Wednesday 10 July 2024

Mid-Summer Birds

Mid summer, Hong Kong birders often will tell you this is the quietest time of the year, with barely anything happening, there are barely any migrants, often no vagrants and weather is just too hot for anyone to be outside for any extended period of time. There are still some breeding birds around, but often nothing too exciting. A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo I got at home last month was probably the best I could manage, it did showed exceptionally well though, considering I didn't even need to leave my front door!

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

If you care to look, all our resident species are still present. Yellow-bellied Prinias and Plain Prinias both breeds in Hong Kong, if you are lucky you sometimes can find their nests in the tall grass.

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Plain Prinia - nest

Many forest species are still active during the hottest month of the year, although getting to them often takes a lot more effort...So, all my recent sightings have been incidental. I got a pair of lovely Silver-eared Mesia posing nicely for me near Chuen Lung one morning, and a relatively cooperative Speckled Piculet near Sheung Shui.

Silver-eared Mesia

Speckled Piculet

Hainan Blue Flycatchers are one of our most prominent breeders in the forest of Hong Kong, while males are not really vocal anymore, around this time of the year it is not uncommon to see adults with their recently fledged youngs.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male with juvenile

We don't have that many waterbirds or waders breeding in Hong Kong, Little Ringed Plover is one of the few, if you ever get too close to their nesting site, you will see the adult fake an injury, such as this one that was deliberately dropped its wings to act as if it was injured, so to lure me away from the actual nest site. I had no chance finding the actual nest anyway, as the egg was just so well camouflaged!

Little Ringed Plover

I paid a visit to the Black Baza breeding site near Sheung Shui, its been quite the focal point among photographers. I was quite surprised the pair have not abandoned the site given how much of the habitat have been destroyed by the construction right next to it, but they seems very loyal to this site. This is the last remaining breeding pair of Black Baza that I know in Hong Kong, who knows how many more years they will still breed here, my hope is that they will perhaps use other suitable habitats nearby if this patch of forest becomes too disturbed. I only got photo of one of the two birds, the other was seemingly busy hawking for insects in the dense foliage. It will be a shame if we lose this charismatic raptor as a breeding species.

Black Baza - one of our rarest local breeder

Monday 8 July 2024

Thailand - Kaeng Krachan : 3rd - 5th July 2024

Kaeng Krachan National Park, also known as KKC in the birding world, is one of the prime and most famous birding sites in Thailand. Being just approximately three and a half hours away from urban Bangkok, it is a perfect destination for short birding trips. I’ve only heard good things about this birding hotspot, and when I received a photo of a pair of Eared Pittas breeding from a friend, I decided to book a last minute trip. I contacted Isara, an experienced birding guide in Thailand, and he immediately helped organize the logistics. I booked a late afternoon flight for Hoiling and I to Bangkok on the 3rd, and hope the Pittas would still be there when we arrived.

3rd July -

Isara arranged transport for us to get to the hotel near Kaeng Krachan National Park. Our flight arrived at BKK Suvarnabhumi Airport at around 9pm, it took us a while to communicate with Mr. Yo the driver, as he didn’t speak English, but with help of the airport staff and some google translation, he managed to locate us in the end. By the time we got to the car it was around 10pm, and we started our 3-hour journey towards Kaeng Krachan.

Our transport

We slept through half the journey, and when we arrived at our hotel in Kaeng Krachan town it was already 1am in the morning. After a quick shower, we prepared for a 6am start...

Good to see a nice clean room upon arrival!

4th July -

We met up with Isara at the hotel, who still had another tour that morning, so he booked us into the Eared Pitta hide while he birded with the other group. After a quick morning coffee, we headed off with Mr. Yo to the Eared Pitta hide, the hide itself was located outside the gates of the National Park on private land. Every year during the breeding season, the local guides would look for breeding spots for this rather cryptic species, once the nest site is located they would work on a makeshift hide nearby. Along the way we saw plenty of birds, from Oriental Pied Hornbill, Racket-tailed Treepie, Great Racket-tailed Drongo, Indochinese Roller…We didn’t bother to stop as we knew our priorities, Eared Pitta first!

Mr. Yo driving us to the Eared Pitta hide

By 6:45am we were seated in the hide, waiting for the bird to return. After an hour of not seeing anything, we finally caught a glimpse of the male hopping in from up the slope. Pittas are generally known as colourful ground dwelling birds, but the Eared Pitta is perhaps the most cryptic of all, being mainly brown and black. They do have very lovely patterns on their crown and on their side, and their “ears” are more like an extended plume from the back of its supercilium. The male watched carefully for any threats. It took him 10 minutes to finally hop out into the open, and soon onto the nest up on the slope.

Eared Pitta - male

Since we only got side on views from the left side of the hide, we decided to move over to the right. From this angle we could see the nest entrance with the female keeping watch. 

Eared Pitta - female in nest

It was another 20 minutes before the male returned once again with a beak full of worms, this time we could see the chick being fed. We waited around for the male to return twice more. The hide itself did not attract any other birds, but we heard plenty of other bird calls, including a Blue Pitta and a Blue-winged Pitta nearby.

Eared Pitta - male

By 9:30am, Isara met us at the hide, we were very happy to get good views of our main target, and decided to move on to other birds elsewhere, hoping to maximize our chances of this very short stay. Isara took us to another bird hide nearby, which was well built and fairly comfortable. These kind of bird hides are now a familiar setup and is common across much of South East Asia and China. As soon as we got seated, we saw plenty of birds outside, dominated by a flock of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, and among them were a few Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush. A few White-crowned Laughingthrush were also present.

Typical bird hide setup with a water hole towards the left in the opening

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush

White-crowned Laughingthrush

Puff-throated Babblers are regular visitors to bird hides, they can be very friendly and often hopped into the blind. A few Streak-eared Bulbuls came through occasionally. White-rumped Shama is probably the most commonly seen species in all the bird hides I've visited around South East Asia.

Puff-throated Babbler

Streak-eared Bulbul

White-rumped Shama - male

The hide also attracted a wide range of wildlife, including Lesser Oriental Chevrotains (also known as the Lesser Mouse-deer)! Three species of squirrels were present and a few Northern Treeshrews came through constantly.

Lesser Oriental Chevrotains

Grey-bellied Squirrel

Indochinese Ground Squirrel

Himalayan Striped Squirrel

Northern Treeshrew

We saw 2 species of Woodpeckers at the bird hide. Firstly Common Flameback, both sexes of several individuals came in, at one point at least 4 showed together. A family of Greater Yellownapes also visited the bird hide, two juveniles following their parents around, while they were already as big as the adults, one of them was still begging for food! The parents still fed it occasionally, albeit reluctantly.

Common Flameback - female

Common Flameback - juvenile male

Common Flameback - male

Greater Yellownape - female

Greater Yellownape - male

Greater Yellownape - a very big juvenile begging for food...

Around noon, a single Scaly-breasted Partridge finally made an appearance, this was a different race to the ones I've seen in Vietnam. We waited for Bar-backed and Ferruginous Partridge but unfortunately none showed up. Small groups of Red Jungle Fowls started emerging, mainly females with chicks.

Scaly-breasted Partridge - race peninsularis

Red Junglefowl - female with chicks

Isara bought us Pad Thai for lunch, it was very tasty and certainly lifted our spirits. It took a while for something different to to turn up, in form of a White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, coming in to take a dip into the water. Green-eared Barbets also made an appearance, among them one poor bird had a broken upper mandible.

White-browed Scimitar-Babbler

Green-eared Barbet - with broken bill

Green-eared Barbet

A very quick bird darted onto the scene, and what a bird it was! A Large Scimitar-Babbler came into view for a quick dip in the water. I've only seen this species at Nonggang in Guangxi, therefore making this my second encounter, which was no less exciting! Two Grey Peacock-Pheasants came into view, although both were exceedingly dull looking, judging by the colour of their eyes, I think one is possibly a juvenile, while the other a moulting adult female. While no adult males came into the bird hide, I am still glad these two showed up, as this was actually a lifer for me, despite this being the most 'common' Peacock Pheasant in the region.

Large Scimitar-Babbler

Grey Peacock-Pheasant - likely a female and juvenile

Seeing that the Kalij Pheasants were a no show, we decided to cut our losses and try our luck elsewhere, given we didn't have much time to do birding inside the actual National Park! Just a few minutes from the bird hide, I spotted a Blue-winged Pitta hopping on the ground! It was just hopping casually by the side of the road inside the farmland. What a bizarre place to see a Pitta! It later flew up onto a tree, called a few times and flew off into the forest. A bit further on some farm track I saw two Barred Buttonquails, luckily I managed to get a few photos before they faded into the tall grass.

Blue-winged Pitta

Barred Buttonquail - male

Barred Buttonquail - female

Red-wattled Lapwings were very common around farmlands, as were Indochinese Rollers, which hawked for insects from overhead wires. I briefly saw a male Red Avadavat flew across the road, but couldn't locate it once we got closer.

Red-wattled Lapwing

Indochinese Roller

It was just around 3pm when we entered the National Park gates, a brief shower came through but luckily didn't turn into any major torrential rain. Once the rain stopped we got out of the car for a little walk, during which we added a Clouded Monitor chilling up on a tree. Nearby, an Asian Openbill showed relatively closely.

Clouded Monitor

Asian Openbill

We headed higher up the road past Ban Krang Campsite, here the track runs along a small stream. Isara stated he found a White-fronted Scops Owl with the group in the morning, this gave me hope that the owl would still be roosting there. But, when we got to that spot the owl was long gone. We searched the nearby area, hoping that the owl didn't go far. When Isara waved to us to tell us he located the owl, I couldn't believe our luck! It was hard to see the bird through all the leaves and twigs, but once we moved around we found a few better spots to see most of the owl's diagnostic features. This species is known to be quite a tough bird to find, but Kaeng Krachan seems to be one of the prime site for this species in the region, and how glad I am to connect with this lifer on my first visit here!

White-fronted Scops Owl - a major target at Kaeng Krachan for most birders!

Isara wanted to show us Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher, it's a species I am always happy to see, despite some searching along its favourite stretch of river, there was no sign of the bird. We heard one made a flight call briefly, but failed to locate it. We were however amazed by the number of butterflies found around the park, flocks and flocks of butterflies gathered around puddles to drink, and to see hundreds of butterflies all flying off together as you walk past them was quite a magical scene.

Guide Isara walking through all the butterflies 

Common Raven


Straight Peirrot

Bird activities around the forest in the afternoon was a bare minimum, with hardly any birds calling or moving. Since the park gate closes at 6pm, we thought we shouldn't risk getting locked in! As we headed back down to the main gate, Isara stopped to try for Banded Kingfishers at a spot he found them nesting, and sure enough we got close views of a male carrying a mantis back to the nest! The nest itself was out of sight, however the bird showed brilliantly down the slope at eye-levels. We left the site after just a few minutes there, so not to disturb them anymore than necessary. 

Banded Kingfisher - a stunning looking male!

Just outside the park gate, we stopped along some fields. Red-wattled Lapwings were calling and flying everywhere, but one bird flew out of the field that looked different, it took me a few seconds to work out what it was, an Indian Thick-knee! This was another lifer for me, and we got reasonably good views of it flying past us over the road. Around the fields we also added an Indochinese Bush Lark and a few more Asian Openbills.

Red-wattled Lapwing

Indian Thick-knee - Unexpected lifer!

Indochinese Bush Lark

Asian Openbill

Isara wanted to try for Chestnut-capped Babblers along the tall grass, a pair of these wonderful looking birds flew right in after a quick burst of playback. Nearby, a Yellow-eyed Babbler also came in to investigate the commotions. 

Chestnut-capped Babbler

Yellow-eyed Babbler

Finally, just as we were about to leave I heard the familiar call of Golden-headed Cisticola, a displaying male dropped in from above and started singing at a close range! The race equicaudatus differs from the ones in Hong Kong, with bright orange head and breast, an absolutely cracker of a bird!

Golden-headed Cisticola - breeding plumage

In the evening we celebrated our successful day with Thai Spicy Steamed Fish, Tom Yam Chicken Soup and beer!

5th July - 

It was a 6am start in the morning again, this morning we explored the main road around the national park, as we didn't get to do any birding outside of the bird hide during prime birding hours the day before. Isara tried for the Banded Kingfisher site again, this time we got good views of the female bringing back a spider. Again, we stayed only briefly before moving on.

Banded Kingfisher - female

A bit further on, we added a few Dollarbirds, White-rumped Shamas were very active with a very vocal male that showed well. We added a distant pair of Great Slaty Woodpeckers that flew past, closer we had a few Hair-crested Drongos with a Common Flameback.


White-rumped Shama - male

Hair-crested Drongo & Common Flameback

Isara tried calling in the Banded Broadbills he saw yesterday morning with another group, after a little bit of waiting around I heard them call nearby, and sure enough a pair of these beautiful broadbills flew in next to the road. I've always had a soft spot for Banded Broadbills, more so than Black-and-Yellow and Black-and-Red Broadbills, perhaps simply because I have not seen all that many of them in the past.

Banded Broadbill

A pair of Green-billed Malkohas flew across the road, announcing their presence by their very long tail. A few smaller birds that flitted around turned out to be Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds, I was surprised by the lack of sunbirds around, Isara stated this was normal in the wet season, as there aren't that many flowering trees around. Nearby, I managed to locate a Black-naped Monarch nest right next to the road!

Green-billed Malkoha

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird - male

Black-naped Monarch - male at nest

We stopped briefly at the campsite for a toilet break, the garden area hosted countless butterflies. A pair of Common Tailorbirds also came through briefly. We looked out for Sun Bears in the camp site but only found its foot prints.

Indian Wanderer

Orangetail Awlet

Common Mormon

Common Tailorbird

Sun Bear track

Continuing on the road further up hill, we encountered a Red Muntjac feeding on the road. The area is known to host Indochinese Leopards, Isara said a few days ago someone saw one, but these encounters are rare. Asian Elephants are more numerous, although encountering them still require some luck. All we saw were some fresh droppings along the road.

Red Muntjac

Fresh Elephant dung

We encountered more mammals, first a group of Dusky Langurs, their white spectacles were very conspicuous. Not too far off we found another species of primate in form of some Lar Gibbons foraging up above! It is always an exciting experience to see Gibbons in the wild, it was nice to see at least 2 family groups in the morning, we even saw their acrobatic display as they jumped from one tree to another!

Dusky Langur

Lar Gibbon

Other interesting wildlife along the road includes a Prajuab Khirikhan Waterfall Crab, a species endemic to Thailand. We also found a Forest Garden Lizard casually chilling by the roadside. Hoiling also found a Pink Lymantria Moth.

Prajuab Khirikhan Waterfall Crab

Forest Garden Lizard

Pink Lymantria Moth - Lymantria mathura

Isara was ahead looking for birds when he waved over at us, turns out he heard the call of the Rusty-cheeked Hornbills near a fruiting fig tree. Despite some efforts, we just didn't see any sign of the bird! There were however plenty of other hornbills around, mainly Oriental Pied Hornbills. There were also a pair of Great Hornbills in the tree, the male in particular gave great views. Despite not seeing the Rusty-cheeked, I was still fairly pleased with seeing the Great Hornbills so well, as all my previous sightings have been brief flight views.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Great Hornbill - male

We tried calling the Dusky Broadbills in but none responded. Isara thought we should give the trails a go, just in case any Rusty-cheeked Hornbills were resting nearby after gorging themselves on the figs. Our efforts were rewarded by a pair of Silver-breasted Broadbills, which showed brilliantly.

Silver-breasted Broadbill

Unfortunately, we didn't see anything too overly exciting. A family group of Pin-striped Tit-Babblers showed nicely, the only other bird that was noteworthy was a big flock of Large Woodshrikes very high up. Just before we headed back to the hotel, we heard a Blue-bearded Bee-eater calling, but unfortunately it refused to give itself up.

Pin-striped Tit-Babbler

Large Woodshrike

With that, we headed back to Bangkok at 11am, where we arrived at Donmueang International Airport at 2:30pm, and took the 5:40pm flight back to Hong Kong.


Overall I thought this extremely short trip was more enjoyable than I anticipated, perhaps this was also because my expectations were not particularly high to begin with, given how little time we had I didn't think we would see the amount of birds we did. In total I had 6 lifers, with 1 heard only (Streak-breasted Woodpecker), but other species I got fairly good to excellent views! Kaeng Krachan is a truly spectacular place, with the wide variety of habitats and elevation within the park, the number of species you can see at just this one site was quite staggering. It is not just the birds, but the number of insects and overall abundance of mammals make this site a wonderful place to visit for all nature lovers. I certainly will love to return again in the dry season for other species of birds in the future. Big thanks to guide Isara for helping with organizing the logistics and take my request at the last minute, without his help I don't think I would have seen as many species in such a tight schedule.

SpeciesScientific NameNote
1Bar-backed PartridgeArborophila brunneopectusHeard
2Scaly-breasted PartridgeTropicoperdix chloropus
3Grey Peacock-Pheasant +Polyplectron bicalcaratum
4Red JunglefowlGallus gallus
5Rock DoveColumba livia
6Red Collared DoveStreptopelia tranquebarica
7Spotted DoveSpilopelia chinensis
8Asian Emerald DoveSpilopelia chinensis
9Zebra DoveGeopelia striata
10Thick-billed Green-PigeonTreron curvirostra
11Mountain Imperial-PigeonDucula badia
12Greater CoucalCentropus sinensis
13Lesser CoucalCentropus bengalensis
14Green-billed MalkohaPhaenicophaeus tristis
15Asian KoelEudynamys scolopaceus
16Square-tailed Drongo-CuckooSurniculus lugubrisHeard
17Germain's SwiftletAerodramus germani
18House SwiftApus nipalensis
19Indian Thick-knee +Burhinus indicus1 at farmland
20Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus
21Red-wattled LapwingVanellus indicus
22Barred ButtonquailTurnix suscitator
23Asian OpenbillAnastomus oscitans
24Oriental DarterAnhinga melanogaster
25Little CormorantMicrocarbo niger
26Cinnamon BitternIxobrychus cinnamomeus
27Javan Pond HeronArdeola speciosa
28Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus
29Great White EgretArdea alba
30Medium EgretArdea intermedia
31Purple HeronArdea purpurea
32White-fronted Scops Owl +Otus sagittatus1 inside NP
33Asian Barred OwletGlaucidium cuculoides
34Orange-breasted TrogonHarpactes oreskiosHeard
35Great HornbillBuceros bicornis
36Oriental Pied HornbillAnthracoceros albirostris
37Black-backed Dwarf-KingfisherCeyx erithacaHeard
38Banded KingfisherLacedo pulchella
39White-throated KingfisherHalcyon smyrnensis
40Blue-bearded Bee-eaterNyctyornis athertoni
41Asian Green Bee-eaterMerops orientalis
42Blue-tailed Bee-eaterMerops philippinus
43Indochinese RollerCoracias affinis
44DollarbirdEurystomus orientalis
45Coppersmith BarbetPsilopogon haemacephalus
46Green-eared BarbetPsilopogon faiostrictus
47Greater FlamebackChrysocolaptes guttacristatus
48Common FlamebackDinopium javanense
49Streak-breasted Woodpecker +Picus viridanusHeard
50Greater YellownapeChrysophlegma flavinucha
51Great Slaty WoodpeckerMulleripicus pulverulentus
52Silver-breasted BroadbillSerilophus lunatus
53Banded BroadbillEurylaimus javanicus
54Black-and-Yellow BroadbillEurylaimus ochromalus
55Eared Pitta +Hydrornis phayrei1 male, 1 female, 1 chick
56Blue-winged PittaPitta moluccensis
57Blue PittaHydrornis cyaneusHeard
58Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus speciosus
59Ashy WoodswallowArtamus fuscus
60Large WoodshrikeTephrodornis virgatus
61Hair-crested DrongoDicrurus hottentottus
62Greater Racket-tailed DrongoDicrurus paradiseus
63Black-naped MonarchHypothymis azurea
64Racket-tailed TreepieCrypsirina temia
65Indochinese BushlarkMirafra erythrocephala
66Common TailorbirdOrthotomus sutorius
67Dark-necked TailorbirdOrthotomus atrogularis
68Golden-headed CisticolaCisticola exilis
69Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
70Ochraceous BulbulAlophoixus ochraceusHeard
71Olive Bulbul +Iole viridescens
72Streak-eared BulbulPycnonotus conradi
73Yellow-vented BulbulPycnonotus goiavier
74Sooty-headed BulbulPycnonotus aurigaster
75Yellow-eyed BabblerChrysomma sinense
76Chestnut-capped BabblerTimalia pileata
77Pin-striped Tit-BabblerMixornis gularis
78Rufous-fronted BabblerCyanoderma rufifronsHeard
79White-browed Scimitar-BabblerPomatorhinus schisticeps
80Large Scimitar-BabblerErythrogenys hypoleucos
81Puff-throated BabblerPellorneum ruficeps
82Abbott's BabblerMalacocincla abbotti
83Lesser Necklaced LaughingthrushGarrulax monileger
84White-crested LaughingthrushGarrulax leucolophus
85Greater Necklaced LaughingthrushPterorhinus pectoralis
86Siamese Pied StarlingGracupica floweri
87Common MynaAcridotheres tristis
88Great MynaAcridotheres grandis
89Oriental Magpie RobinCopsychus saularis
90White-rumped ShamaCopsychus malabaricus
91Ruby-cheeked SunbirdChalcoparia singalensis
92Asian Fairy-bluebirdIrena puella
93Scaly-breasted MuniaLonchura punctulata
94Red AvadavatAmandava amandava
95Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus