DEPART LONDON FOR BANGKOK
Our birdwatching tour to Thailand commences with departure from London Heathrow today on British Airways nonstop overnight flight bound for Bangkok.
MORNING ARRIVAL BANGKOK & TRANSFER TO KAENG KRACHAN
We shall be met by our Thai birding guide on arrival in Bangkok this morning and head southwest from the capital, skirting around the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. Stopping en route for lunch a small roadside Thai restaurant, we will enjoy our first Thai birds: Germain’s Swiftlets breed at a local temple and Oriental Magpie Robins, Tree Sparrows and Brown Shrikes flit about the roadside. At a nearby river we could well find Whiskered Terns and Chinese Pond Herons.
Continuing southwest, we'll aim to arrive at our hotel close by Kaeng Krachan National Park in the late afternoon, with time to enjoy a stroll about the birdy hotel grounds and lakeside. Our first Common Tailorbirds, noisy Asian Koels and Brown-throated Sunbirds could well be found before 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 the largest national park in Thailand and is renowned as Thailand'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 on the border with 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 birds and rarest 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 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 Sooty-headed Bulbuls on roadside wires. Black-collared and Vinous-breasted Starlings have a penchant for any flowering trees.
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, Large Scimitar Babbler, (pale eyed) Lesser and (dark-eyed) Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, 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 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 knowledge to find. Fruiting trees are invariably productive and alive with birds coming and going. Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Greater and Common Flamebacks, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Orange-breasted Trogon are all on the cards. Indeed, 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 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, Mountain and Grey-eyed to Black-crested, 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 easier to find. Dusky, Silver-breasted, Banded, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Broadbills await – sometimes being seen in small flocks! The elusive Green Broadbill is much more secretive however, and we should be fortunate indeed to see one. Blue-bearded Bee-eaters seem rather less concerned about showing themselves, while the more striking Red-bearded Bee-eater is also possible at Kaeng Krachan and a contender for the 'most colourful bird' competition - along with Banded and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers.
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 mid-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 and Silver Orioles, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Large Scimitar Babbler, Golden-crested and Hill Mynas, Dollarbird and the tiny yet super-smart of Black-thighed Falconets and you will soon realise why we have 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 of White-handed Gibbons from the rainforest canopy. Three further nights Kaeng Krachan
KAENG KRACHAN TO PAK THALE
Bidding a reluctant farewell to Kaeng Krachan National Park 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 the optimum chance to find Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 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 & NA YANG BAT CAVES
The onomatapeic 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, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Common, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers. This is also a good spot to see Red-necked Phalarope.
Depending on the tides, we will take a relaxing (half-day) boat trip out through the mangroves, passing mudflats and an island bedecked in Pacific Reef Egrets, Striated Herons, Heuglin’s and Brown-headed Gulls, and Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and Caspian Terns. Our ultimate destination is a secluded sandy spit where, having paddled ashore, we have a chance 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, with both Chinese and Javan Pond Herons, and buoyant Whiskered Terns much in evidence. 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, where we can 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)
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 along the way, looking for Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Cotton Pygmy Goose 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 Khao Yai, Thailand’s first and best known National Park. Rising 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. Khao Yai will be our base for three nights and our comfortable resort hotel is located within a short distance of the entrance to this very 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 national park is exceptionally beautiful, its cool rivers and waterfalls, and numerous trails that criss-cross the forest and glades adding to the enjoyment of birding in this magical place, which in 2005 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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 swing wildly and 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 enormous Great Hornbill, the latter swishing noisily overhead 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 they arrived, they're 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 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 at Brown-backed or Silver-backed Needletails as they swoop to dink over 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. (If the event we are unsuccessful with this species in Khao Yai, we have the option to travel east to another good spot for this species, Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve - where the above photo was taken). Two further nights Khao Yai
KHAO YAI NP, LIMESTONE WREN-BABBLER & RETURN TO BANGKOK
Having enjoyed some final birding within Khao Yai National Park this morning, sadly it will be time to head back south towards Bangkok.
Our birding isn't quite over, however, for we'll stop along the way to visit some impressive limestone outcrops at the temples of Wat Tham Phra Phutthabat Noi. Our main target here is the local form of Limestone Wren-babbler, which is ‘split’ by some authorities as a separate species - Rufous Limestone-babbler, and which occurs only in this small region of Thailand. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Green-billed Malkoha and Ashy Woodswallow are also possible.
Late afternoon arrival at our hotel close to Bangkok Airport, where we enjoy a farewell dinner and our final night in Thailand. Night Bangkok
After an early breakfast, reluctantly we must make the very short transfer to the Airport Terminal and check-in for our morning flight home. Late afternoon arrival back at London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour to Thailand concludes.