Thailand A

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Subject: Thailand A
From: "Dion Hobcroft" <>
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2007 11:53:53 +1100
Compared to Pnom Penh's pleasant airport the brand new complex in
Bangkok appeared to have missed some key points. Taking a bus from the
plane to the gate, walking for kilometres past endless shops, lengthy
queues for departure tax, lots of unnecessary people in the terminal
fail Suvarnabhumi in the task of getting people in and out asap. To add
insult to injury the nearby hotel blacked out seeing us search for our
headlamps to negotiate firestairs. Still this is Thailand with its
excellent infrastructure, friendly people, outstanding food and network
of protected areas a must visit in Southeast Asia.
A predawn departure and we are soon birding in rice paddy and wetlands
on the way to Ayuthaya-the ancient capital of Thailand. It is a great
morning with star highlights a flock of over 100 Grey-headed Lapwings,
great views of Thick-billed Warbler and a Ruddy Crake that pokes around
in shallow muddy shaded fringes. We make it in the afternoon to a temple
chaperoned by helpful monks to a snake (Naga) staircase in limestone
karst country where we enjoy a major highlight in the form of a pair of
Limestone Wren-Babblers bobbing around as tame as Rockwarblers. We
narrowly avoid running over a spectacular metre long Stripe-tailed Rat
Snake that makes it safely across the road.
We are in Khao Yai National Park one of Thailands premier forest
reserves. This is a sensational place to enjoy Asian wildlife though on
occasions can be overcrowded on weekends and key locations. Still a
singing White-handed Gibbon and a quartet of stunningly beautiful
Pin-tailed Parrotfinches in seeding bamboo set the pace for the next
three days. In the afternoon we enjoy a most unusual scene. A small
drain from the kitchen of a camp ground restaurant attracts an
assortment of unusual animals keen on scraps and rice. Pig-tailed
Macaques jostle with large Water Monitors, Red Junglefowl nervously eye
off these more intimidating neighbours. We are waiting patiently for the
star of the show and we are not disappointed when eventually the
Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo- a coucal sized bird with red bill and legs,
violet facial skin and a job description that details never to reveal
yourself to birders makes fleeting passes before finally freezing for
that mega view. To add icing an Orange-headed Thrush turns up and puts
on a great show.
Next morning we are staked out at a fruiting fig. Dozens of Oriental
Pied Hornbills and Thick-billed Green Pigeons gorge on the fruit, a
cat-sized Giant Squirrel is draped over a branch like a mink wrap. We
wait patiently for the hoped for appearance of the scarce and
inconspicuous Brown Hornbill. Coinciding with their appearance, one lady
trips on a step and falls very heavily with a cup of tea. Very nasty
fall but the suspected fractures fail to eventuate but the bruising
develops an inky purple black- a lucky escape though. We all continue
birding. Our group splits off and we have another magic wildlife moment.
The forest is dry and some rustling leaves tip me off on the left. I am
half expecting a Red Junglefowl or White-crested Laughingthrush and
certainly not expecting the Dhole-the red Asian wild dog to come
barrelling out metres in front of us. We hold position, as a pack animal
we hope more will follow and a further six run across the road. A very
special rare sighting. On a previous visit my wife and I found a freshly
killed Sambar stag on a trail-like walking in on a murder scene, spooked
Lise something serious. Although we never saw the Dhole perpetrators in
that case to quote a Bhutanese friend we saw their deeds.
Spotlighting on a Friday night is not recommended in Khao Yai as dozens
of vehicles drive in a fuming convoy in noisy groups -the ambience most
definitely lost. Still we try and head away in different directions. We
have some instant luck when I spot a Brown Hawk Owl, next a trio of
Asian Elephants are at a mineral salt lick. We have a quiet patch then
both Red and Indian Giant Flying Squirrels are located by their powerful
eyeshine. A Palm Civet, a Lesser Indian Civet then a great moment when I
realise powerful eye shine belongs to the giant black aberrant carnivore
called the Binturong or Bear Cat. A lifer mammal for my co-leader we can
hear increasingly frantic turn around instructions booming from the
front vehicle as the perplexed local driver wonders what all of the fuss
is about. They make it back for a timely view and we enjoy a bit of a
laugh! The Binturong remains unphased.
Khao Yai has been great with a lot more special birds besides including
the stunning Banded Kingfisher, enormous Great and Wreathed Hornbills,
the scarce Jerdon's Baza and superb studies of Orange-breasted and
Red-headed Trogons. We drag ourselves away and prepare to fly to the far
north of Thailand birding the mountains on the Burmese border. 

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