Chumphon Trip – October 2019

On my October break in 2019, I decided to finally make my way down to Khao Dinsor to watch the annual raptor migration for a few days, as well as check out a few other lesser visited sites in the area. As I used to live in Sawi, a town in Chumphon province about 30 minutes south of the provincial capital, I decided to visit there first, and my wife came along for a few days. With this in mind, birding was mostly incidental on the on the first few days, but we still visited some nice places that are a little off the usual tourist trail in Thailand, including Mu Ko Chumphon National Park. In all, my week-long trip brought in a haul of 110 species, quite a few of which were lifers.

Saturday, October 19th

My wife and I set off from Bangkok before 7 am, and although long, and with a few small stops, the drive down to Chumphon was thankfully without issue. We arrived at our accommodation in Sawi district – which was right on the main southbound highway – around 1 pm, and were immediately greeted by light rain. Not discouraged, however, we headed out to the coast, which was about a 30 minute drive.

While birding was always going to be purely incidental on a day like this, when only a few kiloemetres from Sairee Beach, Sawi, a couple of long-tailed parakeets sitting on a wire next to the road caught my eye. The pair of birds turned out to be Alexandrine Parakeets, and while they were probably escapees from a private owner or local temple, it was still nice to get very close views of these beautiful birds. Additionally, while stopped on this small road, surrounded mostly by durian, rambutan and coconut groves, our 10 minute stop also yielded a single Common Flameback, numerous Lineated Barbets and Vinous-breasted Starlings, as well as a pair of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos – an eventful little stop! –> checklist 

After this surprise sighting, the rest of our first day was spent enjoying the tranquil, though overcast beaches of the area, which include a small, white-sand beach situated inside the southern reaches of Mu Ko Chumphon National Park, as well as visiting friends that I’ve kept in contact with since I left the area around seven year ago.

Sunday, October 20th

After a sleep in, we hit the road a little after 8 am, for with my wife needing to return to Bangkok on the 21st, we decided to stay closer to Chumphon Airport on our second night – Chumphon Airport is about 40 km of Chumphon town itself, and about 80 km from Sawi; it is, however, quite close to Khao Dinsor, which would be the main focus of my time once my wife flew back to Bangkok.

We decided to take a slow scenic route to our next night’s accommodation – The Beach Residence, Pathiu – which included stops a several places:  Khao Matsee, a viewpoint that overlooks Pak Nam Chumphon; Mu Ko Chumphon Headquarters; and, Thung Wua Laen Beach for late lunch. And as with the previous day, while birding was more-or-less a peripheral activity, the first two of these stops turned up a few interesting species, as well as scenery.

At our first stop, Khao Matsee viewpoint, great views were had both north over Paknam Chumphon, and south toward Mu Ko Chumphon National Park. The wind, however, was quite strong, meaning the bird activity was a little low, with highlights being some Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and a couple of Ashy Drongos. From here, we drove south along the coastal road, making brief stops at the Prince of Chumphon Shrine, as well as a substation of Mu Ko Chumphon NP, north of the park’s HQ, where I was afforded close views of Brown-backed Needletails flying around the small hill. –> checklist * checklist.

Our next stop was at the HQ of Mu Ko Chumphon NP, a place I had actually visited on several occasions in the past, but all before I’d re-found birding as a passion. The complex itself is well-maintained, and consists of neat-looking accommodation blocks around a car park, with a sturdy, wooden boardwalk leading through mangroves to a small visitors centre. After the visitors centre, however, the wooden boardwalk forks, with the left trail following the small river for about 100 metres to the river mouth, while the right trail leads up over a high suspension bridge which crosses the river and descends into thicker mangrove forest. Unfortunately for us, the tide was very high on this visit, meaning mudflats – and therefore shorebirds – were all but absent, and to add to this, a very heavy rain shower broke as we were in the mangrove forest. Luckily though, we made it to one of the covered sala in time, and remained dry until the shower passed, after which we headed back to out car, and decided to make our way north to this night’s accommodation. –> checklist

After lunch at Chumphon Cabana Resort at Thung Wua Laen Beach, my wife wanted to visit Khao Dinsor to see where I’d be spending the majority of the next few days, and this also allowed me to accustom myself with the location as well. We didn’t really stay too long, and didn’t make it to the counting platform, but it was nonetheless a helpful detour before we headed further north to our accommodation for the night, The Beach Resort and Residence, Pathiu, which was conveniently only a 10-minute drive away from the airport. At the hotel, a short walk along the shoreline later in the afternoon turned up a single Black-capped Kingfisher and Whimbrel and a couple of Common Sandpipers. –> checklist

Monday, October 21st

My wife’s flight from Chumphon airport was at around 10 am, so we were afforded a sleep-in (my last of the week), and by the time I’d seen her off and made it to\ my first birding site of the morning, Laem Thaen (Thaen Sandspit), it was a little after 10 am. I’d decided it was probably best to explore the area, check into my accommodation for the next three nights and then head to Khao Dinsor instead of heading straight there and having to leave later to check in. Laem Thaen wasn’t the most interesting of locations but I was afforded close views of a several Shikras drying off after the morning showers, and a pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles among a few other species. I did also have a quick drive past my accommodation – very close to where my wife and I had lunch the previous morning – to another local site, Phanang Tak Bay where I would look for waders the following morning. –> checklist

After checking into Albatross Guesthouse – which turns out to be the go-to place to stay for birders at Khao Dinsor – and a quick lunch, I finally set off to spend some time at the place I traveled all this way for. Once at Khao Dinsor, I quickly made my way up the the main viewing platform – and it wasn’t much further along the trail from where my wife and I had turned back the day before – and was immediately greeted by a friendly Australian accent, as the chief raptor counter for this season happened to be an extremely knowledgeable Aussie. He was of course joined by several other Thai volunteers, including the project manager, as well as a grade 12 student from an international school in Bangkok, there gathering data for a final paper, who I would spend the next couple of days getting to know while watching the passing raptors.

As far as the birding at Khao Dinsor on the first day went, it followed a pattern that seemed to repeat itself during my stay – busy mornings with lots of activity (which I missed this day), and a sharp decline in passing birds in the afternoon. Nonetheless, I still got to see good numbers of Chinese and Japanese Sparrowhawks, as well as Grey-faced Buzzards, with smaller flocks of Black Bazas seen along with a pair of Eastern Marsh-Harriers, and singles of Peregrine Falcon, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, and a magnificent Osprey at close range However, the highlight of the afternoon was a close flying Eurasian Sparrowhawk which is a much less frequently observed bird in Thailand In terms of non-raptor birds seen, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were very numerous and frequent – as they would be throughout my entire stay – while Pacific Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows were also highlights. –> checklist

Tuesday, October 22nd

Having been told the previous after that Little Stint (a species I’d yet to see) had recently been found at Phanang Tak Bay, I headed off there for a look around after dawn, before heading to Khao Dinsor. And while I wasn’t able to confidently ID an Little Stint, there were still a good range of waders present in small numbers, with highlights being Terek Sandpiper, Sanderling, Malaysian Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. Along with the shorebirds, other good birds at the site included Common Flameback, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and a single Taiga Flycatcher. –> checklist

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I left Phanang Tak Bay a little before 8 am, after about 80 minutes of birding, and then drove to Khao Dinsor via a quick and supply stop at 7/11. Once at Khao Dinsor, it was the same as yesterday – straight to the viewing platform where would be spend the next 9+ hours in the sun and heat. And given I was at the platform 5 hours early than the previous day, it was relatively busy right from when I arrived, with the three common accipiters – Chinese and Japanese Sparrowhawk, and Shikra – all in good numbers. Along with good numbers of these species, today’s count also included several Booted Eagles, Pied Harriers, Crested Goshawks, Black-eared Kites, magnificent views of Crested Serpent-eagles and a single Black-winged Kite – a haul a raptors I was quite pleased with. –> checklist

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Crested Serpent-eagle (Khao Dinsor, Chumphon – 22/10/19)

Wednesday, October 23rd

Instead of heading straight back to Khao Dinsor on this morning, I decided to check out an eBird Hotspot that was more-or-less found by a British-born ornithologist working out of a Thai university on the outskirts of Bangkok. After contacting said ornithologist about the logistics of the site, I headed there early this morning, at times driving through quite thick fog. The drive from Pathiu to this small hill of protected forest, officially named ‘Wang Mai 60th Anniversary Commemoration of King Rama IX’s Ascesnsion to the Throne Forest Restoration Project‘ took about an hour, and the turn-off from the Chumphon-Ranong road was almost indecipherable from any other tiny side road, with neither a sign in English or Thai; but once I had found the right place, I drove the few kilometres up the small road until a boom gate blocked my way and I had to park.

Once parked, the relative quality of the forest was immediately evident, and while the fog prevented me from initially seeing a lot, the bird-song was enough to get me excited for the walk ahead.  From my parked vehicle, I walked what turned out to be about halfway up the road (I would find this out upon the next day’s walk), and pretty much right from the start the bird life was both evident, and representative of birds seen in better forest types than is generally seen in this part of the south, with numerous sunbirds, flowerpeckers, and spiderhunters present in the form of  Orange-breasted Flowerpecker, Little Spiderhunter, and numerous Crimson, Brown-throated and Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds. However, the highlight of the morning was undoubtedly a low-flying Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, the soared by the lower stretches of the trail silently for 10 minutes or so. –> checklist

After about two-and-a-half hours at Wang Mai, I decided to head back to the reason I ventured south in the first place, Khao Dinsor, and I made it there by midday. From then on, I sat at the main observation area with the same personnel as the past day or so, and enjoyed the flow of migrants. As soon as I arrived this day, a pair of Booted Eagles passed by, while other highlights included another magnificent Peregrine Falcon, as well as my first Asian House-Martins of my trip. –> checklist

Thursday, October 24th

After thoroughly enjoying the previous day’s trip to Wang Mai, I decided that my time before heading back to Bangkok was probably better spent there than a few morning hours at Khao Dinsor, so I once again drove from Pathiu to this little known location.  On this occasion, however, I was fully prepared to walk the entire distance from the parking spot to the hill’s summit, which is marked by a small radio communication station.

Unlike the previous day, the early morning fog lifted quite rapidly, though thankfully without any significant increase in temperature. And as with the previous day, small birds were  very active along the first kilometer or so of road. The distance from the gate to the top works out to be a little over four kilometres, and the insect life, especially butterflies, the whole way up is amazing. At this site, once one truly gets immersed in the forest, many birds seem to make themselves apparent and I was lucky enough to encounter Red-throated, and Blue-eared Barbet, Vernal Hanging-Parrot and a small fly-over flock of Wreathed Hornbills on my way up the hill, while my descent added Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Grey-faced Buzzard, both an Alstrom’s Warbler and a Chinese Blue Flycatcher and maybe luckiest of all, a small flock of White-bellied Munias, briefly appeared as I was getting into my truck before leaving. While Wang Mai‘s protection status is quite low, the number of species living here shows the importance of offering even the smallest area of land some level of protection from further exploitation. –> checklist

After leaving Wang Mai, I drove north, with the plan of staying around the Haad Chao Samran area of Phetchaburi, just south of Laem Pak Bia. The drive itself was quite smooth, and around 4 hours once a few small stops were included. And once I’d checked into my accommodation for the night and refreshed briefly, I headed to a well known site in the area, the Abandoned Building, which sites next to the small Laem Pak Bia Garbage Dump, where vagrant starlings are sometimes found.

My time at the abandoned building yielded the expected birds, with waders represented by several species such as Long-toed and Red-necked Stints, while non-waders included close views of Painted Stork, Yellow Wagtail, and Paddyfield Pipit; however, the following quick search around the garbage dumped allowed for incredible views of a Black-winged Kite, while also allowing me to get my first, albeit distant pics of a few White-shouldered Starling. –> building  / garbage dump

 Friday, October 25th

I decided upon a sleep in rather then heading into the salt pans, and also decided to swing past a lake near Wat Khao Takhrao, known as Duck and Ibis Lake on eBird.  I’ve visited this site on numerous occasions, with some success in regards to migrant ducks, and today was the first time I’d seen large numbers of ducks other than the resident Lesser Whistling Ducks which were again there in large numbers. On this occasion, however, there were also several hundred Garganey, which was nice to see, as I’d heard this species was in decline across it’s wintering grounds. Other species of note seen here on this morning included Spot-billed Pelican, Black-headed Ibis, Osprey, and Oriental Darter. –> checklist

And after leaving this last site, it was back to Bangkok to reunite with my life and normal life, and a smooth drive had me back home within 2 hours, but then already pining for my next getaway.

BIRD LIST (110 identified species – only Chumphon species included here)

LOCATION CODE – Location seen first

SW – Sawi, Chumphon

MK – Mu Ko Chumphon NP (all locations)

KD – Khao Dinsor

LT – Laem Thaen

PTB – Phanang Tak Bay

WM – Wang Mai Reforestation Project

EW – Elsewhere (incidental birding)

  1. Little Grebe (SW)
  2. Red Collared Dove (PTB)
  3. Spotted Dove (MK)
  4. Asian Emerald Dove (WM)
  5. Greater Coucal (LT)
  6. Green-billed Malkoha (LT)
  7. Plaintive Cuckoo (WM)
  8. Brown-backed Needletail (MK)
  9. Germain’s Swiftlet (KD)
  10. Pacific Swift (KD)
  11. Asian Palm-Swift (KD)
  12. White-breasted Waterhen (PTB)
  13. Red-wattled Lapwing (LT)
  14. Lesser Sand-plover (PTB)
  15. Greater Sand-plover (PTB)
  16. Malaysian Plover (PTB)
  17. Kentish Plover (PTB)
  18. Whimbrel (LT)
  19. Ruddy Turnstone (PTB)
  20. Red-necked Stint (PTB)
  21. Sanderling (PTB)
  22. Terek Sandpiper (PTB)
  23. Common Sandpiper (MK)
  24. Asian Openbill (KD)
  25. Oriental Darter (KD)
  26. Yellow Bittern (PTB)
  27. Great Egret (PTB)
  28. Little Egret (MK)
  29. Cattle Egret (PTB)
  30. Striated Heron (MK)
  31. Osprey (KD)
  32. Black-winged Kite (KD)
  33. Oriental Honey-buzzard (KD)
  34. Black Baza (KD)
  35. Crested Serpent-eagle (KD)
  36. Blyth’s Hawk-eagle (WM)
  37. Booted Eagle (KD)
  38. Grey-faced Buzzard (KD)
  39. Eastern Marsh-Harrier (KD)
  40. Pied Harrier (KD)
  41. Crested Goshawk (KD)
  42. Shikra (LT)
  43. Chinese Sparrowhawk (KD)
  44. Japanese Sparrowhawk (KD)
  45. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (KD)
  46. Black-eared Kite (KD)
  47. Brahminy Kite (KD)
  48. White-bellied Sea-eagle (LT)
  49. Wreathed Hornbill (WM)
  50. White-throated Kingfsher (WM)
  51. Blue-throated Bee-eater (EW)
  52. Blue-tailed Bee-eater (EW)
  53. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (KD)
  54. Indochinese Roller (EW)
  55. Dollarbird (KD)
  56. Blue-eared Barbet (WM)
  57. Red-throated Barbet (WM)
  58. Lineated Barbet (SW)
  59. White-browed Piculet (WM)
  60. Common Flameback (SW)
  61. Peregrine Falcon (KD)
  62. Alexandrine Parakeet (SW)
  63. Vernal Hanging-Parrot (WM)
  64. Ashy Minivet (KD)
  65. Black-naped Oriole (KD)
  66. Great Iora (WM)
  67. Black Drongo (KD)
  68. Ashy Drongo (EW)
  69. Crow-billed Drongo (WM)
  70. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (SW)
  71. Black-naped Monarch (WM)
  72. Brown Shrike (WM)
  73. Large-billed Crow (PTB)
  74. Common Tailorbird (WM)
  75. Dark-necked Tailorbird (WM)
  76. Rufous-tailed Tailorbird (WM)
  77. Barn Swallow (KD)
  78. Pacific Swallow (MK)
  79. Red-rumped Swallow (KD)
  80. Asian House-Martin (KD)
  81. Black-headed Bulbul (KD)
  82. Black-crested Bulbul (WM)
  83. Stripe-throated Bulbul (MK)
  84. Yellow-vented Bulbul (LT)
  85. Olive Bulbul (WM)
  86. Altrom’s Warbler (WM)
  87. Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (KD)
  88. Pin-striped Tit-babbler (WM)
  89. Puff-throated Babbler (WM)
  90. Asian Glossy Starling (EW)
  91. Common Myna (PTB)
  92. Vinous-breasted Myna (SW)
  93. Great Myna (PTB)
  94. Asian Brown Flycatcher (WM)
  95. White-rumped Shama (WM)
  96. Chinese Blue Flycatcher (WM)
  97. Taiga Flycatcher (PTB)
  98. Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker (WM)
  99. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (WM)
  100. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (KD)
  101. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird (WM)
  102. Brown-throated Sunbird (WM)
  103. Olive-backed Sunbird (WM)
  104. Crimson Sunbird (WM)
  105. Little Spiderhunter (WM)
  106. Yellow-eared Spiderhunter (WM)
  107. Asian Fairy-Bluebird (WM)
  108. Blue-winged Leafbird (WM)
  109. White-bellied Munia (WM)
  110. Grey Wagtail (WM)

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