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The peninsula of southern Thailand, part of geological Sundaland, is a birders’ and naturalists’ paradise. Bounded by the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west, this lush tropical region boasts a maritime climate and a unique combination of terrestrial and marine attractions that rank among the best globally. Our tour is designed to incorporate the most spectacular of the region’s unique karst limestone scenery in searching for the region’s diversity of specials.
The region’s star attraction is the Rail-babbler, one of the few birds in the world in a family of its own. Also there are resident pittas in the area. Although Gurney’s Pitta is now probably extirpated from Thailand, there is a chance to see Malayan Banded and Mangrove Pittas. Pittas aside, the rainforests we visit teem with flamboyancy in their birdlife – five potential hornbills, Great, Helmeted, and White-crowned Hornbills among others, ten species of tropical kingfishers, five species of trogon, and more.
We visit a range of national parks to find these specials, picking up scores of ornately colored woodpeckers, unique jungle-living babblers, attractive leafbirds, and more along the way. Our itinerary includes an outing for the tricky Nordmann’s Greenshank and Chinese Egret. Whilst birding, we may encounter intriguing jungle mammals including dusky langur, pig-tailed macaque, the aptly named giant squirrel, the beautiful white-handed gibbon, and, with luck, the nocturnal Sunda slow loris. We will also visit the stunning reservoir at Khao Sok National Park, surrounded by one of the oldest primary forests in Southeast Asia.
This tropical birding adventure, set amidst extraordinary karst limestone landscapes and rich tropical seas, is one not to be missed!
Itinerary (14 days/13 nights)
Day 1. Khao Phra Taew National Park and to Phang Nga
Arrival at Phuket International Airport. We start our birding at the nearby Khao Phra Taew National Park for an introduction to the birdlife of southern Thailand. First sightings of species like Red-whiskered, Stripe-throated,and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Scarlet-backed and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, and Crimson Sunbird are a delight. We visit a nesting site for the attractive Blue-eared Barbet. The call of the aptly-named Coppersmith Barbet will likely guide us to a sighting. Other potential species include the dazzling Asian Paradise Flycatcherand wintering Forest Wagtail.
After our first Thai lunch we will travel towards Phang Nga, situated on the idyllic Phang Nga Bay, where we will check into the Manora Garden resort. After lunch we will visit the local mangroves to look for specials such asBrown-winged Kingfisher and Mangrove Pitta.
Overnight: Manora Garden, Phang Nga
Day 2. Phang-Nga Province
An early departure will see us travel inland a little to the Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we will have an easy morning strolling the road, looking for exotic birds such as malkohas and broadbills.
After lunch we will move over to Thai Muang, where we will visit a day roost for Spotted Wood Owl. Species that we will search for here include Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Dollarbird (in the Roller family), Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, and the diminutive Vernal Hanging Parrot. We are also likely to sight a range of more common species such as Red-wattled Lapwing and Lesser Whistling Duck.
Our next stop is the Morning Glory Farm, where we will search for Bitterns – Yellow, Cinnamon, and Black are all possible, as is Watercock and White-breasted Waterhen.
Our third stop en route to Khao Sok is one of southern Thailand’s shorebird meccas. Terek Sandpiper is the main attraction here, together with Greater and Lesser Sandplover and Great Crested and Black-naped Terns. At the end of the day we will move north to the Kuraburi Greenview Resort.
Overnight: Kuraburi Greenview Resort
Day 3. Ko Phra Thong
Our destination for the day is Ko Phra Thong, one of Phang Nga province’s most exclusive and beautiful islands. With over 15km of isolated, white, sandy beaches, the island is a real paradise. The birds are rather special too, which is of course why we are visiting. The species we will search for here include the enigmatically ugly Lesser Adjutant and a wide range of birds of prey: White-bellied Sea Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzard, the exquisite Black Baza, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Pied Harrier, and the striking Brahminy Kite, among others.
After a long day’s birding we will return to the mainland and our rooms at the Kuraburi Greenview.
Overnight: Kuraburi Greenview Resort
Day 4. Sri Phang Nga National Park and Khao Sok National Park
A predawn start will see us enjoying the sunrise over the limestone crags en route to Sri Phang Nga National Park, where we will spend a full morning. Sri Phang Nga is home to the prodigious Helmeted Hornbill as well as flocks of the Bushy-crested variety and the immaculate Great Hornbill. The skies above the stream that flows through Sri Phang Nga should produce the obscure Whiskered Treeswift and Silver-rumped Needletail. Chestnut-naped Forktail occurs, as does the range-restricted Lesser Fish Eagle. This national park is an excellent location for both Banded Pitta, reputed to be Thailand’s most dazzling, and Banded Broadbill. Other potentials include Little and Thick-billed Spiderhunters and Purple-naped Sunbird. We shall always keep an eye to the sky and an ear open for the possible Great, Helmeted, and White-crowned Hornbills that occur here. After lunch we will go and look for the most beautiful of birds in the forest, the Malayan Banded Pitta. In recent years this bird has been staked out by photographers, and we hope this year will be the same. Also coming in at the same spot has been the rare Large Blue Flycatcher. En route to our rooms at the Morning Mist Resort at the Khao Sok HQ area we will stop off at Kapong Bridge for River Lapwing.
Overnight: Morning Mist Resort, Khao Sok
Day 5. Khao Sok National Park
We will spend a full morning session birding the river section of Khao Sok National Park. Here, we search for the elusive Rufous-collared and Blue-banded Kingfishers. The dense jungle here is also a good spot to get to grips with a range of Babblers, including Striped Tit-, Chestnut-winged, Black-capped, and Spot-necked. A range of woodpeckers occur, including the flashy Maroon and Bamboo Woodpeckers, as well as other forest birds like Grey-breasted Spiderhunter. This is one of the sites where we will search for the gaudy Chestnut-naped Forktail as well as Black-and-red Broadbill.
We return to our idyllic lodge for lunch before embarking on a long-tail boat trip through the exquisite scenery that is the Ratchaprapha Dam. Between the limestone cliffs that tower hundreds of meters above we will search for White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Hobby, and Grey-headed Fish Eagle. This boat-based excursion provides for excellent vistas into the jungle and gives us one of our best chances of good sightings of Helmeted, Great, and White-crowned Hornbills as well as woodpeckers like Greater and Common Flamebacks. In addition, jungle mammals like dusky langur and white-handed gibbon, which utters a beautifully haunting call from the jungle canopy, are likely. This is possibly the most scenic spot in Thailand.
We will overnight in bamboo huts on a floating raft at the edge of the lake. Here the accommodation is very basic, but the food is excellent, and your time here will probably be your fondest memory of the whole trip. After dinner we will go out in the boat to look for Buffy Fish Owl and other night birds. We sometimes also see large mammals like Asian elephant, gaur, and sambar.
Overnight: floating raft houses, Khao Sok National Park
Day 6. Khao Sok National Park and Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park
At dawn we will head out in the boat again to look for kingfishers, raptors, and hornbills, and perhaps we’ll see some white-handed gibbons. After breakfast we will go back to the pier, pick up the car, and make our way to the relatively undiscovered Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park on the eastern side of the Peninsula.
We will arrive in time for some late afternoon birding, during which we will scan for Brown Barbet, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, and many more.
After dinner we embark on some owling to possibly find Brown Wood Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl. The aptly-named Sunda slow loris is also a possibility, as is Blyth’s Frogmouth.
Overnight: Krung Ching
Days 7 and 8. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park
The Rail-babbler is the only species in the family Eupetidae and is suitably unique in appearance – part rail, part babbler. This is not an easy bird to find, and with the help of a local guide, Krung Ching is one location where it is regularly sighted. The Rail-babbler is the focus of our efforts on this day, but the rainforests here hold a plethora of other specials that we will be on the lookout for as well. These include White-crowned Forktail, the strikingly petite Rufous Piculet, the range-restricted Crested Jay (Shrikejay), Green and Dusky Broadbills, Banded Pitta, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Golden-whiskered Barbet, and breeding Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle.
During our two full days here we will spend one day on the trail, looking for Rain-babbler and other secretive forest birds, such as Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler and Black-throated Babbler, and the other day in the HQ area and on the entrance road, looking for forest edge birds and others visiting the fruiting trees.
Overnight: Krung Ching (two nights)
Day 9. Khao Luang (Krung Ching section) and the wetlands of Thale Noi
A last morning session at Krung Ching gives us the opportunity to search for any species still missing from our list, such as the subspecies perniger of the Black Eagle and Bat Hawk.
Our next destination is the wetlands of Thale Noi Waterfall Reserve, home to two species of extravagant jacanas, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. In addition to the jacanas, other wetland species such as Cotton Pygmy Goose, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black-headed Ibis, and Slaty-breasted Rail and Whitebrowed Crake occur.
We will spend the afternoons cruising around the lake in a boat, looking for birds. The habitat around the wetland is home to Yellow-bellied Prinia, Common and Dark-necked Tailorbirds, and White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias. We also have a chance here of winter migrants like Arctic and Yellow-browed Warblers and cuckoos such as Banded Bay, Plaintive, and Chestnut-winged Cuckoos.
Overnight: near Thale Noi
Day 10. Thale Noi and Trang Peninsular Botanical Gardens
We will spend the morning looking for more wetland birds, but this time on foot. An elevated road has been built right across kilometres of marshland. From here we can get out the scope and look for such birds as Glossy Ibis, Oriental Pratincole, and Asian Openbill. On foot we also have a better chance of seeing the smaller reed warblers and cisticolas.
In the afternoon we will visit Trang Peninsular Botanical Gardens, which is home to a small peat swamp. Here we often see Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, and Large Hawk-Cuckoo.
Overnight: Marakot Resort, Khao Nor Chu Chi
Day 11. Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNC) and Krabi mangroves
Sadly, Gurney’s Pitta is no longer seen at Khao Nor Chu Chi (also known as Khao Pra – Bang Kram Wildlife Sanctuary), but the area is still well worth visiting, as it is the only remaining lowland forest in southern Thailand and home to a profusion of megas. During our stay here we will search for flamboyancy in the form of Orange-breasted and Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Red-crowned Barbet, Chestnut-bellied and Raffles’s Malkoha, Crested Jay (Shrikejay), Hooded, Blue-winged, and Banded Pittas, and Rufous-collared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers. Less gaudy but as impressive are many species of cryptically marked Babblers including Rufous-crowned, Puff-throated, Black-capped, Scaly-crowned, and Spot-necked. Buff-rumped Woodpecker is exquisite in the subtlety of its markings. Globally there are only two species of Philentoma – Maroon-breastedand Rufous-winged – and both occur here at KNC. Black-naped Monarch is common, as is the aureate white form of the Asian Paradise Flycatcher. KNC is also one of the very few places where the enigmatically elusive Giant Pitta has been sighted.
Our after-dinner outing at KNC will be in search of Great-eared and Large-tailed Nightjars as well as Oriental Bay Owl and Gould’s Frogmouth.
During our stay at KNC we will also make an outing to the nearby Krabi mangroves and shoreline. It is here that we will search for one of the trickiest of the Tringa genus –Nordmann’s Greenshank. This area is also home to the range-restricted Mangrove Pitta and Black-and-red Broadbill. Both Brown-winged and Ruddy Kingfishers occur, as does Mangrove Whistler.
Overnight: Morakot Resort, KNC
Day 12. Khao Nor Chu Chi and Tiger Cave Temple
The morning will be spent in another part of KNC, looking for Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker, all lowland specials.
In the afternoon we will visit the Tiger Cave Temple, where we climb some steps up and down into a patch of ancient forest surrounded on all sides by towering cliffs. The area has never been hunted, as it is part of the temple grounds. Here we hope to find rarities such as Streaked Wren-babbler, Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Banded Kingfisher, and Banded Broadbill.
At dusk we will visit Khao Phanom Bencha National Park for night birding. The highlight here is the Barred Eagle-Owl.
Overnight Khao Phanom Bencha
Day 13. Baan Nai Chong and Phang Nga mangroves
On our last full day we will keep our options open. The forests of Baan Nai Chong and the mangroves at Krabi and Phang Nga are within easy reach. This gives us a chance to have another go at anything we may have missed.
We will end the day at Queen’s Park, where we will look for Blue Whistling Thrush, Black-thighed Falconet, and Jungle Mynas.
Overnight: Khao Lak
Day 14. Return to Phuket International Airport
After some final morning birding at the wetland and shorebird sites near Khao Lak, we return to Phuket International Airport, where the adventure began, for our departure.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
We just returned from our trip to Thailand. It was wonderful. Thank you very much for arranging our tour with Andy Walker. He was the best guide we ever had. He is knowledgeable, easy going, hard working, and has all the qualities that people expect from a guide. We really enjoyed birding with him. We would be happy to go birding with him any time and would highly recommend him as a guide to any of our friends.
Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to have him as our guide.
Our Best Regards,
Ahmad and Sue – Canada
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