Wildlife Sanctuary, in Narathiwat province, is made up of
two sectors; Hala sector and Bala sector. Hala sector is seldom-visited
and quite undocumented, however, Bala sector has been receiving
visitors for about 10 years now. Prior to that this area was
a stronghold of Islamic insurgents and not a safe place to
sector of this Wildlife Sanctuary consists mainly of lowland
forest on the border with Malaysia making it just about the
only place in Thailand where many lowland Sundaic species
can be found. In addition to this, the forest is exceptionally
beautiful with lots of mature trees and clear streams and
these, together with the remote location, give visitors a
real sense of wilderness. There are a number of short trails
within the Wildlife Sanctuary for those that like to walk,
but simply birding along the road can prove very productive.
the last few years there has been an increase in violence in this
part of Thailand with over 3000 people having been killed since
2004, Tourists haven't usually been targeted but schools, train
stations, police stations and government offices have been attacked
by insurgents and mosques have been raided by the government. I
wouldn't like to be responsible for people getting into trouble
in this area so it would be wise to research the situation close
to the time one wants to travel to Bala.
it is completely unsafe to travel to this region with deaths as
a result of terrorism reported daily in the Thai newspapers.
are so many birding highlights here it is difficult to know
where to start. Javan Frogmouths regularly nest near the headquarters,
making it probably the easiest place in the country to see
this species. Bat Hawks also have a conveniently viewable
nest from almost the same spot providing two fabulous species
within a few minutes of your arrival. Hornbills
are a constant feature at this location, and for me are among
the most memorable birds in the whole country. Rhinoceros,
Helmeted, Wrinkled, Bushy-crested, White-crowned, Wreathed
and Plain-pouched Hornbills can all be seen in the vicinity
of HQ, with Great and Black Hornbills present too.
Forktail is another species that draws birders to this location,
with views almost guaranteed. The lowland forest in this region
is also the home of some of the most elusive and sought after
ground dwelling species; Garnet Pitta, Giant Pitta and Rail-babbler
have all been seen in recent years.
these species don't whet your appetite then the profusion
of Bulbuls, Babblers, Woodpeckers, Barbets, Kingfishers and
more should ensure that in three or four days your species
list should easily exceed 100!
here for a checklist of the birds of Hala-Bala
Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for
ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trip to Thailand:
to the Bala Sector of Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary is not
as difficult as one might think. I would recommend going by
car, hiring one in one of the southern towns; they would be
widely available from Phuket or Krabi. The main highway south
goes to Narathiwat and from there signposts to Sungai Kolok
should be followed. If travelling by public transport, there
are plenty of buses from the southern bus terminal in Bangkok
to Sungai Kolok. The journey takes in the region of 16 hours.
From Sungai Kolok follow the main road to Waeng and from there
continue along the road which heads to the border. Shortly
after leaving Waeng, Bala Wildlife Sanctuary is signposted;
simply follow these.
in Sungai Kolok by public transport one would have to look
around for transport to the park; the border crossing to Malaysia
would be a starting point for this. However, I wouldn't advise
attempting to arrive by public transport without having a
car to drive to the park, particularly when security is an
issue in this part of Thailand. Having a private vehicle will
also allow birders to properly enjoy the birding hotspots
around the park which are long distances from each other and
could not all be reached on foot.
hanging around the Research station will allow birders to see many
species of Hornbill, Bat Hawk, Javan Frogmouth and Black-thighed Falconet
to mention a few, but by moving around many more species can be found.
number of flowering trees here allow good views of many Bulbuls,
Flowerpeckers and Spiderhunters, with most of the southern
specialities being fairly easy to find.
Station : Some
birders spend the whole day in and around the research station,
and many excellent species can be found in this way. A stake-out
for Bat Hawk and Javan Frogmouth exists behind a shed where
tools and vehicles are kept, just after the turning which
goes down a steep slope. The Frogmouth sits in a tree slightly
to the right of this shed and can be seen at close quarters.
The Bat Hawks nest in a large distant tree and can be viewed
through a telescope when at the nest. The staff at the research
station are happy to spend a few minutes helping visiting
birders locate both
of these species.
Hornbills can be encountered around here too. Rhinoceros Hornbill
regularly comes to feed on nearby trees and is quite a fabulous
sight. The rare Wrinkled Hornbill sometimes passes by in small
flocks and Wreathed Hornbills often fly overhead. Plenty of
smaller birds frequently show up here also; Collared Falconet
is a much photographed highlight which can usually be seen
perched on bare branches; Brown and Gold-whiskered Barbets
are often found in the larger trees and Long-billed Spiderhunter
is usually easy to see feeding on flowering ornamental trees.
track runs down a steep slope from the accommodation at the research
centre into a river valley. Down here there is a circular, paved
trail which can be a great place to see Babblers, with Short-tailed
Babbler being particularly numerous on my visit. Next to the river
is a small shelter which is a good place to have lunch and is a
stake-out for Kingfishers.
crosses this river and goes through some excellent lowland forest
where a number of highly sought-after species have been seen including
Rail-babbler, Garnet and Giant Pittas, Short-toed Coucal and Rufous-tailed
Shama. When I visited in March 2003 I also saw Bushy-crested and
White-crowned Hornbills in this area. Probably the worst aspect
of this trail is the fact that it is infested by leeches; I was
covered in them by the time I got out of the forest here and my
socks saturated in blood - leech socks would be very helpful!
Waterfall : Many
Whiskered Treeswifts can be seen as one walks down the road towards
this waterfall, and Orange-backed Flowerpecker is frequent in the
smaller trees. However, the main reason to visit this waterfall
is to find Chestnut-naped Forktail which is frequently observed
at the base of the waterfall. Look carefully as it can be surprisingly
easy to miss! Mornings and late afternoons are the best time to
see this species as sometimes visitors play in the water here during
the day; not a bad idea when it gets very hot!
two viewpoints, where there are shelters in rather a poor
state of repair, provide some of the birding highlights of
the Wildlife Sanctuary as well as views across some very beautiful
forest. Hornbills can often be seen flying over the forest,
with Helmeted and Rhinoceros Hornbills being regularly seen
and providing a fantastic sight. I had a lot of success with
Woodpeckers at these locations in 2003, seeing Buff-rumped,
Buff-necked and Olive-backed Woodpeckers within a few minutes
of each other.
Lots of other southern specialities can be found feeding in
trees in these areas with Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler,
numerous Bulbuls, Minivets and the rather unspectacular Brown
Fulvetta all occurring. The first of the two viewpoints provides
the best vistas across the forest making it a good place to
look out for soaring raptors, Blyth's and Wallace's Hawk Eagles
being the regional specialities.
short trail runs from the back of this forest temple, along a small
stream which leads to a small pond and eventually to a village. There
is some nice forest along here and it is quite moist, attracting many
exciting lowland specialist species such as Temminck's Sunbird, Chestnut-rumped
Babbler, Spotted Fantail and Little Bronze Cuckoo. Some birdwatchers
have been lucky enough to find Malaysian Rail-babbler along here and
there have been a few reports of Daird's Trogon from the small pond,
but I'm not sure how reliable these are as they came from local youngsters.
However, this is certainly a good spot to sit and wait for birds to
come down to drink.
facilities at this Wildlife sanctuary are few but sufficient. It
is possible to stay at the research station where there are some
simple but comfortable rooms, although I understand that these aren't
usually available to the public. However, when I turned up with
my girlfriend we were allowed to stay in one of the unoccupied rooms
and it was left up to us how much we donated for using this. Most
people, if arriving independently, are left to use the campsite
which is downhill of the guest rooms. There is no food available
at the research station, one must bring food, water and cooking
equipment sufficient for the stay.
The small village
near the temple has a small foodstall where noodles and simple rice
dishes are served in daylight hours and there is another small shop
which sells basic provisions and cooked food can be arranged. People
in this village are friendly and my girlfriend and I were invited
in to eat with a family who had food left over from a wedding party!
have preferred to stay in Sungai Kolok and drive into the forest
every day and whilst there are some decent hotels there I wouldn't
recommend this for security concerns and for the inconvenience of
the journey. However, all sorts of food and drink provisions can
be bought in Sungai Kolok for one's stay at Bala and there is a
border crossing for travel into/from Malaysia.
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