Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Thailand Birding - Information and Logistics

It was our first time to go birding in Thailand. Budget birders that we are, we did not hire any packaged bird tours. What we did was book into the birding lodges in Petchaburi which is one of the prime birding areas in Thailand. Birds can be seen in the premises of these lodges and they have local bird guides which can be hired for a fee.

Kum Nangpaya Resort. We booked our one-day stay here using the website. The owner, Nokki, arranged for us to be picked up from the airport. The accommodations are very nice with hot shower even. Breakfast was also included in the daily rate. The resort grounds had plenty of birds. The local guide, Nuy, took us to a hide where we saw the Blue Pitta. The fee was 250 baht per person.

Baan Maka Nature Lodge was where we stayed the next 4 days in Thailand. We contacted them and made our booking via email ( They always replied promptly to our questions. When we were already back in the Philippines and reviewing our bird pictures they even helped us identify some of the birds we saw at their place when we emailed them for help. Our lodge was very nice with airconditioning, hot showers, and some amenities. They also arranged for our ride to the airport hotel on our last day and instructed our driver to stop over by the ricefields so we could take photos of the birds there. The owners, Ian and Games, are both birders. Games also conducts occasional birding tours being a guide herself. She also arranged our visits to the different hides in the area and a half day trip to Kaeng Krachan Park. Depending on the place, the entrance fee to the hides varies from 200 to 300 baht per person. The rates for the use of local guides depend on the length and destination. The premises are also good for birding. Here is their Facebook page:

Both lodges are highly recommended.

One of the hides we went to was the Baan Songnok. The owner, Auntie Ek, was very friendly and knowledgeable of the birds in and around her property.

Prior to our departure back to Manila we decided to stay at a hotel near the airport since our flight would be in the morning. We stayed at the Miracle Airport Hotel, which provides a free airport transfer.

Our experience:

Traffic: What surprised us was the traffic coming from and going back to the airport. Although we are used to the terrible traffic jam in MetroManila, we didn't expect it to be that bad in Bangkok. For one thing, the roads are wide and well paved, very similar to the freeways of California (unlike that in Manila). Another thing is that there were very few public vehicles (the bane of traffic in the Philippines). There were no jeepneys or tricycles and only a few (very few) buses.

Birding: Although we did not see our target birds (Black-and-red Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, and Orange-headed Thrush) we still garnered 47 lifers! Most of our birding was done around the area where we stayed and in various hides recommended by Nokki and Games.

Food: One of my worries before going to Thailand was the kind of food that will be served in the lodges. I always thought that Thai food was spicy which was something my taste buds could not handle. It turned out my fears were for naught. Both lodges had an extensive menu which had a variety of dishes including Chinese and Western cuisine.

Overall, we had a good time birding in Thailand. We are thinking of going back perhaps in high season which is around April or May.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Thailand Birding - Day 5 - Leave it to Weaver

February 15, 2019 - our last day of birding in Thailand. We had ample time to do one final birding on the grounds of Baan Maka before our driver will pick us up and take us to our hotel near the airport in Bangkok.

Surprisingly, a huge flock of Oriental Pied Hornbills were flying about enjoying the cool morning air.

Another surprise in the sense that this was the first time we saw this species in our five day stay here, was this skulker, the Greater Coucal.

Near the fruiting tree, my wife took some pictures of a tiny, active bird. Looking at them when we were already at our home in the Philippines, we were still trying to figure out what that bird was. My guess is Two-barred Warbler which would be a lifer if it were so.

At the restaurant as we waited for our ride, we noticed some bird activities near the creek. There a couple of Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes were perched on a branch.

Near the feeder, we got another lifer - the Puff-throated Babbler.

Then it was time for us to go. We told the driver that we will be on the look out for birds and if we see something interesting, we will ask him to stop. In addition to that, we instructed him to stop when we reach the area where the rice fields were. 

Other than the usual White-throated Kingfishers and Indian Rollers we didn't see anything new along the road. Soon we were at the rice fields and there were some birds - Asian Openbills, Egrets, Drongos, etc. I was taking some shots at these birds when Cynthia and the driver alerted me and pointed at some small birds just next to where were parked. And that was our last lifer of our Thailand sortie - the Asian Golden Weaver.

As we were about to leave, another surprise was a female Pied Bush Chat that seemingly wanted to pass herself off as another Weaver.

And now to face the horrendous traffic once again.

After close to four hours since we left Baan Maka, we arrived at our hotel in Bangkok. First thing we noticed was the abundance of Zebra Doves. They were roaming along the busy street in front of the hotel.

While we were resting in our room, we saw from our window more Zebra Doves at the aisle behind the hotel. We decided to go down and see what other birds reside there. There was a very friendly Malaysian Pied Fantail that was foraging the trash bins.

The House Sparrows, on the other hand, were shyer and preferred the bushy area.

Another ubiquitous bird in the urban area is, as its name implies, the Common Myna.

And with that our birding trip to Thailand came to a close.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Thailand Birding - Day 4 - Heart's Day

February 14 - our fourth day of birding in Thailand and also Valentine's Day. We were both excited on our birding schedule for that day. We will be going to the Kaeng Krachan Park where we hoped to see the birds we came to this country for.

We left Baan Maka a little after 6 am. About 30 minutes later, we stopped by the roadside. Son, our guide, started playing back some bird calls. Strangely, there were no response at all. Soon other birders came and stayed at the same spot where we were. I was bit curious about that. My wife and crossed the road and looked at the small pond nearby. A Common Kingfisher was there. Perched on a tree by the pond was White-throated Kingfisher. Son paused from his playback routine and joined us. He pointed to a bird high up on a bare branch. "Black-capped Kingfisher" he said. We got our first lifer of the day, #38 for us.

An hour-and-a-half passed slowly by and I was wondering why we were not moving on since nothing interesting, except for a flock of Sultan Tits, was happening avian-wise. The other birders who joined us earlier were also hanging around. It seemed like they were waiting for something. Then everybody got excited as a small flock of tiny birds landed on the tree trunk across the road. Apparently they (and our guide) were waiting for this. Although the Black-thighed Falconet was a lifer for us, somehow we didn't feel as thrilled as our confreres. For one thing, the small raptors were terribly backlit and quite high up on the tree. 

Obviously, our 2 hour stop over in this place was our guide's plan to show us the Falconet because when he saw that we already took photos of the said bird, he said we can now go to Kaeng Krachan.

We knew beforehand that a major road inside the park was closed and will be for this year and the first half of 2020. Nevertheless, we were told that we might still be able to see the Black-and-red Broadbill and the Long-tailed Broadbill, our target birds for this trip. When we arrived at the "camp" Son left us at the place where some photos of the park were displayed. He roamed around playing bird calls almost non stop. We decided to look around on our own. We did see some birds but none were lifers. Except for one which I didn't even know until we were already back here in the Philippines and I was reviewing our photographs. It turned out that one of the birds we saw was a lifer - the Large Woodshrike.

Nine in the morning and still no broadbills. At that point, Son gave up and decided to take us back to our lodge. There was still ample time before lunch so Cynthia and I went to the lake. On the way there a couple waved at us and pointed at something in the trees. We hurried over to where they were and thanked our "angels" for our 41st lifer - the Brown Boobok also known as Brown Hawk Owl.

Games, the owner of Baan Maka, scheduled us to visit another hide that afternoon. We left around 2 pm. However, when we arrived at the place there was only one spot available. When I tried sitting on the small chair, I noticed that because of the uneven ground it was on, it was tilting and therefore I could not hold my camera steadily (I did not have my tripod with me). So I decided that we would just leave and that the entrance fee we paid be returned to us. Apparently our driver informed Games of the situation because as we were leaving, she came to the place and berated the owner of the hide for telling her that there were still space available when actually there wasn't. The owner was a bit apologetic and told Games that he had another hide at a different place and that nobody was using it. So he took us there and apparently it was newly built and the birds were not that used to it yet. Still, he assured us that birds will come. We settled in and hoped that there would be birds indeed. Thankfully, there were. We even got one more lifer there - the Chinese Blue Flycatcher.

The driver promised to pick us up at 5:30 pm. By 5 my wife and I both agreed to call it a day. Good thing that as soon as we got back to road, our driver was already there.

There was still enough light that afternoon so we went to the lake where Games and Ian were celebrating their Valentine's Day.  Across the lake Cynthia saw a big black bird perched on a branch. "Darter!" I exclaimed. Hearing me, Games smiled and corrected me, saying,  "Little Cormorant". Now that was lifer #43 for us

Despite getting six more lifers that day, it was not exactly how I had hoped it would be. Not seeing our target broadbills somehow was disappointing. That in happened during Heart's Day added a bit of sadness even. Isn't it strange that "heart" and "hurt" sound so much alike?

That night, after a light dinner, my wife, noticing my gloomy mood, told me "It's ok, we have each other".  And that is what Valentine's Day is all about.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Thailand Birding - Day 3 - Ek's Marks the Spot

February 13 - our third day of birding in Thailand. Games, the owner of the Baan Maka Nature Lodge where we were staying, recommended that we go visit the hides at Baan Songnok. Her driver would take us to that place, she said. She also told us that the owner of the hide, Auntie Ek, speaks English and knows the birds in the area very well.

Right after breakfast we headed off to Auntie Ek's place. She greeted us cordially and escorted us to where her hides were. Expect the partridges to come, she assured us. At first only the uber common birds - the Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Red Junglefowls and Spotted Doves - showed up. Then slowly, a covey of partridges emerged from the dark side of the forest. The first kind was the Bar-backed Partridge and lifer #25 for us.

Then came the more shy Scaly-breasted Partridge and our 26th lifer.

Satisfied that we got what we came for, we walked outside. Auntie Ek, bless her heart, pointed at the top of the electric pole across the street from her place. "Plain-backed Sparrow," she said. Somehow this individual was looking at something inside one of the wire connections as it kept flying in front of it then perch at the top of the pole. It kept this interesting routine the whole time we were trying desperately to get a good photo of this hyperactive bird and our 27th lifer.

Soon our driver came to pick us up and bring us back to Baan Maka. As we were about to leave, Auntie Ek, encouraged us to return in the afternoon. "There will be different birds at that time," she said with such confidence, "besides your entrance fees are good for one day anyway." 

"We'll be back," we told her in the most Schwarzenegger-ish accent.

Back at Baan Maka, we had time to spare before our second visit to Baan Songnok. Of course, we wandered around the premises again and were lucky enough to add three more species to our life list: the Dark-necked Tailorbird, the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and a Bronze-winged Jacana. 

A little before 3 pm and we were back at Auntie Ek's place. And she was right - there were different birds that came to the hide that afternoon. We had a bonanza of lifers!

Lifer #31 - Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush

#32 - Brown-cheeked Fulvetta

Our 33rd lifer was a challenge. Several species look so very similar that it was hard determining which is which. We believe that the one we just photographed was the Tickell's Blue Flycatcher.

When lifer #34 came, I saw it first and I kept telling Cynthia, "blue-and-white, blue-and-white" as I kept taking photos of the said bird. I was curious why my wife wasn't reacting at all. When I asked her why she was not photographing the Siberian Blue Robin, she said she had no idea what the "blue-and-white" thing I was taking about. I guess that despite its color, that tiny bird blended well with the darkish background and did attract Cynthia's attention.

Having settled the issue, another bird showed up by the small "pool". And yes, it was another lifer - the Pin-striped Tit-Babbler.

After the Tickell's and the Siberian Blue Robin had left, another bird came that looked like a hybrid between those two species. The Hainan Blue Flycatcher was lifer 36 for us.

As we were about to pack up, one more lifer came and our final for the day - the Abbott's Babbler.

Baan Songnok, or I should say Auntie Ek's spot, is definitely a birding paradise. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Thailand Birding - Day 2 - Kum and Go

February 12 - our second day in Thailand. As we were waiting for our breakfast to be served, I noticed some bird movements on the tree where we saw the Flowerpeckers the day before. Soon our 11th lifer showed up in full view and even posed nicely for us - the Golden-fronted Leafbird.

It was joined later by the Sooty-headed Bulbul which we also saw yesterday.

After breakfast we roamed the premises of the Kum Nangpaya Lodge where we were staying. We hadn't gone far when I saw a dark colored raptor fly over and land on a tree. Seeing it had a crest, "Baza!" I told my wife excitedly. It was lifer #12. It was quite high and far so we only got documentary shots.

Continuing our walk, we saw some yellow birds feeding on a fruiting tree. Black-naped Orioles, I thought to myself. Being a common bird in the Philippines, I sort of hesitated a bit but decided to take a picture anyway. Later on as I was reviewing our photos, I discovered that it was actually a different species and another lifer for us - the Slender-billed Oriole. It was a good idea that Cynthia and I both agreed to take shots at any bird even if they look familiar.

By the stream, a Chinese Pond Heron was busy looking for food. 

About quarter to eight, the rising sun was dissipating the cold morning air. We spotted a small bird preening and enjoying the warmth. Lifer #14 was a Common Tailorbird. 

Flitting among the tree leaves was a warbler which I still am unable to identify. Could it be just the very common migrant Arctic Warbler? Hopefully it would be something we hadn't seen before.

Returning to the stream, we saw our 15th lifer - a Plain Prinia.

With the numerous swallow-like birds flying above us, I took some shots hoping that I would be able to know what species they were. Thankfully I did as it was lifer #16 - the Grey-throated Martin.

On the ground some plain-looking birds were going in and out of the bushes. We followed their movements and eventually got some shots of one of them out in the open. Lifer #17 - the Indochinese Bush Lark.

As we were celebrating our luck at getting the bush larks, a medium-sized bird perched just a few feet above us. Not a really good photo but lifer #18 - an Asian Emerald Cuckoo, was documented.

As we were returning to our lodge another cuckoo, the Plaintive one, posed nicely for us.

Around 11 am, we checked out of Kum Nangpaya because we will go to our home for the next three days, the Baan Maka Nature Lodge. Along the road we chalked up two more lifers: the Indian Roller and the Green Bee-eater.

After checking in at Baan Maka and enjoying a sumptuous lunch, we began exploring the grounds. "Try the fruiting tree by the lake", Games, the owner of the lodge, advised us. Indeed there was much avian activity at the said tree. Soon we added the Lineated Barbet to our life list.

The Chestnut-headed Bee-eater was next.

We then proceeded to lake which was mostly covered by lotus plants. A big surprise, and our star bird the day, was the friendly Asian Openbill, another lifer for us.

To end our birding day, the Black-hooded Oriole capped off our life list to date. That was lifer #24.

We returned to our lodge as I was so eager to upload the photos we got on that fruitful birding day.