Chinese Sparrowhawk | Photo by Chukliat Nualsri

By Linda Oberholtzer | Photos by Chukliat Nualsri

Kao Dinsor, a raptor watcher’s paradise, is near the town of Pathiu, which lies about 20 km northeast of the beach town of Chumphon. It is the Hawk Mountain of Thailand. A display at the bottom of the mountain has photographs of the birds that can be seen once you reach the top. There is now a Raptor Study Center at the site.

Jungle-like forest growth overshadows the pathway as I hike up the mountain. The path is rather steep and I’m glad I borrowed two hiking sticks to climb up. A porter carries our food and drink up the mountain for our lunch. The best time to raptor watch is between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Gulf of Thailand lies to the east and the Isthmus of Kra is to the west.

The trail winds its way through the vegetation. We come to a clearing where there are some shelters and a flat area to observe. Here, a group is already congregating. I hear a commotion from fellow birders and look up in the sky. A Booted Eagle swooshes by very low so I can see its markings closely. It has a magnificent 3.9 wingspan. Wow!

What a photographer’s dream! With the light at your back throughout the day, the birds are easy to photograph. Hawk Mountain has offered to train Thai students and others in bird identification skills. The best time to visit is between mid-September to early November.

As I continue to train my binoculars skyward, I am rewarded by seeing thousands of birds form kettles in the sky. There is a local guide with a large telescope, which he trains on various hawks, so we can see the markings clearly.

Soon there are Japanese Sparrowhawks, Shikra, Crested Serpent Eagles, Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Besra, Black Kites, Black Baza, Jerdon’s Baza, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Oriental Honey Buzzards, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Greater Spotted Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzards everywhere you turn.

There is a birding group from Malaysia here. Each birder is carrying a camera with a giant lens. “Shikra” cries one. Click click click go the cameras.

Chinese Sparrowhawkfemale by Chukiat N.

I sit down on a bench which is nicely shaded by a shelter where birders can rest between sightings. Our guide, Chintana, has brought up a cooler containing an ice-cold watermelon. This is very refreshing. Derick and Roy from our group share slices of watermelon with a British couple who come here every year for the migration.

Tassanee takes out a portable electric fan. Although it is fall in Thailand, it is still very humid and hot.

We find out about the history of Khao Dinsor during our break:

Chukliat Nualsri is the one who discovered an overlook that was well suited to watch the southbound migration of raptors. The area became known to locals as Khao Dinsor or “Pencil Hill” and is near the City of Chumphon.

Nualsri noticed that raptors could be seen at close range from many different locations at Khao Dinsor. Many different raptors of different species migrate close to the ridge.

The Thai Raptor Group soon became involved and agreed that this was one of the best places to observe raptors in Thailand, if not all of Asia. With the consent of the village and major funding from Governor Karan Supakitvilikakarn of Chumphon Province, wooden shelters were built to offer protection from the rain and sun, and a paved road was constructed from the main road to a level area.

Based on preliminary observations, the southbound autumn migration may be between 250,000 and 500,000 raptors of at least 25 species, including five Accipiter species, the highest number of Accipiter species of any site in the World.

Robert DeCandido, PhD., Hawk Mountain intern graduate has worked extensively with raptors in Thailand and has been instrumental in connecting young conservationists with Hawk Mountain and its conservation science internship program.

Khao Dinsor is near the town of Pathiu approximately 25 km northeast of Chumphon. From Bangkok you can fly to Chumphon from the Don Mueang Airport (old airport) to Chumphon for about $75.00-100.00. It is a one-hour flight. Khao Dinsor may be accessed from the main north-south road, Highway 4 (Petchkasem Highway or the King’s Highway. Find the Tha Sae junction to the north of Chumphon and turn into the well-marked road 3180. Travel towards the coast on this road for 15 km until you reach the sign for ‘Pathio, Chumphon Airport’and turn left onto Highway 3201; follow the 3201 for 5 km. A large wat (temple) on the left is the landmark for the Dinsor Hill about 500 m beyond. The Khao Dinsor sign is on the left with an access road which twists and turns up the hill for roughly 2 km to a large car park. You may park here or drive for another 150m until the road ends. You can park there. Nearby, a narrow concrete trail leads into the forest. It is a 45-minute walk to the top, although there are a number of observation points along the trail, some of which have wooden shelters that provide protection from sun and rain. Remember to bring water and sunscreen. Please take all your garbage—there are no receptacles(and no toilet facilities) along the trail.

IMG 6015 by Chukiat N

If the Raptor Center is open there are facilities at the bottom of the mountain and you might be able to find a coffee. Otherwise, you need to bring all food and drink with you,

Accommodations can be found at several of the beach resorts along the coast, as well as in Chumphon City. The Novotel Hotel in Chumphon is very reasonable, although English isn’t spoken too much there. It has beautiful grounds near the beach and there is a pool. Popular with birders is to stay in the village of Thung Wua Laem, ten kilometers to the south, where several guesthouses and small restaurants are found along the beach. Chumphon is also a great place to snorkel and see the Whale Sharks in March and April.

IMG 6021 by Chukiat N