Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Christmas in Thailand

  Our group for "Christmas in Thailand": Jeff, Helen, Forrest and Liam Clark and Bernie and Janet Bruening along with Som, Cokie, mom, dad and Nadam!


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Trip & Wildlife Report:  Christmas in Thailand

December 21 through January 11, 2009

Wildlife Locations Visited:  Lumpini Park Bangkok, Chao Praya River Ayudthaya, Khao Yai National Park, Bueng Boraphet Wetlands, Wat Umon National Wildlife Reserve & Non-hunting Area, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Koh Lanta National Park


Som with her new friends at a Hmong New Year's party we were privileged to attend near Chiang Mai!


Trip Overview

“Christmas in Thailand” was actually a group expedition we hosted that primarily introduced our guests (The Bruening’s – Janet and Bernie, and the Clark family – Jeff, Helen, Forrest and Liam) to the rich culture, food and natural beauty of Thailand.  Our foci for the trip were many ranging from the nightlife and beautiful architecture of Bangkok to the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai to the amazing history and scenery of Chiang Mai and the hill tribe regions of the north.  We also incorporated a fairly intensive wildlife aspect of the trip which included Khao Yai National Park and Bueng Boraphet wetlands and non-hunting area where we were fortunate to see at least 17 species of mammals and over 100 species of birds.  My family and I added an additional week when a couple days were partly spent wildlife watching in southern Thailand at Khao Sam Roi Yod and Koh Lanta national parks.  Considering the relatively short amount of time birding or mammaling, the trip was amazingly productive.


Below is a location-by-location breakdown of the highpoints:


Lumpini Park

One of the most amazing wildlife spectacles in Bangkok is its amazing Lumpini Park with its hundreds of giant Water Monitor Lizards!


Situated in the heart of Bangkok, Suan Lumpini offers nature lovers a respite from the hectic cosmopolitan chaos of the city.  During the two partial-day trips to the park while in BKK, we were able to see numerous birds and reptile species that seem oddly out of place in the city.  The strikingly large Malayan water monitor lizards fearlessly wandering the park are surreal.  Some are larger than many we have seen in the wild!  Red-eared terrapin turtles are common in the ponds.  Asian pied starlings were common this time of year as were Chinese pond herons, which was not the case earlier this year during the summer months.  I was also able to get great sightings of brown shrikes and Bocourt subspecies of the variable squirrel (Callosciurus finlaysonii bocourti). 


Chao Praya River near Ayutthaya

Little Egrets fishing in a pond near the Chao Praya River north of Bangkok.


On day three of our expedition we headed north to the Chao Praya cruise boat launch to see the Asian openbill stork rookery.  Unfortunately we were unable to see the active rookery as we arrived too late in the day and most of the birds had departed to feast in the surrounding rice fields.  But we did stop at a particularly good corner in the region that allowed us to view several perched storks as well as great and intermediate egrets as well as a glorious black-capped and common kingfisher pair fishing in the ephemeral pond.  We witnessed another Bocourt’s variable squirrel in the brush nearby as well.


Khao Yai National Park


 An impressive bull Asian Elephant seen feeding along the main road in Khao Yai.


As its position as a World Heritage site would dictate, Khao Yai rarely disappoints.  We had two full days of fantastic wildlife watching while in the area.  It was a major treat for me to share this wonderful place with my friends.  I think they enjoyed it as well!  While in Khao Yai, we were able to see several species of mammals which included small Indian civets, variable squirrels, giant black squirrels, northern tree-shrews, northern pig-tailed macaques, white-handed gibbons, sambar deer, red muntjacs, Malayan porcupines,

Pallas’s squirrels, Asiatic golden jackels, slow loris (probable based on eye glare pattern).  One of the high points was the time spent watching a very large bull elephant that was in musk munching liana on the main road near the north entrance of the park.  We did fairly well with the birds as well with good sightings of oriental pied hornbills, hill mynas, sunbirds, and nice vocalizations of great and brown hornbills.  The spectacular red-headed trogon and Hainan blue flycatcher were avian high points!



Bueng Boraphet Wetlands

The impressive Lotus fields in the flooded Bueng Boraphet Wetlands reserve.


One of the premier birding destinations in Southeast Asia, Bueng Boraphet was spectacular during the winter months – and boasted a very different species list than the rainy season seen in previous trips.  Along with the huge Asian open-billed stork rookeries seen, we also caught glimpses of several resident spot-billed pelicans that seem to be making a dramatic come-back in the region.  One of the highpoints was when “Lung” called in, with voice and Tenebrio larvae, a spectacular male Siberian rubythroat on the north end of the lake.  Plain prinias and stonechats were seen in good numbers as well.  A small terrapin turtle was seen along the southern shores on day one.   Long-tailed shrikes were seen in good numbers as well.  One of the lifers for me was a bronze-winged jacana seen briefly.  But it was equally interesting to see the pheasant-tailed jacanas in their non-breeding plumage.  The high point of the day was the vast numbers of lesser whistling ducks that were near their peak during the migration.  I can only imagine what their numbers must have been like prior to humans!  We also had the fortune to witness two sparring peregrine falcons near the north shore of the lake.



 Wat Umon Wildlife Reserve and Non-hunting Area

 A glorious Green Peafowl stalking the forest of Wat Umon Wildlife Area.


While the rest of the group enjoyed their free day near the end of the expedition, my son and I ventured out to the forest monastery of Wat Umon.  A short hike of a couple km brings one to a national wildlife reserve that is the last stand for two interesting species of cervids – the Eld’s deer and hog deer.  We were fortunate enough to see both species well represented in these “semi” wild conditions.  I was able to photograph two nice stags of Eld’s deer with a small herd of females.  Several female hog deer were seen deeper in the forest as were two velveted males.  We also caught glimpses of the wild banteng in the area – got good images of a nice brown bull and a golden orange female that were for some reason separate from the main herd. 



 Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park

Wat Khao Sam Roi Yod situated below the amazing limestone mountains of the park with the same name!


Although this is not a popular park to visit and rarely is mentioned by mammalogists, we had one of our greatest “mammal moments” during our short stay there this winter.  While wildlife watchers are virtually guaranteed great sightings of dusky langurs and crab-eating macaques, Khao Sam Roi Yod is known as one of the last strong-holds of the southern serow.  There is little known of the ecology and the population status of this mountain goat, and there is much debate on whether it even still exists in some of the mountain ranges in the park.  While driving out of the park on day two, my father-in-law noticed a “bird” on one of the coastal mountain groups that actually ended up being a large, mature male southern serow.  After taking several images and watching it for about twenty minutes, it grazed its way to the other side of the limestone crag and was out of sight.  The local researchers and rangers were very impressed and even commented that these images now verify a living serow in a mountain range where their status was doubtful.  Wow!  What a way to end the expedition!  As a birding location, Khao Sam Roi Yod is excellent.  Although we missed the peak by a couple weeks, we caught sight of some excellent species including bronze-winged and pheasant-tailed jacanas, common greenshanks, common redshanks, sand plovers, common snipes, little cormorants, ruddy-breasted crakes, Richard’s pipits, etc. 



 Some more images of Christmas in Thailand!

 The Clark family cruising Bangkok in a Tuktuk!


Bernie and Janet having fun too! 


 The group at our first dinner together on the trip!




Coke with some curious Long-tailed Macaques at Wat Praputabat in Lopburi!


Some more checking out Cokie and Som....poor Cokie!


The group at spectacular Haew Narok Waterfalls in Khao Yai!


 The group at one of the many lookouts on the southern edge of Khao Yai.


This monk was posing at Haew Samut Waterfalls - just too beautiful not to photograph.  He didn't mind at all and even asked if I would like to take more images before he got up.


Janet, Helen and Som dressed in Hmong dresses at Ying Mi's place for our visit to her village!


Even Sugi-kun was able to join us at Ying Mi's for some delicious Hmong grub!


Hmong lunch anyone!?


Bernie taking a shot of some local Hmong moonshine!  Wow!


Many years ago, Som and I met this lovely lady during our first trip to Ying Mi's village, which we basically found by accident during a rain storm.  We met and photographed this beautiful woman then and later the Peninsula Daily News published a photograph of her in an article about one of my natural history classes.  I had the article laminated and then presented it to her during this trip.  She was amazed, as was her family.  "Grandma's famous in America", they all shouted.


 Doing the boat tour of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.  We all loved this!


The spectacular grasses and sedges of Bueng Boraphet.


 This is one of the few images ever taken of this rare Southern Serow (Capricornis sumatrensis) during the last decade or so.  Very few have been seen, even by the park personnel!  Som's dad casually spotted this and let us know by asking, "What bird is that?"!


 A Blue Rock Thrush hanging around Base Camp Khao Yai!


 Some spectacular Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelicanus philippensis) seen now in large numbers at Bueng Boraphet Wetlands Reserve and Non-hunting Area.


 The spectacular Bronze-winged Jacana seen at Khao Sam Roi Yod Wetlands.


 Cokie and his lovely cousin, "Neena", in Bangkok


In addition to the images that follow, log on to our Thailand Images Galleries:

Mammals of Thailand

Birds of Thailand

Temples and Ancient Sites of Thailand

Reptiles and Amphibians of Thailand

Lanscapes of Thailand

People of Thailand

Mammal List

  1. Northern Tree Shrew
  2. Slow Loris
  3. Pig-tailed Macaque
  4. White-handed Gibbon (both color morphs)
  5. Black Giant Squirrel
  6. Pallas’s Squirrel
  7. Bocourt’s Variable Squirrel
  8. Malayan Porcupine
  9. Asiatic Golden Jackel
  10. Small Indian Civet
  11. Red Muntjac
  12. Sambar Deer
  13. Asian Elephant
  14. Grey-bellied Squirrel
  15. Long-tailed or Crab-eating Macaque
  16. Dusky Langur
  17. Southern Serow


Bird List

  1. Little Cormorant
  2. Indian Shag
  3. Oriental Darter
  4. Chinese Pond Heron
  5. Javan Pond Heron
  6. Grey Heron
  7. Purple Heron
  8. Pacific Reef Heron
  9. Cattle Egret
  10. Great Egret
  11. Little Egret
  12. Intermediate Egret
  13. Yellow Bittern
  14. Asian Openbill Stork
  15. Painted Stork
  16. Spot-billed Pelican
  17. Lesser Whistling Duck
  18. Black-shouldered Kite
  19. Peregrine Falcon
  20. White-bellied Sea Eagle
  21. Brahminy Kite
  22. Osprey
  23. Green Peafowl
  24. Muscovy Duck
  25. Cotton Pygmy Goose
  26. Red Jungle-fowl
  27. Ruddy-breasted Crake
  28. White-breasted Waterhen
  29. Purple Swamphen
  30. Common Moorhen
  31. Eurasian Coot
  32. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  33. Bronze-winged Jacana
  34. Pacific Golden Plover
  35. Little Ringed Plover
  36. Greater Sand-plover
  37. Common Redshank
  38. Common Greenshank
  39. Marsh Sandpiper
  40. Common Sandpiper
  41. Long-toed Stint
  42. Common Snipe
  43. Red-wattled Lapwing
  44. Black-winged Stilt
  45. Brown-headed Gull
  46. Black-naped Tern
  47. Common Tern
  48. Spotted Dove
  49. Zebra Dove
  50. Red-breasted Parakeet
  51. Lesser Coucal
  52. Red-headed Trogon
  53. Common Kingfisher
  54. Black-capped Kingfisher
  55. White-throated Kingfisher
  56. Ruddy Kingfisher
  57. Indian Roller
  58. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
  59. Green Bee-eater
  60. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
  61. Wreathed Hornbill
  62. Great Hornbill (vocal)
  63. Brown Hornbill (Vocal)
  64. Oriental Pied Hornbill
  65. Greater Flameback Woodpecker
  66. Dusky Crag Martin
  67. Asian House Martin
  68. Barn Swallow
  69. Richard’s Pipit
  70. Red-throated Pipit
  71. Yellow Wagtail
  72. Forest Wagtail
  73. Black-crested Bulbul
  74. Olive-winged Bulbul
  75. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  76. Grey-eyed Bulbul
  77. Sooty-headed Bulbul
  78. Yellow-vented Bulbul
  79. Buff-vented Bulbul
  80. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  81. Black Drongo
  82. Hair-crested Drongo
  83. Asian Fairy-bluebird
  84. Large-billed Crow
  85. Plain Prinia
  86. Siberian Rubythroat
  87. Stonechat
  88. Blue Rock-thrush
  89. Brown Shrike
  90. Long-tailed Shrike
  91. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  92. Grey-headed Flycatcher
  93. Hainan Blue Flycatcher
  94. Pied Fantail
  95. Ashy Wood-swallow
  96. Asian Pied Starling
  97. Hill Myna
  98. White-vented Myna
  99. Common Myna
  100. Olive-backed Sunbird
  101. Scaly-breasted Munia
  102. House Sparrow
  103. Baya Weaver
  104. Plain-backed Sparrow
  105. Rufous-winged Bushlark

In addition to the following images, log on to our Thailand Images Galleries:

Mammals of Thailand

Birds of Thailand

Temples and Ancient Sites of Thailand

Reptiles and Amphibians of Thailand

Lanscapes of Thailand

People of Thailand