Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Bang Pu & Khao Yai Part 1

Little Heron

It was nice to be able to combine birding with a bit of a family break and to be able to share the experience with Wayne Hodgkinson, ( aka Kiwi Guy on Birdforum) and his son, Luke, who is the same age as my son, and Zoom, Wayne's family helper. Wayne flew in from Vietnam Friday night and we picked them up at the airport and had a night in a nearby hotel; an unremarkable hotel save for the fact that it lacked a lift which is a pain when they put you on the third floor and in addition to small persons you have a lot of baggage. The plan was to do a bit of birding in Khao Yai National Park but also to make it a bit of a holiday for our families.

Brown-headed Gull

Saturday morning at first light we hit Bang Pu on the Inner Gulf at Samut Prakhan. This too was fairly unremarkable but I did manage lifer ⌗323, Oriental White-eye, a pair of which were feverishly feeding in shrubs adjacent to the entrance to the nature reserve. There were lots of good birds around and the usual flocks of Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls, but nothing exotic. The nature reserve looks quite new with concrete paths providing easy access around the swamp and mangroves. It may pay to spend some time here now that there is easy access. We also parked ourselves in the hide on the mudflats and a few interesting species posed briefly: Golden Gerygone and the above Little Heron. The latter can be a hard bird to photograph by virtue of the difficulty in getting close.

Brown-headed Gull - assuming breeding plumage

Saturday, late morning, we set off for Pak Chong where I had located what I thought would be an interesting resort, a little bit removed from the main tourist areas. Soon after our arrival we were sad to find the resort staff were trapping birds and had a couple of mist nets set up; a cage held a Lineated Barbet. A walk round the grounds showed there were quail present, possibly a Rain Quail, and the rasping sound of a Chinese Francolin could also be heard. The next day a Shikra stoppped briefly on a dead tree. Clearly there were some good birds around.
Brown-headed Gull - breeding plumage

There were a few other issues with the resort so I won't be naming it or making any recommendations. I did have a word with the management and they appeared to be genuinely interested and concerned. I made some suggestions about how they might make the place attractive to bird watchers by exploring the construction of a hide. Again they were interested and asked for information which I have provided in the form of this interesting article. We shall see what progress they make.

Common Flameback

In real terms there is nothing unusual in this type of persecution. It is a fact that it happens and the reason for it is really people just don't know any better. I suspect in this instance that the people are seeking free food; strange to think of humans eating Lineated Barbet and White-throated Kingfisher.

Banded Kingfisher - male

So to Khao Yai National Park, the "big hill". I had never been in Pak Chong before and had only once before visited the national park, entering from Prachinburi on a day trip. I had been advised against approaching from the south east as the main birding areas are most easily accessed from Pak Chong and coming in from the south means longer drives in the park. Pak Chong is a pleasant enough town with all the usual facilities and would probably make a pleasant base as opposed to the numerous resorts that line the main approach from Pak Chong to the park entrance.

Banded Kingfisher - female

I was shocked to see that the entrance fee to the park for foreigners was 400 THB. My Thai drivers license and work ID card got me in at the local rate of 40 THB, ten times less. Ouch for Wayne! Phew, I thought, because my drivers' license and work ID doesn't work at Kaeng Krachan where I have to pay the 200 THB "foreigner" rate. If they had insisted I pay the "foreigner" rate I might have been tempted to turn around.

I must stress this is a "Western" tax, not a "foreigner" tax, but the notice is headed "foreigner": my wife and Zoom, respectively Filipino and Vietnamese, "foreigners" but not Thai, were charged at the local rate when we entered the park en famille the following day; no questions asked. In real terms I have little problem with Western tourists paying more but I do believe ten times more is excessive and oppressive. Whatever, the park is fantastic. Access is good, the roads are sealed and well maintained, there is good signage and there are good, reasonably priced facilities.......and birds, wildlife and trees and plants abound.

Our first stop after a pre-dawn start was at Km 33, except it wasn't! The layby was a little before. I think I had been prejudiced by a trip report I read which bemoaned the congestion in the park and the difficulties in stopping and parking. So in the absence of signage I stopped at this lay by, thinking it was Km 33. It was a good place to stop as we were able to take a slow,gentle walk about. There were plenty of birds on the move. In fairness, though, it was difficult to identify much as the birds were high up and moving rapidly. Plus, we were rather hoping for some pheasants and partridges to come out of the trees and walk across the road.

Nothing remarkable to note but I did succeed in identifying lifer ⌗324, a Striped Tit Babbler, a small flock of which moved through the understory. The sound of some crowing Red Junglefowl drew me down the hill from the layby where I managed to pick up, from sound, a pair of Common Flamebacks which I managed to locate working their way up a tree trunk. I managed a bad shot. One Red Junglefowl flew across the road but it did not bring anything more interesting with it. It was at this point I saw a sign saying the Km 33 lay by was 100 m away and so we decided to head to it as this provides access to a favoured birding area.

We walked a little along the trail at the layby and there were plenty of birds on the move but once more they were difficult to identify, an Asian Fairy Blue-bird perching just above us; a flock of Lesser Necklaced Laughing-thrush  passed through very noisily;we decided this would be an ideal location for an early start and retreated back to the truck to proceed further into the park and get some brunch. En route we were alerted to a largish group of photographers so stopped and established that there was a male Banded Kingfisher servicing a nest. The kingfisher was showing well but a little inside the forest so not ideally lit. My rig, however, gave me enough reach and thanks to the tripod and the fact that the bird was sitting rigidly still, I managed to get a few shots of the male, lifer ⌗325, no less; a stunning looking bird and a really unexpected find. A further factor with my rig is that the scope is angled and this sometimes really works in my favour. This was one of these times and so I was able to get some decent shots.

As we progressed through the park on our way to Pa Gluai campsite we also saw a lot of wild life -  Samburs and Red Muntjacs and lots of macaques. We had a scout around the stake outs at the campsite but nothing to get excited about. So we had some early lunch and a nice cool drink. We had agreed to go gently and allow some time each day for our respective paternal responsibilities as well as not pissing off the women so we decided to head back leisurely.

On our way home we stopped once more at the Banded Kingfisher site and this time we were rewarded by the presence of the female; she was perched nearer to the roadside and in much better light. So I got a couple of decent shots. That is all it takes: one bird and a decent shot and this birder is happy. We met a guide at the site, Isara, who had dropped by to photograph the Banded Kingfisher. I was quite impressed with his knowledge and obvious interest in birds and so we took his phone number. I mean it was self-evident Khao Yai is a big, big place and a challenging place to get around and find the birding sites.


  1. Hey Gerry, thanks for an awesome blog. You will love the watch tower overlooking the lake if you ever get back there. Lots of birds flying through.Take care friend, Damo

  2. Thanks Damo, it is an amazing place, I feel smitten.