by Nick Upton
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Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi, 11th October 2009
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Having been alerted to the presence of Limestone Wren Babblers (calcicola subspecies) at Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi, in Saraburi province some years previous, I decided that a visit was way overdue.

Although the site is only about a one and a half hour drive from Bangkok I had never visited due to the fact that I had seen Limestone Wren Babbler (crispifrons subspecies) before at Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi province. However, the Wren Babblers were reportedly much easier to see at Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi and this location is much more convenient than Hellfire Pass, being closer to Bangkok and close to the route taken when travelling from Bangkok to Khao Yai; making it a convenient stop off for this species with a very restricted range when en-route to other birding locations.

I decided to visit the site on the spur of the moment and having missed the best time to find birds in the early morning I decided to head to Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi in the afternoon, aiming to arrive at about 3.30pm when the birds should be becoming active again, having been told by other birders that it would probably be tough to find the Wren Babblers in the heat of the middle of the day.

Getting There
My wife and I set off from our home, in the southwestern part of Bangkok, taking the expressway north. For those beginning nearer the city centre the expressway heading north from Din Daeng and on past the old airport towards Rangsit is the one to take; signs for Saraburi appear shortly after the expressway finishes. We travelled in the afternoon on a Sunday when the traffic was light and it took somewhere in the region of 1.5 - 2 hours to reach the temple. Usually, if heading to Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi from Bangkok, it would be advisable to start the journey at around 5am to avoid heavy traffic heading out of the city.

One should head directly into Saraburi and drive straight through the town, following signs north on highway 1 to Lopburi. After some distance one comes to an intersection with traffic lights, signs still indicate Lopburi straight ahead and Pra Puttabaht is also signposted. Be aware that the Pra Puttabaht that is signposted is not the destination that you want to end up at.
Eventually an intersection is reached ("Phu Khae Intersection") where signposts indicate that Petchabun is straight on with Lopburi and Pra Puttabaht to the left. The highway actually bears left and to go straight on one must stop at some lights. Head towards Petchabun (straight on) and not Lopburi/Pra Puttabaht. A few hundred metres further on take a u-turn and drive back towards Saraburi and immediately after Phu Khae junction ( a few hundred metres back) turn left, just before a footbridge over the road; this footbridge over the road can be seen some distance before reaching the junction, and this is the indication to slow down and keep left.  
Traffic is heavy here so if any of the turnings are missed, carry on, do a u-turn somewhere and try again. Don't dangerously cut across heavy traffic which will not slow down to let you through.

At this intersection the natural route of the traffic is shown by the black lines. To follow the red lines one must wait at some traffic lights. From Saraburi head straight on, following the red line towards Petchabun and then take the u-turn. If you find yourself heading towards Lopburi, don't panic, do a u-turn, follow the road towards Petchabun and then take the next u-turn before heading back to the turning for Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi.

Having made the turning you will soon (about 100m along the road) see signs in English for Ban Song Khon, this will let you know you have taken the correct turning. Follow this road for a little over 10km and you will reach a sharp 90 degree right hand bend with a small police post on the corner in front of you. Turn left on the dirt track here and follow the main track to the temple gate; cars can be aprked shortly after passing through the gate.
Finding the Limestone Wren Babblers
I had been told by a number of birdwatchers that finding Limestone Wren Babbler here was a relatively easy affair and so it proved to be. After arriving at 4pm, just a brief search around the car park and then up some stairs that go behind parts of the temple and climb up the limestone rocks, we found a single Limestone Wren Babbler foraging amongst some offerings in front of a small golden Buddha. The bird performed quite well for about 1 minute, juttering its distinctive churring call, before disappearing into some cracks in the limestone. A short wait saw it return but never again to close range and we saw it vanish up the rock face after a few more minutes of viewing.

Golden Buddha in limestone rocks, where we saw our first Limestone Wren Babbler
(Photo by Nick Upton)

Looking down the staircase from where we saw our first Limestone Wren Babbler
(Photo by Nick Upton)

As we came down the staircase, back towards our car, I heard another Limestone Wren Babbler below us, but did not see it. However, a small flock of migrants passed through the forest halfway down the staircase and in this flock we saw several Black-naped Orioles, a Crow-billed Drongo, 2 Ashy Drongos, 1 Eastern Crowned Warbler and 1 Yellow-browed Warbler.

I wanted to see for myself how easy the Limestone Wren Babblers were to find here so decided to look for some more at another part of the temple. Going through some sort of gateway I walked through a forest patch with limestone boulders either side. Very quickly I caught a glimpse of another wren babbler jumping around on rocks. I didn't make any attempt to call it out and didn't see it again but having found 2 Limestone Wren Babblers and heard one more in a visit that lasted only about 1 hour I was fairly convinced that the birds are easier to find here than anywhere else I know of.

Other Bird Species of Note
Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi turned up a few other interesting birds on my visit; here I will mention a few that can probably be found on any visit to the temple. Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets were very vocal and fairly easy to see on top of dead snags. Ashy Drongos and Blue Rock Thrushes were easily found on tree tops and limestone pinnacles. Asian Barred Owlet was quite vocal at 5pm and I found one without much trouble. A Tickell's Blue Flycatcher was another nice bird and considering that most birding trips spend very little time at the right (low) altitude for this species, it is probably worth searching for it here.

Forest where we saw our second Limestone Wren Babbler
(Photo by Nick Upton)

Limestone crags and forest at Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi
(Photo by Nick Upton)

Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi
(Photo by Nick Upton)
I would think that a morning or afternoon session at Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi could turn up a fair number of the commoner forest birds and, particularly during migratory periods, a few less common ones. Below is a list of the birds I saw in just 1 hour, between 4 and 5 pm.
Nick Upton ( 
 Birds seen at Wat Pra Phuttabaht Noi
Lineated Barbet
Coppersmith Barbet
Asian Koel
Asian Palm Swift
Asian Barred Owlet
Rock Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Cattle Egret
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Crow-billed Drongo
Black-naped Oriole
Pied Fantail
Common Iora
Blue Rock Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Taiga (Red-throated) Flycatcher
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie Robin
Ashy Woodswallow
Barn Swallow
Black-crested Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Limestone Wren Babbler
Striped Tit Babbler
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Olive-backed Sunbird
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More information on Limestone Wren Babbler at Hellfire Pass  
If you are interested in arranging a bird watching tour you can see some suggested itineraries here - Birdwatching Trips - and you can contact me at the above email address to discuss the best options.
Thanks to Stijn De Win for making me aware of existence of Wat Pra Puttabaht Noi and the fact that it is home to Limestone Wren Babbler.

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