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Thailand NEW! Kaeng Krachan, Khao Yai & Coast

A 13-day, small group birdwatching tour to Thailand

Thailand Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Our late January birdwatching tour to Thailand begins in the southwest at the country’s largest national park, Kaeng Krachan – a superb rainforest home to Great, Wreathed, Oriental Pied and Tickell's Brown Hornbills, Great Slaty Woodpecker and Orange-breasted Trogon... plus a bagful of brilliant broadbills! From there, we head to the Gulf of Thailand for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank and other of the world’s rarest shorebirds. A visit to magnificent Khao Yai National Park in search of Siamese Fireback, Silver Pheasant, Great Eared Nightjar and mammals such as Asian Elephant completes this compact but species-rich Thailand birding tour.

Tour Dates

2020

Full

Leaders
Colin Bushell
local guides

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 13 Days

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Cost: £4095

inc return flights London Heathrow-Bangkok, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £500

Single Supp: £495
Land Only: £3625

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Siamese Fireback 1 JL adjusted BS

We could be lucky to enjoy great views of Siamese Fireback, Thailand's National Bird, at the Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve, in central Thailand © tour participant Jo Latham, wildlifephotocards.co.uk

Our birding tour to Southwest and Central Thailand offers both a superb introduction to the amazing avifauna of Southeast Asia and the perfect complement to our Northern Thailand tour. It's a region blessed with an exceptionally rich and diverse birdlife, including an impressive list of Oriental specialities. The period from December to March also finds good numbers of wintering Siberian passerines present across the country, while Thailand’s Gulf Coast boasts some of the most exciting wader watching in all Asia.

Our carefully planned itinerary takes in three key areas: the superb rainforests of Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai National Parks, and the amazing coastal saltpans, shrimp ponds and mangroves at Pak Thale (Petchaburi). It's a combination that offers some of the very best and most exciting birding in Southeast Asia.

Arriving into Bangkok, we first head southwest to the splendid, bird-rich forests of Kaeng Krachan National Park. The grounds around our hotel near the park will serve as a good introduction to many species. Chinese Pond Heron and White-throated Kingfisher are resident alongside colourful Indian Rollers and Olive-backed Sunbirds. Winter visitors include Yellow-browed Warblers and Taiga Flycatchers, while Paddyfield Pipit, Indochinese Bushlark and Greater Coucal can be found in nearby patches of farmland.

Kaeng Krachan hosts a huge range of forest species, including some which are rarely seen elsewhere in Thailand. Many southern species reach the northernmost limit of their range here, whilst for others this is the most southerly point. The road into the park gives relatively easy access to sites and trails that are known for many superb species. The wide range of elevations and forest habitats provide home to a wealth of Southeast Asian bird families: barbets are numerous and include Blue-eared and Lineated; woodpeckers include the mighty Great Slaty Woodpecker; and there are up to six species of beautiful broadbills to watch for as well as hornbills, leafbirds, laughingthrushes, bulbuls and babblers. This is the only location in Thailand for Ratchet-tailed Treepie and with three whole days to explore we should encounter a great many special birds. We'll also visit some secluded hides, deep in the forest, that overlook waterholes. We'll see species here not normally seen from the roads or trails in the park.  

After Kaeng Krachan it is time for something completely different as we head east for a three-night stay beside the Gulf of Thailand. Here we visit the tidal mudflats, mangroves and saltpans for a shorebird bonanza. For sheer number and variety of waders this area is amongst the best in all Asia - up to 40 species are possible, including a fantastic array of sought-after specialities.

Topping the lot is the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, at what has latterly become the best place in the world for seeing this charismatic shorebird. The endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank also occurs in winter, when other waders of note include the near-threatened Asian Dowitcher, Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints. During our stay, we’ll also take an easy boat trip to look for Malaysian Plover and the 'taxonomically challenged' White-faced Plover.

Leaving the sultry coastal lowlands behind, we then drive northeast to our third and final destination - the luxuriant, cathedral-like tropical forests of Khao Yai National Park, Thailand’s oldest and best known national park. We spend three nights at Khao Yai, staying at a good hotel right on the edge of the park. The birding is brilliant and we can put some of our skills learnt at Kaeng Krachan to good use as we will again encounter many thrilling forest birds - including many that will be new.

Hornbills, barbets and woodpeckers are well represented and include the impressive Greater Flameback; Red Junglefowl 'crow' to welcome the dawn and Thailand’s national bird, the shy Siamese Fireback is also to be found at daybreak. Ghostly male Silver Pheasants sweep across the forest floor while, at dusk, we will listen for the plover-like whistles of the harrier-like Great Eared Nightjar. If we are lucky, the superb Blue Pitta, a scarce and tricky-to-find forest dweller can sometimes be found, too.

Like Kaeng Krachan, Khao Yai is also a haven for mammals. Asian Elephant, Sambar and Black Giant Squirrel occur and the wild wailing ‘songs’ of lunatic White-handed Gibbons greet the forest at dawn. After a final morning in the park, our tour draws to a close and we travel back to Bangkok, spending our final night at a nice hotel within easy reach of the airport next day.

Thailand's tropical climate is at its best in late January when we visit and accommodations and the delicious local cuisine are good throughout (in fact, good food is something of a religion in Thailand). Last but not least, there’s the bonus of an excellent field guide to help you prepare and really make the most of the trip.

Guide Colin Bushell teamed up with our resident Thai birding expert 'End' to lead our 2017, 2018 and 2019 tours to Thailand and this will be his sixth visit to this remarkable, bird-rich country.

CK 5 Malaysian Plover m Thailand 2015 BS

If the tide is right, we will take a boat trip on the Gulf of Thailand to look for the rare and localised Malaysian Plover (above), as well as the recently rediscovered White-faced Plover © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1            
DEPART LONDON FOR BANGKOK
Our January birdwatching tour to Thailand commences with departure from London Heathrow today on British Airways nonstop overnight flight bound for Bangkok.

Day 2
MORNING ARRIVAL BANGKOK & TRANSFER TO KAENG KRACHAN NATIONAL PARK
We shall be met by our English-speaking Thai birding guide on arrival in Bangkok this morning and head southwest from the capital, skirting around the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. We will enjoy our first Thai birds: Germain’s Swiftlets breed at a local temples and Oriental Magpie Robins, Brown Shrikes and more familiar Tree Sparrows flit about the roadside. We should also see our first Whiskered Terns and Chinese Pond Herons as we pass fishponds along the way.

Continuing southwest, we'll aim to arrive at our hotel close by Kaeng Krachan National Park in time for lunch. In the afternoon we'll visit one of the forest hides, where we might see our first Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, the smart Black-naped Monarch and the shy Large Scimitar Babbler. A few mammals also use the waterholes, with Grey-bellied Squirrel and the tiny Lesser Mouse Deer being likely visitors.

Returning to our hotel, we enjoy dinner and a good night's sleep in preparation for the exciting days that lie ahead! Night Kaeng Krachan

Days 3 - 5
KAENG KRACHAN NATIONALPARK
Situated close to the Burmese border, Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s largest national park and is renowned as the country’s premier forest birding location. That it is home to such an impressive number and range of quality species is largely a result of the forest here still being in very good condition, with many evergreen tree species. But Kaeng Krachan also benefits from its geographic location adjacent to Burma (Myanmar), where it forms an extension of a large tract of relatively undisturbed forest that straddles the border between the two countries. Of international conservation importance, this region is an outstanding refuge for a spectacular range of species, including many of Asia's rarest birds and mammals.

As everywhere in the tropics, early mornings are busiest for birds so we will aim to enter the park early each day. An alternating one-way traffic system also operates in the upper reaches of the park so we need to make sure we arrive when we can drive up!... The altitudinal range within the park gives rise to a wide variety of habitats and species as one follows the main road up.

Leaving our hotel, the entry roads to the park pass through farmland and fragmented patches of forest. Greater Coucal and Paddyfield Pipit are commonly seen, with Indian Rollers, White-throated Kingfishers and Streak-eared Bulbuls to watch for on roadside wires. Chestnut-tailed Starlings have a penchant for any flowering trees and pre-roosting flocks in this area have held rarer visitors to Thailand like Spot-winged and White-shouldered Starlings.

Heading into the park, small waterholes in the forest remain attractive to birds throughout the day. Here, scarcities such as Kalij Pheasant, Scaly-breasted and Bar-backed Partridges (we have also seen the scarce Ferruginous Partridge here), Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Siberian Blue Robin are to be watched for amongst commoner Thai species. Simply watching and waiting for birds to appear here provides a great opportunity for photographers and birders alike and we could be rewarded with close up views of such species as Puff-throated and Abbott's Babblers, Green Magpie and Black-naped Monarch.

As the road ascends, the number of potential places to stop and seek out new species is great, but our guide will know of the very best spots for key species – some of which may take patience and local knowledge to find. Fruiting trees are invariably productive in the tropics and alive with birds coming and going. Greater Yellownape, Greater and Common Flamebacks, Green-billed Malkoha and Orange-breasted Trogon are all on the cards. Kaeng Krachan is exceptional for woodpeckers and in addition to those mentioned above we'll be watching out for the amazing Great Slaty, Crimson-winged, Laced, Grey-headed (Black-naped), Rufous, Banded and Heart-spotted, too. Climbing higher, we’ll move into territory of two of the very best woodpeckers of all: Bamboo and Black-and-buff – the former often noisy but very flighty.
 
Amongst an excellent range of more widespread rainforest birds, laughingthrushes, leafbirds, babblers, flycatchers and warblers are all well represented in the park. A variety of bulbuls can also be seen - from Flavescent and Black-crested to Black-headed and Stripe-throated (to name but a few). And we'll soon come to realise that barbets are a familiar part of the soundtrack in Thailand's forests, with Blue-throated, Green-eared, Blue-eared and Great among those to listen out for here.

Broadbills are one of the specialities of Kaeng Krachan and our visit at the beginning of the breeding season may make them a little easier to find. Dusky, Silver-breasted, Banded, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Broadbills await – sometimes being seen in small flocks! Blue-bearded Bee-eaters seem rather less concerned about showing themselves, while the more striking Red-bearded Bee-eater is also possible here and a contender for the 'most colourful bird' competition... along with the likes of Banded Kingfisher and Chestnut-headed Bee-eater.

One of the ‘dream’ birds of many visitors Kaeng Krachan would be any species of pitta! All are elusive and seen very infrequently, but we have at least a slim chance of Blue Pitta as they begin to call from February.

Afternoons in most rainforests are generally slower for birds. Even so, we should be able to add to our burgeoning list with the likes of Crimson Sunbird, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Ochraceous Bulbul and stunning Asian Paradise Flycatchers. Hornbills are impressive beasts and at Kaeng Krachan include the mighty Great and Wreathed Hornbills as well as the smaller Oriental Pied. Tickell's Brown Hornbills is also present but scarce. We will listen for them as they call in flight on their way to fruiting trees.

Throw in the likes of Black-naped Oriole, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, the impressive Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Ashy Woodswallow, Golden-crested and Hill Mynas, Dollarbird and the tiny yet super-smart of Black-thighed Falconets and you will soon realise why we will be spending three full days here!
 
With such extensive, high-quality forest Kaeng Krachan is also home to a healthy population of mammals. Among many species of squirrel is the amazing Black Giant Squirrel (which looks more like a small dog in a tree!), and there are Dusky and Banded Langurs to watch for - not to mention the unforgettable wild whooping calls of White-handed Gibbons from the rainforest canopy. Three further nights Kaeng Krachan

Day 6
KAENG KRACHAN TO PAK THALE
Bidding a reluctant farewell to Kaeng Krachan today, we head east (about 90 minutes travel time) to Pak Thale on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. A three-night stay at the coast here affords us the optimum chance to find Spoon-billed Sandpiper and also to enjoy some of the most amazing wader watching in the world.  

Our birding destinations for the remainder of this and the next two days include the coastal wetlands sites of Khok Kham, Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia - areas of intertidal mudflats, saltpans, shrimp and fish ponds, rice paddies, mangroves and marshy pools that are simply outstanding for wintering shorebirds from Northern Asia.

Topping the bill, this area has become famous in recent years as the best place to look for one of the world’s rarest, oddest-looking and most charismatic waders: Spoon-billed Sandpiper! December, January and February are the very best months to try for this fantastic little shorebird, which winters here in tiny numbers.

The Gulf is also a reliable spot in winter to find the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. With a world population estimated to be less than 1000 individuals, this is another of the world’s rarest waders and we have chances to unearth both these five-star Siberian shorebirds here over the coming days. Night Pak Thale (Petchaburi)

Days 7 – 8
PAK THALE, BOAT TRIP TO LAEM PAK BIA, MANGROVES, RICE FIELDS & THE NA YANG BAT CAVES
The onomatopoeic early morning calls of loud voiced Asian Koels will be our alarm clock at Pak Thale - and where after breakfast a true wader-fest awaits! Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Broad-billed, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, Great Knot, and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints are among a range of more “exotic” shorebirds we could see. With luck, we might come across the rare Asian Dowitcher, which also passes through the Gulf of Thailand at this season, while more familiar species to enjoy include Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Common, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers. This is also a good spot to see Red-necked Phalarope.

We will take a relaxing boat trip out through the mangroves and passing mudflats and sand bars where Pacific Reef Egret, Striated Heron, Brown-headed Gull and Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and Caspian Terns are all likely to be seen. Our ultimate destination is a secluded sandy spit where, having paddled ashore, we have chances of seeing the rare and localised Malaysian Plover as well as the recently rediscovered White-faced Plover - the latter an enigmatic bird which many authorities now regard as a separate species.

Herons, egrets and terns are numerous in the coastal wetlands that fringe the Gulf of Thailand, and we'll look out especially for the rare Chinese Egret during our boat trip. Heavy-billed Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers hunt for crabs amongst the mangroves as striking chestnut, black and white Brahminy Kites patrol lazily overhead. Among a wide variety of other species we are likely to come across over these two days are Pink-necked Pigeon, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Golden-bellied Gerygone (Flyeater), Pied Fantail, Asian Pied Starling, White-vented Myna, Brown-throated and Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, and Streaked Weaver.

On one evening we will travel inland to the limestone outcrop at Na Yang, to marvel at the nightly exodus of millions of Wrinkle-lipped Bats from their roost high in the limestone cliffs. As wave after wave of bats drift like plumes of smoke across the surrounding countryside, marauding Grey-faced Buzzards, Shikras and Common Kestrels seek to pluck them from the sky. Two further nights Pak Thale (Petchaburi)

Day 9
PAK THALE TO KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK
We leave the Gulf coast after an early breakfast this morning and head north and east into Central Thailand. We’ll make one or two short birding stops at some freshwater swamps and paddies along the way, looking for Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Pied Harrier, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, and Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers. Asian Openbill is another fascinating wetland bird - one that flourishes by breeding in the protected grounds of Buddhist temples - and something to watch out for today as we skirt around Bangkok and across the predominantly flat agricultural plain of the interior.

Our destination this evening is Thailand’s oldest and best known national park, Khao Yai. Rising up from the plain to 1351m (4432ft), Khao Yai's protected limestone hills are cloaked in superb dry evergreen and mixed deciduous forest, with grasslands dominating the valley bottoms. We have three nights here, staying at a comfortable resort hotel located within a short distance of the entrance to this fine park. Night Khao Yai

Days 10 - 11
KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK
Set amidst spectacular scenery, our hotel is the ideal base from which to really get to know Khao Yai. Covering more than 540,000 acres, the park is exceptionally beautiful and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Its cool rivers and waterfalls, with numerous trails that criss-cross the rolling forest and glades, add to the enjoyment of birding in this magical place.

Not only are Khao Yai's birds many and varied, but their very names will make us want to see them, too! Vernal Hanging Parrot, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Scarlet Minivet, Blue Whistling Thrush, Black-naped Monarch and Little Spiderhunter are among a wealth of exciting species that awaits us here!

Khao Yai’s liana-draped forests are home to a wonderful array of other creatures, too. Asian Elephant, Sambar, Black Giant Squirrel, Common Palm Civet and Pig-tailed Macaque can all be found, while the whooping of White-handed Gibbons as they wail like demons high in the forest canopy is a sound that will forever live in your memory.
    
We spend much of our time at Khao Yai birding along roadsides and trails within the forests. The reserve is home to several magnificent hornbills, including Wreathed, Oriental Pied and the huge Great Hornbill, the latter swishing noisily above the forest as if flying on wings of stiff canvas. Every now and then, a faint chorus of bird calls heralds the approach of a mixed feeding flock - up to a dozen or more species may be present - and soon a frenzy of warblers, bulbuls and babblers will surround us. Then, just as suddenly as the throng arrived, they're all gone again!

Excitable Black-throated Sunbirds and tiny flowerpeckers whizz between the gigantic trees - which may tower up to 70 metres above our heads - as we go in search of a plethora of forest woodpeckers, barbets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, broadbills, trogons, orioles and leafbirds. Key species we shall be especially watching out for at Khao Yai include stunning Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons perching quietly in the middle storey, Banded and Long-tailed Broadbills, Banded Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Greater Flameback.

With patience and stealth, we may be fortunate to spot the elusive Silver Pheasant, the very shy Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo or perhaps a pulse-quickening Blue Pitta with its flame-orange topknot, bounding across the forest floor. At dusk we hope to thrill to the sight of enormous Great Eared Nightjars as they whistle plaintively like plovers and float harrier-like against the evening sky, or marvel as Brown-backed and Silver-backed Needletails swoop down to snatch a quick drink from the surface of a lake.

One morning we will enter the park early to look for Siamese Fireback, Thailand's National Bird, which may be found first thing, feeding beside the road. Two further nights Khao Yai

Day 12
KHAO YAI & RETURN TO BANGKOK
We’ll enjoy some final birding within Khao Yai National Park this morning, catching up on anything we might have missed or maybe getting to grips with those tricky Phylloscopus warblers, such as Eastern Crowned Warbler and Claudia's Leaf Warbler - watch for it searching tree trunks, Nuthatch-fashion, for insects.

It will be with some reluctance that we must leave Khao Yai this afternoon and make the two-hour journey back south towards Bangkok. Late afternoon arrival at our hotel close to Bangkok Airport, where we enjoy a farewell dinner and our final night in Thailand. Night Bangkok

Day 13    
FLY BANGKOK-LONDON
After an early breakfast, we make the very short transfer to the Airport Terminal and check-in for our morning flight home.

Late afternoon arrival back in London, where our birdwatching tour to Thailand concludes.

Orange headed Thrush Thailand 2017 Colin Bushell copy resized

The stunning Orange-headed Thrush - just one of many possible delights on our brand new tour to Southwest & Central Thailand in January 2019 © Colin Bushell, Limosa

What To Expect

A 13-day, small group birding tour to Thailand, beginning in the bird-rich forests of Kaeng Krachan, the country's largest national park, before moving on to the Gulf of Thailand to look for shorebirds - including the amazing Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Our final stop is the country's oldest national park, Khao Yai.

Early starts are the norm for birding tours in tropical regions, where the daylight hours are relatively short (in Thailand at this time, approx. 6.00am-6.30pm), and where bird activity is at its peak early and late but generally dies away completely during the hotter middle of the day.

Especially in the more sultry lowlands, it will be important to be in the field at dawn so we can hear the birds singing and calling as the day starts up - in some instances, this may be our only chance to discover if certain species are present or not, so we will naturally want to make the most of this opportunity.

Away from the coast, much of our birding in Thailand will be in tropical forest. We’ll spend most of the time walking on level ground, birding from paved or unpaved roads or tracks, and some forest trails with occasional steeper sections, but these are quite short. It will be warm to hot throughout, humid at times, and we may be on our feet for several hours at a stretch watching for birds - some participants may find it helpful to carry a lightweight collapsible stool.

Our guides will be able to advise you locally about the day's events. If you wish to opt out of a particular session or walk, don’t be afraid to ask them.

Thailand has a tropical climate. Late January/February is an excellent time to visit, when the weather is mostly hot, sunny and dry. It will be humid at lower elevations, especially near the coast. At this time of year, daily average temperatures around Bangkok are in the range 22-33C (71-91F); it may be a little cooler in the hills at Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai, but still humid.

Our tour is timed to run during Thailand's dry season, when rainfall is low; (in Bangkok, the monthly average for Jan/Feb is 20mm). In the event it does happen to rain at this season, this typically occurs as short-lived tropical downpours.

Birds

260-300 species

Mammals

10-15 species

Accommodation

11 nights accommodation at hotels and lodges in Thailand. We’ve upgraded our hotel at Kaeng Krachan for this year’s tour and accommodations throughout are of a good standard with comfortable, air-conditioned rooms, all with western-style private facilities. Most hotels can offer a laundry service.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price (and with drinking water also provided), commencing with lunch on arrival in Thailand on Day 2 and concluding with breakfast there on Day 13.

Thai cuisine is delicious and for many travellers there meals are a highlight. Breakfast and dinners will usually be taken at the hotels. Packed lunches most days (plus the odd packed breakfast), but some lunches may be taken at a convenient restaurant along the way.

Walking

The walking effort is mostly easy. Away from the coast (where the terrain is flat), much of the birding on this tour is along roadsides, tracks and forest trails. At Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai we will be birding at relatively low altitudes, up to a maximum elevation of around 1300m (4200ft). Inevitably, there will be some steeper sections along the roads and tracks, although these are usually quite short and, wherever possible, we will aim to drive uphill and bird as we walk back down.

Comfortable, lightweight walking shoes or boots with stout soles and good grip are recommended.

Travel

We fly from London Heathrow to Bangkok, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By air-conditioned minibus with local driver.

Boat Trips

If the tide is right (we haven’t missed out yet), we will enjoy a boat trip at the coast, passing through the creeks and mangroves, and out to the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia to look for shorebirds - hopefully including the rare and localised Malaysian Plover as well as White-faced Plover.

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