"Where shall we go"? was the natural question when it was decided to include a camping/birdwatching trip in the boys' curriculum during school-break. As we live in a communal situation, there are always many factors to add to the equation, and it wasn't until the night before departure that our final destination crystallized. As the rainy season and most breeding had already taken place, our anticipation was on the moderate side. "How many life birds do you think you will see, Uncle Peter"? someone asked. My answer was that I'd be happy if I could tick off 2 , seeing this would be our 3rd visit to Nam Nao National Park.
The park is located a good 5-6 hours' drive on roads from Bangkok. (480 km to headquarters). Its highest point is around 1200 m but most birding is done around 800-900 meters altitude. The park's main attraction is its rather large stands of pine. The campground is beautifully scented with pine and not normally too crowded. As the name "Nam Nao" (cold water) implies, the water truly is cold here, and one will go through bathing procedures rather quickly. Though eating facilities are available, caution should be taken in regards to the cleanliness standard. Cooking your own food is always safest. Staff at the park are very friendly and helpful. The visitor center is informative even including a library.
As opposed to our last trip to Kaengkrachan park this one went without too much adventure except for a few cuts and scratches. Boys will be boys!
Our first bird going in from headquarters entrance to the campground was a Racket-tailed Treepie, followed by the abundant Sooty-headed Bulbul and the ever present Ashy Drongo. While pitching our tent, the highly successful, in terms of having populated both Europe and Asia, Eurasian Jay, with its harsh call and delightful colors made itself known. In the background, the Great Barbet sounded of its ringing sound which I always somehow associate with pristine wilderness. My first lifer came at the dirt road leading to Dong Baak pine stands. Brown Prinia was to be ticked off. The forest here is rather open, and though mainly pine trees are seen, many broad-leaf trees are also interspersed. Other common birds here are Scarlet and Small Minivet, Common Flameback and Orange-fronted Leafbird. A Collared Falconet flew in to a nearby tree. Beautiful bird! A Black Bulbul with its brightly red beak and feet entertained us in the tree tops. Another life bird. A gentle and peaceful Mountain Imperial Pigeon flew up from the ground to let us have close looks while it was sitting still on a branch unafraid.
Back at headquarters there is a very productive nature trail right behind headquarters. Here the forest is moist and evergreen as it runs parallel to a stream winding its way through the landscape. Having taken the attitude that we'd look at every bird we'd see and not think that "we already know that one," we were already feeling good about the turnout. Then excitement shot up my veins as a little bird hopped up from the trail path perching on a small branch. Not being aware that Orange-headed Thrush is a breeding visitor in this part of the country, I mistook it for some sort of a flycatcher at first. The field guide Birds of Thailand helped me rectify my mistake, and I realized it was a young bird discovering the world. Wow! Lifer number 3! Later on, we had such exciting tropical birds such as Red-headed Trogon, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Buff-breasted Babbler, White-bellied Yuhina, Grey-headed Flycatcher and Slaty-backed Forktail in the stream. To top it of, another life bird, the very exciting Golden Babbler, swiftly worked its way through the foliage.
A visit to another area with tall pine called Poo Koom Kao, driving the 14 km long dirt road also turned out to be very good. Lifer number 5 -- Oriental Turtle Dove -- was feeding on the road, providing us with a good look. Large Cuckoo-Shrikes were very fairly easy to spot with their peculiar behavior of lifting their wings one by one while perching. Here also, the Indochinese Cuckoo-Shrike and Large as well as Common Wood-Shrike (lifer number 6) were spotted. The latter sort of made me think of a Brown Shrike. All the birds we saw are resident except for the Orange-headed Thrush. Unfortunately, fires rage through these tall pine stands at the end of the road every dry season so not much growth except for grasses. Here a Changeable Hawk-Eagle was so kind to let us get real close. It had rained, and it was pruning its feathers. Lifer number 7! All in all, after our first full day we had over 60 species and were enjoying ourselves thoroughly. We had decided to take a good look at every bird coming our way, having decided to not to think "this one we know already". This method helped us to relax and be happy for what we got.
The next morning started out with our regular time of prayer and some spiritual input. However, we were in a bit of a hurry and so didn't focus as much as we should have. This left me feeling a bit uneasy, and sure enough, birding was on the slow side. Going down the dirt road to Poo Koom Kao I suggested that we stop for a more whole-hearted prayer, determined to get a little more mileage out of our inspirational reading. When we were done, I asked the boys: "Do you think God is concerned about birds?" "We're not sure", the boys replied. So I said, "Well, He wants us to be happy right? Seeing more cool birds is what we want, so I'm sure He does care". We got in the van, drove for 10 seconds when the distinct call from the Large Scimitar-Babbler penetrated my ears. I know this call from Tony Ball's excellent tape Birds of Thailand being played over and over while traveling. Here around 3 km into the road the forest is a rather thick deciduous type. I decided to follow the bird through the thickets as it would be another lifer for me. I did manage to catch a glimpse of the rather elusive fellow. Then, something marvelous happened! The BIRD OF THE TRIP -- a pair of White-hooded Babblers -- feeding in the middle storey. They have a peculiar habit of sort of falling and making their way up again. I spent at least 5 minutes taking in this breath-taking view. I made my way back out to the boys who meanwhile had been busy watching Lesser Yellownape, White-bellied Woodpecker and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch. They could tell I was excited, and we all went back in after the Babblers. We managed to catch another look whereby one of the boys profoundly exclaimed "It sure pays to pray!" Right after that, no sooner had we gotten back in the van, when someone yelled out; "Look, an eagle in the tree!" Yes, a young Crested Serpent-Eagle was posing quite oblivious to our picture taking. Later on down the road another lifer: Blue-breasted Quail along with Barred Button-Quail were along the road side. Chinese Francolin was heard calling from a tree with its harsh nasal sound. On the way back, a Black-hooded Oriole flashing its bright yellow colors crossed our way as did Large Hawk-Cuckoo.
On the way back to headquarters, we had Lesser Necklaced and White-crested Laughingthrushes in a mixed flock noisily moving about. The Asian Fairy-Bluebird were singing from a tree top. Yellow-crested Mynas flew in. Blue-throated Barbet was heard calling, and Hill Mynas added to the symphony.
While gathering our belongings, a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch came to look at us. Plain Flowerpecker fed in the tree above our heads, and a Green-billed Malkoha with its elegant tail came to say goodbye.
Of course many more birds were seen such as the drongos, bulbuls and some flycatchers. Contact me for more details.
So, who is to say when birding is good or not? We sure had a good time, and after 75 species and 10 lifers all we can say is: "We'll be back again!".
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