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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Thailand: Central

Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachen National Parks and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

2023 Narrative

Shorebirds are a major highlight on this tour and this year’s tour did not disappoint with some 36 species recorded. This happened to include 27 Asian Dowitchers and 100 Nordmann’s Greenshanks plus two Spoon-billed Sandpipers, one of which was seen at very close range over a sustained period. Other highlights included Bar-backed and Ferruginous Partridges, two male Burmese Peacock-pheasants, multiple Siamese Firebacks and Kalij Pheasants, a rare Milky Stork, Cinnamon Bittern, Chinese Egret, Indian Thick-knee, Slender-billed and Black-tailed Gulls, four species of hornbills, Banded Kingfisher, 11 species of Woodpeckers including White-browed Piculet, Heart-spotted, Himalayan Yellownape, and four Great Slaty Woodpeckers, Thick=billed Warbler and the rare Thai endemic, Limestone Wren-babbler. Malls included groups of Gaur and Asian Elephants, Stump-tailed Macaque, and both Pileated and White-handed Gibbons.

Our trip began with an early evening meeting followed by a buffet dinner at the Novotel. Pipith, our local guide for this tour is a keen birder and was fully clued-up about all of the birds that awaited us. The next morning we departed before dawn for Wat Thaloon Phra Kiat, one of a number of temples we would visit. Here we saw Red-breasted Parakeets and a family group of Spotted Owlets. As we wound our way to Ayuttthaya, we made a number of stops and had a number of highlights, notably Pink-necked Green-Pigeon, two Grey-headed and some 20 Red-wattled Lapwings, Spotted Redshank, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Asian Golden and Baya Weavers and Plain-backed Sparrow. Probably the highlight were three Alexandrine Parakeets, a scarce Thai resident species.  After lunch in Ayutthaya we headed east towards Khao Yai National Park, stopping late in the day at another temple, Wat Phra Phuttabat Noi where we eventually located an endangered and very range-restricted Thai endemic, Rufous Limestone-babbler. Mammals of note seen during the day included Grey-bellied and Variable Squirrels, 250 Lyle’s Fling Foxes and 20 Long-tailed Macaques.

The next morning we entered Khao Yai National Park before dawn and drove to the park’s highest point, Khao Khieo. Here we had excellent views of several stunning Black-throated Laughing-thrushes as well as perched Mountain Imperial-pigeons. A wintering Grey-backed Shrike was also present. Other species noted during the day included wild Red Junglefowl, Green-billed Malkoha, Black-winged Kite, an unusual (for Khao Yai) Greater Spotted Eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Oriental Pied and two Wreathed Hornbills, Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Green-eared and Moustached Barbets, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Ashy and Puff-throated Bulbuls, Common Hill Myna, and Yellow-vented and Buff-bellied Flowerpeckers. During the day we also noted wintering Red-rumped Swallows and several Asian House Martins. Closer to dusk we watched the small flocks of Brown-backed Needletails, and with them were at least two of the smaller Silver-backed Needletails, appropriately with a whitish back. Near dusk at Nong Phak Chee most of us saw a group of Gaur, the world’s largest bovine. As the sky darkened we also saw and heard a Great Eared-nightjar, appearing seemingly almost as large as a harrier as it flew overhead!

We returned to Khao Yai the next morning, birding the base of the Khao Khieo Road, the headquarters area and the km 33 trail. We had a number of new species including some new woodpeckers, Greater Flameback, three adorable Heart-spotted Woodpeckers and a pair of Himalayan (Lesser) Yellownapes, a scarce and striking resident species.   Other new species included Red-headed Trogon, Great Hornbill, Sultan Tit, Banded Kingfisher, White-bellied Epornis, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Little Spiderhunter and Claudia’s and Sulphur-breasted Warblers. Also noted was a Rosy Minivet with a flock of Brown-rumped Minivets and a flock of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, as well as a group of White-handed Gibbons. Later in the day after lunch we drove well to the northeast to Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve where we spent an extended period with a group of Siamese Firebacks, Thailand’s national bird.

The next day we tried again without success for Silver Pheasant on the Boardwalk trail near the top of the Khao Khieo road, then birded the Orchid Waterfall and Haew Suwat. Later we visited Haew Narok at the south end of the park. Highlights included a perched Large Hawk-cuckoo, a Crested Goshawk in display flight, Blue-eared Barbets, Scarlet Minivets, a male Maroon-bellied (Van Hasselt’s) and two Crimson Sunbirds and a Thick-billed Flowerpecker. Notable mammals included a small group of Pileated Gibbons (with their different “bubbling” calls) and near dusk at Nong Phak Chi a group of ten Asian Elephants, including young.

The next morning we departed early for the long drive to the wader areas south and west of Bangkok. Our first stop was Khok Kham where we saw many new species of shorebirds for the first time, distinctive ones, like Broad-billed Sandpiper (30 seen). Of particular note, was perhaps our main goal of the trip, Spoon-billed Sandpiper. We had outstanding views of one, by far my best looks ever. Unusual was that this bird was staked out, feeding regularly at the same location. The Thais even brought in a huge urn as a blind so birders, and small groups, could approach closely without disturbing it. The Spoon-billed just fed without any concern of our group’s presence. Later after lunch we continued south to the Royal Project at Laem Phak Bia. Late in the afternoon we walked out to the ponds and noted some 125 Painted Storks, two Javan Pond-pond Herons in alternate plumage, Gray-headed Lapwings and a female Cinnamon Bittern. Several dark-headed macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtails were seen as was a single White-winged Tern.

We spent nearly the entire next day studying Asian shorebirds at Phak Thale and Laem Phak Bia, seeing some 30 species, many in rather staggering numbers. These included 3500 Great and 100 Red Knots, hundreds of both species of sand plovers, 100 Broad-billed, 375 Terek, 100 Curlew and 100 Marsh Sandpipers, 100 Eurasian Curlews, 300 Red-necked and 22 Long-toed Stints and 100 endangered Nordmann’s Greenshanks. We were fortunate to get excellent studies of 25 Asian Dowitchers. Notable too were 20 Red-necked Phalaropes. And, we had good studies of another Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Phak Thale, the site with the most individuals of this species in Thailand (some 2-4 birds). Surprising was the presence with other terns of 19 Lesser Crested Terns. Other species of note during the day were 25 Oriental Pratincoles, a single Little Ringed Plover, some two dozen White-shouldered Starlings, eight Chestnut Munias and five tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtails. At Laem Phak Bia there was also a single Chinese Egret.

We started the next day with a stop near Phak Thale where we noted a flock of 165 Pied Avocets and stopped in at the Asian Dowitcher site where we counted 27. Also notable was a Temminck’s Stint, our only one during the tour. We then headed north to Wat Krao Takrarao Lake. A new road had built around the back of the lake and this seems to have caused the normally wintering ducks to move on. We didn’t see a single duck! However, we did see an Oriental Darter, three Black-headed Ibis and a 13 Spot-billed Pelicans. And, amongst the Painted Storks, a rare Milky Stork was spotted and photographed. Later in the afternoon the seas calmed and we finally got out the Laem Phak Bia spit. We were unable to find White-faced Plover here today (one to two annually winter here), but did have excellent views of four resident Malaysian Plovers. Other birds of note included 22 Greater Crested Terns, and two Pacific Egrets. Rare for Thailand was a beautiful alternate plumaged adult Slender-billed Gull and later we found a first cycle Black-tailed Gull. A single Osprey was seen during the day.

We birded the next morning close to our lodging site looking for birds around a marshy pond and then departed for Kheng Krachan National Park where we birded at a blind. Species of note before we reached the Kheng Krachan area included Brown-throated Sunbird, White-rumped Munia and Grey-headed Swamphen, five Black Kites, two Pied Harriers, a Ruddy-breasted Crake, and a Yellow Bittern. Later in the afternoon at our hide we observed a number of secretive species which included a male Kalij Pheasant, two male Grey Peacock-pheasants and three Bar-backed Partridges along with a single Large Schimitar-babbler. In addition we had a Greater Yellownape and a Black-naped Woodpecker, a split from Grey-headed Woodpecker, a female Hainan Blue-flycatcher and six Emerald Doves. Two tiny deer, Lesser Chevrotains, were also present.     

The next day we went up to the high point (by road) in the park at about 3000 feet. The ridge offered magnificent vistas with the Myanmar border likely visible far to the west. There was also a fruiting tree which brought in many species. Here we saw Grey-rumped Treeswift, Black Eagle, a scarce and striking White-browed Piculet, Blue-throated Barbet, Baker’s (a split from Grey-eyed Bulbul), Ochraceous, Mountain and Flavescent Bulbuls, Orange-bellied and Greater Green Leafbirds, four Collared Babblers, and wintering single individuals of Radde’s Warbler and Dark-sided Flycatcher. We also heard a Bay Woodpecker and a Red-throated Barbet. Late in the day at another hide we had four Kalij Pheasants, Grey-backed and Ferruginous partridges, Lesser Necklaced and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Abbott’s Babbler, a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Racquet-tailed Treepie, and two wintering Siberian Blue Robins. Mammals included Lesser Oriental Chevrotain and Dusky Langur. Also noted during the day were two Black Bazas and a yellow-spotted Keelback, a snake.

The following day we birded lower elevations in the park. Highlights included a flock of Thick-billed Green-pigeons on the ground,  a male Raffle’s Malkoha, Southern Boobok, Asian Barred Owlet, two Heart-spotted Woodpeckers two Common Flamebacks, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Great Iora, Sultan Tits, Thick-billed, Radde’s, Sulhur-breasted warblers, Golden-fronted and Blue-winged leafbirds, Ruby-cheeked (for some) and Crimson Sunbirds and finally some broadbills, Banded and Silver-breasted. A Small Asian Mongoose was also seen.

The next morning it was a return to higher elevations to km post 30, but despite much effort we were unable to locate the signature species there or lower down the road, the Ratchet-tailed Treepie. We did see two new broadbills, the Long-tailed (attending a nest) and the stunning Black-and-yellow. Other species noted included Grey-rumped Treeswift , likely the same White-browed Piculet as two days earlier, White-browed Schimitar-babbler, and Lesser Racquet-tailed Drongo. On the road below we noted three Stump-tailed Macaques. Birding on the grounds of our lodge we found a nice variety of birds which included Yellow Bittern, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie, and Black-browed Reed-warbler. We heard a Chinese Francolin and then at dusk we noted multiple Large-tailed Nightjars and Indian Thick-knees.

On our final day we returned to the lower elevations of Kheng Krachan (to the 2nd stream crossing) for a final morning of birding. New birds included Orange-breasted Trogon and Tickell’s (Southern) Brown Hornbill at a nest cavity, Orange-breasted Trogon and a group of four Great Slaty Woodpeckers. Raffle’s Malkoha, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Common Flameback, Black-naped Woodpecker, Silver-breasted Broadbil, Black-hooded Oriole and Sultan Tits were also seen along with fine views of three White-handed Gibbons and a large roving ground party of twenty or more Stump-tailed Macaques. Late in the morning and after lunch we started back to Bangkok where we had a final buffet dinner at our hotel.

Created: 31 October 2023