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All photos Coke Smith

Though Thailand was in “restricted travel” mode during my summer break from Bangkok Patana School, the roads and nature hot spots were, for the most part, still very accessible, and that meant places like the Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan national parks were wide open.

My family and I are not ones to stay put and away from nature viewing and documenting the countless species that surround us, wherever we go in this beautiful country.  And the bonus of spending time in such locations is that they are mostly COVID-free and lend naturally to social distancing.

Many don’t know Thailand’s astounding biodiversity ranks in the top five of nation. With 1,076 species of birds and 264 species of mammals, it stands out for enthusiasts as one of the best places in the world to see wildlife in their natural habitat. So the Smith contingent spent nearly every day this summer exploring many of the countless nature hotspots, from the far north to the deep south, and many in between. At the end of it all, we racked up nearly 350 species of birds and over 50 species of mammals. Not bad!

While some of the places visited are pretty remote and would require a lot of planning and effort for those new to the wildlife viewing scene in Thailand, there are a few places that stand out that I would recommend visiting when things open up again in the near future.

The North

Doi Ang Khang! The vast gardens and forests of this spectacular mountain paradise are a birder’s haven. While the summer months are not known for the greatest diversity of fauna, there are many species still viewable there, such as Black-throated Sunbirds, Spot-winged Grosbeaks, Crested Finchbills and many more. They’re easy to find and photograph. Doi Inthanon is another awesome and easily accessible location with loads of birds to entertain. Spiderhunters and Orange-bellied Leafbirds are among highlights that can be seen with luck and the right person to help.

The Streaked Spiderhunter was named thus for its refusal to wear anything while hunting spiders on Doi Inthanon.
The Streaked Spiderhunter was named thus for its refusal to wear anything while hunting spiders on Doi Inthanon.
The short-billed Minivet of Doin Ang Kang in Chiang Mai can thank whoever named it for years of therapy bills.
The short-billed Minivet of Doin Ang Kang in Chiang Mai can thank whoever named it for years of therapy bills.
This orange-bellied leaf bird on Doin Inthanon hates his common name so please call him Chloropsis hardwickii.
This orange-bellied leaf bird on Doin Inthanon hates his common name so please call him Chloropsis hardwickii.
Don't ever compare the markings of the Spot-winged grosbeak, aka Mycerobas melanozanthos, to freckles when visiting Chiang Mai's Doi Ang Khang. Photo: Coke Smith
Don’t ever compare the markings of the Spot-winged grosbeak, aka Mycerobas melanozanthos, to freckles when visiting Chiang Mai’s Doi Ang Khang. Photo: Coke Smith

 

Central

While I’ve been writing about the wealth of wildlife in and around the greater Bangkok area, one place that stands out as perhaps one of the best in the central region is Nong Ya Plong in Phetchaburi province. Home to rare and spectacular Rain Quails and Crimson Sunbirds, there are so many species easy to see in the summer months, only about two hours from Bangkok.

These spotted owlets residing around the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province are glad they never got scapegoated like their larger North American cousins.
These spotted owlets residing around the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province are glad they never got scapegoated like their larger North American cousins.
Stunning from the front, Olive-backed Sunbirds are really quite drab viewed from behind in Phetchaburi's Nong Ya Plong district.
Stunning from the front, Olive-backed Sunbirds are really quite drab viewed from behind in Phetchaburi’s Nong Ya Plong district.
Crimson Sunbirds? Crimson Sunbirds!
Crimson Sunbirds? Crimson Sunbirds!
Rain quails walks around Phetchaburi's Nong Ya Plong district like they own the place.
Rain quails walks around Phetchaburi’s Nong Ya Plong district like they own the place.
These spotted owlets residing around the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province are glad they never got scapegoated like their larger North American cousins.
These spotted owlets residing around the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province are glad they never got scapegoated like their larger North American cousins.

The South

There is no doubt that the southern provinces offer the greatest wealth of wildlife and biodiversity in Thailand. Much of the region is true tropics, and many nature hot spots still exist. One particular spot we frequent is Ao Pang Nga National Park in Phang Nga province. While the park was closed due to the pandemic, there are plenty of spots outside of it where a motivated naturalist can see an amazing array of birds and mammals. Green Broadbills and Ruddy Kingfishers stand out as our favorite catches in the south this summer in this region. Neither of these species are common and are even harder to capture on film.  But with the right technique and patience, they can be found.

Find brutally adorable Green broadbills, or Calyptomena-viridis, hanging out in the Sa Nang Manora Forest Park in Phang Nga province. Photo: Coke Smith
Find brutally adorable Green broadbills, or Calyptomena-viridis, hanging out in the Sa Nang Manora Forest Park in Phang Nga province. Photo: Coke Smith
Pitta Mangroves are waiting to impress you with their resplendent plumage in the Ao Phang Nga National Park.
Pitta Mangroves are waiting to impress you with their resplendent plumage in the Ao Phang Nga National Park.
Brown winged Kingfishers in the Ao Phang Nga National Park are very judgmental birds.
Brown winged Kingfishers in the Ao Phang Nga National Park are very judgmental birds.
Everyone knows their cousins, the ruddy Kingfishers, are the cool ones in the family.
Everyone knows their cousins, the ruddy Kingfishers, are the cool ones in the family.

There is so much to see and do in Thailand with respect to nature and wildlife. Please feel free to contact the author for advice and tips on getting the most out of your visit to these locations.

More of Coke’s Bangkok wildlife photo essays:
Time Whale Spent: A Bangkok wildlife adventure with the lords of the deep (Photos)
Don’t melt down at home, Bangkok. Not when these nearby nature hotspots call! (Photos)
Bangkok’s fantastic beasts and where to find them (Photos)

 

Coke Smith is the Environmental Science Leader at Bangkok Patana School and is an avid nature photographer.  Coke has published his wildlife images in many books and magazines over the years and has been included in publications such as BBC Planet Earth and Nat Geo Science and many other internationally renowned publications.  For more information on any of the above local wildlife hotspots, please contact Coke (cosm@patana.ac.th)

 

This article, Escape Bangkok and meet fine birds all over Thailand (Photos), originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.

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