KHAO YAI AND KAENG KRACHAN (31 MARCH 2012 – 6 APRIL 2012)

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“By the time we (above left) stepped out of Suvarnabhumi Airport into the sweltering weather of Bangkok, we were a full hour behind schedule. The only stop we had time to make was at a stretch of fruit stalls. As such, we had to settle for the occasional Asian Openbill riding a thermal along the way. Before long, we entered Steakhouse territory, with signs beckoning on both sides of the road, and turned into the Italian-themed Balios Resort Khaoyai. A simple dinner of chicken wings, sticky rice, a terrifyingly spicy papaya salad and a few other small dishes sufficed. The local secret to beating the famed spiciness of Thai food is sweet basil, long beans and right-angled bean: chew these, raw, and they will almost instantly soothe the tongue.

“Thai lesson of the day: moo refers to pork, not beef!

“Following breakfast of pig’s blood and bread, we drove into Khao Yai National Park and headed straight to Radar Road. Being at a higher elevation, Khao Yai was not anywhere as hot as Bangkok, and we started the morning at a lovely 18 degrees. We hopped off our van at the little cluster of houses for a toilet break, and while waiting for all to be done, saw a Common Barking Deer (left), an Ashy Drongo, several Blue-Winged Leafbirds and Asian Fairy Bluebirds, a Grey-backed Shrike, and very many of the ubiquitous Ashy Woodswallow. Disappointingly, the road seemed to be very quiet on our walk, and we did not have many encounters, save for the occasional Red Junglefowl and Red Wattled Lapwings on the road. A Siamese Fireback was seen only briefly and never in entirety through the thick foliage on the side of the roads, as was an Orange-breasted Trogon. We did not manage to call out a nearby Blue Pitta that had been calling. The very loud Coral-Billed Ground Cuckoo likewise failed to make our bird list despite all our calling, but at least this bird was fun to imitate. Further down the road, we came across a vine stretching across the road, and this apparently served as some sort of highway for the Variable Squirrels. A pair of Black-crested Bulbuls of the johnsoni subspecies was seen perched together, while the White-bellied Erponis pair was certainly much more animated, and a small flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes made their way noisily across the road.

“While having a tea-break near a roadside shrine, a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, a Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike and a few Striped Tit-Babblers came by to check us out.

“We decided that Radar Road was not a good spot that day, and moved on to a known Mugimaki Flycatcher and White-throated Rock Thrush territory. Indeed, both were found without much difficulty, and the White-throated Rock Thrush was especially friendly that day. A large Sambar Deer ambled casually past us. The background was dominated by the calls of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos and White-handed Gibbons. But the highlight had to be a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, which showed up with a grub in its beak, depositing that into its nest in front of us. It was, unfortunately, later scared away by a stray red balloon that rolled past.

“We left Khao Yai National Park for Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve/Environmental Research Station, 3 hours away, encountering an Indian Roller on the way out. After a quick tea break of rice crackers and Ceylon Oak juice, we began our walk at the Biosphere Reserve and soon encountered a Large Scimitar Babbler (left) feeding on the ground in the vegetation, Asian Fairy Bluebirds all around and a Scarlet Minivet perched on a tree. A Green Magpie sang nearby, but was not seen despite some effort. A pair of male Siamese Fireback, as well as one female, crossed the road in front of us. The highlight of the day definitely was one particularly brave individual who walked towards us, and even flashed the brilliant orange ‘fire’ on the back. Walking back towards the carpark, a White-rumped Shama posed cooperatively for a stunning picture. The return journey yielded a Rufous-Winged Buzzard.

“Steak dinner to celebrate that last fireback!

02 April – Khao Yai/Pha Diao Dai
“Back to Khao Yai, and we encountered a Bright-headed Cisticola basking in the morning sun near the elephant salt lick. A Green-eared Barbet and a Red-whiskered Bulbul were seen around the same location. We headed towards the Pha Kluai Mai camp site this time, having heard news of a Banded Kingfisher and a Banded Broadbill. A Laced Woodpecker and an Oriental Pied Hornbill greeted us immediately when we stepped off the van. Neither of our pursued birds were around, but the appearance of a hungry Green-billed Malkoha, a Stripe-throated Bulbul, an Abbott’s Babbler, and a pair of White-handed Gibbons by the roadside compensated for it. The uneventful lunch was followed by a trip to the waterfall, where we spent quite some time chasing butterflies around. We tried at the second known nest of the Banded Kingfisher and there we had some success, witnessing the female return twice, once with an insect and once with a small skink.

“We then went up the mountain to the Radar station, and watched a pair of relatively low flying Black Eagles swoop past us. Much time was spent following the calls of a Red-headed Trogon as well as, strangely, a Blue Pitta, near the Pha Diao Dai Nature Trail but neither of these were eventually seen. The boardwalk leading out to the edge of the cliff was very quiet, save for the calls of a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher at the top of the boardwalk, a disappearing Orange-headed Thrush and a Moustached Barbet whose loud flight attracted our attention. All in all, not much action during this part of the day, but we did get some truly stunning views of the park from the mountain.

“Evening fell, and we headed down to TAT pond by the chalets to watch Silver-backed Needletails and Brown-backed Needletails drink. A Red-wattled Lapwing, a Common Kingfisher, a pair of White-throated Kingfishers and a pair of Chestnut Headed Bee-eaters were also spotted around the area.

“After a dinner of chicken rice, we decided to look around Balios Resort itself, and found a pair of Brown Boobooks sitting very obviously on the very top of a tree, clear in the moonlight. Another Boobook came closer, but he was obscured among the leaves.

03 April – Khao Yai/Khao Yoi
“The resort grounds seemed quite expansive on our walk the previous night, and we decided to look around again this morning. While striding across the lawn, we counted Asian Koels, a Coppersmith Barbet and a Blue-eared Barbet, an Indian Roller, an Asian Brown Flycatcher and several Red-breasted Parakeets. We walked down the gravel path at the back of the grounds and encountered a White-rumped Shama, a Greater Coucal and a Taiga Flycatcher. As we made our way back to our rooms, we spotted a little brown ball by the side of the road: an Asian Barred Owlet! It was startled by our appearance and flew off into the bushes, but no matter, its figure, patterns and staring eyes were still plainly visible through our binoculars. Three Chinese Pond Herons also took off nearby.

“The first excitement of the drive to Kaeng Krachan was a massive flock of Asian Openbills soaring above us. There were some fifty individuals circling and maybe twenty of them perched on a nearby tree. This was followed by a detour through a region of paddy fields, which had plenty of Little Egrets, Chinese and Javan Pond Herons and Openbills, as well as one Eastern Marsh Harrier which we watched harry a flock of Egrets in a heart-stopping display. Black Drongos, Hair-Crested Drongos, Asian Pied Starlings, Plain-backed Sparrows, Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Plain Prinias were the other occupants that we came across.

“The next detour was to see waders at the Khao Yoi Rice Paddies. We saw a Little Cormorant contrasted interestingly with an Intermediate Egret, and two Green Bee-eaters foraging on the ground on the way in. Plodding their way through the muddy plains proper were very many Black-winged Stilts and Oriental Pratincoles, while the Bronze-winged Jacana and Painted Stork were there alone. Treefuls of Streaked Weavers, Baya Weavers and Asian Golden Weavers were busy at work getting their nests in order, and largely ignored us. Several Pied and a White-throated Fantail were hard to ignore near the weaver nests. A Long-tailed Shrike and an Eastern Stonechat had established favourite perches in this area, and were reliably found upon these. Two pairs of Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers were nesting in one of trees, while a Purple Heron was perched high up on a lone palm. An Oriental Darter flew by, its dangerous-looking beak sharp against the orange sky. Spotted only from a great distance were Cotton Pygmy-Geese and a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that was not yet in breeding plumage. Lesser Whistling Ducks, Common Moorhens and a Little Grebe provided nearer views on the water.The sun had completely set by the time we left the marshes, and the night sky provided a clean backdrop for the glowing Summer Palace we passed by some time later. We reached Baan Maka at around 9pm to the excited squeals of the dogs and the rather more reserved chonks of the Large-Tailed Nightjars, and easily fell asleep.

04 April – Baan Maka
“Breakfast at Baan Maka was made more interesting by the guest appearance of a large stick insect which had apparently been caught by the staff not long before. An Asian Barred Owlet called loudly from a nearby tree and we easily found it, its large eyes again giving it away.

“The destination for the day was Bouranasompop hide, a stakeout spot by an artificial waterhole which was once used for poaching the local wildlife. Thanks to the efforts of Bouranasompop, the owners of the waterhole were persuaded to take up the cause of conservation, and this has so far proved sufficiently profitable such that others are now doing likewise. Before we headed for the hide, our guide End’s sharp eyes spotted a Large Hawk Cuckoo atop a faraway bare tree.

“Throughout the morning at the hide, we had a splendid view of Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes (above left), White Browed and Large Scimitar Babblers, Black Naped Monarchs, Siberian Blue Robins (above right), a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, a female Taiga Flycatcher, Striped Tit Babblers, Racket Tailed Treepies, Puff-throated Babblers, Stripe-throated Bulbuls, Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Streak-eared Bulbuls and White-rumped Shamas, along with Cambodian Striped Tree Squirrels and acrobatic Grey-bellied Tree Squirrels and a pair of jittery Lesser Chevrotains. A single Chestnut-winged Cuckoo came by occasionally, but never stayed for long on any of its rounds, and we had but one look at a female Kalij Pheasant which sprinted right past! At one point, a Bar-backed Partridge came very, very close, its call coming right from the edge of the bushes around the waterhole, but it eventually decided not to grace the occasion. We returned to the rooms for a quick snooze, and woke up to the sound of heavy rain falling outside! Thus ended our birding for the day.

“An interesting dish for dinner was Lotus stem in green curry, cut straight from the resort pond.

05 April – Kaeng Krachan
“The early morning drive was very cold, especially atop the four wheel drive which came to drive us up into Kaeng Krachan National Park. But shivers of chill were soon replaced by shivers of excitement when a Crested Serpent Eagle flew alongside the truck not four metres above us! As we drove on, we spotted a juvenile Chinese Sparrowhawk hopping feebly on the ground, making several attempts to fly but failing each time. Nonetheless, it managed to disappear deep into the forest the instant it spotted us. Our first bird stepping off the truck was a pair of Ratchet-tailed Treepies, which helpfully gave their locations away with loud and prolonged calling. Shortly after, a White-hooded Babbler and a Rufous-fronted Babbler were seen on the roadside trees. A low hanging Long-tailed Broadbill nest turned out to be active and incomplete, with some truly cooperative builders gamely posing. A band of Blue-winged Leafbirds and Buff-vented Bulbuls were hopping up and down a nearby tree, and at the very top of a very high tree End made out a Collared Owlet rather puffed out and preening. We followed the call of a Great Barbet (did not make our list), which was suddenly interrupted by the delightfully wide repertoire of the Black-throated Laughingthrush. From a high vantage point, a Great Hornbill watched us.

“We did not have lunch in peace, with Dusky & Banded Langurs suddenly posing photogenically, the discovery of a Mountain Imperial Pigeon sitting on her chick in the nest, a pair of Red-headed Trogons down the road, the return of a Blue-throated Barbet to its home, a Blue-eared Barbet and a few Flavescent Bulbuls taking their turns on one particular branch, and the best opportunities so far to shoot a Ratchet-tailed Treepie. A rare Fea’s Barking Deer crossing the road caused considerable stir among our party. As the sun slowly began to set, a Streaked Spiderhunter made a cameo appearance, its long bill making for a very interesting silhouette. All through this time, we had a majestic view of the valley beneath and its hornbills which flew across occasionally.

“When it rains, it pours, and the rain formed a solid wall of water around the restaurant. We tried to wait it out but a whole hour later, the rain showed no sign of stopping and we decided to make a dash for the truck. The road back was now some sort of river, and our vehicle slid backwards on a few terrifying occasions. Some small trees and bamboos fell over the roads and had to be carefully navigated around, but it was apparent that the same could not be done for one particularly large tree. One harrowing U-turn later, we were back at the restaurant to borrow a chainsaw!
Nothing could stop us now, not with a chainsaw in the back, and the rest of the journey back was much smoother. Plenty of Emerald Doves, Spangled and Bronzed Drongos, Indian Rollers and Pied Hornbills emerged following the rain to feed on the clouds of winged termites in the air, and we saw our first and only Elephant! This one was covered in mud and was more brown than grey. Just out of the park, we watched a Chinese Sparrowhawk patrol between two trees, flying from one to the other consistently. Our day ended with a double rainbow against the stunning sunset.

06 April – Kaeng Krachan

“We woke up with a jolt this morning, when an Indian Roller flew straight into our windscreen on our way to Kaeng Krachan once more. This time, we stuck to the lowlands. Our first sighting of the day was an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher below eye level by the road, and then, when we disembarked, some sort of colourful mountain crab, which clicked its claws at us apprehensively. While fording the first stream, a Silver-breasted Broadbill (left) was spotted close by, which distracted us from a snake that swam right by us! As it turned out, there was little need to get excited over the broadbill, because by the second stream was a tree with six individuals! Another tree held at least three of their nests. Ochraceous Bulbuls also appeared all along the trail.

“En route to the airport, we stopped for some strong local coffee. As usual, something had to happen the instant the coffee was served: Indochinese Bushlark! A lone bird perched on the wire, his abruptly-ending breast stripes prominent, the last bird we would tick off the list.”

Vince Tan (top right, with stick insect), with Lena Chow, KC Tsang & Janet Lim
Singapore
31st March 2012
**************************************

Itinerary
31 March
SIN-BKK
Check in at Balios Resort Khaoyai
01 April
Khao Yai National Park: Radar Road
Sakaerat Environmental Research Station
02 April
Khao Yai National Park: Campsite
Khao Yai National Park: Waterfall
Khao Yai National Park: Radar Station
Balios Resort Khaoyai: Resort Grounds
03 April
Balios Resort Khaoyai: Resort Grounds
Paddy Fields
Check in at Baan Maka
04 April
Bouranasompop Hide
Rain break
05 April
Kaeng Krachan National Park
06 April
Kaeng Krachan National Park
Bird list
1. Red Junglefowl
2. Kalij Pheasant
3. Siamese Fireback
4. Cotton Pygmy-Goose
5. Fulvous-Breasted Woodpecker
6. Lesser Yellownape
7. Laced Woodpecker
8. Lineated Barbet
9. Green-eared Barbet
10. Blue-throated Barbet
11. Moustached Barbet
12. Blue-eared Barbet
13. Coppersmith Barbet
14. Oriental Pied Hornbill
15. Great Hornbill
16. Orange-breasted Trogon
17. Red-headed Trogon
18. Indian Roller
19. Dollarbird
20. Common Kingfisher
21. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
22. Banded Kingfisher
23. White-throated Kingfisher
24. Blue-bearded Bee-eater
25. Green Bee-eater
26. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
27. Chestnut Headed Bee-eater
28. Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
29. Large Hawk Cuckoo
30. Asian Koel
31. Green-billed Malkoha
32. Greater Coucal
33. Red-breasted Parakeet
34. Silver-backed Needletail
35. Brown-backed Needletail
36. Collared Owlet
37. Asian Barred Owlet
38. Brown Boobook
39. Rock Pigeon
40. Red Collared Dove
41. Emerald Dove
42. Zebra Dove
43. Thick-billed Pigeon
44. Mountain Imperial Pigeon
45. White-breasted Waterhen
46. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
47. Bronze-winged Jacana
48. Black-winged Stilt
49. Red-wattled Lapwing
50. Oriental Pratincole
51. Oriental Honey-buzzard
52. Black-shouldered Kite
53. Black Kite
54. Eastern Marsh Harrier
55. Shikra
56. Chinese Sparrowhawk
57. Rufous-winged Buzzard
58. Black Eagle
59. Little Grebe
60. Oriental Darter
61. Little Cormorant
62. Little Egret
63. Purple Heron
64. Intermediate Egret
65. Eastern Cattle Egret
66. Chinese Pond Heron
67. Javan Pond Heron
68. Painted Stork
69. Asian Openbill
70. Silver-breasted Broadbill
71. Long-tailed Broadbill
72. Asian Fairy Bluebird
73. Blue-winged Leafbird
74. Brown Shrike
75. Long-tailed Shrike
76. Grey-backed Shrike
77. Green Magpie
78. Racket-tailed Treepie
79. Ratchet-tailed Treepie
80. Large-billed Crow
81. Ashy Woodswallow
82. Scarlet Minivet
83. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
84. White-throated Fantail
85. Pied Fantail
86. Black Drongo
87. Ashy Drongo
88. Bronzed Drongo
89. Hair-crested Drongo
90. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
91. Black-naped Monarch
92. Common Iora
93. White-throated Rock Thrush
94. Blue Rock Thrush
95. Orange-headed Thrush
96. Asian Brown Flycatcher
97. Mugimaki Flycatcher
98. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
99. Siberian Blue Robin
100. Oriental Magpie Robin
101. White-rumped Shama
102. Eastern Stonechat
103. Asian Pied Myna
104. Common Myna
105. White-vented Myna
106. Black-crested Bulbul
107. Red-whiskered Bulbul
108. Stripe-throated Bulbul
109. Flavescent Bulbul
110. Streak-eared Bulbul
111. Puff-throated Bulbul
112. Ochraceous Bulbul
113. Grey-eyed Bulbul
114. Buff-vented Bulbul
115. Zitting Cisticola
116. Bright-capped Cisticola
117. Plain Prinia
118. Dark-necked Tailorbird
119. Yellow-browed Warbler
120. Eastern Crowned Warbler
121. Black-throated Laughingthrush
122. White-crested Laughingthrush
123. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush
124. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
125. Abbott’s Babbler
126. Puff-throated Babbler
127. Large Scimitar Babbler
128. White-browed Scimitar Babbler
129. Rufous-fronted Babbler
130. Striped Tit Babbler
131. White-browed Shrike Babbler
132. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
133. White-bellied Erpornis
134. Indochinese Bushlark
135. Plain Flowerpecker
136. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
137. Oliver-backed Sunbird
138. Streaked Spiderhunter
139. Plain-backed Sparrow
140. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
141. Forest Wagtail
142. Paddyfield Pipit
143. Baya Weaver
144. Streaked Weaver
145. Asian Golden Weaver

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