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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Thailand: The South

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

2018 Narrative

In Brief: Our Thailand tour included the beautiful Khao Yai and Khaeng Krachan National Parks and the shorebird rich areas of Laem Phak Bia and Pak Thale.  At Khao Yai, highlights included three species of hornbills, Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo, White-throated Rock-Thrush (a male), and a male Blue Pitta.  At Khaeng Krachan, highlights included five species of broadbills, three species of laughingthrushes, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Kalij Pheasants, and three species of partridges: Scaly-breasted, Bar-backed and a single Ferruginous.  A Leopard was briefly seen crossing the road and a family group of Banded Langurs were well seen.  Shorebirds at Laem Phak Bia and Phak Thale numbered over 40 species including the celebrated trio, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank (96 on one pond!) and Asian Dowitcher. Also noted was Spot-billed Pelican, Chinese Egret, Eastern Curlew, Little Stint, and Malaysian and White-faced Plovers, the latter treated by most as a subspecies of Kentish Plover, but it is probably best treated as its own species.

In Detail: Our group met in the lobby of the Novotel on the 21st and then enjoyed a buffet dinner at the Novotel.  The next morning we left before dawn for Rangsit, a marshy place near the old Bangkok international airport on the north side of town.  Here amongst the surprisingly numerous mosquitoes, we found both Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Purple Heron, Pink-necked Pigeons, Pied Fantails, White-shouldered Starlings, Dusky and Black-browed Reed Warblers, and Plain-backed Sparrow. Two Oriental Pratincoles flew high overhead.  Our next stop was at Wat Chalerm Pra Kiat where we had nice views of Red-breasted Parakeets and a pair of Spotted Owlets.  Surprising were a small group of Small Minivets.  At Wat Tha Sung we encountered several hundred Lyle’s Flying Foxes. Searching for weavers we located both Baya and Asian Golden, but not Streaked. Lunch along the river in Ayuttaya produced a pair of Pied Kingfishers.  Our final stop late in the afternoon was at Wat Phra Buddhabat Noi where we had superb views of Limestone Wren-Babblers at the foot of limestone cliffs.

Our first morning in Khao Yai was excellent with superb views of both a male Blue Pitta and an adult male Siberian Blue Robin.  Even better was a stunning Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo.  All of these were at a blind.  The trees around the campground were full of landbirds including Moustached, Blue-eared, and Green-eared Barbets, Grey-backed Shrike, and Indian Hill and Golden-crested Mynas along with Thick-billed, Yellow-vented, and Fire-breasted (“Buff-bellied” subspecies) Flowerpeckers. Hornbills included Oriental Pied and Wreathed. Later that day we had a an Oriental Hobby flash by our group and later at a pond enjoyed excellent views of Brown Needletails along with a single Silver-backed Needletail and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. The needletails came in formation and looked like 747’s as they  hit the water to get a drink. At dusk we had decent views of multiple Great Eared-Nightjars looking almost like harriers flying over the forest.

The next morning we checked the viewpoint and had good views of Great Hornbill and a female Banded Kingfisher.  Other highlights included a pair of Grey-capped Woodpeckers and Greater Flamebacks and Rosy Minivet.  At km 33 we had excellent views of male Red-headed Trogon.  Later in the day at the south end of Khao Yai National Park we had fine views of Crimson, Ruby-cheeked, and Van Hasselt’s (formerly known as Purple-throated) Sunbirds.

On our final morning we headed up to Khao Yai’s highest point, the ridge at Khao Khieo.  At the checkpoint the stunning Black-throated Laughingthrushes, were much in evidence.  Here we also eventually located some singing leaf warblers which would later prove to be Kloss’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus ogilviegranti), a recent split.  This species is resident here.  A Back Eagle flew over us on the ridge. Farther down at the base of the Khao Khieo road we eventually located a male White-throated Rock-Thrush, a scarce winter visitor from the north.  Late in the day near the headquarters we found two Blue-bearded Bee-eaters and Abbott’s Babblers.

The next day was a driving day.  On the way to Bangkok we stopped for a rest stop, a filling station, at Wang Noi, and found nesting Small Minivets.  We continued on to Kheng Krachan National Park and after lunch headed on to the Nueng hides near the park borders.  Here at a blind we separated into two groups. Before we split up an adult Rufous-bellied Eagle flew over the entire group.  Both groups enjoyed three species of laughingthrushes (White-crested, Lesser and Greater Necklaced) along with a wide variety of other species.  One group had Scaly-breasted Partridge while the other had Bar-backed Partridge and very late in the day a single Ferruginous Partridge.  An Asian Stubtail also visited the pool in front of one of the hides. Puff-throated Babblers were much in evidence at both hides.

The next morning we headed up the ridge to km 30, or so.  We stopped near the top to enjoy a pair of nesting Long-tailed Broadbills.  Here a Greater Green Leafbird was singing away on exposed tree top branches.  Yellow-bellied Warblers were present too.  Other species noted at higher elevations included Red-headed Trogon, Great Hornbill, Speckled Piculet, White-throated Fantail, Olive Bulbul (cinnamomeoventris subspecies), Sulphur-breasted Warbler, a male Orange-bellied Leafbird, Dark-sided and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, and White-rumped Shamas.  A Red-headed Bee-eater was heard, but not seen.  Mammal highlights included excellent views of a family group of Banded Langurs, and for some Yellow-throated Marten, and even a Leopard!  We spent much of the day looking for the signature species of the higher elevation, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, but never connected with it.  We did have fine views of several White-hooded Babblers, a species that the Ratchet-tailed often associates with.  Roadside birds included Kalij Pheasant and for some Southern Brown Hornbill, and at the headquarters a single Grey-rumped Treeswift.

The next day we birded lower elevations.  We started with watching a tree cavity where Black-thighed Falconets emerged shortly after dawn.  A Banded Broadbill was seen silhouetted.  Other species seeing during the day included Grey-faced Buzzard, Drongo Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Banded Kingfisher, Southern Brown Hornbill, Common and Greater Flamebacks, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Sultan Tits, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Golden-crested Myna, and broadbills, including Silver-breasted and Black-and-Yellow.  That afternoon after lunch we drove back up the mountain to km 27 where we finally located three Ratchet-tailed Treepies.  That evening at our Ban Maka lodge we had nice views of a Southern Boobok.

The following morning we birded near the headquarters area and didn’t find many new birds, although a pair of Dusky Broadbill was well seen as were Racket-tailed Treepies. Most saw Common Green Magpie and some heard a Blue-winged Pitta calling. On the road out we noted three Black Bazas, Two hawk-eagles seen at a distance, but photographed, were either Changeable, or perhaps more likely Mountain.  That afternoon we searched unsuccessfully for Asian Elephants, but did see a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails at Pa Loc U Waterfall.

The following morning we again checked the two hides at Nueng hide.  One group managed to see Scaly-breasted Partridges again along with a Grey-headed Woodpecker.  Several wintering Chinese Blue Flycatchers were noted. Late in morning we headed to Laem Phak Bia where after lunch we headed out to the sand spit on a boat.  We noted a single Chinese Egret and a number of Great Crested Terns amongst other terns and gulls, chiefly Brown-headed, but a single Black-headed Gull too.  Eastern Reef Egrets were about as were many shorebirds, chiefly Kentish Plovers and sand-plovers, both Greater and Lesser.  Our main targets were the Malaysian and the White-faced Plovers.  We had nice views of a pair of the resident Malaysian and eventually found a White-faced.  This is treated by most authorities as a subspecies of Kentish based on MtDNA, but it is clearly strikingly different in both coloration and structure.  It is a scarce winter visitant to Thailand.  It breeds in coastal southeast China and northern Vietnam.

The next day was all about shorebirds at Pak Thale.  We eventually found a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but sadly, views were a bit brief.  So many shorebirds were present, in fact we recorded over 40 species in the area.  These included some 800 Marsh and 500 Curlew Sandpipers, and 500 Red-necked Stints.  Many Long-toed and a single Little Stint were seen and amongst hundreds of Eurasian Curlews, a single Eastern Curlew was seen.  We counted 412 Broad-billed Sandpipers on our first day.  In addition to the Little Stint, other scarcer species included Ruff (17), Dunlin, and Red-necked Phalarope (10). Luke picked out a single rare immature Slender-billed Gull with the Brown-headed Gulls.

The next morning we were back at it looking for shorebirds again.  We started with some 40 Painted Storks.  Amongst some 1000 Great Knots, we finally located Nordmann’s Greenshanks, some 96 on just one pond.  The entire world population of this species (breeds on northern Sakhalin Island and the adjacent coast) is estimated at only one to two thousand.  Fifty-eight Pied Avocets were also noted and we located four Temminck’s Stints.  Two Chestnut Munias were also seen. At a nearby wat we counted some 159 Oriental Pratincoles and also had decent views of Oriental Skylark.  We ended the day at the Royal Project where in the mangroves we found Golden-bellied Gerrygones and in the marshy area we had two male Greater Painted-snipes, a Pin-tailed Snipe,Wood Sandpipers, and for some Ruddy-breasted Crake and Slaty-breasted Rail.  Single Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers were also seen, or at least glimpsed.

The next morning we returned to Pak Thale where after considerable patience we finally had very good views of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a world-threatened species whose population is limited to only a few hundred.  It breeds in northeast Arctic Russia (Russian Far East).  Also significant was a single Asian Dowitcher that was well seen. A Eurasian Kestrel was seen nearby.  Continuing on to the lake at Wat Khao Takran, we found a variety of ducks, mostly Lesser Whistling-Ducks, but also several hundred Garganey. Other species of note was a single Spot-billed Pelican looking utterly enormous as it sat amongst other water birds on an island.  Eight Black-headed Ibis were also seen along with a single Yellow Bittern. A distant Asian Dowitcher was also present. After lunch we headed back to Bangkok where our tour concluded after a final buffet dinner at the Novotel. 

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