Two Months in Thailand: Secrets of Deep Forest Birding

Part four of Two Months in Thailand by Richard Baines, an ecologist and birder enjoying a two-month “nature holiday” in Thailand.

Jungle Trail by Richard Baines

Jungle Trail by Richard Baines

Crack! Another stick is broken underfoot and the peace of the forest is shattered. Forest birding – in any forest, the world over – is where all your fieldcraft techniques are scrutinized. It’s the ultimate test for any birder.

As a European birder I always thought I was quite good at locating birds, merrily tripping through English woods massaging my naturalist’s ego. My first visit to the tropics and jungles shattered this myth!

So here is my Northern Thailand in winter recipe. Still a relative novice to the art of jungle birding, this is what I have learnt so far.

Buff-breasted Babbler copyright Richard Baines

Buff-breasted Babbler copyright Richard Baines

1. Planning

Choice of the best trail to follow is tricky, but it isn’t always the one least traveled. A mass of dry leaves underfoot can create noise and blow your cover. I usually choose a fairly well-trodden path, or in the dry season a forest stream.

Time to start is always a lottery but too early before the sun has risen rarely produces birds. Approximately 30-60 minutes after sunrise has worked for us.

As for equipment: travel light! No scope on tripod slung over the shoulder like a flailing decorator’s ladder! I always take my camera but never expect to photograph much in often poor light.

Streaked Wren Babbler by Richard Baines

Streaked Wren Babbler by Richard Baines

2. The Walk

After much trial and error the best walks for me have been the very slow and very quiet. There are two advantages here. The obvious one is that the less noise you make the fewer birds know you are there, but just as important is the pace. Very slow means loads of time to pick out the slightest of movements on the forest floor and to hear bird calls. And when I say slow I mean very slow, with four eyes open! Every step should be considered, one eye on the ground to check for noisy hazards and to make sure you don’t fall over, one eye on the canopy, one on the understory and one on the forest floor! This ‘sloth strategy’ creates loads of time for birding.

The highlight of our quiet walks this week has been a foraging party of Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes, Green Magpie, Drongoes and Greater Yellownape, with time to pick out the skulkers like Asian Stubtail, Siberian Blue Robin and Streaked-Wren Babbler.

Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush by Richard Baines

Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush by Richard Baines

And if you like a combo and have lots of time why not try the ultimate, a quiet walk with a stakeout half way through?


Stay tuned for next week’s post!

Also see:

Part I: Two Months in Thailand: A Forest Cabin Awaits 

Part II: Two Months in Thailand: Asia’s Winter Jewels 

Part III: Two Months in Thailand:Stakeout at the Cherry Tree

Part IV: Two Months in Thailand: Wild Gardens

Part V: Two Months in Thailand: Secrets of Forest Birding

Part VI: Two Months in Thailand: Bulbul Bonanza!

Part VII: Two Months in Thailand: Asian Fairy Bluebirds

Part VIII: Two Months in Thailand: Birding Nirvana


Richard Baines

Richard Baines started birding as a child and is a lead tour guide at Yorkshire Coast Nature. He takes great personal pleasure in showing people the wonders of nature. With a specialized interest in birds and Read More

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