Friday, 12 January 1979

THAILAND January 1979: Khao Yai

5 January.  We spent the whole day at Bong Boraphet in the very outside chance of seeing White-eyed River Martin.  Dr Boonsong told us that the last sighting had been 3-4 winters previously but it seemed worth a try.  As expected we failed but had an enjoyable day.  We spent the morning to the south of the reservoir seeing Blue-tailed Bee-eater and distant Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas.  We then found a study centre and hired a guy to take us out in a boat.  This was fairly useless as he wanted to drop us off at a floating café nowhere near any decent habitat.  We persuaded him to drop us on a small island and come back 3 hours later to pick us up.  His parting words were to ‘beware of snakes and crocodiles’ but fortunately we saw neither although there were some large lizards present.  We were picked up at dusk, having seen little.  Back at the car we drove overnight to Khao Yai and camped outside the park entrance.
6 January.  We started birding just outside Khao Kai National Park seeing Green-eared Barbet, Red Jungle Fowl, White-throated Needletail and Red-breasted Parakeet.  At a stall by the entrance gates we indulged in some excellent corn on the cob, at 1 Baht (2.5p) each!  We slowly drove into the park seeing Hill Mynas and Indian Pied Hornbill from a flashy hide overlooking a waterhole.  We finished the day at Boswell’s hide, a much less stable affair constructed for a TV programme.  Here we had excellent, eye-level, views of Great Slaty Woodpecker and Great Hornbill.  While in the hide we heard a shout that sounded a bit like ‘Walton’ but we all ignored it until we heard it again – ‘Walton are you up there?’.  Looking down we saw Mark Chapman who Peter and I had been to Kenya with the previous winter.  Chris Heard had been on the Kenya trip too and we were travelling in his footsteps as it was his tales of Thailand in 1976/77 that had inspired us to come.  It was good to see another keen birder and we exchanged information.  Most useful to us was that Mark had seen Blue Pitta on one of the trails and that a pair of Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos often appeared on the rubbish dump behind the restaurant at dusk.  We had no luck with the latter that evening but 20 Great Eared Nightjars hawking over the restaurant forecourt was adequate compensation as they appeared as large as Hen Harriers!  After eating we crashed out on a nearby drinks stall – it was nice not to have to put up a tent.
Boswell's Hide at Khao Yai, it was a bit more stable than it looked
Wreathed Hornbill
Great Hornbill appearing to have had an accident with a bunch of bananas and sounding like a steam train struggling uphill in flight
7 January.  We spent the whole day birding at a variety of places in Khao Yai.  We visited the Blue Pitta trail twice with Peter seeing one the first time and Steve the second.  Andrew and I were quite despondent which rather took the edge off seeing Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, Long-tailed Broadbill, Radde’s Warbler and at dusk the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos and Great Eared Nightjars.  Another meal in the restaurant and night at the drinks stall.
me at Khao Yai, three weeks away beginning to show ...
8 January.  I spent pretty much the whole day on the Blue Pitta trail but had no success in 11 hours of searching.  Birds seen included Spotted Babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-headed Trogon, Black-throated Laughtingthrush and Sulphur-breasted Warbler.
trail at Khao Yai
9 January.  Another Blue Pitta day but this time, after nearly 6 hours on the trail, I saw the bird getting 3 brief but good views, all in the same area.  An initial feeling of extreme relief at finally having seen it after over 20 hours of searching, followed by a rush of excitement at actually watching such a superb bird and finally disappointment as it hopped out of view leaving me wanting more.  My first pitta, with its dark royal blue back, buffy flaring to fiery supercilium, black eyeline and moustacial and lightly barred underparts, it was every bit as good as I expected and almost certainly bird of the trip.  Pittas have to be the best bird family there is, totally brilliant!  Silver-breasted Broadbill, Collared Pygmy Owl, Pale Niltava and Laced Woodpecker made this an excellent day for me.  Andrew unfortunately dipped again.
Andrew on the pitta trail, taking a break from looking on the deck
Green-billed Malkoha at Khao Yai
I couldn't find this distinctive butterfly in a borrowed Thai Butterfly Field Guide so a friend sent this photo to the British Museum.  Much to my embarrassment it is a day flying moth, Milonia regina

10 January.  Our last day at Khao Yai and thankfully Andrew quickly saw the Blue Pitta.  We then tried the Waterfall Trail where Mark Chapman had seen Eared Pitta but were not successful.  Mark was clearly a lot sharper at finding these forest skulkers than we were.  Radde’s and Sulphur-bellied Warblers were my highlights for the day and at dusk we rushed around after owls.  We saw 2 Brown Hawk Owls fairly easily but Mountain Scops Owl gave us a real run around.  I ripped my clothes while crashing through a particularly dense patch of jungle and ended up with a poor flight view, great!  We ate then drove to Wat Tan En.

11 January.  We reached what we thought was Wat Tan En in the early hours but were finding Thai writing on signs very challenging and were trying to match what we were seeing with what was written on a postcard.  Steve knocked on the door of the nearest house, waking up some unfortunate guy, to make sure we were at the right place.  He seemed a lot more understanding than I’m sure we would have been in a similar situation and indicated that it wasn’t and where we should go.  We drove on seeing 4 Spotted Owlets on the way.  We slept in a bus shelter and were soon awake to see hundreds of fruit bats flying into the dawn.  It was an incredible site as fruit bats and Night Herons flew into roost while egrets, cormorants and ibis flew out to feed.  Here we saw Stork-billed Kingfisher, Darter, breeding plumaged (and so definitely identifiable) Javan Pond Herons, Oriental Ibis, Indian Shag and 3000+ egrets.  Next to Pathantani where we caught a boat along a busy waterway to the temple which doubled as an Open-billed Stork colony.  Finally on to Chang Rak and Rangsit where we saw Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler in the (paddy)field and trapped Dusky and Black-browed Reed Warblers.  We slept in another local bus shelter.

Wat Tan En
returning Fruit Bat

Indian Shags
Oriental Ibis
waterfront store
waterside temple
barge train
Asian Open-billed Stork

12 January.  Our last day in Thailand didn't start well as we were woken by the army at 02:00 and moved on, to another seemingly identical bus shelter!  While the others argued with the soldiers and were taken to a nearby hotel I crashed out where we were.  I was up at dawn walking towards Rangsit with my sleeping bag under my arm feeling quite fed up when I flushed first Cinnamon Bittern and then Watercock from the roadside. Fortunately I’d slept with my binoculars in my sleeping bag and got reasonable views of them.  I met the others as I reached Chang Rak to discover the hotel they’d been taken to was one of ill repute.  At Chang Rak we saw Black Bittern, female Painted Snipe and Clamorous Reed Warbler.  We then drove to Bang Poo where we saw Flyeater and another Cinnamon Bittern.  We left it a bit late leaving and rushed back to Bangkok where 5000+ Swallows were roosting on wires in the streets, dropped off the car and three of us checked in at Don Muang airport with 10 minutes to spare.  Pete was staying on for another month ...
Chang Rak paddyfileds
Andrew with Dusky Warbler

Black-browed Reed Warbler

A big thank you to my companions Andrew Moon, Peter Walton and Steve Whitehouse for making this a very enjoyable trip. Also to the late Dr Boonsong for his hospitality, helpful advice, encouragement and 'Thai permits', Chris Heard for providing information before we left and Mark Chapman for sharing sightings while out there.

[blogged July 2013]

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