Phu Suan Sai National Park – Loei

 

With my wife being from Loei province, I visit the area several times each year, but it wasn’t until October 2017 that I first got the chance to visit this great little national park, which is a little over two hours from ‘downtown’ Loei. However, if one were to travel from Bangkok, the 520-odd kilometre trip wouldn’t take you through Loei town itself, which is several hours to the east. Despite its very out-of-the-way location, the park is quite well-known to birders due to a few very range-restricted species in Thailand that are perhaps easier to find here than anywhere else in the country: Short-tailed Parrotbill, Rufous-throated Fulvetta, and Blue-naped Pitta.

As can be seen on the map on the right above, Phu Suan Sai NP occupies the far northwestern corner of Loei province, bordering both the Thai province of Phitsanulok to the north and west, and Laos to the north. In fact, the river which Tat Huang Waterfall is part of form the Thai-Laos border here, and there are signs at this waterfall forbidding people from crossing into Laos – but nothing else. From the same map, you can see Route 1328 runs does a loop through the park off Route 1268. The western part of the loop runs through the headquarters campsite, and then through forest and farmland, before turning east and running along the Thai-Laos border. Route 1268 then more or less runs south back to Route 1268, passing through more farmland – including macadamia nut farms and strawberry farms – before passing Phu Hua Hom viewpoint, which also offers a few bungalows and a campsite. From here, it’s only a few more kilometres back to Route 1268. Picture of several stops along this route can be seen further down this post.

PSS HQ

The main areas I’ve birded at PSS are mostly within walking distance of the HQ (marked with the pin on the above map). The road both up and down from here is productive, but a few areas stand out.

A – this section of road seems particularly productive, but also houses a small blind that is run by the park rangers and is situated inside a culvert under the road at the first major left-hand bend in the road. I’ve seen pictures of most of PSS’s birds taken from this makeshift blind, but my personal highlight would undoubtedly be seeing Short-tailed Parrotbill in here on one occasion.

B – a little further along the road, and turn a quite long steep section, the road straightens out in a small valley of sorts. This area crosses a few bridges, and as such is known as the ‘two bridges area’. While once again birding along the road here can be very productive – I’ve had Rufous-throated Fulvetta, Long-tailed Broadbill, Bamboo Woodpecker, Slaty-backed Forktail, Collared Babbler and Red-billed Scimitar-babbler among others – the gully that road parallel to the road on the western side is supposedly the best place to look for Blue-naped Pitta, and there is a trail that runs from here back to the HQ, but every time I’ve been, the trail has been heavily overgrown – as yet, I’ve not seen the pitta.

C – point C is the upper campsite, and the red line on the map in the approximate trail up to and along the ridgeline to the campsite. There are several trails that lead off from near the HQ, but the ones on the right-hand side of the road are supposedly off limits without a guide (even though they seemed in a better state than the trail on the other side of the road that anyone is free to roam). I’m not sure how many birders have spent much time up the top here, but my report can be read by clicking on the link below about my Northern Hiking Trip – 2018.

IMG_3984

This rest of this blogpost will document my trips to this national park, with the most recent visit first.

December 17th-20th, 2018

I visited PSS on my December holidays with a good friend of mine as part of a trip to hike up two mountains in this region, Phu Soi Dao in neighbouring Phitsanulok province, and Phu Suan Sai mountain itself. The Phu Suan Sai section of this trip is written about in detail in the trip report for that entire trip and can be read here:

Northern Hiking Trip – December 2018

During this trip we hiking up to the 1408 Campsite (at an elevation of 1408 m asl), and spent a night camping. Given this was the first time I’ve hiked to this elevation at PSS, some different birds were seen on this trip, which included Large Niltava, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher and Stripe-breasted Woodpecker.

April 13-14th, 2018

After spending time travelling alone around Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phattalung provinces in Thailand’s south, my wife finally went on holidays for Songkran, so we travelled to Loei to spend time with her family. However, before staying with family, we hired a car from the airport and headed to PSS – a place she’d never been – and spent a night there, giving me an afternoon and morning to do some birding.

On this occasion, I found the small hide located in a culvert along the road a little past the accommodation blocks, and this coupled with much drier weather that my previous visit meant I saw far more birds than on my October 2017 visit, with highlights being PSS specialties Short-tailed Parrotbill and Rufous-throated Fulvetta.

Unlike my first visit to PSS, I had not a single drop of rain on this occasion, and because of this was afforded plenty of time to both explore the road heading north, and spend time in the culvert hide. Birds seen at the culvert hide on my first afternoon included the aforementioned parrotbill, as well as Grey-eyed Bulbul, Siberian Blue Robin, Hill Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Erpornis, White-throated Fantail, and Asian Emerald Dove, while my afternoon walk along the road also turned in some great birds which include the fulvetta mentioned above, Great Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Collared Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler and Golden Babbler. Furthermore, a late afternoon stroll around the campgrounds with my wife resulted in good views of Grey Treepie, Black-throated Sunbird, Blue-throated Barbet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and a single Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – in all, a great day’s birding.

The following morning I once again heading north along the road, and again saw Rufous-throated Fulvetta, but also added great birds such as Long-tailed Broadbill, Slaty-backed Forktail, and Orange-bellied Leafbird to this trip’s list. By mid-morning, however, we decided to head back to Loei, but in doing so we took the road north – which does a large loop back to the road to Loei – and stopped at Tat Huang Waterfall, as well as another viewpoint further around the loop road. The waterfall turned up a couple of Blue Whistling-thrush and a Black Baza among others, while from the viewpoint, it was possible to see the 1408 campsite located at the highest point in the national park.

Phu Suan Sai NP – April 13th, 2018

Phu Suan Sai NP – April 14th, 2018

Phu Suan Sai – Tat Huang Waterfall – April 14th, 2018

October 4-5th, 2017

After landing at Loei airport mid-afternoon, I dropped my wife off at her family’s house just south of the airport. I then followed Google maps north then west, past Phu Ruea, towards Phu Suan Sai NP. Unfortunately, I did miss one turn, and despite the physical distance not being that far, the trip from Loei to PSS ended up taking almost three hours. After arriving at the national park and checking into my cabin – which had been pre-booked – the heavens opened not long after and I was left waiting to see whether I’d get any birding done that afternoon.

By a little after 3 pm, the weather had cleared enough for me to set out and have a look at the area. I started off with a quick look around the accommodation buildings and turned at Sooty-headed, Ashy, and Flavescent Bulbuls, several Blue Rock-thrushes were also present. But after walking around for a little while, I tried walking along the birding trail that begins behind the accommodation. Unfortunately, the trail was extremely waterlogged, and the conditions very dark, so after a while I turned back and by the time I had exited the trail, the rain had decided to return to I called it a day and headed back into my cabin.

I awoke early to make the most of my time at PSS, and was out and birding a little after 6 am, and for two hours I walked around the campgrounds, trying to stay near to shelter, as the rain was intermittently falling at various strength. Not a lot was seen, but Striated Swallows and a Grey-backed Shrike were welcome sightings, as were a small band of Brown-cheeked Fulvetta. However, but just after 8 am, I was forced back indoors by heavier, consistent rain.

This shower didn’t pass until almost 10 am, so ducked out once again, this time walking along the road that heads north from the accommodation blocks. The sun actually broke through this time, which was welcomed by both myself and the birds, and Bronzed Drongo, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Buff-breasted Babbler, and Grey Wagtail all seen, but the highlight was undoubtedly a single White-crowned Forktail spotted at a small stream. However, as had been the norm for this trip the rain once again returned a little over an hour later, and I decided to finally cut my losses, pack my bags and drive back into Loei.

Phu Suan Sai NP – October 4th, 2017

Phu Suan Sai NP (early morning) – October 5th, 2017

Phu Suan Sai NP (mid-morning) – Oct 5th, 2017

MY BIRD LIST (85 species)

  1. Asian Emerald Dove
  2. Mountain Imperial-Pigeon
  3. Green-billed Malkoha
  4. Plaintive Cuckoo
  5. Large Hawk-Cuckoo
  6. Himalayan Swifltet
  7. Asian Palm-Swift
  8. Chinese Pond-Heron
  9. Black Baza
  10. Oriental Honey-buzzard
  11. Crested Serpent-Eagle
  12. Black Eagle
  13. Crested Goshawk
  14. Shikra
  15. Blue-bearded Bee-eater
  16. Indian Roller
  17. Great Barbet
  18. Blue-throated Barbet
  19. Speckled Piculet
  20. Grey-capped Woodpecker
  21. Stripe-breasted Woodpecker
  22. Bamboo Woodpecker
  23. Long-tailed Broadbill
  24. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
  25. Common Iora
  26. Scarlet Minivet
  27. Black-winged Cuckooshrike
  28. Brown Shrike
  29. Grey-backed Shrike
  30. White-bellied Erpornis
  31. Ashy Drongo
  32. Bronzed Drongo
  33. Hair-crested Drongo
  34. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  35. White-throated Fantail
  36. Black-naped Monarch
  37. Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher
  38. Grey Treepie
  39. Large-billed Crow
  40. Striated Swallow
  41. Asian House-Martin
  42. Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
  43. Black-crested Bulbul
  44. Sooty-headed Bulbul
  45. Flavescent Bulbul
  46. Puff-throated Bulbul
  47. Grey-eyed Bulbul
  48. Ashy Bulbul
  49. Yellow-bellied Warbler
  50. Yellow-browed Warbler
  51. Radde’s Warbler
  52. Short-tailed Parrotbill
  53. Oriental White-eye
  54. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
  55. Golden Babbler
  56. Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler
  57. Collared Babbler
  58. Rufous-throated Fulvetta
  59. Buff-breasted Babbler
  60. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
  61. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  62. Oriental Magpie-Robin
  63. White-rumped Shama
  64. Hill Blue Flycatcher
  65. Large Niltava
  66. Verditer Flycatcher
  67. Siberian Blue Robin
  68. Blue Whistling-Thrush
  69. White-crowed Forktail
  70. Slaty-backed Forktail
  71. Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher
  72. Taiga Flycatcher
  73. Blue Rock-Thrush
  74. Blue-winged Leafbird
  75. Golden-fronted Leafbird
  76. Orange-bellied Leafbird
  77. Plain Flowerpecker
  78. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
  79. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
  80. Black-throated Sunbird
  81. Little Spiderhunter
  82. Streaked Spiderhunter
  83. Grey Wagtail
  84. Olive-backed Pipit
  85. White-rumped Munia

One thought on “Phu Suan Sai National Park – Loei

  1. Pingback: Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary, Loei – Thailand Birding Adventures

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