Thailand: Jewels of the South Trip Report, March 2020

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By Andy Walker

1 – 14 MARCH 2020

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe had incredible views of the stunning Malayan Banded Pitta ­­­during the tour.

Overview

This fourteen-day set-departure birdwatching tour of Southern Thailand commenced in Phuket on the 1st of March 2020 and ended back there on the 14th of March 2020. This tour visited Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, Phang Nga mangroves, Ko Phra Thong, Sri Phang Nga National Park, Khao Sok National Park, Khao Luang National Park (Krung Ching Waterfall), Thale Noi, Khao Nor Chu Chi (Khao Pra Bang Kram Wildlife Sanctuary), and Krabi mangroves, as well as several less-well-known sights along the way.

A total of 259 species were seen (plus 11 species heard only). There were many highlight birds during the trip, and some of these included Malayan Banded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, White-crowned Hornbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Blyth’s Frogmouth, Buffy Fish Owl, Northern Boobook, Brown Wood Owl, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Black-bellied Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Green Broadbill, Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue-banded Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-headed Ibis, Knob-billed Duck, Painted Stork, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Black Baza, Jerdon’s Baza, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Black-throated Babbler, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Orange-headed Thrush, Green-backed Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Greater Green Leafbird, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Crimson Sunbird, and Forest Wagtail.

We also found an interesting array of mammals, reptiles, and assorted other critters on the tour, and full species lists are provided at the end of this report.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportHornbills featured heavily during the tour, including Bushy-crested Hornbill, here leaving a fruiting tree with its reward.

Detailed Report

Day 1, 1st March 2020. Arrival in Phuket and travel to Phang Nga

We met in Phuket at 8 a.m. and then set off to the nearby Tonsai Waterfall in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, which got our trip off to a fantastic start with some beautiful birds, such as Red-throated Barbet, Crimson Sunbird, and Thick-billed Green Pigeon, along with the colorful Orange-bellied and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers and some more subtle, but very rewarding species such as Forest Wagtail, Crow-billed Drongo, Little Spiderhunter, Green-backed Flycatcher, and a range of bulbuls, including Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Olive-winged Bulbul, and Olive (Baker’s) Bulbul.

After our initial birding session we drove for an hour to Phang Nga, where we explored the mangroves for the afternoon. It was extremely rewarding with some great views of many highly sought species, such as Mangrove Pitta, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Black-and-red Broadbill, Ashy Tailorbird, White-chested Babbler, Rufous-bellied Swallow, and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, to name a few.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe started our tour with excellent views of Mangrove Pitta.

Day 2, 2nd March 2020. Phang Nga province

We started the morning in Phang Nga, where a brief visit to some parkland gave us a few new common-bird photo opportunities for Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Rufous-bellied Swallow, Coppersmith Barbet, Asian Openbill, and Asian Koel. Shortly thereafter we moved to our main area of morning birding, where we found a great number of quality birds, such as Banded Kingfisher, Great Iora, Green Iora, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, White-rumped Spinetail, Black-bellied Malkoha, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Crested Honey Buzzard.

We had a bit of a drive to get under our belt during the afternoon, though a few strategic stops resulted in some nice bird finds, such as Northern Boobook (an uncommon and rarely seen migrant owl), Eurasian Hoopoe, Indochinese Roller, Brown Shrike, White-throated Kingfisher, Pacific Reef Heron, Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-necked Stint, and Common Kingfisher. One of the most unusual sightings, however, pertained to a Barred Buttonquail that was walking slowly across a road, even allowing us the rare opportunity to get a photo!

Day 3, 3rd March 2020. Ko Phra Thong

We spent the majority of the day on a small island, where we searched for and found our main target, Lesser Adjutant. We actually saw several birds despite it being such a rare and localized species in Thailand. We also found plenty of other great birds while looking for the adjutant, and some of these included Black Baza (one of the best-looking raptors on the planet), Jerdon’s Baza, Himalayan Cuckoo, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Booted Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dark-necked Tailorbird, and Common Hill Myna. It was a really unique experience birding on the island and thoroughly enjoyable.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportA rare bird in Thailand, but we were treated to good views of several Lesser Adjutants.

The late afternoon was spent in our hotel grounds, where a fruiting tree was full of bulbuls and flowerpeckers. The pick of the flowerpeckers was the stunning Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, though Orange-bellied Flowerpecker was a close second in looks!

Day 4, 4th March 2020. Sri Phang Nga National Park

We had an incredibly exciting morning birding in Sri Phang Nga National Park, one that will live on in our memories for a long time. The first bird we saw on entering the park was the simply breathtaking and stunningly gorgeous male Malayan Banded Pitta. Not only one of the best-looking birds on the planet but a really showy individual (see the cover of the trip report). Other quality birds came thick and fast in form of the rare Blyth’s Frogmouth, the pretty Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill, and more! Walking through the forest we found a nesting Hairy-backed Bulbul, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Abbott’s Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, and Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher. A short while later we were watching a female Malayan Banded Pitta, Orange-headed Thrush, White-rumped Shama, and Chinese Blue Flycatcher, yet more stunning birds! It was a thrilling morning!

Southern Thailand Trip ReportFinding Blyth’s Frogmouth during the daytime was a real bonus.

After lunch our local contact managed to find the quality Brown Wood Owl, an adult and juvenile bird roosting near some palm oil plantations. Later, as we drove to our overnight destination, we stopped at a river, where we found River Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing, and Red-wattled Lapwing, along with Pacific Golden Plover, Black-winged Stilt, and Little Ringed Plover. All in all it was another very memorable day.

Day 5, 5th March 2020. Khao Sok National Park (including Ratchaprapha Lake)

We spent the morning birding in Khao Sok National Park, where we found several new birds for our trip such as Raffles’s Malkoha, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Purple-naped Sunbird, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Ochraceous Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Plain Sunbird, Red-throated Sunbird, and Asian Fairy-bluebird. We also improved our views of Black-and-red Broadbill and Banded Kingfisher from good to excellent, with stunning close-up views of a pair of each.

Then we took the relatively short drive to the nearby Ratchaprapha Lake, where we would spend the night in a floating hotel. An afternoon boat ride in some of the most spectacular scenery in Thailand also had several avian highlights, such as Oriental Pied Hornbill, Lesser Fish Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, and Dusky Crag Martin; however, bird of the day and a potential bird of the trip contender was the incredible Great Hornbill. We staked out a nesting tree, where we could see the female’s bill protruding, and we waited for the male to fly in. We didn’t have too long to wait. and suddenly we were looking at a stunning, huge, male bird. He dropped down to the nest, where he regurgitated some fruit and fed the female through the nest cavity before giving us an incredible fly-by view. What a perfect way to end another great day’s birding!

Southern Thailand Trip ReportGreat Hornbill coming to a nest was an incredible sight.

Day 6, 6th March 2020. Khao Sok National Park (Ratchaprapha Lake)

After our night on the water we headed out onto the lake for a morning’s birding. The quality of the birds we saw and were able to photograph was incredible. Two groups of birds were particularly well represented, raptors and hornbills. We enjoyed seeing the Endangered (IUCN) White-crowned Hornbill along with Bushy-crested Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Great Hornbill, and Oriental Pied Hornbill – all spectacular birds. Some of the raptor highlights included multiple individuals of Lesser Fish Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Western Osprey, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard (migrant and resident forms), Crested Goshawk, and a brief Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle. Other birds seen from the boat included Black-capped Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Sooty Barbet, White-bellied Munia, and Rufous-bellied Swallow. Crested Jay, Bamboo Woodpecker, and Orange-breasted Trogons were all heard but seen on this occasion. It was a fantastic morning on the water, set in that lovely scenery again.

We spent the afternoon traveling across the south Thailand peninsula to the town on Tha Sala, our base for the next three nights to allow us ample time to explore the wonderful Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park.

Day 7, 7th March 2020. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park

We reached the halfway point of the tour and had another wonderful day of birding, full of great surprises. It was a hot and humid day, but we pushed through it and found several really high-quality birds, one of the best being the pair of the glowingly bright Green Broadbill that gave some very good and relatively low views, even allowing for a few photographs to be taken.

We also had good views of the shy Black-throated Babbler and of a very showy and long-tailed male Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, nothing to be sniffed at! Several other birds were noted in the jungle, such as Rufous Piculet, Moustached Babbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Grey-headed Babbler, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Raffles’s Malkoha, White-crowned Hornbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Malayan Banded Pitta, Rufous-winged Philentoma, and Spectacled Spiderhunter.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportThe color of Green Broadbill is just striking, and we had such great views.

The open area outside the forest trails was also busy with a fruiting tree attracting birds like Golden-whiskered Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Spectacled Bulbul, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, and Thick-billed Green Pigeon, with Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Black Baza, and best of all Banded Kingfisher all also present. Interestingly the usually shy kingfisher was nesting in a termite mound near the campsite, and the pair gave some great views.

Day 8, 8th March 2020. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park

We spent the majority of the day back in Khao Luang National Park, where we had repeated views of some of the birds seen the previous day, getting better views of some, such as Black-throated Babbler, Moustached Babbler, White-crowned Hornbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, and Golden-whiskered Barbet. However, we also found some new birds, and one of the most exciting was the rare Maroon-breasted Philentoma, which gave some incredible, close views. We also found Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Blue-winged Leafbird, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Large Woodshrike, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, and Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportThe rare (in Thailand) Maroon-breasted Philentoma gave us some simply incredible views.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe were thrilled to find a close, perched White-crowned Hornbill while in the forest.

Day 9, 9th March 2020. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park and travel to Thale Noi

We had a final morning birding the entrance road into Khao Luang National Park. It was very busy, with several new species for the trip encountered and some giving good photo opportunities too. Some of the highlights included Red-billed Malkoha, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Black Baza, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Oriental Dollarbird, Scarlet Minivet, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Bronzed Drongo, Great Iora, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Red-throated Sunbird, Crimson Sunbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Blue-winged Leafbird, Lesser Green Leafbird, and Greater Green Leafbird.

After our birding session we commenced our journey to the east coast and Thale Noi, where a brief stop at some rice paddies near our luxurious hotel yielded Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Lesser Whistling Duck, Whiskered Tern, Asian Openbill, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, and Baya Weaver.

Day 10, 10th March 2020. Thale Noi lake

We spent the morning on a peaceful lake, enjoying excellent views of numerous waterbirds and shorebirds. We boarded a dugout boat right from our hotel and pretty soon were a matter of feet away from plenty of birds. Shorebirds were a big feature early in the trip, and we found one of our main targets, Oriental Pratincole, quickly and had great views of several birds sitting in the grass around the edge of the lake. Other birds here included Grey-headed Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, Kentish Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, and Black-winged Stilt. Careful scanning also revealed the rare (for south Thailand) Little Stint. Herons and relatives were well represented too, and we enjoyed seeing Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, and Grey Heron (along with all the other common and widespread species). The Endangered Black-headed Ibis was also seen. The floating water vegetation was busy too, with Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Grey-headed Swamphen, and Common Moorhen all recorded. Ducks seen included Garganey, Cotton Pygmy Goose, and the very rare winter visitor to Thailand, Knob-billed Duck. Whiskered and White-winged Terns were hawking over the water too.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe found a small flock of Oriental Pratincoles that had likely just returned to Thailand from their wintering grounds in Australia.

After our boat ride we visited a couple of different areas, where we found two of the best birds of the day in a short span of time. First, the gorgeous Painted Stork was feeding very close to us in a rice paddy, and second, the majestic Buffy Fish Owl gave us some remarkably close, perched views low down and right in the open. Incredible!

Southern Thailand Trip ReportBuffy Fish Owl gave excellent and prolonged views.

After lunch we drove to our base for the next two nights near Khao Nor Chu Chi. A brief stop near our accommodation in the late afternoon gave us excellent looks at a stunning male Orange-breasted Trogon, a fitting way to end another fantastic day birding.

Day 11, 11th March 2020. Khao Nor Chu Chi (Khoa Pra Bang Kram Wildlife Sanctuary)

We spent the morning walking some of the area near our accommodation at Khao Nor Chu Chi. It was hard birding, as is usual in this area, although we found a couple of good birds. One of the best was the uncommon and tough Rufous-crowned Babbler. Some bulbul alarm calling brough in lots of birds nice and close and included several interesting species, such as Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Red-throated Sunbird, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Little Spiderhunter, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Great Iora, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, and Black-naped Monarch.

Walking around other areas of the forest tracks we found Green-backed Flycatcher, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Purple-naped Sunbird, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Crested Goshawk, and Thick-billed Green Pigeon. The rarest bird of the day, however, was an all-too-brief flyover of a Pale-capped Pigeon.

Our afternoon birding session was cut short by an approaching thunderstorm, although we did add Yellow-bellied Bulbul to our list, and after dinner a nocturnal birding session resulted in a Brown Wood Owl seen, with Barred Eagle Owl and Oriental Bay Owl heard.

Day 12, 12th March 2020. Khao Nor Chu Chi to Khao Phanom Bencha

We took a morning walk covering similar ground to the previous morning, but it was generally fairly quiet, though a few good and different birds were recorded, notably the uncommon Thick-billed Spiderhunter, which performed really well for us, plus Cream-vented Bulbul and Puff-backed Bulbul. We had further views of several other species that we had seen before, such as Brown Wood Owl, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard, Orange-breasted Trogon, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, and Hairy-backed Bulbul.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportOrange-breasted Trogon is another beautiful species that we enjoyed seeing during the tour.

After lunch we traveled the relatively short distance to the Khao Phanom Bencha area, where we checked into our small mountain lodge with incredible scenic views. Afternoon birding around the grounds provided plenty of great birds, such as Blue Whistling Thrush (the yellow-billed subspecies), Blue Rock Thrush, Black-naped Oriole, Blue-eared Barbet, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Plaintive Cuckoo, Cinnamon Bittern, and Brown-backed Needletail.

Day 13, 13th March 2020. Khao Phanom Bencha and Phang Nga mangroves

The early morning birding around the lodge grounds yielded similar species to those from the previous evening, and after breakfast we moved to Khao Phanom Bencha National Park, where we spent the rest of the morning. We found some really great birds and got some good photo opportunities of many of them too. On top of the list of highlights were Golden-whiskered Barbet, Sooty Barbet (unusually one nice and low, giving great views), Red-billed Malkoha, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Arctic Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, and a male Green-backed Flycatcher.

Our afternoon birding was in the mangroves near Phang Nga, where we found the uncommon Mangrove Whistler along with the patchily distributed Copper-throated Sunbird, both new trip birds. We also improved our views and photos of Brown-winged Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, and Malaysian Pied Fantail and saw Swinhoe’s White-eye, Black-and-red Broadbill, and several other species.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe had excellent views of Black-and-yellow Broadbill during the morning birding session.

Southern Thailand Trip ReportWe had seen a few female-type Green-backed Flycatchers that had given tough views during the tour, but this male showed well and was certainly worth the wait.

The final stop of the day in some parkland near our hotel gave us our first Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Daurian Starling of the trip, along with Asian Glossy Starling, Jungle Myna, White-throated Kingfisher, White-breasted Waterhen, and Coppersmith Barbet.

Day 14, 14th March 2020. Phang Nga mangroves to Phuket for international departure

The final morning birding session of the tour saw us return to the section of the Phang Nga mangroves that we had visited two weeks prior on day 1 of the tour. Just as on our first visit we found some great birds and had even better looks at a couple of them. Straight on arrival at the site we were watching three Mangrove Pittas having a bit of a territorial dispute, and during this altercation we were able to get some very close views and photographs of them. As if these views were not good enough, we then had some of the best views possible of the often-shy Ruddy Kingfisher; in fact we saw three of them and they all showed well. A few other species were seen and included Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, and Crow-billed Drongo, but it will be the image of the pitta and the kingfisher that will live longest in memory and be a perfect reminder of what was a great tour through southern Thailand.

After freshening up for our flights we checked out of our hotel and made our way to the airport in Phuket, where the tour concluded.

A huge thank you to our driver, Don, and our local guide, David, without whose help this tour wouldn’t have been the huge success it was. I look forward to the next one!

Southern Thailand Trip ReportThe perfect way to end the tour, exceptional views of three Mangrove Pittas!

 

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.

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