Friday, 11 February 2011

Hunting the jewel-thrush

Having achieved the first main target bird of the trip, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, it was time for the second. Last night we arrived in Krabi, 400 miles south of Bangkok, and were met by our guide Yotin Meekaeo before transferring to our accommodation close to Khao Nor Chuchi.


For those with any knowledge of pittas, KNC is synonymous with one species: Gurney's Pitta. Believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in a Bangkok bird market in 1986 and traced to this lowland forest remnant by Phil Round, the site has become a Mecca for birders on the Asian circuit ever since. Now, my turn had come, and on the flight south I got in the mood for seeing this amazing bird by reading the first chapter of The Jewel Hunter, in which Chris Gooddie begins his year-long quest to see all of the world's pittas at KNC.

Having breakfasted while it was still dark, we headed off to the forest and arrived before the sun had fully emerged. We were six in number, which was at least three too many for the viewing arrangements Yotin had in mind, so we split into two groups. By mutual consent the non-photographers went first, while those of us toting lenses figured that once they had had their fill, we'd take our time with the birds. It was a good plan on paper, especially for the first group - when they finally emerged a couple of hours later, they'd seen not only Gurney's Pitta, but also Banded and Blue-winged! Would they still be there for us?

For such a dazzlingly beautiful bird, Gurney's Pitta can be surprisingly elusive in the shadows of the forest.
By the time we got into the hide, the temperature had risen, optics and lenses had steamed up, and we were bursting with anticipation. But sure enough, there in the shadowy, bamboo-obscured leaf litter hopped one of the brightest, most alluring and bewitching birds I have ever seen: Gurney's Pitta. In a moment I had fulfilled an ambition, and it was an incredible experience to be so close to such a rare and enigmatic species.

Orange-headed Thrush could be a show-stealer in its own right were it not for the jewel-like company it keeps.
It would be almost churlish to express any disappointment with the encounter, but it was strictly a one-pitta affair - suffice to say that the Banded had made off, as had the Blue-winged. Nonetheless, in between sessions with the Gurney's, we also had Orange-headed Thrush, Abbott's Babbler and Little Spiderhunter to enjoy. A tiny species list for the morning, perhaps, but one of my all-time top birding experiences for sure.

No less captivating than the thrush, despite its diminutive size, was this male Orange-breasted Flowerpecker.
After a lunch break back at our lodgings, we headed out to KNC again in the afternoon. In the scorching heat and humidity bird activity was low, and it was impossible to anywhere near match the excitement of the morning's outing. Rufous Piculet, Puff-backed Bulbul and Black-and-yellow Bulbul all tried hard, and in the evening we did well with Javan Frogmouth and a heard-only Oriental Bay Owl. But even collectively, they were no match for the Gurney's. I wonder whether we'll get lucky with pittas again tomorrow.

Pitta-finder general Yotin Meekaeo in action at Khao Nor Chuchi.

5 comments:

  1. It look's and sounds like you had a amazing trip Dominic,and great photo's too.

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  2. Fantastic video and photos Dominic! I will be spending a month birding in Thailand in December with the same target species in mind!

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  3. Thanks for the feedback - appreciated. It was a great trip indeed, and we went with WildWings who have it all sorted. Highly recommended! Lee - if travelling independently, you perhaps already know that Yotin Meekaeo is an essential contact for views of pittas like these? let me know if you need any contact details and I can pass them on.

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  4. Hi Dominic. Looks like you had a fantastic time and got some amazing pictures and footage. I'm visiting Krabbi later this year and would very much appreciate contact details for Yotin.
    kind regards
    Sam

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  5. Hi Sam,
    You can contact Yotin on yotinpitta@hotmail.com - please tell him I passed on his email details. Well worth hooking up with him when you visit Krabi!
    Dominic

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