Witnessing the Incredible Himalayan Griffon – and a Sad Ending Note.

The Himalayan Griffon Vulture is one of the largest Vultures of the old world, with a wingspan which can reach 3 metres. Native to the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, they are incredibly rare to find in Thailand, but some do make it over during the winter months. Chiefly, juveniles which disperse further south for whatever reason.

In the last few months, Himalayan Griffon has been a semi-reliable sighting at Pak Phli in Nakhon Nayok province. Having never seen a Vulture, I wanted to see this rarity before it inevitably heads back north. Pak Phli is also the wintering spot for hundreds of Black-eared Kite, and plays host to many interesting species. Not far from Bangkok, it wasn’t a hard decision to go.

Black-eared Kites sunning in the morning. 22th February 2022.
Black-eared Kite is the most abundant bird when it’s wintering here.
22th February 2022.

Arriving after 8am, I was early enough to catch hundreds of Black-eared Kites rising on thermals. Having never been to this site before, the birding was easy and it was very accessible. Expecting the sighting of Himalayan Griffon to come at late morning, I observed the Kites and then spend some time looking around the area.

Black-eared Kites soaring on thermals. 22nd February 2022.

In the roosting area of the Kites there was a Long-tailed Shrike, further along I also observed a Burmese Shrike. In the water there was a Little Cormorant who had a very good breakfast. The natural soundtrack was rich with calls from the Kites and song from the larks.

Seems to be a family photo, many funny captions to be made with this picture. Leftmost bird is a youngling. 22nd February 2022.
Little Cormorant with breakfast. 22nd February 2022.
A better look at the Little Cormorant. 22nd February 2022.

Alongside White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher was an easy find, perched in a tree, silently stalking the potential prey below. The area was new to me, so there were many lifers lurking. I only picked out the ones I could identify confidently which included Indochinese Bushlark and Striated Grassbird (Plus the Burmese Shrike and the Himalayan Griffon).

Male Common Kingfisher from the morning. 22nd February 22.
A very lovely and inquisitive Indochinese Bushlark. It came by really close, and later ran along the road behind me. 22nd February 2022.
The Striated Grassbird put on a very musical display on the exposed perch.
22nd February 2022.

As it turned 10am I was checking the sky for the Vulture. Amazingly, one of the birds soaring high above was in fact the Himalayan Griffon! It was just incredible to see. Despite its size, it didn’t strike me as being huge at first because it was at such a high altitude. It spent the next 2 hours descending and riding the thermals back up. As it came low I was able to get some good photographs of this majestic bird.

Himalayan Griffon at low altitude. 22nd February 2022.

Just after midday, it was briefly mobbed by a few Black Kites – the Kites are not small, they have 1.5 metre wingspans, but they still looked tiny compared to this massive beauty. After getting incredible views of this rarity I was very happy with the morning spent at Pak Phli. It didn’t seem to be landing anytime soon, so I explored the area a bit more before leaving.

Himalayan Griffon. The streaks are indicative of this bird being immature.
22nd February 2022.

The bird life was plentiful in the area. There was livestock, including Buffaloes. It was lovely to see them with Cattle Egrets at their feet, Mynas perched and pecking on their heads.

This Plain Prinia was particularly friendly, foraging a few feet from me as I was watching the Bushlark. 22nd February 2022.

The sad thing is, in Thailand, and very noticeably in this area, they still use nets to trap and kill birds in the name of protecting their fish. It’s incredibly jarring to see such barbaric practise still allowed to continue in Thailand. With Bird conservation organisations established for decades, seemingly doing nothing about this practise – which has an easy fix alongside educating people behind their actions. I find it INSANE, they seem to just turn a blind-eye to mindless torturous death of thousands of protected species on a daily basis. I would have thought it would be a priority to stop this practise of trapping. They are still some current efforts – any documentation can be contributed here.

Next time, I’d take pictures of all the numerous dead birds in these nets, at the time I was deeply affected and just took one picture of this deceased White-throated Kingfisher. 22nd February 2022.

All images © 2022 hamsambly

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