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Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Khao Yai National Park
Entrance to Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is the second largest in Thailand. It covers an area of 2,168 square kilometers, including evergreen forests and grasslands. Its altitude mostly ranges from 400 to 1000 m above sea level. There are 3,000 species of plants, 320 species of birds including Great Hornbill, Coral-billed Ground-cuckoo and 67 species of mammals, including Asiatic Black Bears, Asian Elephants, Gaur, Tigers, Gibbons, Indian Sambar Deer, Crab-eating Macaque, Indian Muntjac, Dholes and wild pigs.

Khao Yai National Park
The park is also well known for it’s many scenic waterfalls.

It is around a 3 hour drive from Bangkok so most opt to camp at one of the campgrounds in the park or stay at one of the lodges just outside of the park. Since we had a limited amount of time and were already committed to multiple nights in Bangkok we decided to drive up early that morning and just spend the day there. The sky was a bit overcast most of the day but temperatures were very pleasant in the mid-70’s with very little humidity.

Khao Yai National Park

We started off at the north entrance which is just south of Pak Chong, Saraburi. At the first available spot to pull over we were immediately greeted with the songs of Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Black-crested Bulbuls, Stripe-throated Bulbuls and Streak-eared Bulbuls.

Black-crested Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul

At the next stop we hiked a couple miles to an observation platform. Lots of Asian Palm Swifts were circling around with Barking Deer that could see grazing in the distance. Many Red-whiskered Bulbuls and a single Siberian/Common Stonechat along the trail as well.

Khao Yai National Park
Trail to Observation Platform

The observation deck didn’t yield very much in the way of birds but it offered nice views of the lake and rain forest beyond. We just sat in quiet contemplation while listening to the screaming roars of the Gibbons in the forest. Click here to listen to the crazy howling of the Gibbons call that I recorded.

Khao Yai National Park
View from the Observation Platform

Khao Yai National Park
Rain Forest Canopy of Khao Yai

The clouds parted a bit in the middle of the day allowing the sun to shine very briefly before becoming overcast again for the remainder of the day.

Khao Yai National Park
Some sun shone through the clouds during mid-day

Once back to the car we continued driving south through Khao Yai. Not much later we were able to get breathtaking views of a mated pair of Giant Hornbills preening in the trees. They sat there for quite a while seemingly uninterrupted by our presence. When they finally took off they flew right over us giving us astonishing aerial views of how magnificent they are. With an almost 6′ wingspan and 5’5″ in length, you could hear their very loud wingbeats and even feel the wind as they flew by.

Great Hornbill
Great Hornbill

We stopped for lunch at Pa Giuay Mai campground and were treated to the wild antics of Crab-eating Macaques. It offered pleasant entertainment while we had a very delicious Thai lunch cooked by a small local restaurant.

Crab Eating Macaque
Crab Eating Macaque

We were fortunate to run into a Thai birding group that allowed me the use of their photo blind while they were finishing lunch! I was hoping to get photos of the very secretive Coral-billed Ground-cuckoo but unfortunately it never came around while I was in the blind. I did get many other great forest birds that I would not have otherwise had the fortune of obtaining without the generous offer of the photo blind.

Common Green Magpie
Common Green Magpie

Siberian Blue Robin
Siberian Blue Robin

White-rumped Shama
White-rumped Shama

After leaving the campground we continued further down the road to head up to the summit of Khao Khieo Viewpoint, which houses a critical radar station which is part of the Thailand National Air defense. It was a bit unnerving to be photographing and looking at birds while military were patrolling the area with M-16 rifles! On the drive up the mountain I slammed on the brakes as we came around a curve upon a 4-5′ Reticulated Python just warming itself up along the road. I pulled over and it wasn’t long before a small caravan of cars pulled over behind me to photograph and enjoy the magnificence of the Python.

Reticulated Python
Reticulated Python

Khao Yai National Park
A local Thai television crew also stopped to take video footage.

Daylight was quickly fleeting so we decided to start heading back down the mountain and out the south entrance back home toward Bangkok. The absolute highlight of the day was a juvenile Asian Elephant that was feeding on the side of the road just a few kilometers before the southern entrance of Khao Yai. I immediately pulled over around 150 yards from the Elephant – to give it plenty of space and to not agitate it.

Asian Elephant
Asian Elephant

The distance was no problem since I pulled out my 500mm lens and set it up on the tripod. I was able to get stunning video footage and photographs of the Elephant before an oncoming car drove past scaring it into the forest.

We were even treated to a second adult Asian Elephant another 1km down the road. A local Thai pulled over behind us as I was photographing the Elephant and exclaimed at how lucky we were to see one. She had lived there her whole life and that was the first time she had seen one at Khao Yai!

Asian Elephant
Asian Elephant

Click here to see all Photos from Khao Yai National Park.

 

Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Photography Adventures

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In search of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper…

It has been a lifelong dream to see and photograph one of the last remaining Spoon-billed Sandpipers before they go extinct. The bird is critically endangered and latest studies have estimated less than 1,000 adult birds remaining. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss on its breeding grounds in Siberian Arctic and loss of tidal flats through its migratory and wintering range which include China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, India and the Malay peninsula. The most important staging area is at Saemangeum, South Korea which has only been partially reclaimed; the remaining wetlands are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future.


Geographic range of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

The breeding population was estimated as only 120–220 pairs in summer 2009. Draining of the Saemangeum estuary in South Korea removed an important migration staging point, and hunting on the important wintering grounds in Burma has emerged as a serious threat. This species may become extinct in 10–20 years.


Dwindling population of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

So here begins my story of seeking out the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Thailand. I chose the greater-Bangkok area since that is the most dependable place to see them currently. I paid close attention to the Thai-based message boards to keep track of most recent sightings of the bird. The first Spoon-billed showed up sometime in November at Khokh Kham near Bangkok. December followed with multiple reports from Pak Thale in Phetchaburi, Thailand including 2-3 individuals observed toward the end of the month. This sounded like the most probable place to find one so I chose that as our first location to scout for the bird.

If you don’t mind driving in a fast paced city then it really isn’t that big of a deal to rent your own vehicle and drive to Pak Thale yourself. We may have went overboard renting a high clearance truck but I wasn’t sure of road conditions and I was planning on doing shooting in some of the rain forest national parks. It was still only $45/day and by it being diesel it also got very good gas mileage. There were some muddy and uneven roads in Pak Thale but you could easily get there and back with a regular small passenger vehicle. The downside of course, was that it would only be my wife and I searching for the bird.


Route from Bangkok to Pak Thale

It took just under 2 hours to get to Pak Thale, Phetchaburi from Bangkok. It didn’t take long to find out where we needed to be since there was a sign labelled “Pak Thale Shorebird Site” with a cute little picture of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper on it! The surrounding flooded salt pannes and warm humid air immediately reminded us of a lovely late summer afternoon at the Salton Sea in California! So it’s no wonder thousands of shorebirds choose this site as their wintering ground.


Pak Thale Shorebird Site

We spent a good part of the morning driving and surveying the fields. Unfortunately most of the shorebirds were very far off in the distance which made even scope views very difficult. I was able to photograph just about every shorebird and Stint throughout the day that were in the area but there was still one shorebird flock that was a bit distant from any drivable road. I decided as a last ditch effort I would crawl as close as I could to the field without scaring the entire flock so that I had a better vantage point.

Pak Thale – Flooded Salt Pannes

To make matters worse, the majority of them had their heads tucked under their wings..and it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a Red-necked, Little Stint and a Spoon-billed Sandpiper without seeing it’s head and bill completely. After 2 hours of crawling across the muddy, flooded fields I picked out a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper in a flock of over 2,000 Plovers and Sandpipers! As I was photographing and taking video of the single Spoon-billed, I noticed another appeared out of nowhere. It was most likely roosting nearby and finally popped out to preen and feed with the other.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper

I was reeling with excitement and on the verge of shaking after 20 hours worth of airline flights and a whole day of searching for the bird on our own. I can’t begin to share the joy and excitement that I felt to be able to find such an incredible bird completely on our own.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Two Spoon-billed Sandpipers
Two Spoon-billed Sandpipers (roosting)

Here are two 1080p HD videos I took of a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper preening as well as with both of them together:



Video #1


Video #2

Stay tuned to future blog posts outlining the rest of our trip to Thailand and Japan!

 

Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Photography Adventures

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