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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Thailand: The South

Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachen National Parks and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

2016 Narrative

In Brief: Our more southerly Thailand tour was highlighted by the number of shorebirds in the Pak Thale and Laem Phak Bia.  We tallied a full 42 species including the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper (two birds) along with the threatened Nordmann’s Greenshank and Asian Dowitcher (22 birds tallied).  The newly recognized (by some) White-faced Plover was seen along with Malaysian Plover and several Eastern Curlews.  Other highlights included Silver and Kalij Pheasants, Siamese Fireback, Bar-backed and Sclay-breasted Partridges, a female Gray Peacock-Pheasant, a dark morph Booted Eagle, Yellow-vented Pigeons, five species of broadbills including nesting Long-tailed, a cooperative group of Ratchet-tailed Treepies, Limestone Wren and Spot-necked Babblers and a cooperative male Blue Pitta.  Also notable were two Palearctic migrants, Himalayan Cuckoo (two separate birds) and an adult male Blue-and-White Flycatcher.  Notable mammals seen included Asian Elephant, White-handed Gibbon, Smooth Otter and numerous Lesser Mouse Deer. 

In Detail: Our trip began with an evening rendezvous in the lobby of the Novotel followed by a delicious buffet dinner in the dining room.  The next morning we arrived at Rangsit, in the northern part of the city and near the old Don Muang International Airport.  Here there is a still remnant marshland surrounded by the city.  Although the marshland had temporarily dried up, we found a few interesting species including a Purple Heron, a handful of Pink-necked Pigeons along with Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Dusky Warblers and White-shouldered Starlings.  Of particular interest was a Himalayan Cuckoo.  This was the first time we have recorded this species on a Thailand tour.  It was likely an early spring migrant.  The species has been split by most from the Oriental Cuckoo which breeds farther north from easternmost Europe to northeast Asia.  The two differ vocally and by size (Himalayan slightly smaller).  The Oriental migrates and winters (some winter in Australia) farther east, although it has been ringed (banded) in peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.  Also split from Oriental is the much smaller Sunda Cuckoo, resident in the mountains of Malaysia and also found in the Greater and Lesser Sundas. 

From Rangsit we headed to Chalermpraakiet Werawitian temple where a Spotted Owlet was obligingly cooperative as were a number of Red-breasted Parakeets.  Several other stops produced a large roost of Lyle’s Flying Foxes as well as nesting Asian Golden Weavers.  At lunch at Ayutthaya we watched nesting Pied Kingfishers and our walk around the old capital city (sacked by the Burmese in 1767) produced Hoopoe and a pair of Small Minivets.  Our final stop was the Prabuddhabatnoi temple where several of us managed to see the very localized Limestone Wren-Babbler. 

We spent a full three days at Khao Yai National Park.  Highlights were almost too many to enumerate but included both Silver Pheasant and Siamese Fireback along with numerous Red Junglefowl, Crested Goshawk, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Collared Owlet, Great Eared-Nightjars, Silver and Brown-backed Needletails, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons, Great, Oriental, and Pied Hornbills, Greater Flamebacks and a pair of Lesser Yellownapes, four species of minivets, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, and two male Crimson Sunbirds.  In the one blind we frequented we missed the Blue Pitta but enjoyed several Orange-headed Thrushes that hopped about our feet as well as an adult male Siberian Blue Robin that was most cooperative.  The appearance along with good photos of a Scaly Thrush at this same blind proved thought provoking.  By range it is much more likely to be the highly migratory White’s Thrush (Zoothera aurea), but by appearance it seemed to better fit a Scaly Thrush (Zoothera dauma), at least according to Robson’s field guide (text and illustrations). Wintering Radde’s Warblers were more numerous this winter along the sides of the road in herbage. Mammals included Asian Elephant, Black Giant Squirrel, White-handed Gibbon, and Smooth Otter. 

After our time at Khao Yai, we had a long driving day back around the edge of Bangkok and down to wetland areas on the peninsula.  We stopped again at Prabuddhabatnoi where all got to see Limestone Wren-Babbler well.  We also saw a male Golden-fronted Leafbird.  Lunch was at a fish restaurant on the Gulf at Leam Leo.  After lunch we checked Nong Plalai, a well-known place for raptors.  We did see Greater Spotted Eagle and a single dark morph Booted Eagle.  A number of Black-headed Ibis were also of note.  After checking in at our accommodation we visited the Royal Project where we got brief views of Oriental and Black-browed Reed-Warblers.

We spent the next two days exploring the wetlands around Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia.  I can think of no better location to see and study east Asian shorebirds.  We tallied some 42 species.  The highlight was the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  We saw at least two birds and had long prolonged studies of both.  We also had Nordmann’s Greenshank (2) and 22 Asian Dowitchers (at Wat Khao Takrao), the largest number we have ever recorded on a Thailand tour.  Other notable shorebirds included Malaysian and a single White-faced Plover (treated as a subspecies of Kentish Plover by some), Eastern Curlew (several), Pied Avocet (35) and lots of Oriental Pratincoles.  Other sightings of note included three Spot-billed Pelicans (another Thai tour first for us), 30 Painted Storks, Pacific Reef and Chinese Egrets, Slaty-breasted Rail, Pallas’s (Great Black-headed) Gull, Lesser Crested and Great Crested Terns, and a mixed group of Daurian (Purplish-backed) and White-shouldered Starlings. 

We left in the pre-dawn of 1 March and spent much of the day near the entrance to Kaeng Krachan National Park at Lung Sin Water hole, relaxing during the hot mid-day hours at our lodging at Ban Maka.  The water and food they put out attracts many birds and animals.  The Greater and Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes were nearly continually about and provided excellent comparisons.  White-browed  and Large (late in day) Scimitar-Babblers also made appearances.  We were particularly on the lookout for pheasants and partridges and weren’t disappointed.  Red Junglefowl  were often audible and made many visits to the feeding area.  A female Kalij Pheasant made an appearance and we had excellent views of both Scaly-breasted and Bar-backed Partridges.  The Bar-backed was particularly stunning.  Also making frequent visits were Racket-tailed Treepies.  A number of the tiny Lesser Mouse Deer (Lesser Oriental Chevrotain is an alternate English name) also visited the feeding area and pool.

The following morning we went up to km 29 stopping along the way to try to see a Spot-necked Babbler that was calling.  Despite coming in very close, only a few got to get brief views.  A number of other interesting species were seen in the area and this included a very vocal group of Ratchet-tailed Treepies, perhaps the most sought after species at Khaeng Krachan and the only location that the species occurs in Thailand.  White-hooded Babblers were noted as were several Yellow-vented Pigeons and two Greater Green Leafbirds at a fruiting tree.  Two Dark-sided Flycatchers perched up conspicuously.  On the way up we encountered an adult male Blue-and-White Flycatcher (nominate black throated subspecies), an early spring migrant.  In the same tree was a Buff-rumped Woodpecker.  On the way back down we stopped at a site, where a pair of Long-tailed Broadbills was nesting.  Eventually, the pair was seen well. 

We spent the next two days birding at lower elevations within the park where in general the birds were quite numerous, especially early and late.  Highlights included Black-and-Red, Black-and-Yellow, Banded (heard only) and Silver-breasted Broadbills, a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo, a pair of Southern Booboks and a Collared Owlet, and single pairs of Grey-rumped Treeswifts, Black-thighed Falconets (complete with CJ video), and Golden-crested Mynas.  Woodpeckers included Greater and Common Flamebacks and Rufous.  We also had stunning views of a Grey-headed Woodpecker at Nueng water hole.  A loose and cooperative (normally quite shy) group of Large Hawk-Cuckoos were surprising.  Sultan Tits were numerous.  On our last full day at Kaeng Krachan we had two outstanding highlights, a male Blue Pitta at a streamside site (seen by all) and late in the day a female Gray Peacock-Pheasant at Nueng water hole.  We had a final half day in the lowlands at Kaeng  Krachan  where we found the Golden-crested Mynas and also had a flyover Violet Cuckoo.  Then after cleaning up and having lunch at Ban Maka, we returned back to Bangkok where we had a final buffet dinner at the Novotel. 

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