The Raptor Count - Khao Dinsor, Chumphon

Main Page Tanjong Tuan, Port Dickson Scott's Hills, Taiping

The annual migration of birds. Each year, thousands of birds from hundred over species escape the northern winter's period, by flying south.  Very interesting fact is that these Raptors are highly territorial in their own habitats. Each requiring many square kilometers, as their personal hunting ground. Yet, in the migratory season, they gather into flocks numbering over thousands. Flying south following a set direction but depending on the earth terrain, the routes taken could be spread over a wide invisible corridor.

What if the land was such that the geography forces almost all birds flying south to pass through a narrow corridor. Could that happen?

Yes, it could. At the famed Isthmus Of Kra in Thailand. Birds that passes through this point are raptors coming overland following the coastal lines from eastern Thailand along the Gulf Of Siam. Then, also birds crossing the Gulf Of Siam and making landfall at the Isthmus. These are the 2 choices and from here they follow a common path at least for a while. They all meet at this happening place just north of Chumphon provincial capital. With all the conducive conditions and natural terrain that favors the happening, the Raptors roost for the night among the forest in the low hills. The next day they conveniently gathered into a congregation and  pour through this narrow "orifice" made up of low hills and right thermal. For those standing at the right spot like that on top of Khao Dinsor, the place offers majestic views over the coastal lines and the inland rolling hills. Bird watchers also step in and reward themselves with a good show plus tapping the opportunity to get the desired photographs.

At Pencil Hills, the name of this hill translated in English, the annual Raptor Watch takes place annually. The Raptor Watch in Thailand is not a social event held not couple of days over one weekend. It is technical assignment  conducted by a team of experts painstakingly noting down the daily details over a period 12 weeks. Unlike the happening in Port Dickson where volunteers quietly performed their assigned task in several places then separately  the highlights of the event publicized as a social outing festival on one weekend.

In Khao Dinsor, these dedicated professionals, beside making notes of the details generated by this phenomenon each year and also find opportunity within the hills to net and tag the migrating birds.  Within this period, casual visitors and birders alike could join the group to enjoy the events and witness the work of these individuals. The only conditions attached are maintaining silence and hiking up 250 meters to the ridge of the low hills. With gradual improvement, there is now a very well prepared motorized road going up the hills to a level of 200 meter asl. Then a good and proper car park before ascending to the ridge on foot. On top, Raptors would be going for the thermal and passing just meters overhead sweeping above the treetops.

For some years now, Raptor Watch was done at Radar Hills. Then in in September 2008, Mr. Chukiat Nualsri found this better spot in Khao Dinsor. The Raptor Watch here begins in August of each year and tailing off in Mid-November.

More information on this place could be checked up via this link on Khao Dinsor. To date, there are many blogs reporting on the going on in this place. I am doing my part in relating my personal experiences as an overseas visitors.

This little known Provincial capital is little heard of. Since the days of my first visit in 1995, the town is very much upgraded with much modern amenities. There is no problem of accommodation and food as a walk-in guest to the town as we did.

This is one of the many better class hotels, right in the heart of town and with very competitive rates. Traveling back to Chumphon by road bring back a lot of wonderful memories for me recalling my last visit was in 2004. I remembered the Marakot Hotel right in the middle of town and the spacious car park in front

 Now the car park is filled with another large and better hotel block. Most officials staying in Chumphon for the Raptors Watch by coincidence were also putting up in this new block. For nostalgic reason, I opted for the old building which had room at marginally cheaper rate. But breakfast was served at the new block. Those going for the Raptors Watch were up early i.e. well before breakfast was served. By 7.00am, they were leaving for the hills some 28 kilometers away. We took our time and kept with the official meal time.

 On the left here is the look of the new block. On the right was the couple who were owners of this place.

Extremely  friendly people, we even got the chance for some exchanges. Then a picture to remind us of our stay and meeting up with its owners.

After a couple of days stay in Chumphon, it was easy to find our way from our hotel straight to the hills, driving through this small town with low traffic. There was no need to get out of town into the Expressway 4 and turning right at the Tha Sae junction. Just follow the internal "Airport" road sign - from Chumphon to Pathiu. This uncomplicated road did past through some rural suburbs but did take us to the final destination. Perhaps one point nearing the end at the junction joining up with local Road 3201, there was this unique "bent" junction..

Rather uncomplicated this fairly straight but normal width country 3201 would pass by a Thai temple on the left which cannot be missed. Then a short distance away, less than 500 meters, the turn off to the left for a very well made road to go uphill.

At the entrance as one could see from the photograph, well planned the signage which was very reassuring to visitors to this place and who do not read Thai. Gone were the landscape of secondary jungle beside the road. After the temple, the scene was one filled with rubber trees

Looking at the left picture below, looking up to the low hills just behind the Thai temple, the silhouette of one shed built to facilitate the Raptor Watch could be seen. Altogether, at that time in 2012, there 4 sheds installed along the track.

On the right, visitors to this place came for the panoramic view of the Chumphon bay.

This car area is also promoted as view point.

Below, more views of the car park itself. I am happy that  this specially prepared parking lot has saved quite bit of  effort in hiking. Good place to stop as well. I am thinking about those visitors drawn to this place by the publicity and like me unable to walk up the hills, Raptor Watching could be done from this spot. The only feature not found here would be - missing the pleasure of feeling and seeing the raptors sweeping pass your heads. Take it from me, the car park itself was on elevated ground a natural vantage point.

Could see Raptors rising up from the sea level lowland areas and sweeping up the hill slopes with the updrafts.

 A third of the amount of Raptor flying past would be passing by in front - from the car park looking at sea view side.

Then, another third of the volume of birds would be passing over head and perhaps less than a third behind the hill.

We were forced to spent some time in this car park area. The threatening weather with little drizzle discouraged us from making the effort up to walk up the slope. Though lack luster when compared with the sightings on top of the hills. The sight seen here with the many Raptors passing in low level already surpass that as seen in Port Dickson many folds. More birds, higher frequency plus flying past at much lower level

Here I also had fellowship with the local Thai birders. Then staring at the trail head where the hiking started.

Pix [right] showed a simple trail head which did injustice to the better conditioned trail once passing this short climb.

The hike is relatively easy with only only steep ascend of perhaps 60 meters long. The entire length, the trail was paved. See picture below, this portion was almost flat with very mild  incline, here and there. Here are the couple of pictures showing the level stretch and the one and only steep portion

In the ascending segment the trail was under a canopy, fairly cool. The steep portion already had well paved steps interspersed with small rocks in the center as breakers.

On both sides there were enough small trunks scrubs and low tree to assist as grip. More useful on descend.

As this is the most tricky part of the ascend, I have included more pictures. For those who are familiar with outdoor life, this trail and the distances involved, is just like a walk in the park.

Here are the pictures. Firmly mounted small rocks on the tracks and also evidences of the tree trunks to assist in descend.

We had seen friends of those working up in the hills moving up and down this tracks so frequent bringing items the whole day long.

At last, no more talk about that tiny little climb. Finally on top, the track on the ridge was almost level. Perhaps 200 meters to the end and the operating camps for the Raptor Watch. Unless and until the visitor wish to reach the last part which is a tiny plateau on top of the next hill, there is little need to be up the next hill an final part of this complex..

 This is the place that  those reaching here to start doing their chores.

There is a choice of seating and staying under the comfort of the shed. It's going be a long day. Or stay out in the open and enjoy the Raptors buzzing by.

For those, like us on short visit, would not miss the chance of enjoying the ambience and excitement. The show never ends, the whole day long. We were lucky that the days when we were there, the migration rate was at it peak. Plenty to shout about. But imagine being stationed there daily for weeks, there must be the good days and the less than ideal times. So seated comfortably is important.

 Here are some of the views.

Looking right over the lowlands and flight path over the shore lines.

Straight ahead [left]the birds emerging from the tree tops.

The members of team on duty had their chores sorted out. Beside counting and recording the daily encounters, other tasks included the setting up of mist nets [there were several], checking the net for bird caught, every 15 minutes. Retrieving, measuring,  recording and tagging the birds before release. The task here was about the migration by birds. So all birds passing by this points were given the same treatment.

 

 This was a Warbler, making it's way through the under growth. We saw other birds like the Asian Paradise Flycatchers as well.

The actual number of these birds passing by was not easy to assess. Statistic of those netted were kept.

We spent time watching the team members working as well

 An eye opener for us would be the smaller Raptor like the Sparrowhawk getting caught in the net.

Meaning these birds had flown that low to get entangled and caught in the mist net like other bush birds.

By the sheer numbers passing by, it is frequent Sparrowhawk form the bulk of birds that came in for tagging.

The measuring of the bird took some time but it was very elaborate. All the measurements on the bird's anatomy is meticulously recorded 

 Left show that the length and size of nails being noted and right the thickness of wings.

The weather these days are unpredictable, in the hills there were also days when this area got rather wet. As long as the birds are flying research work went on.

Here noticed that team members  had their plastic rain coats on whle another Sparrowhawk inspected and tagged.

The story in Khao Dinsor is incomplete without mentioning and showing the couple of key figures behind this majestic task.

 Needs no further introduction but just seeing their faces.

On the left here is the local Mr. Chukiat Nualsri and then on the right would be Robert DeCandido.

This team has brought into this world the story of the raptors migration in East Asia. There are enough  publications on the internet about their works

We are very thankful to them for the briefing and showing us their work. They are a group of helpful individuals who were prepared to share their experiences with us.

Parting scene - this is the shed where the group spent their time on the many days and the long hours each day. Up in this solitary hill taking note the birds. I am sure, if there were visitor to the hills, they would be there on weekends.

It does not matter whether a person like birds or need to be a birder to appreciate the sights at Khao Dinsor. Sights of the many huge birds drifting past is simply overwhelming and impressive. We left the hill top a very satisfied persons.

 

This page started off as showing the going-on as in a Raptor Watch in Khao Dinsor. When physically there, the happening was far from a social event but more scientific in nature. Further into the details, the exercise is more about bird's migration through this area and around the northern winter season.