Trip Report: Kaengkrachan National Park (Thailand)

Peter Ericsson, Thailand;

Part 1: April 10-12, 1999

This park has always been a desire of mine to visit. Time away from fulltime Christian volunteer work doesn't come about easy, but as the Bible says: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart!" Psalms 34:4. This has now been fulfilled in a three day camping trip accompanied by 8 children, ages 7-15.

The park has regular cases of Malaria (especially during the later part of the rainy season) which gave us cause for concern. We made sure to use plenty of insect repellents throughout our stay and stayed away from the deeper trails of the forest.

The drive from Bangkok is an easy one. About 2.5-3 hours to headquarters. We arrived there around 11a.m. and had to wait until 2.30 p.m. before we were allowed to enter the one narrow road leading into the highlands of the park. We spend our time eating and took a leisurely walk around the big dam. Crescent Honey-Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Hoopoe, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Iora, Black-naped Oriole, Richard's Pipit and Barred Button-quail were some of the more interesting birds here.

We headed straight for campground at km.15. Many local birdwatchers and naturalists were staying here. Generally we found the visitors in the park more serious-minded with a care for nature, in contrast to the sometimes rowdy crowd one encounter in Kow Yai park.

Kaengkrachan is sort of a border line between the North and South of Thailand, and some species overlap here, making the total amount of birds seen over 400. Especially impressive to us was the moist, tall and bird-rich evergreen broad-leaved forest from campground and onwards towards km 18. A beautiful stream flows along the gravel road, and one can actually wade along it in search for nesting broadbills. Talking about broadbills... All 7 species in Thailand are present in the park. These charming birds were my highest desire to see as they seem to give such a true representation of the tropical rainforest with their colorful plumage and gentle behaviour.

A helpful ranger came with us to show us a Long-tailed Broadbill's nest at km27. Hanging right over the road, the ball-like nest was firmly attached to a thin twig. Birds were inside so no sighting. Walked back a little bit, and then out of the blue a Silver-breasted Broadbill with nesting material came landing right on a branch 2 meters above my head. After having been photographed sufficiently it decided to move on and deliver its material to the nest. Next, the bird's mate came, and they perched together on another branch for a lovely frame. We also had a Dusky Broadbill nest but no birds. Incubating the eggs. Couldn't wait around with so many kids. However Black-and-yellow Broadbill gave lengthy looks high in the canopy at km17. A number of birdwatchers were gathered there, and the scope came in handy. Right here Streak-breasted Woodpecker were nesting, and we had good sights when male woodpecker came to relieve his mate. On this road off the main road Lesser-necklaced Laughingtrush were feeding their young in an open nest 4 meter up a tree. In a very tall locally called Bee-tree (lots of bee hives), Banded Broadbill were finishing their nest.

A road right before campground took us through more open forest, and here we had the magnificent Green Broadbill. Flocks of Hanging Vernal-Parakeets came buzzing by in the treetops. A pair of Violet Cuckoos were very actively displaying their flight numbers. This road also had nesting Common Flameback, Greater Yellownape, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Grey-headed Woodpecker among other 'goodies' (Thick-billed Pigeon, Brown Needletail, Silver-breasted Broadbill etc.).

The barbets were also nesting. We had Green-eared and Blue-eared Barbets in and out of their holes. Forest Wagtail were abundant. Common and Black-capped Kingfisher were present along stream. Naturally there were many kinds of drongos and bulbuls around of which the Puff-backed Bulbul was the most interesting. This bird we say at a lookout point at km 30. where only 2 weeks earlier the Rachet-tailed Treepie (recently discovered and endemic to the park in Thailand) had been raising its young.

Up here Wreathed Hornbills were seen flying over the immensly dense mountain slopes. Also Blue-throated Barbet was here with its two black facial lines reminding us of a Moustached Barbet. Even Flavescent Bulbul, a more northern species were found here. On the way up we stopped for a view and picture taking. The call of Orange-breasted Trogon gave the bird away, and we saw its bright color through the dense foilage.

Another colorful bird was the Green Magpie which we saw a few times as was the case with Pied Hornbill. For some reason we didn't see too many smaller songbirds, but the broadbills and woodpeckers sure made up for any lackings.

It rains here daily for the time being, and many campers woke up to the sound of splatter. Thank God we had a van to take shelter in for those of us who didn't have a fly sheet over our tent. The people we met were all friendly. All food had to be brought. Shower facilities were available. No one got sick. Many more birds besides the ones mentioned here were seen.

Oh,yes, the park is also great for mammals. We had family groups of Dusky Leaf-Monkeys actively feeding in the trees around the campground throughout our stay. For those of you who love butterflies, you will not be disappointed. Multitudes of colorful ones were everywhere.

Kaengkrachan was a good experience of pristine undisturbed rain forest, and we will be back again!

If you enjoy Broadbills, Trogons, Hornbills and Woodpeckers, this is the place for you!

Part 2: May 15-16, 1999

Tests and battles before the victory!

Knowing the breeding season is here I wanted to get back to the park a.s.a.p. Heavy rains so had it that a colleague drove through heavily flooded waters with resulting engine problems. This had me postpone the return trip for another week. A long wait!

This time only 2 boys came along. Our eyes were again set on Broadbills and this time we had long clear views of the Dusky Broadbill by its nest. A small party of 4 birds helped to feed the young chicks. This nest was located 8 meters above a stream inside the forest and clearly was the biggest of the various Broadbill nests we saw.

Back up the road at km 27 the Silver-breasted Broadbills were now incubating their eggs. This nest were located 4m right above the graveled road as an extension of a bamboo shaft. Small nest and bird's head visible while incubating. Also here, the highly vocal but 'hard to see' Scaly-Breasted Partridge flew up from the roadside, rapidly disappearing into the trees. We went up to km 30 for lunch and a break. On our way down it started to rain and made the road slippery. Once down at the campground, much to my disappointment I found out that the boys had forgotten the food box at km 30. I could have kicked myself for not checking on them. Took a chance and went back up, praying there would be no downgoing traffic. (Traffic only allowed one way). Found the box and were cautioned by rangers to drive carefully back down. Four km down a tree had fallen, effectively blocking the road. Jumped out and pulled out knives trying to chop up the trunk. Hard like rock. Had a sudden inspiration to use a towrope. After much slipping and sliding managed to get the tree out of the way enough to pass by.

Met some photographers busily snapping pictures of a Blue-throated Barbet. I joined the crowd and got my own pics. Then headed back down again and went on a smaller road towards Coral Mountain (Kao Bakarung). This road is only for 4 wheel drive and powerful ones at that. The stream at the end had promises of Black-and-Red Broadbill. A much sought-after bird. We did see an old nest hanging right over the waters by the first stream, not too far from campground but didn't have the time for such a long walk (10km) to the end of the road. On the way back one of the boys reported a missing eye piece to his binocs which happen to belong to me and caused another disheartening. Then it rained for 2 hours, and so the night began.

Next morning it was arranged for a 4 wheel truck to take us all the way, along with a photographer who knew the exact location of the nesting site. But before that the other boy reported his binocs missing (mine as well), and a search produced nothing. A walk all alone was needed to soothe my nerves and bring peace back to mind. After carefully inquiring from the camping neighbors they happily proclaimed: "Yes, we found a pair of binocs in the middle of the road last night." So there they were, even if a bit mishandled.

The guy with the truck slept till 9 so we decided to start walking. While viewing a bird, the first boy, Jack, looked down on the trail and said: "Is this it?" There it was, my missing eye piece! We kept walking and came to the first stream. The photographer was here, letting us know that he'd been watching a pair of Black-and-Red Broadbills perching close to another nest a bit further down the stream from the first nest. We of course got excited and waited for our turn. A quick fly-by sight was all we were rewarded with, and then our truck showed up. We all got in, and off we went. Bramble bushes, low hanging tree branches and thorny vegetation whipped our bare hands, arms and even faces. But it was so exciting to be on our way. A real tropical adventure!

With nice leather trekking boots and long pants I joined the team into the stream at the end of the road. The water was at times a meter deep. We saw several nests but no birds. A couple of guys set up a blind but we decided to go the other direction. Found the nest where our friend had taken pictures the week before, but now there were no birds. Sat down for a break while our friend went on. He soon came back excitedly reporting that "one just flew under my nose". We followed back and finally had a dream come true. In a tree a handsome bird gave full views for at least five minutes. Breath-gasping and satisfying.

Back at the truck all we found was a note from the driver saying he had problems with the tire and had left. No other choice but to start walking. Pouring rain and lots of mud. A brisk one-and-a-half hour walk, and we were met by a ranger in his truck coming to help

This trail/road is very interesting with lots of surprises. Grey-rumped Treeswifts were a new bird for me. A Fish-Eagle (Gray-Headed or Lesser) was a first as well. I have never seen any so far inland. It sat erect in a dead tree with its small head, slender body and a brown plumage with a gradual change into a grayish head. On our way there we also were blessed with very close looks of a pair of Banded Broadbills. All the broadbills are extremely intriguing and worth any obstacles on your way.

Next on the agenda will have to be the pittas that are present in the park. 5 confirmed species.

A formation of V-flying Wreathed Hornbills said goodbye as we left our overnight adventure. Hopefully we'll be back again.

Picture of Black-and-Red as well as Black-and-Yellow Broadbill are available upon request from author.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; May 3 (Part 1) and June 11 (Part 2), 1999