Ever since I became a bird nut in August 2012, I have dreamt of going on a foreign birding trip but somehow the opportunity never presented itself. Though I have gone birding for a day in Penang and for a few hours in Beijing (because we got lost), these were sorties squeezed in a business trip. So when word came out that super Thai guide Wittawat Noulin (a.k.a. Guide K), agreed to accomodate two groups of Filipino birders, I wasted no time in asking for a visa from higher authority. Once granted, I joined the first group. With me were: Rey Sta Ana, Ed Santos, Conrad Olayres, Homer Pialda and Alex Ting.
We boarded a PAL flight on the evening of June 4 (Day 0). The flight was supposed to leave at 7:00pm but since we were at NAIA, we were slightly delayed (what else is new). We finally took off a little before 8pm. Knowing we will have a long night ahead, we all dozed off after consuming our in flight meal.
We landed in Bangkok's vast Suvarnabhumi airport at approximatley 9:45pm local time (which was 10:45 our time). After walking through the long airport (good thing they have walkalators), we reached immigration. Somehow we got separated from Rey and as it turned out all five of us wrote Samarn Bird Camp in our arrival cards (one of us even wrote Samar, but I won't say who). And of course the Immigration officers (we were in tow separate but adjacent lines), wouldn't accept just Samarn Bird Camp. Soon Ed and Alex (who were the first to approach the counters) were looking back at us asking for details. Being behind Ed, I approached as said Kaeng Krachan Park which was also denied. We are kinda panicking at this point. The ever resourceful Conrad went off and looked for Rey and came back to us with the info that we will be going to Phetchaburi Province. Whew...
After being welcomed into Thailand, we searched for the stall selling SIM cards. I was proudly proclaiming that I brought along a spare phone only to realize that my spare phone was locked to Globe. Haaay! So while the others were loading their local SIMS, I could only look. Then we set out to look for our driver whom we found with no difficulty but it turned out that our long-haired and pony-tailed driver didn't really speak English. We were at the elevators already when we told him we were hungry and asked where we could eat. Not really understanding what he was saying, we decided to play it safe and go back inside the terminal and get Burger King. And after getting our food we finally reached our van, loaded our considerable luggage and settled in the van, a Toyota Grandia with customized interiors that somebody remarked was like a KTV. Another said it looked like a motel with it's mirror like ceiling. And soon we were off. After finishing our burgers, we all drifted into dreamland only to be jolted awake two hours later when the van made a sudden swerve. After going a few minutes, our driver made a U-turn (naligaw pa ata kami), and after a few more stops and another U-Turn, we finally reached Samarn Bird Camp where Guide K welcomed is heartily. It was around 2am local time, which meant 3am in our body clocks. Breakfast was to be at 6:30am. So we trudged to our rooms. I was paired with Conrad and after quickly unpacking and dressing up, we were asleep.
I set the alarm at 5am but both Conrad and I were up and dressed before that. While dressing up, there was a knock on the door and Ed's head popped in. He was also dressed. I guess we were all excited, to put it mildly. While at the breakfast table, we saw several perches with bananas stuck in "pins". And soon we saw our first bird in Thailand, a Streak-eared Bulbul - Thailand Lifer # 1 for me. I ran back to my room to get my camera and was able to snap a few shots but they were all docu shots so I won't post them here yet. On the way back from the room, I spotted an Oriental Magpie Robin on a tree near our room but it flew away before I could take a photo. Since our own Magpie has been split and proclaimed an endemic, (Philippine Magpie Robin), I am listing this as lifer # 2 in Thailand.
After a quick breakfast, we got our gear and loaded up.
After a quick breakfast, we got our gear and loaded up.
Locked and loaded. About to leave for KKC. Photo courtesy of Alex Ting.
After stopping at the gate to sign in (and pay entrance fee of Thb 300 or about Php 450), we proceeded inside Thailand's largest National Park. And immediately I noticed that the roads were well paved. After about 10 minutes into the park, we stopped and Guide K said we look for the Banded Kingfisher and within minutes he was signaling us to go to him. And just like that we saw one of the major targets, the Banded Kingfisher. Lifer #3
Banded Kingfisher, male
After several minutes the female made an appearance but either it stayed high or in a backlit position. But being a lifer, we did the best we could.
Banded Kingfisher, female
There was also a Black-thighed Falconet high up in a tree. I aimed my camera just to document it but Guide K said we will go back for it in the afternoon when it goes to the nest. Alex and I also saw a Hair-crested Drongo which is also present in Palawan.
While shooting the Banded Kingfisher
Guide K soon called us and said it was time to go. On the way we encountered several Red-wattled Lapwings and we frantically banged on the roof of the pick up. Only for Guide K to tell us, "later, easy!". So we meekly said okay. Soon we stopped and in Guide K pointed to a branch hanging over the middle of the road. It was a nest of a Red and Black Broadbill. So we got down and set up our tripods. While waiting we saw a small bird flitting on the bushes. Common Tailorbird, Thai lifer # 4 for me.
Docu shot of a Common Tailorbird
Before long, one, then, two Red and Black Broadbills showed up and we had a photo session. Lifer # 5.
Red and Black Broadbill
After a reasonable time, Guide K herded us into our vehicle and after a short drive we saw another nest hanging over the middle of the road. And before long two Yellow and Black Broadbills showed up for another photo session. Lifer # 6.
Black and Yellow Broadbill
By this time, we were all sporting ear to ear grins.
Again, after a reasonable time, (our guides in Coron should learn this), Guide K was signaling us to mount up already when one of the Black and Yellow Broadbills, perched in front of him with a moth and he excitedly pointed to it then ran to get his camera.
After another few minutes, Guide K brought us to another tree by the road. Here we saw a Pied Hornbill, lifer # 6, (but no really good photos). After the Hornbills flew away, we went to the camping area to have coffee. It was at this site that we saw a nesting Hair-crested Drongo.
We then mounted up again and headed deeper into the park. We suddenly stopped in the middle of the road (again), and Guide K got out looked around and then instructed us to set up our cameras and tripods. We asked him what it was because we could not see any bird. He said "secret". He then positioned Rey's camera and then told the Rey not to say what he saw, just shoot. Then he aimed my camera and upon looking through my viewfinder, I saw my 7th lifer in Thailand. And another photo session ensued.
After having our fill of the Frogmouth, (and continuing to sport ear to ear grins), we headed back to the cafeteria for lunch.
After lunch we again went into the forest and stopped by the 3rd stream (by my count). By this time, we have noticed the presence of so many different kinds of butterflies on the ground. In fact we saw several "butterfly watchers" taking photos. Guide K, went to one side of the road where a female bird photographer was seated on a stool, camera mounted on a tripod and pointing at something in the dim forest. It took me a few seconds before my eyes locked in on the target. A nesting Black-naped Monarch.
After shooting this bird, we turned around and drove a short distance. Guide K scouted around while we were dismounting. Then he motioned for us to go to him. Since my companions were still setting up, I was the only one who was able to go near him. We descended on a trail and found ourselves on a riverbank. Then a small red bird flew by but did not perch. Guide K, ran back up the trail to look where the bird might have perched. I was going to follow but I saw some movement in the bushes. I quietly moved a bit to my left and saw my 8th lifer, Occhraceous Bulbul.
Occhraceous Bulbul (with prey!)
I went back to the road and rejoined the group. Guide K was still craning his neck and looking for something. He pointed at something through a gap in the leaves. I think I was the only one who saw it and was able to snap a very distant and docu shot of the Black-backed Kingfisher, Thailand lifer # 9.
A blurry and partially covered Black-backed Kingfisher
We boarded the pick up again and drove a very short distance to look for the Silver-breasted Braodbill. And after only a short wait, it was there but it kept to the trees that getting a clear shot was a bit difficult. Lifer # 10.
While waiting for the Broadbill to perch in the open, Guide K suddenly (and excitedly!), pointed at a nearby tree and we all swung our cameras in that direction. Lifer # 11, Orange-breasted Trogon.
After the Trogon flew away, we went back to waiting for the Silver-breasted Broadbill near its nest (also on a low branch hanging in the middle of the road). And before long, our target birds showed up. (If only birds everywhere are these friendly).
During a lull, I saw Guide K point at something high up. I went to where he was and angled my camera almost straight up and saw another Broadbill, and my 12th lifer, Banded Broadbill.
The Banded Broadbill stayed high up so after some minutes, we repositioned for the Silver-breasted Braodbill and while doing so, another bird showed up, Red-throated Barbet. Unfortunately, I was not in a good position for this so this is my only decent shot. I believe Alex and Ed were able to get good ones with a melted green background. Nevertheless, it is Lifer # 13 for the day.
Before long another photo session with the Silver-breasted Broadbills (there were four of them), ensued. This time, the birds didn't mind our presence. They perched on a low tree beside the road allowing us really close captures.
It was also at this time that our group was joined by the "mysterious and alluring" Mikaela, also a birder. When we mounted up to go to the Falconet, our newfound companion rode with us at the back of the pick-up. We learned that our new friend was from Switzerland, and was on a two week holiday in Asia. When we reached the campsite, the pick-up stopped to let Mikaela down but our new companion asked to go with us but Guide K said it will be dark by the time we finish and to dangerous to walk back to the camp grounds because the area had elephants, especially at night. Mikaela reluctantly dismounted. :-(. Perhaps to make the parting less painful, one of us told our new found friend, "see you tomorrow". And that is how the legend of Mikaela started. (😀😀😀)
We proceeded to the Falconet, where we waited and waited and waited for it to come down to the nest. While waiting for it, my companions got good photos of the Common Flameback, Hair-crested Drongo and Oriental Dollar Bird. I was kinda tired and since these birds weren't lifer for me anyhow, I waited near the nest area. Meantime, I saw this Malkoha high up in a distant tree. I believe it is a Green-billed Malkoha, Lifer #14.
It was getting dark and we were all getting tired and impatient. Some wanted to go back to Samarn already but Guide K said wait awhile...and in Guide K we trust! When the sun was starting to go down, about seven Falconets swooped down one by one to the nest (a hole in a tree trunk). Lifer #15 for the day.
While we were shooting the Falconets, about three to four Pied Hornbills gracefully glided into a nearby tree. I repositioned myself and attempted to get photos of the Hornbills. It was not easy because the birds kept on going moving.
Pied Hornbill, adult
Pied Hornbill, juvenile
And with that, Day 1 ended...we were exhausted, but really contented with what we saw and was able to photograph. Thank you Lord! Thank you Guide K!