed Cisticola. Just before the forest starts again, there is an observation tower, next to a small lake. This was a good spot with eg. several calling Red Junglefowls, a Stork-billed Kingfisher, a Blue-eared Kingfisher, a Great-eared Nightjar (1 at dusk), 5 Silver-rumped Needletails, plenty of House Swifts, Black-winged Kite, a Changeable Hawk Eagle, a soaring Black Stork (the second record ever for the park), our only Asian House Martin and Rufescent Prinia (5). From the lake you can see another elephant salt lick. Even though we waited until dusk, we didn't get to see one here. This used to be a hot spot for Tiger as well

Trail 7: Not interesting at all, with a lot of scrub instead of primary forest. The trail goes straight to the main road and ends just south of the headquarters. We walked this trail on a hot afternoon, so perhaps mornings will provide more birds. The only two trip tick here was a Puff-throated Babbler right after the junction with trail 5 (formerly 6).
The forbidden trail: Birded here twice, once in the morning and once late in the afternoon. Right after the observation tower at the last part of trail 5 there's a small trail into the forest (first you will walk through the open field for a while). We accidentally ended up here, as we thought we were walking on trail 5 (formerly 6). Trail 5 however bends to the south next to the observation tower. The forbidden trail - officially closed for tourists - passes the lake on the western side (next to a small patch of forest), close to the elephant salt lick. At that point there are two possibilities: go through towards the salt lick (not recommended as you will understand) or turn left through the open field towards the forest. Check the map to make sure you've got the right place. The forest here is very good, probably because not many tourists visit the place. Elephant foot prints and droppings were found everywhere. At the very start of the trail we had a party of 5 Scaly-breasted Partridges, a Great Hornbill, Moustached Barbet (2, endemic to Southeast Asia), a male Blue Pitta (only seen by Rob), Black-throated Laughingthrush (2 near the second small "bridge") and 3 White-browed Scimitar Babblers. Halfway we eg. saw a male Red-headed Trogon, a Common Green Magpie and a Blyth 's Leaf Warbler (we encountered a few nice mixed flocks here). The highlight for us was almost at the end of the trail, at the river crossing (almost dry when we were there): splendid views of both Great and Wreathed Hornbill and a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo (uncommon in Thailand), plus several good flocks. Not long after the river crossing you will reach an open field with a small ranger station, which was not very interesting. We only saw a Changeable Hawk Eagle here. We run into a ranger on three different occasions, but we were not sent away. Best mammals: several Pig-tailed Macaques (common throughout Khao Yai), calling White-handed Gibbons, Black Giant Squirrel and a Lesser Mouse Deer (near the second "bridge", almost at dusk).

Siamese Fireback Pheasant
(Photo by Vincent van der Spek)
Radar Road / Khao Khieo Road: We spent one morning here. Ask for the road to Khao Khieo and not for Radar Road, as local people won't understand the latter. Earlier reports about this road not being as good anymore after it was paved, are certainly not true: this was one of the best days of the trip for us! Early morning we hitched to the training centre nearby and walked from there. The roads are a bit confusing, so make sure you take the right one. The Thanarat Lodge is on a side way of this road, so that's an indication you are on the right road. The first couple of kilometres of this road are the stake-out for Siamese Fireback (Southeast Asian endemic). It didn't take long before we found 2-3 males. What a stunning birds! Eventually we even saw them walking on the road. After a while you will reach a large open field. Between the start of the road and the open field we saw several Red Jungefowls, Scaly-breasted Partridge (2), the firebacks, Blue-eared Barbet (2), Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (5), Vernal Hanging-Parrot (5), Blue Pitta (male), Heart-spotted Woodpecker (female), Scarlet Minivet (pair), Large Woodshrike (male) and Black-throated Sunbird (2). Just before the open field we started hitching towards the area with the three bridges. Be patient: you can't miss the place, but it takes a while to get there. The area with the bridges was very productive: in the gully of the first bridge we found a male Silver Pheasant. It took some time for us to find the bird and we could not relocate it an hour later. A party of 10 Brown Hornbills was present as were 2 Red-headed Trogons. Between the second and third bridge we saw Moustached Barbet (2; Southeast Asian endemic) and Black-throated Laughingthrush (2). Red Jungefowls were very common around here. The area uphill after the three bridges looked very promising, but due to a lack of time we didn't check it out. After birding the area with the bridges we walked down and eg. saw: Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (5), Besra, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Vernal Hanging-Parrot (3, actually hanging upside down), Scarlet Minivet (pair), Grey-backed Shrike (male) and Ashy Bulbul. We found a fruiting tree along the way with Blue-eared (2) and Golden throated Barbet (4) and a Thick-billed Green Pigeon, as well as many Black-crested and Red-whiskered Bulbuls. From here we hitched back to the training centre, where we saw a Large Hawk Cuckoo. Best mammal of this area was a calling Pileated Gibbon (very scarce). They sound like White-handed's in the beginning, but they end their songs with bubbly-sounding trills.
Night safari: A must! I think we paid 500B for 2 hours. With a jeep and a spotlight you will pass open fields and some small ponds that are often used by mammals for drinking. Tigers are virtually extinct nowadays, but last year one was even seen during the night safari. Great-eared and Large-tailed Nightjars are often heard (we saw the latter perched on a trunk). At the end of the safari you will visit the elephant salt lick, where we actually saw an Asian Elephant! They are certainly not a straight forward tick, but it is probably your best bet of seeing one in this park. Other mammals we saw were: Large (1) and Small Indian Civet (2), Sambar Deer (numerous) and Common Barking Deer (or Muntjac; several). Common Palm Civet should be easy, but we didn't see any. From another jeep they saw a Malayan Porcupine. At the salt lick we heard Asian Barred Owlet, but we just missed a calling Javan Frogmouth, heard by German birders.

White-handed Gibbon
(Photo by Vincent van der Spek)

Krabi (6-7, 10-11 & 17 March): Krabi is easily reached: it's touristy and it has all facilities one needs. By longboat you can go into the mangroves for several specialties: Mangrove Pitta (near threatened; commonly heard), Mangrove Whistler (I only saw 1), Ruddy Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher (near threatened; common), Chinese Egret (vulnerable; missed by us) and Streak-breasted Woodpecker (endemic to the region; I saw 1). Unfortunately Masked Finfoot does not occur here anymore (no sightings for over 2 years now). Also see information about Mr. Dai in the guides chapter. Tell him exactly what you want to see, as he knows the best spots. Especially in the mangroves hiring a cheaper boatsman is false economy, as other people don't know the good spots. For the waders out at sea it's different: go out at high tide and check the fishermen's poles: the waders rest there when the mud flats are under water. You can find Nordmann's Greenshank and good numbers of Great Knots yourself. Other birds here include Lesser (common) and Great Crested Tern (a few), Terek Sandpiper and Lesser and Greater Sandplover. I did the mangroves four times as I kept trying to see instead of hear Ruddy Kingfisher and Mangrove Pitta. I only succeeded in seeing the kingfisher on the fourth trip and eventually I didn't see the pitta at all. Bonus birds on the extra trips however, were Slaty-breasted Rail (seen twice, several heard), Oriental Hobby (nest at the eastern big rock, found by Simon Buckell; I saw the male twice), Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (near threatened), Rusty-breasted Cuckoo and our only Dusky Craig Martin of the trip.

We also took a longboat to the island next to Krabi (on the other side of the river) and did some afternoon birding in an agricultural area there. Not spectacular, but we eg. saw 4 Brown Shrikes, Buff-vented Bulbul (near threatened), 10 Plain-backed Sparrows and the only Scaly-breasted Munia's (15) and Oriental Reed Warbler of the trip.

Best mammals seen: Long-tailed Macaque (common in mangroves) and a family group of 5 Smooth Otters (seen on two occasions).

Khao Nor Chuchi (7-10 March): Of course KNC is the spot for the holy grail: Gurney's Pitta. In March 2004 14 pairs were present. After the good news about the 30-40 pairs found in Myanmar (Burma) in 2003, I heard positive rumours about far more birds being present there (at least a couple of hundred). The best spot for the Gurney's at KNC is U-trail with four pairs, at short walking distance from the Morakot Resort, where you'll probably stay.
U-trail (secondary forest): U-trail is secondary forest (most of the southern part of the road is), the lower storey vegetation is dense and the birding here is very hard and little rewarding - if you don't see any pitta's that is. Apart from the Gurney's, Banded occurs here as well in this time of year. From the beginning of April they are accompanied by both Blue-winged and Hooded. Some markings can be found along the trail. The following spots were - at the time being - good for pitta's: U12-U14 (Gurney's), U16-U22 (the big gully; Banded and in summertime this is said to be good for Gurney's), U38 (Banded) and U46 (Gurney's). For finding the Gurney's yourself you need a lot of luck and patience, as you will have to sit still for hours. When we were there some people managed to see it without the guide, other people didn't. And even hiring Yothin is no guarantee for success. We birded U-trail for 27 hours in three days and only heard one Banded. On the 4th day Yothin was available (we already wanted him on day 3) and we had splendid views of both the male and especially the female. Mind that you have to sit completely still in a tent for hours, which is very unconfy. But in the end all the time, effort, money and pain in the ass was completely worth it! What a stunning birds! The birding on U-trail is very hard, as there are very few other birds present. Birding here can be really frustrating! In May 2004 I was still taking medication for U-trail Syndrome... We did manage to see some other birds here. Highlights were Black-winged Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Black-capped Babbler (4), many Siberian Blue Robins and a pair of Large Wren Babblers (near threatened) that gave splendid views all day around the big gully on March 8.
Primary forest: Because of the time-consuming pitta-event we didn't do the excellent primary forest justice: we only spent a few hours here on the 9th and 10th. If you take the regular entrance, you have to pay a 200 Baht entrance fee, but we just did some late afternoon off-trail walking on the the 9th. We managed to hear a Banded again, and we saw a male Green Broadbill and heard another one singing (see map). After seeing the Gurney's, Yothin took us to the trail I refer to as "plateau trail". This is actually on the southern part of the road, where no entrance fee is charged. See next chapter "plateau" for details. Take the small trail parallel to the river, as this was very good with Banded Bay Cuckoo, Banded Kingfisher, Raffle's Malkoha, Grey-bellied Bulbul (in a large flock; near threatened), Banded (1) and Dusky Broadbill (2), Dark-throated Oriole (pair) and Brown Fulvetta (near threatened). Missed both Banded Pitta and Green Broadbill here. A Black-bellied Malkoha was seen by other birders.
The Plateau: The plateau is reached from the Morakot following the dirt road uphill. On the southern side of the road is a plantation (see the map). Continue here until you pass a place in the forest where a big, dead tree is hanging over the road (you will recognise it when you see it). Shortly after there is another plantation on the northern part of the road (not on the map). This is the plateau. The plateau-trail is on the other side of the road. At the far end of the plantation we spend a very productive afternoon on the 9th, when we observed a Black-thighed Falconet (Simon Buckell found a nest here as well) and a Blyth's Hawk Eagle. This was also a good place to observe migration, with 118 Oriental Honey Buzzards, 2 Brahminy Kites, 1 Rufous Bellied-Eagle, 2 unidentified sparrowhawks and an Oriental Hobby passing by. On the way up we already saw Crested Goshawk and our only Black Baza of the trip. Nice break from U-trail. The plantation has Little Spiderhunters as well.

Khao Sok (11-15 March): I could not find much information about Khao Sok on the Internet. In dozens of reports it was only mentioned three times: two birders only spent a couple of hours here and another birder just began with his hobby. This surprised me, as the park is large, has very suitable habitat for birds (incl. primary forest), is large (739 km2), is connected to two other national parks and two wildlife sanctuaries, forming the largest ecological zone of the country (some 4.000 km2!), is easily reached from both Krabi (taxi or minibus, 3 hours) and Surut Thani (bus, 2 hours) and there's plenty of accommodation. According to the travel guide Asian Elephants, Tigers (fewer than 10), Leopards and Malayan Tapirs still occur here, so a place with those mammals should be good for birds as well. Therefore we decided to check it out.

The big disadvantage of the park is that there are only two trails. They both don't go round, so you have to walk back once you reach the end. No good maps of the park are available. Another disadvantage is that it can get rather crowded later on the day, especially at the beginning of the trails. Despite these disadvantages the birds and mammals turned out to be good. It gives you the opportunity to see some species that are difficult to find elsewhere in the surroundings of Krabi - where you'll probably end up anyway - such as hornbills and Bamboo Woodpecker. There is a very large lake where Grey-headed Fish-eagle (near threatened) is possible.

Trail 1 (4 km): This is an easy trail , partly paved, on the eastern part of the headquarters. It wasn't very interesting for birds the only time we walked it, with e.g. just Bushy-crested Hornbill (2, common in the park) and our second Brown-streaked Flycatcher of the trip and a glimpse of an unidentified forktail (possibly Chestnut-naped).
Trail 2 (9 km): The first 2½ kilometres of this trail are easy to walk: even a small car can pass here. It's still very interesting for both birds and mammals though. We saw a couple of good flocks and we found a fruiting tree attracting many birds. Dusky Langurs are easily seen and this part is crossed by an elephant path, easily recognisable by the clearings in the bamboo and the often fresh droppings. Early in the morning you can hear them foraging on the bamboo. Best birds here included: Bamboo Woodpecker (endemic to region and uncommon), Great Hornbill (often heard in the rest of the park as well; near threatened), Helmeted Hornbill (near threatened), Red-throated Barbet (several heard, near threatened), Blue-throated Flycatcher (2), Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Red-throated Sunbird (in the fruiting tree, near threatened) and Crimson Sunbird. At the end of the easy part of the trail there is a little restaurant. After the restaurant the harder part begins. There are five little side trails, leading to four waterfalls and a place to swim. The birding here was quite hard, but rewarding. A good strategy is going to one of the waterfalls, where you have good views over the forest. Tang Nam was very good (the third side trail; we didn't check the last one), with good forest views and a fruiting tree. Best birds seen and/or heard: Great Argus (2 calling males), our second Bamboo Woodpecker, our second Helmeted Hornbill, Chestnut-naped Forktail (near threatened) and a pair of Banded Pitta's, of which the male gave splendid views. According to Yothin this is a far better place for the species than KNC! Try the good looking gullies early in the morning and play the tape or just listen to the calls. See night safari for more details. Best mammals: a Yellow-throated Marten, several Dusky Langurs and White-handed Gibbons (gibbons heard only).

Tree Snake
(Photo by Vincent van der Spek)
Night Safari: It's possible to book a three hour night safari (1.500 B). The first 1½ hours you'll walk through the plantations, the second 1½ hours are spent in the national park, which are not accessible without guide after 18.00. This trip is for people with strong nerves, legs and hearts we found out! It started of nice with eg a large scorpion, some tree frogs, a massive toad, a tree snake and some large spiders. We had few birds: a sleeping Red Junglefowl and a calling Collared Scops Owl. The highlight of the walk through the plantations however was a Asian Brown Flycatcher that was stunned by our lights. As we came closer, taking pictures, we suddenly realised that we could actually grab it out of the tree. And that's what we did! After making a few pictures of the bird in the hand, we released it again. It was time to go into the forest. Most part of the forest was rather disappointing, with a sleeping Blue-throated Flycatcher as a highlight. Unfortunately this bird was sitting just too high to grab it out of the tree as well... A Lesser Mouse Deer was only seen by the guide (I only saw some eye reflection). In the mean time we got very close to the elephant trail and the guide refused to go any further. Suddenly we heard an aggressive breeze, not more than 15 metres away (I've heard this sound in the distance before and this was really, really close!). Our guide Tang immediately shouted: elephant, run, run! As I knew this trail was used by three adults with a cup, there was no discussion: run like hell! We got out of the park safely, full of adrenaline. The owner of the travel agency looked really scared when we told him the story (he actually thanked Buddha that we were still alive) and told that he knew people who got killed by elephants here. I was told that the sound we heard was actually a serious warning... Apart from elephants other good animals that can be seen during these night safari's include Spotted Leopard Cat and Slow Loris (both not mythical: there's a fair chance of seeing them). Tang turned out to be someone who really knows the forest well and he showed us some good birds in the book we hadn't seen yet. He knows the places for Banded Pitta and Chestnut-naped Forktail and he knows a lot of sounds, especially from the bigger birds. We hired him next day (not through the travel agency: we paid him more than his boss would give him) and were very satisfied as he brought us to close the pitta and forktail spots and discovered one of the calling Great Argusses and a Helmeted Hornbill as well. We gave one of our copies of The birds of South-East Asia, so he could get familiair with the English names and the little brown jobs.
Similan Islands (16 March): On island nr. 4 there's a visitors station, where Nicobar Pigeon can be seen. I booked a (very long) snorkeling day-trip from Krabi for 2.800 B. In the description of the trip a visit to the station was mentioned, but eventually we didn't go there at all. We just stopped for snorkelling at the other side of the island for half an hour. Luckily enough I caught a very short glimpse of a Nicobar after all. In the beginning I was rather pissed off that we didn't visit the island, but the snorkelling was so excellent, that I had a very good day after all. Especially swimming with two Green Sea Turtles made up for the lack of good views of the pigeon. To me it is unclear if the species also occurs on one of the other islands, though I did not find it on island nr. 3, where I searched for half an hour during lunch. Other birds seen included Osprey, White-bellied Sea-eagle (2), Pied Imperial Pigeon (common), Black-naped Tern (several) and Bridled Tern (35+).
Koh Phi Phi (17-20 March): It was time for some party, snorkelling and a critically endangered bird: Christmas Island Frigatebird. At the main island I didn't raise my bins a single time, but I went to Koh Pidah twice. Hiring a longboat is straightforward in the harbour. Lesser Frigatebirds come to roost at Koh Pidah. Note all the dead trees on the island. Finding the Christmas Island Frigatebird is very difficult, as you will only see frigatebirds soaring high in the sky. They won't land on the island until dusk. At the second visit I was lucky once again: I saw a female frigatebird that was obviously larger. Fortunately the light was good, so I could see the white belly as well, which excluded Great Frigatebird. Other birds seen during both boat trips included: Bridled Tern (a few), Black-naped Tern (common), Collared Kingfisher (2), Common Kingfisher, White-bellied Sea-eagle (3), Peregrine Falcon (2 at Koh Phi Leh) and Pied Imperial Pigeon (common).
Khok Kham / Samut Sakhon (21 March): I arrived at Bangkok with the night train from Sarut Thani at 10:00. First I went to the airport to store my backpack (easy) and than went to the southern bus terminal. Around 12:00 I took the bus to Samut Sakhon (1½ hours). A motor taxi company is right next to the bus stop where you're dropped off. Just show them your bins and they will ask: "bird, bird?". For a little bit of money they will take you to the Khok Kham Bird Centre. If Mr. Tii is not around, other people at the centre will call him for you. Tii will take you to the saltpans on his motor bike. After half an hour we found the final Holy Grail of the trip: a distant first winter Spoon-billed Sandpiper! We lost it when we tried to get closer. Tii searched for another hour (while I was checking all the other birds closer by; I had no scope) before he relocated the bird again. Good views now: not only the bill and the feeding behaviour were very different from any stint I've ever seen, but the big head and belly give it a very different, bulky appearance. An adult was present as well at the time, but unfortunately we couldn't find it. Mr. Tii officially doesn't charge a fee, but I gave him 500 Baht and a packet of cigarettes. More birders I know gave him 500 and I think everybody should, as he really makes an effort. Trying to find the Spoons yourself seems like a bad idea, as the area is very large. Other nice birds present were: Little Cormorant (20), Indian Cormorant (1), Long-toed Stint (small numbers), Red-necked Stint (common), Broad-billed Sandpiper (10+), Curlew Sandpiper (35), Greenshank (3; Nordmann's is sometimes seen here as well), Marsh Sandpiper (40), Lesser and Greater Sandplover (together about 50; most birds identified were Greater's), Kentish Plover (8), Pacific Golden Plover (10), Brown-headed Gull (150), Caspian Tern (3; scarce in Thailand), Gull-billed Tern (1). Sometimes Grey-tailed Tattler is seen here as well. What a last day!
Vincent van der Spek
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