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Thailand Trip February. 13th - 28th, 2007
Kaeng Krachan, Kao Yai, Doi Chiang Dao and Doi Inthanon
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My wife, Cynthia Su, and I had a wonderful birding holiday in Thailand during the 2007 Lunar New Year. During this trip we spotted 279 species in total. Most records were of terrestrial (forest) birds. This was especially enjoyable for us.
Kaeng Krachan (13-17th February) - KK is a good start and the birds there…woh!!!
Our first stop was Kaeng Krachan National Park (KK) which is located to the south-west of Bangkok and takes about a 3 hour drive to reach from the airport (Bangkok). I reserved a rental car on the internet and took delivery of it at the airport. Though the road conditions were not bad, it still took us about 5 hours to reach the hotel I had booked near KK. The major reasons were the road signs were not very useful for a foreigner and most of them were only in Thai script. Also, we had to find someplace to shop for the food we needed for KK. We found there was a good shopping center (Big C) on the way from Petchaburi to KK.

We stayed in KK for four days. Except for the first night, the other three nights we spent camping at the km 15 campsite. Well, I don’t think we were really camping in the wild because the ranger let us set our tent up inside a building. The rangers there were very nice and I think they treated us better than the other tourists. Maybe this was because a birdingpal, Miss Pornkasem Kantamara that I had contacted was quite familiar with them and she had informed them of our visit.

The birds in the KK were fantastic. The campsite was superb for a quite a few common species and even some canopy birds about. I am not sure exactly how many species have been recorded in the campsite but would think more than 50. Besides birding in the campsite, we could also walk a short distance along the trails into the forest. We also organized a truck to take us to the higher part of the national park (km 30) for a one day trip (you can arrange this with the ranger).

In total, we saw 116 species in KK and averaged seeing more than 50 species per day. I got my first excellent spot of a male Blue Pitta there. The woodpecker diversity was outstanding. We identified 9 species and I think we saw one or two others which we weren’t able to ID. KK is the first place where I have recorded so many species of woodpeckers in such a short period.

Another highlight was a male Banded Kingfisher that landed less than 10 meters from us and stayed for almost a minute. The color pattern was really beautiful. I did not understand how lucky we were to see it until the end of the trip. It was the only male we saw. We also saw Silver-breasted Broadbill, Asian Barred Owlet, a number of different Barbets, Sultan Tit, Orange-breasted Trogon, and various kinds of babblers, bulbuls and warblers, which were all very impressive. From the calls that we heard of the Grey Peacock Pheasant, it appeared that it was not rare but we didn’t have the luck to see one. It should not be too difficult to find, I would tend to think, if we had more time.

The richness and abundance of the mammals in KK were also excellent. Quite a few porcupines would walk around the campsite every night. A Palm Civet always visited the kitchen in the evening. Dusky Langur was almost everywhere. We joined a night-safari when we visited Kao Yai (KY). It was very interesting to note the contrast in the attitude towards the wild mammals between two different national parks. A night-safari is kind of well-organized business in KY but in KK the rangers always warned us not to go into the forest during the night as it was too dangerous!

After visiting KY, we understood the differences. Though the larger mammals are still fairly common in KY, they are far fewer in number than in KK. I recall that even on the wide, paved road that lead to the campsite where we stayed, piles of elephant dung could be seen. Also, when we would walk along the road in the early mornings, we found bamboo that had often been pulled down by the elephants and it would obstruct the road. Rangers told us that one female elephant leading two calves had passed through their dormitory on the night before we arrived. One night a ranger showed us the mammals around the campsite for about 10 minutes. We saw more than 20 porcupines, a Palm Civet and a weasel which was quite large.

Kao Yai (17-21st February) - A crowded place. However, peace and quiet were still found in the forest.
Before I headed to Thailand, I made contact with a local guide, Mr. Nine, who is based near Khao Yai. I felt the guiding fee he asked was pretty high, so I only hired him for a day and thought that it would help us to become a little more familiar with the bird status inside the park and then we could use this knowledge to form the basis of the rest of our birding in KY. This proved to be a good plan. The guide showed us some of the famous stake-outs. I believe it saved us quite a bit of time and frustration and was the key to me finding a pair of Eared Pittas by myself.

We arrived at the Greenleaf Guesthouse, where we planed to stay for the first night, at around 16:00. Since it was not that late, we randomly chose a narrow field road nearby and did some bird-watching before sunset. Several lovely birds were seen, which included Indochinese Bushlark, Burmese Shrike, Plaintive Cuckoo and a male Siberain Rubythroat, which gave us quite a surprise.

Early on the morning of 2/18, Mr. Nine lead us to a big fruiting tree on the main road to the park headquarters. Many different pigeons were seen eating the fruit and included Thick-billed Pigeon, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon and Mountain Imperial Pigeon. We also saw some Hornbills which included Great, Oriental Pied and Wreathed Hornbills. These all showed well around the fruit tree. In addition, there were some interesting minivet flocks around the tree which included Rosy, Swinhoe’s and Scarlet Minivets.

After the fruit tree, we walked two trails to look for pitta but did not see any. We then went on to the HQ. There, we saw a flock of beautiful Pin-tailed Parrotfinches that was busy searching for food in two clumps of blossoming bamboo. In the afternoon, we visited a famous stake-out for the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. An Orange-headed Thrush and two Coral-billed Ground-cuckoos showed well. I had taken lots of pictures that day and for some unexplained reason my memory card suddenly stopped working. Fortunately, the birds did come out again the next afternoon and I was able to photograph them.

Over the next two days and on morning of the third, we adventured along several trails and revisited the sites the guide had showed us by ourselves. As mentioned above, we spotted the Eared Pittas and also another male Blue Pitta. The Eared Pittas were very elusive. I heard their slight vocalizations penetrating the forest in the early morning. Since the light was still too dim to look for them, we spent quite a bit of time listening so as to locate their position. Interestingly, when I walked into the forest and got close to them, about 3-5 meters, I found that they seemed not to be afraid of me at all. This was very good as I had enough time to take some pictures of them on the dark forest floor. Another interesting observation was some Siamese Fireback. We spotted the Firebacks twice at the same area (trail 9). The first time we saw at least two males and one female feeding on the forest floor under a big fruiting tree. The second time was also an excellent spot. Again, it was a handsome male feeding quietly under another big fruiting tree. The decorative feathers on its head were very unique.

Other highlights included a male Silver Oriole, a flock of Red-breasted Parakeet, a Sulphur-breasted Warbler, a Plain-tailed Warbler, a White-crowned Forktail, two Long-tailed Broadbills and Slaty-backed Forktails, and several Red-headed Trogons.

Beside the birds mentioned above, I also started to pay more attention to the leaf warblers. I expected that observations of wintering leaf warblers in Thailand would be extremely interesting and would be a big challenge. I identified several species of leaf-warbler that also can appear on Taiwan sometimes. I felt that this experience in KY would be beneficial to me for identifying leaf warblers on Taiwan.

The facilities at KY are very good. Maybe, they are almost too good for a national park. At times I felt it is quite strange that the bungalows were spread over such a large area. It sacrifices much more forest doing this than if they had placed them more compactly within a smaller area. International tourists were super abundant during the period we visited. Further, I wasn’t aware that many Thai people have a long Chinese New Year holiday, either. The center area, like the HQ, was noisy. Troops of night safari trucks drove around crazily on the second evening that we were there. You can’t imagine how many people there were in KY. We had planed to stay inside the park after our guided first day but all the bungalows inside the park were full. Nevertheless, accommodation outside the park was plentiful. The guesthouse we had stayed in on our first night in the area was really economical at only 300 baht per night, so we decided to go back there again. Even though we had to pay the entrance fee of 400 baht per person per day, again the next morning, it was still very economical. For the final two nights we were able to stay inside the park. The basic but clean bungalows with a king-sized bed cost 800 baht per night.

Doi Chiang Dao (22-24th February) – I need to go back again.
After our stay at Kao Yai, we spent a night in Bangkok for a short relaxing break from birding and then flew north to Chiang Mai the next morning. For the first three days (2/22-24) we stayed at Doi Chiang Dao (DCD) which is located about 70-80 km north of Chiang Mai.

Accommodation at DCD is plentiful. We chose the famous Malee Nature Lover’s Guesthouse and found it to be run by a Chinese Thai. Some of the staff still has the ability to speak basic Mandarin. Malee is very experienced in organizing transportation and food for birders. We had asked her to organize transportation for us from the airport to DCD and then a round trip to the mountainous area for the two famous birds found there, Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Giant Nuthatch.

Because time was short, we only visited some trails near the temple that was close to Malee's Guesthouse and then a full day trip to Den Ya Kat (DYK, which is a mountainous area). The temple gully is famous for the Rusty-naped Pitta and Slaty-bellied Tesia. We walked the area twice but no sign of the pitta was found. The tesia was easily heard. However, it is extremely difficult to try and locate its position because of the dense vegetation there. Though we weren’t lucky enough to spot the pitta and tesia, there were plenty of other interesting birds that showed well around the temple. These included Streaked Wren Babbler, Grey-headed Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Striated Yuhina, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Asian Stubtail, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Buff-throated Babbler which were all not difficult to see.

DYK is definitely worth a visit. Not only for the two stars but also for many other beautiful birds that we were only to record in this mountainous area. Though our driver could not speak any English, he did know the site well and had the hospitality to look for birds for us on the way. He stopped at the junction of the Firebreak trail where we walked along the trail to look for the pheasant. Before we met our one and only pheasant, we saw many birds feeding on or near the trail. Hoopoe and Scaly Thrush were pretty common. The pheasant flushed away almost before we detected it. Grey Bushchat and Burmese Shrike also inhabited the route along the trail. Mixed-species flocks were often met, too. Leaf warblers were everywhere. We also had our first spots of Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Jay, Slender-billed Oriole, Grey-chinned Minivet, Large Woodshrike, Chestnut-bellied Thrush (a beautiful male), Little Pied Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, there.

Concerning the Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Giant Nuthatch, we found that we had experienced the exact same situation as another birder who had gone the day before. He had a glance of a pheasant as it flushed from a big hole and had not found the Giant Nuthatch. I inquired as to where the pheasant was spotted and from my experience it would seem that the pheasant tended to hang around the same site during that period of time. It seems that it is difficult to have a good view of it. The bird was clever to choose a site that is obstructed by walls from three directions. We struggled looking for the Giant Nuthatch for quite some time. Thereafter, we shifted our attention to other birds and soon after we started walking on a narrow trail behind the toilet we started to see other birds. The trail passed through some disturbed and sparse forest. We saw a pair of Rusty-cheked Scimitar Babbler, a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, a singing Orange-bellied Leafbird and a pair of Grey-headed Parrotbills busy collecting nesting material.

Doi Inthanon (24-27th February) -A truly lovely place that any keen birdwatcher must go to. Surprises are everywhere.
We hired a taxi to take us back to Chiang Mai Airport and from there we took a rented car at around 14:00 and drove to Doi Inthanon (DIN). The road to DIN was excellent and it only took us about 1 hr to drive to the Inthanon Highland Resort where we stayed for that night. We managed some bird watching around the orchard near the resort before sunset. A Rufous Treepie and a small flock of Chestnut-capped Babblers were spotted near the resort. A White-breasted Waterhen also showed well inside the resort. Interestingly, it was first time we saw this common bird in Thailand.

It is easy to see that the resort was often used by the birdwatchers. Pictures of some famous Thai guides hung on the wall. Bird paintings and sculptures were everywhere. The staff was very nice. They sent the bird log and a birding map to us. And a Spotted Owlet living there was a bonus. I think it is well worth it to stay at the resort for one night, especially if you are a birder and come to DIN too late in the day to go into the park and do a birding trip. In addition, the food there is really good when compared with the food found inside the park.

Early the next morning, we drove to 37.5km (Checkpoint 2) and birded around the main road and the Jeep Trail all morning. Birding here was another new experience in Thai birding. Most of the birds we saw here we hadn’t seen before or hadn’t been common at the other sites we had visited. A small babbler, the Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, which most Taiwan birdwatchers are familiar with, was abundant there. Chestnut-crowned Laughing-thrush, Dusky-backed Sibia, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Golden-throated Barbet, Maroon Oriole, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Flavescent Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Mountain Tailorbird, Silver-eared Mesia all showed well in this region. Minivets were common. Besides the more common Scarlet Minvet, the Long-tailed and Short-billed Minivet have been recorded here. We, however, were only able to spot the Scarlet and Long-tailed Minivets. Quite often their individual characteristics were quite difficult to observe when they stayed in the tree tops. All of the birds we spotted that morning were very impressive. However, the Rufous-winged Fulvetta was most attractive to me. This bird has a strange color pattern on its face and often walks on the trunk. Sometimes it looks rather like a nuthatch.

We had our lunch at the famous Mr. Daeng’s shop that is located opposite the park HQ. The birding log here was more useful than the one in the Highland Resort. There was a female Siberian Blue Robin that lived there and it is quite tame. Dusky Thrush has often been recorded in the gully next to the shop.

We visited the Jeep trail again in the afternoon. The birds were not as active as in the morning. However, we had an excellent spot of a male Silver Pheasant and another pair of birders kindly showed us a male Large Niltava they had found. Before sunset, I heard Slaty-bellied Tesia singing again. I managed to attract it closer. I saw why it had been so difficult to see in the Temple Gully at DCD. It moves so fast and is very difficult to spot the tiny, concealed body within the obstructing mass of dense vegetation. The Tesia is a bird that has a similar body shape to the pitta and was one of my most wanted birds for this trip.

The second morning we visited the mountain summit which is the highest point in the Kingdom of Thailand. The birds were astonishing there. Many species in large numbers flew again and again in front of us and at a very close distance. We were so busy all morning that when we finally checked the time it was already close to noon. Green-tailed Sunbird and Ash-throated Warbler were two that can almost only be seen here in Thailand. We saw Gould’s Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Rufous-tailed Minla, Grey-sided Thrush, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Buff-barred Warbler, White-browed Shortwing, Chestnut-flanked White-eye and Yellow-browed Tit, which were all our first sightings of these species in Thailand. There was a male Shortwing that was very easy to observe. Its color was slaty-blue with a pair of short but clean white brows. It was difficult to believe it was the same species as the one we have in Taiwan. We spotted the Slaty-bellied Tesia again here. This time it did not move as fast as others on the Jeep Trail, so we could see it clearly. It really looked like a cute toy from a cartoon.

In the afternoon we tried the Jeep Trail again to look for the Dusky Thrush and Rusty-naped Pitta. I walked slowly and tried to hear any disturbance type noise from the forest floor. Though it shouldn’t have been so difficult to detect their presence, we didn’t hear or find any sign of them.

On the morning of the 27th, we tried the km 13 trail and two waterfalls at km’s 30 and 22, respectively. The lower part of the DIN was really dry at the time we visited. We did not spend too much time there and only walked a short distance along the river. We recorded at least four male Golden-fronted Leafbirds chasing each other. We also saw three Black-backed Forktails and a lovely Collard Falconet, there. Km 22 waterfall is a good site for the White-crowned Water Redstart and Plumbeous Water Redstart. We spotted a pair Common Rosefinch feeding on nectar in a big tree near the entrance of the km 30 waterfall.

Scott Ruey-Shing Lin
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