Kaeng Krachan is Thailand's largest national park, encompassing around 45 square kilometers near the border with Burma (aka Myanmar), and is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Bangkok; it's home to over 300 species of birds, almost all of them potential "life birds" to me (meaning I'd be seeing them for the first time in my life).
As every birder knows, the day often starts before dawn, and facing a long drive from Bangkok meant an even earlier one: Tony picked me up at the hotel at 4:00am local time, and together with his wife and his brother as a driver, we set off for our day trip. We made a stop for coffee and some breakfast along the way at a 7-11 (yes, they have 7-11s in Thailand), and the sun was just starting to come up as we neared Kaeng Krachan.
The mountainous forests at that hour are alive with sounds that I as a birder from the United States (with a smidgen of birding in the Caribbean and Europe under my belt) to be totally novel, like something out of a movie. On familiar turf, I rely on birding "by ear" fairly heavily, helping me know which birds are hanging out in the trees and brush... but in Thailand, I was on completely unknown ground. (I did, later in the day, recognize what had to be a woodpecker's short, high chip--that was nearly the only familiar bird sound of the trip!) Noisier than the birds were the many gibbons, which made an unearthly racket.
|A Dusky Langur|
From the very start of our morning birding, Tony was an incredible professional. He'd have his spotting scope out and set up before I even had begun to guess at where the birds in the dense forest canopy were. Now, I know I'm a middling-good birder at best and have frequently found myself awed by the birding skills of friends like expert Florida birder Adam Kent (and his wife Gina), but I have to say that Tony really, really impressed me with his birding. We'd be driving along the dirt roads through the park, and he'd signal a stop and almost immediately have a new bird in sight, no matter how thick or dense the forest above us--and he knew them all by ear and name. I'd studied my copy of Birds of Thailand before the trip to at least familiarize myself with the sorts of things I'd see, but I would have been all day flipping pages without Tony.
As all of the birds would be new to me, I didn't have a list of particulars I just had to see (though to be fair, I kind of did want to see a Flameback, as the similarly-sized and appearing Pileated Woodpecker is one of my personal favorites back home). So, pretty much from the outset of the trip, I was chalking new life birds on my list--as I explained to Tony, even the most common of birds would be exciting to me for this first time birding in southeast Asia. Indeed, I recall my first visit to California, when I saw a Western Scrub Jay for the first time and was just mesmerized by a bird which is as common there as the Blue Jay is back here in the eastern US.
|An Emerald Dove|
|Mountain Imperial Pigeon|
|A White-browed Scimitar Babbler (I think!)|
|A Bulbul--I think it's a Flavescent Bulbul|
|Butterflies at a Mineral "Lick"|
We birded in the lower elevations alongside the streams and rivers throughout the afternoon, and as Tony had promised earlier in the day, we indeed did get to see some Greater Flamebacks--a group of five of them, all told! Although I didn't get a photo of these beautiful woodpeckers (they were so deep in the foliage it was a challenge making them out at all), getting to see them was in and of itself a wonderful treat. (The photos in the linked Wikipedia article above really do not do them justice.)
|Red-bearded Bee Eater|
Tony patiently pointed out the locations of several species I had a hard time spotting in the forest, using a green laser pointer to help steer me in the right direction.
|Tony "Eagle Eye" (Thanaphat Kinglek) and his wife|
|Oriental Pied Hornbill|
|Plovers along the Bight of Bangkok|
|Sunset over the Bight of Bangkok|