Birding Tour Thailand: Southern Thailand – Jewels of the South
Southern Thailand: Jewels of the South
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 extra-small, small-group tour is designed to search for the region’s special birds in some spectacular and unique limestone karst scenery. This tour will depart with a minimum of just four, and a maximum of only six participants.
Malayan Banded Pitta is one of our spectacular targets on this trip.
There are numerous special avian treats in southern Thailand, from several 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, Rail-babbler, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Red-throated Barbet, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Red-billed Malkoha, Banded Kingfisher, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Malayan Blue-banded Kingfisher, and Red-bearded Bee-eater.
The sight of a male Green Broadbill will likely leave you speechless, it’s a stunner.
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 other sought-after species along the way. We may encounter intriguing jungle mammals too, including Dusky Langur, Southern Pig-tailed Macaque, the aptly named Black Giant Squirrel, the beautiful Lar (White-handed) Gibbon, and, with some luck, the nocturnal Bengal 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. This tropical birding adventure, set amid extraordinary karst limestone landscapes and rich tropical seas, is one not to be missed!
Red-throated Barbet is a target while we are birding in southern Thailand.
This southern Thailand birdwatching tour can easily be combined with our other Thai birding tours, these cover the north and central regions of the country, and offer some amazing birds, including Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, Blue Pitta, Eared Pitta, Rusty-naped Pitta, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, and many more exceptional birds. Furthermore, this southern Thailand birding tour combines perfectly with our thrilling Southern and Central Vietnam: Endemics and Regional Specials tour, which runs immediately after this tour (it’s just a short flight between Phuket and Ho Chi Minh City) and features some simply magical birds like Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Bar-bellied Pitta, Blue-rumped Pitta, Indochinese Green Magpie, Golden-winged Laughingthrush, Collared Laughingthrush, Grey-crowned Crocias, and so much more.
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. Day at leisure, after your arrival.
Day 2. Birding at 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. Here we are likely to have our first sightings of species like Stripe-throated and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Scarlet-backed and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, and Crimson Sunbird, with Coppersmith Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, and Blue-eared Barbet also possible. Other potential species here may include the dazzling Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher and overwintering 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, Ruddy Kingfisher , Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, and the gorgeous Mangrove Pitta.
Overnight: Phang Nga
We hope to repeat the quality views of Mangrove Pitta we have had during our previous tours!
Day 3. Birding Phang-Nga Province
We will spend the early morning birding in a town park, which offers loads of great birds, such as Banded Woodpecker, Black-thighed Falconet, and Blue-tailed Bee-eater. We will also continue our exploration of the vast mangroves of the area, where we will be 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 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 here. Seasonal wetlands or rice paddies we pass by may support herons, bitterns, or egrets, as well as Watercock and White-breasted Waterhen, and if we see any suitable habitat, we will take a look, if time permits (noting we will spend time in similar vast habitat on Day 10 looking for wetland birds). 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 (Tibetan) Sand Plovers, Red-necked Stint, and Grey-tailed Tattler. At the end of the day we will move north to the Khura Buri, Si Phang Nga area.
Overnight: Si Phang Nga
Day 4. Birding Si Phang Nga National Park
An early morning start will see us enjoying the sunrise over the beautiful limestone crags as we head toward Si Phang Nga National Park, where we will spend the majority of the day, as well as the following morning, birding. Si Phang Nga National Park 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 pitta, 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 Spiderhunter, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, and Purple-naped Sunbird.
Overnight: Si Phang Nga
If we are lucky enough to see the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Helmeted Hornbill, it is sure to be a tour highlight.
Day 5. Birding Si Phang Nga National Park and travel to Khao Sok National Park area
We will have another morning birding at Si Phang Nga National Park, where we will continue our search for the special birds of the area, and some of the species possible might include Large Blue Flycatcher, Blyth’s Frogmouth, Gould’s Frogmouth, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Brown Wood Owl, Raffles’s Malkoha, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Streaked Bulbul, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Crow-billed Drongo, Blue-winged Leafbird, and Lesser Green Leafbird.
Large Blue Flycatcher is a difficult species to connect with globally, but some birds do overwinter in southern Thailand, and we will be looking out for them on this tour.
After lunch we will drive to Khao Sok. Along the way we will look at some river crossings, marshy grassland, and agricultural land, where we may find River Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, along with kingfishers, shrikes, bee-eaters, and potentially some resident and migrant pipits as well as some migrant shorebirds.
Overnight: Khao Sok
Day 6. Birding Khao Sok National Park
We will have a morning session birding the river section of Khao Sok National Park. Here we search for the elusive Banded, Rufous-collared, and Malayan 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, Malayan Black-capped Babbler, and Spot-necked Babbler. A range of woodpeckers occur here, including the flashy Maroon and Bamboo Woodpeckers, and the tiny White-browed Piculet, 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 for Black-and-red Broadbill and Raffles’s Malkoha. With luck we might also spot some interesting animals, like Wagler’s Keeled Green Pit Viper.
We return to our lodge for lunch before we drive to the nearby Ratchaprapha Dam (Lake Ratchaprapha), where we will board a longboat to take us to our floating accommodation. The boat ride between the pier and our accommodation will take approximately 90 minutes. 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. After checking into our floating accommodation, we will make a boat-based excursion on the lake which will provide excellent vistas into the jungle and gives us one of our best chances of 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 too.
Overnight: Lake Ratchaprapha
Days 7. Birding Khao Sok National Park to Tha Sala
We will head onto the lake for a dawn wildlife cruise and will look for Helmeted Hornbill and all the other possible hornbill species of the area, a range of kingfisher such as Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and exciting raptors such as Bat Hawk, Lesser Fish Eagle, and Oriental Hobby. We will be out on the water most of the morning, returning to the pier in time for lunch.
The gorgeous Blue-eared Kingfisher is one of several kingfisher species possible at Lake Ratchaprapha and on this southern Thailand tour in general.
After lunch we will drive to the Tha Sala area, our base for the next two nights for birding the nearby Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park on the eastern side of the Peninsula.
Overnight: Tha Sala
Day 8. Birding Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park
The rainforest at Khao Luang National Park holds a plethora of special birds that we will be looking for during our time here. These include White-crowned Forktail, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, the petite Rufous Piculet, the range-restricted Crested Jayshrike (now a monotypic family), Rail-babbler (a very rare monotypic family that requires immense luck here, but is possibly much easier in Borneo), Green, Black-and-yellow, Sooty, and Dusky Broadbills, Malayan Banded Pitta, Banded Kingfisher, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Helmeted Hornbill, and breeding Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle.
The gorgeous Scarlet-rumped Trogon is sure to be a highlight bird, it is so beautiful.
During our day birding here, we will spend some time on the main waterfall 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. Around the headquarters area we will be looking for forest-edge birds and others visiting fruiting or flowering trees, such as Golden-whiskered Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, 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, and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter.
Overnight: Tha Sala
Day 9. Birding 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 day, 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.
In the late morning we will drive to our next base in the Thale Noi area. Here we will spend the afternoon at leisure around our accommodation in our comfortable resort.
Overnight: Thale Noi
Day 10. Birding Thale Noi
We will spend the day birding around Thale Noi, it will be great to be in open habitat after a lot of forest birding over previous days. Sometimes Buffy Fish Owl can be found roosting or nesting near our accommodation along the lake, and if we are lucky enough to find one it is sure to be another highlight.
While birding around the lake we will keep our eyes peeled for Buffy Fish Owl.
In the wetlands around the edge of the lake we will look for Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Grey-headed Swamphen, Lesser Whistling Duck, Garganey, Cotton Pygmy Goose, or the rare (at least in this part of Thailand) Painted Stork.
We will sit out the heat of the middle of the day, maybe enjoying the resort’s spa or pool facilities, and then in the late afternoon we will visit a recent conservation initiative for the protection of the rare and localized (in Thailand) Knob-billed Duck. The management of rice paddies for this species here has resulted in a wonderful mosaic of habitats for a wide range of species that also make use of the lake, paddies, and nearby fish farms. Some of the species we will hope to find while birding the area include Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, 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. Passerines around the area might include Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Amur Stonechat, White-headed Munia, Jungle Myna, Siamese Pied Myna, Great Myna, Plain-backed Sparrow, and Asian Golden Weaver.
Overnight: Thale Noi
Day 11. Birding Trang Peninsular Botanic Garden and Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNCC)
After breakfast we will leave our accommodation and commence our journey towards Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNCC). We will spend most of the day birding in and around the Peninsular Botanic Garden near Trang, which is home to a small peat swamp and a lot of good birds. Here we can potentially see Red-billed Malkoha, Indian Cuckoo, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Banded Woodpecker, Rufous Piculet, Great Iora, Green Iora, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, and Spectacled Spiderhunter, as well as plenty of other interesting species, maybe even the localized Red-crowned Barbet.
There are many attractive woodpeckers possible on this southern Thailand birding tour, and Banded Woodpeckers are possibly one of the best.
In the afternoon we will continue towards Khao Nor Chu Chi, our base for the next two nights. We will perhaps visit a nearby trail in the late afternoon, or look for some birds around the lodge grounds, where we might find Brown-throated Sunbird, White-throated Kingfisher, Red-throated Barbet, Great Myna, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Asian Koel, or Banded Woodpecker.
Our after-dinner outing at Khao Nor Chu Chi 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 too, such as Bengal Slow Loris.
Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi
It is rare and highly secretive, but Oriental Bay Owl is one of several nocturnal species we will be looking for while birding at Khao Nor Chu Chi in southern Thailand.
Day 12. Birding Khao Nor Chu Chi/Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary
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, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Chestnut-bellied and Raffles’s Malkohas, Crested Jayshrike, Malayan Banded Pitta (possibly even an early retuning migrant Hooded or Blue-winged Pitta if we’re really lucky), Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Rufous-collared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers, Common Hill Myna, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, and Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher. There are some seriously spectacular birds here and we will try and find as many as possible!
Less gaudy, but as impressive for the Asian birding connoisseur, are many species of cryptically marked babblers, including Ferruginous Babbler, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Malayan Black-capped Babbler, and Spot-necked Babbler, while Buff-rumped Woodpecker is exquisite in the subtlety of its markings, and numerous bulbuls can be found with patience, including Cream-vented Bulbul and Puff-backed Bulbul. Globally there are only two species of philentomas in the world, Maroon-breasted Philentoma and Rufous-winged Philentoma, both occur here, though they are not common and will take some luck. Khao Nor Chu Chi 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 (it can be found a touch more easily on our Sabah, Borneo bird tour, but it’s a tough bird to connect with anywhere in its range)!
Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi
The song of Malayan Black-capped Babbler can be heard at Khao Nor Chu Chi, seeing this ground-dwelling species takes some patience though.
Day 13: Khao Nor Chu Chi to Phuket
We will have another morning birding around Khao Nor Chu Chi, looking for the aforementioned species along with others such as Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, and plenty more.
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 and fun task of selecting a ‘Bird of the Trip’, never an easy job.
Day 14: Phuket International Airport, tour concludes
A non-birding day at leisure before your onward journey. 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.Download Itinerary
Thailand: Jewels of the South Trip Report
By Andy Walker
28 FEBRUARY – 13 MARCH 2023
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
This exciting Thailand birding tour covered a circuit of the south of this bird-rich country, starting in Phuket on the 28th of February 2023 and ending back there on the 13th of March 2023. We visited numerous top Thai birding sites during the tour, see the detailed itinerary and map here. We recorded 273 species (seven heard only) as well as numerous interesting reptiles, mammals, and amphibians during the tour, trip lists for all species identified follow the report.
Some of the non-passerine highlights included top-quality birds like Helmeted Hornbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Great Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Orange-breasted Trogon, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Red-billed Malkoha, Back-bellied Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Knob-billed Duck, Oriental Plover, Oriental Pratincole, River Lapwing, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Lesser Fish Eagle, Black Baza, Bat Hawk, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Pied Harrier, Oriental Bay Owl, Buffy Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Red-breasted Parakeet, Black-thighed Falconet, Oriental Hobby, Red-throated Barbet, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Sooty Barbet, White-browed Piculet, Rufous Piculet, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Banded Woodpecker, and Buff-necked Woodpecker.
We were treated to multiple sightings of the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Helmeted Hornbill during the tour, with five magnificent birds seen from three locations.
Some of the many passerine highlights included Green Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Mangrove Pitta, Malayan Banded Pitta, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush, Amur Stonechat, Malayan Black-capped Babbler, Ferruginous Babbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher, Large Blue Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Greater Green Leafbird, Asian Golden Weaver, Red-throated Pipit, and Forest Wagtail.
We enjoyed close views of the rare Large Blue Flycatcher during the early part of the tour.
One of the best-looking bulbuls on the planet, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, gave great looks.
Day 1, 28th February 2023. Arrival in Phuket
The group assembled at Nai Yang Beach in Phuket. We met for a welcome dinner in the evening and discussed the plans for our upcoming birding in southern Thailand.
Day 2, 1st March 2023. Birding Khao Phra Thaeo and Phang Nga
We met up with our excellent local guide (David) and driver (Don), and left Nai Yang Beach after breakfast and drove the short distance to Khao Phra Thaeo. Some relaxed birding here gave us good views of our main target, two Forest Wagtails. We came across a fruiting fig tree near some pretty waterfalls and while we watched the tree, we noted Black-headed Bulbul, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Olive (Baker’s) Bulbul, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, and (female) Asian Fairy-bluebird all coming in for a snack. A few raptors were present too, and we saw Black Baza, Grey-faced Buzzard, Rufous-bellied Eagle, and Crested Serpent Eagle overhead.
Our next stop was the Phang Nga area, where we enjoyed some great birds throughout the afternoon. Top birds seen (and seen exceptionally well) included Mangrove Pitta (see trip report cover image), Brown-winged Kingfisher, and Streak-breasted Woodpecker. A large supporting cast included Oriental Pied Hornbill, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, Arctic Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Dark-backed Tailorbird, and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. It was a great introductory day of relaxed birding and set the tone for the tour well!
We enjoyed excellent and prolonged views of a close Brown-winged Kingfisher out in the open while we were birding in the mangroves.
Day 3, 2nd March 2023. Phang Nga birding
We spent the first part of the morning birding in some open city parkland, where we notched up around 50 species in no time at all. It was a great location to get to grips with lots of common birds, and several special species provided fantastic highlights, with the excellent views we had of them. Probably the most interesting sighting involved two pairs of Banded Woodpeckers in a territorial dispute and, oblivious to our presence, showed down to mere few feet at times! Other rather colorful birds enjoyed included Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Blue-eared Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Lineated Barbet, Vernal Hanging Parrot, and Rufous-bellied Swallow. Further highlights here included Black-thighed Falconet, Yellow Bittern, Blue Rock Thrush, and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.
We watched in amazement as two pairs of Banded Woodpeckers had a territorial dispute right in front of us for a good five minutes!
Moving into an area of mangroves for the remainder of the morning we found Mangrove Whistler, Collared Kingfisher, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Brown-throated Sunbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, and White-chested Babbler. One of the highlights involved a huge Buffy Fish Owl, seen perched briefly. In nearby farmland we got our first Oriental Dollarbird, Indochinese Roller, Jungle Myna, Great Myna, and Greater Coucal of the trip.
The afternoon was spent driving along the west coast to our next destination, but a couple of stops along the way gave us Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black-naped Oriole, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Pacific Reef Heron, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser (Tibetan) Sand Plover, Red-necked Stint, Bar-tailed Godwit, and several other shorebird species.
Day 4, 3rd March 2023. Si Phang Nga National Park and Khao Sok National Park
We spent a wonderful morning birding in Si Phang Nga National Park where we saw a scout jamboree and a whole host of great birds on a gentle walk through the forest. Wallace’s Hawk Eagle was one of the first top birds seen, and was soon followed by some stunning hornbills, including a pair of Bushy-crested Hornbills. Working the forest, we found one of our main targets, the rare Large Blue Flycatcher, and after a bit of effort eventually got to grips with seeing Malayan Banded Pitta, the view of the male was fleeting but a female gave much appreciated prolonged views. Other species recorded during the morning included Orange-headed Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Raffles’s Malkoha, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Red-billed Malkoha, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Streaked Bulbul, Black-headed Bulbul, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Crow-billed Drongo, Lesser Green Leafbird, Blue-winged Leafbird, and many more!
In the afternoon we took a drive through some meadowland, and in addition to finding our target River Lapwings, we also found a real nice surprise in the form of three Oriental Plovers, two were in near full summer plumage and looked spectacular. More highlights here included Oriental Pratincole, Pacific Golden Plover, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Amur Stonechat, Richard’s Pipit, and Red-throated Pipit.
Excitement levels were high when we discovered a small flock of Oriental Plovers. Two of the birds were in stunning breeding plumage. This species is a rare passage migrant to Thailand.
Day 5, 4th March 2023. Khao Sok National Park (including Lake Ratchaprapha)
During the morning we took a walk along the river trail at Khao Sok National Park, where we found some great birds. One of the first species seen was a pair of gorgeous Banded Kingfishers that gave prolonged views. Some of the other highlights from the morning walk included Bamboo Woodpecker, White-browed Piculet, Black-crested Bulbul, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Raffles’s Malkoha, Siberian Blue Robin, and Crimson Sunbird. The final stunning species of the morning was a Red-bearded Bee-eater, that eventually showed brilliantly. Several interesting animals were seen during the morning, including a couple of attractive Wagler’s Keeled Green Pit Vipers.
Red-bearded Bee-eater was another gorgeous bird we enjoyed seeing during the tour.
After lunch we caught our longboat and made our way across Lake Ratchaprapha to our excellent floating resort. After quickly checking in we jumped back in the boat for what turned out to be an incredible boat-based birding trip. A pair of Lesser Fish Eagles gave some close perched views and then the fun really got going, when we had a flock of 24 Great Hornbills fly over us and drop into some fruiting trees, what a magnificent sight! As the excitement of this hornbill encounter subsided, we heard a White-crowned Hornbill calling from the next bay. A quick repositioning of our boat got us into position. We waited patiently and were rewarded when a bird hopped out on the top of a tree, allowing prolonged perched views. Next up, we found ourselves watching a pair of Bat Hawks foraging as the near-full moon rose, and then it got even crazier with the hawks attacking some very special hornbills! It was all rather chaotic in the airspace above us, but it was amazing to witness. Just as we were about to leave to get back to the resort for dinner, we picked up a pair of huge Stork-billed Kingfishers and a single Black-capped Kingfisher. The latter showed briefly, but the former put on a brilliant close showing. As we made our way back to the resort with the sun setting, we had a few final surprises with White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey, Crested Honey Buzzard, and best of all, a perched up Oriental Hobby! As far as boat trips go on Lake Ratchaprapha, this was seriously spectacular and the whole experience was one of the best on the entire tour.
We enjoyed the magical sight of 24 magnificent Great Hornbills flying over us to a fruiting tree.
The huge Stork-billed Kingfisher put on a great show for us just as the sun was setting.
Day 6, 5th March 2023. Khao Sok National Park (including Lake Ratchaprapha) to Tha Sala
We took another enjoyable boat ride on Lake Ratchaprapha before breakfast and had further views (our best yet) of some seriously stunning and rare hornbills. A Great Hornbill gave a fly-over view before perching out in the open, as did the much smaller Oriental Pied Hornbill. We had prolonged views of a stunning Blue-eared Kingfisher that allowed a close approach and similar views of the equally attractive Black-capped Kingfisher as well.
Point blank views of Blue-eared Kingfisher provided an early morning highlight.
This male Oriental Hobby was displaying to a nearby female, and the pair gave excellent views.
A couple of Ospreys looking for their breakfast were noted, with Crested Honey Buzzard also seen again. After breakfast it was time to leave our resort. The boat ride back to meet our vehicle yielded a pair of Oriental Hobbies, these birds showed well as they sat on a bare tree snag in the impressive tall cliffs.
During the afternoon we drove to Tha Sala, our base for the next three nights. We spent the late afternoon birding near the local university, where we enjoyed watching a colony of breeding Red-breasted Parakeets and also picked up Common Flameback, Red Collared Dove, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown Shrike, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, and numerous common open-country birds.
Day 7, 6th March 2023. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park
Another enjoyable day birding in southern Thailand. We spent the day birding at the Krung Ching section of Khao Luang National Park. Most of the morning was spent mesmerized by a fruiting fig tree right in the car park. Somewhere in the region of 40 species visited the tree while we watched it, including a range of bulbuls, barbets, and pigeons, such as Red-throated Barbet, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Sooty Barbet, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, and Thick-billed Green Pigeon. Other stunning species noted here included Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Sultan Tit, Asian Fairy-bluebird (male!), Dark-throated Oriole, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Lesser Green Leafbird, Greater Green Leafbird, Green Iora, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter.
As we walked into the forest, we picked up Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Orange-breasted Trogon (a very showy male), Crimson Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, White-bellied Erpornis, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.
The attractive Orange-breasted Trogon showed well for us at close range.
In the afternoon we had an enjoyable session in a bird blind (bird hide) at a nearby waterhole. Birds came through frequently and we got great close views of many species, including Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Common Emerald Dove, Olive (Baker’s) Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, White-rumped Shama, Chestnut-winged Babbler, and Malayan Black-capped Babbler. Some of the group also saw Rufous Piculet and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Our time in the blind/hide rounded off a long but fun day of Thai birding.
The bird blind (bird hide) we visited for an afternoon was a great spot for watching secretive species of bulbuls and babblers, including this Malayan Black-capped Babbler.
Day 8, 7th March 2023. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park
We spent the morning back at the Krung Ching section of Khao Luang National Park. Here we enjoyed more views of some of the birds we’d seen the previous morning that were attracted to a few fruiting trees, such as Golden-whiskered Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Sooty Barbet, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Greater Green Leafbird, Lesser Green Leafbird, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Vernal Hanging Parrot, and Asian Fairy-bluebird (including more close views of a stunning male bird). We also picked up quite a few new birds and improved our looks at several other species, such as White-crowned Hornbill, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Plaintive Cuckoo, Red-billed Malkoha, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Dark-throated Oriole, Moustached Babbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Pale Blue Flycatcher, and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker.
In the afternoon we visited a wetland site near our accommodation in Tha Sala and found plenty of species, some of the highlights included Little Bronze Cuckoo, Siamese Pied Myna, Daurian Starling, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Brown Shrike, Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, Intermediate Egret, Asian Openbill, Oriental Pratincole, and Whiskered Tern.
The spectacular Scarlet-rumped Trogon gave some incredible low-level views.
A group of four White-crowned Hornbills were feeding in a fruiting tree and we were lucky to get some good views of this Endangered (BirdLife International) species (photo Tim Marshall).
Day 9, 8th March 2023. Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park and Thale Noi
We had our final morning birding in the Krung Ching area and scored several new birds for our trip, such as Banded Broadbill, Violet Cuckoo, Black-bellied Malkoha, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Rufous Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Bronzed Drongo, and White-rumped Munia. We also had further looks at Red-billed Malkoha (a prolonged sighting of a sunbathing bird), Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, nesting Red-throated Barbet, Dark-throated Oriole, Black-crested Bulbul, Purple-naped Spiderhunter, Crimson Sunbird, and Blue-winged Leafbird. A great selection of birds.
In the afternoon we drove south to Thale Noi, our base for the next two nights. The afternoon was spent at leisure and relaxing around our pretty lakeside resort.
Day 10, 9th March 2023. Thale Noi area
We had a pre-breakfast birding session at a site near our accommodation and it was great to see a huge expanse of excellent wetland habitat. Grey-headed Swamphens, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Whiskered Terns, and Asian Openbills were the most abundant species, and by scanning through them we also picked up Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Purple Heron, Yellow Bittern, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Common Moorhen, and Little Grebe. The above species were occasionally spooked by raptors flying overhead, and these included Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, and Brahminy Kite.
We saw a few Pheasant-tailed Jacanas in various plumage stages during our wetland birding sessions. This individual gave a close flyby after spending some time feeding near our viewpoint.
Several small birds were noted in the emergent vegetation around the wetland, such as Yellow-bellied Prinia, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler, Jungle Myna, Crested Myna, Common Myna, Paddyfield Pipit, Brown Shrike, Chestnut Munia, and Amur Stonechat.
After breakfast we called in at a forested area near the lake and found a nesting pair of Buffy Fish Owls, a spectacular sight! We also got some good views of Ashy Minivet, Golden-bellied Gerygone, and Brown-throated Sunbird here, though the two Black Bitterns we saw were flighty and only gave brief views. After that we birded at some rice paddies, finding our first Zitting Cisticolas, Scaly-breasted Munias, and Plain-backed Sparrows of the trip.
Late in the afternoon we visited an interesting rice field nature reserve where we found our main target with ease and in good numbers, Knob-billed Duck. Here we also improved our views of many of the birds seen in the morning (such as close Cotton Pygmy Geese and Indochinese Roller) and added a few new ones for everyone, such as Oriental Darter, Black-winged Stilt, Baya Weaver, and the very localized (in southern Thailand) Asian Golden Weaver. We also had a soaring pair of locally uncommon Painted Storks and several Grey Herons during our journey.
An extremely confiding Indochinese Roller provided one of the highlights of the afternoon.
Day 11, 10th March 2023. Trang Peninsular Botanic Garden and Khao Nor Chu Chi
After a relaxed breakfast, featuring Indochinese Roller, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, and Blue-eared Kingfisher, we left our resort and made our way to Trang Peninsular Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, the wind was strong which made for very tough birding conditions and as a result we didn’t see too much, though we did have our best views of the tour of Red-billed Malkoha, along with Banded Woodpecker, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Great Iora, Black-headed Bulbul, Blue-eared Barbet, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (a calling bird), Eastern Crowned Warbler, and several other species.
After lunch we visited a different section of the botanic garden and found a sheltered spot out of the wind that was quite productive. Here we enjoyed seeing a few new species and also improved views of some others we’d seen earlier in the day/tour, such as Green-backed Flycatcher, Indian Cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Rufous Piculet, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Great Iora, Green Iora, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.
In the middle of the afternoon, we continued our journey to the Khao Nor Chu Chi area, ready for tomorrow morning’s birding.
Day 12, 11th March 2023. Birding Khao Nor Chu Chi
We had an early start to our birding today and were richly rewarded, with a prolonged sighting of a pair of stunning Green Broadbills. We spent a while watching them foraging and soaked in the fantastic views that they were giving us, definitely a trip highlight bird.
As we walked a forest road we found Ferruginous Babbler, Moustached Babbler, Cream-vented Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, Olive-winged Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Crow-billed Drongo, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Crested Goshawk, Crested Honey Buzzard, Common Hill Myna, Sooty Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, and Black-and-yellow Broadbill. Some alarm calling attracted a range of species, including Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Red-throated Sunbird, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, and Chinese Blue Flycatcher.
This male Green Broadbill put on quite the show for us during our early morning birding.
We spent some time relaxing around our accommodation during the heat of the day and then in the late afternoon visited a couple of different spots, where we found more good birds. Some of the top birds included Brown-backed Needletail, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Raffles’s Malkoha, Red-billed Malkoha, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Cream-vented Bulbul, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Plain Sunbird, and Van Hasselt’s Sunbird.
In the evening some of the group went owling and were handsomely rewarded with incredible, close views of an Oriental Bay Owl. The owl showed extremely well and proved yet another tour highlight, what a bird!
The exquisite Oriental Bay Owl is an attractive yet strange looking owl. It is an uncommon and rarely seen species in Thailand and so it was a real treat to see one during our tour.
Day 13, 12th March 2023. Khao Nor Chu Chi to Phuket
Our last full day in southern Thailand started with some final birding at Khao Nor Chu Chi. We covered a similar area to the previous morning, finding Abbott’s Babbler, Cream-vented Bulbul, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Streaked Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, and Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker. Two Oriental Pratincoles flying over the forest was a bit of a surprise, however the displaying Crested Goshawk was a little more expected!
After a late breakfast we drove back to Phuket, where we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, here we said goodbye and a massive thank you to David and Don. We had our final evening dinner of the tour, which was great fun as usual, and discussed our “birds of the trip”. Top votes went to Great Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, Oriental Bay Owl, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Mangrove Pitta, and Van Hasselt’s Sunbird.
Day 14, 13th March 2023. Tour concludes with departure from Phuket
We had a brief pre-breakfast birding session near our accommodation at Nai Yang Beach, where we found Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Hoopoe, and Indochinese Roller to provide a final splash of color and excitement for the trip.
After breakfast everyone said their goodbyes and departed Phuket for their international flights home or to join our Vietnam birding tour. Huge thanks to everyone for making this such a fun trip, full of amazing birds and great memories. I look forward to traveling with you all again soon.
SOUTHERN THAILAND: JEWELS OF THE SOUTH
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.