Asian water monitor
(Varanus salvator) (Laurenti, 1768)
The second largest lizard in the world. The individual in the photo was found sleeping in a tree one night and was by far the largest I have ever seen.
I had planned an extensive trip back home in Europe for the seven weeks summer holiday (Greece, Slovenia, Italy) but once again ‘the virus’ left Kat and I faced with a complicated and expensive return to Thailand should we decide to leave. In fact it wasn’t guaranteed that we would have been allowed in at all even as work permit holders. With that in mind we decided to make the most of seven free weeks and explore Thailand. We spent just over five of the seven weeks traveling around the country. This was not an intense field trip where we went out searching every night until the early hours, quite the opposite in fact. We spent quite a lot of time relaxing but I carefully chose each location for this much needed relaxation so that I could see some of my main wildlife targets in the country. In fact the term ‘Herping with the Hiltons‘ became a common phrase on this trip in reference to our preference for staying in comfortable accommodations rather than roughing it in hostels or tents. Although I consider myself a herpetologist at heart, I still had a number of mammal and bird targets for this trip. Furthermore amphibians took more of a centre stage on this voyage than the reptiles as I finally had an opportunity to search for some desired species at an ideal time of year when I wouldn’t normally be in Thailand. Traveling Thailand by car is very easy apart from the poor driving skills of many people sharing the roads with you. Despite covering nearly 10,000km on this trip we only had a couple of close calls on the roads, mainly with scooters and motorbikes.
Thanks to Kat for her continued patience and helping to organise some parts of the trip as well as thanks to the people who we spent time with during various parts of the trip; Andre, Tim, Bam, Rushen, Montri, Ton, Ian, Games, Andy, Alex (Coke) Mint, Bastian, Watinee, Man, Satawan, and Parinya and his crew. An extra special thank you to Ian and Games who joined us at several locations on this trip and provided regular advice and information for the entire trip. For some additional tips we thank Peter, Tom and Antonio as well as Noi for helping with some bookings. Locations visited were Phuket, Phang Nga, Ranong, Sam Roi Yot NP, Kaeng Krachan NP, Baan Maka Nature Lodge (Phetchaburi), Pang Sida NP, Sakaerat research station, Khao Yai NP (where I paid 10 times more for entrance fee compared to a local person!), Sa Kaeo province, Kui Buri NP, Khao Sok NP, Nakhon Si Thammarat province, Songkla province, Trang province and Yala province.
NOTE: it was not possible to mention all of the animals we saw on this trip in this report. Therefore I have not mentioned many of the common species which we have encountered many times before so that I can keep this page to a reasonable length!
Before starting the road trip I had a quick look at my local spot in Phuket. Here I quickly found two male Wagler’s pit vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri), some Oldham’s bent-toed geckos (Cyrtodactylus oldhami), Asian vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina) and an Elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongata). A previous outing a week earlier had produced a Short-tailed python (Python brongersmai) and two Green cat snakes (Boiga cyanea). Only the seventh time I have seen this python species and I consider myself very lucky to have seen those!
Andre and Tim joined me for a boy’s weekend out in Phang Nga where we made a new friend in local snake rescuer Bam Similian. We joined Bam for the day and photographed a female King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) and a giant Keeled rat snake (Ptyas carinata) that he had rescued before doing a night search. A Monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia) also crossed the road but we couldn’t get to it in time for photos. The night search was quiet, apart from a large White-bellied ratsnake (Ptyas fusca) that we saw sleeping high in bamboo.
Phuket- Krabi- Phang Nga
Ton had recommended a spot near Krabi where I could find Norhayati’s flying frog (Rhacophorus norhayati). So we drove there and spent one night searching for the sneaky frog. Despite nice weather we couldn’t find any and we saw very little that night of interest apart from many Smith’s litter frog (Leptobrachium smithi). On the drive from Krabi to Ranong Bam messaged to say he had rescued a huge male King cobra (4 metres) from a house that morning so we dropped by to see that one! This was the largest wild King cobra I have seen, the head size being especially big and a very impressive encounter overall.
Ranong province and Sam Roi Yot NP
We spent one night in Ranong where we met with Montri Sumontha for a short night hike. The habitat was a nice mix of mangroves and some forest patches. Immediately we saw a Banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus) but other than two Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) we didn’t find much else. The following night we met with Ton and Rushen to do a night search in the Sam Roi Yot area. This produced some new reptile species for me, notably Mountain bronzeback (Dendrelaphis subocularis), Long-nosed vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), Sam Roi Yot leaf-toed gecko (Dixonius kaweesaki) and Sam Roi Yot bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus samroiyot). We also had the largest Water monitor (Varanus salvator) I had ever seen and a good number of Barn owls (Tyto alba). A single Kui buri pit viper (Trimeresurus kuiburi) was also found. The most abundant species of the night were the mosquitoes, never in my life did I see so many in one place at night.
Phetchaburi province (Baan Maka Nature Lodge)
We drove to Baan Maka for our first stay there on this trip. Kaeng Krachan NP was still closed at that point so we spent some lazy days eating the British food on offer and drinking pale ales. We also supplemented this with visits to some local bird hides and did some evening/night searches. My main target in the area, the Bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) was found in good numbers. By day we twice met the same Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) walking by the side of the road and I night I was pleased with the good numbers of Keeled slug-eating snakes (Pareas carinata) and White-lipped pit vipers (Trimeresurus albolabris).
Far Eastern Thailand
I invited Ian and Games (but not Tinky the dog) to join us on the next leg of our trip into far eastern Thailand along the border with Cambodia. My main target there was a single naughty snake: Siamese russell’s viper (Daboia siamensis). Very few records of this snake from this time of year and indeed most people search for them in the breeding season but as I had the time I decided to give it a go anyway although I wasn’t expecting to find one. After a quite long drive (6 hours) across Bangkok and into the far east we checked into our nice accommodation. The habitat in this area is not so scenic, mostly rice fields with some tiny patches of dry forest and very flat, open land. The first night we explored some of these fields on foot, finding a pond with Nongkhor bush frog (Chiromantis nongkhorensis) and then I had the honour of finding a large Burmese python (Python bivittatus), a snake I’ve wanted to find for ages! Then the storms began and they would not stop for several days. This allowed me to see some other froggy targets in Thailand that do not occur in the south where I live. After the first storm the roads were covered with frogs, all of them new species for me; Striped burrowing frog (Glyphoglossus guttulatus),Truncate snouted burrowing frog (Glyphoglossus molossus), Median striped bullfrog (Kaloula mediolineata) and Striped sticky frog (Kalophrynus interlineatus). We spent some time photographing and filming this frog spectacle on the first and second nights as the rain did not stop. Andy Pierce joined us for the second night after we had a day out exploring nearby Pang Sida NP with him on Ian’s quest for one of the most elusive stream skinks. Just when I had given up on snakes, Ian, Games and Andy found two snakes on their drive back to the hotel while Kat and I were still playing with frogs. One of these was my number one target, a juvenile Siamese russell’s viper and the other a Many spotted cat snake (Boiga multomaculata). After thirty minutes of excessive ‘thank you, thank you..‘ we took some photos of the snake and went to bed. Ian, Games and Andy then headed to Sakaerat research station while Kat and I had one last night in the far east. Our last night was a success, finding White-lipped pit viper, Yellow spotted keelback (Xenochrophis flavipunctatus) many Spotted owlets (Athene brama) and then a second Siamese russell’s viper. Considering how difficult these vipers can be to find, I consider finding two individuals in a few days one of the main highlights of the trip!
Sakaerat research station and Khao Yai NP
Before heading to Khao Yai NP we dropped by Sakaerat research station to join Andy, Ian and Games for a night of searching. Upon our arrival the guys had been busy digging for Miriam’s legless skink (Davewakeum miriamae) finding several individuals. That evening things started slowly but by the end of the night after some beers and moth watching we found several Angular spotted bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus angularis),Chantaburi warted treefrog (Theloderma stellatum) and a Large-eyed pit viper (Trimeresurus macrops) as three main highlights.
The next morning we said goodbye to Ian, Games and Andy as we headed to Khao Yai NP. We decided to stay in more comfortable accommodation outside of the park and this turned out not to hinder our searches as we had expected. Near our accommodation we found some Large-eyed pit vipers (Trimeresurus macrops) but other than that all of our other finds were inside this impressive national park. Over several evenings we had some nice snake encounters, including three Vogel’s pit vipers (Trimeresurus vogeli) a huge Banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus),a Green cat snake (Boiga cyanea) and at a nice pond we had two big frog targets; Red-webbed flying frog (Rhacophorus rhodopus) and Taylor’s frilled treefrog (Kurixalus bisacculus) among others. Thanks Ton for the tips there! Of course this park offers a great variety of other fauna and we had some notable highlights. Twice by day we saw Asian elephants and twice we met them by night. The latter was a little scary, the first time we encountered a herd and the second time a single individual blocking a narrow road in the darkness. However with some composure and patience these encounters ended well as the elephants eventually moved off the roads. Other highlights included White-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar), several Golden jackals (Canis aureus), Dholes (Cuon alpinus) Malayan porcupines (Hystrix brachyura) and an unidentified cat species we saw at night. Overall a great park, just avoid going on weekends or during bank holidays. It is also worth noting that as a foreigner I paid ten times more than a local person to enter this park!
Kaeng Krachan NP
Time to head back to Baan Maka, this time with Kaeng Krachan NP open we would spend some time searching there instead. During our last visit here in February the park was so dry which in part contributed to our mammal success but the persistent rains would no doubt help us to see amphibians and reptiles this time. We still did some searches outside of the park, finding more White-lipped pit vipers, a Sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor), dozens of Rice paddy snakes (Hypsiscopus plumbea) and a Reticulated python (Python reticulatus). However it was one night in particular during which I had the best finds. I convinced Ton to do a long hike one night and we searched from 6pm- 3am at a higher altitude location. During this hike we saw 24 snakes of 11 species, an unidentified cat, several Bengal slow loris, five sleeping Blue pittas (Hydrornis cyaneus) a Malayan softshell turtle (Dogania subplana) and several Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura). The ultimate highlight was seeing 11 individuals of Kio flying frog (Rhacophorus kio) around two breeding ponds. This was probably my number one amphibian target in Thailand! The second highlight was finding a large male Pope’s pit viper (Trimeresurus popeiorum). Another highlight a few days later was a truly giant Asian forest tortoise (Manouria emys), plus a Monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia) crossed the road and a good number of slow loris were seen each night. On our final night in the area we again joined Ian, Games and Andy for frog hunting around a nice breeding pond with four species of frogs found.
Kui Buri NP and Khao Sok NP
The next legs of the trip were only short visits as we made our way back to Phuket for a few days. First we stopped at Kui Buri NP in the hope that Kat may finally see a Gaur (Bos gaurus). Although never guaranteed, two individuals showed up just before a big storm hit and completely drenched us. Two asian elephants were also seen. We then arrived at Khao Sok in the evening after a day of driving where we would meet up with Mint and Bastian. It rained very hard and we thought that we may need to cancel our night search, luckily it stopped just in time. Recently Mint has seen a few Wallace’s flying frogs (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) on one of the trails. However I had little hope that they would still be around, although I’ve seen them before in Malaysia they have been avoiding me in Thailand. First up was an Elegant bronzeback (Dendrophis formosus) followed by a Siamese peninsula pit viper (Trimeresurus fucatus) found sitting in ambush on the ground. A few hours later I finally spotted a Wallace’s flying frog sitting high on a piece of bamboo. With some closer scrutiny we found two more individuals closer to the ground. Great! As we left the area we also came across a Mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila) that had recently fed and an Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Next morning it was back to Phuket before the next leg of our travels, on the way we found a large King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) which had been killed by a car.
Nakhon Si Thammarat
We had a lazy few days by the coast during which I did a few very short searches. This didn’t produce too much apart from a Beautiful pit viper (Trimeresurus venustus), some Zebra bent-toed geckos (Cyrtodactylus zebraicus) and a DOR Monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia). We had scheduled some nights at the peak of Krung Ching but I was informed that the steep road was too dangerous to drive with the frequent rainy weather at the moment.
On our long drive to the deep south we made a short stop in Songkla province where we joined local frog fan Watinee (Am) and Man for a night hike along a wonderful forest trail. It was raining heavily for most of the time which allowed some nice amphibian finds such as two species of chorus frogs, Inornate froglet (Micryletta inornata) and Batu caves chorus frog (Microhyla supraciliaris), River toad (Phrynoidis asper), Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), Frilled treefrog (Kurixalus chaseni), many Spotted litter frogs (Leptobrachium hendricksoni), several Tree agamas (Acanthosaura cf.crucigera), Blanford’s flying lizard (Draco blanfordii) and a Hagen’s pit viper (Trimeresurus hageni). As we were leaving the area I looked up into a tall tree and saw a Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu). I have wanted to photograph one of these for a long time, it gave me about 20 seconds to call Kat over (who had the 400mm lens), try to change the lens and get a shot. It flew off just as we got the big lens ready and I let out a cry of despair. Mammals seen were Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and a Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang).
Yala province (1st night)
I have wanted to visit the far south of Thailand for some time now and we finally decided to go for it now that we had the time. Visiting this area takes some planning and caution but the wildlife on offer in Yala province is truly worth any risk in traveling to this area. Some amazing mountain ranges which connect with Malaysia and allow one to see a very different herpetofauna to the rest of Thailand. This area of Thailand very rarely sees foreign visitors and indeed we were like celebrities wherever we went. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming, but as an occasional reminder of where we were in certain towns we saw heavily armed soldiers at check points, SWAT teams and even tanks. After Yala local Satawan found a juvenile Wiroti’s pit viper (Trimeresurus wiroti) an enthusiastic and dedicated team quickly decided to join Kat and I in the deep south. The team consisted of eight people, Ian, Games, Parinya, three of his students, Kat and myself. At our first location we removed some overgrowth from the deep forest trail to allow our vehicles to pass before beginning our searches on foot. A quick day search resulted in a nice female Wagler’s pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri). Interestingly we all walked right past it until Kat noticed it sat next to the trail at ground level. Returning to this area by night resulted in many fantastic finds, some of which I am unable to list here. My main amphibian target the Long-nosed horned frog (Megophrys nasuta) was surprisingly easy to find, we saw several individuals of varying sizes and many more were calling from the forest and even behind our accommodation. Other notable amphibians found include some Malayan horned frogs (Megophrys aceras), and a Slender-legged toad (Leptophryne borbonica). The geckos were also impressive, we saw several Tuberculate bent-toed geckos (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus), a Peter’s bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus consobrinus) and a Taylor’s bow-fingered gecko (Cyrtodactylus quadrivirgatus) . Sleeping diurnal lizards were equally impressive, a young Giant angle-headed lizard (Gonocephalus grandis) and a Bell’s angle-headed lizard (Gonocephalus bellii) were found. Not many snakes turned up, but we did find a Hagen’s pit viper (Trimeresurus hageni) and Dwarf reed snake (Pseudorabdion longiceps). We returned to our comfortable accommodations very happy, we also didn’t meet the elephants who were active in the area! Despite careful scrutiny of the exact location and surroundings where the juvenile Wirot’s pit viper was found, we could not locate it or any other individual of its species. Never mind..
Yala province (2nd night)
We moved to a different trail which was shorter and more open with a nice combination of bamboo forest, several streams and some huge trees. A herd of elephants was very active in this area and had trashed some nearby out buildings and display signs. We were on high alert as we searched this area and thankfully we only heard the dumbos crashing through the bamboo deep in the forest. Some nice finds once again turned up including more Long-nosed horned frogs, some Rough-sided frogs (Pulchrana glandulosa), Giant angle-headed lizards (Gonocephalus grandis) and Bent-toed geckos (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus). Only three snakes were found, first a Keeled rat snake (Ptyas carinata), another Hagen’s pit viper and then I came across a White-spotted cat snake (Boiga drapiezii) which was as long as I am tall.