Wednesday, 31 December 1980

THAILAND December 1980 (part 1)

This blog recounts my second visit to Thailand.  I took few photographs of the country, having visited a number of the sites on the previous trip and my camera and other things were stolen when our car was broken into towards the end of the trip despite us sleeping by it.  Sometime after I got back I then lost my field notebook so this blog is a bit thin, based on unreliable memories and my written up notes only.  It was still a great trip, with excellent companions.

I had very much enjoyed visiting Thailand over Christmas in 1978/79 and was keen to return to see more of the country and some of the birds I had missed.  That was a familiar feeling for me after most trips although with so many other places I would like to go it is often an unjustifiable luxury!  Frank Lambert and Richard Grimmett had done a long overland trip to India in 1977/78 and were very interested in visiting Thailand too, as was Colin Winyard, and we started making plans.  It looked like being an all Sussex affair but Dick Filby got wind of our trip and came along too.  Five in a car would be a bit of a squash but we managed quite well. 

We booked the cheapest flights we could find, Bangladesh Biman via Dacca with Big Sam’s Travel, a London bucket shop.  With under a week to go the tickets had not arrived despite much chivvying on my part and several empty reassurances that they were on their way on theirs.  With 48 hours to go they still had not come.  I was promised motorcycle delivery the next day but rather than risk it further I said I’d travel up to London to collect them.  Big Sam’s Travel was two people in what seemed like a large cupboard, although they both had desks.  I told them who I was, expecting the tickets to be in an envelope all ready, and initially got a blank look!  A desperate search followed with said tickets eventually found in an envelope in the bottom of a half empty draw.  All 5 tickets were there and for the right dates but anxieties weren’t completely over ...

8 December.  Colin’s dad kindly drove him, Frank and me from Brighton to Littlehampton where Richard’s dad took the four of us up to Heathrow to meet Dick.  On the way the car died and it took a while, and the help of a passing motorist, to coax it back to life.  We made it just in time for check-in, to find the flight had been delayed, all that worry for nothing!  We finally left Heathrow on a Bangladesh Biman Boeing 707 flight to Bangkok via Dacca.

9 December.  We arrived in Dacca at dawn but there was to be no connecting flight.  After some hanging around and reclaiming our baggage we were taken to a hotel in town.  Concerned it might be a long wait we returned to airport to bird along the perimeter (no apparent security, few planes) and in an adjacent area where we attracted the attention of local kids.  It became ever clearer that we would not be leaving that day and we returned to hotel.  Birds seen included Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, 2 Citrine Wagtails, Blue Rock Thrush and a very dull Bay-backed Shrike.

Black-shouldered Kite at Dacca Airport
10 December.  A Cinnamon Bittern was the best bird seen in couple of hours around Dacca airport before our flight, which finally left mid-morning.  We landed in Bangkok early afternoon and hired a car from Bangkok Car Rent but were given a temporary one for a day while a more suitable one was being serviced.  We headed across the bustling city to Bangpoo where good views of a Nordman’s Greenshank amongst the usual waders was a surprise, and my first new bird of the trip.  We returned to Bangkok, visited Dr Boonsong and got a room for 5 in a seedy hotel in Bangkok.  It was very hot as the air-con didn’t seem to work very effectively, if at all.  Someone opened a window and loads of mosquitoes came into the room although as we were all suffering from jet lag we probably wouldn’t have slept well under any conditions.

11 December.  We had a quick look around Lumpini Park before Bangkok Car Rent opened and we could change the car.  We returned to Bangpoo mid-day and back across the city to Rangsit for the late afternoon.  3 Yellow Bitterns and a White-rumped Shama were my best sightings and after dark Frank started the long drive north. 

12 December.  We kept driving through the night, eventually stopping about 60km S of Chaing Mai in the early hours and sleeping out by the car.  We were up at dawn to find we were in quite a nice area of low hills.  Between us we started to see a few interesting birds and ended up spending all day birding there although the site really came to life in the late afternoon.  I saw 7 Siberian Blue Robins, Thick-billed and 2 Stub-tailed Bush Warblers, male Hainian, male Tickell’s and 3 Hill Blue Flycatchers and 3 Spotted Babblers.  We ‘named’ the site Doi Sai Bleu and drove on to Chang Mai where we slept out in a shop porch near Doi Suthep temple.

13 December.  We spent most of the day on trails around Doi Suthep, unfortunately in heavy rain and low cloud.  A Black-backed Forktail and 3 Black-throated Laughingthrushes were my highlights.  We then drove to Doi Chaing Dao, seeing a Spotted Owlet on the way, and spent the night in a hotel there.

14 December.  Doi Chaing Dao was disappointing and we left early driving in daylight to the brilliantly named Fang and spending the last light in the paddyfields there.  My highlights were 4 Grey-headed Lapwings, 5 Yellow-eyed Babblers, a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and 3 Streaked Spiderhunters.

15 December.  We attempted to visit Doi Ang Khan but the road was too wet and muddy so we had to abort.  We revisited to the paddies at Fang seeing  22 Grey-headed Lapwings, 4 Pintail Snipe, Wryneck, Bluethroat and a male Chestnut-eared Bunting.  We then headed back south to Chaing Mai, calling in at Mae Sa Waterfalls where we saw 2 Black-backed and 3 Slaty-backed Forktails and 3 Plumbeous Redstarts.  After a meal in Chaing Mai we drove to Doi Pui and camped half-way up.

Plumbeous Redstart at Mae Sa Waterfalls
16 December.  We spent all day on Doi Pui, walking from our campsite half-way up to the summit and back and often splitting up.  I saw Goshawk, 2 Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, 15 Olive-backed Pipits, female Daurian Redstart, 2 White’s Thrushes, Radde’s Warbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler and 5 Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babblers.  We returned to same campsite and put the tents up for a second night. 

17 December.  A second full day on Doi Pui seeing Barred Owlet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, 2 Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrushes, a Pallas’s Leaf and 40 Yellow-browed Warblers, 20 brilliant Grey-headed Parrotbills, 4 Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babblers, 2 Chestnut-vented and 5 Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and 6 Scarlet Rosefinches.  After returning to Chaing Mai for a meal we drove to Doi Inthanon and bluffed our way through the checkpoints to the summit where we camped out.  It was very cold.

18 December.  A day at Doi Inthanon, mostly around the summit.  Some ex-pat museum collectors were operating there which our soft sensibilities did not approve of although we were hypocritical enough to stay with them, photograph some of their catches and tap them up for information.  I saw 3 Rufous-throated Hill-Partridges, Woodcock, male White-browed Shortwing, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, Dark-sided and 6 Eye-browed Thrushes, 2 Slaty-bellied Tesias, 8 Orange-barred and 7 Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers, 8 Red-headed Laughingthrushes and 3 Yellow-browed Tits.  Also some condemned Chestnut-tailed Minlas and other birds.
Green-tailed Sunbird
Chestnut-tailed Minla

Yellow-browed Tit

Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler
sad to see any bird being collected, more so one as smart as this
a lucky Orange-barred Leaf Warbler, this one was 'rescued'
19 December.  A day on Doi Inthanon around the second checkpost and particularly in the ravines which were best worked on one's own.  I saw Mountain Hawk Eagle, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, 60 Black and 30 White-headed Bulbuls, 2 White-browed Shortwings, a condemned Red-flanked Bluetail in a collectors hand, Chestnut-headed and Slaty-bellied Tesia, 2 Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Snowy-browed Flycatcher and 3 Spectacled Barwings but sadly no White-gorgetted Flycatchers.  We spent a second night with the collectors who might have been responsible for that.
male Grey Bushchat at Doi Inthanon

female Grey Bushchat at Doi Inthanon

20 December.  For our final day at Doi Inthanon we concentrated on the lower elevations seeing Lanceolated, a probable Milne-Edwards’ and 4 Radde’s Warbers, 4 White-browed Scimitar-Babblers and a Chestnut Bunting.  We then drove to Tak, seeing 2 Indian Nightjars on the road, and then to Nam Nao where we slept in a drink stall.
on the way to Nam Nao

21 December.  All day on the trails and in the ravines at Nam Nao.  I saw Barred Owlet, 2 Red-headed Trogons, 8 Brown Hornbills, Bamboo Woodpecker, 6 Silver-breasted Broadbills, male White-tailed Robin, Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails, male Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Radde’s Warbler, 4 Red-billed Scimitar-Babblers and a White-hooded Shrike-Babbler.  Most of the time we had split up and sadly I missed Silver Pheasant which two of the others saw but the Orange-headed Ground Thrush was as superb as I was expecting and something I was really hoping to see having missed them on my previous trip and in Nepal.  Our sleeping out had been noticed and park officials insisted we camped for our second night.

22 December.  We spent the morning at Nam Nao covering the same areas as before.  I saw Barred Owlet, 2 Red-headed Trogons, 3 brilliant Blue Pittas (2 males and a female), 2 Slaty-backed and 3 White-crowned Forktails, 2 Red-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler, 4 White-crested Laughingthrushes, and 2 White-hooded Shrike-Babblers.  I missed Silver Pheasant again but seeing the Blue Pittas (a bird it had taken me 4 days to find on my previous trip) was good compensation.  We left at lunchtime and started driving south.  There was a fuel curfew and we stopped in a town looking for petrol.  Richard, an excellent artist, drew a sketch showing a car being filled up at a petrol pump and went into the police station to seek assistance.  He’d written on it ‘Do you no where we can buy some petrol’.  He came out a bit sheepishly, the police chief spoke better English than we did and had corrected his ‘no’ to ‘know’.  But we found out where to fill up and continued south seeing 9 Avadavats on the way.  We arrived at Rangsit late and slept in a bus shelter.

23 December.  We spent the morning at Chang Rak seeing 2 Cinnamon Bitterns, Watercock, 15 Bronze-winged Jacanas, 4 Blossom-headed Parakeets, Stork-billed Kingfisher, 2 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Black-browed Reed Warblers and a Pegu Sparrow.  We spent the afternoon in Bangkok (I can no longer remember why!), leaving early evening to drive to Khao Yai.  We arrived late but the park gates were open so we continued seeing a male Elephant on the road inside the park.  As was becoming our norm we slept out on a drinks stall.

24 December.   All day at Khao Yai in the Headquarters area sleeping again on the drinks stall.  I saw 5 Great Eared Nightjars, a stunning male Heart-spotted Woodpecker (Heart-stopping more like), 2 female Blue Pittas, Radde’s Warbler and White-crested Laughingthrush.  One of the blue Pittas I watched for 40 minutes – magical.  Taking four days to find one at this site two years previously was now a distant memory.

25 December.  Most of the day on the long trail across the river at Khao Yai.  I saw 2 Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagles, 5 Scaly-breasted Hill Partridges, Emerald Dove, Brown Hawk Owl, 13 superb Brown Needletails, 30 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Wreathed and 11 Great Hornbills, Silver-breasted Broadbill, a male Blue Pitta briefly, male Hainain Blue Flycatcher, 13 Abbott’s Babblers, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, White-crested and 2 Black-throated Laughingthrushes and a Green Magpie.  We also heard Mountain Scops but no end of crashing around after dark failed to produce more than a fleeting shape.  We slept again on the drinks stall. 
Abbott's Babbler at Khao Yai
Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle over Khao Yai

26 December.  We spent the morning around the restaurant at Khao Yai where I saw  Grey-faced Buzzard, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Long-tailed Broadbills, Forest Wagtail, Blunt-winged Warbler, 20 White-crested and a Black-throated Laughingthrush, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and a Green Magpie.  We left in the afternoon to drive east to Nathon Nayak and Khao Soi Dao.  We arrived late in the evening and found another drinks stall to sleep on.
27 December.  Frank and I wandered a long way down it the main track at Khao Soi Dao, retuning in the afternoon to find that Richard had found and Colin and Dick seen a pair of Eared Pittas along a section we’d now twice walked past.  We rushed back and fortunately they were still in the same area.  I also saw Blue-bearded Bee-eater, 8 Rosy (including 3 grey ones) and 2 Ashy Minivets, male Siberian Blue Robin and White-browed Scimitar-Babbler.  Another night on the drinks stall after an excellent but tiring day.
28 December.  A rather disappointing day along the main track at Khao Soi although I did see 5 Great Eared Nightjars, Orange-breasted Trogon, Black & Buff Woodpecker, male Hainian Blue Flycatcher and a male Crimson Sunbird.  We left late afternoon and drove to Rangsit where we arrived late and slept in another bus shelter.
29 December.  We spent the early morning at Rangsit where I saw 2 Baillon’s Crakes, Koel, Lanceolated Warbler and 30 Yellow-breasted Buntings.  We stopped in Bangkok and then started driving south birding at roadside saltpans south of Samut Sakhon before dark.  Here 26 Broad-billed Sandpipers and 400+ Red-necked Stints were the highlights.  We continued driving south after dark to Pranburi where we stayed in a hotel!

30 December.  We left Pranburi early and drove to Khao Sam Roi Yord for the morning.  There we saw a Booted Eagle (new for Thailand?), 2 Great Knot, 2 Nordman’s Greenshank, 50+ Broad-billed and15 Terek Sandpipers, 62 Crested Terns and 8 Red-throated Pipits.  In the afternoon we continued driving to Ranong and in the evening to Phuket where we found the inevitable bus shelter to sleep in.
Great Knot on the beach at Khao Sam Roi Yord
Nordman's Greenshank on the beach at Khao Sam Roi Yord

31 December.  We spent the morning at Phuket Town beach seeing 2 Pacific Reef Herons, various waders including 2 Broad-billed and 30 Terek Sandpipers and 2 Grey-rumped Tree-Swifts.  At mid-day we arranged a 3.5 hour boat trip off Rawai Beach which produced a female Greater Frigatebird and 200+ Bridled Terns.  It was hot with no shade and we got a bit sunburned.  We finished the day at Naihan Beach where a Little Green Bee-eater was my highlight.  We then drove on to Krabi and slept in a bus shelter.  Nothing like seeing in the New Year in style!