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South and West Thailand: 27 Oct -11 Nov 2016


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27 Oct - 11 Nov 2016
Wet. Cloudy with rain, sometimes heavy. Becoming drier moving north. Humid.
Khao Phra Thaeo Non-hunting Area, Khlong Nakha Wildlife Sanctuary, Sri Phang-nga National Park, Kuiburi National Park, Sai Yok Noi Waterfall, Sai Yok National Park, Khao Laem National Park and Laem Phak Bia / Pak Thale.

With Ian Dugdale and Games Punjapa Phetsri, plus in part, Andy Pierce and Tom Backlund. The itinerary for this highly exploratory trip was based around a journey from Phuket, through the peninsula to the forests of western Thailand, in search of birds, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. The route was chosen to search for a few specific, range-restricted geckos and frogs, plus Blue-rumped Parrot at Kuiburi, as well as to explore a few national parks in Kanchanaburi none of us had visited previously. Being late rainy season we remained flexible, in order to deviate on account of weather issues or potentially detour for any rare migrant birds that might turn up.

27 Oct. Flew Air Asia from Chiang Mai to Phuket, arriving as scheduled mid afternoon. Met Ian at the airport, and after a late lunch proceeded to the western side of Khao Phra Thaeo Non-hunting Area. With the weather looking dry we started walking into the forest around 17:30. Despite recent rains, conditions underfoot were good, although rubber boots were definitely required for the three stream crossings.

Phuket Pit Viper
Phuket Pit Viper

As usual, quiet bird wise but Banded Bay Cuckoo, Oriental Bay Owl and Sunda Scops Owl heard along the way. As the last kilometre of this climb is steep and slippery, we were sweating profusely by the time we reached the summit, at just over 400 metres, around 20:15. Disappointingly no Phuket Bent-toed Gecko could be found, but we did encounter Malayan Frilly Gecko and Phuket Horned Lizard. On the descent we encountered Phuket Pit Viper, a species we'd been seeking for years. Near the trail entrance a well armed hunter was just arriving. Non-hunting Area? Sure, it's Thailand. Finally out of the forest by 22:20, after which a very welcome beer.

28 Oct and 29 Oct. Lounging around Phuket - a welcome two days catching up on notes, writing trip reports, updating websites, processing photos and generally relaxing. Wet, with some torrential overnight rains.

Ta Pan Temple statue
Ta Pan Temple statue

30 Oct. Left Phuket at 10:30 and drove to Phang-nga with a short stop at Ta Pan Cave Temple to check its potential for herps. Looked promising, as the cave behind the temple had access, but recent rains meant flooding had left sediment and thick wet mud throughout, so no easy access today. Earmarked for a return visit in the dry season. The temple grounds though, with their grotesque and macabre statues depicting hell provided an interesting aside.

Next drove two hours to Suk Samran in Ranong province, where we checked the forest access near Don Gloei Waterfall and the nearby ranger station of Khlong Nakha Wildlife Sanctuary.

Although a Nature Trail starts from the ranger station, as usual in Thai parks and sanctuaries it was unmaintained and impassible after the first 50 metres. In overcast and cool conditions, only Vernal Hanging Parrot, Grey-rumped Treeswift and Baker's Bulbul seen. With an hour of so to spare we retraced our steps a few kilometres and checked the area around Suan Mai Waterfall - part of Sri Phang-nga National Park.

On a late, short walk to the waterfall found Green Keelback. Talking to the ranger we obtained permission to return after dark to look for reptiles and amphibians. Headed back to Suk Samran to find accommodation and dinner. After dark, and suitably refreshed, headed back to Khlong Nakha where we were surprised to find several Ranong Bent-toed Gecko within an hour of looking, though all were notably skittish. A couple of Oriental Bay Owl calling. Back to Suan Mai Waterfall by 21:00 where, with impeccable timing, the rain started the moment we arrived and continued till 23:00 when we left. Perseverance in the rain paid off though, with a fair number of species found - Tenasserim Cascade Frog, Four-lined Tree Frog, Hose's Frog and Blue Krait. No calling night birds on account of the weather.

31 Oct. Although we'd earmarked some time for butterflies at Khlong Nakha, unfavourable conditions of a damp and overcast morning with light rain meant we skipped it and headed north. This didn't really help though, as a regional front meant we simply drove the whole day through rain. Breaking the journey we stopped south of Chumphon, at Sanuk Temple where in the caves we had fleeting glimpses of Sanuk Bent-toed Gecko. Continued our drive north as far as Prachuap Khiri Khan where we decided to check out a friend's recommendation for a restaurant allegedly serving the best pizza in the world, only to find it closed for a week! Overnight in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

1 Nov. Heavy rain all night, followed by a wet drive all morning to Pala-U where we continued another hour to a ranger station of Kuiburi National Park. Given the amount of rainfall over the previous week, the access road up to the station was difficult even with a good 4x4.

Green Keelback
Green Keelback

Ranong Bent-toed Gecko
Ranong Bent-toed Gecko

 Tenasserim Cascade Frog
Tenasserim Cascade Frog

At the barrier we were permitted to drive in, but simply faced more rain, a series of tree falls, deep ruts and a track more like a flowing river, so abandoned the idea and returned to bird the last hour from the viewpoint and forest edge below the ranger station, where the rain had miraculously eased. Few birds in the damp conditions but a group of four Black-headed Ibis flying high overhead were notable. Overnight at a mediocre and not recommended resort in Pala-U.

Bronzed Drongo
Bronzed Drongo

Oriental Whip Snake
Oriental Whip Snake

2 Nov. Although grey and overcast early morning the forecast seemed reasonable so a return to Kuiburi ranger station, where we left the vehicle and walked in. Spent the whole day walking the track, over the ridge, as far as the first river crossing and return. In good birding conditions with only a few light showers and even a couple of sunny spells we amassed a fair selection of species. A large fruiting tree on the ridge had several Great Hornbill and many Asian Fairy-bluebird, barbets, and Vernal Hanging Parrot, but surprisingly not the sought-after Blue-rumped Parrot. Our list throughout the day included Japanese Sparrowhawk, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Jerdon's Baza, Black Baza, Ferruginous Partridge heard, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzard, Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Collared Owlet, Wreathed Hornbill, White-browed Piculet, Swinhoe's Minivet, Large Scimitar Babbler, Spot-necked Babbler, Everett's White-eye, White-bellied Munia and Olive-backed Pipit - the latter extremely rare this far south. In the reptile line we recorded Mock Viper and Oriental Whip Snake. Returned toward Hua Hin stopping at a newish resort past Pala-U.

3 Nov. Further heavy overnight rain. Leaving the area, we headed north to Kanchanaburi province, passing some impressive flooding in Phetchaburi. Our first stop, late afternoon, was Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. Too many tourists at the waterfall itself to hold anything of interest, so we investigated scrub and forest behind the falls.

At the nearby Wang Ba Dan Ranger Station of Erawan National Park Mr. Friendly Ranger said we could enter to look around the stream area. However, we'd not gone more than twenty metres before Mr. Grumpy Ranger came out and told us to leave as they were closed. Mixed messages there! We did however find a couple of amenable rangers at the falls who walked with us after dark looking for herps, finding Yellow black-tailed Racer, Limborg's Frog, several Common Tokay Gecko and Common Frilly Gecko. Other than that rather quiet. Finally a dry afternoon. Overnight at a local resort, easy to find around this touristic area.

4 Nov. A lie-in, followed by a general drive around dirt roads in an attempt to find access to potentially interesting habitat for nocturnal herps. As Kanchanaburi has a number of endemic reptiles, we attempted to locate several type localities from coordinates given in publications. However, it's clear these are mostly approximations as several are clearly not suitable habitat. Mid morning we deviated to Lawa Cave, part of Sai Yok National Park, where, despite good-looking habitat, nothing of note found either inside or outside the cave. At least two species of bat roosting inside the cave, though identification tricky. Returned to the Wang Ba Dan Ranger Station, which was at least officially open. However, Mr. Grumpy was in no mood to be cooperative and wouldn't even let us investigate trails behind the ranger station. As usual, in the minds of park staff, all too dangerous - man-eating butterflies and forest plants on the loose. Not finding much in the way of possibilities we drove an hour to Sai Yok National Park, and checked in to one of the park bungalows.

Yellow-headed Rock Gecko
Yellow-headed Rock Gecko

Tiger Cave Gecko
Tiger Cave Gecko

Typical national park overpriced accommodation with no working hot shower, no refrigerator and fan-only accommodation at twice the price of good accommodation outside the park. However, staying inside the park has the huge advantage of access to forest after dark. Dinner at one of several park food stands and then a long walk till 23:00 around streams, caves, rock faces and the two and a half kilometre nature trail. Pretty hard work and slow going, but success in the form of Limborg's Frog, Striped Spadefoot Frog and the endemic Yellow-headed Rock Gecko and Tiger Cave Gecko.

5 Nov. Morning catching up on notes, then out to try the longer trail to the Bat Cave. The habitat along this trail is almost totally bamboo, so the selection of bird species was limited - Puff-throated Babbler, White-rumped Shama, Two-barred Warbler, Yellow-bellied Warbler and little else. The cave itself was quite interesting with Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat, often considered the world's smallest bat. Two other bat species were unidentifiable. Another night walk taking in the end of the nature trail followed yesterday as well as the trail to the World War II railway bridge that borders a river. Collared Scops Owl the only night bird calling, but some success with reptiles and frogs with Limborg's Frog, Smith's Litter Frog, Tiger Cave Gecko and Malayan Banded Wolf Snake. Overnight again in the park which, being a Saturday, our neighbours had arrived with guitars and bongos so as to really appreciate nature, playing till midnight.

6 Nov. Sai Yok park itself has one of the best maintained trail networks of any Thai park and we enjoyed our time here. However the constant deafening noise of long-tailed boats along the river, ferrying visitors to and from the park and the floating bungalows, shatters the atmosphere and degrades from the peace. Definitely good to avoid the weekends. From here we headed north an hour or so to Khao Laem National Park to check out their waterfall and nature trail. Already hot by the time we arrived and the number and diversity of butterflies along the track to the waterfall look promising. Walked the first few hundred metres of the nature trail which also looked good but definitely required rubber boots to venture farther. In preference to camping, we booked into the park's dormitory, the only accommodation here. A late lunch at the Pom Pee sub-station a kilometre up the road, then returned and started the nature trail, planning on an after dark return.

However, a kilometre out rain started unexpectedly, forcing our return after giving it a half hour to ease, which it didn't. Rain continued till 20:00, when we tried another night walk but five minutes out another heavy downpour. In between the showers we walked the campsite area, recording at least Boulenger's Frog, Limborg's Frog, Tenasserim Frog and Painted Bullfrog with a few others pending identification.

7 Nov. Further heavy rain overnight, but a damp but clear morning, so following breakfast we hit the nature trail again. Wet underfoot with the river level up, so rubber boots required as the trail crosses both side-streams and the river. We worked the trail till 16:00, walking about 1.5 kilometres to falls level five of nine, where the trail disappeared into the river and became difficult and dangerous to follow higher. In the reptile line, Maclelland's Coral Snake and Speckled Keelback, plus Red Bush Brown, White Diadem and Angled Cyclops butterflies. Birds rather thin on the ground, but a small group of Tickell's Brown Hornbill would seem very notable.

After dark we again walked the nature trail. Very quiet away from the river, but frogs in and near the river - Boulenger's Frog and Greater Horned Stream Frog.

8 Nov. Back on the road and a two hour drive on windy roads to Thong Pha Phum National Park. There being no other choice of accommodation, checked into a park bungalow. Some of the poorest park accommodation we'd ever seen - only one water outlet, no fan and no electricity other than two hours in the evening, lights only with no option to charge equipment. At 1,200 Baht, quite outrageous. Despite its remote location, this park has a fair number of poor accommodation units, plus a large campsite, so well visited during the dry, cool season. Trail system non existent. A general stroll around the HQ area produced a few butterflies and a couple of Kalij Pheasant.

We next checked out the nearby Jok Kratin Waterfall. Unfortunately no possibilities for night work as the gate is locked at 17:00. We did though note a good number of butterflies. Afternoon cloudy with showers, so returned to the accommodation to wait it out. After dark, between the rains, we managed a short walk to investigate the HQ buildings and a nearby pond. Several interesting geckos, including a large range extension for Kaeng Krachan Parachute Gecko, until our activities were cut short by heavy rain and also one of the rangers who reckoned a permit was required to photograph frogs at night. Really? The same permit as required to photograph the view in the daytime? Or play guitars at midnight? Around 21:00 the rain finally stopped and we took a walk around the campsite area, where the ranger on guard was far more amenable to us wandering around taking photos. Another profitable walk with Oldham's Bent-toed Gecko and Pope's Pit Viper. A late return, after 01:00, following which we assessed the leech damage of the day - them being plentiful here.

9 Nov. Given our late finish, definitely not an early start. A few birds around the accommodation included Greenish Warbler, Claudia's Leaf Warbler, Kalij Pheasant, Rufous-throated Partridge, Mountain Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul and Olive Bulbul. With the morning heating up we revisited Jok Kratin falls for butterflies, finding a fair number, including Blue Gem, Common Gem, Common Sergeant, Banded Swallowtail and a bunch of confusing skippers. Started our longish drive south, where we stopped overnight just after Kanchanaburi town as night fell.

Tickell's Brown Hornbill
Tickell's Brown Hornbill

MacClelland's Coral Snake
MacClelland's Coral Snake

White Diadem
White Diadem

Red Bushbrown
Red Bushbrown

Pope's Pit Viper
Pope's Pit Viper

10 Nov. Completed the drive to Pak Thale where met up with Andy arrived from Bangkok. Our target here was to search for the potential Caspian Gull that had been present in the area the past week or so. However, despite searching thousands of Brown-headed Gull in groups between Pak Thale and Laem Phak Bia we found no larger gulls at all. Midday, Ian and Games departed for the return to Phuket while the remaining two of us took another look around Laem Phak Bia finding 16 Nordmann's Greenshank. Left the area and headed to Hua Hin where we checked into roadside resort and met up with Tom.

Paradise Tree Snake
Paradise Tree Snake

11 Nov. A final attempt for Blue-rumped Parrot. A early start at 05:00 for the two hour drive to Kuiburi. Not the hoped for start, with rain starting as soon as we set off. Thankfully this proved to be local to Hua Hin, as the morning at Kuiburi was dry and cloudy. A new sign at the ranger station now permits vehicular access only to those with larger wheels and a fitted winch. However, as we'd planned to walk the track this was not an issue. Birds much the same as the previous visit, with no Blue-rumped Parrot again - seemingly the birds having moved away in the absence of their preferred trees in fruit. Species recorded included Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Grey Peacock-Pheasant heard, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Crimson Sunbird and Paradise Tree Snake. A late return to Bangkok and flight to Chiang Mai.

Species List

  Khao Phra Thaeo Count   Sai Yok Noi Waterfall Count
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 1   Red Junglefowl 3
  Oriental Bay Owl 1   Chinese Pond Heron 1
  Sunda Scops Owl 1   Red-wattled Lapwing 1
        Rock Dove 20
  Kuiburi Count   Spotted Dove 10
  Green-legged Partridge 2   Greater Coucal 2
  Ferruginous Partridge 2   Banded Bay Cuckoo 1
  Red Junglefowl 10   Crested Treeswift 4
  Grey Peacock-Pheasant 2   Common Kingfisher 2
  Black-headed Ibis 4   Vernal Hanging Parrot 8
  Oriental Honey Buzzard 10   Common Iora 2
  Jerdon's Baza 3   Ashy Drongo 2
  Black Baza 3   Ashy Drongo 2
  Crested Serpent Eagle 1   Bronzed Drongo 6
  Mountain Hawk-Eagle 1   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1
  Shikra 1   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1
  Japanese Sparrowhawk 1   Black-crested Bulbul 4
  Grey-faced Buzzard 1   Sooty-headed Bulbul 10
  Spotted Dove 10   Barn Swallow 2
  Thick-billed Green Pigeon 20   Red-rumped Swallow 2
  Common Emerald Dove 1   Common Myna 10
  Greater Coucal 6   Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
  Raffles's Malkoha 1   Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 1   White-rumped Shama 1
  Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1   Hainan Blue Flycatcher 1
  Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo 1   Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher 1
  Banded Kingfisher 1   Blue Whistling Thrush 1
  Collared Owlet 1   Taiga Flycatcher 2
  Germain's Swiftlet 1   Olive-backed Sunbird 2
  Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 40   Olive-backed Sunbird 1
  Great Hornbill 7   Eurasian Tree Sparrow 6
  Wreathed Hornbill 2   Grey Wagtail 1
  Plain-pouched Hornbill 7      
  Red-throated Barbet 4   Sai Yok National Park Count
  Blue-eared Barbet 3   Red Junglefowl 2
  Coppersmith Barbet 1   Spotted Dove 10
  White-browed Piculet 2   Green-billed Malkoha 1
  Greater Flameback 4   Collared Scops Owl 1
  Black-thighed Falconet 2   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Vernal Hanging Parrot 70   Asian Palm Swift 4
  Great Iora 1   Asian Palm Swift 4
  Common Iora 2   Indian Roller 5
  Scarlet Minivet 1   White-throated Kingfisher 1
  Swinhoe's Minivet 4   Oriental Pied Hornbill 2
  Black-naped Oriole 2   Blue-eared Barbet 2
  Ashy Drongo 10   Laced Woodpecker 1
  Bronzed Drongo 2   Black-naped Oriole 2
  Hair-crested Drongo 5   Black-hooded Oriole 2
  Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 4   Hair-crested Drongo 2
  Black-naped Monarch 3   Black-naped Monarch 2
  Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 2
  Black-crested Bulbul 10   Black-crested Bulbul 4
  Stripe-throated Bulbul 4   Yellow-bellied Warbler 2
  Ochraceous Bulbul 4   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Baker's Bulbul 4   Two-barred Warbler 6
  Barn Swallow 20   Rufous-fronted Babbler 4
  Yellow-browed Warbler 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 6
  Two-barred Warbler 5   Puff-throated Babbler 4
  Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 6   Common Myna 4
  Eastern Crowned Warbler 1   White-rumped Shama 1
  Dark-necked Tailorbird 6   Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 2
  Large Scimitar Babbler 2   Olive-backed Sunbird 2
  White-browed Scimitar Babbler 1   Grey Wagtail 1
  Spot-necked Babbler 2      
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 20   Khao Laem Count
  Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 2   Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1
  Abbott's Babbler 4   Collared Scops Owl 1
  Puff-throated Babbler 2   Tickell's Brown Hornbill 4
  Everett's White-eye 50   Greater Flameback 1
  Asian Fairy-bluebird 20   Vernal Hanging Parrot 2
  Common Hill Myna 6   Black-naped Oriole 1
  White-rumped Shama 4   Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 1
  Siberian Blue Robin 1   Black-naped Monarch 2
  Asian Brown Flycatcher 1   Black-crested Bulbul 6
  Taiga Flycatcher 3   Yellow-bellied Warbler 2
  Blue-winged Leafbird 4   Yellow-browed Warbler 1
  Ruby-cheeked Sunbird 2   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Crimson Sunbird 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 6
  Olive-backed Sunbird 10   Puff-throated Babbler 1
  Little Spiderhunter 2   Dark-sided Flycatcher 1
  Grey-breasted Spiderhunter 2   Taiga Flycatcher 1
  White-bellied Munia 10   Little Spiderhunter 3
  Grey Wagtail 1   Grey Wagtail 2
  Olive-backed Pipit 1      
        Thong Pha Phum Count
  Leam Phak Bia / Pak Thale Count   Kalij Pheasant 4
  Painted Stork 6   Green-billed Malkoha 2
  Grey Heron 5   Mountain Scops Owl 1
  Great Egret 10   Himalayan Swiftlet 20
  Little Egret 10   Large Woodshrike 1
  Little Cormorant 10   Brown Shrike 1
  Indian Cormorant 2   Grey Treepie 2
  Brahminy Kite 1   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 2
  Black-winged Stilt 40   Black-crested Bulbul 4
  Pied Avocet 3   Olive Bulbul 4
  Lesser Sand Plover 20   Mountain Bulbul 4
  Black-tailed Godwit 50   Ashy Bulbul 2
  Eurasian Curlew 400   Yellow-browed Warbler 3
  Spotted Redshank 10   Greenish Warbler 2
  Common Redshank 1   Claudia's Leaf Warbler 1
  Marsh Sandpiper 20   White-browed Scimitar Babbler 1
  Common Greenshank 10   Hill Blue Flycatcher 2
  Nordmann's Greenshank 16   Taiga Flycatcher 1
  Wood Sandpiper 2   Grey Wagtail 1
  Ruddy Turnstone 2      
  Great Knot 2000      
  Red-necked Stint 20      
  Curlew Sandpiper 4      
  Red-necked Phalarope 10      
  Brown-headed Gull 1000      
  Gull-billed Tern 10      
  Caspian Tern 20      
  Greater Crested Tern 6      
  Common Tern 100      
  Whiskered Tern 100      
  Zebra Dove 4      
  Greater Coucal 1      
  Germain's Swiftlet 20      
  Asian Palm Swift 1      
  Collared Kingfisher 2      
  Golden-bellied Gerygone 2      
  Brown Shrike 1      
  Black Drongo 5      
  Malaysian Pied Fantail 1      
  Barn Swallow 20      
  Oriental Reed Warbler 1      
  Great Myna 20      
  Common Myna 10      
  Eurasian Tree Sparrow 20      
  Scaly-breasted Munia 2      
  Richard's Pipit 1      
  Paddyfield Pipit 12