I first visited Khao Yai National Park in the mid 1990s in between my business trip there. Pat Komol was the one who took me there. The one sight I still remembered was a bare tree near the Visitor’s Center, all yellow, covered by Black-crested Bulbuls. There must be 200 of them. I have been back a few times to enjoy the great birding there. There were always new species to see like the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo.
Early this year, photos of the Blue Pittas were posted on Facebook by Sree and Millie Cher. This was enough for me to make a short trip up there with my wife in late February. The Blue Pitta is one of the more common resident species in Thailand. Khao Yai is one of the easiest place to see them at their stake outs. Kaeng Kra Charn and Khao Sok are the other national parks where they are locally common.
The old Don Muang Airport is the better airport to use. AirAsia flies there. I rented a car from the Eurocar and use goggle maps to get me to the Terrazzo Resort outside the park. It was an easy drive on Highway 1 and 2 and a new road to Pak Chong at the northern part of Khao Yai. Guide Rittichai who lives in Pak Chong knows the park like the back of his hand having been running tours there for over 20 years with his company Green Leaves Tours.
We went for our target first thing next morning setting up our hide by 7 am. Puff-throated Babblers, White-rumped Shama, Orange-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin and a Hainan Flycatcher entertained us. I was ready for a long wait based on the experience of my friends that came earlier. But Rittichai said that will not be long. Then without funfare the Blue Pitta appeared twice before 8 am. What a elation! Now we have the rest of the day to go and look for other species.
Driving along the quiet forested roads in the morning, you are always on the look out for something surprising. This morning a male Siamese Fireback was our surprise. It stayed by the roadside and gave us a few wing flaps for good measure. It was a lifer that was not expected but most welcome.
Sandalwood Trees at the entrance to the Haew Narok Waterfall were infested by caterpillars.
They in turned attracted the cuckoos. A few local bird photographers were already there when we reached the place, excitedly pointing out a friendly Orange-breasted Trogon perching nearby.
Both the male and female Violet Cuckoos were in a feeding frenzy. These are winter visitors to Thailand. I would not want to pass up shooting a deep purple male at eye level close up even though I have some shots taken at Jurong Eco Gardens a few years back.
A female Asian Emerald Cuckoo was spotted. We had only one record of this species in Singapore. So this is a good chance for me to get some shots.
Just as we were about to leave, Rittichai heard the calls of the Banded Broadbill from the forest edge. Lucky for us it was curious and came out. I photographed this broadbill at Panti Forests in the 90s. It was the only available photo of this hard to find broadbill then and was used for a bird guide on birds of SEA. I had to wait almost 20 years to get my camera lens on it again. This unexpected find really made our day.
My second target for the trip is the Limestone Babbler. I saw this at Cuc Phong National Park more than 10 years back but was not able to photo it due to bad light and skittish behavior.
The limestone krasts at Saraburi has a small population and this is only an hour drive from Khao Yai. This particular babbler was a prize catch when it was first discovered on another part of Thailand. Its habitat is so unique among the bare limestone rockery where food sources seem non existent. How do they survived?
Finding the exact spot took Rittichai a bit of driving around but once we got to the place inside a wat, a short playback was enough to get these inquisitive babblers to show. You have to love their streaky brown and buff plumage. Mission accomplished and now we can concentrate on enjoying the rest of Khao Yai and all the new attractions that sprouted in the past few years and the food. Many thanks to Guide Rittichai for taking us around at such short notice.
Ref: Boonsong Lekagui, Philip D. Round. The Birds of Thailand 1991.