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Gurney's Pitta Birding Trip Report - Thailand
by Dion Hobcroft
Gerry Richards and I spent from 3-8.5.99 at Khao Nor Chuchi staying at the Riverside Lodge and walking into the reserve daily. We hired Yothin [Mr. Yothin Meekaeo, Krabi, mobile telephone and fax: (66) 01-2284586, best time to call him is 8-9 p.m. local time] on the 4 and 6.5.99 for $120US per day. It was money well spent as both Gerry and I were able to get a couple of good brief views of a male Gurney's Pitta on the morning of the 4.5.99 on the Boundary trail which runs parallel to Track U. It is in this area that at least three possibly four pairs were detected by call. The species was quite vocal during our stay heard vocalising regularly from 7-10.00 and 16.00-18.00. In true form though the birds were highly elusive, being expert in skulking around you or confining their activity to the densest palm gullies were sneaking in was impossible. Sitting and waiting was the only option and most people visiting in April had met with some success according to the Logbook kept at the Riverside. Many had enjoyed excellent prolonged views of both sexes on Track U in the second gully viewing to the right.
Despite much waiting and patient stalking, further views of Gurney's Pitta remained elusive until the final morning of the 8.5.99 when I was fortunate to have an incredible five minute plus view of a calling male from a small tree on an exposed perch on the edge of the forest at close range. This bird was continuously calling for over half an hour (7.30-8.00) when it moved along without seemingly being aware of my presence. It flew to at least three calling sites all perched about 2 metres off the ground between the Boundary Trail and Track U over a 100 metre radius. This area was the only place in the reserve we detected the presence of Gurney's Pitta and it seems to be the currently known stronghold of this critically threatened taxa. There was a report of a pair in April near the Malaysian Honeyguide site about 7 kilometres away on the other side of the range at an altitude of approximately 300 metres above sea level which is encouraging. Ask Yothin for details.
We saw no evidence of hunting (trapping or shooting ) inside the reserve, in fact we did not bump into anyone in the forest at all during the entire week. We also saw no recent evidence of land clearance. They seem to be building another lodge closer to the reserve.
Gerry and I recorded over 100 species in the reserve during our stay and found the birding to be of a high standard a lot of the time although it was often along narrow trails and could be typically frustrating getting on to birds. Best species we recorded were Wallace's Hawk-eagle, Moustached and Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo, Buffy Fish Owl; Brown Wood Owl, Gould's Frogmouth (excellent views), Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, Banded, Gurney's, Hooded and Blue-winged Pitta, Banded Broadbill, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Malaysian Honeyguide and Large Wren-babbler.
In Krabi on the 3.5.99 with Mr.Dai we were lucky to get a good brief view of a male Masked Finfoot and watch a Mangrove Pitta hammer a crab on the exposed low tide mud margins. We also had excellent views of Ruddy and Brown-winged Kingfisher, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and White-chested Babbler.
No luck at Ban Nai Chong Kilometre 121 for Malaysian Rail Babbler. Two attempts but low density birding. Heard White-handed Gibbon calling here both mornings. Best birds were a cracking male Green Broadbill and tame Raffle's Malkoha.
May 2000 Update by Mike Hunter:
A quick update following my recent visit to Khao Nor Chuchi. This was my second visit following an aborted 1997 visit through ill health. I stayed at Riverside Guest House, KNC from 1st to 5th May expecting this to be a good time to find the big 'G'. Due to early rains, breeding was very early and it was not until the 5th that we finally heard a pair along trail 'E' and I was able to see the female. I had previously (and unsatisfactorily) glimpsed a female along the trail 'U' gulley.
Immediately before my visit a pair was being regularly seen at the trail 'U' gulley though these birds became much harder towards the end of April and into May. Rather than 'staking out' a gulley, the best bet was to bird the trails in the early morning (trails 'E', 'B' and 'C' being the best) and in this way many teams / individuals were scoring.
According to Yotin, six pairs plus a solitary male now remain though a British Birder (Nick Senior) found a seventh pair (trail 'B') which was unknown to Yotin. On this basis, it seems that the total population may not exceed 15 birds. On the plus, we saw no signs of hunting and no locals in the forest (which has been dramatically reduced in size since my previous visit). However, two traps were found which appeared to have been specifically laid for pittas! Both were destroyed. Both Yotin and Uthai give the site another five to ten years maximum unless proper protection is enforced!