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Published: April 11th 2014
Last time I was in southern Thailand it was 2006 and I stopped in Krabi to visit the mangroves and make the side-trip to look for Gurney's pitta at Khao Nor Chuchi. I did not succeed with the pitta because pittas hate me, and there's no point going there now in 2014 because there are probably none left. That really sucks.
So I arrived in Krabi from Petchaburi at about 6.30 in the morning and caught a songthaew from the bus station to the town centre. Last time I stayed at Hollywood Guesthouse. I remembered nothing about it but it must have been cheap and habitable so I went there this time too. However it appears that most guesthouses in Krabi don't want to open until at least 8am, so I went round the corner to the famous Krabi restaurant May & Mark to wait. They weren't officially open either because of renovations but they let me in for breakfast anyway because they knew me from last visit, and let me leave my bags there while I went in search of somewhere cheap to stay. That place turned out to be the Green Tea Guesthouse which was 200 Baht per night and perfectly serviceable.
When most birders come to Krabi they want to find the Nordmann's greenshank (seen it), Chinese egret (seen it) and brown-winged kingfisher (seen it). I really just wanted to try and find a mangrove pitta. They live in mangroves. Did you guess? Fortunately there are lots of mangroves all about the place at Krabi and the mangrove pittas were supposed to be common. Oh, did I mention that pittas hate me?
Just up the road there's a raised concrete walkway through the mangroves, only about 15 minutes walk from my guesthouse. I went there on the first day, even though it was too hot, just to refresh the area in my mind. I found some new birds for the year-list – Pacific swallow, ashy tailorbird, collared kingfisher, yellow-vented bulbul and Brahminy kite (that last one was a bit weird since I have spent the last three months in Burma, Thailand and India and surely should have seen it already!) – as well as the first flying dragon of the trip (!) and a big troop of crab-eating macaques. I've seen probably thousands of crab-eating macaques over the years but I've never seen them swimming before, probably because I usually see them hanging round tourists hoping for food! Here they were cruising about in the channels between the mangroves, just their heads and shoulders above water like otters, and continually dipping under to search the bottom for crabs and shellfish. Others were doing “bombs” into the water from the branches, just like children at the local swimming pool. Pretty fun to watch. Not so fun was later when I was leaving and the macaques were all on the walkway, and I guess the biggest male wasn't too happy about me having been watching the lady macaques bathing through my binoculars. Most of the macaques jumped away into the trees as I approached but the big male stood firm on the walkway in defiance of my far greater size. We had a stand-off. He mock-charged me, I mock-charged him, neither let the other pass. I didn't really want to get bitten, as big angry macaques are given to do, but I wasn't going to stand there all day, so I broke a stick off a tree and threatened him with it. Unbelievably this worked. I say unbelievably because the stick was only about the size of a pencil!
I tried the walkway again early next morning when the pittas should have been active, but again there was little to see (but fortunately no macaques!). There are boats always available ready to take tourists on trips through the mangroves (and out to the river mouth for shore-birds) but I didn't want to spend the money on that. Instead I stuck with my half-hearted way of looking. Further along the road heading away from town (about 15 minutes walk further past the walkway) is the Maritime Hotel, now called by the rather fancier name of Maritime Park And Spa Resort. This is always recommended as a good spot for mangrove pittas and brown-winged kingfishers, so I went there the following morning. It is a very big flash-looking hotel I must say, with large gardens (which included some macaques). I found the hotel pier but there was nothing to see. It looks like they have cleared away a big section of mangroves from right next to it so there is just empty mud, with only a narrow fringe left along the water's edge. Maybe it has been like that for a long time, but it didn't look good. There were no pittas at any rate. I went back into the gardens and followed the path around the lake. On the far side the path runs alongside more mangroves and these were much more productive. When I say “productive” I don't mean I actually saw anything of course. I did hear a pitta whistling but that was it, but at least I know they are in there!
I've sort of always wondered what happened to the plagues of Egypt. I mean, did God just go “okay, all done,” and they vanished? Or did he put them somewhere in storage. Like the bees went to Kaeng Krachan, and the mosquitoes went to, oh I don't know, let's say the Maritime Park And Spa Resort? “If I wanted humans to go birdwatching,” thought God, “I would have given them zoom lenses in their eyes to begin with, me-dammit. Let's see them find mangrove pittas now!” and then he just dumped all the mosquitoes at the Maritime. Seriously, that hotel must be hell to stay at! I stuck it out for an hour and a half, walking back and forth along the available stretch of mangroves, then called it off on account of pain. Beijing has its pollution clouds, the Maritime has its mosquito clouds.
Tomorrow morning I am off in a mini-van to Penang (in Malaysia).
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