Thailand is situated in South-east Asia, in the Indo-Chinese peninsula of the Oriental Region and has been described as a zoogeographic crossroads because the country’s avifauna comprises Sino-Himalayan, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Chinese and Sundaic elements and there are a large number of migrant visitors from the Palaearctic Region. There are approximately 962 species of birds (2 endemics) currently recorded, in other words 10% of the world species are present in Thailand.
Thailand has a tropical monsoon climate. Generally the dry season is during November to April and the rainy season from May to October but, the southern and Southeastern provinces receive rain during November-January.
Geologically the country can be divided in the following way. The Central Plain extends to the coast around Bangkok and consists of areas of marshy floodplains. The North lying between the Mekong and Salween Rivers, is mainly mountainous, the highest peak at Doi Inthanon is 2,565m above sea level. The Northeast consists of dry plateau (Korat Plateau) mostly consisting of dry soil but there are some good forests such as Khao Yai located in this region. The East and Southeast has the isolated mountains of Khao Soi Dao at the westward part of the country near the Cambodia border. The West and Southwest has a large forested area and is divided from the Burmese border by the Tanassarim range. The South lying between the Andaman sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Peninsula Thailand is the southern part, which is a part of Sunda faunal sub-region.
Spectacled Leaf Monkey Trachypithecus obscurus ©Gary Kinard
Thailand has a variety of types of forest as follows:
Evergreen Forest – Tropical rain forest is dense, continuous canopy has a middle storey and a herbaceous forest floor etc. In Thailand it can be divided into two subtypes; the Thai type of rainforest, which formerly occupied most the lowland of Thailand and the Malayan rainforest type which is confined to the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and southern Trang. Small areas of rainforest are also found in the wettest areas of South-east Thailand. Bird species diversity in this forest type is very high. Semi-evergreen, and dry-evergreen, forest is dense and stratified and usually has a deciduous component, these occur in the lowland and submontane slope below 900m throughout the country. This forest type also supports a great diversity of bird species including pheasants, pigeons, cuckoos, owls, trogons, hornbills, kingfishers, barbets, woodpeckers and many passerine families. Hill evergreen forests occur above 900m or 1,000m on the higher peaks throughout the country especially the north, west, some in the Southeast and Peninsula. Dominant trees are oaks and chestnuts etc. This type of forest supports a great diversity of birds including minivets, bulbuls and babblers and is especially good for Rufus-throated Partridge, Humes` Pheasant and Rufus-throated Hornbill etc.
Garnet Pitta Pitta granatina ©Gary Kinard
Deciduous Forests – are found in the lowlands where the rainfall is too seasonal to support evergreen forest. Mixed deciduous forests occur in the plains or valleys and on hill slope up to 1,000m, they are found in the North, Northeast and Southwest regions. Teak is dominant in this forest type. The bird species show less diversity than lowland evergreen forests but it is ideal habitat for Black-headed Woodpecker, Rufus Treepie and Golden-fronted Leafbird, Banded Broadbill, Blue Pitta etc.
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus ©Gary Kinard
Dry Dipterocarp Forests – occur in all the lowlands but the largest and least disturbed areas are found in the north and west. This supports a lower range of birds species than other forest types as there is less middle story and under-story vegetation. Among the smaller birds are Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike & Golden-fronted Leafbird, Rufescent Prinia, Brown Prinia, Great Slatey Woodpecker, While-bellied Woodpecker, Lineated Barbet, Eurasian Jay, Blue Magpie and Rufus Treepie etc.
Coniferous Forests – occur on drier ridges and plateaus at elevations of 400m – 1,400m in the North, and Northeast regions. It supports a low diversity of bird species but is the place for Giant Nuthatch, Great tit, Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Greater Yellow-nape, Eurasian Jay and Grey Treepie etc.
Bamboo – occurs as a mosaic with other forest habitats and a great many bird species utilise bamboo including White-browed Piculet, Rufus Warbler and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, etc.
Forests On Limestone – occur around the margins of the major mountain massifs. One species of forest bird, the Limestone Wren Babbler is confined to limestone habitats and is found in small areas of the North, Southwest and at the southwest margin of the Khorat Platteau in the Northeast region. Other species relate to this area including Dusky Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Peregrine Falcon etc.
Mangrove Forests – are found in the Gulf of Thailand and along both Peninsular coasts. It provides nesting and roosting areas for large colonial water-birds. Species such as Brown-winged Kingfisher, the Mangrove Pitta, Ruddy Kingfisher, Flycatcher, Mangrove Whistler, Copper-throated Sunbird etc. are found in the mangrove.
Freshwater Swamp Forest – Some small areas of secondary, scrub forest remain in Peninsular Thailand in Pa Phru of Narathiwat Province, in the far south. No species of birds are restricted to swamp forests but some species such as Cinnamon-headed pigeon, Large Green Pigeon, Red-crowned Barbet, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler utilize this type of forest in particular.
Scarlet-rumped Trogon Harpactes duvaucelii ©Gary Kinard
More than 20 years ago a group of foreign birdwatchers and some Thais lead by Dr. Boonsong Lekagul founded a birdwatching group called the Bangkok Bird Club. The BBC has developed its activities and become the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST). The activity has been spreading to other NGOs, private organizations such as other bird clubs, bird tours or individuals and, in less than 10 years, birdwatching has become popular among Thais (both men and women).
Birding Spots And Time To Observe
There are 96 National Parks, 48 Wildlife Sanctuaries and a number of Non-Hunting areas, Watershed Reserves, Forest Parks and Biosphere Reserves that have been protected by law. These areas are the main birding spots all over the country where birds can be seen all year round.
November-February is the peak time for migrating species, most areas are good for birdwatching especially the north where the weather is cooler than in other areas. The most popular destinations are Doi Inthanon National Park, Doi Pui/Suthep National Park, Doi Chiengdao Wildlife Sanctuary, Doi Angkhang of Chiengmai province and Chiengsaen of Chiengrai etc. The West and Southwest areas are also good at Kroeng-Kravia and Tung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary of Kanchanaburi province, Kaeng Krachan National Park of Petchaburi and further south at Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park of Prachaubkirikhan. One of the most popular spots is Khao Yai National Park located at the Northeastern part of the country (a wonderful place for early morning birding as The Fat Birder can attest).
March-June is the second best time for both passage migrants and resident species, which are then breeding. The best areas are the West, Southwest and the south. The most popular birding spots are Krabi province areas such as the mangroves, Khao Nor Chu Chi and newly established destination is Halabala Wildlife Sanctuary in the far south, Narathiwat province etc.
July-October is the rainy season, a quiet time but good for resident species, breeding visitors and, in the later part of this period during August-October, passage migrants. The best areas are in the central plains such as suburban areas of Bangkok, Kampangsaen of Nakhon Pratom province etc. and during September-October at the coastal areas near Bangkok such as Bangpu and Samutsakhorn etc.
Two field guides are widely used in Thailand. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand written by B. Lekagul and Philip D. Round published in 1991 is very easy to use for field identification but has become very hard to get at the moment. The new guidebook for Thailand and South-east Asia was published this year (2000); A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia written by Craig Robson. (The title of the book in Thailand has a name different from that in Europe)
How To Prepare
How to dress and what to bring – While bird-watching in the tropical forest wearing shorts is not advised because, in some areas, there are lots of insects and thorny plants and the forest trails are not like the smooth paths of woodlands in Europe. Light cotton long-sleeved shirt and trouser are recommended for most areas during day time but some areas in the mountains, especially during early mornings and evenings, can be cooler. During December-January, early mornings in the mountains of the north can be very cold so a sweater or jumper is useful. Solid walking shoes are necessary as well as leech-proof socks which may be needed in some areas, particularly during the rainy season (something else The Fat Birder can attest). Apart from a hat, a folded umbrella (dull colour) can be very useful either to protect you from bright sunshine or from rain. Insect repellent and torch are also advised.
(Some parts of this text have been extracted from Resident Forest Birds in Thailand by Philip D. Round, ICBP 1988.)
Text Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: ©Gary Kinard Birds That Fart