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Yala - the Extreme South: 9 - 14 May 2017


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9 - 14 May 2017.
Hot and humid with variable cloud cover and showers, some heavy.
Bang Lang National Park, Betong Highway 3004, and Iyenweng Viewpoint.

With Ian Dugdale. A short trip aimed at exploration of Thailand's most southerly province; Yala. Although the main interest for the selection of sites to be visited was centred around butterflies, we'd assumed any decent habitat would likely be profitable also for birds, amphibians, reptiles and dragonflies. This area of Thailand, usually refered to in the media as the troubled south, receives next to no birders or western tourists, and as such we were frequently the centre of attention to locals. Rampant conversion of habitat to rubber plantations dominates the landscape, so finding accessible, good forest is difficult.

9 May . Flew Thai Airways from Chiang Mai to Narathiwat via Bangkok, arriving mid afternoon, where met up with Ian. From here, a near four hour drive through tortuously winding roads to Betong, where we checked into the Modern Thai Villa hotel in the centre of town. The town itself was still fairly active at 21:00 when we strolled out to find a restaurant. We were surprised, at this time of year, to find a large roost of several hundred Barn Swallow at the noisy central intersection of town. On entering Yala province, finally ticked off the last of the 76 Thai provinces.

10 May. With conditions damp, overcast and low cloud, the weather looked decidedly unfavourable for butterflies. Consequently, we thought remaining at lower altitudes would be more profitable, so headed to forest areas of Bang Lang National Park, where we spent more than five hours in good forest, with an excellent selection of both butterflies and birds, including Great Argus heard, Violet Cuckoo, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Yellow-crowned Barbet, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Bamboo Woodpecker, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Banded Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Large Woodshrike, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Ferruginous Babbler, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Plain Sunbird. Around 14:30 rain commenced, so returned to Betong to rack our brains over difficult to identify butterflies.

Black-and-yellow Broadbill
Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Grey Tinsel
Grey Tinsel

11 May. A day spent along Highway 3004 that loops from Betong over a higher area, approaching 1,000 metres along the Malaysia border. Unfortunately, almost all native habitat has been removed, with only minute fragments of forest edge remaining. It's easy to determine the Malaysia border here as it's defined by the forest still standing on the Malaysia side.

Spotted Spark
Spotted Spark

Iyenweng viewpoint
Iyenweng viewpoint

A slow, but steady day, mainly concentrating on the highest section of road, as walking lower the habitat turned to grass and roadside plantations, poor for both birds and butterflies. The biggest surprise, given the habitat and altitude, was three Rail-babbler calling near the roadside. For the rest, rather poor, with only Plume-toed Swiftlet, Pacific Swallow, Yellow-crowned Barbet, Green Iora, Pale Blue Flycatcher and Southern White-crowned Forktail of any note. Rain late afternoon continuing into the night. With tomorrow being a holiday hotels in town were full, so transferred to the River Rock Palm Resort just outside town, that was pleasant and quieter.

12 May. Drove to the Iyenweng viewpoint about an hour from town. Although the view from the top is impressive it only takes a while to realise that it's actually 95% rubber plantation, with forest remaining only on a few inaccessible hill tops. A sunny and warm morning, but with surprisingly little of note. In the forest edge we found Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Raffles's Malkoha, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Cream-vented Bulbul, Everett's White-eye and Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker. Many Pacific Swift were migrating over. Having covered the top kilometre of road thoroughly, by midday we returned to Bang Lang, where we were caught out in afternoon rain, but walked deeper into the forest by dusk, returning after dark looking for reptiles and amphibians.

Wallace's Tree Frog
Wallace's Tree Frog

Quite some success, with Malayan Horned Frog, Wallace's Tree Frog and Indo-malayan Pencil-tailed Tree Mouse - a species with a name longer than the mammal itself.

Indomalayan Pencil-tailed Tree Mouse
Indomalayan Pencil-tailed Tree Mouse

Birds were again evident, with Barred Buttonquail, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffles's Malkoha, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Whiskered Treeswift, Orange-breasted Trogon, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Banded Woodpecker, Banded Broadbill, Great Iora, Spotted Fantail, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Rufous-crowned Babbler, White-tailed Flycatcher and Chestnut-naped Forktail. A single Blyth's Frogmouth was the sole night bird heard.

13 May. Hopefully, for a total change of habitat we decided to check the lowland forest at Than To waterfall, about a two hour drive away, along our route home. Having discovered favourable access and seemingly good forest we visited the park office to enquire about a room. This really gave the office staff something to talk about. Foreign tourists are rare here, but foreigners wanting to stay in the park pretty unheard of. Still, an hour later we'd secured a 600 Baht bungalow and had our selfies taken with the staff - we had rock star status here.

Than To Waterfall
Than To Waterfall

Peters's Bent-toed Gecko
Peters's Bent-toed Gecko

Chalcorana eschatia
Chalcorana eschatia

White Dragontail
White Dragontail

Naturally, for 600 Baht the park accommodation was shabby, but a small price to pay for staying on location. For the remainder of the day we worked the waterfall area, but by late afternoon with 300 plus people around the falls and overcast, dull weather we took a break. After dark a longer night exploration, returning around 22:00. Not too much in the way of night life, but a Peters's Bent-toed Gecko a real bonus. Also Sunda Colugo, Blyth's Giant Frog, Chalcorana eschatia and Beautiful Gliding Lizard.

Tree Flitter
Tree Flitter

14 May. For the first time on the trip, some excellent weather to start the day, with bright sun and clear skies. This produced an excellent morning for butterflies, with a good number of species active, especially skippers early morning. By 11:00 with the crowds starting to gather we headed north, through some heavy rain at Trang, as far as Krabi, overnighting there.

15 May. A short drive to Phuket and after a couple of days working on photo processing and identification, return flight to Chiang Mai.

Species List

  Bang Lang Count   Betong Town Count
  Great Argus 3   Eastern Cattle Egret 2
  Barred Buttonquail 1   Zebra Dove 2
  Zebra Dove 2   Greater Coucal 1
  Chestnut-breasted Malkoha 1   Asian Koel 1
  Violet Cuckoo 2   Large-tailed Nightjar 1
  Little Bronze Cuckoo 1   Germain's Swiftlet 10
  Rusty-breasted Cuckoo 3   House Swift 100
  Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 5   Large-billed Crow 2
  Blyth's Frogmouth 1   Barn Swallow 500
  Grey-rumped Treeswift 14   Asian Glossy Starling 10
  Whiskered Treeswift 2   Common Myna 4
  Silver-rumped Spinetail 10   Oriental Magpie-Robin 4
  Scarlet-rumped Trogon 1   Eurasian Tree Sparrow 3
  Orange-breasted Trogon 2      
  Rhinoceros Hornbill 2   Betong Highway 3004 Count
  Golden-whiskered Barbet 5   Great Argus 1
  Yellow-crowned Barbet 4   Crested Serpent Eagle 2
  Blue-eared Barbet 5   Plaintive Cuckoo 1
  Rufous Piculet 3   Grey-rumped Treeswift 6
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 1   Plume-toed Swiftlet 5
  Banded Woodpecker 2   Germain's Swiftlet 20
  Crimson-winged Woodpecker 1   House Swift 20
  Bamboo Woodpecker 2   Golden-whiskered Barbet 2
  Orange-backed Woodpecker 1   Yellow-crowned Barbet 3
  Buff-rumped Woodpecker 2   Blue-eared Barbet 4
  Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot 2   Brown Barbet 1
  Banded Broadbill 2   Rufous Piculet 2
  Black-and-yellow Broadbill 4   Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 4
  Large Woodshrike 2   Green Iora 2
  Rufous-winged Philentoma 2   Large-billed Crow 20
  Great Iora 1   Rail-babbler 3
  White-bellied Erpornis 2   Stripe-throated Bulbul 4
  Dark-throated Oriole 1   Pacific Swallow 4
  Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 4   Yellow-bellied Warbler 3
  Spotted Fantail 1   Rufescent Prinia 2
  Black-naped Monarch 1   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Large-billed Crow 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 10
  Black-headed Bulbul 1   Pale Blue Flycatcher 1
  Cream-vented Bulbul 2   White-crowned Forktail 1
  Asian Red-eyed Bulbul 2   Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 2
  Spectacled Bulbul 3   Plain Sunbird 2
  Grey-cheeked Bulbul 1   Olive-backed Sunbird 2
  Yellow-bellied Bulbul 2   Little Spiderhunter 2
  Pacific Swallow 2   White-rumped Munia 2
  Yellow-bellied Warbler 2   Paddyfield Pipit 1
  Rufescent Prinia 6      
  Rufous-tailed Tailorbird 1   Iyenweng Count
  Grey-throated Babbler 4   Raffles's Malkoha 1
  Rufous-fronted Babbler 10   Pacific Swift 25
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 14   Golden-whiskered Barbet 2
  Brown Fulvetta 6   Golden-throated Barbet 2
  Short-tailed Babbler 1   Blue-eared Barbet 2
  Rufous-crowned Babbler 2   Crimson-winged Woodpecker 1
  Ferruginous Babbler 2   White-bellied Erpornis 2
  Puff-throated Babbler 3   Large-billed Crow 2
  Everett's White-eye 2   Black-headed Bulbul 1
  Asian Fairy-bluebird 1   Grey-bellied Bulbul 2
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 2   Stripe-throated Bulbul 2
  Pale Blue Flycatcher 1   Cream-vented Bulbul 1
  Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 4   Asian Red-eyed Bulbul 2
  White-tailed Flycatcher 2   Yellow-bellied Warbler 2
  Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher 2   Rufescent Prinia 2
  Chestnut-naped Forktail 1   Rufous-fronted Babbler 2
  Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 4
  Plain Sunbird 1   Everett's White-eye 2
  Grey-breasted Spiderhunter 4   Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
  White-rumped Munia 1   Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker 1
        Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 2