Saturday, February 15, 2020

Nam Tok

With our Vietnamese visa running out it was decision time. We weren't due back in Thailand for another two weeks and had intended to return overland via Cambodia. However due to Chinese New Year and Tết (the week long Vietnamese equivalent) trains back to Saigon were fully booked and with the virus gaining pace we felt it was best to fly back to Thailand and spend the time within reach of Bangkok before we were due to meet up with the Gift Of Happiness charity.

So we managed to get a daytime sleeper train back to Da Nang where we spent a very pleasant evening and enjoyed the fire, water and music display from the dragon bridge. The following morning we took a ridiculously cheap flight to Bangkok's Don Muang airport and a old train costing a few pence into the centre of town. I'm really going to miss these wonderful third class trains rattling through the scruffy suburbs and pulling into the atmospheric Hualamphong terminus when services migrate to the new hub at Bang Sue Grand Station. The smiles, the small acts of kindness and the food made us realise how much we'd missed Thailand.

We'd decided a trip up to the national parks beyond Kanchanaburi would be a great way to spend the time before we had to be back in Bangkok, so we stayed at a slightly weird Air BnB not far from Thonburi station and (by the skin of our teeth) caught the early train to Nam Tok in the morning. This train is a great experience on many levels; the old third class rolling stock, food and drink sellers, the bridges and cuttings built on the bodies of prisoners of war and, perhaps surprisingly, the wildlife.

I kept a list of birds seen from this journey, which takes almost 5 hours to do the 100 or so miles, and clocked up 50 species. Among the highlights were a Ruddy-breasted Crake flushed by the train, Lesser Coucal, Purple Heron, Black Baza, Black-Winged Kite, Crested Serpent Eagle, Bronze-winged Jacana and a Greenshank as well as the usual White-throated Kingfisher, Indochinese Roller, Green, Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters.

We'd been to Nam Tok the year before but we only took a day trip beyond Kanchanaburi so we were looking forward to exploring a bit more. In the end we liked the location so much we stayed put for the whole 11 days. Comfortable, affordable place to stay, excellent wildlife right outside the door with walks into good habitat, a cheap place to eat nearby with outstanding food and shops selling fresh fruit and veg near enough. The friendly owners kept showering us with gifts of fruit from the garden as well.

While here we visited the nearby waterfalls, hired a scooter and paid homage to the nightmare of the Death Railway at 'Hellfire Pass' and had an exciting, unguided walk through some very dark caves. If you are in this area the Hellfire Pass memorial is breath-taking and very moving. Well worth the visit.

Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus

So what about the wildlife? The gardens of the Baanrai Saiyoknoi resort and the adjacent palm plantation and wooded hills were a rich source of bird life and I found 69 species at the resort during our stay. Often heard Banded Bay Cuckoo, Large-tailed Nightjar and Red-wattled Lapwing but didn't see them at all. Raptors were pretty good with Crested Honey Buzzard, Grey-faced Buzzard, Crested Goshawk and Shikra all regular.

An Asian Barred Owlet sang a lot of the time and I eventually located it one day in a large tree close to our bungalow. The way the whole of its body shudders as it sings is amazing and the little tail wiggle at the end adorable.

 Asian barred owlet Glaucidium cuculoides

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti

Blue-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis athertoni
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater was expected but seeing Blue-bearded Bee-eater was great. My first in Thailand. Coppersmith, Lineated and Green-eared Barbets were all vocal but rarely seen. Among the expected smaller birds were Thick-billed Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, Puff-throated Babblers, Verditer, Indochinese and Hill Blue Flycatchers. Nice to see Ruby-cheeked Sunbird but the stars were the White-browed Scimitar-babblers, which showed very well at times but were more often heard and a small number of Pin-tailed Parrotfinches.

Pin-tailed Parrotfinch Erythrura prasina

White-browed Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus schisticeps

Yellow-bellied Warbler Abroscopus superciliaris
White-browed Scimitar-babblers were also at Hellfire Pass along with Puff-throated Babbler, Variable Limestone Babbler, Two-barred and Yellow-bellied Warblers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Racket-tailed Treepie, Striated Swallow, Crested Treeswift and (still only heard) Banded Bay Cuckoo.

We also visited the LAWA Caves on the west side of the Khwae Noi river; a 'self-guided', unlit system that was surprisingly impressive. Very glad we remembered to carry a torch. Had excellent views of a Blue Whistling Thrush here as well as Variable Limestone Babbler and Puff-throated Babbler.

There are only two trains a day back to Bangkok. The first is a very early departure and the second arrives a bit later than we'd like so we caught the later train back to Kanchanaburi and stayed the night there. We then took the early train from there the next day giving ourselves another two hours in bed. Love Kanchanaburi but didn't encounter any new birds during our short stay close to the famed bridge.

The train back to Bangkok was once again entertaining with Grey-headed Swamphen, Whiskered Tern and Chestnut-tailed Starling all seen on the way.

Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus

Hill Blue Flycatcher Cyornis whitei

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

Indochinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis sumatrensis

Thick-billed Warbler Arundinax aedon

Zebra Dove Geopelia striata

110 species in total including those seen from the train journeys 
Red Junglefowl
Rock Dove
Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
Lesser Coucal
Green-billed Malkoha
Asian Koel
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Large-tailed Nightjar
Germain's Swiftlet
Asian Palm-Swift
Crested Treeswift
Grey-headed Swamphen
White-breasted Waterhen
Ruddy-breasted Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Red-wattled Lapwing
Bronze-winged Jacana
Common Greenshank
Whiskered Tern
Asian Openbill
Little Cormorant
Purple Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Black-winged Kite
Crested Honey-buzzard
Black Baza
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Grey-faced Buzzard
Crested Goshawk
Asian Barred Owlet
Eurasian Hoopoe
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Indochinese Roller
Coppersmith Barbet
Green-eared Barbet
Lineated Barbet
Black-naped Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
Ashy Woodswallow
Common Iora
Great Iora
Malaysian Pied-Fantail
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Brown Shrike
Racket-tailed Treepie
Large-billed Crow
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Thick-billed Warbler
Barn Swallow
Striated Swallow
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
White-browed Scimitar-Babbler
Puff-throated Babbler
Variable Limestone Babbler
Black-collared Starling
Asian Pied Starling
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Common Myna
Great Myna
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
White-rumped Shama
Hill Blue Flycatcher
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Blue Whistling-Thrush
Taiga Flycatcher
Blue Rock Thrush
Amur Stonechat
Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Blue-winged Leafbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
White-rumped Munia
Pin-tailed Parrotfinch
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit

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