Circumstances so had it that I had to travel to a city several hours away from BKK. Having contemplated which route to take, the possibility of taking a "little detour" to the "much longed for" National Park of Mae Wong in Kumpaengpet province, started to crystallize in my mind. According to "the book", road signs would be easy to follow, and all in all it would only be about a 5 hours drive. Well, even though road signs do exist, they are not always that easy to detect, and we found ourselves spending at least half an hour asking the local people, including the highway police for road 1242 towards the park. No one were aware of the park. We later found out that the local population relate much better to Klong Lan Park which is closer to town and includes easy accessible waterfalls. This park is not far from the road to Mae Wong, Mae Wong being another 20 minutes drive straight westwards. Well, we were forewarned that we might encounter continual rains of the more temperate type (those of you from northern Europe should know what I am talking about) and not heavy tropical downpours. Such was the case, as it kept drizzling until early evening.
We obtained permission at headquarters to drive up the road towards Chong Yen (Cool Passage) where the campground is located. We had very little time, so decided to give the area around headquarters a miss, in spite of the possibility of seeing Crested Kingfisher. (Apparently the bird requires one to wait for a considerable amount of time.) We drove up the road and soon caught up with a slow moving convoy of mountain bikers in their fancy 4 wheel-drive vehicles going up the hill. This area truly looks like the much talked about "hills of south-east Asia" and is very beautiful in spite of the fact that most of the hills are denuded and original forest long gone. Apparently, the road was built in order to evacuate hill tribe people from the park a few years ago and thus be able to preserve the park as a watershed for low-lying areas. One can only imagine what it originally must have looked like. Indeed, further up there are untouched hill slopes, and the majesty of the tree coverage as a warm blanket covering the slopes fills your heart with sentiments of wonder.
The campground is located at an altitude of 1360 meters and is indeed a very windy place. It felt for a moment as if I was back in Scandinavia on a summer's day. This is hot season in Thailand, and to feel the temperature drop to 18°C is nice indeed
Still undecided whether to set up tents or not (it rained continuously), I walked around carrying an umbrella. The only bird in sight was a brave White-throated Flycatcher roaming around the foliage, so much the like its cousin, the Pied Flycatcher back home in Bangkok. Well, finally the rain stopped and we set up camp. Unfortunately, rules of behavior and conduct at these National Parks are not always adhered to, and some very noisy individuals did their best to keep everyone awake. (Try to avoid weekends and holidays.)
The same noise that kept us awake greeted us to the morning. Seems like most people got up around 5 a.m. waiting for sunrise and going about their business. While later on around 9 o'clock, upon leaving the area, most of the same people were still in their tents talking away. Yes, the people are getting out of the city and in to the parks, but now the city has to get out of the people and the people into the woods as well!
So, at 6:30, I started my morning walk. No rain today, only a bright sky. The road continues on from here but is closed off to traffic, thus allowing some regeneration to take place. However, I read that a real healthy primary forest does not occur until the end of the road, another 15 km from campground. I was eager to see what this area would produce as I had read about more northern species dwelling here, including such exciting birds as Rufous-necked Hornbill and Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler. I didn't get to see any of these but many other noteworthy birds.
The road for the first 2 km from campground held patches of evergreen broadleaf forest, grasses, bamboo and stands of wild banana. I had hopes for more common birds but still unseen by myself, such as Long-tailed Sibia, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, White-browed Piculet, Grey Tree-pie and White-necked Laughingthrushes. It was still shady in this area as the suns rays were on the eastern side of the mountain. I had to wait awhile for some thing to happen besides the ever present Flavescent Bulbul. It sure paid off as a splendid Long-tailed Broadbill came in full view. This bird looks almost like a Disney character out of some animated movie, almost unreal. Then a splendid specimen of a female Red-headed Trogon perching and feeding from middle storey woodlands allowed me to have equally good looks. Things started to pick up, and especially Babblers started to sound off along the road side. Drongos such as Bronzed, Ashy and Lesser Racket-tailed were easy to spot.
Coming around a bend, I heard a dry chuk, followed by a loud musical tune. First recalling Black-throated Laughingthrushes in appearance, I quickly realized that it was a pair of White-necked Laughingthrushes, my first life bird for the day. Then the loud sounding Grey Tree-pies came by in a smaller flock, lifer number 2.
A large flock of Grey-chinned Minivets filled up the canopy while a pair of Green-billed Malkhoas hopped around lower in the trees.
Not long after this, I had the peculiar experience of having both Golden-throated as well as Blue-throated Barbets in the binocs feeding in a fruiting tree. The Golden-throated must have been a younger bird as the golden throat hadn't developed yet, only its golden two head patches were present.
Then Yellow-cheeked Tit and Black Bulbul flew in to confirm that I was in the more northern regions of Thailand. Next was Crimson Sunbird feeding in a banana flower. Surprised to see this bird at this elevation. The violet head was shimmering along with its bright red upper body as it hovered like a Hummingbird searching for nectar.
No sights of Hornbills. This should be the beginning of breeding season, I believe, and perhaps they are taking to other ground and habitats to find solitude and safety.
Smaller birds such as Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Verditer Flycatcher, Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and White-tailed Warbler filled up my time, but still I was wondering if the Piculet would show up or not. Then a Mountain Imperial Pigeon came real close, and I was able to get some pictures at close range.
My projected 2 hours were now coming to an end, and I had to quickly walk back to campground. Then suddenly a White-browed Piculet flew in and sat still for a moment, only 5 meters in front of me! So I got my 3rd lifer for the day, and satisfaction filled my inner being.
This was not the end though. A magnificent sample of a Maroon Oriole with a harsh and loud warning call came close. The iris of the bird really stands out, as does the maroon colored rump and tail. Then a pair of Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers of the genus Dendrocopus appeared in a tree right by and in typical woodpecker manner started drumming away.
Back at the campground, the convoy of mountain bikers were getting ready to take off to where I was coming from. Ideal timing! We packed our tents, had a cup of coffee and started on our way back down. Red Jungle Fowl along the roadside and Crested Serpent Eagle soaring on high along with regularly perching White-throated Kingfishers were all we had time to look at.
Surely it had been worth the "little detour" we had taken, and another wonderful experience in God's glorious garden was added to memory.
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