6-15 JANUARY 2020
By Andy Walker
We had fantastic views of the highly sought Spoon-billed Sandpiper during the tour.
This ten-day set departure birdwatching tour of Central Thailand commenced in Bangkok on the 6th of January 2020 and ended back there on the 15th of January 2020. This tour visited Khao Yai National Park, Kaeng Krachan National Park, and the Gulf of Thailand (Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale), as well as several less-well-known sights along the way.
There were so many highlight birds during the trip! One of the main draws of birding in Thailand during the northern winter is the chance to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper. During our tour we had exceptional, close views of this highly sought shorebird (as shown on the cover image of this report). There were a great many other avian highlights too, such as Siamese Fireback, Silver Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Blue Pitta, Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill (visiting the nest), Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Buffy Fish Owl, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Common Green Magpie, Red-headed Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Malaysian Plover, ‘White-faced Plover’ (a distinctive subspecies of Kentish Plover and split by some authorities), and Chinese Egret. A total of 259 bird species were seen (plus six species heard only).
We also found an interesting array of mammals and reptiles; some of these included Pileated Gibbon, Lar Gibbon, Dusky Langur, Lyle’s Flying Fox, Black Giant Squirrel, Lesser Oriental Chevrotain, and Burmese Green Crested Lizard.
Full species lists are provided at the end of this report.
Day 1, 6th January 2020. Arrival in Bangkok
The group arrived in Bangkok and gathered for a welcome meal ahead of the birding to start the following day.
Day 2, 7th January 2020. Bangkok to Khao Yai
After breakfast and enjoying the company of beautiful Pink-necked Green Pigeons in our hotel garden we left the city for the Khao Yai area, our base for the next three nights. We made a couple of stops at temples along the way. The first temple allowed us to see a huge roost of Lyle’s Flying Fox, and here we also found Plain-backed Sparrow, Coppersmith Barbet, Olive-backed Sunbird, and Brown-throated Sunbird. At the second temple of the morning we heard Limestone Wren-Babbler and saw Black-naped Monarch, White-rumped Shama, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Two-barred Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Ashy Drongo, Bronzed Drongo, and more, as well as some cheeky Long-tailed Macaques.
Roadside birds included numerous egret species, Asian Openbill, Black Kite, Black Drongo, and Black-naped Oriole. Our lunch stop was set in some beautiful grounds, and we found Grey-faced Buzzard, Taiga Flycatcher, Red Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove, and Spotted Dove.
A while later, after checking into our hotel near Khao Yai National Park, we took a walk around the hotel grounds, where we found plenty to keep us busy, such as Red-breasted Parakeet, Blue-eared Barbet, Black-crested Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Great Myna, Common Myna, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Hair-crested Drongo, most giving great views. This gentle walk around the hotel grounds ended what had been a perfect introduction to birding in central Thailand with some very nice species seen very well.
Day 3, 8th January 2020. Khao Yai National Park
We spent the majority of the day birding within Khao Yai National Park, just popping out over lunchtime. The morning session was remarkable, with lots of exciting birds showing well. Some of the top birds included Red-headed Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Common Green Magpie, Black-throated Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Moustached Barbet, Grey-backed Shrike, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Himalayan Swiftlet, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Claudia’s Warbler, Alström’s Warbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Barred Cuckoo Dove, Ashy Bulbul, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and Blue Rock Thrush.
The afternoon birding, as usual in this forested site, seemed slower than the morning, but our walking was interspersed with some great birds, not least fantastic views of nesting Wreathed Hornbills, with Great Hornbill and Oriental Pied Hornbill also seen. A few of the other birds seen included Common Hill Myna, Scarlet Minivet, Rosy Minivet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Puff-throated Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Blue-winged Leafbird, Common Emerald Dove, and a brief White-crested Laughingthrush. Across the day we saw several interesting mammals as well, such as Pileated Gibbon, Northern Pig-tailed Macaque, and Sambar, although one of the most interesting sightings related to a dead Small-toothed Palm Civet.
It was great to see this male Wreathed Hornbill so well as it visited its nest.
We ended the day at a small lake, watching huge Brown-backed Needletails swooping in over our heads, drinking and bathing as the sun set.
Day 4, 9th January 2020. Khao Yai National Park
We spent the full day birding in Khao Yai National Park, where we found many new species and improved our views of several others from the previous day. Some of the highlights during the day included Siamese Fireback, Silver Pheasant, Red Junglefowl, Buffy Fish Owl, Red-headed Trogon, White-crested Laughingthrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Sultan Tit, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Greater Flameback, and Green-billed Malkoha, along with Scarlet, Ashy, Swinhoe’s, and Rosy Minivets, Arctic Warbler, Crested Honey Buzzard, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Brown Shrike, Richard’s Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit, and Stejneger’s Stonechat. Non-bird highlights included Northern Red Muntjac, Black Giant Squirrel, Sambar, Himalayan Striped Squirrel, Chinese Water Dragon, Reeve’s Butterfly Lizard, and Spotted Flying Dragon.
This female Red-headed Trogon flew in and landed right next to us at eye-level as we walked along a forest trail.
Day 5, 10th January 2020. Khao Yai to Ban Laem
Essentially a travel day as we moved between Khao Yai and Ban Laem, ready for a couple of days birding around Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia. We made a few stops along the way, the main one being at a wetland-and-scrub area, where we saw several new species for our trip, such as Yellow Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Western Osprey, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Common Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Dusky Warbler, Indochinese Bush Lark, Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Racket-tailed Treepie, and Indochinese Roller.
As we neared our accommodation, while waiting in traffic, we noted a smart Black-capped Kingfisher sitting on a wire.
Day 6, 11th January 2020. Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia
We spent the morning birding at Pak Thale, where we had one big target in mind, the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which fortunately we managed to find fairly quickly. It was great to see this rare bird so well and appreciate its so unique appearance. Luckily we saw the ‘Spoonie’ when we did, as shortly after we’d been watching it for a while something unseen flushed all the shorebirds, and it flew further away and settled down to roost.
Having seen the Spoon-billed Sandpiper nicely and early we then spent the rest of the morning wandering around the saltpans where we saw a plethora of shorebirds, including Great Knot, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Red-necked Stint, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Red Knot, and Common Sandpiper. Gulls and terns were much in evidence too and included a gorgeous breeding Slender-billed Gull and many Brown-headed Gulls, Caspian Tern, Whiskered Tern, Common Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Greater Crested Tern, and Little Tern. Other birds spotted during the morning included Painted Stork, Brahminy Kite, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Grey Heron, and Common Kestrel.
After lunch we took a boat trip through some mangroves (seeing Purple Heron, Shikra, some huge Water Monitors and a roost of Lyle’s Flying Fox) to a nearby sandspit, where we found all of our target birds, which included the distinctive dealbatus subspecies of Kentish Plover split by some authorities and called ‘White-faced Plover’, Chinese Egret, Malaysian Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Pacific Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Collared Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Greater Crested Tern, and Indian Cormorant.
The very distinctive ‘White-faced Plover’ is regarded as a separate species by some authorities, IOC currently considers it a subspecies of Kentish Plover.
Our late afternoon birding was spent around the saltpans at Laem Pak Bia, where we had further views of many of the species seen earlier at Pak Thale and added several more, including some major targets like Nordmann’s Greenshank and Asian Dowitcher, along with Pied Avocet and Ruff. As the sun set over the saltpans we started reflecting on what had been a great day birding in central Thailand.
Day 7, 12th January 2020. Pak Thale to Baan Maka via Phetchaburi rice fields
This morning was all about one bird again. Having seen Spoon-billed Sandpiper well the day before, but not really having had good photographic opportunities, we decided to give it another go. We arrived to find a busy Pak Thale with at least two other groups looking for the bird in question. The shorebirds were all extremely flighty; there must have been a raptor somewhere out of sight. Right on cue the Spoon-billed Sandpiper flew into the same spot as on the previous day and we had the same views as before. The birds flushed again after several minutes and moved off, so we did too. We moved to an area where we’ve had good views of the birds in the past, and the hunch paid off. We found the same bird in a large flock of semi-roosting shorebirds (mainly Lesser Sand Plovers, Broad-billed Sandpipers, and Red-necked Stints, with Great Knot, Red Knot, Greater Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, and Sanderling also present). We crawled out along one of the saltpan banks and lay in wait for the bird to show; eventually it moved about and came into full view, giving the much hoped-for excellent, close-range views. Slightly muddy, but incredibly happy, we made a retreat and left the birds getting on with their business, all with memory cards full of satisfactory photos and videos of one of the rarest shorebirds on the planet!
Being so close to a Spoon-billed Sandpiper was an amazing experience and one that no one will forget anytime soon.
After the excitement of the early morning we went back to the hotel to clean up and check out.
Our next stop was the Phetchaburi rice fields, where we found several new birds such as Booted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Black-winged Kite, Grey-headed Lapwing, and Asian Golden Weaver, as well as many species we’d seen over previous days.
After lunch we moved across to Baan Maka, near Kaeng Krachan, our base for the next few nights. A quick walk around the grounds yielded our first Ruddy-breasted Crake, Puff-throated Babbler, and Bronze-winged Jacana of the trip. We had an early night, ready for an early start and a packed day’s birding ahead.
Day 8, 13th January 2020. Kaeng Krachan National Park and surrounding area
We spent a wonderful morning birding in Kaeng Krachan National Park. We arrived at our carefully chosen spot just as it was getting light enough to see and very quickly were watching a trio of large woodpeckers, Greater Yellownape, Greater Flameback, and Common Flameback. A series of fruiting trees provided good views of Golden-crested Myna, Common Hill Myna, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Black-naped Oriole, Green-eared Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Black-headed Bulbul, and Black-crested Bulbul. As we walked around our chosen spot we added many more species such as Indochinese Roller (a new addition to the Thai list after the split from Indian Roller), Black-capped Kingfisher, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, and Green-billed Malkoha.
Greater Yellownape is a stunning large woodpecker, and we had great views.
We moved a short distance, and some alarm-calling produced White-browed Piculet, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Plain Flowerpecker, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and Grey-headed Woodpecker. Here we also had the unusual sight of five Thick-billed Green Pigeons feeding on the ground at a salt lick as Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters hawked overhead, with Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, and Shikra all flying around. Moving further into the park we added more exciting birds with Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Olive-backed Pipit, and Violet Cuckoo being the picks. A pair of rather athletic Dusky Langurs put on a really impressive show as they jumped around in the canopy.
We had lunch back at the lodge, where we had excellent views of Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Little Spiderhunter, and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush all from the dining table!
The afternoon birding session was in a local bird hide (blind), where we had a really enjoyable time watching a mix of wildlife, including Bar-backed Partridge, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Common Green Magpie, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Indochinese Blue Flycatcher (another recent split, from Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher), Racket-tailed Treepie, Bronzed Drongo, Abbott’s Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Siberian Blue Robin, Black-naped Monarch, and Common Emerald Dove. Plenty of mammals were present here too, such as Himalayan Striped Squirrel, Grey-bellied Squirrel, Northern Treeshrew, and Lesser Oriental Chevrotain, which ended another great day of birding here.
Common Green Magpie is a spectacular and often-secretive species, and we had repeated views while in their forest habitat.
Day 9, 14th January 2020. Kaeng Krachan National Park and surrounding area
We spent the morning in a local bird hide (blind), a different one from the previous evening, and enjoyed a different assortment of birds. The main target bird of the morning was Blue Pitta, and right on time one came in for a feed, eventually giving us all some great views. The pitta was around a few times over the course of the morning, and while it was away there were plenty of other great birds on offer, most also giving excellent photographic opportunities. Some of the other highlights from the morning included Greater Yellownape, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Large Scimitar Babbler, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted Partridge, White-rumped Shama, and Siberian Blue Robin (including a stunning adult male).
Blue Pitta coming through the forest toward us before it hopped out into the open and fed, giving great views.
Our lunchtime entertainment was provided by a pair of Kalij Pheasants wandering around the lodge garden as well as the usual suspects like Chinese Blue Flycatcher and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
During the afternoon we walked a section of Kaeng Krachan National Park. It was, for the afternoon, typically quiet. We walked quite a bit, seeing several of the species seen on the previous trip into the park but added a few really nice birds, not least a small group of Silver-breasted Broadbills and several Orange-breasted Trogons, both pretty spectacular species that gave great views.
Day 10, 15th January 2020. Kaeng Krachan National Park to Bangkok and tour conclusion
Our final mornings birding took us back into Kaeng Krachan National Park. We visited some areas we had checked out on the previous couple of days but also a few new ones, and things worked out nicely as we found some great birds, not least the huge Great Hornbill, the giant Great Slaty Woodpecker, and the globally rare Tickell’s Brown Hornbill. Other more usual (yet no less impressive) suspects included Common Hill Myna, Greater Flameback, Common Flameback, Oriental Pied Hornbill, and Indochinese Roller. Some excitement involved a Shikra that after sitting motionless in a tree for 20 minutes dropped out of it and caught a Chinese Pond Heron, a pretty remarkable sight.
Our final birding stop of the tour yielded Large Woodshrike and an assortment of barbets and bulbuls around a fruiting tree, but best of all a close encounter with the gorgeous Heart-spotted Woodpecker, a perfect way to end the tour.
One of the final new birds of the trip was Heart-spotted Woodpecker, which we found quietly feeding behind us as we watched a fruiting tree.
We drove back to Bangkok, where the tour concluded. Along the way we discussed the ‘Bird of the Trip’. Unsurprisingly Spoon-billed Sandpiper unanimously came out on top, we had after all had some pretty amazing views of this highly sought shorebird. Second was Blue Pitta, also unanimously. The rest of the top five was a mix with Black-capped Kingfisher, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Buffy Fish Owl, and Red-headed Trogon all getting honorable mentions.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.