Just back from Christmas and New Year in Thailand. In between the sightseeing, hitting the markets and the Thai cooking course (yes, really), I managed a bit of birding. Highlight has to be the Hornbills at Khao Yai.
We enjoyed two full days in Khao Yai and, with an expert guide, Komuel (who, incidentally was mauled by a tiger about 15 years ago and sports nasty scars on his arm to prove it), I was keen to explore the less-visited parts of the forest park to look for birds, in particular Hornbills. There are four species of Hornbill in Khao Yai – Great, Wreathed, Oriental Pied and Brown – and we started early to try to catch their early morning feeding frenzy. Hornbills tend to favour large, mature, fruiting trees and the trail we followed took in several of these hulks that looked several hundred years old judging by their girth. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying good views of Oriental Pied Hornbill and then, shortly afterwards, a pair of Wreathed. All were in the treetops feeding with unexpected dexterity, seemingly despite their enormous bills. As the track wound deeper into the forest we flushed one, then a second, Siamese Fireback and a pitta sp shot across the path and disappeared before we had a chance to identify it. A little further on we heard an astonishing “whooosh—-whoosh” as two Great Hornbills flew over our heads through the canopy and landed in a tree a short distance away. The sound of these birds’ wings was simply awesome – and as they passed overhead casting shadows over us, there was a distinct prehistoric feeling in the air. It was almost as if we had been transported back in time to the age of the pterodactyls. We reached a small clearing from where we could see the birds feeding and, after a few seconds, I couldn’t believe my luck when one flew straight over our heads. I grabbed the camera and reeled off about 10 shots as it laboured to the other side of the clearing. Wow! This bird was then followed by a second, then a third, then a fourth bird, and we watched in awe as these magnificent birds meandered from tree to tree. As they disappeared deeper into the forest, we continued our walk and we enjoyed views of 2 Red Junglefowl, Red-headed Trogon, Greater Flameback, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Hill Myna, White-bellied Yuhina, Asian House Martin and White-crested Laughingthrush. We also encountered fresh elephant tracks, bear scratches on the bark of a tree, Pig-tailed Macaques, Gibbons and Giant Black Squirrels.
However, it is the Great Hornbills that will remain strongest in the memory – smashing birds.