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Khao Sok National Park, 5–7th July 2008
 
 
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Introduction
I made a 48-hour birding visit to Khao Sok NP, as part of a mainly non-birding three-week holiday in Thailand.

I arrived at about 3pm on Saturday 5th July, leaving at lunchtime on Monday 7th July, which gave me two early mornings and two late afternoons birding in the national park.

I did all of my birding from the main trail which heads west from the park HQ, following the river for about 7km or so.

Getting there, Transport and Accommodation
Access by public transport is mostly well covered in Nick Upton’s “locations” section on www.thaibirding.com . I took a tourist minibus from Krabi town, which leaves daily for Khao Sok at about 11.30am. You can book this minibus at any travel agent in town, and it will come and collect you from your accommodation. The cost of the minibus journey was 350 baht. This has recently increased from 300 baht due to the rising cost of fuel.

The minibus lingered at its headquarters in Krabi for a while (staff there will try to make you pre-book accommodation in Khao Sok but it isn’t necessary to do so), and when we were finally underway the journey itself took about 2 hours, arriving at Khao Sok at around 2.30pm. The minibus will take you directly to your accommodation in Khao Sok village. I had not pre-booked a place to stay, but some other passengers on the bus were headed to “Jungle Hut”. I had a look at the accommodation when the bus arrived there, and, finding it cheap and quite satisfactory, decided to stay there.

At this quiet time of year, accommodation options in Khao Sok are abundant, and prices kept low by the surplus of accommodation. 200 baht seems to be the going rate for a basic bungalow with ensuite bathroom (mine included hot water for this price).

From “Jungle Hut” it was about a 15 minute walk up the road to the national park entrance gate. Other accommodation options are slightly closer, but everywhere in the village is within walking distance of the national park entrance.

Getting out of the park was also easy: I booked a minibus through my guesthouse, which collected me from my accommodation and took me directly to Surat Thani train station (which is actually in Phun Phin, about 14km away from Surat). Surat-bound minibuses leave Khao Sok hourly, and booking via my guesthouse was painless. My ticket cost 200 baht. Some money can no doubt be saved if you walk to the main road at Km109 and flag down a passing bus, but I didn’t feel like making the 1.5km walk to the main road carrying my pack, especially after just having done an awful lot of walking in the forest!

From Surat Thani there are frequent trains to Bangkok – but be warned that there are very few trains during the day, they mostly depart in the late afternoon and evening and reach Bangkok early the next morning. A ticket for a second-class sleeper carriage (with fan) is 458 baht, this standard of accommodation is perfectly comfortable and there is little need for air conditioning or first-class.

3. National Park entry
The good news is that the entry fee for foreigners is now back to 200 baht (until recently it was an extortionate 400 baht). The sign on the ticket booth advises that a 50% discount is available for students, so if you show a valid student ID you should be able to get in for 100 baht.

Tickets are valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase, so the ticket I bought on arrival at 3pm was valid until the same time the following day. Therefore I only had to buy two entry tickets despite entering the park on three different calendar days. There is a guesthouse, a campground and a hostel within the park gates, so if you stay at one of these places you should only have to pay the entrance fee once, as my ticket was never checked once I was past the entrance gate. However, staying inside the park will seriously limit your evening meal options.

4. Inside the park
You can’t take motorcycles along the trails, so once inside the park all transportation is on foot. The main trail heads west from the visitor centre. Cross the river bridge, pass the building and the unattended checkpoint booth, and the trail proper begins. It is a wide forest track for 2.8km, as far as the ranger substation, then becomes a narrow path through jungle, with some slippery sections and exposed tree roots to watch out for. There are elephant trails around too, so taking the wrong path is a possibility if you are not careful. There are signs but these were in a bad state of repair and some were missing or lying broken on the ground.

At the 2.8km substation, a sign warns that from June to November (ie. the rainy season) it is forbidden to proceed any further. I imagine there is a possibility of flash flooding in some areas. This rule does not seem to be enforced and I ignored the sign, as did others I met on the trail beyond the substation (including a ranger leading a guided group on one occasion). Probably best use common sense here and do not proceed along the trail or linger in stream gullies after heavy rain.

On one occasion I tried the other trail which heads north from the park HQ, but saw and heard almost nothing along here, so resolved to concentrate on the main trail for the rest of my visit.

5. Birding at Khao Sok
I was lucky with the weather – it was mostly sunny, with occasional cloudy periods, on both the Saturday and the Sunday. It was cloudy on Monday and rain set in late morning, but only once I was out of the park and back at my accommodation preparing to leave.

The trails were a little muddy from time to time, and the narrow trail was a little slippery in places, but overall the walking conditions were good.

Despite the favourable conditions, birding here was very slow and often frustrating. Even in the early morning, the trail was often very quiet – the birds weren’t calling much, nor did they readily show themselves. Probably the time of year (July) was the major factor in this. Both the number of species and the number of individual birds were very low. Usually conspicuous species like Drongos were notable by their complete absence, and I didn’t see a single raptor during my visit. Even common forest birds like Bulbuls were few and far between, in fact the majority of the interesting Bulbuls I saw were from a single fruiting tree shortly after the 2.8km substation, and even then there were only a few individual birds of each species.

I saw only 32 species in total, but many of the observations were good quality and led me to believe that certain species I was seeing are a lot easier to connect with at this time of year. For example, I was virtually tripping over Chestnut-naped Forktails all along the trail, river and creeks from the 2.8km substation onwards – a conservative estimate of 4 different pairs were seen - yet it sounds like not all visitors manage to see one of these at all when at the park at other times of year.

Other interesting birds seen, that are either not on Nick Upton’s site checklist (Note: I have added them to the list - Nick) or infrequently seen according to other trip reports, included Maroon Woodpecker, Rufous Woodpecker, Temminck’s Sunbird, Purple-naped Sunbird, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Yellow-bellied Bulbul and Black-throated Babbler.

6. Mammals
I heard Gibbons in the trees all the time but didn’t manage to see any. As well as Macaques (around my accommodation at Jungle Hut as well as in the forest!), I saw several groups of Dusky Langurs, and best of all an Asian Palm Civet showed very well close to the trail near the 2.8km substation. Various squirrels etc. were very common – I probably saw more squirrels than birds!

There were also a lot of bats around, and some of the bats in the forest were still on the wing several hours into the day.

Once deep into the forest along the trail, the park felt very wild … in the early morning I often felt that there was more than a slim chance that I might encounter a dangerous animal in the forest! Especially in the wet season, the larger mammals apparently roam more widely in the park and don’t stay so close to the lake. There were regular piles of Elephant dung on the trail, and Tigers, Leopards and Bears all still occur.

Dominic Le Croissette
 
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 Species list with notes
1. Rufous Woodpecker: pair along main track about 1km from park HQ.
2. Maroon Woodpecker: one showed extremely well from narrow trail, in a flat area of forest c.800m past the substation.
3. Blue-banded Kingfisher: one fly-past along the river was the only kingfisher seen.
4. Chestnut-breasted Malkoha: one of the highlights of the trip, superb views of one sitting in full view in trees along the main trail.
5. Greater Coucal
6. House Swift
7. Spotted Dove
8. Blue-winged Leafbird
9. Black-naped Monarch

10. Rufous-winged Philentoma: apparently common in a certain area of the forest, the same area as the Maroon Woodpecker.
11. Oriental Magpie Robin
12. White-rumped Shama
13. Chestnut-naped Forktail
: common past the 2.8km substation, 4+ pairs in total, seen by the main river, in gullies and walking on the trail itself.
14. Common Myna
15. Black-crested Bulbul: a few seen in the forest.
16. Ochraceous Bulbul
: one’s and two’s sometimes seen in the forest.
17. Red-eyed Bulbul: small numbers.
18. Grey-bellied Bulbul: one at a fruiting tree.
19. Yellow-bellied Bulbul
: two at a fruiting tree.
20. Rufescent Prinia
21. Abbot’s Babbler
: common, and one of the more vocal birds encountered.
22. Puff-throated Babbler: small numbers seen.
23. Rufous-fronted Babbler: pair seen.
24. Black-throated Babbler: single seen.
25. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker: often seen around Jungle Hut.
26. Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker: common.
27. Olive-backed Sunbird
28. Crimson Sunbird: single seen.
29. Temminck’s Sunbird: point-blank views of male along main track.
30. Purple-naped Sunbird: quite often seen along latter stages of wide track within 1km of the substation.
31. Little Spiderhunter
32. White-rumped Munia
Dominic Le Croissette can be contacted at dominic@surfbirder.com
 
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