Birding Tour Thailand: Central Thailand – Shorebird Spectacle and Jungle Birding
Birding Tour Thailand: Central Thailand – Shorebird Spectacle and Jungle Birding
This short, small-group tour forms a circuit around central Thailand starting and ending in Bangkok. This tour can also easily be combined with our northern Thailand tour, which runs immediately after this one finishes, Northern Thailand: Spectacular Resident and Migrant Birds – think Rusty-naped Pitta, Siberian Rubythroat, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, Baer’s Pochard, and an amazing Pied Harrier roost, etc., for that tour. Our March southern Thailand tour, Southern Thailand: Jewels of the South – think Malayan Banded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Malaysian Rail-babbler, and Helmeted Hornbill, etc., starts a few days after the conclusion of this northern Thailand tour in 2024 and thus could also be combined with the preceding tour(s) for an exciting, comprehensive Thailand adventure. These tours have been designed to focus on the amazing birding that Thailand has to offer during the northern winter, set in gorgeous countryside with incredibly warm people and some of the tastiest food in the world too.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the most sought-after birds on earth.
After arrival in Bangkok we head south to the shores of the Bay of Bangkok and the vast areas of saltpans that form the vital overwintering habitat for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, where one of the most highly sought of these birds on the planet, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, can be found during the non-breeding season. We will be putting all of our effort into finding this sought-after bird, along with many other species. In fact, over 40 species of shorebirds can be found here in a couple of days birdwatching! It really is quite staggering witnessing the huge numbers of birds and the species diversity. Other key birds on our radar here include Great Knot, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Far Eastern Curlew, Malaysian Plover, and ‘White-faced’ Plover (a very distinctive subspecies of Kentish Plover and a bit of a taxonomic mystery). There are of course many other potential highlights to search for during our time here, and Chinese Egret will be high on that list.
We will search for Chinese Egret along the coast near Laem Pak Bia.
After our time at the coast we will venture into farmland (including some rice paddies), where we will look for impressive eagles, such as Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, and with luck we will find the spectacular Pied Harrier, possibly one of the best-looking harriers on the planet. There will also be a long list of typical farmland birds of the region, such as weavers, shrikes, and a wide range of interesting passerines.
We will then dive into about a week of forest birding across two phenomenal reserves Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai National Parks. The potential list of species of birds and other wildlife across these two locations is massive (see the detailed itinerary below for extra details). Some of the most interesting and exciting birds we might find here could include Blue and Eared Pittas, Great, Wreathed, Tickell’s Brown, Austen’s Brown, and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Black-and-red, Banded, Black-and-yellow, Dusky, Silver-breasted, and Long-tailed Broadbills, Banded Kingfisher, Kalij and Silver Pheasants, Red Junglefowl, Siamese Fireback, White-fronted Scops Owl, Oriental Bay Owl, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Red-bearded and Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Common Green Magpie, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons, Orange-headed Thrush, and Bamboo, Heart-spotted, and Great Slaty Woodpeckers. Non-avian highlights could include Lar (White-handed) and Pileated Gibbons, Asian Elephant, the Indochinese subspecies of Leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri), which may include the melanistic form known as “Black Panther” that occurs here, Sloth Bear, and Siamese Crocodile among the species.
This tour visits some stunning forest, and we will also sample some of Thailand’s famed, delicious food during our journey. Some of the temples that we will drive past while birding are absolutely spectacular and worth spending time to appreciate them in their own right. Several sites visited also offer very good photographic opportunities for those with an interest.
We’ll bird the forests of Kaeng Krachan National Park for Silver-breasted Broadbill and many others.
Itinerary (10 days/9 nights)
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok
After your afternoon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok you will take the short transfer to our nearby hotel for the night with the rest of the day at leisure. We will have a group evening meal together.
Overnight: Bangkok Airport area
Day 2: Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia
After breakfast we will depart our hotel, drive straight to the coast, and start a few days’ birding along the edge of the Bay of Bangkok, one of the most important overwintering areas for shorebirds in the whole of Southeast Asia. We will spend the late morning and, after checking in to our nearby hotel and having lunch, the remainder of the afternoon birding in this incredible area. We will be searching through thousands of shorebirds made up of flocks of Great Knot, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, and Red-necked Stint, but among them we will also try to find one of the most unique and Critically Endangered (IUCN) shorebirds of them all, the incredible Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Other high-value targets will be Nordmann’s Greenshank, Far Eastern Curlew, and Asian Dowitcher.
Overnight: Chao Samran Beach
Nordmann’s Greenshank is another globally rare wader that we will search for.
Day 3: Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia
We will spend the full day birding within a few different areas of salt pans and coastal environments around the Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia areas, where we hope to find Spoon-billed Sandpiper along with the range of shorebirds listed above, but there will also be other birds possible due to visiting different habitats. The number of birds here can be mesmerizing. These may include Malaysian Plover and ‘White-faced’ Plover (a distinctive subspecies of Kentish Plover), Long-toed Stint, Grey-headed Lapwing, Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Pied Avocet, Pin-tailed Snipe, Greater Painted-snipe, and many more.
There will be plenty of other birds to look at while we are in this area, including a wide range of herons, egrets (including Chinese Egret), cormorants, storks (including the gorgeous Painted Stork), gulls, and terns. There are also plenty of raptors in this area (there is lots of food for hungry Peregrine Falcons), and other highlights could include Mangrove Whistler, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Common, Pied, Collared, and Black-capped Kingfishers, Eurasian Wryneck, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Oriental Skylark, White-shouldered Starling, Black-browed Reed Warbler, and Plain-backed Sparrow.
Overnight: Chao Samran Beach
Black-capped Kingfisher is a striking bird.
Day 4: Nong Pla Lai Rice Paddies to Kaeng Krachan National Park
We will leave the coast after breakfast and will check out a few sites around the Nong Pla Lai area, where we will spend the majority of the morning before continuing on to the Kaeng Krachan National Park area. We will be looking for Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, Grey-headed Lapwing, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Green-billed Malkoha, Coppersmith Barbet, Green Bee-eater, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Streaked Weaver, Baya Weaver, Asian Golden Weaver, and Bluethroat.
After checking into our accommodation near Kaeng Krachan National Park we will spend the late afternoon birding from a hide in the forest, where we might find a range of babblers and bulbuls visiting as well as, potentially, Bar-backed and Green-legged Partridges, Large Scimitar Babbler, Common Green Magpie, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, or, with extreme luck, Eared Pitta coming in to drink/bath at a small forest pool.
Overnight: Near Kaeng Krachan National Park
Days 5 – 6: Kaeng Krachan National Park
We will spend two full days birding within and around this exciting park. Our time will be spent at a range of elevations to connect with the associated species of these areas. At the higher elevations of the park we are restricted to birding along a few roads that cut through the park, but this still gives us some fantastic opportunities for some restricted-range species, such as Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Collared, Spot-necked, Grey-throated, Golden, and Rufous-fronted Babblers, and Black-throated Laughingthrush. Other species on offer here include Red-headed Trogon, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Ferruginous Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Silver-breasted and Long-tailed Broadbills, Great Hornbill, Banded Kingfisher, Great Barbet, and Bamboo Woodpecker, along with lots of bulbuls, babblers, and warblers.
Red-bearded Bee-eater is another beautiful target while in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
The middle- and lower-elevation areas give us the chance for further exploration of this wonderful park. The long entrance road provides great opportunities for stopping and checking out vantage points to look at patches of forest (often with the sound of Lar (White-handed) Gibbons echoing around), and there are several trails and roads we can walk to get closer to the birds. Some of the most exciting birds we could find here may include Blue and Eared Pittas, White-fronted Scops Owl, Oriental Bay Owl, Brown Hawk-Owl, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Heart-spotted and Great Slaty Woodpeckers, Tickell’s Brown, Wreathed, and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Black-thighed Falconet, Banded, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow, and Dusky Broadbills, Orange-breasted Trogon, Common Green Magpie, Sultan Tit, Scarlet Minivet, Golden-crested and Common Hill Mynas, and Asian Fairy-bluebird, along with a wide range of bulbuls, leafbirds, woodpeckers, babblers, and barbets.
Black-and-yellow Broadbill is always a popular target bird.
On the early morning and late-evening drives into and out of the national park we are most likely to see the shy mammals, and with some luck we may come across Asian Elephant or Leopard (maybe even including the rare and elusive “Black Panther”) on these drives, or even a Sloth Bear!
Overnight: Near Kaeng Krachan National Park
Day 7: Morning birding Kaeng Krachan area and transfer to Khao Yai
We will spend the early morning in a hide in the forest near Kaeng Krachan National Park, where we hope to get good views of Kalij Pheasant, Red Junglefowl, Bar-backed Partridge, Black-naped Monarch, Puff-throated Babbler, Racket-tailed Treepie, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Greater Necklaced and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, White-rumped Shama, and an assorted range of other interesting passerines.
The colors of the Common Green Magpie need to be seen to be believed on this gorgeous bird.
During the midmorning we will commence our journey from the Kaeng Krachan area back around Bangkok and to the northeast. We will stop for lunch along the way and will visit a small temple to look for Limestone Wren-Babbler along the way. Some authorities (e.g. BirdLife International) consider the subspecies occurring here to represent a separate species; they call it Rufous Limestone-babbler. We will check into our comfortable hotel late in the afternoon for the next three nights.
Overnight: Khao Yai
Days 8 – 9: Khao Yai National Park
Another two exciting, bird-filled days await, this time in the famous Khao Yai National Park. This is a very popular national park with the locals due to its proximity to the capital of Bangkok, but the birds seem to be used to the visitors, and due to the good road network through and around the park it is usually possible to find quiet areas where we can enjoy the birds to ourselves.
We will head up to the higher parts of the site first, where we will look for Silver Pheasant, Red-headed Trogon, Collared Owlet, Black-throated Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Moustached Barbet, Grey-backed Shrike, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Barred Cuckoo Dove, Ashy Bulbul, and Blue Rock Thrush. After enjoying some time in the slightly cooler part of the forest we will drop down to slightly lower elevations in search of some different birds.
Silver Pheasant is a spectacular target bird during our time in Khao Yai National Park
The forests along the way to the top can support some spectacular birds, and a few strategic stops may yield Long-tailed Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Siamese Fireback, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Blue Pitta, Eared Pitta, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Orange-breasted Trogon, Common Hill Myna, and Sultan Tit.
The plateau area offers some great birding, and hornbills also feature in this part of the park. We will look for Wreathed Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, and Austen’s Brown Hornbill, along with Banded Kingfisher, Red Junglefowl, Scarlet Minivet, Green-eared Barbet, Laced Woodpecker, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Buffy Fish Owl, Common Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Brown-backed Needletail, and White-throated Rock Thrush.
Forest trails a bit lower down below the plateau area are not only good for the aforementioned hornbills but also for other species, such as Eared Pitta, White-crested Laughingthrush, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Siamese Fireback, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Banded Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Siberian Blue Robin, and Orange-headed Thrush.
This park also gives us a chance for observing Asian Elephant, and we might also find Pileated Gibbon, Sambar, Southern Red Muntjac, Black Giant Squirrel, and other interesting animals, maybe even the rare Siamese Crocodile.
Overnight: Khao Yai
Wreathed Hornbill occurs in Khao Yai National Park, and we will listen out for its heavy wingbeats to try and locate this beautiful, huge bird.
Day 10: Khao Yai National Park area and transfer to Bangkok, where the tour concludes
We will have a final morning birding around the Khao Yai area outside of the national park. Red-breasted Parakeets are often around our hotel as are a range of barbets and starlings, maybe Pied Bush Chat or Eurasian Hoopoe too, so we will keep a lookout for these before we drive back to Bangkok.
Those participants not continuing on the northern Thailand tour will be dropped off at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok for evening departures from Thailand. Those participants continuing on the northern Thailand tour will overnight in a hotel near the airport before flying north the following morning.
Overnight: Not included
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. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Central Thailand – Set-departure Tour Trip Report
6-15 JANUARY 2020
By Andy Walker
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
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. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
CENTRAL THAILAND: SHOREBIRD SPECTACLE AND JUNGLE BIRDING
This seriously exciting bird tour of central Thailand starts and ends in the capital city, Bangkok. We visit the Bay of Bangkok for a bonanza of shorebirds including Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, White-faced Plover, and many more. We will then spend time forest birding where we will look for a range of pheasants, pittas, broadbills, trogons, kingfishers, laughingthrushes, and hornbills (such as Silver Pheasant, Blue Pitta, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Red-headed Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, White-crested Laughingthrush, and Great Hornbill). Several of the sites we visit offer very good photo opportunities, and a wide range of animals are possible on the tour too, such as Lar Gibbon, Asian Elephant, and Siamese Crocodile.
DAILY ACTIVITIES, PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS, AND TOUR PACE
This Thai birdwatching tour runs at a fairly fast pace with some long days. Depending on the exact area we will be birding, mealtimes and birdwatching times may vary a little from day to day.
On most days we will have early morning birding sessions and then rest between late morning and early afternoon, followed by a late afternoon birding session and, at a few locations, some evening owling. We will usually have breakfast at 05:30–06:30 before we leave to go birding, have lunch around midday, and dinner around 18:30–19:30, though these times are not fixed. The areas we bird during this tour are often very hot and bird activity drops during the middle of the day. During the rest periods there will be opportunities for personal birding around the hotel grounds or relaxing (e.g. some of the hotels we stay in have swimming pools). Some mornings, especially at the coast, we might have a later breakfast after an early morning birding session. We may also take picnic breakfasts and/or picnic lunches on some days.
At the coast we will be birding in saltpans, mangroves, rice paddies, and along the beach/seashore. There will be very little shade when birding in these areas which is why we try and cover them in the early morning or late afternoon, due to the heat, however as our birding time here will need to consider tide times, we may end up having to do some birding during the hotter parts of the day. We stay at a comfortable hotel while at the coast which is excellent for relaxing during the heat of the day. Most of our birding in these areas will be carried out from or near vehicles, with walks probably of less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) at a time, at a very relaxed place. We will also take a small-boat boat trip through the mangroves to the famed Laem Pak Bia Sandspit, this often entails a wet-feet landing on the beach.
Our forest birding in Kaeng Krachan National Park and Khao Yai National Park will include time walking/driving through suitable wooded habitat (these national parks have roads that pass through them providing excellent access to birding areas – though we might need to use a 4×4 pickup truck to access some areas) and we will also spend time birding from forest blinds/bird hides, waiting patiently for rare and secretive birds to show. On some days, during our forest birding, we will spend the whole day within the forest, resting up there rather than returning to our accommodations. Several of the birding areas within the national parks can be covered close to vehicles with limited walking, rather just standing and scanning, but some of the areas require a walk of up to 2–3 miles (3–5 kilometers) on undulating/inclined forest trails. We will always take these slowly so that most people will be able to manage them without problems. The national parks do occasionally change or restrict access to certain roads and trails within the parks, with rules changing unexpectedly, and so our exact birding within the parks will be dictated by where we are allowed to go. The majority of birding activities are totally optional so if you’d prefer to sit one out and relax around the accommodation, that will be perfectly fine.
We will be birding at sea-level at the coastal sites but at Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai National Parks we will be covering a range of elevations from sea-level up to a maximum of 4,000 feet/1,200 meters.
Driving times will vary each day depending on where we will be heading. The birding at the coast and at Kaeng Krachan are very close to where we will be staying, but there could be a drive of an hour through the national park depending on where we will be birding there. These drives will be interspersed with lengthy stops for birdwatching. There will be a drive of approximately one hour from our accommodation to the birding zone at Khao Yai and then we will drive around the park visiting different sessions, with birding stops throughout the day. There will be one long driving day as we move between Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai (this can be anywhere between 4–6 hours, depending on traffic). The drives from Bangkok to the coast take approximately two hours, with the drive from Khao Yai to Bangkok usually taking a little longer, say three hours. The roads to/in the national parks are windy, particularly at Khao Yai and if you are susceptible to travel sickness, medication is advised (noting the details in the “Transportation and Seat Rotation” section of the Thailand General Information document).
Trips and falls while on the trails at Khao Yai National Park are possible. Despite this being the most visited (and most expensive) national park in Thailand, visitor facilities in terms of trails. and maintenance of them. is very poor. Care should be taken when walking away from paved roads. If you are not steady on your feet a walking stick/hiking pole is recommended to help on these trails.
While birding in the lowlands (e.g. around Bangkok, the coast, rice paddies, and around our accommodation at Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai) we can expect daytime temperatures of around 86–95 °F (30–35 °C) and nighttime temperatures around 59–72 °F (15–22 °C). When birding in Khao Yai National Park and Kaeng Krachan National Park we will spend time at higher elevations and the temperature can be expected to be a bit cooler, particularly in the early morning when we are driving to our birding spots. While it is usually dry at this time of year, rain can occur in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. The sun is strong at this time of year and care should be taken to remain hydrated and use sun protection.
We will stay at a range of accommodation on the tour. We spend the first night of this central Thailand bird tour in a high-standard hotel near the airport in Bangkok, such as the Best Western or equivalent, this offers good facilities and a mix of western, Asian, and Thai food, and is very convenient as it is close to the airport, but away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Note the airport is a c. 30-minute drive from downtown Bangkok, if you do want to do some city sightseeing. We will stay in wildlife lodges, hotels, and spas throughout the tour. These places have been chosen for their location near to birding sites, as well as for their quality and we have been using them for many years. These locations have good grounds to relax and birdwatch/photograph during the middle of the day. All accommodation will have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi (though at some places the Wi-Fi may only be in communal areas).
The hotel we stay at in Bangkok offer a mix of western and Asian food including at breakfast time. At the other locations we visit food will be more typical Thai-style. On some occasions we will take a picnic-style/boxed breakfast or lunch (often a fried-rice or fried-noodle style dish), depending on the specifics of the day’s plan, such as on the days we bird in the national parks.
WHAT TO BRING: CLOTHING AND OTHER ITEMS
Nothing specific is required for this tour, please see the Thailand General Information for recommended clothing. A hiking pole/walking stick will be useful if you are not steady on your feet for a couple of the trails we will bird within the national parks. If you have a telescope it will be extremely useful while looking for shorebirds at the coast and is likely to increase your enjoyment of the spectacle.
‘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.’
Ahmad and Sue
‘We spent three weeks with Andy in Thailand and enjoyed the trip thoroughly. Andy worked so hard to find the birds, and get us on them. He was very patient and took the time we needed. He knew all the best places to go, knew what birds would be expected, identified them in an instant and still managed to find some pretty good rarities along with the “known birds”, Himalayan Cutia anyone? And we spent literally hours getting great looks at Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Andy got us very close without disturbing the birds or any other birders. It was a highlight of the trip. We are hoping to see Andy in York later this year for a days birding on his home patch!’
Bob and Terrie