This was a ten day birding trip to Central Thailand by Bruce Wedderburn and Peter Waanders. The trip was organised by Stijn de Win of Birdingtours2Asia and also followed a standard itinerary from Bangkok to Pak Thale for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, followed by visits to the national parks of Kaeng Krachan, Mae Wong and Khao Yai. We also birded at Petchaburi Paddyfields, Bueng Boraphet Wetlands and Wat Phra Phutthabat Noi Temple along the way. After receiving two proposals for birding in Central Thailand we selected Birdingtours2Asia, which was more expensive, but we had previously had a successful trip to Northern Thailand with Stijn de Win. About a month prior to the trip we were informed about a change in guide and were given assurances that the new guide; “… has done countless trips for us and has lived in Thailand for over 20 years. I’m sure you will be in very good hands. He will have already finished 3 or 4 Thai trips this year before you will start so you can be sure he will be up to date with all the latest Thai birding news. He speaks good English of course but also is fluent in Thai which may always come handy on a trip. You can be sure it will not affect the quality of your trip.”
That all seemed fine and the proposed guide, an expat Swede living in Thailand, appeared to have a good reputation according to various trip reports. As it transpired the guide did not come anywhere close to meeting our expectations and although we had a good trip, it could have been a lot better, if the guide had been physically fit and keen to actually go walking in the forests to look for birds. We resorted to birding the roads and forest trails ourselves, while the guide stayed in his car, and were successful in finding quite a few of our target birds. We would however have been a lot more successful had our guide accompanied us!
Despite this, the ten days birding in Thailand was successful with 302 birds seen and another 7 birds heard only, however this only produced 43 lifers. There were at least another 35 possible lifers on my list (birds listed as possible by the tour operator) which I didn’t see. I don’t expect to see all the possible birds but I do expect that we would at least try for them. For example we didn’t do any nocturnal birding for Spotted Owlet, White-fronted Scops Owl or Mountain Scops Owl, all of which were possible lifers.
The only Pitta of the Thailand trip was a Blue Pitta which was heard by the side of the road and our guide advised against looking for it, as it was widespread and could be seen elsewhere. Well as it transpired we didn’t hear another Blue Pitta, let alone see one, although we did see a birding group from BirdQuest looking for the Blue Pitta in the forest after hearing its call. Our guide preferred to drive around at speed though the national parks, on the off-chance of hearing one call?
We subsequently politely informed Stijn de Win that the guide for the Central Thailand trip was very disappointing and that we wouldn’t be doing any further tours with Birdingtours2Asia. The response we received was far from polite.
(Adapted from Bruce Wedderburn’s trip report with thanks)
Saturday 7th March: Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia
Met up with our guide at 5am and drove through Bangkok and then southwest to the salt farms of Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia. Thaibirding by Nick Upton provides very detailed and useful information on Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale. The first target was the Spoon-billed Sandpiper which we found easily, seeing two birds out of the estimated six birds currently in the Gulf of Thailand. At Pak Thale there were huge numbers of other interesting waders, including Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser and Greater Sand Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Asian Dowithcer, Eurasian Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper. We didn’t spend much time there before heading to other ponds to locate the Nordmann’s Greenshank. After this we took a short boat trip down an estuary to find the White-faced Plover, a subspecies of the Kentish Plover, plus saw a distant Chinese Egret, a couple of Malaysian Plover, Sanderling and a Pallas’s Gull in full breeding plumage. It is expected that the White-faced Plover will be split at some stage. We then visited the Kings Project area, which has a mix of mangroves and settling pools, in the late afternoon through till early evening. There we saw Pin-tailed Snipe, Common Snipe, Greater Painted Snipe, Long-toed Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Spotted Redshank and Indian Nightjar. We then drove to our comfortable accommodation at Baan Maka near Kaeng Krachan National Park for the night.
Sunday 8th March: Kaeng Krachan National Park
We drove into the national park in the morning and spent time at a small lake alongside the road, an area just before the Ban Krang campsite and at stream crossings 1 to 3. We heard Blue Pitta on the way in but didn’t look for it. Thaibirding by Nick Upton provides very detailed and useful information on Kaeng Krachan National Park. Interesting birds included Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Orange-breasted Trogon, Blue-beared Bee-eater, Green-eared Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Greater Yellownape, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Vernal Hanging Parrot, twelve Golden-crested Myna, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Crimson Sunbird. The Asian Drongo-cuckoo was recently split into three species, the Fork-tailed, Square-tailed and Moluccan Drongo-cuckoo. The first two species overlap in range in both Thailand and Malaysia but can be separated by call and by their distinctive tail shape. Our guide however had no idea about the ranges of the respective drongo-cuckoos in Thailand and the Craig Robson field guide didn’t help either.
We heard Pale-legged Leaf Warbler but our guide was reluctant to look for it, so Peter took a short walk through the rainforest and managed to get good views and photos. At the three streams crossing our guide pointed out a track through the forest but wasn’t keen on walking it, so we took a walk along the path, where we found Common Green Magpie and some other birds. At this stage we started having some doubts about our guide, but it was still early days.
Monday 9th March: Kaeng Krachan National Park
We had another full day in the national park and took a 4WD up into the higher parts around Panoeng Thoeng mountain. Interesting birds included Bar-backed Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Grey Peacock-pheasant, Crested Goshawk, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Banded Kingfisher, Great Hornbill, Blue-throated Barbet, Moustached Barbet, Bay Woodpecker, Rosy Minivet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Grey Treepie, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Buff-vented Bulbul, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Collared Babbler, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Black-throated Laughingthrush and Hill Blue Flycatcher. We had come across a Leaf Warbler when walking along the road and thought that it was a Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. Based on the Craig Robson field guide, the ticehursti subspecies with the yellowish flanks and white in the outer tail feathers, appeared to be the closest match but that subspecies apparently only occurs in southern Vietnam? We got some photos. Our guide thought that it was a Claudia’s Leaf Warbler but sent the photos off to some experts who confirmed that it was in fact a Sulphur-breasted Warbler.
The Leaf Warblers are a confusing species at the best of times with the Blyth’s Leaf Warbler being split into three species, Blyth’s, Claudia’s and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler. The very similar White-tailed Leaf Warbler has been split into Davison’s and Kloss’s Leaf Warbler. The Craig Robson field guide is out of date and doesn’t show any of the recent Leaf Warbler splits or provide any relevant illustrations.
Tuesday 10th March: Baan Song Nok
We spent the day at a permanent hide at Baan Song Nok close to our accommodation. Interesting birds seen close up and allowing good photo opportunities included Green-legged Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Large Scimitar Babbler, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Black-naped Monarch, Racket-tailed Treepie, Pin-striped Tit-babbler and Abbott’s Babbler. We also saw Orange-headed Thrush at our accommodation at lunchtime. Whilst this was a relaxing day and it was nice to get some decent photos, only 30 birds were seen for the day. It may have been better to go birding elsewhere in the afternoon and evening, to look for the many other special birds of Kaeng Krachan that we had missed, such as White-fronted Scops Owl and Blue Pitta. As the trip progressed we heard that many of our target birds were only found in Kaeng Krachan. Our guide was quite happy however to sit and take photos, which he later posted on Facebook and gave the impression of being a great guide!
Wednesday 11th March: Phetchaburi Paddyfields
Today we visited the farming area of Phetchaburi in the early morning before taking the long drive to Mae Wong National Park, situated northwest of Bangkok. We saw just over 50 birds in the couple of hours birding along the roadside. The most interesting birds were Yellow Bittern, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Stejneger’s Stonechat and Asian Golden Weaver.
The Stejneger’s Stonechat is a recent split from the Siberian Stonechat and both occur in Thailand. Our guide wasn’t forthcoming on the differences between these stonechats and their respective ranges. The best reference that I subsequently found was a blog Siberian Stonechats in Thailand which provides a good description and photos. On arrival at our chalets at Makbun close to Khlong Lan, we did a short walk and saw a Green Sandpiper.
Thursday 12th March: Wae Wong National Park
We drove into the national park in the morning and spent most of our time up at the top close to the Chong Yen campsite. Thaibirding.com by Nick Upton provides very detailed and useful information on Mae Wong National Park. Whilst we had a good day birding, seeing about 60 birds, the park didn’t come anywhere close to the Birdingtours2Aisa claims that, “This park proves highly productive on any given day and is one of the few locations in Thailand where a day list of over 100 bird species is a good possibility. This park can easily match better known parks like Doi Inthanon or Doi Ang Khan when it comes to quality birding.” Whilst we did find the Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, we didn’t see the other specialities, such as the Rufous-necked Hornbill and Burmese Yuhina. Other interesting birds seen included Rufous-throated Partridge, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Cook’s Swift, Speckled Piculet, White-browed Piculet, Radde’s Warbler, Marten’s Warbler, Yunnan Fulvetta, Red-headed Trogon, Blue Whistling Thrush, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Buff-breasted Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Small Niltava and Chestnut-flanked White-eye. The Cook’s Swift were seen together with the more abundant Pacific Swift and were significantly different in appearance, having a narrower white rump. Quite a few of our target birds were found by Peter and/or Bruce, which is not a problem, but at this stage in the trip we were doing much of birding on our own, whilst our guide sat around. We could have merely hired a driver to take us to the various national parks and used Nick Upton’s very detailed guides to find the best birding spots.
Friday 13th March: Mae Wong to Bung Boraphet
We had a morning’s birding in Mae Wong through till 11:30am, initially driving up to the Chong Yen campsite and spending some time around the campsite. We then walked down the hill to a bird hide, birding along the way. Our guide in the meantime drove down to the hide and waited there. There were a couple of target birds we were after, such as the White-throated Bulbul, which we didn’t manage to find. We did however see some nice birds on the walk down the road including a pair of Long-tailed Broadbill.
There were a few additional birds seen for the trip list which included Green Barbet, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Striated Yuhina and Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher. We arrived at the Bueng Boraphet Wetlands at 3pm and birded through till 6pm. It was very hot and humid at the wetlands but quite a productive birding area. There we had great views of Eastern Marsh Harrier hawking over the wetlands, plus saw Oriental Pratincole, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Sand Martin, Plain-backed Sparrow, Dusky Warbler and about 10 Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Our guide was battling with the heat and had to retire to the car, whilst we continued birding. These wetlands were known as the wintering site for White-eyed River Martin. First found in 1968, it has not been seen since 1980 (unconfirmed sighting) despite targeted surveys in Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia, and is thought to be extinct. A detailed account of the White-eyed River-martin was published on the Oriental Bird Club website.
We overnighted in Nakhon Sawan.
Saturday 14th March: Bung Boraphet and Wat Phra Phuttahabat Noi
We had a boat trip at Bung Bhoraphet in the morning which was very pleasant. On the lake we had quite a few Ferruginous Duck (Pochard), many Cotton Pygmy Goose, a couple of Tufted Duck, hundreds of Lesser Whistling Duck and thousands of Garganey. Also saw Glossy Ibis, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Indian Swamphen (subspecies), Grey-headed Lapwing, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana and Striated Grassbird. Back on shore we had good views of two Collared Owlet. We then drove to the temple at Wat Phra Phuttahabat Noi which is set amongst limestone crags. The only target bird here was the localised Limestone Wren Babbler which our guide had said would be difficult to find in the afternoon heat. We heard several birds in the limestone crags while our guide sat in the car and didn’t want to help, even after repeated requests. Peter climbed up the stairs behind the temple and had good views of the bird, while Bruce had one calling very close and got a glimpse of the bird as it flew out of a tree.
We saw our first johnsoni subspecies of the Black-crested Bulbul which has the attractive red throat. We then drove through to our comfortable chalet accommodation close to Khao Yai National Park.
Sunday 15th March: Khao Yai National Park
We had a full day in Khao Yai NP, which was very pleasant and wasn’t too busy considering it was the weekend. Thaibirding.com by Nick Upton provides very detailed and useful information on Khao Yai National Park.
We birded along the roads and at various sites throughout the national park. Interesting birds included Silver Pheasant, Siamese Fireback, Besra, Greater Flameback, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler (ID’d by call), Alström’s Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin and Cambodian Flowerpecker (subspecies). Close to dusk we were treated to a display of Brown-backed Needletail flying over a dam and swooping down to drink water. There were about four Silver-backed Needletail in amongst the 40 odd Brown-backed Needletail.
In the evening Peter bought a bottle of wine and we went to an excellent local restaurant which served very good Australian steaks. An expensive meal for Thailand at 600 Baht per person (A$24) but an enjoyable meal to celebrate Peter’s 2500th lifer.
Monday 16th March: Khao Yai to Bangkok Airport
We had a final morning of birding in Khao Yai NP finishing up at 11pm and heading back to our accommodation to have a shower and pack up. Had a few new birds for the trip list, such as Red-breasted Parakeet and Two-barred Warbler. We also saw two White-bellied Erpornis on a forest walk. We did see a Red-bellied Rock Thrush, the philippensis subspecies of the Blue Rock Thrush, which looks similar to a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush rather than a Blue Rock Thrush. HBW states that “race philippensis is highly distinctive in plumage and to some extent apparently also in ecology, but intergradation extensive” and Mark Brazil in Birds of East Asia states that the “species merits splitting as Blue Rock Thrush and Red-bellied Rock Thrush”.
Drove to Bangkok Airport arriving in plently of time for our early evening departures.