And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thailand Birding - Kaeng Krachan to Krung Ching

We are now inside Kaeng Krachan, one of the best birding areas in Thailand, a mecca for any visiting birders.

Not everything is what it seems. Just a bunch of dried old vines and leaves caught in a tree?

No, it's a Silver-breasted Broadbill's nest.

This nest was fairly high up, so mum's not too worried. Some other broadbill nests weren't in such good locations, one built low over a well used track and constantly being swung around as cars went by!

The forest had huge groups of wonderful butterflies drinking salts on the edges of most creeks.

Mind-blowing arrays!

Most forming groups of their own species.

This rainforest creek had a fantastic surprise waiting....

One of the rarest rainforest birds, 2 White-fronted Scops Owls. We were very lucky again.

And also one of the commonest rainforest birds, Black-naped Monarch at it's nest (with nestlings).

The area had wonderful birds we had been hoping to see and finally did, such as Kalij Pheasant, Blue Pitta, Crested Goshawk, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Streak-breasted, Bamboo and Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Great and Tickell's (Brown) Hornbill, Racquet-tailed and Ratchet-tailed Treepie.

Another surprise waited for us on the way back to our accommodation one afternoon, a Leopard!
Liz had been snoozing in the back of the van as we travelled back, waking and hearing our commotion in the front, thought it must be some new bird and promptly stuck out half her body out the window to have a look. She quickly realised that she was staring eye to eye with a Leopard only 4 metres from the van! She was a little white and in shock for rest of the journey back.

The pleasant ' for birders' accommodation near Kaeng Krachan, Ban Maka Resort, about 30 minutes from the park.

Good, clean air-conditioned rooms.

Nice gardens for some local birding.

Next morning and it's time to head to the rice fields at Petchaburi.

There's a light rain falling, but the Asian Golden Weavers are busily going about their business at the rice fields.

Interesting looking nests, but not many birds to be seen....

When birds do arrive, they quickly shoot up the long semi-transparent tube into the nest chamber. How do they do that, using wings, legs or both?

Finally a view of one of the nest builders, Baya Weaver.

The rice fields had large numbers of Spot-billed Pelicans, Painted Storks, Black-headed Ibis and being near the coast the usual Collared Kingfishers.

A small dry woodland area nearby, produced this nice Rufous Woodpecker.

Another beautiful woodpecker in the area, this time a Black-headed Woodpecker at it's nest hole.

A visit to Huay Mai Teng Reservoir produced great views of Pied Kingfisher, Small Pratincoles, Oriental Pratincoles and fleeting views of Rain Quail.

This lovely Oriental Pratincole was getting very annoyed as we approached, it's possibly on a nest?

It was time to head back to Bangkok for a bird free day and a much needed relax and rest at the airport's Novotel hotel, before flying and driving to the other birding hotspot Krung Ching, for more full on birding.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thailand Birding - Khao Yai to Kaeng Krachen

Early last year we were birding in the north of Thailand, now it was time to look for the birds in more southern regions, especially the pittas! We had 13days of full birding and for most of it we were to be with bird guide Nick Upton from Thaibirding. We had a big wish list, with lots of pitta species, I think this made Nick sweat a little bit, he had his work cut out for him!

First stop Khao Yai for 3 days (after Limestone Wren-babblers at Wat Praputtabaht Noi). Blue-winged Pittas were easy to get, as they seemed to be calling all over the countryside, but the others would be harder. Climate change it seems has affected Thailand's rainforest birds, with many not calling or responding, and many on nests. Lots of walking along tracks and in the rainforest did result in us seeing wonderful birds such as Long-tailed Broadbills, Moustached Barbet and Banded Kingfisher.


Our second pitta species was this beautiful Hooded Pitta, shy, but not as shy as the Blue Pitta which came next. I got a fairly good quick look, but my wife Liz was sweating, as she only caught a non-tickable glimpse. We were to get better views later at Kaeng Krachen.

A big area of dense rainforest for a little pitta, or even a Giant Pitta to hide in. We managed to get good views of a number of Siamese Firebacks, but Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos were not to be seen, it seems they are not as easy to see in the park as they use to be. One bird we were very lucky to get good close views of, was the hard to find Jerdon's Baza!

Lots of walking along rainforest trails in Khao Yai, interesting fungi, but also lots of hungry leeches. At the end of the trip, the score was 5 leech bites for Liz and only 1 for me. Maybe it was because often I walked last and managed to usually see the hungry little (and big) guys waving around and dodge them!

One evening was spent looking around for Great-eared Nightjar, which we got in an open section of the park, an area often frequented by these lovely Red Muntjacs.

It was time to head back to Bangkok before heading towards Kaeng Krachen, but first a stop at the Muang Boran fishponds, a wonderful area near Bangkok for waterbirds.

The fishponds had big numbers of these (often scruffy looking) Asian Openbill Storks, which fed on the introduced Giant Snails. The area also had large numbers of Indian Cormorants, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, as well as Cotton Pygmy-goose, Lesser Whistling Duck and Black Bittern. 

After a night in Bangkok, it was off to Kaeng Krachen with it's amazing birds and fantastic butterflies (which I'll have to find the names of one day).

These butterfly photos were all taken while standing at a small bridge for 10 minutes!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gurney's Pitta Update - Hurry if you want to see one.

I have just returned from birding for 13 days in southern Thailand, with some hard birding, due to it seems climate change according to the guides, rain cycles totally out of sync for last year and this year affecting many rainforest birds. 250 bird species were seen, including 6 pitta species, so I’m happy.

The info about Gurney’s Pitta at Khao Nor Chi Chi is pretty bad, so if you want to see one you better hurry (maybe ~ 6 pittas left?). Climate change and disturbance in the park are affecting the pitta in a bad way, photographers are the main culprits with numerous photographers and videographers setting up hides and playing Gurney’s Pitta calls all day long. It seems they only care about getting the perfect photo, not the bird’s welfare! Most (not all) of the recent photos and Youtube videos have been obtained this way. We saw one of these guys in a hide at another park trying to get Blue Pitta photos, playing the call for hours!

We spent two days looking for the pittas with local bird guide Yotin, finally got great views of a male and female Gurney’s for about 2 minutes, male and female in the same view. Yotin is the pitta expert, but even he had trouble finding any Gurney’s in the last 6 months, a number of international birding companies missed out on seeing them! I would recommend hiring Yotin, as he has assistants out with radios to find the pittas, otherwise you could spend a whole week walking the overgrown and poorly signposted trails and not see one. This was a common statement in the bird log book at the Morakot Resort!

The situation with the 2 Gurney’s Pittas we saw is not very good, as it seems the male has paired with his daughter! The ‘official pitta rescue project’ also hasn’t helped, by ‘illegally’ taking wild Gurney’s for breeding, which resulted in the pittas not breeding but dying, a lot of it due to lack of experience of the ‘researchers’. Maybe they should have tried breeding some more common pitta species first! The Gurney’s Pitta will probably disappear from Thailand shortly and the population found in Burma are in hard to get to locations, so it’s best to hurry if you want to see one.

As for the birding situation in the far south near the Malaysian border, DON’T GO. Extremists are killing people on a daily basis, with guys riding motorbikes along forest tracks with machine guns and killing whoever they find! Beware, there is at least one southern Thailand birding company that doesn’t even mention the trouble down there, some just say that no tourist has been hurt! Possibly because no tourist go there and the rebels haven’t been able to find one to gun down or keep as a hostage?

This is not my video, but I think it may be the last views of an another truly beautiful bird that humanity will send into extinction. The lack of sound in the video is appropriate as the forest will no longer echo with the pitta's calls.