Purple Swamphens of Thailand’s Everglade ... Thale
Noi & Khao Sok kayaking trip report for May 2000
dreamt about seeing rare birds in Thailand, but I had no
idea that it would be so easy.
Noi, just north of Songkla, is a huge freshwater marsh area
teeming with life. “Thale” means sea “Noi” means little
in Thai. Since the Thai language puts the adjective behind
the noun, Thale Noi means “little sea”. It’s a popular
vacation spot for Thai tourists from nearby cities, including
Songkla and Hat Yai.
friend from England and I were hoping to see birds from
fresh, brackish, and saltwater areas. We anticipated spotting
different species in each of the environments.
we to Thale Noi, we were immediately taken by the beauty
before us. Sturdy wooden walkways pass over the lush waterbird
terrain, where we could see the big leaves of the Yellow
Burhead as far as the eye could see. Water Lettuce, named
that because it looks like little heads of fresh green lettuce,
was everywhere. Alligator Weed and the pink flowers of
the water lilies added contrast to the verdant scenery.
The tiny dots of the duck weed colored the water surface.
The Sacred Lotus congests the area as well in which a spectrum
of flowers were in bloom in every direction. It was like
a green and pink water pasture.
birds actually have feet adapted to walk on the surface
plants. Jacanas, both the bronze-winged and the pheasant-tailed,
were easy to spot. Their feet are about the same length
as their bodies. My friend shot some superb video footage
of a Bronze-winged Jacana walking on lilies looking
for insects and tiny creatures. Thanks to the wooden walkway,
he got really close to a jacana. The handrail made a superb
make-shift camera prop. Luckily, while shooting, the jacana
lowered its head and sped up. It cocked its neck and shot
its beak forward. Something very small, sitting on a leave,
in sunny southern Thailand, just became a snack for a jacana…
and we captured the moment on film.
one point, we had 5 Purple Swamphens in front of
us! A dazzlingly bright purple two foot tall adult was
standing on some robust yellow burhead roots eating a chocolate
brown apple snail the size of an apple itself. Nick got
his camera out and zoomed right in on the snail. The swamphen’s
long toes wrapped entirely around the snail as it pecked,
gouging out meat. This must be snail heaven for these birds.
Millions of pink eggs of the apple snail clung to the stalks
of plantlife in the lake.
the sun would be setting in a few hours, we opted to take
a quick longtail boat tour around the marsh. The traditional
wooden boats used throughout the kingdom, get their name
from their long propeller shaft and their ability to navigate
shallow water. We asked our driver to take us half way
around the marsh and drop us off, so we could paddle the
rest of the way home.
the longtail, we crossed over the floating salad bar. Along
the way we spotted Little Cormorants, cute little
Cotton-pygmy Geese, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas,
Bronze-winged Jacanas, Purple Herons, Grey Herons,
Chinese Pond Herons, Intermediate Egrets,
Lesser Whistling Ducks, Brahminy Kites,
Ruddy-breasted Crakes, and a White-breasted Waterhen…
not to mention a range of birds usually see in other regions
of the country.
friendly driver dropped us off late in the afternoon on
the only bit of solid land in the area for our silent return
next day, we set off for points saltier. It was somewhat
disappointing. The saltwater area was inundated with prawn
farms, the biggest enemy of marshes and mangrove forests
of Thailand. In the past decade, Thailand has lost more
than half of its mangroves to the prawn farmers and associated
activities. Unfortunately, it’s very lucrative and quite
simple: Just cut down the expanses of mangrove to create
ponds and buy some pumps to draw the natural water and expel
the polluted by-products.
the mid 1980’s, most countries have banned prawn farming
as it devastates the marine ecosystem. It is unnatural
for prawn to be in such concentrations and as a result produces
dangerous viruses and high concentrations of oxygen-depleting
algae. In addition, the acidity of the water is extremely
high due to the unnatural amounts of prawn feces and leftover
chemicals, including fertilizers and antibiotics. After
just a few years of production, the soil in the ponds becomes
extremely toxic. As a result, nothing grows in the highly
contaminated soil and in most cases, the farmers simply
move on to the next forest, leaving a trail of destruction
behind. The birds have no reason to stay and move on, having
their habitat constantly and forever encroached upon.
we packed up our boats and moved along to find out about
life in the brackish water area of the large lake region.
In a village here, we encountered friendly and inquisitive
people, who quickly surrounded us with questions like, “Where
are you from?”, “What are you doing?” and “What are those
boats on your roof?” We hired another friendly longtail
captain and left the kayaks for another day. We laughed
with him and enjoyed the sunny afternoon, taking in the
local expert’s humor and reflected upon the magnificent
life we had experienced on the lake region.
adventurous birders who want to see a large variety of life
in a reasonably short period of time, Thale Noi is a real
winner. If you’ve got time, go north a few hours to Khao
Sok National Park. There, you’ll see the largest variety
of hornbills I’ve seen there… but that’s another story.
you have little time and use local transport or have time
delve deeper by kayak, you’ll be guaranteed a look into
the spectacular wildlife habitats of Thailand.
Yet another Amazing Wildlife Excursion to Khao Sok National
you’ve read some of our past newsletters about Khao Sok,
this should come as no surprise. We had an amazing amount
of wildlife sightings in a recent trip.
was the forth trip in a row where we saw wild pigs.
A nice fat one was rooting around on the shore near the
floating bungalow cove. This one stayed around long enough
for most of our guests to see.
saw a bird I hadn’t seen before. We were sitting in a lovely
cove where the trees are covered with orchids and other
epiphytes. The air was full of exotic bird sounds. In
one of the trees, a solitary bird sat perched in silhouette.
It’s head had a erect crest. At first I thought it might
be a Crested Serpent-eagle (they are common in Khao Sok).
Through my binoculars, I was able to check it out better.
It turned out to be a Wallace’s Hawk-eagle!
Hornbills were in full force this time. We heard their
eerie calls throughout our stay. It’s an interesting call
to say the least. It starts off with a set of solid “hoot”
sounds. Then it speeds up and eventually turns into fast
“ha ha ha ha” sounds. It actually sounds a little like
it’s laughing. It sure made us smile. We also saw several.
It is very uncommon to actually see them. At one point,
we saw a Helmeted Hornbill and a Great Hornbill flying close
to each other!
were more Great Hornbills on this trip than I’ve
ever seen. At one point, we had several in a tree in front
of us. They stayed there long enough for everyone to take
numerous photos. Did you know that the way to tell a male
Great Hornbill from a female is the color of their eyes?
The male has red eyes and the female has white eyes. The
male also has a dark area on the underside of his casque
(the yellow hump on top of their bills). The female casque
is entirely yellow.
endangered primates, are easy to spot in Khao Sok.
Baby gibbons are prized by heartless locals. They are extremely
cute. Uneducated tourists to this day are actually unenlightened
enough to pay locals to take their picture with bay gibbons.
The reality is that several gibbons die in order to get
one baby. A mother gibbon doesn’t give up her baby. They
are shot out of trees. If the baby survives, it’s in for
a brutally cruel life. Many end up in bar, often chained
to them and forces to drink alcohol. An adult gibbon is
quite strong and not easy to control. You can guess what
happens once they are no longer useful. If you are ever
approached by one of these types of people with a baby gibbon,
please don’t support their cruel enterprise.
Langurs, adorable black monkeys with white rings around
their eyes and long white tails, were everywhere too. They
often made outrageous leaps from tree to tree. They seem
to follow the same arboreal trails. They’re gregarious.
If you see one make a wild leap, you’ll likely be in for
another show shortly. We sat in coves watching langur after
langur fly through the air landing on springy branches or
macaques and long-tailed macaques entertained us repeatedly.
They occur in large groups. This year’s young are now able
to climb on their own. We didn’t see any hanging on to
their mothers. One special accomplishment we watched a
young monkey perform was to break a big piece of rotten
bamboo. He was holding on to a strong green piece of bamboo
while bouncing on the rotten bit. It eventually gave way
with a loud crash. The youngster then hopped up on the
bamboo he was holding.
Sok is undoubtedly the best place in southern Thailand to
spot a wide variety of wildlife. Just slip into a cove
and sit still, you’ll see plenty.