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Southwest Thailand: 22-28 Dec 2014


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22 - 28 Dec 2014.
Mixed, with rain and cloud. Temperatures from pleasant to very hot, especially offshore.
Ko Phi Phi, Laem Pakarang, Sri Phang-nga National Park, Ko Ra - Ko Phra Thong National Park, Mu Ko Surin National Park and Thai Mueang.

With Ian Dugdale, Games Punjapa Petsri, Markku Tunturi and Anne Idman. The trip itinerary was based on Markku's hit list that, with him having visited Thailand several times previously, was somewhat minimal and contained a fair number of difficult species.

21 Dec. Took the newly introduced, Bangkok Airways flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket, arriving on time at 16:25. A taxi from the airport to Rawai at the southern end of the island, for the fixed price of 900 Baht, showed that the taxi mafia still operate unhindered in Phuket. Despite being December, weather miserable - cool, heavy cloud and plenty of rain - not looking particularly promising for a couple of days on boats! Met up with Ian, Games, Markku and Anne with an overnight at the newly opened Windmill Hotel.

22 Dec. Cloudy with light rain at daybreak. A leisurely start to the pier in town for the 11:00 ferry to Phi Phi island that, surprisingly, was only five minutes late departing. The two hour crossing was totally uneventful for birds, save for Common Tern, a couple of Bridled Tern, and an unidentified frigatebird. As a first time visitor, the approach to Phi Phi was quite depressing with the island seemingly packed with speeding vessels and tourist boats, coupled with the rank commercialisation that has overtaken this island. Disembarked and paid the 20 Baht "Phi Phi clean up fee" which no doubt goes straight into someone's pocket. The atmosphere is more akin to a party scene than a national park. Walked to our pre-booked accommodation, past large numbers of caged White-rumped Shamas, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Brahminy Kites, macaques, Common Hill Mynas and Pied Imperial Pigeons. The number of domestic cats was notably huge, and must be the highest density in Thailand. A quick lunch and then back to the pier to organise a boat to the rocks of Ko Pida Nai and Ko Pida Nork, that serve as the nightly frigatebird roost. The boatmen were hardly falling over themselves to do business and disinterested would about sum up their general attitude.

Great Frigatebird
Great Frigatebird (South Thailand Birding)

Crab Olover
Crab Plover

The continually overcast skies and showers evidently didn't do much for interest either. Having secured a boatman for 2,000 Baht, it was a 30 minute ride in choppy waters to arrive at the rocks, where we needed to shelter in the leeward side to avoid the heavy chop and wind. Frigatebird numbers began to built, and over the next hour or so an impressive count of around one thousand was in evidence. The poor light and constant showers did not help identification nor photography. As expected almost all were Lesser Frigatebird with a smattering of Christmas Frigatebird, and by some great fortune a single male Great Frigatebird was identified.

23 Dec. We took the 09:00 ferry back to Phuket. Cloudy, but at least no rain. Sea conditions were much rougher than yesterday, and despite this being a large ferry a number of passengers were ill. Having docked at 11:15 it took us another 45 minutes to drive off the island, from where we headed north toward Khuraburi, stopping at Laem Pakarang en route. Here our luck continued as we unexpectedly relocated the Crab-plover that had been seen three weeks earlier but apparently not stayed, as subsequent visits had failed to locate it. Overnight at the local Khun Tha resort north of Sri Phang-nga National Park. An after-dinner drive toward the coast found zero owls but we did find a single Dog-faced Water Snake in mangrove edge. The rain just about held off.

24 Dec. An overcast but dry day. We spent the morning around the Thung Cha-lee ranger station of Sri Phang-nga park. Van Hasselt's Sunbird was the pick of the morning, as well as Crow-billed Drongo, a small migration of both Japanese Sparrowhawk and Shikra, Wreathed Hornbill, a Rufous Piculet and a single Purple-naped Sunbird. As the continuing cloud enabled afternoon birding, we took a boat from Khuraburi pier across to Thung Nam Dam within the Ko Ra - Ko Phra Thong National Park.

This savanna and woodland looks similar to the habitat on Ko Phra Thong, and although probably never birded, it looked interesting on Google Earth. We took a longish walk, finishing off at a short stretch of mangrove on the eastern side, where we had splendid views of the highly elusive Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. The rest was not as good as hoped, but did include Pink-necked Green Pigeon and Orange-breasted Green Pigeon.

25 Dec. Was Santa going to bring us any presents today? Set out from Khuraburi pier to Mu Ko Surin at 09:05 - what is it with everything leaving five minutes behind schedule? A fast but very choppy trip, with birding just about impossible, although we did manage to identify two Bridled Tern close to the boat. On arrival at 10:30 we immediately secured one of the incredibly noisy, longtail boats. How such a peaceful island park allow such noise is quite amazing. We spent the next two hours pottering along the coast of the main and adjacent island in search of Beach Stone-curlew, our main target. However, this was not to be found. However, almost at the end we came across a single Great-billed Heron well camouflaged against rocks. Few Thai records of this species in recent years. Due to the heat of the day not too many other birds, but we also saw Pied Imperial Pigeon and Green Imperial Pigeon. Mid afternoon speedboat back to Khuraburi.

26 Dec. Overnight rain continuing into the morning, that found us at first light at Sri Phang-nga park. In addition to the miserable weather at least 200 scouts and guides were camped in the main camp site complete with blaring music and bongos. All in all not very conducive to hornbills and raptors, and having seen nothing in the first hour we walked to the waterfall and checked the trials and Malayan Banded Pitta feeding area. Little seen other than a passing Blue-banded Kingfisher, and as rain started at 11:00 we returned to the park restaurant for lunch. Shortly after the rain ceased which allowed us to go with one of the rangers to look for Gould's Frogmouth. Good he had some idea of where to look as we'd never have found it in several hours of looking. Mid afternoon we decided to check the forest around the Khu Rot ranger station, but rain curtailed our time there, with us calling it a day around 16:00.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Great-billed Heron
Great-billed Heron

Gould's Frogmouth
Gould's Frogmouth

Lesser Adjutant
Lesser Adjutant

Red-necked Keelback
Red-necked Keelback

27 Dec. With the owner of Khun Tha Resort mentioning to us that Lesser Adjutant was photographable on Ko Phra Thong, we decided to investigate with him. A short boat ride across to the southern end of the island from the local pier at Ban La Ong, at which a prearranged mini tractor cum cart cum shopping trolley was waiting to pick us up. With a top speed of maybe 10 km/h it took a fair while to get to the adjutant area, but indeed once there two pairs of Lesser Adjutant were feeding at a small pond in savanna forest. One pair were also nest building nearby. Quite an experience and a wonderful photo opportunity. For the next couple of hours we simply drove various tracks of the southern half of the island, finding at least eight more adjutant and a Booted Eagle. By mid day it was brutally hot so we rested, using the tsunami shelter both for shade and as a scanning platform. Around 15:00, although still hot we tried a short walk in the woodland and savanna finding few birds, but stumbled upon a Red-necked Keelback taking a frog. Late afternoon boat return.

28 Dec. A return to Sri Phang-nga at day break. A much better day weather-wise, and over breakfast at the campsite we had Great Hornbill and Blyth's Hawk-Eagle flying over the clearing. The rest of the morning was spent on a slow walk to the waterfall, with the weather slowly becoming hot. A nice selection of species including Rufous Piculet, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Swinhoe's Minivet, Crow-billed Drongo, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo.

Being a Sunday the area was starting to get busy as we left. A quick lunch at the park restaurant and onward to Takua Pa, where we dropped off Markku and Anne before continuing to Thai Mueang for a mid afternoon foray which produced Spotted Wood Owl but little else. Drop off at Phuket for Air Asia flight back to Chiang Mai.

Species List

  Ko Phi Phi Count   Thung Nam Dam Count
  Great Egret 1   Yellow Bittern 1
  Pacific Reef Heron 4   Striated Heron 2
  Christmas Frigatebird 4   Chinese Pond Heron 3
  Great Frigatebird 1   Brahminy Kite 10
  Lesser Frigatebird 1,000   White-bellied Sea Eagle 1
  Brahminy Kite 10   Grey-faced Buzzard 1
  White-bellied Sea Eagle 6   Red-wattled Lapwing 2
  Bridled Tern 2   Pin-tailed Snipe 1
  Common Tern 6   Spotted Dove 2
  Pied Imperial Pigeon 20   Pink-necked Green Pigeon 6
  Asian Koel 1   Orange-breasted Green Pigeon 2
  Plaintive Cuckoo 1   Greater Coucal 4
  Black-nest Swiftlet 500   Chestnut-bellied Malkoha 2
  Oriental Dollarbird 2   Asian Koel 3
  Black-naped Oriole 2   Germain's Swiftlet 30
  Pacific Swallow 4   Indian Roller 2
  Red-rumped Swallow 2   Oriental Dollarbird 2
  Common Myna 30   White-throated Kingfisher 2
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 2   Collared Kingfisher 1
  Olive-backed Sunbird 2   Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 2
        Lineated Barbet 3
  Laem Pakarang Count   Common Flameback 1
  Chinese Pond Heron 3   Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 3
  Eastern Cattle Egret 15   Common Iora 4
  Great Egret 1   Black-naped Oriole 6
  Little Egret 2   Black Drongo 6
  Pacific Reef Heron 4   Ashy Drongo 4
  Little Cormorant 1   Large-billed Crow 6
  Crab-plover 1   Stripe-throated Bulbul 2
  Grey Plover 4   Olive-winged Bulbul 4
  Lesser Sand Plover 10   Barn Swallow 20
  Greater Sand Plover 5   Pacific Swallow 6
  Bar-tailed Godwit 2   Red-rumped Swallow 1
  Whimbrel 5   Lanceolated Warbler 1
  Common Greenshank 2   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Terek Sandpiper 10   Taiga Flycatcher 2
  Ruddy Turnstone 2   Brown-throated Sunbird 2
  Red-necked Stint 20   Olive-backed Sunbird 3
  Little Tern 50      
  Spotted Dove 2   Mu Ko Surin Count
  Indian Roller 3   Great-billed Heron 1
  Collared Kingfisher 1   Pacific Reef Heron 1
        Oriental Honey Buzzard 3
  Sri Phang-nga Count   Brahminy Kite 20
  Chinese Pond Heron 35   Little Tern 1
  Little Cormorant 1   Bridled Tern 2
  Oriental Honey Buzzard 2   Common Tern 20
  Crested Serpent Eagle 5   Common Emerald Dove 1
  Blyth's Hawk-Eagle 2   Green Imperial Pigeon 1
  Crested Goshawk 1   Pied Imperial Pigeon 6
  Shikra 4   Asian Koel 1
  Japanese Sparrowhawk 6   Black-capped Kingfisher 2
  Common Sandpiper 1   Large-billed Crow 4
  Spotted Dove 2   Barn Swallow 3
  Thick-billed Green Pigeon 9   Common Hill Myna 2
  Greater Coucal 2   Common Myna 3
  Raffles's Malkoha 3   Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 2
  Chestnut-breasted Malkoha 2      
  Asian Koel 1   Ko Phra Thong Count
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 2   Lesser Adjutant 14
  Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1   Cinnamon Bittern 3
  Gould's Frogmouth 1   Striated Heron 2
  Grey-rumped Treeswift 20   Chinese Pond Heron 4
  Whiskered Treeswift 3   Eastern Cattle Egret 2
  Germain's Swiftlet 60   Great Egret 1
  Silver-rumped Spinetail 8   Little Cormorant 30
  Orange-breasted Trogon 2   Western Osprey 1
  Oriental Dollarbird 3   Black Baza 3
  Banded Kingfisher 3   Crested Serpent Eagle 1
  White-throated Kingfisher 2   Booted Eagle 1
  Blue-banded Kingfisher 1   Shikra 2
  Common Kingfisher 1   Eastern Marsh Harrier 1
  Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 9   Brahminy Kite 10
  Bushy-crested Hornbill 7   White-bellied Sea Eagle 1
  Great Hornbill 4   Grey-faced Buzzard 2
  Wreathed Hornbill 2   White-breasted Waterhen 2
  Golden-whiskered Barbet 6   Red-wattled Lapwing 6
  Red-throated Barbet 4   Pin-tailed Snipe 1
  Blue-eared Barbet 4   Common Sandpiper 2
  Rufous Piculet 2   Spotted Dove 10
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 3   Thick-billed Green Pigeon 2
  Vernal Hanging Parrot 2   Greater Coucal 5
  Black-and-yellow Broadbill 5   Indian Cuckoo 2
  Common Iora 3   Grey-rumped Treeswift 1
  Great Iora 1   Germain's Swiftlet 50
  Swinhoe's Minivet 35   Oriental Dollarbird 10
  Brown Shrike 1   White-throated Kingfisher 5
  Black-naped Oriole 9   Blue-tailed Bee-eater 6
  Ashy Drongo 2   Oriental Pied Hornbill 4
  Crow-billed Drongo 3   Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 2
  Black-naped Monarch 5   Common Flameback 1
  Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher 2   Vernal Hanging Parrot 10
  Large-billed Crow 4   Common Iora 4
  Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1   Brown Shrike 2
  Black-headed Bulbul 6   Black-naped Oriole 4
  Black-crested Bulbul 5   Black Drongo 30
  Streak-eared Bulbul 3   Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 2
  Spectacled Bulbul 1   Black-naped Monarch 1
  Ochraceous Bulbul 10   Stripe-throated Bulbul 4
  Baker's Bulbul 8   Yellow-vented Bulbul 1
  Barn Swallow 32   Olive-winged Bulbul 5
  Pacific Swallow 4   Streak-eared Bulbul 4
  Red-rumped Swallow 2   Barn Swallow 20
  Arctic Warbler 3   Pacific Swallow 6
  Two-barred Warbler 2   Arctic Warbler 1
  Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 9   Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1
  Eastern Crowned Warbler 9   Thick-billed Warbler 2
  Dark-necked Tailorbird 6   Lanceolated Warbler 1
  Grey-throated Babbler 4   Yellow-bellied Prinia 2
  Chestnut-winged Babbler 12   Common Myna 4
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 40   Asian Brown Flycatcher 4
  Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 6   Brown-throated Sunbird 6
  Abbott's Babbler 20   Olive-backed Sunbird 4
  Moustached Babbler 4   Forest Wagtail 1
  Asian Fairy-bluebird 8   Eastern Yellow Wagtail 2
  White-rumped Shama 6   Paddyfield Pipit 5
  Asian Brown Flycatcher 10      
  Large Blue Flycatcher 1   Thai Mueang Count
  Chestnut-naped Forktail 3   Spotted Wood Owl 2
  Taiga Flycatcher 1   Indian Roller 1
  Blue-winged Leafbird 1   Common Myna 4
  Yellow-vented Flowerpecker 1      
  Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 5      
  Brown-throated Sunbird 4      
  Purple-naped Sunbird 2      
  Van Hasselt's Sunbird 2      
  Crimson Sunbird 1      
  Little Spiderhunter 10      
  Grey-breasted Spiderhunter 1      
  Grey Wagtail 3      
  Paddyfield Pipit 2