Sunday, 14 June 2009

Khao Yai

After arriving back in Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I stayed one night in the All Seasons Bangkok Siam Hotel in the city centre. I got a taxi from the airport and showed the driver a map with directions but, true to form as seems to be the case with Bangkok taxis, the prat still got lost and we took 2 hours to get there instead of 30 minutes. He spoke no English, it seemed, until he asked for a tip when he suddenly found he could speak very good English. He did not get a tip.

The next day, Monday, I set off for Khao Yai - taxi to Mor Chit bus station, a three hour bus ride to Pak Chong (during which I added Asian Openbill Stork to my list) and then a 20 minute journey by songthaew (pick up truck buses) to the Greenleaf Guest House 7.5 km outside Pak Chong, towards Khao Yai NP.

I booked a guide for the next day, 'Mr Nine', and we set off in his truck for the 'Cold Mountain' at 0545 the following morning. I had had no sleep the night before due to the combination of (the fear of) spiders and cockroaches, heat and a very hard mattress but I felt fine. The first birds of the day were Red-breasted Parakeets, Black-shouldered Kite and Black-collared Starling

On entering the park and paying the 400 Baht entrance fee we carried on to the first look out point and soon found Lineated BarbetGolden-fronted Leafbird, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and Common Iora. Further up we found male and female Great Hornbills and their nest with a grown young one inside it, who was still being fed by the parents. We stopped and took quite a lot of photos and I managed to get some nice flight shots.

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="Great Hornbill, Khao Yai NP"]Great Hornbill, Khao Yai NP[/caption]

We went for a walk in the jungle. I got my camera out of the car and moved to the back of the vehicle. There was a sudden pattering noise, like falling rain, and I looked up, to see a Pig-tailed Macaque right above where I had been standing a second earlier - I had only narrowly avoided being pissed on by a monkey!
On the jungle trail, which was dense, leechy and spidery, we got good, but brief, views of a Siamese Fireback pheasant, which was one of my target species, although I didn't get a pic due to the brevity of the views and the fact it was too dark in the forest. We also heard Imperial Pigeon and Sultan Tit, and while I didn't see the pigeon (but saw one later) I got a very quick view of the tit plus we saw Barking Deer (Muntjac) in the dense vegetation. Other birds were Greater Flameback and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
There were a lot of spider webs strung between trees, fortunately well above head height (unless you were taller than 6'7") as these contained huge orb spiders bigger than a man's hand. To a spider-phobic person like me, these were frankly nasty-looking although they are not dangerous unless you are an insect or a small bird.

[caption id="attachment_197" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="This spider was bigger than a man's hand"]This spider was bigger than a man's hand[/caption]

The leeches, as expected, were a nuisance. I had taken all the precautions against them, such as leech socks and plenty of repellant but I forgot one small, but important, detail. I didn't even think about tucking my shirt in, with the result that I got leeches all round my middle and on my back, happily helping themselves. My off-white (naturally!) cotton shirt, fortunately an old one, looked like I'd been the victim of a stabbing, as it was soaked in blood because leeches inject an anti-coagulant so you bleed profusely and stay bleeding for a while afterwards. The shirt has subsequently gone in the bin as the blood didn't wash out despite using 'Vanish' on it. Oh well, you're not a world birder until you have been bitten by leeches while in the pursuit of birds...!

We spent the afternoon at the top, where we found an Oriental Pied Hornbill family - the female was busy de-legging the biggest centipede I have ever seen in my life, it was easily a foot long -  and the other side of the mountain and also took the road up to a military installation where the soldiers were kind enough to let me use the 'facilities' as well! We didn't see much up there, apart from a Stripe-throated Bulbul and a lovely view so we drove back down. About a quarter of the way down we found a small party of Silver Pheasants - male, female and juvenile male - stunning birds. We got some photos; Nine is a keen bird photographer, too  and we had great fun taking pictures and comparing them.

By 4.30 I was falling asleep and feeling dizzy because of the lack of sleep the previous night, but I soon woke up when we stopped, got out and saw a Crimson Sunbird, of which I got better views than I did of the one I saw in Singapore.
Back up the mountain the lifers kept coming: Red Junglefowl (the ancestor of domestic chickens and another target species for me), Green-eared Barbet, Crested Goshawk, Needletail Swift and the gorgeous Indian Roller, another target species and one that had hitherto eluded me. I photographed the Roller, but the light was going and 1250 ISO does not really make for anything other than a record shot.

[caption id="attachment_198" align="alignnone" width="264" caption="Indian Roller at Khao Yai"]Indian Roller at Khao Yai[/caption]

Sadly, it was time to head back out of Khao Yai and back to the guesthouse, but not without adding Wreathed Hornbill and Thick-billed Green-pigeon to the list. I was hoping to see Asian Elephants, but although there were signs of their presence, such as droppings (in the words of Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park: 'That is one big pile of shit!') and wrecked vegetation, I didn't see so much as a flapping ear. Likewise the gibbons - there were hoots and screams and gibbon songs all day but I didn't see anything swinging through the trees. However, the brilliant birding was what I went for so the lack of ellies and gibbons wasn't that disappointing.

The guide cost 4000 Baht, around £78, but was worth every satang, as I saw birds and more of the park than I would otherwise have done. It was brilliant and I want to go back one day.

Travelled back to Bangkok the following day. I got accosted at Mor Chit II by taxi touts (one of the less savoury things about travelling in Asia is that foreigners get hounded all the time - 'Hey you, where you go?' and while I hate it and it is very annoying, it is just one of the things you have to put up with) and ended up paying over the odds for a ride back to the All Seasons Bangkok Siam, because I couldn't be arsed to argue, but he didn't mess about and I was there in five minutes flat!

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