Three weeks in Thailand

To: birding-aus <>, "Ebn " <>, birdchat <>
Subject: Three weeks in Thailand
From: Vader Willem Jan Marinus <>
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2011 19:49:44 +0000
                                         THREE WEEKS IN THAILAND WITH VENT

Last month I had the pleasure to travel to various nature areas in Thailand, 
and watch birds. The trip was organized by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and 
very ably led by Dion Hopcroft; participants were, besides me, 7 Americans. 
Thailand is a pleasant and relatively easy country to travel in: the people are 
invariably pleasant and friendly, the infrastructure is good, the food is 
delicious, and most birding is from roads or paths. Of course one is in the 
tropics, and for somebody who lives at 70*N the heat takes some getting use 
to---on the other hand, I personally was not all that much impressed with the 
'biting cold' on top of Thailand's highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, at 2 500m.

We met in Bangkok, and drove in two cars to the Khao Yai National Park, with 
Dion in one car, and our excellent local leader Mike in the other; somewhat 
unexpectedly the two cars did not have direct contact with each other. On the 
way we visited a complex of fish ponds (Surrounded by typical small Thai 
villages), as well as Thailand's former capital Ayutthia, and got out first 
contact with the tropical temperatures and humidity. In the fish ponds and the 
many many rice paddies of this area there were hundreds of Asian Openbills and 
'white herons' of different species, as well as lesser Whistling Ducks, 
Moorhens, and Little Grebes in their finest summer plumage, while 
Ruddy-breasted Crakes and Black-capped Kingfishers constituted my first life 
birds (They would be followed by c 100 others!); Wood Sandpipers were quite 
common here, and Whiskered Terns fished the lagoons. An interesting new bird 
for me was the large and conspicuous Striated Grassbird, a common bird here, 
but not seen later during the trip.

Khao Yai, where we spent three nights is a large tropical forest in very hilly 
terrain, and it took me a while to adjust to birding in an area such as this, 
with 20-30m tall trees, and an often very dense undergrowth--we don't have any 
of that in Tromsø. Very new was also the almost constant sound decor of singing 
gibbons, apes I only knew from the zoos of my Dutch youth, and which I very 
much had hoped to see here. Here we could now and then see them brachiating at 
high speed through the trees and belting out their territorial songs; mostly 
these were the White-Handed Gibbons, but once we also saw a singing Pileated 
Gibbon up close. Otherwise the forest was full of squirrels of several species, 
here mostly the Variable Squirrel (living up to its name by appearing in many 
hues), and now and then the cat-size Black Giant Squirrel with its long tail. 
Khao Yai also still has many deer, hunted out in most of the rest of Thailand: 
Sambar were everywhere---a few even had learned to scrounge from the campers 
and picnickers---and also Muntjaks (Barking Deer) were common, how common we 
first saw during a evening spotlighting tour. Finally, there are also elephants 
here, and one grumpy old male in must soon convinced us, that discretion is the 
better part of valour, and compelled us to back up with the car.

And then the birds!! We soon learned to recognize the abrupt crow of the Red 
Junglefowl, and quite regularly also saw these quite beautiful pheasants, and 
during our three days here we also succeeded in watching a beautiful Silver 
Pheasant, and also glimpsing the shy Siamese Fireback. The first morning we had 
breakfast at a viewpoint, and watched the day and the bird activity start up 
there: bulbuls, of course (Thailand is full of them), the very beautiful 
Leafbirds and Fairy Bluebirds (full of Aaah and Oooh factors),  the always 
beguiling and busy minivets (Moving through the foliage, in the words of the 
great Salim Ali, ' as if they have a train to catch'), the fast Hanging 
Parrots, the busy and conspicuous drongos, and of course the larger glamour 
birds: Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons, and even 
a Stork-billed Kingfisher, with indeed an enormous red bill. Barbets sound all 
around, but are often hard to find, and I also learn the beautiful song of the 
White-rumped Shama. We find a Great Hornbill at the nest, patiently gulping up 
berries and feeding them one by one to his imprisoned female. What we don't 
find here, are babblers (Except the unspectacular Striped Tit Babbler and on 
the last day the feisty White-crested Laughing Thrushes) or woodpeckers, while 
also raptors are quite scarce.

I had bought a flower-book in advance, but that turned out to be alphabetically 
organized by genus name, not ideal if you don't know the genus names, and I 
never succeeded in finding out what flowers I saw; the only exception being the 
small trees with the white 'flowers' (that turned out to be large white leaves, 
while the real flowers were small and yellowish-orange) that was so common in 
Khao Yai; this is Mussaenda cf sanderiana, in the family Rubiaceae.

Thailand is also justly famous for its butterflies, and we saw lots of them, 
often in swarms, and in the most exquisite forms and colour patterns. Some of 
the others did take many pictures of them, and I hope to get to see some of 
them. We had several thunder showers in the afternoons at Khao Yai, but still 
got to see most of what there is to see there.

More later.

       Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum

       9037 Tromsø, Norway


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