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Monday, 12 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 12th February

Khao Yai & Airport Drive

(Just a quick note that pictures will be added from today, and have already been inputted for our first day, (Spoony day) the 23rd January.
Sadly our last day in Thailand, and at last a great nights sleep was had, and if it wasn't for Ian being with me, I think I would've stayed put in bed, not that we were cuddling at any point.......I promise!! However we were at the entrance gates to the NP for 06.30 and headed straight for the Wang Jumpee trail, as this looked an excellent looking trail for Pheasants and Pittas. 

No such luck with these today although a Blue Pitta was heard distantly. In fact the trail for the first hour was very quiet, and yielded only a Black-and-Buff Woodpecker and a couple of other nice bits. A Barred Cuckoo Dove was calling but remained in situ. 

It wasn't until our last ditch attempt at a Banded Kingfisher that things hotted up. Near to the stream close to the car after a long walk with little success, I gave the recording a quick blast, and straight away a superb Banded Kingfisher flew in and perched near to us. It seemed oblivious to our shuffling around and sudden panic, which was just as well as we made a bit of noise trying to negotiate vines and the crunchiest of leaves. It did however eventually fly off, leaving us to find a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails on the river, but what a way to end our time at Khao Yai NP. Our list of goodies here was very impressive.

We made our way back to the hotel where our last lifer of the trip was seen from our room balcony, a small flock of Rose-breasted Parakeets. We made the most of the luxurious hotel and wished we had stayed here for the three nights. We left late morning bound for the airport, finding a perched Rufous-winged Buzzard along the way. After a monstrous KFC we still had a few hours spare, and with neither of us too fussed about heading for the Limestone Wren-babblers (seen previously in 2013) we opted for a tour through the countryside which proved to be very good. Our first pull in put us onto a superb breeding-plumaged Asian Golden Weaver (plus a few more seen elsewhere), and several fields held many Waders, Egrets, Wagtails and much more, so all in all a fitting end to a bird filled trip.

Highlights for the day are as follows:

Banded Kingfisher (L) - 1
Alstrom's Warbler - 1
Slaty-backed Forktail - 2
Asian Golden Weaver - 5
Long-toed Stint - 1
Little Ringed Plover - 3
Pin-tailed Snipe - 1
Common Snipe - 3
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - 20
Red-throated Pipit - 1
Rose-breasted Parakeet (L) - 3
Black-and-Buff Woodpecker - 1
Greater Flameback - 3
Blue-winged Leafbird - 2
Rufous-winged Buzzard - 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier - 1

We dropped the car off having clocked 2579 miles and having seen a respectable 439 species of bird, plus six heard only, and 156 lifers.

The trip had been a complete success, not one thing went wrong, most of our targets were seen and on the mammal front, it couldn't have got much better, although the elusive Clouded Leopard stayed that way, but who could forget the King Cobra that partially made up for this. A huge thanks to Ian (and Jake for the first 8 days) for a very enjoyable and successful trip, and no doubt the trio will be out in full swing in the near future.

Black-and-Buff Woodpecker at Khao Yai NP

Banded Kingfisher at Khao Yai NP

Slaty-backed Forktail at Khao Yai NP

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 11th February

Khao Yai NP

We were pleased to leave the snoring behind as we left the campsite aiming to walk trail B. Frustratingly we couldn't find the trail at all so therefore walked the trail that leads up from the reservoir, and joins onto the Wang Jumpee trail forming a very nice circuit of forest birding.

All the way up the trail there was constant bird activity with Siamese Firebacks on the deck, and several Woodpeckers, Barbets and a couple of Long-tailed Broadbills. We both weren't expecting the next piece of good fortune. We had both stopped when I noticed some shuffling on the ground and what I assumed was some leaf tossing, which in the past few days has led to a Partridge or Fireback, however on this occasion, without even looking through my bins, I could see the distinct shape and features of an Eared Pitta. In shock, I whispered to Ian and he got onto it more or less straight away. It seemed to ignore us and carried on foraging around and at times even hopping into full view. An incredible moment that lasted around twenty minutes.

A short while later Ian discovered he had lost his bum bag and so it was a brisk and sweaty walk down to where he thought he had lost it, and mercifully it was there, which was almost more of a relief then the Pitta.

We chilled out for a bit and rehydrated and had lunch, whilst checking the Ground Cuckoo site again where this time we only heard it. A Yellow-vented Flowerpecker was found in the camp grounds which was another addition onto our slowly increasing list.

We walked trail A to the waterfall but were slightly underwhelmed by the falls, and the birding was ok but nothing new really.

Approaching mid to late afternoon we arrived at the TAT pond to scan for Needletails. Initially there wasn't any, and out of nowhere some local started yelling at us as in the distance a herd of Elephants had emerged from the depths of the forest. We jumped back into the car and ragged it up to the viewing area joining several others. For the next half hour we admired this lovely herd. Another smaller group joined them almost crashing through the vehicles to rejoin with the others. They hung around for a while before slowly disappearing into the forest.

We then drove back to the TAT pond and enjoyed some brilliant encounters with some Brown backed Needletails. It was time to leave the NP l, and soon come to a halt again. Ian on the way down was saying how gripped he was by DC’s King Cobra from many years ago on one of the trails, well just as we left the park, a King Cobra was spotted in the road. A local managed to move it off the road and then left it alone once in the roadside field. We wasted no time in jumping out and managed a few photos of this very deadly snake. The day couldn’t have gone much better. We would come back in again tomorrrow, though a decent nights sleep and some organisation was needed for our last day, and so we stayed at the rather plush Le Monte Hotel where we enjoyed a bit of luxury for a change.

Highlights for an exceptional day are as follows.

Red Junglefowl - 3
Siamese Fireback - 2
Thick-billed Green Pigeon - 5
Asian Emerald Cuckoo - 1
Brown-backed Needletail - 10
Orange-breasted Trogon - 2
Red-headed Trogon - 1
House Swift - 2
Dollarbird - 2
Wreathed Hornbill - 1
Greater Yellownape - 2
Laced Woodpecker - 1
Heart-spotted Woodpecker - 1
Great Slaty Woodpecker - 1
Eared Pitta (L) - 1
Long-tailed Broadbill - 3
Hill Myna - 4
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler - 1
Eastern Crowned Warbler - 2
Alstrom's Warbler - 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker (L) - 1
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - 2
Ashy Bulbul - 1

Eared Pitta at Khao Yai NP -
what we thought was another Bulbul or
Laughingthrush rummaging around was thankfully
our biggest prize of all!!
Alstrom's Warbler at Khao Yai NP
Pig-tailed Macaque - these guys are
wherever the humans are.
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker at Khao Yai NP
Asian Elephants at Khao Yai NP
Brown-backed Needletail - click on image to
see the needles.
King Cobra!!

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 10th February

Khao Yao NP

A poor nights kip due to mainly camping, but with the addition of no pillow and it being colder then expected. We arrived at the KM 33 trail just after first light, and within the first few stretches it was apparent that trouble lay ahead in the form of a herd of Elephants. We glimpsed one which was great, but over the next hour we couldn't progress forwards as firstly, they were on either side of the trail, and very close to the trail. We kept our distance but close enough to have a real adrenaline rush when they made all their noises etc. Despite wanting to get to the Eared Pitta sight, we had to wait a long time for he Elephants to move off, and thankfully they did just that, but leaving a massive trail of destruction in their wake, including at the Pitta spot. All was not lost though, a surprise find were two Banded Broadbills, plus lots of other nice bits. Obviously no sign of any Pittas, including going down presumed Elephant tracks to search elsewhere, although a Siamese Fireback showed nicely where the Elephants had been. 

This took most of the morning and after having lunch back at the campsite (via another look at a Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo) we went to search along the first km of the Khao Khieo Road. Walking along the road produced a stunningly tame Orange-breasted Trogon, plus a decent mixed species flock. We eventually found a trail into the forest, but surprisingly this led to a blind with an obvious feeding station. Knowing Blue Pittas had been seen along this stretch recently, it was likely this would be the spot, so we sat it out. Half way through our ordeal a Thai photographer came in and very kindly gave us his mealworms and went to photograph something else. This persuaded a few birds to come in, including a Siberian Blue Robin, White-rumped Shama, and after three hours of a numb bum and aching backs, our target bird emerged from the shadows of the dense undergrowth, a stunning Blue Pitta. It still proved elusive but finally perched on the exposed log where we both managed some pics. This was our main target at Khao Yai having heard them here in 2013, and to get views like this was superb. 

We arrived at the TAT pond half hour before dark where only a single Brown-backed Needletail was present, and in the gloom, two huge Great Eared Nightjars flew low over us. 

There was no need for a night drive tonight after last nights successes. Another poor nights sleep in a now overcrowded campsite was had, even all the insects couldn't cover the surrounding snoring. 

Highlights for the day are as follows:

Siamese Fireback - 1
Thick-billed Green Pigeon - 1
Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo - 1
Brown-backed Needletail - 1
Great Eared Nightjar - 2
Orange-breasted Trogon - 2
Dollarbird - 1
Wreathed Hornbill - 6
Blue Pitta (L) - 1
Banded Broadbill (L) - 2
Siberian Blue Robin - 1
Everett's White-Eye (L) - 2
Arctic Warbler - 1
Alstrom's Warbler - 1

Banded Broadbill at Khao Yai NP - awful pic 
taken through a light ray with the bird being high
Puff-throated Bulbul at Khao Yai NP
Great Hornbill at Khao Yai NP - the start to the KM 33 trail
holds a few fruiting trees, much to the like of these giants.
Orange-breasted Trogon at Khao Yai NP
White-crested Laughingthrush - as attractive as these are,
they did keep eating all of the Pitta's mealworms.
Blue Pitta at Khao Yai NP

Friday, 9 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 9th February

Lam Takhong Reservoir & Khao Yai NP

We were up at 3.30am yet again and drove the 2 hours south to Pak Chong to try for some Rain Quail at Lam Takhong reservoir. We arrived bang on first light and headed to the short grass areas. From a few steps out of the car we flushed our first Barred Buttonquails, as well as many common birds also found in this habitat. As dawn rose many Egrets and a few raptors started to surface, and then master flusher Ian came across a series of Rain Quails, totalling six birds. With this in the bag nice and early we quickly stocked up on supplies for our time in Khao Yai NP.

We entered early morning and headed straight for the KM 33 trail where the previous couple of days had seen frequent sightings of Eared Pittas. Although we didn’t know exactly where the spot was, we figured out it couldn’t have been too far along. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t until it nearly got dark that we heard two Eared Pittas very near to us, but due to the gloom they remained invisible. The first two kilometres of the track had obviously been a Elephant playground as there was destruction in most directions.

At midday we left the trail and got our tent set up for two nights at the campsite. Before setting the tent up we quickly made our way to the rear of the toilet block. This wasn’t by choice, but there was one of our top targets hopefully here, and so this was the case, all three Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos seen together at a known feeding station. Absolutely brilliant!!

After a lengthy lunch we again set out on KM 33 trail where it was very quiet, though eventually a good bird flock moved through that held a Long-tailed Broadbill, Laced Woodpecker, Black-and-Buff Woodpeckers and a few other bits. The end result were the heard only Eared Pittas.

In all a mixed day but the highlight was now to come. Last time in Thailand we failed miserably to find an Elephant, and so this time we had to find one. So we did a night drive (getting told off in the process for using spot lights again) and after only twenty minutes a superb bull Elephant emerged from the darkness, into the full beam of the car’s lights and slowly walked towards us. I slowly retreated but I wanted a video and some pics so I stopped and watched the superb beast amble past. An absolute huge adrenaline rush being so close to a very dangerous creature, which thankfully was used to the cars.

We carried on again and came across another Elephant. There were two guiding vehicles in front who were flashing at us to move back as the big Nelly had started to walk towards the on-lookers. However, no way was I budging and they nervously sped past the bull as it made a direct line for us. Still not budging, the Elephant came even closer to us and tilted its head as to provoke us somewhat. It worked and we carried on past it. Yet another mammoth encounter. We saw another one and a couple of Civet species before calling it a night. We kind of fell asleep listening to a Collared Scops Owl and a couple of Great Eared Nightjars.

Highlights for the day are as follows:

Siamese Fireback - 1
Rain Quail (L) - 4
Barred Buttonquail - 3
Eastern Marsh Harrier - 1
Plaintive Cuckoo - 1
Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo (L) - 3
Indian Nightjar - 1
Great Hornbill - 4
Wreathed Hornbill - 2
Greater Yellownape - 1
Laced Woodpecker - 1
Black-and-Buff Woodpecker - 1
Long-tailed Broadbill - 1
Black-winged Cuckooshrike - 2
Hainan Blue Flycatcher - 1
Black-throated Laughingthrush - 1
Abbott’s Babbler - 1
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - 2

Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo at Khao Yai NP - 
on our previous visit in 2013 we didn't even hear 
this species. This time a feeding station had been 
set up behind a toilet block where three birds were 
seen together. Another two birds were heard at Wang
Jumpee a few days later.
Oriental Pied Hornbill at Khao Yai NP

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 8th February

Nam Nao NP

After yesterday’s driving we were up at 3.30am to continue the same theme with a two hour drive to Nam Nao NP arriving there at first light.

We walked the longest trail (roughly 5km) and it took nearly seven hours. This wasn’t due to the sheer numbers of birds, it was just that the habitat looked brilliant for all the ground dwelling species. The stream alongside the trail held at least six Forktails, whilst various mixed species flocks moved through. Despite a very cautious amble, no Pittas or Pheasants were found.

Once on the upper section of the trail, by far the highlight of the last few days was found, this being a flock of six Long-tailed Broadbills, one of the funkiest looking birds out there. A pair of Sultan Tits gave then a close run however. A pair of White-bellied Woodpeckers performed well once in the ‘English’ looking Pine forest, whilst a calling Drongo-Cuckoo couldn’t be persuaded to show itself.

When we finally completed the walk we decided to pay for an overnight stay in a bungalow. Once done this the guard then told us that no food was available and we would have to do a 140km round trip to get some. This soon resulted in getting my money back and instead of staying in this highly-anticipated Park, we forced ourselves away after 5pm to stay south of Phetchabun to reduce the drive to Khao Yai tomorrow.

Before all this though we walked along the stream again and a random blasting of the speaker of Blue Pitta initiated an instant response. It was so immediate and not that distant I was unsure what to do next. The Pitta remained hidden despite responding 90% of the time and finally resulted in us trying to enter the area to find it, which obviously resulted in no more calling, but with time becoming an issue we had to try something. Hopefully three whole days at Khao Yai will be enough to sort this long standing (4 years+) dip.

The drive to our overnight stay roughly 40km south of Phetchabun was very smooth and hassle free. An extremely long day all to be repeated tomorrow, though this will be the last long drive as the end is approaching.

Highlights for today are as follows:

Crested Goshawk - 1
Vernal Hanging Parrot - 2
Blossom-headed Parakeet - 2
Asian Barred Owlet - 1
Red-headed Trogon - 2
Great Barbet - 1
White-browed Piculet - 1
White-bellied Woodpecker - 2
Bay Woodpexker - 1
Black and Buff Woodpecker - 2
Long-tailed Broadbill (L) - 6
Common Green Magpie - 1
Rosy Minivet - 2
Large Woodshrike (L) - 4
White’s Thrush - 1
Siberian Blue Robin - 1
White-crowned Forktail - 4
Slaty-backed Forktail - 3
Sultan Tit - 2
Puff-throated Bulbul - 2
Dark-necked Tailorbird (L) - 2
Plain-tailed Warbler - 2
Yellow-bellied Warbler - 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler - 3
Collared Babbler - 10
Plain Flowerpecker - 1

Slaty-backed Forktail at Nam Nao NP
White-crowned Forktail at Nam Nao NP
Crested Goshawk at Nam Nao NP
Sultan Tit at Nam Nao NP
Great Barbet at Nam Nao NP
Nam Nao NP has supposedly the largest
number of Elephants, but this was still
all we could manage. Thankfully Khao Yai
saved us!!
Nam Nao NP

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 7th February

Nam Kham NR & long drive south

Having returned from our boat trip yesterday, the lovely northern couple we had bumped into at Doi Inthanon, Chiang Dao and Doi Lang, had seen us from their balcony overlooking the lake and left a note on our car. This led to them telling us about the long-staying Jerdon’s Bushchat at Nam Kham NR, our already intended destination for the morning, and with it only being a 5-minute drive from our luxury accommodation (our first soft bed in over two weeks) meant we could have a lay in until 5.45. Unfortunately the Firethroat has not wintered this year, but a Jerdon’s would have sufficed.

On arrival we bumped into two ringers who had just trapped a Black-naped Monarch. As nice as this was, we were hoping for something slightly better. This soon came as the young lad found us to say he had trapped an Asian Stubtail. A superb bird and made the visit worthwhile. As you can imagine this obviously meant that despite the five hours of searching, we couldn’t find the Bushchat. All was not lost though, three Rufous-winged Buzzards flew over together and a couple of new Warblers and Buntings kept the trip list ticking over. I also managed to lure in a couple of Chestnut-capped Babblers,  very striking species that the books don’t give justice to.

We said our farewells to the northern couple and to the ringers and started our mammoth drive south, approximately 480km south staying overnight in Phitsanulok ready to hit Nam Nao NP in the morning.

The drive was fairly uneventful, a couple of interesting driving manoeuvres from other drivers kept us entertained. Just as the sun was setting we left some traffic lights and noticed a large gathering of Swallows, and what looked like a Treeswift mixed in. We stopped on the hard shoulder and reversed back down (proper Thai-style driving) to a small lay-by and enjoyed watching five Crested Treeswifts. Another treat having missed them earlier on in the trip. We arrived at our hotel just as it got dark

Highlights for today are as follows:

Pied Harrier - 1
Rufous-winged Buzzard (L) - 3
Crested Treeswift - 5
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpexker - 1
Racket-tailed Treepie - 10
Siberian Rubythroat - 1
Chestnut-tailed Starling - 20
Asian Stubtail (L) - 1
Black-browed Reed Warbler - 2
Arctic Warbler - 1
Greenish Warbler - 1
Chestnut-capped Babbler (L) - 2
Purple Sunbird - 2
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - 3
White-rumped Munia - 10

Asian Openbills at Nam Kham NR
Asian Stubtail at Nam Kham NR
Black-naped Monarch at Nam Kham NR
Common Purple Sapphire at Nam Kham NR -
the 'Brown Hairstreak' like upperwing
rules out Restricted P.S. 
Common Purple Sapphire at Nam Kham NR
Sunrise at Nam Kham NR

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Thailand 2018 - 6th February

Many rice paddies & Chiang Saen Area

We lift our hotel at first light to try again for the Bush Larks, and thankfully this time we succeeded in finding a trio of Horsfield’s Bush-Larks. During the process of finding these we stumbled across two Siberian Rubythroats and a Pin-tailed Snipe. 

Next up was Mae Ai paddies where a lovely flock of ca. 25 Yellow-breasted Buntings were found, and a Wryneck was a surprise encounter. Tha Ton paddies were next and at a GPS location kindly provided by Nick Gardner, all we could muster were 49 Small Pratincoles, 3 Horsfield’s Bush-Larks but no Jerdon’s Bushchat, but a better chance tomorrow hopefully. 

We then drove the 90 minutes NE to Chiang Saen (including a short stop to remove a tick from my arm) where we enjoyed a quick paddle in the Mekong River, before taking a boat trip out onto Chiang Saen Lake, where we enjoyed good views of several Indian Spot-billed Ducks, many Ferruginous Ducks and couple of other Duck species. It was then time to head for Ban Wamakno for the Pied Harrier roost. Before the 70+ birds arrived we had a bit of good fortune when a Thick-billed Warbler decided to show where we had parked. The Harrier roost was just excellent. At one time I could see 40 Pied Harriers (mostly males) circling in front of me. 

On our way back just after dark a small number of Indian Nightjars were found alongside Chiang Saen Lake. We ended up at a very plush hotel in Chiang Saen, where hopefully a good rest will ensue with a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. 

Highlights for the day are as follows: 

Ruddy Shelduck - 2
Indian Spot-billed Duck (L) - 119
Ferruginous Duck - 60
Pochard - 2
Tufted Duck - 1
Purple Heron - 5
Eastern Marsh Harrier - 6
Pied Harrier - 70+
Crested Goshawk - 1
Pin-tailed Snipe - 1
Small Pratincole - 49
Asian Koel - 2
Indian Nightjar - 4
Wryneck - 1
Siberian Rubythroat - 2
White-shouldered Starling - 1
Chestnut-tailed Starling - 50
Oriental Reed Warbler - 1
Thick-billed Warbler (L) - 1
Horsfield’s Bush-Lark (L) - 8
Oriental Skylark - 1
Paddyfield Pipit - 2
Yellow-breasted Bunting - 25

Yellow-breasted Buntings at Mae Ai Paddies
Wryneck at Mae Ai Paddies
Ferruginous Ducks at Chiang Saen Lake
Indian Spot-billed Ducks at Chiang Saen Lake
Thick-billed Warbler at Wat Komnaram
Pied Harrier at Wat Komnaram
Fang Paddies - Horsfield's Bush Lark field.
The River Kok - a site traditionally good for Jerdon's
Bushchat, but increased disturbance has resulted in
fewer sightings here.
Chiang Saen Lake
Another boat trip meant more Ducks
for the trip list.
The Mekong River - Laos in the backround
Sunset at the Pied Harrier roost