The day before leaving for Phuket, I went back to Phutthamonthon to check if the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers were still there, as apparently, nobody checked the day prior. After making my way around the park, I found a rain tree with plenty of passage migrants. After continuing onwards I decided to check out the bamboo before the bridge. I thought there could be a Pitta lurking about. Funnily enough, Fairy Pitta had always been on my mind here since Wichyanan had pointed it out as the first site where it was recorded in Thailand.
When entering, I heard a sound that I quickly realised was a Siberian Blue Robin. I was waiting where the clicking was coming from and was treated to close-views of it foraging on the edge of the grove. I had explored the bamboo for a short while and there wasn’t a sign of much else, I had even played some Fairy Pitta songs to see if a Pitta would pop-out like at the Department of Public Relations. Whilst watching the Robin, something did jump off to the side, I didn’t catch it but I assume Orange-headed Thrush or Pitta. I went looking, and eventually knew, it was a Pitta.
After I saw it, I thought, its likely a Blue-winged Pitta. But as I inspected my photo, the wing was definitely NOT a Blue-winged Pitta. And the reality of the moment kicked in. It was the highly sought after Fairy Pitta. It was very skittish, so after a few ‘okay’ shots I went and sat down. It eventually hopped out into the open allowing for a clear shot, after 30 seconds, it jumped off and disappeared. I couldn’t believe it and probably spent the next hour-or-so lying down in the bamboo grove before heaving back to the car park.
I was going to post it on Thaibirdreport that evening but my trusted friend, who let me know about the Jungle Flycatcher wanted to see it before it was crowded. I told him I would post it in the morning at 8am so he had a chance to see it in relative peace. Unfortunately, it wasn’t found in the morning. But the sighting led to another rarity which was found later that day, a Schrenck’s Bittern. The only Pitta present was the aforementioned Blue-winged Pitta, which is still a cool bird to see on passage.
Moving on, yesterday I returned on a rain-delayed flight from Phuket, which concluded my first birding trip to the south. In the end, it ended up being the most fruitful and exciting trip I have been on so far! I spent the first couple days around Phuket and southern Phang Nga with my friend Derrick. Visiting some Phuket spots and Ao Phang Nga National Park.
The first major target were the Spotted Wood-Owls, which I was lucky enough to also encounter in Phang Nga. To be honest, for Phuket, it was my only sought after species besides House Crow. The northern area of Phuket was really nice, I stayed at the Maikhao Home Garden Bungalow and the room was really nice. Most of the luxury hotels such as Anantara are found on Maikhao beach in the north. Generally speaking, its more pleasant in the north area. And I think the birding is much better. I couldn’t even find a Spotted Dove at the southern most area…
On the second day we went across to Phang Nga to check a few sites. I picked up a few species including Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Olive-winged Bulbul (nesting), Mangrove Pitta (nesting) and Ashy Tailorbird. Before heading to another area to see Jungle Myna and observing Rufous-bellied Swallows. The latter, I got a much better view just before heading to the airport yesterday.
The mangrove had the loudest cicadas I ever encountered, leaving me partially deaf for 15 minutes after leaving the area. But it was great to see the Mangrove Pitta, and resident Ruddy Kingfisher. Afterwards we went to the Jungle Mynas.
In the late afternoon we were greeted with torrential rains but it made for some nice photos of Blue-throated Bee-eater. The next day I was checking out the Ton Sai waterfall, making a quick stop at central and then seeing the House Crows (picture above) before driving over into Phang Nga to another accommodation.
I went to the waterfall trail quite late in the morning, so it was very hot. I was happy to find the trail got easier and the birds got better as I was over half-way. My favourite sighting was Red-billed Malkoha, who had come down to take a bath and wasn’t too shy as i crossed over the wooden log. After having lunch and reaching the southern area of Phuket, it was mainly just the House Crows with some waders and I guess the Indian Pond Heron was quite a good sighting.
Upon waking up in Phang Nga, I looked at the window to find an Indian Pond Heron, on my final day there I had a look around before checking out and relocated it and took a better photo. The hotel was basically in a lily pond next to mountainous forest. Blue-winged Pitta were all around and calling, they often served as an alarm clock. On my final morning, I was woken up early by the Pitta but fell back asleep and they entered my dreams.
My first full day here, I went to explore some spots by myself with a few pointers from my friend Andaman. My first target was River Lapwing, in the afternoon it was Plume-toed Swiftlet at a temple and my plan was to end the day by stopping by at the Thai Mueang Health Garden. The Lapwing spot was perfect, just the type of birding I really enjoy. It didn’t take long to see the River Lapwing, I also found a Common/Pin-tailed Snipe which flushed I wasn’t able to make the ID despite being prepared recording audio for the 2nd flush.
The rain started pouring after leaving the meadowlands and I approached the temple. I had to wait an hour or so for the downpour to stop. A few days ago my friend had seen Lesser Fish-Eagle here, I wasn’t able to see it but my first sighting was super close views of Crested Serpent Eagle drying after the rains.
I went on an overgrown trail behind the temple, along a rocky forest stream. It was my first encounter getting bitten by leeches. I fended off around 6 of them, but I wasn’t too bothered about them due to knowing they aren’t much danger compared to other things such as ticks. The ones that latched on only left some red spots but the next day I found my under-shirt covered in blood with bruised spots where the bites were. It was quite shocking but ended up being alright. When I got out of the trail I managed to see the Plume-toed Swiftlets, Grey-rumped Treeswift & Silver-rumped Needletail. The latter I forgot about but remember just before leaving and managed to see them and take a picture.
Afterwards I drove to the health gardens, passing through Khao Lak. People go here to try to see the Spotted Wood-Owl but it wasn’t on my mind as I had seen these owls well in Phuket and knew they hadn’t been seen here for about a month and my friend recently had no luck here. I was shocked to see it as soon as I walked beside the park area. It was truly a memorable day.
The next 2 days I would be joined by Andaman and we were going to see some incredible species. The following morning was a 3am wake-up and we went to see Great Argus in the forest. Surprisingly, I was woken by my alarm and I felt well rested. I made sure I had some black coffee for the day – it ended up finishing around midnight for me. After picking my friend up, he told me that the nickname for his hometown was ‘fog town’ and at 3am, it truly lived up to its name. We started our hike into the forest at around 5:30am, we heard the calls of our target. It showed just after 7am and stuck around for more than an hour. I won’t post all the photos but you can find them on my eBird or iNaturalist profiles.
Upon exiting we checked out the Bushy-crested Hornbill nesting cavity but it was evident that all birds had recently fledged and they weren’t present. We were treated to a trio of Malayan Banded Pitta, they were very close, heard well, but we didn’t get any clear view. Upon exiting the forest we heard the critically endangered Helmeted Hornbill, unfortunately it decided to fly in the opposite direction into the valley but we caught a quick glimpse of it. We decided to check a nearby temple for Brown Wood-Owl.
After a short drive we arrived at the temple, we were searching for the Brown Wood-Owl. We came across a Blue-winged Pitta and not long after, our main target. After seeing it, it quickly took off and we witnessed its amazing size, it caught me off-guard how large it looks when flying. I asked my friend if it would eat the Domestic Chicken chicks, he said it would eat the hen for sure.
Usually shy and nocturnal I was curious why this Brown Wood-Owl was super alert and active. It didn’t take long to find out why. There were multiple, possible 4 others. They were recently fledged young, so this was the reason. The young Owl allowed for pictures more than the adult who was extremely vigilant, a group yesterday came here and had to return at night because they couldn’t get any photos. We got our photos and quickly left the Owls in peace, they were already the target of a lot of mobbing from the smaller birds.
It was midday now, but being up since 3am it felt like it was time for bed. In this case, it was just time for lunch. We were going to spend the rest of the afternoon in Si Phang Nga. I must mention, the canteen and Si Phang Nga serves good food, not sweet, like many places in Thailand, just decent thai food. Unfortunately, on this day, our target of Gould’s Frogmouth had not been seen, so we took a walk and eventually decided to check out the bird that was showing. It ended up being the Malaysian Blue-banded Kingfisher after a misleading chat with one of the rangers. Apparently there was a Paradise-Flycatcher nest with fledglings but they had been killed shortly before.
My friend brought along his hide, so we set it up beside the rocky stream, nearby the Kingfisher nest on the mud-bank. We sat in there for nearly an hour before we heard the calls of the Kingfisher. We saw it about 30m to the left smashing a skink it had caught. After a couple minutes, it flew in to the rock right in-front of us! It was incredible, I wanted to see this species for a long time and it was totally unforgettable, and one of my favourite captures in my life.
How could you top this? It was so good. My other friend who visited a week prior had little to no luck with this Kingfisher after waiting for 5 hours. We had set-up the blind in exactly the right place. After about 40 minutes we heard a violent splash to the left and it was another unbelievable experience. My friend saw it first and let me know, rather calmly, that a Reticulated python was fighting with a Common Water Monitor. I eventually got my camera on the fight.
Before leaving we checked the stream where the battle took place and found the Python still wrapped around, probably resting.
After the battle of the Reptiles, we were informed of a Rufous-collared Kingfisher just behind the stream, the second new Kingfisher of the day! It turned out to be a female which has buff-coloured spots on the wings, which, in my opinion, make it much more stunning than the male.
After this amazing Kingfisher and Reptile sightings we had a look around the other areas meeting some friends in the process. We were treated to a flock of Bushy-crested Hornbills making their way to their roost. Before leaving, at sunset, we waited for Bat Hawk and we did hear it. This day was the best day of the trip for sure.
The next day we weren’t planning on returning to Si Phang Nga but we got notified that Gould’s Frogmouth had been found in the morning. Unfortunately, upon arrival it had relocated. We looked around at other birds, there was one shy Hooded Pitta near the waterfall. Eventually the Frogmouth was relocated. It meant that I had gotten all of my targets on this amazing trip.
Afterwards, we had lunch at the Si Phang Nga canteen before heading to Ao Phang Nga mangroves. We found the Brown-winged Kingfisher but couldn’t get a photo. Other than that, we saw the Ruddy Kingfisher and a very vocal Mangrove Pitta. It was only a short visit as I needed to get to the airport shortly afterwards.
Whilst driving to drop my friend off, they pointed out a pair of Rufous-bellied Swallows that I was yet to get a good photo of. Unfortunately I had already passed it but after the drop-off, despite being slightly late, I made a U-Turn out of my way to return to this near-endemic species of Swallow. Thankfully they were still there.
The trip was an amazing success. Many thanks to Andaman for your guidance and help with my trip in Phang Nga. And also Derrick for allowing me to join you when I arrived in Phuket. My introduction to the south left a very favourable impression and I’m sure to be back in the future. I still have plenty of videos that I might sort through in the future, most notably, that of the early morning with Great Argus. This has likely been my longest post, so thank you very much if you made it this far. It was also much more challenging to write this over a few days as I’m usually the type to try and get things done in one-go and I had to pace myself on this piece.
All images and video © 2023 Sam Hambly.
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One thought on “Fairy Pitta & First Southern Trip”
Great pics and a great post! Some real grippers here, especially the kingfishers.