It was a greyish, cool morning and I resolved that I was going to try to make it to the higher ground. I stopped, however, to view three very elegant female jungle fowl walking along the road which was generously covered in large mounds of elephant dung.These girls are not quite as striking as the males with their flamboyant yellow hackles, but nevertheless good looking birds;a car with a couple of western birders slowed to have a look and moved on without too much hanging around. A little bit later I stopped to view some unidentified birds. My notes say of one a "..largish bill, brown head and neck then yellowish breast and belly, pink legs and a sharp call". 24 hours later I cannot make an identification. I have to own that there were a significant number of unidentified birds today, at least twenty!
Alas my truck could not negotiate the final section of the road to the summit station and I had to reverse down for a hair raising half kilometre and ended up spending the greater part of the day between Ban Krung, the mid-station so to speak and Stream 3 as it is known. This actually worked out very well but at the onset I had some doubts especially when 2 tailorbirds started to dart around the lower scrub. I thought maybe these are mountain tailorbirds and consulted the fieldbook (Robson) and saw there was also a dark-necked tailorbird, new one to me I hasten to add, so when I restored my eyes to the optics the birds had legged it!All I can say is I do not think they were common tailorbirds!
Throughout the day I had good views of emerald doves feeding on the road and this was the first bird I saw after the tailorbirds. I then managed to snatch a very quick view of an aerial great hornbill flying high above the canopy. The striking feature which made identification possible was the white band across its wings. It always feels good to see a hornbill in the jungle. Soon after I sighted a dusky broadbill in the trees. What an astonishing looking bird, straight out of Walt Disney. This bird didn't hang around for very long but was unmistakable due to its enormous red bill plus what Robson describes as its "beige bib".
A few minutes later I was joined briefly by the birders who had passed me earlier in the day, a Swedish couple led by Mr Piyat, a local guide whom we have engaged in the past. They had just seen blue pitta near where I had seen the tailorbirds and told me there were also reports of hooded pitta being in the area.Mr Piyat had overtaken me on the way up the mountain and was amused but not surprised that my vehicle had not made it to the top.
I had some nice views of greater flameback, an asian pardise flycatcher, some sultan tits involved in very vigorous courting, ochraceous bulbul and a good few unidentifieds including a barbet, and to be frank had I taken a better description I would have been able to name it. As much as the birds I was just enjoying being in the forest and walking up and down the track at my leisure, catching glimpses and hearing the sounds of the birds and other animals around me. Plus I have been suffering from an unending series of respiratory infections recently and it felt great to be breathing in good, clean forest air.
I went down to the ranger station in pursuit of lunch and one of the rangers said there was no food. Another problem, I thought, as I was hoping to spend the entire day in the park. He then asked me if I wanted some rice, and an omelette and I said :"Sure" and he went off and made this with his own fair hand and served it up with a bottle of water and some chilli sauce. When I went to pay him he refused to take my money and in that nice Thai way smiled and said "Mai bpen rai". Now I am often critical of tourist type services in Thailand but this definitely ranks as one of the great things about Thailand: the sudden, unexpected generosity and kindness of people. These are the people, and there are a good few of them, that have built Thailand's reputation as a great place to vist. So thank you Mr Ranger. He steered me towards Stream 3 as I decided I would like to pursue kingfishers in the afternoon.
I was very happy walking upand down the streams and was in no particular hurry. There were plenty of decent birds, more flamebacks and sultan tits, but no kingfishers. I wasn't concerned about what I saw. I got excited when I saw a green dove with a brown upper body and thought this must be something new as it is was not an emerald dove. Robson quickly confirmed it to be the female emerald dove and what a nice bird she was to. Also good to be able to distinguish some of these male and females. I tried looking for the blue pitta but drew no luck there.
Later in the afternoon I bumped into Mr Piyat and his clients again. We had a good view of more flamebacks and they went off looking for kingfishers. I went into the forest and managed to get cover behind a tree where I got some great views of what I thought was a greater flameback. I thought this until tonight, Tuesday, when I looked at my photographs and compared them with the drawings in Robson. There is no doubt that I photographed a grey-headed woodpecker, a lifer no less and not a common or garden bird either! And while I have only looked at the photos in the camera display they look reasonable and are certainly good enough to support this identification.
Mr Piyat and his clients then came into the forest convinced they could hear hooded pitta and a few minutes later we caught a few glimpses of this really striking bird on the forest floor. The colours are amazing, a pastel green body with turquoise topped wings and lower back, and a black head with a brown crown. Once more, straight out of Disney. Another lifer no less. Talk about good fortune on the one hand, combined with laughable ineptitude on the other. I hung around in a vain attempt to get a photograph of the pitta but he didn't prevail and I really didn't want to cause the bird any distress. I was amazed that the Swedish guy literally saw the hooded pitta and then made his farewells and off they went. I felt very relieved in fact that I am not under any pressure to get birds in the bag, so to speak. I also thought maybe this guy is a somebody in the scientific community, because he spoke impeccable English with a very plummy accent and he did say he was on his way to a conference in Singapore. Anyway my apologies if I didn't treat you with due deference and respect!
I began the drive out of the park very content with my day's birding. I stopped at one of the bridges and had a good view of what I thought was a greater flameback but just thought I should check the book to be sure. And of course there is the possibility that it might have been a common flameback. You know that kind of sums up the day. I really need to do some preparation so that when I see birds for a few seconds I can be much sharper on my identification. But for me it was a great day, just what I needed. And I took the wrong road out of the park but it was headed to Petchaburi and it took me straight to the road I take to get home and it cut about 30 minutes off my drive, completely avoiding the very avoidable town of Kaeng Krachan. I made it door to door in 90 minutes.This means I'll go back in about a month and I think I will engage Mr Piyat with his motor so we can get to the upper area.
My notebook has been repaired and is ready for collection in Bangkok where we are headed this weekend. I'll post the pics of the grey-headed woodpecker some time next week. Not a brilliant pic but it will do!
grey-headed woodpecker, Kaeng Krachan, 19th July 2010