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Southern Thailand May 2014

Southern Thailand 6-20th of May, 2014
By Peter Ericsson

A few from the South in May 2014

Francesco Veronesi and his birding friend Leonardo Beghellini had been asking me to see the Malaysian Rail Babbler for a long time. So when I got news of one showing at Krung Ching in Southern Thailand they immediately wanted to visit. Francesco is a dedicated photographer with over 3200 species in his portfolie as well as a lister and Leonardo is a global lister with over 6000 birds seen.

Along with the Babbler they gave me a list with rather difficult birds and so I was faced with both a logistic challenge as well as finding the birds. I couldn’t set a fixed itinerary since we didn’t know how long it would take to nail down the Babbler.

I flew down to Krabi in advance as I wanted to visit Satun some 4 hours drive to the South of Krabi.
I used a Honda City from Hertz which turned out to be a reliable vehicle for the entire trip.

It was interesting to see the landscape and the make up of this area as I drove through the western part of the very South. Satun has not had any influence of the violence found in the bordering provinces of Naratiwat, Yala and Pattalung and the people seemed rather relaxed.

I visited the mangrove forest as I was targeting Cinerous Tit. I have only seen Cinerous Tit on Komodo Island but that is a different subspecies. It was quite strait forward to see it inside of the grounds of the mangrove research and learning center. The birds also sang away with songs reminding me of Great Tit from my home country.

I also recorded Mangrove PItta, photographed Brown-winged Kingfisher and noted Mangrove Whistler, Golden-bellied Gerygone and Common Flameback in the mangroves.

Unfortunately I didn’t see the Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker and the Pied Triller and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later I found out there is a boardwalk near the port itself and that is the place for these birds. Ouch! Next time!

Lodging was easy and these days most accommodation in Thailand has free WiFi, air-con and hot showers as well.

I spent one night in Krabi. Loads of Guest House style of lodging right in town. Had a simple meal at the market by the river and prepared for the days to come.

At noon I went to pick up Francesco and Leonardo at the airport. Francesco had graciously brought some Italian salami which I cherished throughout the trip. Thank you!

The drive to Krung Ching took most of the afternoon. A better option is to fly to Nakorn Sritamaraht with Airasia. Hertz allow for free drop off of their vehicle if hired more then 5 days.

We were greeted at a nice Homestay by the park and a sumptuous meal was waiting for us as well.
The ranger Daang and his family has set up a little homestay with 4 rooms available. They are air-conned with hot water and a big blessing as opposed to using the park bungalows with all their ‘wildlife’ in the room, no warm water and no air-con. At the homestay you can also have 3 meals that are wonderfully cooked by the Grandmother of the house.

The next morning we set out with our target in mind. We were accompanied by ‘R’, Daang’s nephew. It was his job to locate the Babbler and bring it to us.

After about an hour of searching along the trail R heard the bird in the far distance. He started taping it in. We set up a couple of blinds and myself and R retreated out of view. After an hour or more the bird still hadn’t shown so we had to start looking for it again. Again it was located, hides moved and another wait. This time we were not to be disappointed. The remarkable creature came and stuck around for several minutes as it gobbled up the meal worms put out for him. Big thumbs up and joy for a bird that had been on their minds for years! Mainly relief for myself!

Leonardo offered me his hide and I waited awhile until the bird came back. For some reason my camera simply couldn’t focus. So frustrating! Then as the bird left I discovered a large leaf stuck on the lens thus causing the focus not to work. Grrr!

Light is very difficult for photography inside this rain forest. Loads of intriguing sounds can be heard but seeing the birds is another story. Francesco carries a 500mm lens mounted on a light weight tripod. He is very quick on the birds but even he struggled with stuff like Green Broadbills and Cinnamon-rumped Trogons that we saw well but only briefly. He did get Buff-rumped and Buff-necked Woodpeckers rather impromptu.

In the afternoon we tried for a known nesting site for Rufous-collared Kingfisher but no signs of the birds.

Owling is normally good at KC but this time it also produced nothing but it mattered little after such superb views of the Rail Babbler.

The next day Daang came with us for the 1st part of the morning. He knows his birds very well and took us directly to some spots where he called out target birds. Thus we had great views of male and female Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Rufous Piculet, Banded Broadbill and Black-throated Babbler, all photographed well.

Some other birds seen and heard: Dark-throated Oriole, Raffles Malkoha, Black-yellow Broadbill, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Chestnut-winged Babber, White-crowned Hornbill, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Red-throated Barbet, Brown Barbet, Red-billed Malkoha.

I had heard of a stake out for Great Argus but during my research found that it was being sold by a resort for a rather handsome amount of money. I kept digging and finally found the direct connection with the villager that initially set up the stationary hide by the bird’s lek. And that at a lot cheaper price then the upscale resort.

Well, it wasn’t all that easy to get the communications right and even harder to find the villager at his appointed spot. We drove to the km mark we were told only to find out that the road department had changed all the road markers. Through a set of nothing but small miracles we finally met up with the man deep inside the jungle only to find out that he meant for us to come a day later. Ha!

Well, we found a very nice resort in the area some 20 km East of the entrance to Khao Sok National Park. Again, good food, warm showers, big bed and air-con for weary souls.

The next morning we drove off to Sri Pangnga National Park about an hour’s drive further West.
1st target bird was Banded Pitta and we headed straight for it. Thankfully the birds had not started to lay on eggs and were still coming to worms. The male was seen carrying nesting materials and then calling for his mate.

After the Pitta we went to a stake out for a Rufous-backed Dwarf Kingfisher. The tiny bird with all its colour posed very nicely next to the road and the portable blinds I had brought came in handy again.

A friendly ranger asked me if I wanted to ‘see a Gould’s Frogmouth on a day roost’? Ha! Manna from Heaven! We didn’t stay long as to not disturb the bird too much.

Back to the lodge from previous night and an early wake up for our Great Argus adventure.
We met the man at 4 am and together with his nephew we walked 3 km in the very hot and humid tropical rain forest to get to our spot. We were continuously told to be quiet and how extremely leery this bird is. Believe me, it was a difficult walk over several steep hill tops. I didn’t know I could sweat so profusely until that night.

So at the lek we were given 3 small holes to view through. Basically he said to stick our cameras through the hole but that the camera had to be on a tripod so as to not case motion in the canvas. I didn’t bring a tripod so my hole was reduced to the size of a silver dollar. Leonardo stuck his bins in the hole and Francesco fitted his 300mm lens with tripod.

Long story made short, the bird came and performed for an hour before disappearing. I managed to view the birds a couple of minutes but the other guys had great views for most of the time. Needless to say a lifer for all of us.

Back to the resort for a rest, lunch and drive back to Sri Pangnga where we checked in at a local hotel.

In the afternoon we revisited Sri Pangnga National Park looking for Chestnut-naped Forktail. Instead we found a Hooded Pitta that Francesco had fun photographing.

The next morning we chased Blue-winged Pittas in a palm oil plantation as it was on Leonardo’s wanted list. These birds have just arrived and were calling so not that hard to track down.

Then back to the park and waiting for the Forktail. As Francesco sat in the hide I walked off to look for other things. A male Rufous-collared Kingfisher perched rather close to me and I got my very own images of this elusive forest Kingfisher. Meanwhile Francesco had a pair of Forktails in front of his hide. Just as he wished!

So late morning we drove off to Thaimuang about 90 km South of the park. Here is a known roost for Spooted Wood Owl. Inspite of 2 hours search we failed to find the birds. (I later was told by a local birder that the birds have not been seen for some time, at least it wasn’t us missing the bird for lack of trying).

Onward we went to the town of Krabi but along the way we stopped at 2 different mangroves in the town of Pangnga. We heard Mangrove Pitta at both places as well as Brown-winged Kingfisher. At the 2nd site we found a nesting pair of Copper-throated Sunbirds and had a pair of Streak-breasted Woodpeckers flying overhead. In vain Leonardo tried to find his Mangove Pitta.

A night in Krabi and the following morning in mangroves again. I was thinking how easy the Mangrove Pitta should be since I had very good views only a week earlier but this time we didn’t even hear it. Amazing! Then I did hear it far away and remembered a hotel in that area. We drove to the hotel and shortly the pitta was calling from nearby. After half an hour of hide and seek it decided to fly out from the forest in front of us for full views! Finally!

Off to the airport and a flight to Don Muang, Bangkok.
Taxi to my house and pick up my own comfortable Toyota Camry. Drive to Kaengkrachan and discussing what strategy to adapt for the remaining birds on their respective lists. The lists did not correspond very well anymore so a logistic nightmare over again.

On the way to the park we dropped by some fields and saw many common bird which included all 3 Weavers: Streaked, Asian Golden and Baya. Two of these were on their wanted lists so reason to rejoice again.

We stayed at Baan Maka and hired the services of Piyak as he has a sturdy off road vehicle suited for the road to higher grounds as well as being updated on the latest birding in the park.
Two main targets were soon taken care off: Red-bearded Bee-eater and Long-tailed Broadbill. Both found at their respective nests. I had heard of a Von Schrenck’s Bittern at a pond by the Broadbill’s nest a couple of weeks earlier. I was very keen on seeing if it was still there and IT WAS! My 3rd lifer for the trip! But such a special bird it is, so cryptic, preferring murky bodies of water inside of forests. Definitely my bird of the trip!

Nesting was at full sway in Kaengrachan with some birds very quiet and others feeding young. Some other good birds during our stay there: Black-red Broadbill, Dusky Broadbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Silver-breasted Broadbill, a short glimpse of a Ferruginous Partridge, Great Hornbills, Speckeld and White-browed Piculet, Hooded Babbler, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler and Sultan’s Tit.

On the 10th day of our trip I drove Leonardo to the airport for his flight back to Italy. He had seen his dream bird, two new Pittas along with a few more for his global lifelist.

Francesco asked for a day off in Bangkok and I was happy with a day at home with the family.

So after a day off I picked up Francesco downtown and we drove directly to Khao Yai. Only a couple of target birds: Silver Pheasant and Siamese Fireback along with a couple of woodpeckers.

Khao Yai was very quiet. Best happening was a sudden show of a Hooded Pitta, several encounters with calling Blue Pittas but none showing. Near the top of Khao Kaew I heard a calling Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo and managed to tape it in but it gave only brief views.

We did connect with a few different Siamese Firebacks which gave photographic views but we never saw Silver Pheasant.

For me it was a very rewarding trip where many special quality birds were encountered. April and May are definitely great months to visit the South and to get photos of difficult birds. 4 Pittas seen and 2 heard is a good record. All 7 Broadbills seen well. The Great Argus is monumental in Thailand and Gould’s Frogmouth is another ‘heavy weight’!

Anyone wanting to do a trip next year is welcome to.

From Francesco

'Thanks Peter!! It was one of the most succesful trip in terms of rare and iconic species of my life !'
Von Schrenck's Bittern
Von Schrenck's Bittern
Rufous-collared Kingfisher
Rufous-collared Kingfisher
Cinerous Tit
Cinerous Tit
Black-throated Babbler
Black-throated Babbler
Gould's Frogmouth
Gould's Frogmouth
Malayan Banded Pitta
Malayan Banded Pitta
Brown-winged Kingfisher
Brown-winged Kingfisher
Black-backed Kingfisher
Black-backed Kingfisher
Hooded Pitta
Hooded Pitta
Malaysian Rail Babbler
Malaysian Rail Babbler
Siamese Fireback
Siamese Fireback
Long-tailed Broadbill
Long-tailed Broadbill