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Bueng Boraphet Non-hunting Area
(Updated 01/05/15)
Bueng Boraphet is a semi-natural lake, in Nakorn Sawan province, central Thailand, which fluctuates in its water level throughout the seasons with the highest levels at the end of the wet season and beginning of the dry season getting quite low at times around April.

The lake is one of the largest single wetland sites in Thailand and certainly one of the most famous due to the discovery, in 1968, of the almost mythical White-eyed River Martin and all subsequent sightings of the bird (up to 1980) which occurred here. It is unlikely that this species will ever be seen again but a combination of reedbeds, lotus and lilies, open water and scrubland makes for a great birding spectacle at any time, although the most species will be seen in the dry season.

Although this site is classified as a non-hunting area, unfortunately this status affords the habitat itself little protection and the reed beds are greatly reduced due to human disturbance and the margins of the lake are under increasing pressure from development and conversion to rice fields; whilst fishing is allowed hunting of birds is not tolerated here.

Boat trips for birdwatching or sightseeing here are a pleasant option for birders and non-birders alike and the crocodile breeding centre offers a chance to see these creatures at close quarters although with many of them having escaped in severe flooding it is possible to find them in the lake itself! Birds aside, the beautiful array of water lilies and lotus flowers make for a wonderful sight and great photos.
Bueng Boraphet
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 Birding Highlights

Intermediate Egret
(Photo by Nick Upton)
  Waterbirds are obviously the main reason for birdwatchers to visit Bueng Boraphet and the good news is that most large waterbirds are making a comeback in Thailand, many of them having been hunted to vitual extinction in the past. Colourful waterbirds such as Purple Swamphen, Asian Openbill Stork, Glossy Ibis, Oriental Darter, Purple Heron, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Bronze-winged Jacana are the main attraction and all of these are quite abundant. Spot-billed Pelican and Indian Cormorant have also become increasingly common but only outside the breeding season.

Another spectacular species is the Pied Kingfisher which can be viewed whilst hovering before it dives to catch its prey; whilst it is common worldwide, it remains an impressive bird.

Despite declines in recent years, good numbers of waterfowl still use Bueng Boraphet in the winter. The resident Cotton Pygmy Goose and Lesser Whistling Ducks are very common but Garganey are also very numerous from December to early March. Other species regularly found include Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Ferruginous Duck and Tufted Duck, although Baer's Pochard is only now seen every few years or so in very small numbers.
Apart from large waterbirds, Bueng Boraphet is an excellent site for other types of birds too. Asian Golden Weaver, Streaked Weaver and Baya Weaver can all be found and this is perhaps one of the easiest places to see Siberian Rubythroat. Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers plus Dusky Warbler are common in the dry season and in 2008 Thailand's first Blyth's Reed Warbler was trapped and ringed here. Striated Grassbird, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Chestnut-capped Babbler and Plaintive Cuckoo are all interesting birds which are regularly seen here.

Sightings of Quail are always exciting and many species occur here including Rain Quail, Blue-breasted Quail and Small Buttonquail, although all are difficult to find; any grassy areas grazed by cattle would be the best places to look for these species.

This is, of course, the only place that White-eyed River-Martin has ever been recorded, with the last confirmed sighting in 1979 it is unlikely to vere be seen again. Read Doug Judell's article about investigating a possible sighting in Cambodia here: White-eyed River Martin.
Siberian Rubythroat
(Photo by Nick Upton)
A checklist of the birds for this location can be found here - Bueng Boraphet
  Bird Watching Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information
Use the interactive map below to plan your route to Bueng Boraphet. The blue lines show the route from Nakorn Sawan bridge (A) to the Waterbird Park (B), the Fisheries Research Station (C) and Pramong Panich (D).
Getting to Bueng Boraphet is a relatively simple affair. First, one must get to the town of Nakorn Sawan which is on the main route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Highway 1). Nakorn Sawan is about 3 hours from Bangkok and roughly 6 hours from Chiang Mai and any bus doing the journey between the two cities will stop at Nakorn Sawan bus station. For those making the journey by bus Mor Chit Bus Station in Bangkok is the terminal to use and the main bus station in Chiang Mai (known as Arcade) has lots of buses heading south.

Getting from Nakorn Sawan to Bueng Boraphet by public transport would be tricky even though it is only a few kilometres away. For those without their own vehicle, hiring one in Nakorn Sawan would be useful; there are tuktuks and songthaews that could be chartered.

For those driving their own vehicle, the only difficulty is finding the correct turn off for the lake. If heading from Bangkok one will come to a right-hand turning about 1 kilometre before Nakorn Sawan with the small town of Tha Tako signposted in English. Take this road (highway 3001) and continue for 14 kilometres until seeing the sign for Bueng Boraphet Waterbird Park ("Nok Nam Park") where there is a small statue of a pair of White-eyed River Martins on the left. Take this road that heads north, for 3 kilometres until reaching the Waterbird Park.

For those wishing to head to the Fisheries Research Station, on the north side of the lake, there is another right-hand turning (if one is heading north) onto highway 225 shortly before the bridge over the river and the city of Nakorn Sawan; this road heads to the town of Chum Saeng which is signposted from the main highway 1. Continue for 6 kilometres before seeing a right hand turning for Bueng Boraphet lake.

Both of the highways heading to the lake are on the south side of the bridge that crosses the large river with Nakorn Sawan city on its northern bank.
 Finding Birds
Waterbirds can be found throughout the lake and open-country species are fairly even distributed around the site. However, successful birding at Bueng Boraphet is mostly a question of finding where the best access is.

There are three main places where the lake and fringing habitats can easily be accessed; the Fisheries Research Station, the "Birdwatching Park" which is widely signposted in English as "Nok Nam Park" and "Pramong Panich". In order to watch most of the waterbird species it is necessary to hire a boat and at both the above locations this is possible although the staff at the "Birdwatching Park" are knowledgeable about the species birders want to see and used to catering for birders and photographers.

Siberian Rubythroat is abundant and can be teased out of the undergrowth in the early morning and late afternoon at almost any location around the lake between mid November and mid March.
Asian Golden Weavers can easily be watched at the crocodile pens at the fisheries research station during the breeding season (March to July).

Ducks usually arrive in early December and can most often be found in the shallows on the north side of the lake - you will need a boat to observe them.

Waterbird Park ("Nok Nam Park") : This area gives birders one of the best opportunities to find a wide variety of species including passerines in the reedy and scrubby areas as well as waterbirds from the lakeside and boat.

Bird watchers should park in the designated area (marked "P" on the map) and investigate from there. The road which goes towards the River Martin Monument has a locked gate across it barring access, although if you are disabled then find someone official looking and they will probably help you gain access by vehicle.

Yellow Bittern
Freckle-breasted Woodpecker

Bronze-winged Jacana
Asian Openbills
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  Snacks and simple meals can be found at the kiosks near the toilets and ask here for boat trips on the lake; Mr Phanom has been providing this service to birders and photographers for years and is very sharp-eyed and knows where the birds are at any time of the year. He charges 500 baht per hour for trips on a flat-bottomed boat with seating and a canopy for shade.

In the mornings there can be a fair amount of activity around the car park. Mostly these will be common birds such as Asian Koel, Asian Pied Starlings, Mynas and Oriental Magpie Robin but Lineated Barbet and Brown-throated Sunbird are often here and Black-naped Orioles are usually obvious in the dry season. A couple of Eastern Jungle Crows specialize in stealing your food in this spot if you leave it unattended!

The nature trail (Marked as red-dotted line on the map) takes birders through some good habitat with small trees, reeds, wet scrub and patches of grass. Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters can usually be found and Baya Weavers nest here in small numbers. This is also a good area to find Freckle-breasted Woodpecker and Spotted Owlet in the trees here and around the headquarters. Other resident birds to look out for are Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Yellow-bellied Prinia and Yellow-vented Bulbul.

Migrant birds love these wet, messy areas and as birders walk along the trail lots of "tick', "tuck" and "ttttttt" sound will be heard. These belong the skulking species such as Black-browed Reed Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler, Dusky Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat all of which are very common here. Much rarer species (Blyth's Reed Warbler and Large-billed Reed Warbler) have also been mist-netted here but identifying these birds in the field is not really likely here.

Migrant Starlings are also likely to be found here with White-shouldered and Chestnut-tailed being the most frequently seen; they are easiest to spot when they gather in the late afternoon before going off to roost.

In the dry season I have seen several species of flycatcher in this area with Taiga and Asian Brown Flycatchers being the most common, and this spot would be worth investigating during migratory periods for all manner of passage migrants that are likely to show up.

A couple of bird watching towers in this zone allow birders to get up high but they are a bit too far away from the action to be of much use. A telescope gives decent views of birds out on the lake but a boat trip is much better for getting close-up views.
Surrounding the "waterbird park" is the lake. For most of the year the water is mostly covered by lilies, lotus, reeds and Typha but at the end of the wet season there will be a lot of open water. These areas are some of the richest wetland habitats and are home to a multitude of birds. Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, Oriental Darter, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Cotton Pygmy Goose and other wildfowl can be found either from the trail, the boardwalk or a boat trip gives the best views. Striated Grassbird can often be spotted singing from clumps of vegetation in these areas.

In 2014 large scale works were carried out in the "waterbird park" area which have resulted in widespread devastation in order to create sterile, manicured habitats which the staff seem to think will attract birds. A total lack of understanding of wetland ecology and habitat destruction by the authorities in charge of this area makes its status as a Ramsar site ridiculous and the statement on the Ramsar website that there is a sustainable management plan is laughable.

Since works have finished no-doubt some of the habitat will become overgrown and attractive to birds, but much of the area has been "cleaned up" and looks like it will remain in a manicured condition.

Fisheries Research Station : The habitat in this area is not as good as it once was due to development and the building of flood barriers in 2012, however, a number of the commoner birds can still be found as well as a few scarcer species and it can still be worth a few hours here in the late afternoon. A number of access tracks between research buildings and pools provide access to small patches of grassland, parkland and lake edge and a fair number of birds can usually be seen around here.

Scaly-breasted Munia
Asian Golden Weaver

Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Little Cormorant:Oriental Darter
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  Bird Watching Trips To Bueng Boraphet:
A morning spent at Bueng Boraphet is a nice addition to any birding tour of Thailand.

This location provides easy birding and a
large number of species without expending very much energy at all and makes a nice link between the central and northern legs of your birding trip.

Contact me to arrange a birding trip and/or to discuss the best bird watching options for you:
  The vicinity of the aquarium does not have a whole lot to interest birders, just common species such as Mynas, although one can get to the lake edge here and view birds out in reedy areas through a telescope.

Towards the Fish Research Station there are some experimental fish pools with unkempt edges that play host to a few species including Yellow-bellied Prinia, White-throated Kingfisher and hovering Pied Kingfishers. Other common species here include Green Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Ashy Woodswallow.

In the crocodile compound a small colony of Asian Golden Weavers breed from March to July and in this protected area the birds can be quite confiding with some nests close to the walkway. A paved track goes around the crocodile pool and walking around here can turn up some interesting resident species including Yellow-eyed and Chestnut-capped Babblers, Chestnut Munia and Yellow-vented Bulbul in the low vegetation while in the trees Freckle-breasted Woodpecker and Pink-necked Green Pigeon are regular.

Some migratory species can usually be found around here between the months of November to April. Eastern Stonechat, Brown Shrike and Chinese Pond Heron are easily seen but Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Black-browed Reed Warbler require rather more effort. From the lakeside next to the crocodile pond it is often possible to spot a hovering Pied Kingfisher, resting Oriental Darters and many other waterbirds such as Purple Heron, Eastern Great Egret and others. Large numbers of birds pass through here in the evenings on their way to roost.

An access road goes right into the research centre and it takes birders up to the lake's edge. From here flat-bottomed boats can be hired for getting close to the birds that occupy the reeds and lillies that can be seen from the lake side. Alternatively birds can be viewed from some distance using a telescope.
Pramong Panich : This large area of disused fishponds and rice fields is accessible from the road 3475 and is a great place to see many wetland and open country species including some of the scarcer species and it is worth spending a morning or late afternoon here. Many of the commoner species can readily be seen here by driving along the network of dirt tracks and this makes it a good spot for photography as the vehicle can be used as a mobile hide. While the vaulable rough habitat in this area keeps getting converted into sterile "experimental rice plots" it is still, for the time being, high in bird abundance.

Asian Pied Myna
Common Moorhen

Horsfield's Bushlark
Chestnut-tailed Starling
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  The dirt track accessing this area is well-made and can be negotiated by most vehicles and as birders drive along it many open-country species can be seen, perhaps most notably Chestnut-tailed Starling which can be found on the wires and low bushes. The rice fields alongside the access track usually contain Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Asian Openbill and sometimes Glossy Ibis; it is also a good area to look for Greater painted Snipe.

During the wet season nesting colonies of Baya Weavers can be found in the trees throughout this area and small colonies of Streaked and Asian Golden Weavers are easily found in the low, waterside vegetation, in fact all three species are surprisingly abundant. This area is also the best place to look for one of Thailand's rarest breeding birds - Pied Cuckoo - which is an annual, wet season, visitor to this spot in small numbers.

In the dry season a good number of skulking species can be located in this area, such as it is covered in low, scrubby bushes and wet patches. Siberian Rubythroat is quite common but can be difficult to tease out but Dusky Warbler is easier. For those wishing to look for Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler this would be a good place to visit.

Stopping the vehicle at the buildings marked on the map will allow birders to get out and walk around in an area of Typha and reeds as well as other vegetation. Plain-backed and House Sparrows will be seen around the buildings themselves and one can usually get good views of Straited Grassbird, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Plaintive Cuckoo and Yellow-vented Bulbul; the dry areas here are worth a look for Savanna Nightjar which often calls from wires just before dark.

In the late afternoon birds become very active around this location and photographers are well advised to find areas where birds are bathing in order to get nice shots of mynas and starlings.

There is also access to the lakeside here and it is a good spot to wait for Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns to emerge and give flight views and the margins here might provide sightings of crakes and rails when the water levels are right. The water is too far away to be able to see anything of any winter ducks other than them flying around in flocks in the distance so it is best to concentrate on the birds that can be found on the overgrown pools and rice fields.
Open Water : Bueng Boraphet is a very large lake and hiring a boat is essential if wishing to find wildfowl. Numbers of ducks have decreased over the last few decades and only the commonest species are regular visitors, although rarer species do turn up in very small numbers almost annually.

Lesser Whistling Duck and Cotton Pygmy Goose are both very common residents here and these are easily seen at any time of the year. Of the migratory ducks Garganey are still very abundant and the large flocks they occur in can be quite spectacular. Northern Pintail are also regular visitors with species such as Northern Shoveler, Common Teal and Eurasian Wigeon often present in small numbers. Ferruginous Duck are still seen in most years along with occasional Tufted Duck.

Asian Openbill
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Purple Swamphen
White-browed Crake
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  The lake still does produce rarer species of wildfowl and Baer's Pochard was seen here in 2009 and 2010 but not since then. Ruddy Shelduck makes an appearance every now and then in small flocks and there have been single records of Comb Duck and Greater Scaup in recent years too but visitors should not expect to see lots of species of ducks but keep in mid that there is always the chance of something rare in the right months.

Little Grebe forms huge rafts of birds in the dry season but the rarer Black-necked Grebe has occurred as has Great Crested Grebe.

In the wet season Spot-billed Pelicans often occupy the lake and birders can get quite close to them in a boat. Over recent years quite a flock of Glossy Ibis has built up at this site and they can frequently be seen flying across the water to their feeding grounds.

As one glides around the lake in a boat huge numbers of waterbirds form and amazing spectacle with large numbers of Egrets, Herons, Purple Swamphens, Jacanas, Pond Herons, Cormorants and Openbill Storks.
Asian Openbills : It is worth mentioning the huge colony of Asian Openbills that have built up at Bueng Boraphet. These storks continue to become increasingly common in Thailand, feeding on a large, introduced snail which is a pest to rice crops. Sometimes visitors will see huge numbers of these birds and other times only a few if they are feeding away from the lake. If visitors scan the horizon in the heat of the day, thousands of storks can often be seen soaring on thermals.
The town of Nakorn Sawan is close enough to Bueng Boraphet for it to be the natural choice to stay. There are plenty of hotels to choose from with the Asia Nakorn Sawan offering clean air-conditioned rooms from 600 baht per night including a decent Thai-style buffet breakfast. In Nakorn Sawan any service/convenience that could conceivably be required is available; banks, laundry, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, internet cafes can all be easily found.

Boat trips can be arranged from both the "bird watching park" and the fisheries research station, although it is best to head to the bird watching park area and ask for Khun Phanom who knows the birds of the lake very well. There has been a lot of disturbance and damage at the fisheries research station and toilets are rather rudimentary. However, at the birdwatching park simple food (lunch only) and fairly clean toilets are available as well as cold drinks.

For birders who want an early start it is probably best to buy food from one of the large supermarkets in Nakorn Sawan the day before and take it out to eat while birding.
 Useful Books
 Other Related Pages
Bueng Boraphet Bird Checklist

Birdwatching Tours

Other Central Thailand Birding Locations

Baer's Pochard
 Photo Galleries
Select the thumbnail photos to see larger images.
The Lake
Lotus Swamp
Viewing Tower
Grazing Cattle
Some Birds of Bueng Boraphet
Little Cormorant
Purple Heron
White-browed Crake
White-eyed River Martins
Eastern Great Egret
Asian Openbill
Flock of Egrets
Chinese Pond Heron
Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Indian Cormorants
Cotton Pygmy Goose
Lesser Whistling Ducks
Purple Swamphen
Little Grebe
  Bird Watching Trips:
Bueng Boraphet is a good site to add to your bird watching itinerary for a large number of species and great photo opportunities. Some uncommon species can be found here and maybe a few surprises.

Look at some suggested itineraries, Thailand bird tours, or contact me for more information:
 Trip Reports
Rainy Season Birding Tour of Thailand, 1st-14th July 2009   by Nick Upton
 Related Blog Entries
  • A Morning at Bueng Boraphet - posted 25/05/15
  • Asian Golden Weaver - posted 07/07/10
  • Bueng Boraphet - posted 18/08/08
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