The American Birding Association, in partnership with Tropical Birding Tours, invites you to join the ABA Thailand Birding with a Camera (BwC) Tour. Thailand is one of the finest birding destinations on Earth and holds some of Asia’s coolest looking birds: glittering pheasants, gargantuan hornbills, luminous leafbirds, vivid sunbirds, and languid laughing-thrushes. This trip explores the northeastern mountains on the Myanmar border and mid-elevation forests of central Thailand. In addition to its world-class cuisine and excellent tourist infrastructure this makes an ideal introduction to Asia, but equally, it is a destination even an experienced Oriental birder will love. Wildlife is secretive in Thailand, but we might see elephants, deer, and plenty of primates. Extensions to Cambodia (14–18 Feb pre-tour), including the World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, and the Malay Peninsula (1–7 March post-tour) are on offer for those that want the complete SE Asia experience.
The BwC tour concept is a perfect hybrid trip for people that enjoy photographing birds as much as they enjoy seeing and watching them. We balance finding and watching as many birds as possible, while also trying to take great photos of them. We still target endemics and other specialties, but if the opportunity presents itself, we will quickly switch over to photography. We will also try to see and photograph other animals if any are around. The idea is that you see and capture as many great images of a wide variety of subjects as possible. The very low participant to leader ratio (8:1) on this tour makes it a high-quality product, with lots of personal attention.
Tropical Birding was responsible for the very successful ABA Ecuador conference in 2007. A huge part of that success was our attention to detail, contacting each and every participant to gauge their expectations and place them in a group that met their needs. We will do the same with this tour, and we’ll have different groups to accommodate people of varying interests, such as general birding, hardcore photography, and others. Your leaders will tweak the intensity and activities to ensure you get the most out of your trip to Asia. This worked a treat in Ecuador, and we will also make it work in SE Asia.
Depending on overall numbers and focus, we may arrange for separate tracks to travel around the country in varying order. But of course, everyone will visit each locality mentioned on the itinerary. Either way, we all start and end in Bangkok. And groups will overlap during the middle of the tour for some days, so there will be plenty of time for socializing as a larger contingent.
North America is going to be frigid next February, so why not strike out for the sunnier tropical climes of the ‘Land of Smiles’ and join us for this exciting ABA event.
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok.
Day 2: Fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, drive to the mountains of NE Thailand.
Days 3-4: Doi Lang.
Day 5: Doi Ang Khang.
Day 6: Doi Ang Khang to Doi Inthanon
Day 7: Doi Inthanon
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Kaeng Krachan NP.
Day 9: Kaeng Krachan NP.
Day 10: Kaeng Krachan to Laem Pak Bia.
Day 11: Laem Pak Bia to Bangkok.
Day 12: Departure.
Depending on the number of participants, some groups may run the trip in reverse order.
Thailand “Birding with a Camera” (BwC) Tour Itinerary
Thailand has always been a phenomenal birding destination, with charismatic families of birds like pheasants, hornbills, leafbirds, sunbirds, and babblers. However, the secretive nature of many of these species has historically made them very difficult targets to see and for photography. The good news is that over the last few years things have changed dramatically. The emergence of a keen group of Asian nature photographers has meant that many of these previously shy birds are now being fed at selected feeding stations and at deep forest water baths, and they are bold and easily coaxed onto pretty perches for stunning shots, or just jaw-dropping views. In addition, we can still spend a lot of time doing regular birding to rack up an enviable list of representatives from the most highly desirable Asian families. So if a great shot of a Siberian Rubythroat or a strutting Kalij Pheasant catches your fancy, this Thailand BwC Tour could be just the trip for you! In addition to the birding and photography, the pleasant experience of being in Thailand, with comfortable lodges, friendly people, and amazing cuisine, all combine to offer a well-rounded travel experience that is hard to beat.
This tour is open to birders and photographers of all levels, whether you are a birder with a scope and a point-and-shoot, someone who likes using a long-lens DSLR, or even an all-in-one extended zoom. For those photographers with an extensive photographic arsenal, a 300 or 400mm f2.8-4.0 with and without teleconverter, or a 100-400mm zoom (or similar) would work fine. A full-frame camera can help in dark-forest situations, but it is not essential. If you have one, a longer lens can also be useful, though it is also not essential.
Note: depending on the number of participants, some groups may do the itinerary in reverse order, but will still visit all the sites.
Day 1: Bangkok. We arrive in the heady capital of Thailand, and spend the night in a hotel near the airport. The hotel provides a complimentary airport shuttle bus. This evening, we will all meet for a banquet dinner replete with some fabulous Thai cuisine, and be introduced to your ABA hosts and Tropical Birding leaders.
Day 2: Bangkok to Thaton. We fly to the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, and in the afternoon indulge in some casual birding near our hotel. We may find the cute Asian Barred Owlet, some local mynas, prinias or kingfishers. The open country will offer up a smattering of bulbuls, white-eyes and munias and we will get to grips with some of these common Asian birds; hopefully with opportunities for a few photographs in-between. Night in Thaton.
Days 3-4: Doi Lang. We will spend two full days on this mountain in northern Thailand, on the Burmese border. On at least one morning we do our best to try and see the very temperamental and stunning Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant that often feeds on grain at a specific locality. If we are lucky, we may also see some other birds here such as Mountain Bamboo-Partridge. Either scarce species would be a bonus. However most of our time will be spent at a variety of high-altitude stakeouts where the birds are used to receiving mealworm hand-outs. There are a great variety of species we might encounter here, but some include the stunning and secretive Siberian Rubythroat, the strangely beautiful Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, the delectable Silver-eared Laughingthrush, and smaller birds like the scarce White-gorgeted, Rufous-gorgeted, and Slaty-blue flycatchers, niltavas and blue-flycatchers, and more. Some roadside birding and photography for flocks may reveal some other great birds such as Chestnut-vented and Giant Nuthatch – the largest nuthatch on Earth -, Black-backed Sibia or maybe even the amazing Himalayan Cutia if we are lucky. We will be very busy here, and on most days we will take a packed lunch to allow us to enjoy both morning and afternoon outings. We will stay in Thaton or nearby on both nights.
Days 5-6: Doi Ang Khang. This mountain is south of Doi Lang and offers a different birding experience. There are a couple of excellent deep-forest feeding stations here and we will spend an hour or so at each one, until we have seen most of the regulars. The first often yields Hill Blue-Flycatcher and the stunning White-tailed Blue-Robin, but can also be good for scarce residents such as Eye-browed and Black-breasted thrushes. The other location attracts a greater variety of birds, with Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, the immaculate Blue Whistling-Thrush, and the cracking White-capped Water Redstart all regular visitors. Rare migrants can include the Gray-sided Thrush and several others. Aside from the feeders, there are often flowering trees at this time of year and the afternoon sessions will be spent trying to birdwatch and photograph opportunistically, or by staking-out some of the better trees. Orange-bellied Leafbird, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Spectacled Barwing, and Mountain Bulbul will be some of our prime targets. But we should also manage great views and maybe even some shots of Black-backed Sibia, and the more common birds. We stay nearby Doi Ang Khang on the first night, and drive back to Chiang Mai and the nearby Doi Inthanon where we spend the next two nights.
Day 7: Doi Inthanon. We have an early departure to make our way to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. The “Roof of Thailand” provides spectacular forest birding at a range of different altitudes. The lower mountain is covered by dry, open, deciduous dipterocarp forest. Here we seek one of the cutest raptors in the world, the diminutive Collared Falconet. Black-headed Woodpecker and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch may also be seen climbing the limbs of these gnarled trees, while Black-backed Forktails haunt the rushing rivulets. Higher up the mountain slopes resident birds are joined by migrant thrushes and warblers at this time of year. We may have time to visit the damp Sphagnum bog and Rhododendron forest at the summit. This is an eerie place in the early morning, but the misty atmosphere is brightened by dazzling Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds and the bold and approachable Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush. White-browed Shortwings and Slaty-bellied Tesias feed quietly on the damp forest floor. We will stay in a hotel just outside the park.
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Kaeng Krachan NP. We take an early flight to Bangkok and drive out towards Petchaburi. Depending on the timing we may make a stop at some coastal wetlands for waterbirds. This place throngs with shorebirds, and offers some good opportunities for watching and photographing these gray-and-brown “mudpeckers”. The light however gets harsh early in the day, and so if conditions are not suitable, we will focus on birding, as this is one of the most diverse assemblages of shorebirds anywhere on Earth, and many are present in large numbers; once we are done we head straight to our accommodation and prepare for the afternoon. This region has a selection of great waterholes in the forest. Formerly, these were used for hunting, but have been converted into blinds, and they are very productive places for seeing and photographing a selection of very high-quality birds. We begin this afternoon by hitting one of the nearby blinds for an hour or so. There are many things that may come in to bathe, and grab a snack, but some of the highlights may include the stunning but shy Kalij Pheasant, Bar-backed and Scaly-breasted partridges, the garrulous and entertaining White-crested, Greater Necklaced and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, dainty and elegant Black-naped Monarch, Red Junglefowl, Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher, and some more somber-looking birds like Taiga Flycatcher, Pale-legged Leaf-warbler, Stripe-throated Bulbul, and more. We’ll spend two nights near Kaeng Krachan.
Day 9: Kaeng Krachan NP. This national park is huge and wild, and we will enjoy a full day in its upper reaches in our 4×4 vehicles so that we can access the most remote parts of the park. We will attempt to find a set of fruiting trees where we can target fruit-eaters like barbets, bulbuls, hornbills, pigeons, and other species. This forest is one of the largest remaining in SE Asia, and the birdlist reflects that with a myriad of possibilities. Some of the incredible specialties include Rachet-tailed Treepie, Blue Pitta, Orange-breasted Trogon and Banded, Black-and-Red, Black-and-Yellow and Silver-breasted Broadbills. This is also an excellent park for mammals, boasting species including tiger, leopard, elephants, gaur (an Asian forest buffalo), dhole (a coyote-like dog) and many others in addition to the incredible birds on offer; many of the mammals are very scarce and we would need a lot of luck to see the rarer ones. After a full day in this paradise we return to our hotel at lower altitude.
Day 10: Kaeng Krachan to Laem Pak Bia. This morning we will enjoy a final session birding the gardens and at one of the blinds near Kaeng Krachan before we head to the nearby beach at Laem Pak Bia. This afternoon we will enjoy some casual photography of shorebirds around the saltpans in this area. This area supports several rare and endangered species, including the amazing Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and rare Asiatic Dowitcher and Nordmann’s Greenshank. Other great birds include Broad-billed Sandpiper, and many more common shorebirds and it is also a great place for general photography. These open coastal habitats will provide some relief after days of birding in the forest! We’ll overnight in Laem Pak Bia.
Day 11: Laem Pak Bia to Bangkok. This morning we enjoy another opportunity to see and photograph a variety of shorebirds, kingfishers, egrets and herons on the open mudflats of this area. Once the light gets too harsh we enjoy a last lunch before heading towards Bangkok airport for our last night. We will have a great final dinner banquet in Bangkok, celebrating the festival of Asian birding we have just encountered, with a wrap-up by your ABA hosts.
Day 12: Departure. The tour ends this morning; the hotel offers a complimentary airport shuttle. The Malay Peninsula extension also begins today.
PACE: Moderate. This tour covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Start times vary and will depend partly on what group you are in, but on a couple of mornings can be as early as 5:00 AM, while on others may be as late as 6:30 AM. For those days where we spend the whole day in the field, a packed breakfast and packed lunch will be provided. On other days we typically have breakfast at the hotel before we depart. Lunches are either eaten en-route between spots (we typically pick something that will be reasonably quick, but in Thailand that’s normally everything), or at a good restaurant near our hotel. All dinners are at good restaurants in or near the hotel. Some days will involve several hours of driving, but there are usually some stops along the way.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. Much of the activity involves looking for birds that are alongside the road or a short walk from the road, and sometimes from blinds or stake-outs. Some other birding, like the shorebirds at Laem Pak Bia is from a vehicle. Most of the tour is spent above 3300 ft (1000 m), with some of it spent above 6600 ft (2000 m), meaning the temperatures are comfortable.
CLIMATE: Potentially extremely variable. A wide range of temperatures are possible at this time of year in Thailand. Some years the overnight lows (and thus the temperature when we arrive in the mountains in the early morning) can be at 43°F (8°C) or even lower. Daytime highs on such days often don’t exceed 71°F (22°C). However, other years the daytime lows dip below 32°F (0°C), and daytime highs can reach into the 70s°F (above 21°C). In the more tropical south we can expect daytime highs of up to 86°F (30°C). Occasionally you can get both scenarios on the same trip, so it is important to be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Rain is rare on this tour.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and lodges have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi.
EXPECTATIONS: Not only is Thailand a great travel experience in general, but as one of the most biodiverse countries in Asia we can expect to see over 300 species of birds, which is very good in Asia for less than 2 weeks in a forested locality. We can expect to photograph perhaps upwards of 100 species.
GEAR: Binoculars are essential. Leaders will carry scopes, but you are welcome to bring your own. For photography, the forests can be dark. A 300 or 400mm lens with a lower f-stop, sometimes used with teleconverters, is recommended. A 100-400mm zoom is a good versatile lens, and even a good all-in-one camera can get decent shots in a few places on this trip. A long telephoto lens (500 or 600mm) can be useful in some places, but is by no means necessary, and can be tiring to carry.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: Citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries do not need a visa for a stay of less than 30-days. For other countries not mentioned, please check your requirements prior to travel. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 11; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 12; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water; tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 11; a roundtrip domestic flight ticket from Bangkok to Chang Rai (or Chang Mai); ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 11; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 12; routine tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; the use of blinds during the tour; entrance fees to all parks mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the leader(s); tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
Pre-tour extension to Cambodia: Endangered birds of the Khmer Kingdom
14-18 February 2019 (5 days). Price: $1600 per person; single supplement: $240
The expansive forests and untouched wetlands of this small country harbor some of the rarest species of birds and mammals in Asia. We begin our exploration of Cambodia by visiting the incomparable Ankor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of archeological significance. Handily, there is plenty of birding around the temples. We also visit the wetlands around the amazing Tonle Sap Lake, where enormous breeding colonies of waterbirds represent one of the finest birding spectacles in Asia. Healthy populations of many globally threatened birds occur here including the Greater Adjutant, the still relatively common Lesser Adjutant, and Milky Stork. Spot-billed Pelican can also be observed nesting at Prek Toal. The most extensive grasslands remaining in Southeast Asia are where we seek more scarce beauties, in particular the Bengal Florican and Manchurian Reed-Warbler. This tasty little appetizer will whet our appetites for the Thailand BwC tour.
Click here for the full itinerary.
Post-tour extension to the Malay Peninsula
1 – 7 March 2019 (7 days)
Price: $2750 per person in double/twin room; $2990 per person in a single room.
The Malay Peninsula has an identity all of its own; it is remarkably different from the remainder of Asia. The region is peppered with steamy lowland jungles with highly desired species like giant hornbills, ornately-patterned barbets and technicolor trogons. The Malay peninsula is certainly different from central and northern Thailand, and we can expect a large number of new species, habitats and experiences compared to the main ABA Thailand tour. Malaysia can rightly lay claim to some of the dazzling and most wanted birds in all of Asia, from Black-and-Crimson Oriole, Fire-tufted Barbet, Common Green Magpie, Blue Nuthatch, Chestnut-capped and Malay Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, and the stunning but rare Himalayan Cutia. This short trip visits one of the most famous sites on mainland Asia: Fraser’s Hill, along with a stop at Bukit Tingii for some prize specialties.
Click here for the full itinerary
HOW TO BOOK:
To register for the ABA Thailand BwC Tour you must be an ABA Member. If you are not yet a member, join today by clicking here.
Please read through the itinerary and the “Trip Considerations” in detail before completing the booking form.
Rates are based upon group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration (a minimum of 20 paying participants) a small party supplement may have to be charged.
We may be forced to change or alter the itinerary and / or the designated Tropical Birding leaders at little or no notice due to unforeseen circumstances; please be aware that we will adhere as close to the original program as possible.
To book on the ABA Thailand Birding with a camera tour, please contact us through [email protected] to check availability and request booking information. There are still spaces currently available as of November 2018, although this is subject to change at any time.
Upon receiving your booking form, you will be invoiced for a deposit of 20% of the cost of the tour and any of the extensions that you are taking. The final balance will be due 90 days before the tour (November 20th, 2018).
Payments can be made be made by US dollar check (drawn from a US or Canadian Bank) or by wire transfer. Credit card payments may be accepted through Paypal with a 4.1% surcharge if you are not able to pay by another method.
FLIGHTS: Please do not book nonrefundable flights without contacting Tropical Birding to confirm that the tour has enough people to run. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is a major hub served by dozens of airlines. It is easy to find connections to Bangkok from almost anywhere in the world.
TROPICAL BIRDING LEADERS:
All the Tropical Birding leaders have spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, and especially Thailand, where they have run many tours over the last 10 years. If you asked any of them where their favorite place is in Asia was, Thailand would likely feature on the Top 3 of each list!
Jeffrey A. Gordon
Jeff is the President of the American Birding Association. Jeff’s special areas of interest include how we build a bigger, more inclusive tent of birders, and how we can come together to have the greatest possible positive impact on the future of birding and the birds that have meant so much to us all. Prior to coming aboard at the ABA, Jeff spent several decades leading birding tours, working as an interpretive naturalist, and learning about the birding industry as a freelance writer, speaker, video editor, and trip leader.
Liz Deluna Gordon
Liz has been a birder for 25 years. After growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and not knowing about the birds in her backyard for 13 years, she discovered Green Jays and chachalacas. There was no stopping her after that. Her goal in life became to teach that birds and bird habitat were worth caring for and protecting, and as a hairdresser she had a captive audience every day! She was one of the founders of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and after 10 years of festival life she left Texas to move to Delaware, in order to finally hear wild Canada Geese and to marry Jeff Gordon. She and Jeff were mentors for the ABA/Leica Tropicbirds in Texas and Cape May. Jeff eventually brought her to Colorado Springs, where she first volunteered and eventually became Adjutant at the ABA office. She helps with whatever needs doing: some days, it’s cleaning the break room fridge, some days she is organizing and fulfilling the Birders’ Exchange applications, and others she’s answering the phones and answering questions about where to take injured birds. A passion for birds and protecting their habitats drives her every day.
More ABA staff may be added based on tour participation.
TROPICAL BIRDING ASIA TOUR MANAGER