Birding Tour Thailand: Southern Thailand – Jewels of the South


MAXIMUM 6 TOUR PARTICIPANTS

Dates and Costs:

 

28 February -13 March 2023

Space available: 1

Price: US$6,600/ £6,152 / €7,022 per person sharing for 4-6 tour participants.

Single Supplement: US$830 / £774 / €883

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.

 


Recommended Field Guide

(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)


Tour Details

Duration: 14 days
Group Size: 4 – 6
Tour Start: Phuket
Tour End: Phuket


Price includes:

Meals (from evening meal on day 1 until lunch on day 14)
Bottled water (2 bottles per day per person)
Accommodation (based on sharing)
Guiding fees
All entrance fees to national parks, nature reserves, bird blinds/hides, etc.
All ground transport while on tour
Tolls

Price excludes:

International flights
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access when no free WiFi available, etc.)
Alcoholic and soft drinks
Personal insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)

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Southern Thailand: Jewels of the South
March 2023

 

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.

Southern Thailand birding toursMalayan Banded Pitta is one of our spectacular targets on this trip.

 

There are a number of special avian attractions in southern Thailand from a few spectacular families such as pittas, kingfishers, trogons, malkohas, hornbills, barbets, bee-eaters, and broadbills, including such beauties as Malayan Banded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, (Gurney’s Pitta is now regrettably considered extirpated from Thailand), Great Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill (now considered Critically Endangered by BirdLife International), Bushy-crested Hornbill, Green Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Black-and-red Broadbill, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Red-throated Barbet, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Red-billed Malkoha, Banded Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue-banded Kingfisher, and Red-bearded Bee-eater. One of the region’s star attractions is the Rail-babbler, one of the few birds in the world in a family of its own, though luck will be required to find this tough and elusive deep-forest-dwelling ground bird.

We visit a range of national parks to find the above specials, picking up scores of ornately colored woodpeckers, unique jungle-living babblers and bulbuls, attractive leafbirds, interesting spiderhunters, and others along the way. We may encounter intriguing jungle mammals too, including Dusky Langur, Pig-tailed Macaque, the aptly named Black Giant Squirrel, the beautiful Lar (White-handed) Gibbon, and, with some luck, the nocturnal Greater 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 and some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Thailand.

Southern Thailand birding toursThe sight of a male Green Broadbill will likely leave you speechless. That green needs to be seen to be believed!

 

This tropical birding adventure, set amid extraordinary karst limestone landscapes and rich tropical seas, is one not to be missed! This tour combines perfectly with our Southern and Central Vietnam Endemics and Specialties tour, which follows straight after this Thai birding tour and is just a short flight from Phuket. You can combine these two tours for a longer birding vacation in Southeast Asia and go home having seen even more remarkable birds!

 

Itinerary (14 days/13 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Phuket

Arrival in Phuket, where we will meet at our hotel for our group evening welcome meal together.

Overnight: Phuket

 

Day 2. Khao Phra Thaeo and Phang Nga

Morning birding at Khao Phra Thaeo National Park on Phuket Island for an introduction to the birdlife of southern Thailand. First sightings of species like Stripe-throated and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Scarlet-backed and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, and Crimson Sunbird are a delight, with Coppersmith Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, and Blue-eared Barbet also possible. Other potential species may include the dazzling Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher and wintering Forest Wagtail.

In the late morning we will drive toward Phang Nga, situated on the idyllic Phang Nga Bay, where we will have lunch and check into our hotel for the night. After lunch we will visit the local mangroves to look for specials such as Brown-winged Kingfisher, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Ruddy Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, and Mangrove Pitta.

Overnight: Phang Nga

Southern Thailand birding toursRed-throated Barbet is a target while birding in southern Thailand.

 

 Day 3. Phang-Nga Province

We will spend the early morning back in the same mangroves as the previous afternoon or some other nearby mangroves, depending on timing there the previous day. Here we will have an easy morning strolling the road or boardwalks and looking for exotic birds such as malkohas, kingfishers, and broadbills, maybe even Mangrove Whistler.

After lunch we will move to Thai Mueang, where we will search for Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird (in the roller family), Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, and the diminutive Vernal Hanging Parrot. We are also likely to see a range of more common species such as Red-wattled Lapwing and Lesser Whistling Duck. Seasonal wetlands or rice paddies we pass may support herons, bitterns, or egrets as well as Watercock and White-breasted Waterhen, and if we see any suitable habitat we’ll take a look if time permits.

Our third stop along the way to Khao Sok is one of southern Thailand’s shorebird meccas. Terek Sandpiper is the main attraction here, together with Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and Greater Crested and Black-naped Terns. At the end of the day we will move north to the Khura Buri area.

Overnight: Khura Buri

Southern Thailand birding toursWe hope to repeat the quality views of Mangrove Pitta we had during our 2020 tour!

 

Day 4. Si Phang Nga National Park and Khao Sok National Park

A pre-dawn start will see us enjoying the sunrise over the limestone crags as we head toward Si Phang Nga National Park, where we will spend a full morning. Si Phang Nga is home to the prodigious Helmeted Hornbill as well as flocks of Bushy-crested Hornbill and the immaculate Great Hornbill. The skies above the stream that flows through Si Phang Nga should produce the obscure Whiskered Treeswift and Silver-rumped Spinetail. Chestnut-naped Forktail occurs here, as does the range-restricted Lesser Fish Eagle. This national park is an excellent location for both Malayan Banded Pitta, reputed to be Thailand’s most dazzling, and Banded Broadbill, itself rather dapper, with other impressive birds including Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Orange-headed Thrush, and Chinese Blue Flycatcher.

Other potential species here include Little and Thick-billed Spiderhunters and Purple-naped Sunbird.

After lunch we’ll drive to Khao Sok.  Along the way we will look at some river crossings, where we may find River Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing, and Red-wattled Lapwing.

Overnight: 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 Banded, 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 Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Black-capped Babbler, and Spot-necked Babbler. A range of woodpeckers occur here, including the flashy Maroon and Bamboo Woodpeckers, as well as other forest birds like Gray-breasted Spiderhunter. This is one of the sites where we will search for the gaudy Chestnut-naped Forktail as well as for Black-and-red Broadbill and Raffles’s Malkoha.

We return to our lodge for lunch before we drive to the nearby Ratchaprapha Dam, where we will board a longboat to take us to our floating accommodation. Between the limestone cliffs that tower hundreds of meters above us we will search for White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Hobby, Lesser Fish Eagle, 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, Bushy-crested, and White-crowned Hornbills as well as woodpeckers like Greater and Common Flamebacks. In addition jungle mammals like Dusky Langur and Lar (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 basic, but the experience is unique.

Overnight: Lake Ratchaprapha

Southern Thailand birding toursWe will look for many species of hornbill while at the lake, including the uncommon White-crowned Hornbill.

 

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 Lar (White-handed) Gibbons. We will be out on the water all morning, returning to the shore in time for lunch.

After lunch we will drive to Tha Sala, our base for birding the nearby, and relatively undiscovered Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park on the eastern side of the Peninsula.

Overnight: Tha Sala near Krung Ching

 

Days 7 – 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 occasionally sighted. The Rail-babbler is the focus of our efforts during our time in the national park, 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, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, the strikingly petite Rufous Piculet, the range-restricted Crested Jay, Green, Black-and-yellow, and Dusky Broadbills, Malayan Banded Pitta, Banded Kingfisher, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Helmeted Hornbill, and breeding Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle.

During our two full days here we will spend our time on the trail, looking and listening for the elusive Rail-babbler and other secretive forest birds, such as Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Moustached Babbler, and Black-throated Babbler, and around the headquarters area, looking for forest-edge birds and others visiting the fruiting trees, such as Golden-whiskered Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-naped Monarch, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and Large Woodshrike.

Overnight (two nights): Tha Sala near Krung Ching

Southern Thailand birding toursThe gorgeous Scarlet-rumped Trogon is sure to be a highlight bird, it is so beautiful.

 

Day 9. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) and the wetlands of Thale Noi

During our final morning birding session at Khao Luang we will walk the entrance road, where we might find some different species from those of the previous days, such as Red-billed Malkoha, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Black Baza, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Great Iora, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Greater Green Leafbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter, and Crimson Sunbird.

At mid-morning we will commence our journey to the Thale Noi area, stopping along the way for lunch. As we near our luxurious accommodation we will check out some rice paddies, where we might find the gorgeous Bronze-winged or Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. The late afternoon will be spent relaxing at the resort, where you may enjoy watching Common Kingfisher, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Common Tailorbird, Scaly-breasted Munia, and White-breasted Waterhen from your balcony.

Overnight: Thale Noi

 

Day 10. Thale Noi

After breakfast we will spend the morning cruising around the lake in a small boat, hoping to get close views and good photo opportunities of species such as Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas as well as many other wetland species like Cotton Pygmy Goose, Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black-headed Ibis, Grey-headed Swamphen, Slaty-breasted Rail, White-browed Crake, Whiskered Tern, and with luck some interesting shorebirds such as Oriental Pratincole, Long-toed Stint, Wood Sandpiper, and Grey-headed Lapwing. Sometimes Buffy Fish Owl can be found roosting along the lake, and if we are lucky enough to find one it is sure to be a highlight.

We will sit out the heat of the middle of the day, maybe enjoying the resort’s spa or pool, and then in the late afternoon we will take a drive around the local rice paddies seeing what we can add to our lists, maybe finding Baya Weaver, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, or the rare (at least in this part of Thailand) Painted Stork.

Overnight: Thale Noi

Southern Thailand birding toursWhile birding around the lake we will keep our eyes peeled for Buffy Fish Owl.

 

Day 11. Trang Peninsular Botanic Garden and Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNCC)

We will reluctantly leave our accommodation early in order to visit the Peninsular Botanic Garden near Trang, which is home to a small peat swamp. Here we can potentially see Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, and Large Hawk-Cuckoo, as well as plenty of other interesting species, maybe even Red-crowned Barbet. After lunch we will continue towards Khao Nor Chu Chi, our base for the next two nights. Birding around the lodge grounds may give us good views of Brown-throated Sunbird, White-throated Kingfisher, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Asian Koel, or Banded Woodpecker.

Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi

 

Day 12: Khao Nor Chu Chi

Sadly, Gurney’s Pitta is no longer seen at Khao Nor Chu Chi (also known as Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary), but the area is still definitely well worth visiting, as it is the only remaining lowland forest in southern Thailand and home to a profusion of exciting birds. During our stay here we will search for flamboyance in the form of Orange-breasted and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Red-crowned Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, Chestnut-bellied and Raffles’s Malkohas, Crested Jay, Malayan Banded Pitta (and possibly an early retuning migrant Hooded or Blue-winged Pitta), 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 Babblers. Buff-rumped Woodpecker is exquisite in the subtlety of its markings. Globally there are only two species of philentomas – Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas – and both occur here at KNCC. Black-naped Monarch is common, as is the aureate white form of Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher. KNCC is also one of the very few places where the enigmatically elusive Giant Pitta has been sighted, but we will need extreme luck to find one of those!

Southern Thailand birding toursOrange-breasted Trogon is another beautiful bird possible around Khao Nor Chu Chi.

 

Our after-dinner outing at KNCC will be in search of Great Eared and Large-tailed Nightjars as well as Oriental Bay Owl, and we may also find other nocturnal species such as Brown Wood Owl, Sunda Scops Owl, or Barred Eagle-Owl, maybe even an interesting reptile or mammal such as Greater Slow Loris.

Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi

 

Day 13: Khao Nor Chu Chi to Phuket

We will have another morning birding around KNCC, looking for the aforementioned species along with others such as Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Cream-vented Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker, all lowland specials. After lunch we will check out of our accommodation and commence our drive back to Phuket, where we will have a final meal together and tackle the difficult task of selecting a “Bird of the Trip”.

Overnight: Phuket

 

Day 14: Phuket International Airport, tour concludes

The tour concludes with departure from Phuket International Airport.

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.

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Thailand: Jewels of the South Trip Report

By Andy Walker

1 – 14 MARCH 2020

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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. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

SOUTHERN THAILAND: JEWELS OF THE SOUTH

 TOUR-SPECIFIC INFORMATION

 

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THAILAND CAN BE READ HERE

 

TOUR OUTLINE

This two-week Thai birding tour visits some of the most spectacular of the unique karst limestone landscapes in the country, during our search for the special birds of southern Thailand. This is an extra-small group tour, with a maximum of just six people, ensuring a much better birding experience than is possible in a larger-group environment.

A great many quality birds are on offer here, such as Malayan Banded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, White-crowned Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill (along with several other hornbill species), Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Green Broadbill, Red-throated Barbet, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Blue-banded Kingfisher, and Rail-babbler. The tour starts and ends in Phuket and during the tour we visit Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary (National Park), Si Phang Nga National Park, Khao Sok National Park – including stunning Lake Ratchaprapha (also known as Chiaw/Cheow Lan Lake), Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park, Thale Noi, and Khao Nor Chu Chi (Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary). We will bird in and around a range of forests, mangroves, lakes, rivers, and coastal areas that will yield many bulbuls, trogons, hornbills, kingfishers, broadbills, owls, and malkohas. There are some good photo opportunities on the tour, but we don’t generally visit bird blinds like we do on our central Thailand and northern Thailand birdwatching tours.

 

DAILY ACTIVITIES, PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS, AND TOUR PACE

This tour runs at a fairly quick pace with a few long days in the field or traveling and covers many sites to get the most out of the area in question. There are several one-night stays along the tour route. We will spend a lot of time birding in forest, either from vehicles, on foot, or by boat. Most of the trails we walk will be moderately flat and of fairly decent quality, however, there are a couple of hikes that are a bit longer and more strenuous and include some steep inclines. We don’t bird at very high elevation on this tour so elevation shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. The heat and humidity are likely to be rather draining at times. We always walk at a slow pace when birding and many of the walks are totally optional, sometimes sitting one out and resting in the shade in a campsite with a good view is a great way of seeing some cool birds! On some hikes we will likely cover distances of around three miles (five kilometers), but all walking will be at a slow pace.

We will usually have early morning and late afternoon birding sessions. We will generally sit out the middle part of the day when temperatures are hot and bird activity slow. Sometimes this will be back at our accommodation, but at other times it is likely to be within the forest/national park as we make use of the limited facilities these places have (such as campground and headquarter areas that offer shade and toilets).

We will take a couple of small-boat boat trips on this tour. One around a lake at Thale Noi in small dugout canoe type boats which allow for a great close approach to numerous waterbirds. This trip usually lasts a few hours. The other, more major, boat trip involves visiting Lake Ratchaprapha. We will take a larger boat (but still small) out to a floating hotel where we will spend the night (see “Accommodation” section for more information). We will then use this boat to access different parts of the lake as we bird the forest that cloaks the lake shore and impressive hilly landscape surrounding it. This usually allows us to get closer to a range of secretive hornbills and other birds, such as a range of forest raptors.

If you get motion sickness (e.g. while in vehicles and/or on boats), please be aware that some of the roads we cover will be windy and we will also be spending time on water, so please bring suitable medication, if required.

 

SAFETY

Most of the trails we cover are of a fairly decent quality, though some can be slippery (whether wet or not), so extreme care should be taken at several locations and we will advise you of the trail condition before setting off on our birding. A walking stick/hiking pole would be useful for some trails, such as at Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park where the beginning section of the trail is steep and can be slippery – those people not sound on their feet should consider sitting this hike out. There is a nice area to sit and watch for birds at the base of the trail to still see some great birds of the area.

Getting in and out of the boats is done at a basic dock and should be a dry entry/exit. However, if we stop the boat on the lakeshore (to stop and watch for a hornbill nest, for example), we may get out of the boat to be able to watch the nest more comfortably. We will obviously endeavor to moor the boat somewhere dry, but wet and dirty boots could be a possibility.

The tour is in the dry season but as on all of our Thailand bird tours leeches are a possibility, and are probably more likely on this tour than any other, though still not definite here, it really just depends on how wet it has been in the lead up to our tour.

 

WEATHER/CLIMATE   

It is hot year-round in southern Thailand. We can expect daytime temperatures of around 86–95 °F (30–35 °C) with temperatures at night likely to be around 68–77 °F (20–25 °C). It is likely to feel humid, particularly when in the tropical forests and when birding in the mangroves at the coast. We do not really get any substantial elevation gains on the tour, so much cooler temperatures are unlikely. While it is usually mainly 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.

 

ACCOMMODATION

We stay in a range of accommodation on this tour, to get us close to the areas we will be birding, these will include hotels, boutique hotels, and lodges. Most of the accommodation is of a typical standard for a bird tour. Most accommodation will have air-conditioning (or a fan), and most, but not all, will have Wi-Fi, though this may be restricted to common areas such as dining areas. We will spend one night in “floating accommodation” on Lake Ratchaprapha, the accommodation is basic with no air-con (but rooms do have fans) and there may be no Wi-Fi here. This accommodation has a no plastic policy. A couple of the places we stay have swimming pools (or a lake!) to swim, should you wish.

 

MEALS

On some days (mainly when we have to get into national parks early) we will need to leave the accommodation early and eat a basic picnic breakfast. On some days we will have a picnic lunch. The breakfast/lunch picnics will usually consist of fruit, pastries, yoghurt, nuts, sandwiches, chips, etc. On some days we will get a hot lunch, usually consisting of rice- or noodle-based dishes, with the main meal of the day being in the evening. In some areas (away from tourist areas) alcohol may be difficult to get hold of, or more expensive due to religious reasons. The food of southern Thailand is usually more spicy than other parts of Thailand, though we can ask the people preparing the food to tone the spice levels down, and if you like spicy food, you can request extra spice to be added.

 

WHAT TO BRING: CLOTHING AND OTHER ITEMS

There is nothing specific required for this tour, please see the Thailand General Information for recommended clothing and other items. As mentioned above, a hiking pole/walking stick will be useful if you are not steady on your feet on a couple of the trails within the national parks. Leech socks could be useful if we hit an unseasonably wet spell and leeches are “out and about”.

Birding Ecotours

Download Southern Thailand Tour-specific Information

Download General Thailand Information

‘We have 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

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