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Thailand: An Aviation Hub with A Difference

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Tourism authority’s coffee table book “Colours of the sky” a delight for bird watchers.

by Imtiaz Muqbil

Thailand is known as an aviation hub of Asia due to the huge number of airlines flying to and from Bangkok’s two international airports. Not so well known is that Thailand is also the hub of a different kind of aviation—some of the world’s most beautiful and exotic birds, which crisscross through the country on their transcontinental north–south migratory journeys.

In his introduction to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)’s coffee-table publication “Colours of the Sky,” Suraphon Svetasreni, the former TAT governor, writes, “Birds are symbols of freedom. They are the voyagers of the skies. They are also the indicators of the profusion of forests and the quality of the environment. Wherever they make their home, it means that the area has plentiful flora and natural food, as well as being a safe and comfortable place.”

Svetasreni, who retired as TAT governor at the end of December 2013 after four of the most successful years in Thai tourism history, is an avid bird-watcher himself. He said, “Bird-watching is first on the ecotourism list, being healthy physical activity that provides enjoyment and an opportunity to understand the ecological system and the food chain. You also learn about the habits and behaviour of different bird species. Suitable for young and old, it’s a lovely way to appreciate nature using very little equipment.”

He added, “Thailand is a favorite destination for bird watchers from all over the world. It has a wide variety of habitats such as jungles, dry dipterocarp forests, mixed deciduous forests, pine forests, swamp forests, low plain forests, or mangrove forests. Birds also abound along the coastline, in archipelagos, fresh-water sources, grassland, and agricultural areas. Thousands of species of migratory and indigenous birds can be seen all year round.”

Svetasreni sanctioned “Colours of the Sky” to help identify interesting bird-watching locations. Some of Thailand’s most famous photographers were commissioned to capture the beauty of birds in the sky and in their natural habitats. “I hope the book is the beginning or inspiration for readers to get to know our small winged friends a little better. It may lead to a greater and hopefully lasting appreciation of our precious nature and homes of our birds,” the former governor said.

In an interview, Svetasreni said that the geographical location of Thailand is the primary advantage to accommodate more than 1,000 species of birds, with its diversity of Sino-Himalayan plants and animals in the north, Indo-Burmese species to the west, and a completely different species of plants and animals in the south.

The book itself says that the birds may be classified according to their seasonality into five groups, as follows:
● Resident birds comprise most of Thailand’s bird species. These are species which live, mate, breed, nest, and lay eggs in Thailand, and may be seen year-round. They include such common garden birds as the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Oriental Magpie Robin, Streak-eared Bulbul, Common Myna, and Common Tailorbird.
● Winter visitors rank second in number of species and comprise those birds that migrate from northern and central Asia to stay in Thailand for the duration of the north temperate winter. They include both land birds such as the Taiga Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, and Yellow-browed Leaf Warbler, and many water birds such as Brown-headed Gull, Garganey, and Common Snipe.
● Passage migrants are fewer in number of species. Most also breed in Northern Asia, but they spend the winter in countries to the south of Thailand, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. They are seen in Thailand for only short periods. Some typical species include Tiger Shrike, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and Grey-faced Buzzard. This last species is mainly a passage migrant, but some are winter migrants.
● Breeding visitors are species that migrate into Thailand in order to breed. The Blue-winged Pitta enters Thailand from the South when the rains start, in April or May to feed their young on the flush of earthworms and insects that accompanies the wet weather. Another breeding visitor, the Oriental Pratincole, migrates into Thailand at the height of the dry season (unusually, it starts arriving as early as late January) in order to lay its eggs on the hard-baked mud of the parched ground.
● Vagrants. These are species that do not normally occur, but which occasionally stray off course to enter the kingdom. Some are seabirds such as the Little Gull, Sooty Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Tropicbirds.

Svetasreni said that Northern Thailand, with its rich and varied culture, vegetation and topography, is suitable for almost 700 birds species, including more than 400 residents and approximately 260 winter visitors. Most of the well-known bird-watching places are higher mountains such as Doi Inthanon, Doi Pha Hom Pok, Doi Lang, Doi Ang Khang. Doi Chiang Dao, and Doi Mon Jong.

“These support a tremendous diversity of often brightly colored or strikingly marked resident and migrant or wintering montane birds—barbets, woodpeckers, orioles, minivets, bulbuls, thrushes, chats, flycatchers, warblers and babblers,” he said. “There are also many good birding areas in the plains and foothills.”

Alongside a full list of the 13 national parks, the book also includes an extensive list of equipment and supplies for bird-watching, such as lightweight binoculars and the spotting telescope for long distance bird-watching, a backpack with water bottles, food, insect and leech repellants, an umbrella, sunscreen, and a hat.

For clothing, Svetasreni recommended green, brown, or gray shades to blend in with nature, and long-sleeved tops and long pants to protect against sunlight, thorns, skin-irritating plants, as well as mosquitoes/insects. Sturdy, rubber-soled shoes can prevent slippery falls. A hat, a raincoat, a jacket and leech socks will also be welcome depending on the season and terrain.

The best place for bird watchers to start their journey will be at the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand website (●