Friday, 6 May 2011

Not Ko Tao!

Yesterday's day trip to Ko Tao was interesting in an unexpected sort of way! We didn't actually make it but only got as far as Ko Nang Yuan, a small island at the northern most point of Ko Tao, a rather highly developed and expensive diving resort. On the bird front great views of a high soaring White-bellied Sea-eagle, what I thought was an Oriental Honey Buzzard, some Black-naped Terns and a very obliging Pacific Reef Egret,(dark morph). My doubts about the buzzard were based on not knowing if this species would be found above a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. A brief scan online suggests the Oriental Honey Buzzard's presence here could not be discounted. No photographs as I was aboard a boat at the time; I tried but I just couldn't get the bird in the view finder!

The reef egret is very hard to photograph. First of all it is impossible to get close, it is a very sensitive bird and takes off at the slightest disturbance. I think its colour makes it difficult to get correct exposure plus it helps to disguise itself. I never appreciated this species had such long necks!

The return to Chumphon revealed some unidentified pelagic birds. Our fast moving catamaran passed a small flock of at least 10, possibly as many as fifteen, birds in a feeding frenzy. I was some way off so it was impossible to get a good ID. The most distinct characteristic I could see was white underparts with a dark fringe: possibly Bridled Terns, but possibly Brown Boobies. There is absolutely no way I could claim anything but I was really pleased to be able to see what were clearly pelagic birds.

I have to say our day trip saddened me a little. It exposed us to a part of Thailand we know exists but don't encounter too often. The bus which transferred passengers from the ferry to the railway station in Chumphon terminated short of the destination. An announcement was made to the effect that passengers could use a nearby restaurant with a wash room and wifi with a free taxi to the station in time for the Bangkok service that evening. So clearly a scam to entice people to use a restaurant presumably with super-inflated prices.........and who knows what else.

As day trippers we were taken back to the railway station for transport back to our hotel. The railway station was about 750 metres from where our fellow passengers were deposited.....but they wouldn't know this, would they?! We bought a package which included picking up and dropping off. But there was no transport for us and we were offered a 1,000 baht tuktuk for the 10 minute ride to our resort. This was about 18:00h and we had been up since about 04:30h plus we had our  22 month-old baby boy with us. We firmly told our hosts to sort it out and remarkably they did; they raised the driver from his house and we got dropped back to our hotel.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. What I would say is to be very careful about costs and services if you are contemplating a do-it-yourself birding trip.  I was reading the locally produced guide to Ko Tao last night and it suggested there was no need to become hostile and aggressive about overcharging. The fact that this is included in such a publication, unusually written in flawless English I hasten to add, tells me this is a big problem. So be advised - make sure you get what was agreed upon and check the price of everything before you order. Remember you have the right to say no and also it is very difficult in Thailand to get your money back if you are not happy with a service. Caveat emptor!

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