A Friday public holiday saw me up at 03:00h in order to be at the gates of Kaeng Krachan National Park for opening time at 05:30h. What a lucky man! I made it on time and met Tom Backlund just before 05:30h as arranged and off we went into the gloom of the forest.
Thank goodness Thailand had the foresight to declare this area a national park in 1981 and give it protection: otherwise it would have been destroyed by now, plain and simple, its great biodiversity gone. I am also grateful that I had the good fortune to get interested in birds. I would have hated to miss out on days like today on both counts.
There were plenty of birds around as day broke and I soon managed a lifer in the very distinctive looking Blue-bearded Bee-eater... dare I say it, a pretty ugly and unattractive bird! Even though the bee-eater was posing for me I didn't manage a shot of it until late in the day. As far as photography was concerned for much of the day I had the goal keeper's equivalent of being unable to catch a cold. It seemed as though the simplest shots were just too much. I was taking too much time and then the cable release I use on the rig broke! This meant I had to switch to using a remote shutter release which involved a little bit of a learning curve. It is not as fast as the cable so I missed a few shots. A further factor is a digiscope rig is far from ideal in a forest setting. Forest means low light and digiscoping requires the opposite.
Asian Blue Fairybird
Some of the more common babbler species, identified by Tom as Striped Tit and Rufous-Fronted, passed through in small flocks but I am not going to claim them as I really didn't get a good enough look and wouldn't be able to recognise them as I would the Blue-bearded Bee-eater. However there were plenty of good birds - including a lot of Green-billed Malkohas, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-wattled Lapwing, Streak-earred Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, an unidientified raptor, possibly an (Oriental Honey Buzzard).
We took our time and worked our way to Ban Krang which was very quiet - only one tent pitched. I took a walk in the direction of the Youth Camp and as I approached the river crossing I flushed a Cinnamon Bittern which was very unexpected. Almost immediately Tom identified a Green Magpie in the understory and then out came a Blue-winged Pitta which really was a visual feast of colour....... ochre-breasted, red lower belly and undertail coverts, green uppers with a blue lateral wing stripe. The pitta genus is truly spectacular even if this particular species is one of the more common. Unfortunately I didn't manage a shot but I did manage a good look and this enable me to record a good mental description. Both the magpie and the pitta are lifers. There were also a number of very exuberant and melodious White-rumped Shamas and a couple of hairy Spangled Drongos.
Unknown butterfly species
After this we spent the rest of the day in and around the streams just above Ban Krang camp. Last year I saw Hooded Pitta and a Grey-headed Woodpecker here. Tom reckons we heard Giant and Blue Pitta calling but we did not manage to see anything. The park authorities have taped off some sections in this area to minimise disruption to nests. We had good views of a Dusky Broadbill servicing a nest overhanging the path and we saw more Babblers, Black-naped Monarchs, a Sultan Tit, an Emerald Dove, Ochraceous Bulbuls and another Blue-bearded Bee-eater. We also had views of two soaring Crested Serpent Eagles.
Damselfly - aristocypha fenestrella
We bumped into Mr Peeyat, a Thai bird guide, with a couple of clients visiting from Taiwan. We managed to spot a Common Flameback and Asian Blue Fairybird in this area. Our friends had just scored with Trogons and were in pursuit of Black-backed Kingfishers which were reported to be showing well near a nest. We tagged along. The theory was that the Kingfishers were perching on a branch of bamboo straddling the stream, next to the road, before progressing to the nest. We went to the location and waited for 30 minutes or so but drew a blank. There was an Asian Barred Owlet high up in the trees but not much else. So we decided to head back to Ban Krang for some lunch. On our way back Tom spotted a Silver-breasted Broadbill, which he went to great lengths to locate for me, but it literally went when I finally located it with my bins. I can't claim this one either! What I do know is that it is a much smaller bird than I was expecting.
Black-backed Kingfisher - a blooper
After lunch we returned to the Kingfisher stake-out and our friends were still there and reported the Kingfishers had obliged on three occasions and that they were expecting them again imminently. Sure enough one came and perched on the bamboo branch but to my frustration it was partially hidden by leaves. But what a stunning ball of beautiful colour. I think the shots tell their own story.
We saw two birds on about four occasions over a period of about an hour, a male and a female, carrying prey. I managed a couple of shots as you can see but these were really hard work as light conditions meant longish exposures. So I have a few blurred shots. The birds perched for only 3 or 4 seconds, made a quick check and then flew off in the direction of the nest.
So it was tight: getting the bird in the viewfinder, focussing and then pressing the remote shutter release; this latter manoeuvre was by no means as spontaneous as the cable release and I rather fancy I would have got better shots had I been able to use it. Of course my best shot was spoiled by a branch as you can see! However I can live with these shots and may even be able to do a little bit of creative editing with Photoshop. In the great scheme of things these shots are truly beyond my wildest dreams when compared to my best efforts this time last year.
We then headed back down the mountain to Ban Krang and Tom decided to head home. I decided to go back for a bit more and was rewarded with a perched Blue-bearded Bee-eater which I was able to photograph and a couple of female Red Junglefowl taking their latest offspring for a walk. But I was pretty exhausted too so headed home about 17:00h, my decision made easier by bad light and rain.
Tom described it as a good day characterised by quality birds. I would agree with this and also his comment that May, June and July can be the best months to visit Kaeng Krachan. I am glad to record four new lifers as well and I have to say I am very pleased with my shots of the Black-backed Kingfishers taken on a day when I was struggling with the camera.
All images in this blog entry were digiscoped at Kaeng Krachan National Park, Friday 13.05.11