Mu Ko Ranong National Park – Ranong

Situated in Ranong province, several hours north of the more popular and well-known Thai provinces of Phuket and Phang Nga, Mu Ko Ranong National Park is a marine national park that – as its Thai name suggests – entails the Ranong archipelago, and some of the adjacent mainland. Within the national park lies Koh Phayam, a very low-key tourist island, with zero cars to worry about, and no large-scale, multi-story resort hotels to be seen anywhere, owing much to the relative difficulty in getting there. Getting to the island, requires either a flight or over night bus from Bangkok to the small provincial capital of Ranong (no trains), or a bus up from Phuket, and then a 25-30 minute boat ride across the sea to the island itself.

 

While there is nothing particularly ornithologically special about Koh Phayam and the national park itself, on my visit there during Songkran 2019 I turned up some good birds during a few morning explorations close to our bungalow, as well as during some incidental birding while exploring the island on scooter. Regardless of birding, the island makes a fantastic getaway, and could possibly turn up rarer species for the more astute, especially during migration.

The national park headquarters are supposedly located on the mainland, not far from the pier to get to Koh Phayam, but I’ve not been there, nor am I aware of the amenities available; however, Koh Phayaam itself works like any holiday island in Thailand, with many smaller bungalows and a few low-key resorts available to stay at.  Additionally, north of Koh Phayam, and part of the same national park, is Koh Chang (not the famous one in Trad, obviously). I have no idea of the infrastructure on Koh Chang, but there are still a few small villages and places to stay, which would make for a very quiet getaway, with I’m sure similar birding opportunities.

Koh Phayam

The following is a small rundown of a few areas of interest on Koh Phayam.

A – This area holds a tallest rocky hills on  the island, and there still appears to be some quality forest on the flanks of these hills. It is here that I had Plain-pouched Hornbills on most mornings and afternoons that I checked. There is a dirt track that takes you over to Koh Phayam Resort, which seemed a nice, if deserted place when we explored, and there were also several smaller trails leading off the main loop road around island that seemed to lead up to these hills and rocky cliffs. Although I never explored these sidetracks I do believe there are trails into the forest here.

Additionally, the road the leads south from the Koh Phayam Pier towards this area, was also the road I walked most mornings, as we were staying a resort just south of the pier. Along this road, the bird life was quite good with Plume-toed Swift, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Olive-winged Bulbul seen, among others, and a walk along the beach south of the pier added Hill Myna, Green Imperial Pigeon, Common Sandpiper and Pacific Reef Egret. This area also held many Oriental Pied Hornbill, though this species seemed pretty common throughout the island.

B – Another area of forest that has yet to be turned into cashew plantations or other cash crops, the southern most tips of the island which we didn’t explore much as the usual rocky outcrops mixed with forest that seemed relatively untouched. This area could have potential, though the area of forest is less that section A.

The beach between B and C, however, consisted of scrubby forest and small canals, and it was along here that we encountered Ruddy Kingfisher on a couple of occasions.

C – Probably the most remote area of the island, with only a dirt track connecting around to the Morgan “Sea Gypsies” Village – the Morgan are an ethnic minority that unfortunately often live in impoverished conditions.  This is another area that we didn’t explore much, but given it’s remoteness, it’s possible this area might hold less common birds. Additionally, at the Morgan village, there is a small stand of mangrove forest and it was here that I saw the only Collared Kingfisher of our stay.

D – Another area that is less developed and encompasses some forested hills before heading down to the forest-fringed Kwang Peeb Beach, this is another area of potential, but not one that we explored anymore than walking down to the aforementioned beach.

 

E – The largest (man-made) reservoir on the island, during the hotter periods of the day, the edges of this reservoir were filled with Brahminy Kites drinking. In fact, Koh Phayam seems to have an extraordinary population of Brahminy Kites. On one occasion as we were having lunch at a viewpoint restaurant facing south, a gust of wind brought close to 50 kites over the crest of the hill – an amazing site.

F – Somewhere around this spot, and on the way to Hin Thalu, you passed through an area where a colony of Lyle’s Flying Foxes roost during the day, which makes for some up-close encounters with these winged mammals.

 

BIRD LIST (63 identified species)

  1. Rock Pigeon
  2. Spotted Dove
  3. Pink-necked Green Pigeon
  4. Green Imperial Pigeon
  5. Greater Coucal
  6. Lesser Coucal
  7. Asian Koel
  8. Large-tailed Nightjar
  9. Plume-toed Swift
  10. Germain’s Swiflet
  11. House Swift
  12. Asian Palm-Swift
  13. Red-wattled Lapwing
  14. Lesser Sand-plover
  15. Greater Sand-plover
  16. Common Sandpiper
  17. Black-naped Tern
  18. Little Cormorant
  19. Great Egret
  20. Intermediate Egret
  21. Pacific Reef-Egret
  22. Chinese Pond-Heron
  23. Crested Serpent-Eagle
  24. Crested Goshawk
  25. Chinese Sparrowhawk
  26. Brahminy Kite
  27. White-bellied Sea-Eagle
  28. Oriental Pied Hornbill
  29. Plain-pouched Hornbill
  30. Ruddy Kingfisher
  31. White-throated Kingfisher
  32. Black-capped Kingfisher
  33. Collared Kingfisher
  34. Blue-throated Bee-eater
  35. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
  36. Dollarbird
  37. Coppersmith Barbet
  38. Vernal Hanging-Parrot
  39. Golden-bellied Gerygone
  40. Small Minivet
  41. Black-naped Oriole
  42. Malaysian Pied-Fantail
  43. Ashy Drongo
  44. Brown Shrike
  45. Large-billed Crow
  46. Common Tailorbird
  47. Dark-necked Tailorbird
  48. Oriental Reed Warbler
  49. Pacific Swallow
  50. Black-headed Bulbul
  51. Yellow-vented Bulbul
  52. Olive-winged Bulbul
  53. Streak-eared Bubul
  54. Common Hill Myna
  55. Common Myna
  56. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  57. White-rumped Shama
  58. Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
  59. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
  60. Brown-throated Sunbird
  61. Olive-backed Sunbird
  62. Asian Fairy-bluebird
  63. Eurasian Tree Sparrow

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