Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Disaster at Kaeng Krachan

Brown Hornbill

In the final analysis I am grateful to be home safe and sound, at worst a little out of pocket following my day yesterday in Kaeng Krachan National Park. It could have been so different. Energised by seeing two lifers in quick succession, Silver-breasted Broadbill and Brown Hornbill, I decided I was going to head up to Km 27 in search of further goodies. A couple of other birders told me my truck would make it. I knew from a previous attempt that it was unlikely. Foolhardily I decided to give it a go. I made it up the mountain as far as Km 20 and then the truck conked out. In retrospect I was lucky because the clutch might have gone while I was on the slope and that could have left me struggling to control the vehicle on a steep, narrow uphill slope  - that is a scary thought as I might have ended up rolling off the road down the mountainside. Plus the engine was on the point of overheating..... so a lucky escape, I rather fancy

Kalij Pheasant

The recovery however is a classic example of just how wonderful the Thais can be. A passing driver, and there weren't many about yesterday as the park was very quiet plus it was late afternoon, picked me up and drove me down the mountain. Thank God he did because otherwise I might be still up that mountain! Park officials hardly raised an eyebrow when advised of my predicament. They said there was no problem removing the truck in the morning. The driver was taking a small group back to their resort  so we went there first. Next to a garage in Kaeng Krachan village where a mechanic said he would collect my truck in the morning and fix it. He too was unfazed about heading up the mountain and bringing the vehicle down. The classic British line : "This is going to cost you" accompanied by a gleeful smile and greedy, rubbing hands, didn't materialise! The mechanic estimated between six and seven thousand baht in total and that includes repairs. That sounded like a good price so I left my keys with him and said I would see him tomorrow afternoon. Then the guy drove me home to Ratchaburi, about 100 km away. Does it get better than this? If so, pray tell. Now I haven't got the truck back so perhaps I'd better be a little circumspect with the praise until then.

Kalij Pheasant - female

An annoying end to an otherwise great day's birding. This was to mark my first day on holiday after a long, tiring and demanding academic year. I felt I deserved a treat! I have said before that I don't visit Kaeng Krachan often enough and notwithstanding today's problems I must do so more often as the quality of birding is of the highest order. My first species of the day, a few kilometres after entering the park, was a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher a really cracking looking bird. Next up in the same area came an Asian Brown Flycatcher and a Common Tailorbird. This latter immediately posed a question: could the tailorbird be a Dark-throated? This one definitely wasn't as there was no evidence of a dark throat, funnily enough, but it made me mindful especially as one that might be flew into the understory. It had dark central streaking in the throat area. So I had a quick study of the field guide and decided that to claim it I needed the dark throat and the absence of the Common's supercilium. So I couldn't claim this one as I hadn't been able to resolve the supercilium issue.

Kalij Pheasant - male

As I drove around a corner at the 5 km marker I noticed four large pheasants on the road. I managed to stop without scaring them and reckoned these were Silver Pheasants, a foursome of two males and two females. I even managed some shots in very poor light. No Silver Pheasant, no lifer. These confirm Kalij Pheasant, of the lineata crawfordii sub-species. (Thanks to Steve Pryor from Birdforum for clarifying this; he also advised that there is some contention about how Silver and Kalij and their sub-species are split. ) So looks like I am still going to have to go to Chiang Dao in pursuit of Neil Lawton's Silver Pheasant! 


I deliberately took my time and drove slowly stopping all the time to check birds. A lot of the more common species but great fun and it appeared that I had the lower reaches of the park to myself. There were a few  White-rumped Shamas  and lots of Orioles flying around.  I stopped to view a female Sambar standing near a bridge, a first and also the first time I have seen a large mammal in the park. She didn't let me get the digiscope on her. As soon as she sensed movement she turned back into the forest. At the same bridge I managed to claim lifer ♯313, Dark-throated Tailorbird: unmistakable dark streaking on its throat and no supercilium. An Emerald Dove briefly showed for a drink of water and a Sultan Tit was nearby too but wouldn't sit still for the photograph!  

I noticed a lot of bulbul species: Streak-eared Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul and Ochraceous Bulbul. It's been some time since I last saw Ochraceous so I needed to study the field guide  to call it. I was thinking it might be a babbler species with its crest and white beard but it was really all wrong. There were more than a few unidentified species including warblers. That's the nature of birding as the little creatures flash past. A Dollarbird posed for me high up in a dead tree.

Yellow  Grey Wagtail
(Thanks to Pete Kinsella for the correction)

I made it after about two and half hours to Ban Krang camp which was always my plan: stay low and concentrate on the action before reaching the high ground. On arrival at Ban Krang a Pied Hornbill was showing well in the trees at the rear but otherwise there wasn't much of note. I drove along the track to to the rising ground, just past the third stream and all I could muster was a Green Magpie and some Black-naped Monarchs. I decided it was time to have a snooze as I was feeling quite tired.

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo

An hour or so later I traversed the lower ground and caught a glimpse of some pheasants but they scarpered pretty quickly into the undergrowth. Then something quite amazing happened. A truck pulled up out of which emerged four birders, including two Taiwanese birders who I met the last time I was here in May 2011. We shook hands because we remembered each other. Last time these guys put us on Black-backed Kingfisher; this year they were in pursuit of Banded Kingfisher. Sure enough on their arrival the birds came out. First a small wave of approximately five  Silver-breasted Broadbill,, lifer ♯314. Now these are stunning beautiful birds, looking as if they were designed by cartoon artists.

I bade farewell to my Taiwanese friends saying I would see them next year! No sooner had they gone than I got views of a Brown Hornbill, lifer ♯315, at a nest in a hollow in a tree. I presume it was feeding but I can't be sure as I didn't see any sign of a chick. A Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo posed for me. Then high in the canopy I observed a woodpecker, all green with what appeared to be a fluorescent yellow crest. A new species, a Yellownape. However I can't make any claims as it might be Greater or Lesser; it didn't hang around long enough for me to check out any more detail. Its yellow nape was the key feature that stood out.....it really was glowing. I would say that on size it was probably a Greater. In much the same way as with Dark-sided Tailorbird, I'll need to wait until I see it again: then I'll know what I am looking for.

So I thought to myself: I am going to go for it, I am going to go up that mountain and I am going to find the Long-tailed Broadbills. Sadly it was not to be. I did however manage to observe Fork-tailed Swift, lifer ♯316. This was a large swift, really obvious long wings, with a clearly visible fork tail and if it is not Fork-tailed then I cannot see what it else it could be. The alternative would be Dark-rumped described by Lekagul and Round, A Guide to the Birds of Thailand, as a "very rare winter visitor; little known." There was a small group of 7 or 8 of these birds mixed up with other smaller swifts so I am pretty confident in this claim.

I took some shots but I have to say, and I have said this before, forests are far from ideal for digiscoping. I think a good DSLR or 4/3 camera with a 400 mm lens would be the best solution in such a habitat. Light is constantly an issue in that it is rarely adequate, plus the birds do tend to be on the move so an ability to change settings rapidly is important. Digiscoping doesn't really allow this. Sure you can change settings but it takes more time to get the bird in the viewfinder and get focus: take more time to adjust settings and the likelihood is the bird will have flown! I'll post the better shots when I have some time.

Another excellent day's birding and while I am disappointed about the truck I'll be philosophical and be grateful that I am unscathed, notwithstanding my rashness.


  1. Sorry about the truck Gerry! FYI my current thinking on camera set ups for forst birding at the new Nikon V1 mirrorless camera coupled with a 70-200 f2.8 zoom. The V1 has a massive 2.7 crop factor, so you get lots of reach whilst keeping the f2.8 which means the lens is great in low light (now I just need to save my pennies!).

    1. Dave the truck has been effortlessly repaired for a pittance. Unbelievable really. Interesting what you say about the Nikon V1; this camera is getting rave reviews in the digiscoping community. Ultimately I want to have one system which I can use for digiscoping and then have the option of using it handheld in situations where the light is poor and/ or the where the birds are moving. So I am with you on the camera and the f2.8 aperture of the lens would be a huge asset in low light.

  2. Hello, some superb pics there, brings back great memories of my recent trip to Thailand.I think that the picture of the "Yellow" Wagtail is actually a Grey Wagtail.Keep up the good work with the blog,

    cheers, Pete.

    1. Pete thanks and good call. I really thought it was Yellow, didn't stop to consider anything else. Your correction made me take a look at the field guide and quite clearly it is Grey - longer tail, no green on the upper etc. So thank you and thanks for your kind comment on the pics.