A while back, while contemplating how in the world I would be able to get out in the woods during the month of September, I received an E-mail from Steve Goodbred, an assistant professor of marine life at a university in New York. Steve was inquiring about the possibilities for birding during a stop-over in Bangkok on his way to Sri Lanka. I explained to Steve that I'd love to take him to birding hot spots such as Khao Yai or Kaengkrachan but due to responsibilities at work and pressing financial needs (I work with handicapped people, orphanages and drug addicts etc. in a Christian volunteer work), I probably only could free myself if there was a sufficient contribution towards our work. Steve was very happy to contribute and so we agreed to meet up.
I somehow made it out of bed and met Steve at 4 a.m. at the Airport hotel. The drive to the park took less then 2 hours, and we arrived at the gates before 6 o'clock.
This is still the rainy season, and heavy monsoons have wrecked havoc in many parts of the country causing flooding. However, like an answer to prayer, we had mostly clear skies throughout and pleasant temperatures. As a matter of fact, I had to turn off the air-con in the van as a sudden cool front had set in, and the temperature had dropped to a lovely 17°C.
The first bird was a beautiful songster, the White-rumped Shama, which quickly disappeared into the bushes with its harsh alarm call. Next a small party of Black-crested Bulbuls were sounding off their fluty little melodies from the wires along the road side. The race found here in Eastern Thailand has a red throat patch which makes it even more attractive then its Western counterpart.
The road winds its way upwards in a steep climb. Exciting roads signs such as "Elephants crossing" and "Cobra area" help to set the atmosphere. We next stopped at a look out point, viewing rolling hills clothed in a cover of tropical vegetation. An early migrant, the Blue Rock-Thrush entertained us on the roof of a nearby rain shelter. White-rumped Munias roamed through the bushes. Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike fed in the trees, and Asian Fairy Bluebird sang from a tree top. (This bird seen in good light is simply gorgeous with its shimmering blue colors.) All the while Ashy Drongo was doing acrobatics in the air.
While munching on ham sandwiches with homemade pickles we drove towards headquarters -- the prime target area for the day. Here Steve got his first 'adrenaline rush', as a gorgeous bird -- the Blue-winged Leafbird -- came into full view. Red-headed Trogon kept calling but gave no views. Abott's Babbler sang and gave good looks as we traced it down. Imperial Mountain Pigeon flew overhead. A flock of Thick-billed Pigeons were roosting in a tree, and a Japanese Sparrowhawk, newly arrived from colder grounds, flew in to perch on a branch. Walking towards the beginning of trail 6, Stripe-throated Bulbul and Lesser Coucal came in view. Small Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers kept dashing around, and a flock of noisy Pied Hornbills added to our list.
Darkness fell as soon as we stepped inside of the muddy and slippery trail. Birds are harder to see here, and binoculars get used a lot less. This is however where the real feeling of 'anything can show up' sets in. Just knowing that birds like Eared and Blue Pittas, Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo, Banded Kingfisher, Silver and Siamese Pheasants, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons as well as Banded and Long-tailed Broadbills regularly are encountered here raises the level of anticipation. Unfortunately, this being Sunday morning a noisy bunch of students had decided to take the same route, and so evidently we were somewhat hampered by their presence.
The most exciting bird we saw in here was a Buffy Fish-Owl who, considering its great size, does a great job of finding its way through the many trees. Golden-spectacled Warbler also was noteworthy. We did see something large and grey run across the trail but didn't dare to tick off the Ground Coucal as we didn't have good looks.
The trail leads to a monstrous sized fig tree with buttresses double the size of a man, supporting its huge trunk. Good place for a snap shot.
Shortly after this point the trail divides, and following the left route soon leads to open grasslands and the road back to headquarters. We decided to take the other loop towards Nong Pak Chee watchtower knowing that it was getting late and more quiet no matter where we'd go. It is a rather easy walk along a ridge for most part but leads to a wide stream that required some undressing and wading in waist deep water to get safely across. How lovely to feel the cool fast flowing rain waters washing of all the dirt and reinvigorating our spirits!
In here we had close looks at Mustached Barbet and Dollarbirds. The latter a much sought-after bird for Steve. Also a family group of singing White-handed Gibbons beautifully swung their way through the tree tops, sometimes stopping to give us long looks. A female and later on a male Hill Blue Flycatcher with splendid colors held our attention for a while. Green-billed Malkoha with its guttural sound at first had us thinking we had a Blue-throated Bee-eater at hand. And of course Puff-throated Bulbuls warning all forest inhibitors of our presence were often encountered.
Crossing the grasslands to the watchtower in eager anticipation of a delicious Thai lunch was next on the menu. Here we climbed up the tower, enjoyed the breeze, watched a Barking Deer in a salt lick and examined our feet. I had purchased leech socks at a little shop by headquarters, but Steve hadn't so he turned out to be the biggest 'blood donor'. These inexpensive socks were so effective that I actually didn't get a single bite.
Hornbills were a high priority on Steve's list, and aside from Red-whiskered Bulbul and Brown Shrike in the grasslands, a majestic Wreathed Hornbill flew across with heavy wing beats. We also saw 3 Crested Honey-Buzzards circling the air in search for prey.
Besides a diverse variety of bird species Thailand is renowned for its much varied cuisine. We sampled some famous Tom Yum soup, freshly fried vegetables in oyster sauce, beef curry in coconut and sweet and sour chicken. A long walk serves as an excellent appetizer!
We then took a tour to Heew Suwat waterfall which had an abundance of water cascading into the pool below. Here is where most tourists gather, and even the regular Blue Whistling Thrush couldn't be seen.
Towards later afternoon we went to the road leading up to Khao Kew, the highest point in Khao Yai. Here we searched the roadsides for Siamese Fireback but to no avail. Instead, we were rewarded with another one of Steve's wanted birds; 4 Dusky Broadbills. Also Dark-sided Flycatcher kept snatching insects taking of from the wires along the road. First time I had good looks at this bird.
Another spectacular sight Khao Yai has are the Brown Needletails. These fast flying creatures feed over the forest canopy but will swoop down in literal combat style for a drink of water in any of the several ponds in the park.
Going down the mountain at dusk produced the third hornbill. This time it was Great Hornbill who definitely deserves it name. A pair of Hill Mynas perched in a tree top letting us hear their piercing whistle. As usual the roadside was dotted with Pig-tailed Macaques hoping for a hand out.
Other birds we heard and seen were Collared Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Puff-throated Babbler, Greater Flameback, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Grey Wagtail, Common Kingfisher, Palm-Swift, House Swift, Barnswallow, Common Iora, Spotted Dove, White-crested Laughingthrush and Scaly-breasted Partridge.
I was able to drop off Steve at the airport around 8 p.m. and drove home for much needed sleep.
Steve was to be back for another day a week later. I picked him up at 6:30 a.m. and we started on our way to KK. This park is further away, and we had to drive through the city on the expressway which can get quite clogged up. We felt that even though the trip would involve many hours of traveling (all in all 600 km for the day) it would be worth it for Steve to be able to at least sample the park.
Along the way we stopped for a few minutes by a salt pond and viewed Black-winged Stilts, Common Redshank, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, Little and Great Egrets, a big flock of Little Cormorants and Black-shouldered Kite on a pole.
The road towards the park also had perching Green Bee-eaters, Brown Shrike and White-throated Kingfishers, while Red-wattled Lapwings occurred in the fields.
We arrived at headquarters at 10 a.m. While I took care of necessary paper work and kindly was informed that cars wouldn't be allowed through the checkpoint until 1 p.m., Steve enjoyed watching Racket Treepie, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Olive-backed Sunbird and Common Iora in a tree next to us. Common Kingfisher also gave full display in a pond nearby.
We rushed our way to the checkpoint ignoring the potential Bushlarks in the brush along the way. The ranger at the checkpoint was cooperative as no other visitors had entered as of yet and let us through. (It was Monday, and we had the park all to ourselves throughout the whole day.)
We had decided to stop at strategic places along the road while working our way to the top so as to get a picture of the whole area. Our first stop was to be around km11. Here we found a fruiting tree and a flock of Blue-eared Barbets feeding. Other birds in the tree were Coppersmith and Green-eared Barbet. It was 11 o'clock and quite hot. Normally things are very quiet during this time of day so we were encouraged with the good start.
Opposite campground at km 15, a very handsome Black-naped Kingfisher was perching on lower branches above the stream. As it flew off exposing its full splendor (bill bright red, plumage mainly blue with white wing-patches and contrasting black and white head) we were impressed with the serenity of it all.
A dark beautiful male Crested Serpent-Eagle were soaring on high letting its call be heard all over. A smaller Accipiter was likewise in the air.
We then went to km 15 which really is where the birding starts. Here the road is under an umbrella of trees stretching their long arms across the road reaching for each other. It provides shelter for the more shy forest dwelling species and gives escape from the hot sun.
We immediately had a midday birdwave which amongst other things had a brilliant Sultan Tit, Blue-winged Leafbird, Paradise Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Greater Wood-shrike.
As we slowly worked our way down a little side road in here, much to my surprise and much to Steve's delight, a young Blue-winged Pitta was hopping on the ground. I don't know what had kept it here as its departure day for other grounds was long overdue.
Orange-breasted Trogon with their diagnostic call seem to be easy in here, and one came in full view. Green Magpies were sort of everywhere today starting from km13 all the way to km 27. This is really a pearl of the forest if even though a bit mean looking.
We headed towards the top going strait westward and upwards into this pristine wilderness. The view is incredible, and absolutely no civilization in sight.
At the top we refreshed ourselves with cold drinks and then enjoyed a pair of Ashy Bulbuls, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Warblers, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Grey Treepie, Oriental White-eyes and a White-browed Scimitar-Babbler. Beautifylly masked Dusky Leaf-monkeys were feeding in a tree.
The guards told us that no cars were allowed downhill until 4:30. We didn't fancy the thought as the skies were mounting with dark clouds and so pleaded our cause promising to drive down slowy.
We kept stopping as things flushed. All along the road either Forest or Grey Wagtail gave us company taking the lead in front of our car. We then had a very interesting stop at km 27. A White-hooded Babbler and a White-browed Scimitar-Babbler came dashing across the road going up the slope. We quickly stopped and viewed this favorite of mine. Then something with a Treepie-looking head popped out its face through the foliage. Excitedly waiting for the bird to fully reveal itself I was wondering if I finally was to see much talked-about Racket-tailed Treepie. Yes, we were not to be disappointed. Even though if perhaps not such a spectacular bird, at least I had found the bird.
Around here we also had Scarlet Minivets, Mountain Bulbul and Puff-throated Babbler.
Down between km 15-18 we again had the Pitta but added Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, a party of Scaly-breasted Partridges, Ochraceous Bulbul, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape and Common Flameback. We also heard Crested Jay with its strident call and Spot-necked Babbler with its soft three-tonal whistle. A flock of noisy Pied Hornbills came around but were to be the only hornbills for the day.
We had another wave in here and added the exciting Black-yellow Broadbill. Seems like the broadbills are hard to see outside breeding season, but at least I was able to show Steve four different types of nests.
Very satisfied, we started our way back home as dusk started to set in. A Heart-spotted Woodpecker came to wish us a warm Bon Voyage as we stopped to photograph the setting sun over the valleys and mountain tops.
Driving out the park we illuminated a pair of sparkling eyes on the road. Nocturnal Indian Nightjars were coming out to feed.
I dropped Steve of at the airport and headed home for a good night's rest.
All in all we had seen around 100 species in the two days Steve came through, and I believe we were most richly blessed! I am indebted to Steve who contacted me and that it all worked out.
If anyone else is interested in my company while visiting Thailand, please feel free to let me know, and perhaps something could work out.
PS. Other birds seen at KK were: White-rumped Shama, Pond-Heron, White-rumped Munias, Blue-throated Barbet, Crested Honey-Buzzards, Black-headed and Black-crested Bulbuls, Stripe-throated and Grey-eyed Bulbuls, Ashy Drongo, Indian Roller, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Red-throated Flycatcher, Blue Rock-Thrush, Green-billed Malkoha, Palm Swifts, Barn Swallows as well as Grey-headed Flycatcher.
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