Baan Song Nok, literally translated means “A Home to Spot Birds.” –And that’s exactly what it is.
Baan Song Nok is the private home of Khun Ba Aek (Auntie Aek), a retired art teacher from Trang. Ba Aek acquired the land in 2004 with the intent to build a house on the property where she could spend her retirement years. Her plot is located in an area which was once protected under the Royal Forestry Act, adjacent to Kaeng Krachan National Park. However, the land was selectively logged prior to the Logging Ban of 1989 and thereafter turned into farmland. Due to the poor soil quality, the former owners abandoned the land, allowing the government to reclaim and distribute it under a scheme to support landless farmers.
Shortly after Khun Ba Aek moved onto the property, she began to notice the wide variety of wildlife which strayed onto her own property and frequented the surrounding area. There were squirrels, civets, snakes and even a deer or two.
Then there were the birds.
Khun Ba Aek was the amazed at the variety and quantity of birds which could be found around her home. There were wild chickens, pheasants, raptors, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, bulbuls, starlings and laughingthrushes. They roosted in trees in the yard; they scavenged from the kitchen sink or from the trash outside the property; they nested in hollows or thickets around the edges of the property. They were everywhere. Most surprising was how tame the birds were towards humans.
Khun Ba Aek noted, “I am blessed to be surrounded by so many beautiful creatures.”
In time she learned to recognize the different calls of the birds which frequent her home.
Khun Ba Aek noted that the birds were drawn to pans of rainwater behind her house, especially in the dry season. This revelation led to the construction of two shallow pools in the back of the property adjacent to the forest. In time the birds and other creatures came to know the property as a regular source of freshwater for drinking and bathing.
It wasn’t long before the word got out and visitors started dropping by to see the birds.
At first it was just a few friends and acquaintances, but soon other people started dropping by as well, drawn in by stories of the beautiful birds which frequented Baan Song Nok. In time the decision was made to construct a hide to allow visitors to observe the birds at their own leisure whilst insuring the privacy of the birds. Constructed out of wood and tarp, the hide was built to accommodate up to six photographers or ten birdwatchers.
The construction of the hides immediately attracted the attention of the photographic community. With the ever increasing interest in bird photography in the kingdom, hundreds of photographers were drawn to the site due to its relatively close proximity to the capital and the opportunity to easily capture stunning photographs of uncommon forest birds.
Today Baan Song Nok is widely known among birders and photographers as one of the best sites for bird photography in the country.
Main Attractions: Slaty legged Crake, Red legged Crake, Large billed Scimitar Babbler
Other Attractions: Golden fronted Leafbird, Green eared Barbet, Kalij Pheasant, Scaly breasted Partridge, Greater necklaced Laughingthrush, Green Magpie
Baan Song Nok is a by all accounts bird photographer’s paradise.
Nearly 130 species of birds have made their way onto the official bird list for Baan Song Nok, although the number of birds seen on a daily basis will certainly be fewer than the aforementioned figure. Included in that list are a number of birds which are difficult to find much less photograph at any other site throughout Thailand.
There are a number of highlights which this site is famous for but none more sought-after than the Kalij Pheasant. This large galloform is slowly disappearing from its haunts throughout Thailand due to hunting and trapping. In areas where they are still present, photographers find it difficult to photograph the birds as they usually appear along roadsides in the morning and rarely stay in the open for long. At Baan Song Nok, the birds will sometimes feed around the watering hole for up to 30 minutes and in the breeding season have also been seen bringing their brood of chicks to drink and bathe.
Another popular attraction is the Large billed Scimitar Babbler. Perhaps the least attractive looking of scimitar babblers, this bird is usually quite shy and difficult to observe. A pair of Large billed Scimitar Babblers frequent the pools Baan Song Nok at least once a day and are pretty much a “guaranteed” sighting for those who have yet to twitch this bird.
A more recent and very welcome addition to the list is the Red legged Crake. Unlike most other crakes, the Red legged Crake prefers to spend its days hidden in the forest rather than tromping through a marsh or wetland. This secretive bird visits the watering hole every evening to bathe, an activity which it takes quite seriously. The bird will bathe for up to 10 minutes before retreating back into the forest to preen and rearrange its feathers.
The Slaty legged Crake is another visitor which often shows up around the same time as its counterpart, the Red legged Crake. Tensions do boil over at times due to the limited space in the showers, and some lucky birders have witnessed the Red legged Crake playing a heated game of tag with the less-fortunate Slaty legged Crake.
Among the many birds which visit Baan Song Nok, none are more vocal than the merry band of Greater necklaced and Lesser necklaced Laughingthrushes. These gregarious birds travel in large flocks and are often joined by other birds seeking a good source of food.
The laughinthrushes usually show up first thing in the morning between 6.30 – 7.00 AM. A tell-tale sign of their imminent arrival is the appearance of a single Greater Racket-tailed Drongo which perches itself on a tall, leafless tree and heartily bursts out in boisterous song. Shortly thereafter, the horde of Lesser necklaced and Greater necklaced Laughingthrushes emerge from the forest, chattering nosily as they clear the area of berries, bananas, papaya and other fruit which may be found.
The laughingthrushes usually feed for no more than 30 minutes before continuing on into the forest in their quest to find food.
Visitors to the hide will most certainly see at least two or three Red Junglefowl. These relatives of the domesticated chicken are usually the first birds to appear at the hide in the morning, usually forming a contingent of 10 – 40 individuals. The junglefowl are often accompanied by partridges, such as Bar backed Partridge and Scaly breasted Partridge. However, most of the partridges prefer to remain on the edges of the clearing until after the junglefowl have eaten their fill, to avoid being attacked by their larger cousins.
Other species which show up to bathe or drink throughout the day are Puff throated Babbler, Pin Striped Tit Babbler, Black headed Bulbul, Black crested Bulbul, Stripe breasted Bulbul, Streak eared Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Greater Coucal, Blue Whistling Thrush, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Black naped Monarch.
Blue beared Bee Eater has shown up on occasion, although sightings of this bird are rather unpredictable. Blue winged Pitta shows up in the wet season and there one record of a breeding pair found on the grounds from well over a decade ago. There are also old records for Blue Pitta from Baan Song Nok.
In the winter and passage months, a number of visitors can be found around the watering holes, namely Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Yellow rumped Flycatcher, Green backed Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, White throated Rock Thrush and Orange headed Thrush.
The sky above Baan Song Nok also brings about its own set of specialties. Raptors are often seen flying about in the vicinity of the giant limestone karst and it is not uncommon to encounter Black Eagle, Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Grey faced Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon and other birds of prey from time to time.
A few bananas hanging from trees near the reception center attract a number of birds, highlights being Common Flameback, Green eared Barbet and Orange bellied Flowerpecker.
The hide has a CCTV camera which sends a live feed to a TV in the reception center. Here birders can keep track of the activity in the hide while they are relaxing with a cool drink or having lunch. This is very practical innovation which I found to be very useful, especially when I was targeting a particular species and didn’t want to spend all my time cooped up in the hide while waiting for the bird to show.
There are also spotlights in the blind which are turned on at night to aid photography in the hides at dusk.
Accommodations and Fees
Baan Song Nok offers two rooms with twin beds for those who wish to stay overnight. Each room costs 1000 THB a night. For those who wish to try other accommodations, there are plenty of resorts and bungalows available for rent along the edge of the lake near Kaeng Krachan National Park office. Prices range from anywhere between 400-1200 a night.
An excellent option for birders is Baan Maka, located just down the road from Baan Song Nok. The lodge is run by a former bird guide and is geared specifically toward birdwatchers and nature lovers. There are also a number of permanent hides located on the grounds which paying clients may use.
Since Baan Song Nok is located in a rather quiet and remote area, birders may find it difficult to find a good place to eat lunch nearby. Some birders may find it easy to bring a packed lunch along while others may be content to drive back in the direction of the park offices where a number of restaurants are located.
Those who are interested can also contact Khun Ba Aek in advance and ask her to prepare a lunch for them. Lunches at her home are simple, well prepared and wholesome; Khun Ba Aek adheres to a very healthy lifestyle.
Chilled soft drinks and bottled drinking water are available for purchase at Baan Song Nok as well.
Birders and photographers who visit Baan Song Nok will be charged 200 baht a head to use the blinds. The fee is good for a full day of birding. Birders who decide to visit another location and return to continue birding in the late afternoon will not be charged twice.
Directions to Baan Song Nok
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Baan Song Nok is located on the road between Kaeng Krachan National Park Headquarters and the main gate of the park. It may be a little tricky to locate for those who are unfamiliar with the area or those visiting from abroad so I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible:
Coming from Bangkok, take Rama II road down to the end and from there follow the signs to Phetchaburi province. Drive past the municipality heading south towards Hua Hin.
Shortly after exiting the town of Petchaburi you will reach Tha Yang Municipality. Once in the municipality, keep to your left; look ahead for a flyover which passes directly over the main highway. Once you reach it, you will want to take a left and from there make a u-turn to get on the flyover, heading east. This is Route 3187.
Follow the road to a junction and from there take a right onto Route 3499 in the direction of Kaeng Krachan Dam, Kaeng Krachan National Park and Kaeng Krachan Municipality.
Past the municipality the road will climb steeply to the top of the dam; from there it will hug the perimeter of the lake, passing the national park office on the right. You are now on Route 3432.
Follow the road past the park offices and it will lead to the Special Forces Training Camp. The checkpoint is clearly visible to motorists. Less than 100 meters before the checkpoint the road will fork off to the left. Take the left and continue on for about three kilometers until you come down a slope and meet a junction. Baan Song Nok will be located on the right hand side of the road less than a kilometer past this junction.
There is a sign posted on the right hand side of the road, right where the road curves off to the left.
On the map Baan Song Nok is labeled in blue in Thai writing.
Note: Remember to tank up on fuel before heading into the area; although there are a number of refueling stations in the towns, some of them cannot be trusted. I’ve had encounters with some strange gasoline mixtures in some of the outlying municipalities and ended up having to replace injection heads and other expensive engine parts due to poor quality fuel.
Pros: Excellent site for photographing birds; suitable for photography through all seasons of the year, although winter and spring (dry season) seems to be the most productive; home to a number of excellent species which are difficult to find in most other sites around Thailand; no leeches, even in the wet season.
Cons: Predictable, with few “new” species; limited bird list means most of the species present can be seen in a day or two, making it a one-time attraction; activity tends to quiet down for long period of time from 10 AM till almost 4 PM during some seasons; area is infested with mosquitoes, with dengue fever and malaria being reported from the region; lunch and other meals can an issue if it cannot be arranged in advance with Khun Ba Ake.
Baan Song Nok is a fantastic site for birders and is a can’t-be-missed attraction for bird photographers. Whether amateur or professional, all photographers will find this place a paradise for photographing birds. No bird photographer should turn down a visit to this site; it is easily one of the Top-5 places a bird photographer must visit when in Thailand.
The hides are also great for birders who are elderly, nursing injuries or those who prefer not to spend countless hours trekking along a forest trail or dusty jeep track in the jungle. Here the birds come to you; there is no need to dash about on a wild goose chase out in some dense jungle along some muddy, slippery trail.
Its close proximity to Kaeng Krachan National Park is also a boon as it allows birders the option of visiting the park to continue adding other excellent species to their trip lists.
This page was last updated in April, 2018.