As I had three weeks off for Christmas rather than fly somewhere Kat and I thought we would just visit some places in southern Thailand one of which, Khao Sok has become one of our favourites. Immediately after leaving the house I found a dying Copperhead racer (Coelognathus radiatus) on the road, which is not how I wanted to start our trip. I always seem to find these pretty rat snakes dead on the road near where we live and I have yet to see a healthy living specimen. However less than three hours later we checked into our rainforest bungalow (with swimming pool) in the National Park area. Like on previous visits we met up with Somchai our favorite ranger to catch up.
Our first evening out in the forest was rather disappointing, clearly weather conditions were not as good as they were a few weeks previously. I only managed to find one snake, a Malayan bridle snake (Dryocalamus subannulatus), but the highlight of the night was a Sunda scops owl (Otus lempiji) which sat two metres away from us watching something on the trail. A few tree frogs and sleeping diurnal lizards completed a very slow night out in the forest.
Taking things slowly by day, we spent time in the pool and I got to photograph some territorial Common flying lizards from my balcony. These are very fun lizards to sit and watch and I even saw them ‘fly’ a couple of times. A short walk along one of the trails revealed a group of Spectacled langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus) in the trees as well as some gibbons which remained out of sight. One of the Bronzeback snakes (Dendrelaphis sp) briefly showed itself but I only managed one crappy photo before it took off. Our second evening was a little more successful but again weather conditions did not seem to be favorable to reptiles. Somchai showed us a small feeding station for Brush-tailed porcupines (Atherurus macrourus) which come out of the forest to feed every evening. We sat and watched them for a good hour and saw 4-5 individuals. Then, while walking back down the trail and giant Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) ran across our path but I was unable to get a photo. We then made an attempt to see a Malayan sun bear which had recently been feeding at night at the top of a very high tree. Although you can tell he had been there from all of the mess he had made he wasn’t there when we visited. Never mind. However, I did spot a Red-tailed racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum) over two meters in length as it slept around twenty meters high in the forest canopy.
We decided to try a different trail this evening hoping for more success with reptiles. Again, a good number of hours searching resulted in very little being found. However, we did find two sleeping Ratsnakes (Ptyas fusca), thanks to Tom Charlton for the ID as I thought they were Ptyas korros. In addition we saw a couple of Palm Civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and I managed one reasonable photo of one of them. We also found a sleeping Blanford’s flying lizard (Draco blanfordii) the largest of the flying lizards.
We left Khao Sok and drove over to Krabi province, a place where every person interested in reptiles seems to stay in Thailand. Thanks again to Tom Charlton for recommending our accommodation at the Phanom Bencha resort. This was ideally located with some nice habitats all around. However, the weather was ‘cold’ for southern Thailand. Strong winds and night temperatures below 20c, something we had not experienced here so far and this immediately dashed my hopes of finding some reptiles. After lots of correspondence by email, it was great to finally meet up with Vern Lovic (www.thailandsnakes.com) and we had one successful evening out herping together despite the cold and another lazy evening eating pizza. Our first evening was a success by my Phuket herping standards but clearly less so compared to what Vern usually finds in a few hours here. Nevertheless, driving down from the resort I was surprising to find a Laotian wolf snake (Lycodon laoensis) crossing the road in the strong wind. After meeting Vern we quickly found two sleeping Asian vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina), including one very large specimen. Vern had found a King cobra at this spot only a few days previously but I always knew I wasn’t going to find one this time. Just as we were about to cancel our night due to cold and windy weather two new snakes species for me turned up: a Malayan pit viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma) sat in ambush and a Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus) crossing the road. Champion! I was happy with this ‘slow night’ 🙂
With even stronger winds we decided to take a trip by day into the coastal mangroves where we knew there would be some shelter. Thanks to Son at Phanom Bencha for organizing for us to go out on a small boat to look for Mangrove pit vipers (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus) which I have seen several times before but so far I had not seen a decent sized adult. After a couple of hours of weaving our way through the mangroves our keen eyed boatman spotted two of the well camouflaged vipers as they sat lazing on the mangroves. In the afternoon while swimming in the pool I noticed a couple of Monitor lizards sunbathing near the bungalows, I never get bored of seeing these giant lizards. That night we cancelled our nights herping with Vern due to more extreme wind and cold weather. However, when we got back to the resort, Son the owner had caught a large Mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila) for us! I have seen these snakes a couple of times before but they are always lots of fun to photograph and this specimen was unusually relaxed for this species. Thanks Son!
After thanking Vern and Son and family we headed off back to Phuket. We will surely return to this area earlier next year when the conditions will be more productive for finding reptiles. Three hours later just as I got through the front door I received a message from Somchai in Khao Sok. My main target over the past few weeks in Phuket or elsewhere has been to find one of the giant female Wagler’s pit vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri) at a height where I can take photos as those previously seen were too high in the canopy. Somchai had found a viper that was resting at ground level. Although I wasn’t sure that Kat would be willing to spend a further six hours in the car that day I think she secretly wanted to see this snake as much as I did! So three hours later we arrived back at the National Park, one hour later we had found the fabulous viper and three hours after that we were back in Phuket in bed. A nice end to our trip!