Nam Nao National Park – June 2018

June 15th-18th

After having to do a visa run to Laos while I was between jobs, I decided to visit a national park in Thailand’s northeast that I’d been wanting to visit for some time – Nam Nao National Park in Phetchabun province.

June 15th

After hiring a car from Khon Kaen, I set off towards Nam Nao – a trip that took just over two hours when accounting for a couple of quick stops. It was a pleasant drive, something I don’t often say about driving in Thailand, with the road being both of good quality and without too much traffic. Once passing a national park checkpoint at the base of the hills, it was another 20km before I hit the entrance to the visitor centre and accommodation area and had to pay the entrance fees – 200B for me, and 30B for my car.

Next up was finding my accommodation which I had pre-booked using the national parks’ website. The staff at the visitors centre were very friendly and quickly pointed me in the right direction. Over the next few days, I would chat with them frequently, and I would say they were some of the most approachable national park staff I’ve come across in Thailand! Anyway, my bungalow cost 1000B a night and had four beds, but I think it would probably be a bit of a squeeze having four people and gear packed into the little bungalow. Fine for one, though!

 

While getting things together for an afternoon walking around the trails, I realised I had forgotten to pack my leech socks, but no worries, the restaurant/convenience store sold them, so 80B and a quick lunch later, I was finally on the trails! And luckily I did buy leech socks because they were rampant in the forest, especially along the stream section of the 3km loop trail.

Given it was just after midday, the bird life wasn’t particularly abundant, but deep within the forest I did come across a very vocal Common Green-magpie, alongside a Buff-breasted Babber, as well as a pair of very active White-throated Fantails after I had taken the right turn towards the pine forest which makes up the 3km loop trail.  After this section of the trail crested a small, steep rise, the forest opened up and the bird life became more evident, with drongos and laughingthrushes, as well as a glimpse of a White-bellied Woodpecker. I unfortunately couldn’t get good views of it as it flew overhead and landed out of sight (but great views of this species would come later in my trip).

On the way towards the pine forest, one has to walk through more evergreen hill forest, along a narrow trail. It was along this trail that a Besra flew directly at me carrying bloodied prey and being chased, and voraciously mobbed, by three Grey-eyed Bulbuls. The Besra flew past me within five metres and no more than three metres off the ground; it was a great sight to wintess. Unfortunately the Besra landed out of view, but the bulbuls continued to harass it until it flew deeper into the forest.

After continuing on this trail for a few hundred metres, I was finally into the pine forest, and the open aspect of the forest made it easy to look into the treetops, making spotting birds much easier than within the hill evergreen forest.  With this advantage, many birds were quickly spotted, including numerous barbet species, bulbuls and drongos, as well as Hill Mynas, Velvet-fronted NuthatchesCommon Ioras, and both Small and Scarlet Minivets. It was also within this section of the forest that I first became aware of the elephant presence within Nam Nao, with both footprints and broken trees and bamboo very evident.

 

After spending around three hours walking along the 3km loop trail, I made it back to the campgrounds, and my car, and headed to a new location Dong Paek (Ban Paek) Pine Forest, access to which is via a dirt track a kilometre or so west of the national park entrance, and what a great place it was!

The actual pine forest is supposedly at the end of a 4km track, but I never made it further than about 600m each time I visited this location across the three days I was at Nam Nao.  On my first visit, very light rain was falling, but once I was a few hundred metres from the main road, the bird life seemingly exploded, with woodpeckers (Grey-headed, Common Flameback, and Lesser Yellownape), barbets (Great, Lineated, Blue-throatedMoustached, and Coppersmith) parakeets ( Blossom-headed, and Vernal Hanging-parrot), minivets (Small, and Scarlet), Black-hooded Orioles, Eurasian Jays and many more species. On top of the bird life, the presence of elephants was obvious, and in the early evening as I was making my way back to the main road and my car, an unseen elephant ‘trumpeted’ and broke several small trees less than 50m from me – that was my cue to walk a little quicker in the opposite direction, at which point I ran across a mongoose than seemed a lot less concerned about the elephant that I was!

Nam Nao NP – June 15th

 

June 16th

An early rise on my first morning at Nam Nao (like all mornings) saw me standing in the car park surveying the tall trees with White-crested LaughingthrushesRed-billed Blue-magpies, several woodpecker and barbet species, and a lone Grey Treepie high in a pine tree. I hung around the car park for about an hour before heading off to walk along the 1 km concreted loop trail that began to the left of the steps leading down from the visitors centre; however, aside from the leeches, my hour-or-so walking along this trail was quite unproductive, so I headed back to my car and set off for Phu Goom Khao, and area of pines and open grasslands atop a 14 km dirt road that begins a few kilometres east of the visitors centre.

After being assured by the park rangers that my little Toyota would easily make it to the top of the Phu Goom Khao road, I set off a little after 8 am, and it was a long slow drive. Though the wet season hadn’t fully set in, the road was quite heavily rutted, and I needed to make sure my little sedan didn’t fall into the deep ones.  To go with rutted road, I had to survey the depth of a small stream crossing about 10km up the road, but given the depth of the water and the crossing actually being concreted, I was good to go, although the steep, rutted entrance and exit to the crossing once again meant a cautious approach was required.

Once near the top of the road, I stopped a few times to survey the area and take in the open views of the pine forest and grasslands, and while driving along the dirt road, I happened upon a lone Muntjac which kept its distance. Before reaching the end of the road, I also came across a single Crested Treeswift high in a tree, a Greater Flameback, a number of Dollarbirds (which seemed especially abundant in this area), and a pair of Scarlet Minivets.

This road finished at a locked gate at the base of a small here at which a small trail leads up to somewhat of a viewpoint. The trail to the viewpoint does continue past here, but I decided not to follow it too far given I was seemingly a long way from anyone else. At this location there wasn’t a particularly great abundance of birds, but I did come across a pair of Brown Prinias, several Oriental Turtle–doves, a single Ashy Bulbul among the many Sooty-headed Bulbuls, as well as a vocal, soaring Crested Serpent-eagle. In all, I spent around an hour walking around this area, and also stopped at a couple of other locations around the grasslands/pine forest where signs of what I was told later were Sambar Deer were seen.

I took my time driving back down the 14 km dirt road, stopping at regular locations in different forest types, with these stops often proving quite productive. One stop nearer the top, but in thicker forest yielded yellownapes, Large Woodshrikes, Golden-fronted Leafbirds, drongos, and Puff-throated Babblers. However, back at the stream crossing – a location supposedly good for Slaty-backed Forktails – I had little success.

Further still down the road, where the forest was drier and a little more open, I had great views of another Crested Serpent-eagle perched above the road, and it was in this forest type that I saw my only Grey-capped Pygmy-woodpecker during my time at Nam Nao, which is surprise given that it is meant to be quite common here. By just after midday, I had arrived back at the visitors centre, having spent close to four hours on the road to and from Phu Goom Khao, and at the summit. The plateau area at the top of the road was definitely different from any other habitat that I visited over my three days at Nam Nao, and indeed different from any habitat I’d previously visited in Thailand, making it a great morning of exploring.

DSCF1689.JPG

Lunch itself at Nam Nao can also be a somewhat of a birding spectacle, with a resident flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes getting very close to the wooden deck where you’re able to eat, affording great view and pics. Green Magpies are also usually present, but they seem to be more often heard than seen. During my lunch on this occasion, I also had close views of an male eclipse Purple Sunbird, along with several noisy Pin-striped Tit-babblers that could be seen near the forest floor by looking over the railing. Additionally, the food at this restaurant is both cheap and extremely tasty – the pad kraprao especially was particularly good each time it was ordered!

After lunch, I decided to give the concreted 1 km loop trail another crack, and in particular try to find Silver-breasted Broadbill that the rangers assured me should be found there. This bird, however abundant, seems to have become a bit of a bogie bird for me, and despite employing some playback in likely habitat, I came up empty.  Despite the lack of responding broadbills, I was surprised by a single White-browed Piculet, that had become interested in the broadbill playback and landed in bamboo a few metres above me and went on to feed for several minutes after which I headed back towards the visitors centre.

There are several run-down wooden-table seating areas at the base of the steps that lead down from the visitors centre that sit next to a small stream. It was while walking past here that I heard an unfamiliar bird call down by the stream. It didn’t take long to locate a small flock of Red-billed Scimitar-babblers seemingly feeding, drinking and washing. Knowing that this species is well-known to be part of mixed feeding flocks, I waited – and, I was rewarded.  At least 16 species ended up joining the babbler, including a male Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher with a magnificent, long tail, the ever-accompanying Collared Babbler, a quick visit from a White-crowned Forktail, both Great and Blue-throated Barbets feeding well within the canopy, and the most rewarding, three Bamboo Woodpeckers, two males and a female. I probably sat at one of the wooden-slab tables for close to an hour watching the spectacle, until most of the birds had dispersed! What an experience – only one the the birds was a life, the Bamboo Woodpecker, but the sheer diversity of species and their proximity made the whole time unforgettable.

After spending the best part of the early afternoon by the stream near the visitors centre, I decided to once again try my luck on the trail to Ban Paek at about the same time as I had visited the previous day, but today’s whether was much hotter, with the overcast and slightly rainy weather of yesterday making way for blue skies and sunshine. Given this weather, the bird life was much reduced from the previous day.  While similar birds were seen, the diversity and abundance of the day before was missing, so after an hour or so, I decided to head about 10 km further west to the sunset viewpoint.

Having spent the majority of the day walking around, the hundred or so very steep steps up to the sunset viewpoint weren’t exactly pleasant, but even from the base it was clear there weren’t too many, so I scampered to the top as quickly as possible. Once at the top, it was obvious that it wasn’t a place that sees much maintenance or care, with rather long grass making it hard to find where to actually walk, and even though the site itself is quite small and open, there are numerous signs warning not to approach the steep cliffs. At the far side of this clearing was a large tree, and I was lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of a gibbon before it slipped below the edge of the cliff.  I only stay atop the viewpoint for a few minutes before heading back down the steps – these steps were not something I’d have liked to have traversed in the dark.

Once back down, the trail goes through open stands of bamboo. Several White-rumped Shamas, Green-billed Malkohas, and bulbuls were easily seen, but then a flash of red caught the corner of my eye, and after waiting for a few minutes, this flash presented itself as a male Red-headed Trogon – the only trogon I saw my entire trip. As I walked slowly back to my car through the bamboo, several other birds I hadn’t yet seen this trip appeared: both male and female Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds, a few Yellow-bellied Warblers, and a brownish flycatcher high in a tree that remains unidentified.

As the sun was going down, I headed back to the campgrounds, and while driving down the entrance road to my cabin, a male White-bellied Woodpecker flew across the road and landed in a large tree. I quickly stopped the car and was afforded great views of this large woodpecker – great views of a great bird at the end of a great day!

Nam Nao NP – June 16th

 

June 17th

Another early morning spent looking into the tall trees that surrounded the car park collected the same birds as the past few days, with white-crested laughingthrushes, and  both blue and green magpies very evident, so I decided to head to the 3 km loop ‘trail-end’ that exits near the youth camp, where an Asian Barred-Owlet was seen both while entering and exiting the trail – the reason for starting at this end of the trail was to get into the pine forest as quickly as possible, with it being a mere 700 m from the ‘trail exit’.  Once again, plenty of elephant activity was seen, including some that had not been seen a few days before, but as this section of the trail is quite open, it was pleasant to walk despite the recent elephant activity.

Once back into the pine forest – and it was a relatively leech-free approach compared to coming from the opposite direction – bird life became quite evident, mostly because the ability to look into the treetops had been greatly enhanced.  In this area, the usual barbet varieties, hill mynas, and orioles were easily seen, but several Thick-billed Pigeons, Eurasian Jays, and Scarlet Minivets were standouts of this excursion into this pine forest.

After I’d returned from this path, I decided (with the help of my sore back), that I’d take a few hours to relax inside my cabin, and that is what I did until the mid-afternoon, after which I sat down by the stream where I had been gifted such a show the day before; however today, nothing!

So after sitting around for close to an hour, I decided to take a stroll along the stream to the east. It was here that I once again came across a pair of Bamboo Woodpeckers, but also present was a large, reddish woodpecker, with a large, pale bill that I later realized was a Bay Woodpecker also among the bamboo (originally, I’d thought I’d seen a Maroon Woodpecker, but given that species would’ve been wildly out of range, I searched pics of Bay Woodpeckers and realized that was precisely what I’d seen).  On top of this woodpecker encounter, while following a small path that closely hugged the stream, I was able to get great views of a White-crowned Forktail.

After fighting leeches and a relatively quiet forest, I headed to my favoured afternoon location at Nam Nao, the road to Ban Paek (Don Paek).  As it was two days prior, the weather was quiet overcast, with intermittent light showers, and likewise, the bird activity was similar to my first Don Paek experience – birds everywhere!  The usual barbets, woodpeckers, and orioles were there, but this time the highlights were both a male and female White-bellied Woodpecker feeding in the same tree, a small flock of Oriental Turtle-doves, a small group of Large Woodshrikes, a flock of around twenty Golden-crested Myna, and perhaps most welcome, a Burmese Nuthatch investigating a tall, dead tree. And while the activity wasn’t quite as high as my first ‘Don Paek’ experience, the nuthatch was a bird that made the decision to return once again very satisfying.

Nam Nao NP – June 17th

June 18th

As I’d done the previous few days, I was up and looking around the car park before 6 am. And as I’d done the day before, I decided to take a small walk along the concreted 1 km loop trail. Like my other ventures along this trail, it was quiet. Knowing that I needed to get the car back to Khon Kaen, and hating being late, I turned back toward the visitors centre after only a few hundred metres of walking along the trail – and, I’m glad I did!

While walking passed the small stream the zig-zags around the trail heads, I was first ‘awakened’ by a flushed Asian Emerald-dove, and once that bird had directed my eyes to the stream, I noticed a small, green bird frolicking in the water. It turned out to be another lifer, a female Pin-tailed Parrotfinch that was seemingly ‘fishing’ for and eating small freshwater snails – a behavior I was unaware finches partook in!

Nam Nao NP – June 18th

In all, my time at Nam Nao NP was an amazing experience – an experience  I’d recommended to any nature lover. On top of everything, my visit to Nam Nao was in early June and I still managed to see over 90 bird species – imagine what could be seen during migratory period!

BIRD LIST (96 identified species):

  1. Red Junglefowl
  2. Oriental Turtle-Dove
  3. Asian Emerald Dove
  4. Thick-billed Pigeon
  5. Mountain Imperial-pigeon
  6. Greater Coucal
  7. Green-billed Malkoha
  8. Brown-backed Needletail
  9. Asian Palm-swift
  10. Crested Treeswift
  11. Black Baza
  12. Crested Serpent-eagle
  13. Shikra
  14. Besra
  15. Asian Barred Owlet
  16. Red-headed Trogon
  17. Blue-bearded Bee-eater
  18. Indian Roller
  19. Dollarbird
  20. Coppersmith Barbet
  21. Blue-eared Barbet
  22. Great Barbet
  23. Lineated Barbet
  24. Moustached Barbet
  25. Blue-throated Barbet
  26. White-browed Piculet
  27. Grey-capped (Pygmy) Woodpecker
  28. Bay Woodpecker
  29. Greater Flameback
  30. Bamboo Woodpecker
  31. Common Flameback
  32. Lesser Yellownape
  33. Grey-headed Woodpecker
  34. Greater yellownape
  35. White-bellied Woodpecker
  36. Blossom-headed Parakeet
  37. Vernal Hanging-parrot
  38. Large Woodshrike
  39. Ashy Woodswallow
  40. Common Iora
  41. Small Minivet
  42. Scarlet Minivet
  43. Large Cuckooshrike
  44. Indochinese Cuckooshrike
  45. Black-naped Oriole
  46. Black-hooded Oriole
  47. Ashy Drongo
  48. Bronzed Drongo
  49. Hair-crested Drongo
  50. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  51. White-throated Fantail
  52. Black-naped Monarch
  53. Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher
  54. Eurasian Jay
  55. Red-billed Blue-magpie
  56. Common Green-magpie
  57. Grey Treepie
  58. Large-billed Crow
  59. Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
  60. Burmese Nuthatch
  61. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
  62. Black-headed Bulbul
  63. Black-crested Bulbul
  64. Sooty-headed Bulbul
  65. Stripe-throated Bulbul
  66. Puff-throated Bulbul
  67. Grey-eyed Bulbul
  68. Black Bulbul
  69. Ashy Bulbul
  70. Yellow-bellied Warbler
  71. Common Tailorbird
  72. Brown Prinia
  73. Rufescent Prinia
  74. Yellow-eyed Babbler
  75. Pin-striped Tit-babbler
  76. Buff-chested Babbler
  77. Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler
  78. Collared Babbler
  79. Puff-throated Babbler
  80. Buff-breasted Babbler
  81. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
  82. White-crested Laughingthrush
  83. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush
  84. Asian Fairy-bluebird
  85. Oriental Magpie-robin
  86. White-rumped Shama
  87. White-crowned Forktail
  88. Golden-crested Myna
  89. Hill Myna
  90. Common Myna
  91. Blue-winged Leafbird
  92. Golden-fronted Leafbird
  93. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
  94. Purple Sunbird
  95. Black-throated Sunbird
  96. Pin-tailed Parrotfinch

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