Thailand - The ‘Spoon-billed Pitta’ Tours
AT A GLANCE
Birding Tour: birds and photography
Bangkok (Thailand) - option extension down south to Krabi area
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, White-faced and Malaysian Plovers, Asian Dowitcher, and many other shorebird species, a fair percentage of the world’s wading birds plus gulls and terns. Banded, Mangrove, a good chance of Gurney’s Pitta and possibly a wintering Blue-winged together with many forest birds including owls and frogmouths.
Very warm to hot.
Comfortable hotels and lodges, all rooms with private facilities.
Most birders will have done a double-take when they saw their first plate or photograph of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This enigmatic little shorebird is one of most highly desired species for many people because of its unique spatulate shaped bill. That it breeds in the far east of Siberia only adds to its mystique (see the In search of Spoon-billed Sandpipers voyage for probably the last chance to see them on their breeding grounds). It has been long known to winter in various locations in SE Asia but always in low numbers, thinly spread and with no easily accessible hotspots.
The best chance for many years was to see one on spring migration in Hong Kong, but even there sightings were very hit and miss and have become more so in recent times. Then a few years ago small numbers were discovered wintering within a few hours drive of Bangkok, in a vast area of coastal salt workings. Birdlife International are now surveying these birds, and in 2007 up to 14 birds were then present in the area. Sadly, there are now thought to be less than 200-300 pairs left in the world, and numbers are still declining. In February 2007, WildWings conducted a recce crewed by Mark Andrews, John Brodie-Good and Angus Wilson. We enjoyed prolonged close views of up to seven different Spoon-billed Sands in superb light over two days, although not at the main ‘published’ site in the area. The birds offered excellent photographic opportunities, but note D-SLR users should plan on using a tripod. The first proper tour in 2008 enjoyed daily multiple close views of up to eight individuals, along with a large supporting cast of other Asian waders totaling 43 species, which is approximately 25% of the world’s total! All our trips have scored since, with both our 2013 and 2014 trips enjoyed prolonged, close views of up to 5 birds. Our groups also see the putative new wader species, currently being called White-faced or Swinhoe’s Plover. We have excellent chances of seeing the also declining Nordmann’s Greenshank (up to 40 birds in 2014), Asian Dowitcher (a flock of 47 in 2014) and the regionally endemic Malaysian Plover, plus Great Knots and Grey-tailed Tattler (most years). Other waders seen include Marsh, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Red-necked, Long-toed and Temminck’s Stints, Pacific Golden Plover and both Greater and Lesser Sandplovers plus Painted, Pintail and occasionally Swinhoe’s Snipes to name a few.
The supporting cast included Pallas’s, Brown-headed and Heuglin’s Gulls, terns, assorted birds of prey, cormorants, herons and egrets including wintering rarities such as Chinese Egrets most years, (Black-faced Spoonbill in 2008), Ruddy-breasted Crake, Slaty-breasted Rail, Indian Nightjar, Collared Scops Owl plus bee-eaters, kingfishers and a nice variety of passerines.
After your time on the coast, we will spend the last two nights near the fabulous forest reserve of Kaeng Krachen and the last two days birding inside the park. This will add a nice selection of species that are unlikely to be seen in the south and should include the magnificent Great, Oriental Pied, Wreathed and Rusty-cheeked Hornbills, Long-tailed and Silver-breasted Broadbills perhaps with a chance of Pitta’s especially the gorgeous
Blue. The Park itself has an impressive mammal list including Tiger though it is extremely unlikely that we should ‘bump’ into one. We should however see the gorgeous Dusky and Banded Langurs, White-handed Gibbon and the impressive Black Giant Squirrel and a fair chance of Asian Elephant. Kaeng Krachan is also one of the best places in Southeast Asia to see Leopard with fairly frequent sightings, it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time!
Our small group tour will travel in an air-conditioned minibus and explore the network of salt pools and marshy areas along this pancake flat coastline. Expect temperatures of about 90 degrees F and baking sun, but we will retire to local cafes during the worst heat of the day. One morning/evening we will enjoy a leisurely cruise through some mangroves out to Laem Pak Bia sandspit, an excellent site for gulls and waders with kingfishers. We will stay in a new hotel, all rooms with private facilities and air-conditioning and will use our visit to enjoy the superb cuisine Thailand is famous for. For the last two nights we will stay near Kaeng Krachen.
Join Mark for one of these unique short birding trips for two and more of Thailand’s best birds, he will go out ahead of the groups, to recce the area again, fresh before your arrival.
There will also be an optional opportunity for you to fly south to Krabi after our main tour, and spend three full days birding Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNC) with the top local birding guide in search of that ultimate forest gem, Gurney’s Pitta plus much, much more. We enjoyed 25 minutes close viewing of a pair from one of Yotin’s portable hides deep in the forest in 2007, as have all our tours since except 2012 & 2013. The area suffered unusually heavy rain in winter 2011/2012 and Yotin suspected they had moved out of the reserve as a result. The Thai government have also now apparently three males taken from the reserve, now in captivity. They are still present, at least four birds, but not as easy to see as they used to be. Yotin saw a female the day after our group left in 2013 and has being seeing at least one pair since. A male has been seen again in the latter half of 2014. Banded Pitta are not far behind in looks it must be said, if not even more spectacular than Gurney’s, we have seen these superbly well in all six years (and Mangrove Pitta can be expected too). This unique dry lowland rainforest supports a host of other superb birds and Yotin and his assistant’s abilities to find and show you them is astonishing. Some of the other major highlights may include Javan Frogmouth and Gould’s Frogmouth by torchlight. With the addition of swifts including needletails, kingfishers, broadbills, bee-eaters, leafbirds, drongos, flycatchers, Orange-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin (with the pittas), starlings, mynas and bulbuls, tailorbirds, phylloscs, babblers, flowerpeckers and spiderhunters, the variety at KNC can be stunning. You will stay in a local inn near the park entrance in air-conditioned cabins with private facilities where simple cheap Thai meals are available to purchase. Yotin will also take you to some other local sites eg Khao Lung for Rail Babbler and Wallace’s Hawk Eagle. You will travel around in Yotin’s 4 x 4, and on the return journey to Krabi airport, we plan a short boat ride into the fishing nets off the town for roosting waders, especially the regular wintering Nordmann’s Greenshanks, and we have excellent chances of Mangrove Pitta here.
Day 1: Depart UK for Bangkok.
Day 2: Arrive Bangkok early morning, drive to the coast and birding for the rest of the day.
Day 3: A full day’s birding in the saltpans area including one boat trip to the sandspit.
Day 4: We will spend whatever time we need to mop up in the saltpans before moving towards KK. Rest of the day at KK. Overnights outside the park.
Day 5: A very early morning drive to arrive in Kaeng Krachen for park opening. A full days forest birding with a picnic lunch.
Day 6: Morning and early afternoon birding at Kaeng Krachen. Afternoon drive back to Bangkok airport for flights home or south to Krabi.
Day 7: Arrive UK
Day 6: Evening flight down to Krabi. Guide to pick up on arrival and transfer by road to accommodation (approx 1 hour). Overnight KNC.
Days 7-9: Three full days to explore KNC and Krung Ching Waterfall and forest with your guide concentrating on pittas and other forest specialities. At least two evening spotlighting session for owls and frogmouths.
Day 10: Krabi itself for waders and the Phangnga Mangrove and if time allows, Ban Nai Chong forest. Return to Krabi airport for afternoon flight to Bangkok. Depart Bangkok
Day 11: Arrive UK.
Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.
Dates: 29th January 2017 – 4th February 2016 (29th January 2017 – 8th February 2017 with Krabi extension)
Leader: Mark Andrews (Yotin Meekaeo in Krabi).
£1995 per person sharing a twin room
£109 single supplement
£800 per person deposit
Group size: Maximum 6 plus the leader and local guides
Krabi Extension c£650pp twin share.
Advance register for 2018 for only £50pp.
29th January – 4th February (29th January – 8th February with Krabi extension)
Price includes: Return economy class non-stop flights London to Bangkok including pre-paid taxes, ground transport by a/c minibus, accommodation in a/c rooms with private facilities with breakfast and lunches, dinners at KK, water and soft drinks in the field, bird checklist and services of leader/s. Extension – return air travel from Bangkok to Krabi, overnight hotel Bangkok Airport for one night, ground transportation, accommodation at KNC and other sites with private facilities (single supplement approx £60), Yotin and team’s guiding services including night birding, boat trip, park admissions, water, coffee, fruit in the field and most meals. The exact extension price may vary with party size.
Price excludes: Insurance, dinners in the north, drinks and other items of a personal nature. Extension - other drinks.
Currently no visas or compulsory vaccinations are required for UK passport holders.
The 2008 to 2015 species lists are on our website or available from us on request.
29th January – 4th February 2017
(29th January – 8th February 2017with Krabi extension)