Trip Report: Kaengkrachan N.P. (Thailand), April 7-8 and July 4, 2000

Peter Ericsson, Thailand;

For those of you who don't know of, or haven't read up about Kaengkrachan yet, I would like to let you know that the park is a must for the avid birder and has many advantages from many of the other parks. First of all it is fairly close to Bangkok. No more then 2-2.5 hours drive. Permission to enter the park have to be obtained from headquarters but can also be prearranged over the phone and then picked up at visitor center early in the morning. Secondly the park has over 400 confirmed species ranging from wetland birds by the big dam to montane species on the higher elevations. It is a meeting point for many Southern and Northern birds and holds many pleasant surprises. Thirdly the park is pretty much undisturbed from km 15 and onwards. Beautiful and thick primary forest cover the mountain slopes, and various view points hold great panoramic sights. Mammal life is rich and birds abundant. However, instead of describing the park in great detail I will tell you what we saw on our short trips (see also our 1999 report) and let you the reader judge for yourself.

April 7-8, 2000

We had arranged for our papers to be picked up at visitor center and thus decided to quickly enter the park without checking out the lower levels. We then arrived at the km 15 substation around 8.00 and after having greeted the officer in charge (Mr. Suwat), who also has an interest in birds, we decided to take a walk along the road opposite the substation towards Kao Pakkarung. Our goal was to reach the second stream as we had heard that Black-red Broadbill were nesting there. The highlight of the birds along the way were a magnificent Great-eared Nightjar whom we almost stumbled across. It flew up and perched for the longest of times and gave great looks. Next to this bird a pair of Sultans Tits kept us entertained for awhile. A flock of Hanging Vernal Parakeets flew in on a dead tree where a group of Thick-billed Pigeon were roosting. Out of nowhere a Japanese Sparrowhawk came dashing trying to snatch the parakeets who like fireworks simultaneously took to the skies and escaped the predator. Overhead three Chinese Goshawks were flying northwards while four Oriental Honey Buzzards were soaring up on high. Plenty of Barn Swallows, Palm Swifts, Pacific Swifts, Brown Needletail and Grey-rumped Tree-Swifts kept up an intensive hunt for insects. When we finally arrived we saw a quick glimpse of the Broadbill, waded in the stream in search for the nest but had to give up. We did see a handsome male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher along with and equally colorful Scarlet Minivet but that was all for this spot. Other birds we saw along the way include Hill Myna, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Pied Hornbills, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Puff-throated Babbler, Crimson Sunbird, Greater Coucal, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Large Wood-Shrike, Drongo Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Violet Cuckoo, Black-naped Oriole and White-rumped Shama. We also heard Striped Tit Babbler and Abbot's Babbler.

Finally back at the campground we had lunch (food must be brought into the park) and enjoyed a pair of Common Flameback, Gray-headed Woodpecker and Lesser Yellownape. Flocks of Pied Hornbill also passed by, and Green-eared Barbet as well as Green-billed Malkhoa and Sultan Tit came close. Ochraceous Bulbul roams around just like Puff-throated Bulbul does in the western parts of Thailand. A Crested Serpent-Eagle flew low over the trees in search for prey. Great wing span. For some reason Javan Pond-Heron seems to like it here and has the peculiar habit of taking to the tree tops and just generally seems a bit out of place up here. Somehow Common Myna has made its way here as well and serves as a nuisance in this surrounding.

We then decided to drive to km 32 where we spent some quiet time in thought and prayer. To see such undisturbed nature as this is an enormous experience. We were hoping to see Racket-tailed Tree-pie but had to settle for Blue-throated Barbet, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Flavescent Bulbul and Orange-bellied Leafbird. Wherever we drove single birds of Forest Wagtails would accompany us along as these birds seem to love the roadside. This wagtail is peculiar in that it sways its tail sideways instead of pumping it up and down. Other common birds along the road was Junglefowl, Black-crested Bulbul and Emerald Dove.

On the way down we met some photographers who were busy taking pictures of a Black-naped Monarch laying on her eggs. Next to here a Long-tailed Broadbill's nest was hanging over the road, the bird only showing a bit of its colorful head. A Grey-breasted Spiderhunder appeared suddenly crossing the road vocalizing in flight. Here we also had very good looks of the Black-throated Laughingthrush who sounded off its melodious song. What a songster! No wonder this bird is a primary target for bird traders!

Back down between km 18-15, which is a wonderful rainforested area, Dusky Broadbill had decided to build a nest right next to the road. A group of 4 birds kept bringing nesting materials as this bird has a unique social, group behavior in that not only the parents rear their young but also older brothers and sisters join in the care. High, high up in a huge tree, Banded Broadbill had a nest and flew in at dusk. We patiently waited for it to come in while interspersedly being either rained upon or bothered by plenty of bees and butterflies.

Back at campground we saw a Brown Hawk Owl in the top of a dead tree and then hit the sacks.

Next morning after having slept in our tents (other lodging is available at headquarters as well as outside the park) we went back to this area. I wanted to look for Streaked Wren-Babbler at the stream at km 18 but instead found another lifebird: Spot-necked Babbler. This morning proved to be excellent for me as I added some more lifebirds such as Crested Jay (unforgettable call), Brown Hornbill and Plain-pouched Hornbill. We also had terrific views of an Orange-breasted Trogon that perched in the open over the road and enjoyed a pair of Silver-breasted Broadbills at lengths. Also Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Green Magpie, Dollarbird and to top it off a Red-bearded Bee-eater, another life bird. Collared Owlet was heard throughout but not seen.

On the way back home we stopped at the second stream counting from the campground on down (we had mistakenly taken the wrong road the previous day searching for the Black-red Broadbill) Here the photographers were again. This time taking pictures of a pair of Black-red Broadbills!

Then around km 8 we saw Collared Falconets in a dead tree but missed out on Great Slaty Woodpecker and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo which some other birders had seen here. All in all we saw and heard 70 species in this short amount of time, and it probably would have been close to 100 if we had stopped at low-lying areas.

The park offers a true wildlife experience as the infrastructure is not developed, lodging limited to tents, forest undisturbed and truly rich in bird life. We will be back.

July 4, 2000 - The Pittas

In my earlier writings about my escapades in KK I mentioned that I would be back for the pittas.

As usual the main problem is to find time away from work and family to go birding. However this year so had it that my whole family (wife and children) all wanted to go to a resort outside KK park for some outdoor adventure. Of course I heartily agreed and off we went.

I made arrangements for entering the park early next morning and much to my surprise was met with a 'new policy' of charging foreign tourists 200 Baht in entrance fee instead of the fee for locals of 20 Baht. Thank God I speak Thai, so I claimed my rights for the lesser charge, and all went well.

This time I was prepared with tapes to call out the pittas. I did my birding all around km 15-18 hopelessly trying to call out a Hooded Pitta. This bird is a passage migrant in the park, and so one has a limited time frame to observe it before it is off again.

Blue Pitta with its two-syllable whistle kept calling on both sides of the road. I stalked this elusive little fellow for half an hour until it finally decided to perch on a branch in full view. Oh so colorful, but oh so hard to get. Blue-winged Pitta turned out to be much easier. A handsome bird simply came hopping onto the graveled road in full daylight. The deep red on its lower belly, shiny blue wings, green back and calm behavior made it a cheer delight to watch.

I only stayed in the park for half a day and had planned for another day later on. Then another surprise set in. Her Royal Highness the Queen of Thailand was about to visit the park, and so the park was to be closed for 3 full days. I much admire the Queen's interest in nature and conservation but pity the circumstances that make it impossible to announce her arrival in advance mainly due to security reasons. All I could do was pray. And so I did. The following 2 days I inquired about her departure, and to my elated joy she had left the park one-day earlier then planned.

My last day on vacation arrived and I again could go up into the park. This time I arrived way, way early and simply sat in my car as the sounds of the first birds awakening came rolling into my ears. I again tried my tapes but with no gain except for a Spot-necked Babbler that was curious to see who was calling. Again Blue Pitta surprised me and simply and slowly crossed the road right in front of me. Its red/orangish head with bright blue plumage makes it a very worthy sight. The highlight though was to be another Pitta, the Eared. This less colorful but by no means less interesting bird was incubating in a nest situated right next to a smaller trail not too far from the stream that runs parallel to the road. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to wait for the bird to leave the nest so that I could view its full splendour but nevertheless got to 'tick off' another life bird.

The other possible pitta is Rusty-naped but the whereabouts of this species are unknown to me, and so it will have to be left for the future.

Another two lifers were Buffy Fish-Owl and Black-bellied Malkoha.

Return to trip reports.

This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; May 30 and August 17, 2000