Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Day in Kaeng Krachan National Park

Kaeng Krachan is considered by many to be the foremost birding location in Thailand and it is less than a two hour drive from our home. According to the Department of National Parks  over 400 species of birds have been recorded in Kaeng Krachan, probably the highest species count in one area in Thailand. Six species of hornbill have been recorded, many raptors and an abundance of forest birds. The park also houses approximately 57 species of mammals. With such an abundance of riches quite literally on our doorstep I am almost embarassed to say this was only my second visit into Kaeng Krachan.

We entered the park just after 06:00h and headed straight to Panoen Tung, one of the highest elevations in the park, with one stop en route at about 07:00h. Here  we  observed Asian blue fairybird, common flameback, dark-sided flycatcher, spangled drongo, black-crested bulbul, blue-winged leafbird, & scarlet minivet. The fairybird, in particular, is reasonably sized and has very striking and distinctive colours which contrast starkly with most available backgrounds. The leafbirds, on the contrary, are predominantly green and as such, are perfectly disguised and move very quickly through the leaves. The different species of leafbird are by no means easy to distinguish, as I learnt on a recent trip to Khao Yai National Park. The three flamebacks didn't hang around for long which is a pity as they are beautiful looking birds and worthy of closer observation.

On arrival at Panoen Tung there was a fair number of vehicles waiting to be given the all clear to descend. Over the next two hours or so we saw a lot of birds: black-winged cuckooshrike, thick-billed pigeon, a collared owlet, flavescent bulbul, two-barred warbler, taiga flycatcher, yellow-bellied warbler, hill blue flycatcher, blue-throated barbet, striped tit babbler, black-throated laughing thrush, mountain imperial pigeon, ashy drongo, indochinese cuckooshrike, greater leafbird, white-hooded babbler and little cuckoo dove. I have to say the pigeons and doves were the stars of the show for me, really beautiful birds, unmistakably pigeons but so different from those we are all familiar with. I wasn't able to snap the thick-billed pigeon which is a sublimely beautiful bird, but the other two birds were much more obliging given my limited photographic ability and range.

Mountain imperial pigeon, ducula badia, Kaeng Krachan, 30.12.09

Little cuckoo-dove, macropygia ruficeps, Kaeng Krachan, 30.12.09

There were small numbers of white-hooded babblers which seemed to be everywhere except in my sights. No sooner had I got its head in view than off it went. Very frustrating indeed, but another new species to add to my list! The hill blue flycatcher is a beautiful bird and worthy of note but was already on my list from earlier this year when I chanced upon it in Doi Inthanon, in the north of Thailand; likewise with the dark-sided flycatcher, I knew it immediately from an earlier sighting in Doi Chiang Dao,  also in the north of the country. I was very pleased in both instances when our guide, Mr Peeyat, confirmed these birds' respective identities because as a novice I always have lingering doubts about correctly identifying some of the species in these more intricate, complex genera. 

There was an abundance of flavescent bulbuls at Panoen Tung. These provided an excellent opportunity for me to practise my nascent wildlife photography skills.

Flavescent bulbul, pycnonotus flavescens, Kaeng Krachan 30.12.09

Throughout the day we also saw a fair few blue-throated bulbul and I even managed to get a couple of decent shots of one.

Blue-throated barbet, megalaima asiatica, Kaeng Krachan 30.12.09

The undoubted highlight of the day was a brief sighting of an orange-breasted trogon. Mr Peeyat found the bird and I was fortunate enough to get my bins on its upperside, its back, which seemed to blend perfectly into the colour of the branch upon which it was perched. The distinctive barring on the trogon's coverts actually made it possible to distinguish the bird from timber. Without Mr Peeyat I would not have been able to separate it from other trogons. Unfortunately the trogon flew off as I was trying to get it in the scope! I really would have liked to get a head on shot of it. Anyhow I have now had a close look at the trogons in my fieldbooks so, like the leafbirds above, I'll be much better prepared for the next time.....if there is one!

In the afternoon I spotted a lesser racket-tailed drongo for the first time. I didn't think it was a drongo at first because in shape its body seems much more angled than other drongos, in fact reminiscent of a paradise fly catcher, and it had a small distinctive blue diamond patch on its mantle. Mr Peeyat confirmed it as the lesser racket-tailed drongo. Throughout the afternoon we added ashy bulbul, buff-vented bulbul, ochraceous bulbul, pied fantail, green-billed malkoha, yellow-vented warbler, golden babbler, white-breasted waterhen, black-headed bulbul, two-barred warbler, red jungle hen, little egret, chinese pond heron &amp, indian roller to our list for the day. We also saw a fair number of monkeys, gibbons, squirrels and other small mammals.

In total we saw 41 species with a number of unidentified hornbills plus one raptor, an eagle, that flashed past us overhead, shrikes, babblers, bulbuls and ground birds. We saw movement of big birds in the canopy of distant trees, probably oriental pied hornbills, but not enough to confirm a definite, unequivocal sighting. I was very pleased with the day notwithstanding the absence of hornbills and other birds like woodpeckers and raptors. It's good to get to work on the smaller species though I am not sure that I will immediately be able to identify some of the smaller birds we saw. Of the 41 species we saw 21 were "firsts" for me so in terms of my list it was a very productive day.

As before we stayed at Baan Maka and for this trip we were joined by our Canadian buddies, Julia & Greg, who had expressed an interest in visiting the park and seeing some of its birds and fauna. I would find it difficult to think of anywhere which is quite as restful, peaceful and idyllic as Baan Maka. It really is a paradise, set in beautiful grounds which contain many species of birds and a wide range of beautiful plants, shrubs and trees abutting onto a small lake. The accommodation is in a series of different sized bungalows, basic but comfortable and everything is clean and works.  They serve good food and will prepare a packed lunch as well. They will also organise a guide and transportation into the park at pretty reasonable rates and it is through them that we secured the services of the excellent Mr Peeyat; we had used him on our previous trip to Kaeng Krachan. Mr Peeyat doesn't speak much English but he knows the names of the birds and he knows his way around the park like the back of his hand.

Baan Maka has a resident pied hornbill, a most entertaining and sociable fellow who can be a bit scary to the uninitiated. Basically this is a rescue bird who would not be able to survive in the wild. He likes to have a peck at toes, and also enjoys being stroked! He also gets very antsy when he sees the yellow of eggs!

On the Friday morning I spent an hour looking at the birds in the grounds which included a new species for me in bar-winged flycatcher shrike. On our drive home we stopped to view five raptors that were hovering in the sky...... all with white bodies and distinctive black heads and some black visible on their uppersides. I can only assume they were male pied harriers but I have some doubt. Further down the road we added a new species as Luna ordered me to stop and reverse and then pointed me to a shikra  perched in the trees. I tell you Luna has an astonishingly good eye, it amazes me she saw this bird because even when we had stopped it was by no means obvious.

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