Spoon-billed Sandpiper Photo: David Sibley
Thailand is a fascinating country with many wonderful national parks and reserves supporting huge numbers of resident and migrant birds. It is also home to a rich and ancient culture many of whose ruins are also excellent places to look for birds.
Our tour visits the marshy plains, mangrove coastline, and salt pans at Laem Phak Bia south of Bangkok, where we may encounter nearly 40 species of wader including the threatened Nordmann’s Greenshank and Asian Dowitcher and the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and two splendid national parks at Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan, each with vast tracts of uninterrupted evergreen forest supporting a wide mix of northern and southern species as well as a wide variety of mammals. At Kaeng Krachan we’ll also visit several established hides where normally secretive birds come to feed.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour, Thailand: The North.
Day 1: The trip begins at 6.00pm with a meeting in the lobby of our Bangkok hotel. Night near Bangkok’s international airport.
Day 2: We’ll begin in a small marshy area near the old Bangkok airport, where we’ll find a variety of wintering warblers, possibly including Black-browed Reed, Dusky, Oriental Reed, Yellow-browed Warblers, and with very good luck Pallas’s Grasshopper (we should at least hear it). We may also see Bluethroat and Eastern Yellow, White (the white-faced leucopsis subspecies), and possibly Citrine Wagtails. We should find White-breasted Waterhens and Ruddy-breasted Crakes lurking among the reeds, and Cinnamon and especially Yellow Bittern are possible. We’ll also visit several temples, where we should see Red-breasted Parakeet and perhaps Spotted Owlet as well as hundreds of Lyle’s Flying Foxes.
Later we’ll drive to Ayutthaya, the former capital of Old Siam, stopping en route to examine concentrations of feeding Asian Openbills in marshy fields. We’ll have lunch at a riverside restaurant where we often see Pied Kingfisher, and later take a short walk among the ruins of this striking capital city, sacked by the Burmese in 1767. We’ll find a variety of chiefly garden birds, including Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets, Common Iora, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, and perhaps Small Minivet. Wintering species should include Taiga Flycatcher, and we often find our only Thick-billed Warbler here. We’ll depart Ayutthaya for Khao Yai National Park, arriving by early evening at our comfortable resort amid the spectacular cliffs and woodlands near Khao Yai’s northern gate. Night near Khao Yai National Park.
Days 3–5: We’ll spend three days exploring the densely forested hills, clear rivers, and waterfalls at Khao Yai, one of the best-preserved tracts of tropical evergreen forest in all of Indochina. Khao Yai is noted particularly for larger forest birds, among which are three or four species of hornbill, including the magnificent Great, as well as Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, Banded Kingfisher, Banded and Long-tailed Broadbills, and sometimes Sultan Tit. In addition we can expect a fine collection of raptors, pigeons, barbets, woodpeckers, leafbirds, bulbuls, laughingthrushes, babblers, warblers, sunbirds, and flowerpeckers. Red Junglefowl and Siberian Blue Robin haunt the undergrowth, and there is a chance of finding other, scarcer ground birds such as the elegant Siamese Fireback, Silver Pheasant, the elusive Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo or Blue Pitta. At dusk we’ll look for Great Eared-Nightjars.
Khao Yai is also extremely rich in mammals, including Pig-tailed Macaque, gloriously vocal gibbons, Black Giant Squirrel, civets, Sambar and Barking Deer (Red Muntiac), East Asian (Malaysian) Porcupine, and Asian Elephant. Nights near Khao Yai National Park.
Day 6: This morning we’ll depart via Bangkok for the coastal town of Laem Phak Bia, stopping at Bra Budha Noi, a temple at the foot of limestone karst cliffs and the haunt of the very local Limestone Wren-Babbler. We’ll have lunch en route and continue to Laem Phak Bia, our home for the next three evenings. Hopefully, we’ll have time to visit the Royal Project, only a few minutes away where we might see Javan Pond Heron, Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted Crake, and both Pin-tailed Snipe and Greater Painted-Snipe. White-shouldered (sometimes with Daurian) Starlings come into the mangroves here to roost.
Day 7: We’ll spend much of the day birding the brackish and saltwater mudflats, sandflats, mangroves, and salt pans of Phetchaburi Province in the western sectors of the Gulf of Thailand. We’ll search for 40 or more shorebird species, including Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Great Knot, Broad-billed and Marsh Sandpipers, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. If we’re lucky, we may see the endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper (there were about three individuals here in 2015), the threatened Nordmann’s Greenshank, and possibly Asian Dowitcher. We should also find Brown-headed and possibly Pallas’s (Great Black-headed) Gulls, Brahminy Kite, and Black-capped and Collared Kingfishers, among many other species. In the past several years one or two White-faced Plovers have wintered on the sand spit at Laem Phak Bia; the species was actually first collected in 1861 by Swinhoe, who described it as a new species in 1870 — after which it was forgotten for well over a century! Some taxonomists regard this as a separate species while others treat it as a subspecies of Kentish Plover. We’re also likely to see Chinese and Pacific Reef Egrets, Malaysian Plover, Great Crested and possible Lesser Crested Tern. Night at a relaxing beachfront resort near Laem Phak Bia. Indian Nightjars are found near here and we’ll try for them at dusk one evening.
Day 8: In the early morning we’ll return to the Royal Project near Laem Phak Bia, searching for additional marsh birds such as Yellow Bittern, Watercock, Bronze-winged Jacana, and a variety of warblers, including Oriental and Black-browed Reed. Later we’ll travel to open country an hour or so away that is particularly good for raptors. Among the many wintering Black Kites, we’ll be looking for eagles: Greater Spotted and Booted are the more regularly encountered species, but we might see Imperial and Steppe as well. The numbers present are highly dependent on the timing of the burning of the rice fields but even in a poor year for raptors, nearby wetland hosts many wintering waterfolw including Painted Storks and Black-headed Ibis, and Garganey, and there is at least a faint chance of seeing a Black-faced Spoonbill or Spot-billed Pelican. After an afternoon break we’ll look for birds in one of the wetlands near Laem Phak Bia. At some point we will visit nearby Bang Khun Sai where an interesting feature of the town is its ‘swift apartments’ - multi-story concrete structures built by Chinese investors to house wild Germain’s Swiftlets. Thousands of pairs nest in the most favoured apartments, each with its own set of (human) managers and a speaker system that broadcasts swift calls at high volume in hopes of attracting additional recruits; the nests reportedly sell for upward of $2,500 per pound in Chinese markets. If there’s time, we’ll return to the Royal Project at dusk to watch hundreds of Black Drongos, starlings, mynas, and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters returning to their mangrove roosts, crossing over with hundreds of Flying Foxes heading out for a night’s foraging. Night near Laem Phak Bia.
Day 9: This morning is flexible. If we are missing any of the key waterbirds around Laem Phak Bia, we’ll search for them. Otherwise we’ll depart very early for Kaeng Krachan National Park, stopping at one of several hides established near the park entrance. These sites are excellent for a number of secretive species that are quite difficult to see in the field, including Scaly-breasted and possibly Bar-backed Partridges, Kalij Pheasant, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. From time to time even secretive forest Red-legged and Slaty-legged Crakes visit these sites along with Gray Peacock-pheasant, although we would be very lucky to see one of them. After lunch and an afternoon break we’ll return to one of the hides or we may enter Kaeng Krachan National Park. Night at a lodge near the park entrance.
Days 10 - 12: Kaeng Krachan, with its range of habitats from drier deciduous forest to huge expanses of evergreen forest, is a wonderful place to watch birds and we’ll spend three days and a final morning exploring this region. At our highest point we’ll be searching for Ratchet-tailed Treepie at its only location in Thailand, along with its frequent traveling companion the striking White-hooded Babbler. Black-throated Laughingthrush occur here too, and we have at least a chance of seeing Spot-necked Babbler and Yellow-vented Pigeon. At this season many Oriental Honey-Buzzards should be moving north. Other raptors we might see include Black Eagle and Mountain Hawk-Eagle and with good luck an Oriental Hobby. At middle elevations we’ll search for Gray Peacock-pheasant (we’ll certainly hear them!), and we might also hear the rarely seen Ferruginous Partridge. Also possible is Southern Brown Hornbill and six species of broadbills, including Black-and-yellow, Black-and-red, Banded, Dusky, and Silver-breasted. Wintering Palearctic species should be numerous and might include some more southerly winterers like Eastern Crowned Warbler and Chinese Blue Flycatcher - the list of uncommon to rare species we might encounter is very long and different every year. In the drier deciduous forest, woodpeckers are particularly numerous and we could see more than ten species including Heart-spotted, Black-and-buff and possibly Great Slaty Woodpeckers.
The park harbours many mammals too, and we might encounter Asian Elephant, Golden Jackal, Fea’s Muntjac, Crab-eating Mongoose, and possibly Dhole and even Gaur. A number of cats occur, Leopard being the most frequently seen but also Tiger, although we would be exceptionally lucky to see one. Dusky Langurs are present along with a few Banded Langurs, as are the distinctive Stump-tailed Macaques. Nights at a lodge near the park entrance.
Day 13: After a final morning of birding at Kaeng Krachan, we’ll return to Bangkok, arriving at our airport hotel by late afternoon. Night near Bangkok’s international airport.
Day 14: The tour concludes this morning after breakfast.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 24 November 2016